Battle of Fort Stevens

In July 1864, while my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was laid up in hospital, a thwarted Confederate attack on Washington marked an important turning point in the U.S. Civil War.

t. Stevens in 1864. My ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull returned to duty on the defenses of Washington, D.C., after the July 1864 Battle of Ft. Stevens. Photo: Library of Congress
Fort Stevens in 1864. My ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull returned to duty on the defenses of Washington after the Battle of Fort Stevens. Photo: Library of Congress

At the Battle of Fort Stevens, north of the city, Confederate forces from the Shenandoah Valley were repulsed by a hybrid mass of Union combatants — irregulars who were holding the fort reinforced at the eleventh hour by battle-hardened 6th Corps troops sent north from the Virginia front.

As shots whizzed by, Pres. Abraham Lincoln observed the battle from the parapet of Fort Stevens. Washington’s defenses were beefed up after the failed assault.

The Union’s Army of the Shenandoah was also reorganized to definitively drive the Confederates out of the Valley — and block further threats to the capital as the 1864 presidential election drew near.

As part of this strategy, my great, great grandfather’s unit — the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — was recalled from Virginia in mid-August and attached to the 1st Brigade, Hardin’s Division, 22nd Army Corps, Dept. of Washington.

Col. J. Howard Kitching, the 6th NYHA commander, was put in charge of the 1st Brigade when he arrived in Washington. He described where things stood in a 17 August 1864 letter to his father, reprinted in More than Conqueror:

I reported to General Augur, and was at once placed in command…There has been no system of management of the command till everything has gotten wrong end foremost. I have relieved the former staff and am trying to get matters regulated.

The command is large, comprising thirteen forts with their garrisons, extending about eight miles. I have not yet been able to ride over my line, and see what I have jumped into.

When my ancestor Arthur Bull returned to his artillery unit in September 1864 — after his discharge from De Camp Hospital — he reported to the capital.

Arthur, 29, had survived the bloody spring battles of the Overland Campaign in Virginia, then recuperated in July and August from war-related illness. Now he would be stationed north of the Potomac to defend Washington.

I wonder about my ancestor’s experience returning to active duty. What was the atmosphere in the capital? How was Union troop morale? Where would his unit be dispatched next? And how would Arthur hold up in the battles to come?

More in future posts as the research continues.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

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Pension file epiphany

Sixth and last in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

More than a century ago my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull applied for a Civil War pension. He later requested increases as his health and his ability to work declined. After his death, his wife Mary E. applied for widow’s benefits.

Pension Records
Some documents from the Civil War pension file of my ancestor, Union Pvt. Arthur Bull. Photo by Molly Charboneau.

Their applications, along with supporting documents, sat tucked away in a file at the National Archives for five generations. There they remained — mute testimony to Arthur’s life and his family’s — until the day I arrived and asked to see them.

Beneath the vaulted ceiling of the Research Room, I followed the procedures for accessing Arthur’s pension file. Sunlight filtered in through tall, paned windows gently illuminating the table where I waited.

When the archival folder was finally delivered, I caught my breath as I opened it. Inside were original documents my ancestors had actually touched, filled in, dictated and signed.

I carefully leafed through page after page of delicate records — medical reports, military service details, affidavits from family members, rejections and reapplications for an invalid pension, widow’s pension paperwork.

Here at last was the story of my ancestor’s Civil War years. But even more, here was the story of my own family and our direct connection to the fabric of U.S. history – a legacy once lost to us, but now restored.

What if I hadn’t searched for my ancestor? Would Arthur and Mary’s story have languished and been forgotten? And how would future generations learn about the family stories I was collecting?

I photocopied the documents to bring home with me. They were my steady companions for several years as I tracked Arthur’s movements with his military unit and fleshed out the lives of my Bull ancestors. Those precious papers provided evidence that I am still learning from and sharing on this blog.

Looking back, I realize that holding Arthur’s pension file in my hands also marked an epiphany in my genealogy research, a subtle turning point after which my quest for names, dates and evidence broadened into a search for narrative — a way of resurrecting my ancestors through story so future generations could meet and get to know them.

Now it is September. The days grow shorter, the air cooler and the leaves begin to color and fall – much as they did in 1864 when Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was sufficiently recuperated to return to active duty on the defenses of Washington, D.C.

That is where we will meet up with my  great, great grandfather again as his Civil War saga continues.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

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An enlightening envelope

Fifth in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

In early February 1996, I opened my mailbox to discover an envelope from the National Archives and Records Administration.

“At last!” I thought. I had waited two months for copies of documents from the pension file of my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull.

NARA Pension Info
This pension document sent by the National Archives identified a new residence for Arthur Bull. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Carefully unsealing the envelope, I took out the papers — eight pages in all — and studied each new nugget of information about my great, great grandfather and his family.

