Category Archives: Arthur Bull

Confusing diagnosis prompts pension rejection

Fifth and last in this series on my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

Civil War Vet
Living History: A Civil War veteran and his wife at the Violet Festival in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y. (2015). 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. Here, a Civil War veteran speaks to factory owner Alfred Dolge during a portrayal of the town’s history. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Nearly three years after my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull applied for a Civil War pension for persistent health effects from Union Army service, a confusing diagnosis by a pair of physicians resulted in a rejection of his original claim.

This was a disturbing outcome, because the  findings on the Examining Surgeon’s Certificate in Arthur’s pension file — signed by J. Mortimer Crane, M.D., and W.P. Massey, M.D., of Watertown, Jefferson County, N.Y. — appear to allow for wider interpretation than the one made by the U.S. Pension Office.

A confusing diagnosis

At my ancestor’s first examination — in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. on 12 July 1882 — Dr. Alex R. Gebbie diagnosed Arthur with “irritable heart.”

Six months later, Doctors Crane and Massey noted “Pulse feeble” in their 17 Jan. 1883 report — a symptom that appears to support Dr. Gebbie’s diagnosis and today would lead a physician to explore possible underlying cardiac conditions.

Yet despite this finding, they went on to rule out heart and lung disease in my ancestor’s case!

Instead, they attributed his pain to “rheumatism or neuralgia” and made the following recommendation for pension disability compensation (full disability was then $8 a month for a Private, or about $195 a month today).

  • Dis Heart Disease 0
  • Dis Lung Disease 0
  • Dis Rheumatism or Neuralgia 1/4 = $2. on statement [about $48.80 today]

Granted, diagnostic equipment was very limited in 1883 making it harder to detect and pinpoint cardiac and other health irregularities.

But a feeble pulse should have been an indicator, even then, that something was amiss in my ancestor’s health — something that began during Arthur’s wartime service and persisted as a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as he aged.

Original claim rejected

Then there is the Surgeon General’s report in his pension file.

The Record and Pension Division of the Surgeon General’s Office sent a 27 Jan. 1883 report detailing Arthur’s wartime hospitalizations in 1864 and 1865 for “Disease of heart,” “Heart Disease” and “functional disease of heart” — terms underlined in pencil on the document, possibly by the pension office reviewer.

Despite this supporting document, the heart findings in the report by the Watertown doctors — stamped into the pension board office on 1 Feb. 1883 — appear to have been the undoing of Arthur’s initial pension request.

On 9 April 1883, the U.S. Pension Board rejected Arthur’s invalid application for “causes alleged” on his 2 July 1880 application — specifically “Rejection for heart and lung disease.”

The rejection contains no mention of Arthur’s rheumatism and neuralgia, for which the two doctors did recommend some compensation.

Arthur Bull fights on

Arthur had now been trying to collect a disability pension for nearly twice as long as his 18-month wartime service in the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery, so this rejection must have been discouraging

But — no stranger to battle — my great, great grandfather was not about to surrender his benefits without a fight.

With the help of attorneys R.S. and A.P. Lacey, Arthur continued to press his rightful claim for pension disability compensation for his persistent war-related illness — a saga we will return to in future posts.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Jefferson County, NY: More doctor visits

Fourth in a series about my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

Feb. 1883: U.S. Pension Office stamp on Watertown, Jefferson Co., N.Y. Examining Surgeon's Certificate. Nearly three years after he applied for his Civil War disability pension, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was still seeking compensation. Photo by Molly Charboneau
Feb. 1883: U.S. Pension Office stamp on Watertown, Jefferson Co., N.Y. Examining Surgeon’s Certificate. Nearly three years after he applied for his Civil War disability pension, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was still seeking compensation. Photo by Molly Charboneau

By 1883, my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s pension application process was starting to resemble what injured workers endure today when filing for Worker’s Compensation — ill or injured and unable to work full time, they must often wait for years to receive compensation.

Nearly three years after Arthur applied for a disability pension for Union Army service during the U.S. Civil War, my ancestor had to go through a series of doctor examinations — along with a background check on the details of his war-related illness.

He also had to travel significant distances to doctors’ offices to be seen. Yet he complied with these requirements because he needed the supplemental income to support his family due to a diminished capacity to work.

Watertown physical exam

In the summer of 1882. Arthur’s first doctor in nearby Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y., diagnosed an irritable heart.

But in early 1883 he was apparently directed to see another pair of physicians in Watertown, Jefferson County, N.Y. — about 70 miles from his Moose River home in Lyonsdale, Lewis County, N.Y. Back then, the journey would have required about a day’s travel each way.

