1888: Pension Board examines Arthur Bull for a pension increase

Sepia Saturday 407: Seventh in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull and his final years in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N.Y.

On a wintry 26 Dec. 1888, my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull, 57, was examined by U.S. Pension Board physicians in Olean, Cattaraugus, N.Y., in connection with his request for an increase in his Union Army pension for war-related illness.

Winter in Cattaraugus County, N.Y. During the 1888 holiday season, my great-great grandfather was examined by Pension Board physicians  in Olean, N.Y., in connection with his request for a pension increase. By: Seabamirum

The examination took place at the end of a year of significant changes in the Salamanca household of my ancestors Arthur and Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull. Mary’s mother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee had passed in January and their daughter Jessie married Sidney Banton in May.

By the time Arthur applied in August for an increased pension — because he cold no longer work even part time — only their daughter Alice, 11, and son Waples, 10, were still at home.

 A credentialed board

Examining Pension Board physicians were sometimes Civil War veterans themselves, and thus familiar with war-related complaints. Such was the case with at least one of Arthur Bull’s examiners, Board President John S. Eddy, M.D.

In the 1890 United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, Dr. Eddy reported that he served as an assistant surgeon with the 12th N.Y Infantry from Oct. 1862 to June 1863.

Surgeon’s Certificate for Arthur Bull’s examination for a pension increase (1888). At least one physician on the examining panel was a Union Army veteran. Arthur was determined to be permanently disabled by war-related disease of the heart.  Photo: Molly Charboneau

A finding of permanent disability

Eddy and a panel of two others took this statement from Arthur, who was described as 5 feet 7 inches tall inches tall, weighing 157 pounds and age 57:

The heart is very irregular, and feels as if something were grasping it. It also pains a great deal. Has shortness of breath. has a pain through the right lung a good deal of the time, coughs at night.

This is followed by sobering notes from Arthur’s physical examination. They indicate that, while his respiration appeared normal, his heartbeat was characterized by a “soft flowing murmur…very intermittent…so much so that it is impossible to count the pulse.”

Stating that Arthur had “Disability in a permanent degree equal to the loss of a hand or foot” due to his war-related irritable heart, the Board made the following recommendation:

From the existing conditions and the history of this claimant, as stated by himself, it is, in our judgement, probable that the disability was incurred in the service as he claims, and that it has not been prolonged or aggravated by vicious habits. He is, in our opinion, entitled to a 3rd Grade rating for disability caused by Disease of the heart.

Arthur finally prevails

Arthur was not alone. According to an 1888 Commission of Pensions Report to Congress, 25,994 Union pensioners were classified as disabled from war-related heart disease between 1862 and mid-1888.

The Olean, N.Y.,  Board signed off on the Surgeon’s Certificate (shown above) on 31 Dec. 1888, and it was received at the U.S. Eastern Pension Office on 11 Jan. 1889.

Fortunately, this time my ancestor did not have to wait long for a decision. On 4 Feb. 1889, the U.S. Pension Board approved an increase in Arthur Bull’s pension to $17 a month commencing on 26 Dec. 1888.

There will be more on Arthur and his family in future posts. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

Up next: Starting on March 1 — St. David’s Day — a new series on my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen of Baltimore City, Maryland.  

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9 thoughts on “1888: Pension Board examines Arthur Bull for a pension increase”

  1. So glad that he did receive a bit larger benefit for giving his heart health for the country. Seventeen dollars a month must have helped, but it’s hard to believe from the values we have today.

  2. Appreciate everyone’s comments on my ancestor Arthur Bull’s struggle to gain sufficient pension income to support his family. As Mike points out, there were many layers to service in the U.S. Civil War — both on the frontlines, behind them being treated, and lingering decades after the war ended. I have learned a great deal from blogging about my ancestor’s experience, and I would encourage anyone with access to an ancestor’s pension documents to spend some time studying them for the stories they reveal.

  3. Interesting post. I’ll have to go back and take a more thorough look at the pension applications I have for a couple of my Civil War ancestors.

  4. Your series on Arthur is fascinating on so many levels. The war produced many long term issues for veterans, not the least of which was health. One of my great great grandfathers was a POW held in Richmond’s infamous Libby Prison. I’m sure his health battles continued long after the war. Sadly these same concerns would come back again for American vets in 1918, 1945, 1972 ,etc., etc.

  5. I’ve never heard of Soldier’s Heart. Very interesting to read about the beginnings of understanding Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome both physical and psychological. Isn’t it amazing that they kept such excellent records.

  6. Once in a while things turn out right! Good for your great great grandfather to pursue what he knew he was duly owed!

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