Tag Archives: Civil War

An Elmira Hospital stay

First of three posts on researching my Union Army ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull in the U.S. Sanitary Commission (USSC) records

In April 2015, I made an appointment to visit the New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division to search for information about my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull’s Civil War medical history in the U.S. Sanitary Commission records.

U.S. General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y. (Frank Leslie – 1896). U.S. Sanitary Commission records showed my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was transferred here on 1 July 1864 — a new discovery about his Civil War medical treatment. Image: ClipArt Etc./Florida Center for Instructional Technology

I knew from records in his pension file that in June 1864 he spent time in Mt. Pleasant General Hospital in Washington, D.C., after “falling out” on the march near Cold Harbor, Va., during the Overland Campaign.

From there, he was transferred to De Camp General Hospital on Davids Island off the coast of New Rochelle, Westchester Co., N.Y. — where I assumed he spent the summer of 1864 before returning to duty in September.

I also knew his unit, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, was part of the Army of the Potomac when he fell ill, and I had documents that helped me narrow down his hospitalization dates — certainly enough evidence to start a search of the USSC records.

Registering and researching

The online finding aid to the Sanitary Commission records confirmed that there could be records for the dates I was interested in, so I registered online to request access.

On the web form, I outlined what I was looking for and asked Divison staff to suggest where I should begin my search through the monumental collection. They emailed me a list of registers and other records that I could start with, and had their recommended items ready when I arrived.

As I began paging through the fragile 150-year-old bound volumes and manuscripts one by one, I thought of my late Dad. He would have been amazed that the little check mark we discovered in the 1865 New York State Census — which told us we had a Civil War ancestor — could lead to such a seemingly endless trail of information.

Turning page after page, I was expecting that whatever I found in the USSC records — if I found anything at all — would simply reinforce and add some detail to what I already knew about my ancestor’s medical treatment.

So imagine my surprise when I found my great, great grandfather’s name in the second register I looked through — and discovered new evidence that he was transferred on 1 July 1864 to the U.S. General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y., not far from his home and family in Conklin, Broome County, N.Y.

To be continued.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Early days of Reconstruction

Muster rolls in my great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull’s pension file show he remained in Virginia with the 6th New York Heavy Artillery through the summer of 1865. Was he involved in the early days of Reconstruction? If so, what role might he have played? And where can I search for answers?

Lee surrenders to Grant, General Grant National Memorial, New York, NY (2015). My ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull remained on duty in Virginia for several months after the end of the U.S. Civil War during the very early days of Reconstruction. Photo by Molly Charboneau
May 2015: Lee surrenders to Grant, General Grant National Memorial, New York, NY. My ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull remained on duty in Virginia for several months after the end of the U.S. Civil War during the early days of Reconstruction. Photo by Molly Charboneau

While my ancestor was still in the service, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen’s Bureau) was established by the U.S. War Dept. on 3 March 1865.

Background information about the Freedmen’s Bureau records on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) website captures the broad scope of its mission.

[The Bureau] provided assistance to tens of thousands of former slaves and impoverished whites in the Southern States and the District of Columbia. The war had liberated nearly four million slaves and destroyed the region’s cities, towns and plantation-based economy. It left former slaves and many whites dislocated from their homes, facing starvation, and owning only the clothes they wore. The challenge of establishing a new social order, founded on freedom and racial equality, was enormous.

Until the Freedman’s Bureau was fully operational — beginning around June 1865 — it appears that Union Army soldiers like my ancestor, who remained in the South after the Civil War’s end, may have handled some relief work.

On 25 May 1865, in the Dept. of Virginia — where my ancestor was stationed with the 6th NYHA in Sub-District of the Roanoke, District of the Nottoway — the Army of the James issued  orders that directed the safeguarding of newly-free African Americans, which likely included relief efforts.

The commanders of districts and sub-districts are made superintendents of negro affairs within their respective limits.

Union troops also stood as a bulwark that protected the African American population from former slave owners, overseers and others who had directly or tacitly supported the brutal slave system. The Army of the James — which my ancestor’s unit was part of — was noteworthy for the large number of U.S. Colored Troops in its ranks, who were among the first Union troops to enter Richmond after it fell.