According to documents in his pension file, Arthur made the trip. He was seen in Watertown on 17 Jan. 1883 by J. Mortimer Crane, M.D., and W. P. Massey, M.D. — and they chronicled his visit on an Examining Surgeon’s Certificate.

Claims that on the occasion of the Battle of Cold Harbor, was attacked with pain & difficulty of breathing in left side in cardiac region & has suffered from that time to the present with sharp darting pain which he attributes to heart & lungs.

Rheumatism and neuralgia

The patient history is consistent with what my ancestor told the first doctor about the condition for which he was repeatedly hospitalized during the war. However, Doctors Crane and Massey did not report the same findings after they examined him.

We find no valvular disease of heart …Apex beat in normal position & not heard beyond normal limits. Pulse feeble. Respiration clear & distinct on whole of both lungs. Breathing easy and regular at this examination. Looks well nourished. Pain probably rheumatism or neuralgia.

The two doctors then signed the Examining Surgeon’s Certificate and sent it to the U.S. Pension Office, where it was stamped in on 1 Feb. 1883, as shown above.

Their finding of “pain probably rheumatism or neuralgia” was new — but their assessment of “normal” heart function differed from the first doctor’s report.

What would this mean for my great, great grandfather Arthur’s pension application? More in the next post.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Lowville, NY: Examining surgeon appointment

Third in series about my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull, a Union Army veteran, first saw a doctor in connection with his U.S. Civil War pension application on 12 July 1882 — a couple of months after the pension office received the first supporting affidavit in his case.

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nylewis/lowville2.jpg
Parade on State Street in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. (undated). In 1882, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was examined by a doctor in Lowville in connection with his application for a U.S. Civil War pension. Photo: Rootsweb

Arthur’s medical appointment with Dr. Alex R. Gebbie, a Scottish examining surgeon — which took place in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. — came a full two years after he filed for his pension on 2 July 1880!

Seems the wheels of government turned pretty slowly back then. One reason for the delay may have been the new Arrears of Pension Act of 1879, which  allowed retroactive payments to the date of discharge.

This pension act prompted tens of thousands of aging Union veterans — including my ancestor — to apply or reapply for war-related disability pensions in 1880, swamping the Civil War pension system.

However delayed, I am grateful to Dr. Gebbie for providing a description of my ancestor Arthur at age 46 — 5’8″ tall, 156 lbs., dark complexion — and for including these valuable details on the examining surgeon’s certificate:

Says that on the march in the Wilderness Campaign near Cold Harbor gave out & was sent to Hospl. — I find no disease of the lungs. — Heart irritable and excitable, with a double click to the first beat. — His color is good. & he is well nourished.

Irritable heart

In previous posts, I wrote about Arthur’s irritable heart diagnosis, which is mentioned for the first time by this examining surgeon — probably brought on by the rigors of battle and double-quick marching carrying heavy knapsacks and gear weighing up to 50 lbs.

After he “gave out” on the march to Cold Harbor — as did hundreds of other soldiers — I have been able to document that Arthur was sent to hospitals away from the front, where he was treated and recuperated during the summer of 1864.

According to records in the U.S. Sanitary Commission files, he was even furloughed briefly to see his family — a policy the military found helpful to recovery — before returning to the front in September 1864.

Persistent wartime illness

However, during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in November 1864, Arthur was again laid low by heart and lung complaints — for which he was hospitalized and from which he apparently never fully recovered.

For more than 15 years after he mustered out with his unit at the end of the U.S. Civil War, Arthur continued to work as a tanner and tannery foreman to support his growing family — hardly the actions of a fly-by-night slacker.

Then at age 46, apparently less able to work, Arthur turned to a possible source of supplemental income that he had earned by laying his life and health on the line — his U.S. Civil War pension.

Now the U.S. Pension Office — through its review of affidavits, military records and medical reports like Dr. Gebbie’s — would be evaluating the veracity of my great, great grandfather’s claim.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Broome County, NY: First supporting affidavit

Second in series about my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

On 14 July 1862 — about two months before my ancestor Arthur Bull registered for the draft in Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — the U.S. government approved an important pension act (12 Stat. 566) that covered Union veterans of the U.S. Civil War.

https://dmna.ny.gov/historic/btlflags/artillery/6thArtFlankMarkers.htm
U.S. Civil War flank marker of my ancestor’s regiment. Fifteen years after he honorably mustered out with the 6th NY Heavy Artillery at the end of the U.S. Civil War, my ancestor Arthur Bull filed a declaration requesting his veteran’s pension due to lingering health effects from his military service. Image: NYS Military Museum

The act “increased pension rates and provided potential eligibility for pensions to every person in military or naval service since March 4, 1861, their widows and orphans, and for dependent orphan sisters,” according  to the U.S. National Archives website.

