July 10, 1864
Josiah Pulsifer material courtesy of the Androscoggin Historical Society
It was a careful, tedious job, but it was a position that Josiah Pulsifer took seriously.
Major Josiah Pulsifer, of Auburn, was appointed paymaster of the United States Army in 1864, and sent to Norfolk, Virginia, for one year.
Paymasters such as Pulsifer held military rank but they were basically accountants who were responsible for distributing payroll funds to the soldiers. Because many soldiers provided the only income for their families back home, receiving pay in a timely manner was crucial.
Being paid on time proved to be nearly impossible. State and federal financial troubles escalated as war debts continued to grow.
Soldiers were supposed to be paid every two weeks but oftentimes went months without an income because the paymasters were among of the last to receive allocations. Soldiers’ wages often had to wait while the government used available funds to buy food, ammunition, and supplies. Paymasters, then, often did not receive money on time, and, sometimes, not at all.
As Josiah notes in a letter to his wife Helen, "our currency is running down so fast that we can save less and less of our pay."
Pulsifer joined the army at a time when pay procedures were finally becoming regulated. Prior to 1864, the army had no requirements for become a paymaster. Pulsifer, however, had to be able to write a basic business letter and to solve mathematical problems accurately.
Prior to becoming paymaster, Pulsifer had been a postmaster in Columbia and Minot. He also was the Clerk of Courts for three terms for Androscoggin County. Although he had no official training in accounting prior to going to Norfolk, Pulsifer writes to Helen that he is being scrupulous, even remarking that "you never know a person so watchful as I have been," and that he is, "fast improving."
Pulsifer's year long position kept him away from his wife, Helen Woodbury, of Minot. They had married in 1848, and had five children together. After being discharged in 1865, Pulsifer became the State of Maine's first court stenographer in 1867. He died in 1896 in Auburn.
- How might the soldiers react to not receiving their pay on time or at all?
- Were paymasters provided with any way to keep the funds safe from theft or fire?