A fortuitous furlough

Last of three posts on researching my Union Army ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull in the U.S. Sanitary Commission (USSC) records

At the end of my first day researching my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull of the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery in the U.S. Sanitary Commission records, a staff member placed before me a blue archival box containing manuscripts from the USSC Statistical Bureau archives 1861-1869.

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August 10, 1864: Morning Report of Sick and Wounded in the U.S. Army General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y. Private Arthur T. Bull is one of seven soldiers listed as “furloughed” from the facility that day. Photo by Molly Charboneau 1
It was the last material for me to go through, and I wasn’t quite sure what the statistics collection would reveal about my Civil War ancestor. Where might my great, great grandfather’s name appear amidst so vast a collection of data?

Still, the skilled staff at the New York Public Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division had already helped me find his entry in a Hospital Directory register — and they had pulled these records as well — so I hopefully opened Box 44 and began examining the folders inside.

This particular box was the first of 16 comprising the Statistical Bureau’s Hospital Reports 1863 Sep-1864 Nov, covering some of the months my ancestor was in hospital. It contained morning reports from hospitals for March-August 1864 in folders arranged alphabetically by location and hospital name.

Folder 5, with reports from Albany to Ft. Columbus in New York State, looked promising since my ancestor had spent time in De Camp and Elmira General Hospitals. So I pulled it out and began carefully leafing through the manuscripts one hospital at a time.

Alas, there was no listing for my great, great grandfather among the De Camp Hospital morning reports. But when I started to examine the reports for Elmira Hospital, there he was!

On a Morning Report of Sick and Wounded in the U.S. Army General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y. – a single page dated 10 August 1864 – Private Arthur T. Bull was one of seven soldiers listed as “furloughed” from the facility.

What a gratifying discovery.

My great, great grandfather was a family man – married with three young children – when he enlisted in the Union Army. Being far from family while fighting in some of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles – and during his recovery from wartime illness – cannot have been easy for him.

So I was relieved to learn from the USSC records that Arthur was transported to Elmira General Hospital, near his home – and that he was furloughed while there and could visit his family.

Finding him twice in this tremendous collection has inspired me to continue researching my Civil War ancestor in the USSC records — where I hope to learn more about his later hospitalizations and treatment near the Virginia battlefields.

More on this in future posts. For now, we return to my ancestor’s time on provost duty in Virginia during June 1865.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Footnotes

  1. Morning Report of Sick and Wounded in the U.S. Army General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y., 10 August 1864. Arthur T. Bull, 6 N.Y. H. Arty Co. L. is listed fourth of the names of seven furloughed. Morning reports of hospitals. United States Sanitary Commission records. Statistical Bureau archives. Manuscripts and Archives Division. The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

A Hospital Directory clue

Second of three posts on researching my Union Army ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull in the U.S. Sanitary Commission (USSC) records

When I arrived at the New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division in April 2015 to research the Civil War medical history of my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull,  I ran into a genealogy colleague who was also researching the U.S. Sanitary Commission (USSC) records. I sat at the desk next to her, where we could quietly compare notes.

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USSC Hospital Directory archives, 1862-1866 – Vol. 57, Register 54. On page 72, I found my ancestor Arthur T. Bull listed as admitted on 1 July 1864 to the U.S. General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y. — a new discovery about his Civil War medical history. Photo by Molly Charboneau 1
When I told her I was hoping to find specific references to my great, great grandfather in the USSC Hospital Directory archives, she seemed concerned.

“Are you sure you want to start there?” she asked. “It’s such a huge collection.” She had a point. There were volumes and volumes of records to comb through — as detailed in the collection’s robust set of finding aids.

Still, I was optimistic. My ancestor’s record might be a needle in haystacks of research materials — but the odds would improve if I searched the right haystack.

The NYPL Manuscript and Archives Division staff was a tremendous help in narrowing down where I could begin — and having the materials ready when I arrived.

Hospital Directory archives

The Hospital Directory was set up by the USSC in 1862 to keep track of wounded and ill soldiers in U.S. General Hospitals — like the ones where my ancestor was treated — and in non-military health care facilities.

Families wanted to know about their loved ones, and the Union Army needed to keep track of its casualties — all of which generated registers, correspondence, checklists and other records where individual soldiers’ names were recorded. These records comprise the USSC Hospital Directory archives, 1862-1866.

Since my great, great grandfather was admitted to Mt. Pleasant Hospital in Washington, D.C., during June 1864, staff had pulled Register 43 (of Volume 46), which included New York regiments for that facility and month. I paged through the entire volume. Alas, no reference to Pvt. Arthur Bull — but there were still more records to check.

Next I searched Register 54 (of Volume 57) for my ancestor’s hospitalization at De Camp Hospital in New York State during July 1864. There were several pages with “6th Regiment New York” penned in cursive across the top, but no indication whether they listed infantry, cavalry or artillery casualties. So I searched them all — and that’s when I found Arthur on page 72.

