Category Archives: U.S. Civil War

1888: Arthur Bull requests a pension increase

Sepia Saturday 406: Fifth in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull and his final years in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N.Y.

In 1888, Union Army pensioners like my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull were having trouble supporting their families as their ability to work declined.

This widespread need forged the Grand Army of the Republic into a powerful national veterans’ lobby for increased benefits — a burning issue that made it onto the agenda of Republican National Convention held in June 1888 in Chicago.

https://www.gsa.gov/real-estate/historic-preservation/explore-historic-buildings/heritage-tourism
The U.S. Pension Building in Washington, D.C., was constructed in the 1880s for the agency that administered military pensions. The imposing edifice is  often described as a memorial to Civil War veterans. My ancestor Arthur Bull’s 1888 application for a pension increase eventually found its way here for processing. Source: U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)

According the Donald L. McMurray in “The Political Significance of the Pension Quesion” both veterans and the public — likely including my Bull ancestors — supported the GAR’s pension campaign. 1

The development of pension activity by the Grand army was contemporaneous with a rapid growth of membership, from 60,678 in 1880 to 269,689 in 1885, and 427,981 in 1890. At the latter date about one-third of the survivors of the war were members. No doubt this growth was caused in part by interest in the increasing activity of the organization in regard to pensions….Throughout the northern states a large part of the public believed in giving the veterans what they wanted so far as the means of the government enabled it to do so.

Declaration for pension increase

Nevertheless, a document in his Union Army pension file indicates that Arthur, 56, could not wait for the issue of pension increases to be resolved at the national level.

Signature of my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull on his pension increase declaration (22 Aug. 1888). I have inherited no photos or artifacts from my ancestor, so his signature — still fairly strong despite his declining health — is precious to me. Photo by Molly Charboneau

On 22 August 1888, my ancestor personally appeared before a Salamanca, N.Y., justice of the peace and filed a Declaration for the Increase of an Invalid Pension under then existing laws.

Arthur stated he was a pensioner of the U.S. and described the circumstances.

…enrolled at the Syracuse Pension Agency at the rate of $4.00 a month…by reason of disability from disease of heart and lungs incurred in the military service of the United States, while serving as a private in Co. F. 6th Regt. of New York H.A. Vols.

He went on to request a pension increase due to inability to work and appointed a lawyer to act on his behalf.

…on account of increased disability from the disease of heart and lungs, rendering claimant almost entirely incapacitated from the performance of manual labor [and] that he hereby appoints with full power of substitution and revocation Willard H. Peck of West Valley, Cattaraugus So. N.Y. as his true and lawful attorney to prosecute his claim.

A stamp on the document shows that it was received in the U.S. Pension Office in September 1888. Then Arthur waited for the next step — an examination by the local Pension Board — which finally came in December 1888.

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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  1. McMurray, Donald L., The Political Significance of the Pension Question, 1885-1897.  The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 9 (1) (Jun., 1922), 19-36; Oxford University Press on behalf of Organization of American Historians. JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/stable/1886098 : accessed
    accessed 7 February 2018.)

Arthur Bull and the GAR in the late 1880s

Sepia Saturday 403: Third in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull and his final years in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N.Y.

When my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull joined the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) in 1886, the Civil War veterans’ group had recently reorganized — which led to an explosion in recruitment.

114th Regimental Reunion, May 30, 1897, Norwich, N. Y.
The 114th Regimental Reunion in Norwich, Chenango Co., N.Y. (30 May 1897). G.A.R. is penciled on the back of this photo. My ancestor Arthur Bull, a Union Army veteran of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, might have attended similar gatherings during his time in the GAR. Photo: Library of Congress

The New York State Archives online finding aid to its GAR records describes the group’s founding and metamorphosis.1

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a large multi-faceted organization (fraternal lodge, charitable society, special interest lobby, patriotic group, and political club) founded in 1866 by Union Army Surgeon Benjamin Franklin Stephenson. The organization was originally envisioned as a brotherhood of veterans who were dedicated to helping other veterans.

Transformation of the GAR

The GAR initially structured itself along military lines — with sentries at the door, members transferring from post to post, and a local, state and national chain of command.