Two decades later, an amended version of this act would provide my great, great grandfather Arthur with an invalid pension for partial disability due to the persistent effects of war-related illness — sustained during his 1864-1865 service in the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

But first he would have to prove his case. So after filing for benefits on 2 July 1880, Arthur approached family members for help.

First of many affidavits

On 25 Jan. 1881, Arthur’s two brothers-in-law signed a general affidavit testifying to their knowledge of his health status before and after the U.S. Civil War.

The document was notarized, then signed and sealed by a New York State Supreme Court clerk for Broome County. The affiants were:

  • Edward C. Tamkins, 41, of Conklin Station, Broome County, N.Y. [widower of Arthur’s late sister, Mary E. (Bull) Tamkins] and
  •  William Whitney, 62, of Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y. [husband of Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney, sister of Arthur’s wife, Mary].

The notary wrote that the two men “are personally known to me, and they are credible persons.” Written in Edward’s hand, they stated the following:

That we have primarily known the said Arthur T. Bull for 10 years previous to his enlistment and knew him to be a sound man physically and mentally. And that since his discharge he has been unwell and part of the time under a physician’s care. And know personally that his health was impaired by service rendered between the date of his enlistment and the date of his discharge.

Eventually, their testimony found its way to the U.S. Pension Office, where their affidavit was stamped on 27 May 1882 — a year and a half later! Which raises some questions.

Missing pieces

On a genealogy research trip to Washington, D.C., I copied the entire contents of my ancestor Arthur Bull’s pension file. But now that I have finally begun to closely examine the documents, I wonder whether pieces may be missing.

The date that Arthur filed his pension declaration is clearly stated as 2 July 1880 on later documents. But an original copy of the declaration was not in his pension folder at the National Archives.

And could it really have taken a year and a half for the Tamkins-Whitney affidavit — apparently the only supporting document between 1880 and 1882 — to make its way to the pension office?

Or might there have been other documents filled out and filed in the interim that also did not make it into the pension file?

Stay tuned as I try to unravel these mysteries and continue on the trail of my ancestor Arthur Bull’s Civil War pension application.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Union Army pensioner

First in series about my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

When my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull had lived in New York State’s Adirondack foothills for about five years, declining health began to interfere with his work as a leather tanner and he applied for his U.S. Civil War pension — events I first wrote about in A decade in Moose River Settlement.

The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. This edifice was once the Pension Building in which U.S. Civil War pension claims, such as my ancestor’s, were processed. Photo by: National Building Museum

According to his pension file, Arthur filed a declaration for an Invalid Pension on 2 July1880 citing persistent health effects from his Union Army service during the war. He was just 46 years old.

Supporting a large family

In 1880, Arthur was working as a tannery foreman and headed a large household according to the federal census for Lyonsdale, Lewis County, New York.

In addition to his wife, Mary E. (Blakeslee) Bull, 41, there were seven children in the household: Carrie, 20; Milo, 18; my great grandmother Eva, 13; Frederick, 8; William, 6; Alice, 3 and Waples, 2.

Son Milo was helping out, working as a common laborer according to the census. But Arthur’s physically-demanding tannery job was the family’s primary source of income — and declining health may have been affecting his ability to work.

With so many family members depending on him, Arthur needed a reliable income. During the U.S. Civil War, he fought with the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery and was hospitalized several times for heart and lung complaints that continued to affect him after the war’s end.

So applying for an Invalid Pension was likely the only option — in the days before Social Security — to supplement declining income due to lost work time, probably caused by the lingering effects of Arthur’s wartime illness.

Proving his case

Today, Union Army veterans are regarded as heroes who put themselves in harm’s way to preserve the union and help end the brutal system of slavery. So it’s hard to imagine denying them the support of a veteran’s pension as they aged and grew infirm.

But in 1880, the pension system for U.S. Civil War veterans was still controversial. According to a brief history on the U.S. Social Security Administration website:

Such a large federal expenditure could not help but engender some criticism. The process of awarding pensions, which was administered locally, was amenable to political patronage and other forms of corruption. Also, a robust legal specialty sprung up of lawyers who specialized in helping would-be recipients secure potential pensions. Over time, these developments led to skepticism about the program and to concerns that it was rife with fraud, waste and abuse.

How did this impact my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull? It meant that — even as his health declined — his claim would take years to process, requiring many doctor visits and supporting affidavits from extended family and others to prove that he was legitimately entitled to his Civil War pension.

We will join my ancestor on this difficult journey beginning with the next post.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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