Category Archives: U.S. Civil War

The tiny road map

Third in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

Sometimes in genealogy research the tiniest scrap of paper transforms into a road map that guides you to your ancestor’s history.

That’s what happened with the little bit of evidence I received about my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull from the Susquehanna County Historical Society.

I wrote the society asking about Arthur Bull, his wife Mary (Blakeslee) Bull, and their daughter – my great grandmother Eva Bull, who was likely born in Great Bend, Susquehanna Co., Penna. in the late 1860s before the state kept birth records. A researcher wrote back and sent the next clue:

SCHS Index Card A Bull marriage_4
The tiny road map. This marriage announcement became a tiny road map that led to important discoveries about my U.S. Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull. Photo by Molly Charboneau

“I am enclosing the marriage announcement for Mary and Arthur from our card files. It states that she was from Brookdale, which is part of Liberty township.

“Liberty is located on the New York State border. It is right next to Corbettsville, which is part of Conklin, N.Y.”

An index card? It doesn’t get much smaller than that.

But it was packed with information about my great, great grandparents — the date of their marriage, their geographical location on either side of the New York-Pennsylvania border, even Arthur’s political affiliation.

I got on the phone to my dad, Norm Charboneau, to schedule another road trip together — to Binghamton, Broome Co., N.Y. where the public library held abundant records about nearby Corbettsville in the Town of Conklin. So off we went, index card in hand.

I have written on this blog about The little check mark in Arthur’s 1865 New York State Census entry that Dad and I discovered on that trip — which delivered the astonishing news that we had a Civil War soldier in the family.

The tiny road map had done its work by leading us to this landmark find — the starting point of a new journey  to unearth the details of Arthur’s military history.

Where to begin the next phase of the search? This time, closer to home. It turned out that several important clues awaited discovery just a subway ride away from where I now lived in New York City.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

 

 

The Lyonsdale lead

First in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

The quest to find my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull began almost by accident in the early 1990s when I was living in Washington, D.C.

I was telling an out-of-town friend about my recent, exciting discovery on a trip to Montreal — the 1832 baptismal record of my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau.

“You know, you have the National Archives there in D.C.,” she said. “You could look up some of your other ancestors in the U.S. Census. The records are open after 72 years.”

The National Archives and Records Administration building in Washington, D.C. Photo by mrgarethm

Seriously? I was totally new to genealogy then. This was too good to be true!

So one night after work, I took the Metro over to the National Archives and Records Administration and stepped through a towering door into a wonderland of family history research.

In those pre-Internet days, I began by watching NARA’s video “Reeling Through History” about how to create a soundex code of my ancestors’ surnames to find them in an index, and from there in the census. Then I’d pull rolls of microfilm from endless cabinets lining the walls and load them into a reader.

The hunt for my Bull ancestors started where many searches do with the fully indexed 1880 U.S. Census — the first to show relationships to the head of household. From my dad, Norm Charboneau, I knew the maiden name of my great grandmother Eva Bull. I was thrilled when I located her family in Lyonsdale, Lewis Co., N.Y.

And there, in that hushed NARA research room, was where I first met Eva’s parents — my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull, 46, a tannery foreman, and my great, great grandmother Mary E., 41, who was keeping house. When the census taker called on 28 June 1880, they had eight children living at home — four daughters and four sons.

I wanted to learn more, and would drop by the archives on free nights to continue researching the Bulls — but to no avail. I had hit my first brick wall.

One lead from the 1880 census proved invaluable, though: Eva was their only child born in Pennsylvania. And a road trip with my dad to her adult hometown yielded the next breakthrough in finding Arthur Bull.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

Irritable heart

Besides chronic rheumatism, my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull may have suffered from irritable heart — a combat-related debility that emerged during the the U.S. Civil War.

Dr. Jacob Mendez Da Costa studied what was then seen as a cardiovascular disease among Union soldiers at Turner’s Lane hospital in Philadelphia. It became known as Soldier’s Heart and, later, Da Costa Syndrome.

Da Costa probed the war-related origins of irritable heart and found that, in some cases, it could transition into organic heart disease  — discoveries that would become important to my great, great grandfather in his later years.

Union Reenactors Gear
Union Army reenactors load heavy knapsacks, Spotsylvania Court House, Va., 4 May 2014. Overexertion before and during the stress of battle under burden of packs, gear and arms contributed to irritable heart. Photo by Molly Charboneau

What the Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion says about irritable heart  jibes closely with Arthur’s description of his llness:

“Among the affections of the heart a functional disturbance known by the name of irritable heart or cardiac muscular exhaustion was the most notable product of the war.”