In 1869, the GAR transitioned to a fraternal group with lodges, similar to the Masons — but an unpopular internal grading system prompted a mass exodus of rank-and-file members.

So in the late 1870s, the GAR transformed itself again — and its new focus on pensions likely prompted my ancestor Arthur Bull to finally join as a pensioner in 1886. 2

As a result of these changes, the GAR’s membership rose sharply in the 1880’s….It was through the GAR, and the pension lobby, that many soldiers and their families received pensions. The Grand Army of the Republic also promoted patriotism through parades, national encampments, placement of war memorials, and the establishment of Memorial Day as a national holiday.

An integrated fraternal order

Unlike other fraternal orders in the 1800s, the Grand Army of the Republic was racially inclusive and integrated — as befitted veterans who had fought together to end slavery — and welcomed all honorably discharged Union vets, including at least two women. 3 According to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War: 4

Membership was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003668501/
African-American GAR veterans parading in a New York City (30 May 1912). Unique among fraternal groups of the era, the GAR was integrated and open to all honorably discharged Union Army veterans of the U.S. Civil War Photo: Library of Congress

The GAR was also quick to embrace Memorial Day — a commemoration begun on 1 May 1865 by African-American freepeople with a march of 10,000 in Charleston, S.C., to honor 257 Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp there. 5

Because the group was indispensable to Union Army veterans and their families, my great-great grandparents Arthur and Mary (Blakeslee) Bull likely found comfort in the milieu of the GAR — and perhaps its affiliated women’s group, too. 6

And they might have turned to the GAR for assistance as Arthur’s war-related health issues reduced his ability to work, requiring him to apply for pension increases.

More on Arthur’s life in Salamanca 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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Footnotes

  1. New York State Archives, New York State Historian Grand Army of the Republic Records finding aid, webpage. http://www.archives.nysed.gov (http://iarchives.nysed.gov/xtf/view?docId=ead/findingaids/B1706.xml accessed : 20 January 2018): Administrative History.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Wikipedia, Grand Army of the Republic, webpage. https://en.wikipedia.org (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Army_of_the_Republic accessed : 21 January 2018): Women members.
  4. Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War National Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic History, webpage. http://www.suvcw.org (http://www.suvcw.org/?page_id=167 accessed : 20 January 2018).
  5. Blight, David W., “Forgetting Why We Remember.” The New York Times, 29 May 2011. Online archives. http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/nytarchive.html (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/30/opinion/30blight.html accessed : 20 January 2018).
  6. Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War National Headquarters, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, webpage. http://www.suvcw.org (http://suvcw.org/LGAR/History.html accessed : 20 January 2018).

1885: A Limestone doctor’s final affidavit

Fifth a new series on my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull’s reapplication for a US Civil War pension and his family’s life at the time.

On 22 Sept. 1885, a doctor from Cattaraugus County, N.Y., submitted the final affidavit supporting my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull’s reapplication for his Civil War pension.

https://www.loc.gov/item/ny0481/
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Parallel Pratt Thru-Truss Bridge, Limestone, Cattaraugus County, NY. The railway network that criss-crossed New York State in the 1880s enabled my ancestor Arthur Bull to move with his family from the Adirondack region to Western New York. Photo: Library of Congress

The testimony of M.W. Smith, M.D. of Limestone was filed with the U.S. Pension Office on 1 Oct. 1885.

His was the last of a series of affidavits that would hopefully allow my great-great grandfather to collect his partial disability pension.

Dr. Smith was a new doctor for Arthur, who had only recently relocated to Cattaraugus County from the state’s Adirondack region. Yet his affidavit paints a disturbing picture of my ancestor’s war-related illness that is similar to previous testimony:

I hereby certify that I have examined Mr. A.T. Bull and find his injuries to consist of a Heart Disease with a Lung complication. The heart is enlarged and beats very irregular. He has at times Dysponea [difficult labored breathing] with severe pain in that region.

Persistent wartime illness

I have written about the wartime conditions Arthur and his fellow combatants endured: Battle after battle in the Army of the Potomac’s 1864 Overland campaign, with double-quick marches in between — some through choking dust that felled men and horses as the troops neared Cold Harbor.

