1889: Arthur Bull requests another pension increase

Sepia Saturday 422: First in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull’s final years as a U.S. Civil War pensioner.

Recent retirement from my job got me thinking once again about my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull — and how vital his military pension was to sustaining his family at the end of his work life.

May 2018: Artillery detail on the facade of the U.S. Pension Office building (now the National Building Museum). My great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull received a U.S. Civil War pension for his 1864-65 service in the Union Army’s 6th NY Heavy Artillery. Photo by Molly Charboneau

When I last wrote about Arthur, he was living in Salamanca in Western New York’s Cattaraugus County and, in February 1889, had just been approved for a pension for war-related heart disease.

This brought a much-needed bump in household income from a retroactive pension payment, and regular monthly income going forward.

Yet this was still not enough for Arthur to support himself, his wife Mary Elizabeth and their two minor children Alice 13, and Waples, 11, once he could no longer work in the tannery trade.

So on 23 Feb. 1889, Arthur applied for a second pension increase based on a separate, war-related injury to his shoulder that was causing disability as he aged.

Arthur’s court appearance

With his attorney Willam H. Peck, Arthur appeared before a Cattaraugus County judge, as required by the pension law, and signed an additional declaration about his shoulder.  The declaration from his pension file states:

He contracted rheumatism of right shoulder and arm from exposure and hard marching, having to carry his knapsack and other accouterments, bearing more especially from straps placed over right shoulder.

Said rheumatism has continue to the present, at times more or less aggrevated. Whenever he attempts to labor with his right arm, the pain in right shoulder and arm is so intense that he has to stop labor. This claimant is now drawing a pension Cert. No. 315.208 on account of “heart disease.”

The declaration concludes,”That he is now Entirely disabled from obtaining his subsistence by manual labor by reason of his injuries above described.”

Killer knapsack

With backpacks so prevalent in everyday use today, it is hard to imagine how a military knapsack could cause severe shoulder injury to Arthur or any soldier.

Recommended placement of knapsacks, gear and weapons by Union soldiers to avoid injury and illness. Source: MSHWR

However, their potential to cause injury and illness is documented in the Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion (1861-65), a multi-volume compendium of cases and observations reported by the U.S. medical corps to the Surgeon General — which includes illustrations (above) of ergonomic knapsack protocols.

The packs and gear — which could weigh 40-50 pounds — were especially taxing on the double-quick marches often required of Arthur and other Army of the Potomac troops during the grueling Overland Campaign of 1864.

A lasting injury

As described in Killer knapsack, veteran Union soldiers on the march had learned to jettison their heavy knapsacks and accoutrements — traveling light with just a rifle and ammo, weighing about 10 pounds, and some undergarments rolled into a blanket slung over the shoulder.

But Arthur, when new to the army, may not have known to do this — and appears to have sustained a lasting shoulder injury as a result.

Decades later, this injury required him to submit an additional pension declaration since he could no longer work — then wait for another ruling from the U.S. Pension Board.

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Please like and share:

5 thoughts on “1889: Arthur Bull requests another pension increase”

  1. A fascinating idea to understand the hardships endured by our ancestors. I’ve always marveled that even with horses, wagons, ships, and trains, most soldiers walked/marched everywhere during their service in the war. It was an important question for any commander to know the answer. How fast could his men march in a day? How much food/water/ammo could they carry? Lots of battles turned because of miscalculations about troop movements.

  2. I have the same concerns about kids and their backpacks. I went back and read your previous post. I had no idea the other medical conditions were attributed to the stress of carrying those heavy knapsacks.

  3. Poor man, I hope he succeeded in getting awarded a pension increase. Veterans suffer in so many ways after their service with PTSD now a major cause of problems other than physical, something unheard of in Arthur’s time.

  4. I often wonder, seeing kids walking home from school with heavy book-bags on their backs, whether they will suffer some kind of lasting back or shoulder injury in later life?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.