“Here he is,” I whispered to my colleague, pointing to the page. “But he’s in a totally different hospital.” We stood over the massive book and studied the entry.

Sure enough, on line 19, Arthur T. Bull, a private in Heavy Artillery Col. L, was listed as admitted on 1 July 1864 — not to De Camp General Hospital, as I expected, but to the U.S. General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y.

“I can’t believe you found him,” my colleague whispered back.

And in truth I was surprised, too — first to have located him so quickly in only the second volume I looked through, and even more so to discover a new clue about his time away from the battlefields.

After photographing the record, which is now permitted, I continued searching through five more volumes of Hospital Directory records that the staff had pulled for me — but I found no additional entries in them for my ancestor.

The last records to search were part of a manuscript collection from the USSC Statistical Bureau — and that’s when I made my next new discovery about my great, great grandfather’s time recuperating from his war-related illness.

To be continued.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Footnotes

  1. Admission of H. Arty. Pvt. Arthur T. Bull to U.S. General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y. Line 19, page 72, register 54. United States Sanitary Commission records. Hospital Directory archives. Manuscripts and Archives Division. The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

An Elmira Hospital stay

First of three posts on researching my Union Army ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull in the U.S. Sanitary Commission (USSC) records

In April 2015, I made an appointment to visit the New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division to search for information about my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull’s Civil War medical history in the U.S. Sanitary Commission records.

http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/12400/12404/elmirahos_12404.htm
U.S. General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y. (Frank Leslie – 1896). U.S. Sanitary Commission records showed my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was transferred here on 1 July 1864 — a new discovery about his Civil War medical treatment. Image: ClipArt Etc./Florida Center for Instructional Technology

I knew from records in his pension file that in June 1864 he spent time in Mt. Pleasant General Hospital in Washington, D.C., after “falling out” on the march near Cold Harbor, Va., during the Overland Campaign.

From there, he was transferred to De Camp General Hospital on Davids Island off the coast of New Rochelle, Westchester Co., N.Y. — where I assumed he spent the summer of 1864 before returning to duty in September.

I also knew his unit, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, was part of the Army of the Potomac when he fell ill, and I had documents that helped me narrow down his hospitalization dates — certainly enough evidence to start a search of the USSC records.

Registering and researching

The online finding aid to the Sanitary Commission records confirmed that there could be records for the dates I was interested in, so I registered online to request access.

On the web form, I outlined what I was looking for and asked Divison staff to suggest where I should begin my search through the monumental collection. They emailed me a list of registers and other records that I could start with, and had their recommended items ready when I arrived.

As I began paging through the fragile 150-year-old bound volumes and manuscripts one by one, I thought of my late Dad. He would have been amazed that the little check mark we discovered in the 1865 New York State Census — which told us we had a Civil War ancestor — could lead to such a seemingly endless trail of information.

Turning page after page, I was expecting that whatever I found in the USSC records — if I found anything at all — would simply reinforce and add some detail to what I already knew about my ancestor’s medical treatment.

So imagine my surprise when I found my great, great grandfather’s name in the second register I looked through — and discovered new evidence that he was transferred on 1 July 1864 to the U.S. General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y., not far from his home and family in Conklin, Broome County, N.Y.

To be continued.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Early days of Reconstruction

Muster rolls in my great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull’s pension file show he remained in Virginia with the 6th New York Heavy Artillery through the summer of 1865. Was he involved in the early days of Reconstruction? If so, what role might he have played? And where can I search for answers?

Lee surrenders to Grant, General Grant National Memorial, New York, NY (2015). My ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull remained on duty in Virginia for several months after the end of the U.S. Civil War during the very early days of Reconstruction. Photo by Molly Charboneau
May 2015: Lee surrenders to Grant, General Grant National Memorial, New York, NY. My ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull remained on duty in Virginia for several months after the end of the U.S. Civil War during the early days of Reconstruction. Photo by Molly Charboneau

While my ancestor was still in the service, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau) was established by the U.S. War Dept. on 3 March 1865.

Background information about the Freedmen’s Bureau records on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) website captures the broad scope of its mission.

[The Bureau] provided assistance to tens of thousands of former slaves and impoverished whites in the Southern States and the District of Columbia. The war had liberated nearly four million slaves and destroyed the region’s cities, towns and plantation-based economy. It left former slaves and many whites dislocated from their homes, facing starvation, and owning only the clothes they wore. The challenge of establishing a new social order, founded on freedom and racial equality, was enormous.

Until the Freedman’s Bureau was fully operational — beginning around June 1865 — it appears that Union Army soldiers like my ancestor, who remained in the South after the Civil War’s end, may have handled some relief work.