Arthur was among those who “gave out” on that last march. He was treated for several months in hospital in the summer of 1864. Yet the irritable heart and lung problems he developed never fully left him after the war — and apparently worsened as he aged. More from Dr. Smith:

His Lungs are weak and has a cough most of the time, raises large quantities of phlegm. His disease is getting worse instead of improving. I have never treated him until now for this difficulty for this reason, He has not lived here but a short time. I consider him able to perform one half manual labor.

The attorneys rest their case

With Dr. Smith’s testimony, Arthur’s attorneys rested their case:

  • Relatives/colleagues who knew Arthur before and after the war had described its impact on his health;
  • Physicians in the Adirondack region had attested to treating him for heart and lung issues for a period of years;
  • Finally, a new Limestone, N.Y. doctor halfway across the state had testified that he, too, found Arthur one-half disabled.

By October 1885 — when the last supporting affidavit from Dr. Smith was submitted — more than a year had passed since a pension board medical referee recommended Arthur for a one-half disability pension.

Now only one question remained: Would the pension board approve Arthur’s application?

Up next: The pension board renders its decision. Please stop back for the final post in this series.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1884: Arthur Bull reapplies for his Union Army pension

First in a new series on my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull’s reapplication for a US Civil War pension and his family’s life at the time.

When I last wrote about my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull — a Union Army veteran of the US Civil War — I described how the  federal pension office rejected his initial pension application in April 1883.

https://www.loc.gov/item/det1994016863/PP/
Utica, N.Y. monument to Union Soldiers and Sailors who fought in the US Civil War (1900). In October 1884, my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull traveled to Utica to reapply for his Union Army pension. Photo: Library of Congress

The following year may have been a difficult one for my Bull ancestors. Arthur’s health was declining due to war-related disability that made it harder for him to work in the tanning trade.

Pension income was vital for my ancestor and his family — and for thousands of other Union veterans in similar circumstances. So Arthur kept at it and reapplied for his pension the next year.

A new medical exam

On 22 October 1884, Arthur was examined by a new team of pension board doctors in Utica, Oneida County, N.Y. — about 30 miles south of his home in Hawkinsville, N.Y.

Arthur told the doctors he incurred heart and lung disease in 1864 at or near Cold Harbor (in Virginia) while serving as a private in Company L of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

The doctors’ notes on my ancestor’s claim and his medical examination revealed the following:

His pulse-rate is 120 per minute; his respiration 19; his height is 5 feet and 8 inches; he weighs 150 pounds, and states that he is 51 years of age.

At Cold Harbor he “gave out” and was confined 2 mos in hosp. & he cannot say of what his ailment consisted. Has now a hacking cough with expectorant and phlegm, has pains about the heart and turns of dizziness.

He is a well formed strong looking man. The heart rate is rapid with increased impulse and irregular rhythm, but without disease of the valves….Pulmonary resonance + vascular murmur are normal. The abdominal organs are healthy. His alleged symptoms are all due to the enlargement and irregularity of the heart, and for this condition we advise 1/4 rating for disability caused by disease of the heart.

Waiting for pension approval

Doctors W. E. Ford, Pres.; M. M. Bazz, Secretary; and W. H. Booth, Treasurer of the local pension board signed and posted Arthur’s new Surgeons Certificate. It was received by the US Pension Board in Washington, D.C., on 29 October 1884.

Then a new period of waiting began for the Bull family to see whether the doctors’ recommendation of 1/4 disability would be approved.

An ancestral legacy

Meanwhile, Arthur’s reapplication revealed many items of interest about my ancestor. From it I learned my great-great grandfather’s height, weight, age and general appearance — along with the service location where he first became ill and the long-term effects of his illness.

I also learned that he lived in Hawkinsville in 1884, placing him near my Charbonneau and Zinsk ancestors — an important discovery in a year with no state or federal census.

Arthur was undoubtedly focused on the immediate future — and sustaining his family — when he reported for a new physical examination and provided these details to the pension board.

Yet I am grateful for this documentary legacy, since I have inherited no photos or other mementos from him.

Up next: A Pension Board referee rules in Arthur’s favor. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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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