Summary of eRumor:
Confederate soldiers are officially considered American veterans and have the same protections as Union soldiers because of an act of Congress called Public Law 810 and other federal laws.
It’s true that Union and Confederate soldiers are considered U.S. veterans under federal law, and that they would be entitled to the same benefits as Union soldiers today.
These claims went viral on social media after the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina Capitol grounds in July 2015. The state legislature voted to remove the flag after a self-described white supremacist murdered nine black churchgoers there.
That inspired posts on social media sites that claimed Confederate and Union veterans were considered equals under federal law, and that they are entitled to the same protections and benefits.
It’s true that a federal law passed in 1958 listed the spouses and children of all Civil War veterans — Confederate and Union — as eligible for federal pensions:
Whenever there is no surviving spouse entitled to pension under section 1532 of this title, the Secretary shall pay to the children of each Civil War veteran who met the service requirements of section 1532 of this title a pension at the monthly rate of $73.13 for one child, plus $8.13 for each additional child, with the total amount equally divided.
It’s also true that federal law (formerly Public Law 810) makes Confederate soldiers eligible for burial in national cemeteries and for taxpayer-funded headstones, just like Union soldiers:
The Secretary shall furnish, when requested, an appropriate memorial headstone or marker for the purpose of commemorating an eligible individual whose remains are unavailable. Such a headstone or marker shall be furnished for placement in a national cemetery area reserved for that purpose under section 2403 of this title, a veterans’ cemetery owned by a State, or, in the case of a veteran, in a State, local, or private cemetery.
The last known Civil War veteran died in 1956, and the last known widow of a Civil War veteran died in 2003 at age 93. But there were surprisingly two children of Civil War veterans who were still receiving benefits in 2012, U.S. News reports:
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, only Union soldiers were eligible for military benefits. It wasn’t until the 1930s that confederate soldiers began receiving pensions from the federal government. Prior to that, confederate soldiers could apply for benefits through the state they resided in.
The groundwork for reconciliation, however, was laid decades before Confederate soldiers and family members became available for federal benefits.
President William McKinley cited reconciliation between the North and South in a speech that followed the conclusion of the Spanish American War on December 14, 1898. A number of former Confederate officers had volunteered for service during the war, which had helped secure U.S. victory, McKinley said:
… Every soldier’s grave made during our unfortunate Civil War is a tribute to American valor. And while, when those graves were made, we differed widely about the future of this government, those differences were long ago settled by the arbitrament of arms; and the time has now come, in the evolution of sentiment and feeling under the providence of God, when in the spirit of fraternity we should share with you in the care of the graves of the Confederate soldiers.
The Cordial feeling now happily existing between the North and South prompts this gracious act, and if it needed further justification, it is found in the gallant loyalty to the Union and the flag so conspicuously shown in the year just past by the sons and grandsons of these (Spanish American War veterans).
What a glorious future awaits us if united, wisely, and bravely we face the new problems now pressing upon us, determined to solve them for right and humanity.
That flag has been planted in two hemispheres, and there it remains the symbol of liberty and law, of peace and progress. Who will withdraw from the people over whom it floats its protecting folds? Who will haul it down? Answer me, ye men of the South, who is there in Dixie who will haul it down?
McKinley called for federal recognition of Union and Confederate soldiers because he viewed them all as Americans. But the Confederate flag wasn’t a part of McKinley’s reconciliation efforts, and he specifically cites the flying of the American flag in the south as reason to move forward with federal recognition of Confederate soldiers.
The Confederate flag didn’t fly widely in the south until the 1940s, the Atlantic reports:
After the surrender in 1865, Confederate flags were folded and put away. They were most likely to be spotted at memorials or cemeteries. Even after the hopeful decade of Reconstruction gave way to the violent repression of Redemption, open displays of the flag remained rare. There was no need for a banner to signal defiance; Jim Crow reigned unchallenged.
The flag slowly crept back into public life over the ensuing decades, saluted at veterans’ reunions, promoted by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, even carried into battle by units from the South. By the mid-twentieth century, the flags were also waved by football fans, and sold to tourists.
But as a political symbol, the flag was revived when northern Democrats began to press for an end to the South’s system of racial oppression. In 1948, the Dixiecrats revolted against President Harry Truman—who had desegregated the armed forces and supported anti-lynching bills. The movement began in Mississippi in February of 1948, with thousands of activists “shouting rebel yells and waving the Confederate flag,” as the Associated Press reported at the time. Some actually removed old, mothballed flags from the trunks where they had until then been gathering dust.
So, it’s true that Confederate and Union soldiers are considered equal under federal law, but critics argue that the same isn’t true of the American and Confederate flags.