In a diary entry dated 26 May 1865, Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA gave a snapshot of the regiment’s tasks in a hostile environment.

[O]ur duties were to keep order and enforce the laws and sanitary regulations and to administer the oath of allegiance to the Citizens. We also issued the destitute rations nine tenths of the applicants were white and a more helpless set of people would be difficult to imagine they were perfectly destitute of all principle or honesty and would willingly take the oath every hour and violate it with every breath.

On 27 May 1865, Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds of the 6th NYHA — a farmer in civilian life — described the desolate landscape in a letter to his wife from Lunenburg Court House, Va., underscoring the need for Union Army relief efforts.

This is a poor forsaken looking country and our boys say we are only 18 miles from where the sun sets.

With no correspondence from my ancestor to refer to, more research is needed to narrow down his specific duties in Virginia during the summer of 1865. NARA’s federal records on the Freedman’s Bureau and related military records may help me learn more.

But for now I am satisfied that my great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was stationed at a time and place where he “kept order” and likely assisted with relief efforts in the early days of Reconstruction.

Next post: New information from the U.S. Sanitary Commission records on my Civil War ancestor’s time in hospital in July 1864.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Headquarters provost guard

On 22 May 1865, General Orders issued from Petersburg, Va., assigned the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s regiment — to Sub-Division of the Roanoke, District of the Nottoway in the Union Army of the James, Dept. of Virginia.

Petersburg, Virginia. Group of Provost Guard, headquarters, Army of the Potomac (Feb. 1865). My ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull of 6th NYHA Co. L served provost guard duty in May 1865 at the headquarters of Brevet Major-General Ferrero in U.S. Sub-District of the Roanoake, District of the Nottoway, Army of the James, Dept. of Virginia. Image: Library of Congress

Major-General of Volunteers George L. Hartsuff, stationed at District of Nottoway Headquarters in Petersburg, directed that:

The organization known as Ferrero’s division is discontinued, and the following assignment of troops is made, viz: Sub-Division Roanoke, Sixth and Sixteenth Regiment New York Artillery and five companies of the Sixth Ohio Cavalry…All citizens having complaints to make or requiring counsel or assistance will apply to the commanding officer of the sub-district in which they live.

On 25 May, the Army of the James, Dept. of Virginia, issued follow-up orders that listed the Virginia counties between Petersburg and Appomattox where my great, great grandfather’s 6th NYHA would now serve — and broadened their mandate to include safeguarding the newly-free African American population.

The counites of Mecklenburg, Lunenburg, Nottoway, Prince Edward, Charlotte, and Halifax will constitute the Sub-District of the Roanoake, under command of Brevet Major-General Ferrero…The commanders of districts and sub-districts are made superintendents of negro affairs within their respective limits.

The impact of these orders was felt immediately in the field. Sgt. William Thistleton, in a diary entry likely written after the events, outlined 6th NYHA company assignments — including my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s new duties with Co. L as BMG Ferrero’s headquarters provost guard.

May 26th the men put up their tents remained here until the 20th of June. Our regiment had been ordered to do Provost duty in three counties and were divided as follows viz. First Battalion Cos. ‘C.’ ‘D’ and ‘E’ to Nottoway Court house. Cos. G, K and A at Prince Edwards Court House Lieut. Col. Baker Provost Marshall. Cos. F, M and I to Lunenburg Court House Major E. G. Morris Provost Marshall. Co. L detailed as guard at Head Quarters of Brevet Major Gen. Ferraro. Cos. B and H Capt. Gilberts commanding at Burkeville Station.

My great, great grandfather would remain at his post as a provost guard in central Virginia until late June 1865 — helping to reestablish federal rule during the early period of Reconstruction in the South.

More in future posts as Arthur’s post-Civil-War saga continues.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Grand Review of the Armies

When the Grand Review of the Armies took place in Washington, D.C. — a mammoth procession and celebration held 23-24 May 1865 at the close of the U.S. Civil War — my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was still on duty in Virginia with the 6th New York Heavy Artillery and en route to a new location.

