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.
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.”
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.
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.
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