1888: Arthur Bull requests a pension increase

Sepia Saturday 406: Sixth in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull and his final years in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N.Y.

In 1888, Union Army pensioners like my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull were having trouble supporting their families as their ability to work declined.

This widespread need forged the Grand Army of the Republic into a powerful national veterans’ lobby for increased benefits — a burning issue that made it onto the agenda of Republican National Convention held in June 1888 in Chicago.

The U.S. Pension Building in Washington, D.C., was constructed in the 1880s for the agency that administered military pensions. The imposing edifice is  often described as a memorial to Civil War veterans. My ancestor Arthur Bull’s 1888 application for a pension increase eventually found its way here for processing. Source: U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)

According the Donald L. McMurray in “The Political Significance of the Pension Quesion” both veterans and the public — likely including my Bull ancestors — supported the GAR’s pension campaign. 1

The development of pension activity by the Grand army was contemporaneous with a rapid growth of membership, from 60,678 in 1880 to 269,689 in 1885, and 427,981 in 1890. At the latter date about one-third of the survivors of the war were members. No doubt this growth was caused in part by interest in the increasing activity of the organization in regard to pensions….Throughout the northern states a large part of the public believed in giving the veterans what they wanted so far as the means of the government enabled it to do so.

Declaration for pension increase

Nevertheless, a document in his Union Army pension file indicates that Arthur, 56, could not wait for the issue of pension increases to be resolved at the national level.

Signature of my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull on his pension increase declaration (22 Aug. 1888). I have inherited no photos or artifacts from my ancestor, so his signature — still fairly strong despite his declining health — is precious to me. Photo by Molly Charboneau

On 22 August 1888, my ancestor personally appeared before a Salamanca, N.Y., justice of the peace and filed a Declaration for the Increase of an Invalid Pension under then existing laws.

Arthur stated he was a pensioner of the U.S. and described the circumstances.

…enrolled at the Syracuse Pension Agency at the rate of $4.00 a month…by reason of disability from disease of heart and lungs incurred in the military service of the United States, while serving as a private in Co. F. 6th Regt. of New York H.A. Vols.

He went on to request a pension increase due to inability to work and appointed a lawyer to act on his behalf.

…on account of increased disability from the disease of heart and lungs, rendering claimant almost entirely incapacitated from the performance of manual labor [and] that he hereby appoints with full power of substitution and revocation Willard H. Peck of West Valley, Cattaraugus So. N.Y. as his true and lawful attorney to prosecute his claim.

A stamp on the document shows that it was received in the U.S. Pension Office in September 1888. Then Arthur waited for the next step — an examination by the local Pension Board — which finally came in December 1888.

More on this in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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  1. McMurray, Donald L., The Political Significance of the Pension Question, 1885-1897.  The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 9 (1) (Jun., 1922), 19-36; Oxford University Press on behalf of Organization of American Historians. JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/stable/1886098 : accessed
    accessed 7 February 2018.)
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9 thoughts on “1888: Arthur Bull requests a pension increase”

  1. Ah-ah! You leave our hero hanging by his fingertips from the proverbial cliff till next week. Did he get that increase or not? 🙂

  2. The Civil War was the first conflict where medical science had enough knowledge to preserve the lives of soldiers. The Union Army’s Medical and Sanitation Corps created incredibly detailed post-war encyclopedias about all the wounds, injuries, and sicknesses suffered by the troops. The state and federal governments knew this pension issue would be costly, but the military’s documentation usually supported the veteran’s claims. It was a tough era to be dependent on a pension, and it was when the Old Soldier’s Homes were first established for the increasing numbers of destitute veterans and widows.

  3. I too have several ancestors who applied for pensions citing inability to work due to injuries or health problems stemming from the war. Lots of rheumatism going around! I have never found a request for an INCREASE though.

    1. Initially, Arthur was awarded a one-half disability pension of $4 per month, presumably because he could still perform some work. However, as he aged he became unable to work at all — so this application requests an increase to the full monthly amount. Still woefully low, hence the GAR campaign to raise the dollar amount, expand widows’ pensions and make other badly-needed enhancements.

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