Lowville, NY: Examining surgeon appointment

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

My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull, a Union Army veteran, first saw a doctor in connection with his U.S. Civil War pension application on 12 July 1882 — a couple of months after the pension office received the first supporting affidavit in his case.

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nylewis/lowville2.jpg
Parade on State Street in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. (undated). In 1882, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was examined by a doctor in Lowville in connection with his application for a U.S. Civil War pension. Photo: Rootsweb

Arthur’s medical appointment with Dr. Alex R. Gebbie, a Scottish examining surgeon — which took place in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. — came a full two years after he filed for his pension on 2 July 1880!

Seems the wheels of government turned pretty slowly back then. One reason for the delay may have been the new Arrears of Pension Act of 1879, which  allowed retroactive payments to the date of discharge.

This pension act prompted tens of thousands of aging Union veterans — including my ancestor — to apply or reapply for war-related disability pensions in 1880, swamping the Civil War pension system.

However delayed, I am grateful to Dr. Gebbie for providing a description of my ancestor Arthur at age 46 — 5’8″ tall, 156 lbs., dark complexion — and for including these valuable details on the examining surgeon’s certificate:

Says that on the march in the Wilderness Campaign near Cold Harbor gave out & was sent to Hospl. — I find no disease of the lungs. — Heart irritable and excitable, with a double click to the first beat. — His color is good. & he is well nourished.

Irritable heart

In previous posts, I wrote about Arthur’s irritable heart diagnosis, which is mentioned for the first time by this examining surgeon — probably brought on by the rigors of battle and double-quick marching carrying heavy knapsacks and gear weighing up to 50 lbs.

After he “gave out” on the march to Cold Harbor — as did hundreds of other soldiers — I have been able to document that Arthur was sent to hospitals away from the front, where he was treated and recuperated during the summer of 1864.

According to records in the U.S. Sanitary Commission files, he was even furloughed briefly to see his family — a policy the military found helpful to recovery — before returning to the front in September 1864.

Persistent wartime illness

However, during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in November 1864, Arthur was again laid low by heart and lung complaints — for which he was hospitalized and from which he apparently never fully recovered.

For more than 15 years after he mustered out with his unit at the end of the U.S. Civil War, Arthur continued to work as a tanner and tannery foreman to support his growing family — hardly the actions of a fly-by-night slacker.

Then at age 46, apparently less able to work, Arthur turned to a possible source of supplemental income that he had earned by laying his life and health on the line — his U.S. Civil War pension.

Now the U.S. Pension Office — through its review of affidavits, military records and medical reports like Dr. Gebbie’s — would be evaluating the veracity of my great, great grandfather’s claim.

To be continued.

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4 thoughts on “Lowville, NY: Examining surgeon appointment”

  1. This document really is a great find. So often when we think of the casualties of the Civil War, we focus almost entirely on those who were killed or injured, but this is a sad reminder that even among those who survived, many suffered for the remainder of their lives.

    1. So true, Michelle. When I began researching my great, great grandfather’s Civil War experience, I was focused on the daring aspects of battle. But illness and disease marched right along with the troops and in many cases, such as my ancestor’s, had a lasting impact.

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