Jefferson County, NY: More doctor visits

Fourth in a series about my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

Feb. 1883: U.S. Pension Office stamp on Watertown, Jefferson Co., N.Y. Examining Surgeon's Certificate. Nearly three years after he applied for his Civil War disability pension, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was still seeking compensation. Photo by Molly Charboneau
Feb. 1883: U.S. Pension Office stamp on Watertown, Jefferson Co., N.Y. Examining Surgeon’s Certificate. Nearly three years after he applied for his Civil War disability pension, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was still seeking compensation. Photo by Molly Charboneau

By 1883, my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s pension application process was starting to resemble what injured workers endure today when filing for Worker’s Compensation — ill or injured and unable to work full time, they must often wait for years to receive compensation.

Nearly three years after Arthur applied for a disability pension for Union Army service during the U.S. Civil War, my ancestor had to go through a series of doctor examinations — along with a background check on the details of his war-related illness.

He also had to travel significant distances to doctors’ offices to be seen. Yet he complied with these requirements because he needed the supplemental income to support his family due to a diminished capacity to work.

Watertown physical exam

In the summer of 1882. Arthur’s first doctor in nearby Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y., diagnosed an irritable heart.

But in early 1883 he was apparently directed to see another pair of physicians in Watertown, Jefferson County, N.Y. — about 70 miles from his Moose River home in Lyonsdale, Lewis County, N.Y. Back then, the journey would have required about a day’s travel each way.

According to documents in his pension file, Arthur made the trip. He was seen in Watertown on 17 Jan. 1883 by J. Mortimer Crane, M.D., and W. P. Massey, M.D. — and they chronicled his visit on an Examining Surgeon’s Certificate.

Claims that on the occasion of the Battle of Cold Harbor, was attacked with pain & difficulty of breathing in left side in cardiac region & has suffered from that time to the present with sharp darting pain which he attributes to heart & lungs.

Rheumatism and neuralgia

The patient history is consistent with what my ancestor told the first doctor about the condition for which he was repeatedly hospitalized during the war. However, Doctors Crane and Massey did not report the same findings after they examined him.

We find no valvular disease of heart …Apex beat in normal position & not heard beyond normal limits. Pulse feeble. Respiration clear & distinct on whole of both lungs. Breathing easy and regular at this examination. Looks well nourished. Pain probably rheumatism or neuralgia.

The two doctors then signed the Examining Surgeon’s Certificate and sent it to the U.S. Pension Office, where it was stamped in on 1 Feb. 1883, as shown above.

Their finding of “pain probably rheumatism or neuralgia” was new — but their assessment of “normal” heart function differed from the first doctor’s report.

What would this mean for my great, great grandfather Arthur’s pension application? More in the next post.

To be continued.

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6 thoughts on “Jefferson County, NY: More doctor visits”

  1. One wonders was medical care better back then? Did he live in the times before anesthesia existed, or when doctors still prescribed mercury? On the other hand, in modern times, someone with an unknown medical problem might be subjected to countless tests, biopsies and CAT scans in an effort to find what is”wrong.” But I think there was no “safety net” back then, so it would be frightening to not be able to support one’s family. Even though the safety net now may not be that great either.

    1. All excellent points, Courtney. Sometimes basic diagnostic techniques can avoid the endless testing you describe. But when they fall short, as in my ancestor’s case, they can create hardship for the patient and dependents.

    1. I wonder, too. However, I have read that the fraternal organization Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) began organizing around this time to help Union veterans push for pension benefits. With their help, and his family’s, my ancestor was not alone.

    1. So true. And when he applied may have been a factor, too. The 1879 Arrears Act (a change in the Civil War pension law that made disability claims retroactive to the date military service ended) prompted a huge influx of applications that the Pension Office may not have been prepared for. Nevertheless, a frustrating process for the applicant.

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