1889: A full disability pension for Arthur Bull

Sepia Saturday 423: Second in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull’s final years as a U.S. Civil War pensioner.

In February 1889 my great-grandfather Arthur Bull filed an additional declaration asking for a Civil War pension increase due to a war-related shoulder injury that rendered him unable to work — then waited to hear from the Pension Board.

Living History 2015: A U.S. Civil War veteran and his wife at the Violet Festival in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y. Union veterans like my ancestor Arthur Bull worked and raised families after the war, but relied on military pensions for war-related infirmities as they aged. Above, a Civil War veteran (c.) speaks to factory owner Alfred Dolge (r.) during a portrayal of the town’s history. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Four months later, on 26 June 1889, Arthur was examined by a panel of U.S. Pension Board physicians in Jamestown, Chautauqua Co., N.Y. — about 33 miles west of his Salamanca home in western New York’s Cattaraugus County.

Sympathetic pension physicians

Although sworn to be impartial, the pension board physicians may have been sympathetic to my ancestor — a 57-year-old veteran struggling to support his family on an approved partial-disability pension of $17 a month.

According to the 1892 New York Sate census[1. Free login required by FamilySearch to view the document image.] Dr. Thomas D. Strong, president, would have been 67 at the time — a mature physician with some awareness of the toll age can take.

Calculating from the same census[2. Ibid.],Dr. William M. Bemus, secretary, would have been 33 . And based on a search of military pension records, he appears to have filed for his own invalid pension in January 1899 — having served as a Surgeon and Major in the 3rd N.Y. Infantry.

Together with the treasurer, whose name is hard to decipher, these physicians examined Arthur’s claim that he was suffering from “disease of the heart, rheumatism, of right shoulder and arm.”

The medical exam

1889: Surgeon’s Certificate in the case of Arthur Bull’s pension increase application. The examining physicians ruled in my great-grandfather’s favor and found him eligible for a full disability pension due to war-related injury and illness from his service in the 6th NY Heavy Artillery during the U.S. Civil War. Scan by Molly Charboneau

The surgeon’s certificate states that Arthur was 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighed 150 pounds and had a normal temperature of 98.5 degrees. The report continues:

He makes the following statement upon which he bases his claim for Inc. He had rheumatism and disease of the heart followed. Was sent [to] hospitals. Pt. of Rocks & Mt. Pleasant. Was discharged 1865 on gen. order.

Upon examination, we find the following objective conditions: Fairly nourished. Rheumatic creak in the right shoulder, and right knee. No deformity of joints, or contraction of tendons. Motion of right shoulder some what impaired. Heart, size is normal, and sounds clear. Has marked ascites [fluid retention] and anasarca [edema or swelling] of feet and legs. Heart feeble, and irritable.

Full-disability pension approved

Fortunately for Arthur, this team of pension physicians found in his favor. They concluded their report with the statement below, in which I have underlined the handwritten portions:

From the existing condition and the history of this claimant, as stated by himself, it is probable that the disability was incurred in the service as he claimed, and that it has not been prolonged or aggrevatedby vicious habits.

He is, in our opinion, entitled to a 18/18 [100%] rating for the disability caused by Disease of the heart & rheumatism.

This must have been bittersweet news to Arthur — a finding that brought increased income to his household, but at the price of his total disability due to war-related injury and illness.

Yet with his wife Mary Elizabeth and two minor children dependent on him, this was the best outcome that could be hoped for Arthur and the Bull family under difficult circumstances.

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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6 thoughts on “1889: A full disability pension for Arthur Bull”

  1. I wish I could congratulate him for getting that pension! My Uncle Thomas Allen had doctors saying he was disabled and all but they still wouldn’t give him a full pension.

    1. Thanks, Kristin. It’s infuriating how unfair the federal government was to African American service members like your Uncle Thomas Allen, so served so valiently.

  2. It was good to,read of Arthur’s successful appeal and congratulations on tracing the documents on his case. I have not heard of such a resource before.

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