On 25 May 1865, in the Dept. of Virginia — where my ancestor was stationed with the 6th NYHA in Sub-District of the Roanoke, District of the Nottoway — the Army of the James issued  orders that directed the safeguarding of newly-free African Americans, which likely included relief efforts.

The commanders of districts and sub-districts are made superintendents of negro affairs within their respective limits.

Union troops also stood as a bulwark that protected the African American population from former slave owners, overseers and others who had directly or tacitly supported the brutal slave system. The Army of the James — which my ancestor’s unit was part of — was noteworthy for the large number of U.S. Colored Troops in its ranks, who were among the first Union troops to enter Richmond after it fell.

In a diary entry dated 26 May 1865, Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA gave a snapshot of the regiment’s tasks in a hostile environment.

[O]ur duties were to keep order and enforce the laws and sanitary regulations and to administer the oath of allegiance to the Citizens. We also issued the destitute rations nine tenths of the applicants were white and a more helpless set of people would be difficult to imagine they were perfectly destitute of all principle or honesty and would willingly take the oath every hour and violate it with every breath.

On 27 May 1865, Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds of the 6th NYHA — a farmer in civilian life — described the desolate landscape in a letter to his wife from Lunenburg Court House, Va., underscoring the need for Union Army relief efforts.

This is a poor forsaken looking country and our boys say we are only 18 miles from where the sun sets.

With no correspondence from my ancestor to refer to, more research is needed to narrow down his specific duties in Virginia during the summer of 1865. NARA’s federal records on the Freedman’s Bureau and related military records may help me learn more.

But for now I am satisfied that my great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was stationed at a time and place where he “kept order” and likely assisted with relief efforts in the early days of Reconstruction.

Next post: New information from the U.S. Sanitary Commission records on my Civil War ancestor’s time in hospital in July 1864.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Civil War at 150: A memorial procession

Memorial Day weekend this year, I went with my friends  Ron and Patty to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Kings Co., N.Y., for a procession to mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the U.S. Civil War — a war in which my great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull served with the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

Grave of Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. Howard Kitching -- commander of my ancestor's 6th NYHA regiment -- at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Kings Co., N.Y. His was one of 5,000 stones of Civil War soldiers that received luminaries for Green-Wood's night-time procession on 23 May 2015 marking the 150th Anniversary of the end of the U.S. Civil War. Photo by Molly Charboneau
May 2015: Grave of Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. Howard Kitching — commander of my ancestor’s 6th NYHA regiment — at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Kings Co., N.Y. His was one of 5,000 stones of Civil War soldiers lit by luminaries for Green-Wood’s night-time procession on 23 May 2015 marking the 150th Anniversary of the end of the U.S. Civil War. Photo by Molly Charboneau

As the large, respectful crowd gathered at dusk to honor the 5,000 Civil War soldiers buried at Green-Wood, I thought back to four years before — when Patty and I marched in a similar procession commemorating the war’s beginning after volunteering that morning to place luminaries on Civil War soldiers’ graves.

That 2011 memorial event seemed so long ago — a four-year stretch that must have seemed even longer to combatants living rough and risking their lives on Civil War battlefronts, and to their families back home.

Before the start of this year’s procession, we three walked halfway across Green-Wood’s 478-acres to pay our respects at the grave of Union Brevet Brigadier General J. Howard Kitching — the fallen commander of my ancestor’s 6th NYHA regiment who died in 1865, at age 26, from injuries sustained at the Battle of Cedar Creek.

At BBG Kitching’s peaceful resting place in the shadow of an old-growth tree, we laid flowers on his grave and paused to remember him and the great cause for which he died — and to honor my ancestor who fought with him as well as Patty’s Union Army ancestor, who are both buried too far away to visit.

Then at sunset, we stepped off to the beat of regimental drums behind cavalry reenactors on horseback and slowly wound our way through the cemetery grounds as the moon came out, the stars grew bright and thousands of flickering luminaries cast their warm glow on the stones of the Civil War departed.

Ron expressed pleasant surprise at the size and diversity of the march — which drew young and old to remember and pay tribute to Civil War combatants and to find closure 150 years after the conflict’s end.

But I have learned in the course of writing this blog — and sharing the story of my ancestor Arthur Bull, his fellow combatants and even my civilian Irish ancestors in Civil War Baltimore — that large outpourings at Civil War events are not unusual.

Leaving Green-Wood after the procession, we passed a group of young Zouave reenactors in ornamental jackets and crimson pants tossing wood onto a roaring campfire in front of their tents — jumping back and laughing each time the flames shot up toward the dark night sky.

They were living reminders that — far from being forgotten — the memory of those who fought to end slavery, preserve the Union and set the country on a new path is rekindled in each new generation that connects with their heroic story.

More in the next post on my Union Army ancestor in postwar Virginia.

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