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.
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.
- 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. ↩