The first document was pure gold: an 1883 report from the War Department Adjutant General’s office listing Private Arthur Bull’s presence, or absence due to illness, during his Civil War service with 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

There was also an 1888 declaration, completed when Arthur applied for a pension increase due to war-related debility, giving his residence as Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N. Y. — an entirely new location.

“How did he end up in western New York?” I wondered.

An application for a widow’s pension by Mary E. (Blakeslee) Bull said she married Arthur on 11 August 1856 in Brookdale, Pennsylvania — cornfirming earlier research.  Sadly, she also provided the date of Arthur’s death — 30 January 1890.

A general affidavit signed by Mary in 1890 said she had two children under age 16, both born in Moose River, Lewis County, N.Y. — Alice I. Bull in 1876 and Waples H. Bull in 1878. A “family record is hereto attached,” she said, but there was no copy of it.

Mrs. Carrie A. Graff, identifying herself as “a daughter” of Mary, signed a supporting affidavit saying she was present at the birth of her two young siblings — they were delivered by a midwife who had since passed away.

I spread the contents of the enlightening envelope across my kitchen table and sat back to absorb their message.

They outlined Arthur’s Union Army service in the Civil War, his wartime illness, his declining health, and his death at age 56 — leaving Mary a widow with two minor children.

But they also spoke of happier times — my ancestors’ marriage, the growth of their family — as well as their geographic mobility.

Wouldn’t Arthur’s complete Civil War pension file tell me even more? There was only one way to find out. I would have to travel to the National Archives and see it for myself.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

 
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Seeking a soldier’s records

Fourth in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

Not long after the amazing discovery that my ancestor Arthur Bull fought in the Civil War, I found out that the New York Public Library had the Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of New York on microfilm.

Since I was now living in New York City, one brisk October evening in 1995 I stopped by the library and strolled down the cool, marble corridor to the microfilm room for a look — and there I discovered two more valuable clues.

The New York Public Library, where microfilm research yielded new clues about my ancestor’s Civil War military service. Photo by Jeff Hitchcock

First, I found Arthur’s Union Army service details giving his rank as Private, his military unit as the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, and listing the companies he served in (L, E and F) — a very exciting breakthrough!

Then I checked the General Index to Pension Files 1861-1934, also on microfilm at NYPL — and up popped an image of a card showing that Arthur had filed for a veteran’s pension on 2 July 1880 and his wife Mary E. had filed for a widow’s pension on 28 June 1890.

Incredible! My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — once one of my least tangible ancestors — was starting to morph into one of my most documented.

I called Dad to share the news and sent him photocopies of the latest finds. They brought us several steps closer to unearthing Arthur’s story — particularly his military history. Now, where to look next?

After a bit more digging, I learned that the National Archives in Washington, D.C. holds military and pension records — and a request could be made through the National Archives in New York City.

Then located off Varick Street in lower Manhattan — with a spectacular cityscape view — the NARA NYC office became a new locus for my research. With help from archives staff, I sent off a request in December 1995  for copies of veterans records from Arthur’s pension file.

Awaiting a reply, I paused to reflect. Had it really been just four months since I found out I had a Civil War ancestor?  What would the National Archives send back? And where would it take me in the search for my ancestor’s story?

Two months later, a packet of documents arrived.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

The tiny road map

Third in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

Sometimes in genealogy research the tiniest scrap of paper transforms into a road map that guides you to your ancestor’s history.

That’s what happened with the little bit of evidence I received about my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull from the Susquehanna County Historical Society.

I wrote the society asking about Arthur Bull, his wife Mary (Blakeslee) Bull, and their daughter – my great grandmother Eva Bull, who was likely born in Great Bend, Susquehanna Co., Penna. in the late 1860s before the state kept birth records. A researcher wrote back and sent the next clue:

SCHS Index Card A Bull marriage_4
This marriage announcement became a tiny road map that led to important discoveries about my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull. Photo by Molly Charboneau

“I am enclosing the marriage announcement for Mary and Arthur from our card files. It states that she was from Brookdale, which is part of Liberty township.

“Liberty is located on the New York State border. It is right next to Corbettsville, which is part of Conklin, N.Y.”

An index card? It doesn’t get much smaller than that.

But it was packed with information about my great, great grandparents — the date of their marriage, their geographical location on either side of the New York-Pennsylvania border, even Arthur’s political affiliation.

I got on the phone to Dad to schedule another road trip together — to Binghamton, Broome Co., N.Y. where the public library held abundant records about nearby Corbettsville in the Town of Conklin. So off we went, index card in hand.

I have written on this blog about The little check mark in Arthur’s 1865 New York State Census entry that Dad and I discovered on that trip — which delivered the astonishing news that we had a Civil War soldier in the family.

The tiny road map had done its work by leading us to this landmark find — the starting point of a new journey  to unearth the details of Arthur’s military history.

Where to begin the next phase of the search? This time, closer to home. It turned out that several important clues awaited discovery just a subway ride away from where I now lived in New York City.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.