U.S. Gen. William T. Sherman’s troops at the Grand Review of the Armies, Washington, D.C. (24 May 1865). Shown is the 20th Army Corps., Army of the Georgia, passing in review as seen from the the Treasury Bldgs. looking up Pennsylvania Ave. My ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was still on duty in Virginia during the Grand Review and en route to a new assignment. Photo: Library of Congress

As members of the Union Armies of the Potomac, Shenandoah, Georgia and Tennessee marched down Pennsylvania Avenue 150 years ago this week — before cheering crowds and past the presidential reviewing stand — Sgt. William Thistleton chronicled the 6th NYHA’s movements near Petersburg, Va., where my ancestor had been stationed since 2 May 1865.

May 23rd at 7 we left our quarters for a little march to the canal basin about 1 ½ miles the other side of the city [of Petersburg] camped all night in the freight house.

May 24th took the cars at the South Side Railroad went to Burkeville station arrived at 1 P.M. rested until 4 P.M. then we marched about 5 miles halted for the night.

May 25th at 5 a.m. on the march again marched 16 ½ miles to Lunenburg Court House arrived at 1 P.M. weather very warm.

My great, great grandfather entered the service in January 1864, and he was scheduled to serve for three years. Now that the Civil War was officially over, Arthur and others in his regiment likely hoped for an early release to return home.

So they may have been surprised by this new assignment, as reflected in 6th NYHA Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds’ letters to his wife.

Petersburg, Va., May 7th, 1865: Another week has rolled around and we still remain at Petersburg…We will probably stay here until the State government gets into operation and no longer…I have a much easier time here than I probably should were I at home. Yet I long to be with my wife and children.

Lunenburg Court House, Va., May 27, 1865: I am some seventy miles south west from Petersburgh (sic) & of course so much farther from home. Our Regiment took the cars last Wednesday for Burksville Junction and were marched from thence to this place arriving Thursday noon…I am told our prospects remain good for our remaining here for the remainder of our term of service.

Arthur’s 6th NYHA regiment was now attached to the Union Army of the James in Sub-District of Roanoke, District of the Nottoway in the Dept. of Virgnia.

More on his regiment’s new duties in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Postwar Petersburg

When my Union Army ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull returned to active service with his 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery regiment on 2 May 1865, he reported to Blandford, Virginia, near Petersburg — a new location which brought new postwar duties.

By: Internet Archive Book Images
Civil War map of Petersburg, Va. My ancestor Arthur Bull was stationed in Blandford, Va., (upper right) in early May 1865 when Union Armies passed through en route to the post-war Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D,C. Image: Internet Archive Book Images

On 3 May 1865  — the day after my ancestor’s return — Pvt. Orson Reynolds of the 6th NYHA sent an assessment of the situation to his wife.

The people of Virginia have had enough of war. I am told that there are some 12,000 poor white people who are daily fed by our government. The City has been very quiet and orderly since we came here and the inhabitants are getting quite sociable and friendly…The prospects now are that we shall stay here as long as troops are needed. In military matters all is uncertain.

Union troops that remained in the south after the Civil War’s end were tasked with restoring order, assisting the civilian population and holding the areas where they were stationed — duties my great, great grandfather would now perform.

Bur first Arthur would be on hand to witness the northward march of victorious Union Army units headed to Washington, D.C. for the final Grand Review of the Armies on 23-24 May. Again from Pvt. Orson Reynolds in Petersburg, Va.:

May 3rd, 1865: Sheridan’s Cavalry are now passing through the City on their way to Alexandria [Va.]. Three army corps have also passed for the same place and we will soon be the only remaining troops.

May 7th, 1865: I understand General Sherman’s army is but a short distance from the city and will probably pass through tomorrow on their way to Washington to be mustered out of the service.

My ancestor did not take part in the Grand Review — he remained on duty in Virginia until mustering out in August 1865. But I imagine he was amazed and proud to see the vast army of Union soldiers — including his fellow combatants from the Armies of the Potomac and Shenandoah — trekking north toward the U.S. capital, where they would be cheered by civilian crowds.

Of particular note would have been U.S. Gen. William Tecumsah Sherman’s 65,000-strong Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia — rough and ready Union soldiers accompanied by masses of newly-free African Americans. This diverse contingent personified the heart and soul of the successful struggle to end the brutal slave system — and would march for six hours during the Grand Review.

No doubt Arthur and his comrades gave them a hearty reception as they passed by the 6th NYHA camp en route to their final, glorious postwar march into history.

More in the next post.

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