“Irritable heart appears to have been a result of active field service” including “drills and double-quick movements of camp, effected under the full burden of arms and accouterments” as well as “some over-action of the heart during a particular battle or campaign.”

“The affected soldier was subject to fits of fluttering cardiac action, accompanied by pain in the praecordia, shortness of breath and perhaps haemoptysis, dizziness and dimness of vision; sometimes these were so severe as to occasion insensibility.”

With advances in medicine and diagnostic testing, the irritable heart of the Civil War era is now regarded as a stress-related neurological/anxiety syndrome — the first identification of a post traumatic stress disorder among U.S. combat troops.

After Arthur “gave out” he was sent to De Camp General Hospital for two months of treatment — consisting of rest, a therapeutic diet and an intriguing regimen of pain relievers and unusual-sounding tonics that predated modern medicine.

What were these analgesics and potions? Are any still used today? What was the diet like? The detective work continues.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

Killer knapsack

Just as field commanders logged each Civil War battle, the U. S. medical corps submitted reports to the Surgeon General on war-related injuries, illnesses, diseases and patient care.

Their chronicles — published as The Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion (1861-65) — contain valuable clues about causes and treatment of my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s heart and lung complaints and chronic rheumatism.

BookReaderImagessoldiers2
Recommended placement of knapsacks, gear and weapons by Union soldiers to avoid injury and illness. Source: MSHWR

In an 1889 declaration in his pension file, my great, great grandfather said his rheumatic illness  — particularly pain in his right shoulder and arm — was caused by “exposure and hard marching, having to carry his knapsack and other accouterments, bearing more especially from straps placed on right shoulder.”

Turns out this may have contributed to Arthur’s heart and lung problems, too.

In a section on “Morbid Conditions Attributed to the Weight of the Accoutrements,” the MSHWR  discusses “haemoptysis” (spitting up blood) “after a paroxysm of accelerated cardiac action and oppressed breathing” — which sounds very much like Arthur’s illness.

The passage continues: “In many cases, the soldier, and frequently the medical officer, attributed the haemoptysis to exercise under the weight of knapsack and pressure of the belts.”

Veteran Union soldiers on the march had learned to jettison their 40-50 pounds of pack and gear — traveling light with just a rifle and ammo, weighing about 10 pounds, and some undergarments rolled into a blanket slung over their shoulder.

Arthur was an inexperienced recruit unaccustomed to doing this. So he may have succumbed from the exertion of soldiering on with his heavy, killer knapsack — an occurrence common enough to be noted in Civil War medical literature.

And he might also have been among the large number of Union soldiers who were affected by a newly diagnosed, war-related syndrome. More on this as Arthur’s saga continues.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

 

Mother of three

While my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull was in the Union Army (1864-65), his wife Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull was left in charge of their household in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y.

Union Reenactors 4 May 2014
Union Army reenactor and his wife, Spotsylvania Court House, Va., 4 May 2014. Photo by Molly Charboneau

What was life like for my great, great grandmother during the Civil War years?  It’s hard to know with few records to go by.

Elizabeth, as she was called, was 27 in 1865 and a mother of three young children — Emma, 7, born in Pennsylvania; Carrie, 5, born in Delaware Co., N.Y.; and Milo, 3, born in Broome Co., N.Y. The family had moved several times since her 1856 marriage to Arthur in Liberty, Susquehanna, Pa.

Arthur received a $300 bounty when he enlisted — equivalent to more than $5,000 today — so there would have been money to live on. But for Elizabeth, as for many women of that era, her husband’s absence also brought new responsibility to run things as she thought best.

Census records show she had family living nearby to turn to for help — her older sister Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney, Arthur’s parents Jeremiah and Mary Bull and Arthur’s sister Mary Emma (Bull) Tamkins, whose husband Edward was also away in the 137th Regiment N.Y. Infantry.

Mary Bull signature
Signature of Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, 53, on 9 May 1892 affidavit in Civil War widow’s pension application file. Photo by Molly Charboneau.

But I have inherited no diary or letters from Elizabeth to illuminate her inner life. I have only her signature on documents from her application, decades later, for widow’s benefits.

What were her thoughts, her hopes, her worries as a young woman during the U.S. Civil War? How did she cope with having a husband in harm’s way? What did she tell her children?

How I wish she had found the time to leave answers to those questions.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.