Category Archives: U.S. Civil War

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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Fort Monroe: My Union ancestor recovers

Letter F: Sixth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

During the U.S. Civil War, Fort Monroe near Hampton, Virginia, became known as the “Freedom Fort” for providing refuge to African Americans liberating themselves from slavery.

Fort Monroe, Virginia. On 15 March 1865, my great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was admitted to the hospital at Fort Monroe with functional disease of the heart. Photo by David
Fort Monroe, Virginia. On 15 March 1865, my great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was admitted to the hospital at Fort Monroe with functional disease of the heart. He remained until he returned to duty in May 1865. Photo by David

The fort is also part of my family history because — 151 years ago this month — my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull recuperated there from war related illness.

The following major historical events occurred while my great, great grandfather Arthur was laid up in hospital at Fort Monroe — far from his family and the federal comrades-in-arms he had fought with:

Place provides a rich framework for people in the history of a family, and Fort Monroe is one such place for me. Huge and imposing, yes — yet during the U.S Civil War it was also a safe haven for those fleeing the brutal slave system and a welcome resting place where my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull could heal from the rigors of war.

Are there places of importance in your family history? Read more about them to learn about your ancestors’ lives.

Another important place in my family is Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y., as you will read in the next post.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Ancestors: Legacy and lessons

Letter A: The first of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Aug. 2014: Union encampment on Governors Island, N.Y.
Aug. 2014: Union encampment on Governors Island, N.Y. Ancestors like my gg grandfather, a Union Army soldier during the U.S. Civil War, connect us to great events. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Ancestors have lessons to teach us. Although they may have lived generations, decades or even centuries ago, their path through history leads down to us.

They connect us to great events; to past economic and political developments; and to the life of the areas, towns, cities and countries where they lived.

My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull is one example. He served in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War and probably voted at the front in 1864, when President Abraham Lincoln was re-elected — connecting his descendants to these great events.

Arthur was also hospitalized several times for war-related illness, but he played his part in a historic conflict that changed the country forever, leaving a legacy for future generations. He also survived to become the father of many children — among them my great grandmother Eva, who was born the year after he returned from the war.

Do you have ancestors who inspire you? Have you thought about researching their history?  What about writing their stories?

Follow along and see if you feel inspired to tell your ancestors’ stories as we learn about my blacksmith ancestor from Ireland in tomorrow’s post.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Healing the wounds of war

My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull reentered civilian life as a U.S. Army Civil War veteran on 24 Aug. 1865 — undoubtedly grateful that he had survived and happy to be reunited with his family.

https://rockyhillhistory.wordpress.com/tag/soldiers-statue-ct-veterans-home-rocky-hill-ct-returning-soldier-monument/
The Returning Soldier, a monument on the grounds of a veterans home in Rocky Hill, Conn. My ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull, then a father of three, reentered civilian life as a U.S. Army Veteran on 24 August 1865 and returned home to his family in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. Image: Rocky Hill Historical Society

What little I know about my ancestor’s return home is contained in affidavits from family and  friends supporting his application, decades later, for a military pension.

Arthur’s brother-in-law William Whitney, of Binghamton, Broome Co., N.Y., filed one such affidavit on 30 Nov. 1885. He was married to Rhoda (Blakeslee) Whitney — the sister of Arthur’s wife Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull.

In his affidavit, Whitney described his memory of Arthur’s homecoming  — testimony labeled “Credibility good” by the claims examiner, who summarized it in his case notes as follows:

[Whitney] testifies that he has been well and personally acquainted with claimant [Arthur Bull] since 1861 and has personal knowledge that he returned from the army, in 1865, in a weak, emaciated condition, and suffering from what seemed to be heart trouble, with pain in the region of the heart, and with his lungs; had a cough and much trouble to get his breath…

U.S. Civil War pensions were among the few social programs supporting veterans of that war in their old age — and providing sustenance to their families. And government examiners were tasked with assuring that the claims were genuine.

In my great, great grandfather’s case, not only were there records of hospitalizations during his service with the 6th NY Heavy Artillery and of his post-war medical treatment, but also eyewitness testimony, like Whitney’s, from those who knew him well. Again, from the claims examiner’s notes:

…and he (affiant) saw claimant almost daily, from 1865 to 1875, and had personal knowledge that he complained of and suffered from these disabilities, and that he was — in affiant’s opinion — fully one-half disabled thereby for manual labor.

My ancestor Arthur Bull was a leather tanner by trade, a calling he resumed after the war, so the ability to do manual labor was essential to his livelihood.  Records in his pension file make clear that the wounds of war — in his case, heart and lung conditions — stayed with him long after the fighting ended.

Yet being back with family must have been a  healing balm. Arthur saw many productive years before applying for his Civil War pension. And he and Mary Elizabeth had many more children after the war. First among them was my great grandmother Eva May Bull, born on 24 July 1866 —  just over 10 months after Arthur came home.

More in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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