Tag Archives: U.S. Civil War pensions

1889: A full disability pension for Arthur Bull

Sepia Saturday 423: Second in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull’s final years as a U.S. Civil War pensioner.

In February 1889 my great-grandfather Arthur Bull filed an additional declaration asking for a Civil War pension increase due to a war-related shoulder injury that rendered him unable to work — then waited to hear from the Pension Board.

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

Four months later, on 26 June 1889, Arthur was examined by a panel of U.S. Pension Board physicians in Jamestown, Chautauqua Co., N.Y. — about 33 miles west of his Salamanca home in western New York’s Cattaraugus County.

Sympathetic pension physicians

Although sworn to be impartial, the pension board physicians may have been sympathetic to my ancestor — a 57-year-old veteran struggling to support his family on an approved partial-disability pension of $17 a month.

According to the 1892 New York Sate census[1. Free login required by FamilySearch to view the document image.] Dr. Thomas D. Strong, president, would have been 67 at the time — a mature physician with some awareness of the toll age can take.

Calculating from the same census[2. Ibid.],Dr. William M. Bemus, secretary, would have been 33 . And based on a search of military pension records, he appears to have filed for his own invalid pension in January 1899 — having served as a Surgeon and Major in the 3rd N.Y. Infantry.

Together with the treasurer, whose name is hard to decipher, these physicians examined Arthur’s claim that he was suffering from “disease of the heart, rheumatism, of right shoulder and arm.”

The medical exam

1889: Surgeon’s Certificate in the case of Arthur Bull’s pension increase application. The examining physicians ruled in my great-grandfather’s favor and found him eligible for a full disability pension due to war-related injury and illness from his service in the 6th NY Heavy Artillery during the U.S. Civil War. Scan by Molly Charboneau

The surgeon’s certificate states that Arthur was 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighed 150 pounds and had a normal temperature of 98.5 degrees. The report continues:

He makes the following statement upon which he bases his claim for Inc. He had rheumatism and disease of the heart followed. Was sent [to] hospitals. Pt. of Rocks & Mt. Pleasant. Was discharged 1865 on gen. order.

Upon examination, we find the following objective conditions: Fairly nourished. Rheumatic creak in the right shoulder, and right knee. No deformity of joints, or contraction of tendons. Motion of right shoulder some what impaired. Heart, size is normal, and sounds clear. Has marked ascites [fluid retention] and anasarca [edema or swelling] of feet and legs. Heart feeble, and irritable.

Full-disability pension approved

Fortunately for Arthur, this team of pension physicians found in his favor. They concluded their report with the statement below, in which I have underlined the handwritten portions:

From the existing condition and the history of this claimant, as stated by himself, it is probable that the disability was incurred in the service as he claimed, and that it has not been prolonged or aggrevatedby vicious habits.

He is, in our opinion, entitled to a 18/18 [100%] rating for the disability caused by Disease of the heart & rheumatism.

This must have been bittersweet news to Arthur — a finding that brought increased income to his household, but at the price of his total disability due to war-related injury and illness.

Yet with his wife Mary Elizabeth and two minor children dependent on him, this was the best outcome that could be hoped for Arthur and the Bull family under difficult circumstances.

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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1888: Pension Board examines Arthur Bull for a pension increase

Sepia Saturday 407: Seventh in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull and his final years in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N.Y.

On a wintry 26 Dec. 1888, my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull, 57, was examined by U.S. Pension Board physicians in Olean, Cattaraugus, N.Y., in connection with his request for an increase in his Union Army pension for war-related illness.

Winter in Cattaraugus County, N.Y. During the 1888 holiday season, my great-great grandfather was examined by Pension Board physicians  in Olean, N.Y., in connection with his request for a pension increase. By: Seabamirum

The examination took place at the end of a year of significant changes in the Salamanca household of my ancestors Arthur and Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull. Mary’s mother Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee had passed in January and their daughter Jessie married Sidney Banton in May.

By the time Arthur applied in August for an increased pension — because he cold no longer work even part time — only their daughter Alice, 11, and son Waples, 10, were still at home.

 A credentialed board

Examining Pension Board physicians were sometimes Civil War veterans themselves, and thus familiar with war-related complaints. Such was the case with at least one of Arthur Bull’s examiners, Board President John S. Eddy, M.D.

In the 1890 United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, Dr. Eddy reported that he served as an assistant surgeon with the 12th N.Y Infantry from Oct. 1862 to June 1863.

Surgeon’s Certificate for Arthur Bull’s examination for a pension increase (1888). At least one physician on the examining panel was a Union Army veteran. Arthur was determined to be permanently disabled by war-related disease of the heart.  Photo: Molly Charboneau

A finding of permanent disability

Eddy and a panel of two others took this statement from Arthur, who was described as 5 feet 7 inches tall inches tall, weighing 157 pounds and age 57:

The heart is very irregular, and feels as if something were grasping it. It also pains a great deal. Has shortness of breath. has a pain through the right lung a good deal of the time, coughs at night.

This is followed by sobering notes from Arthur’s physical examination. They indicate that, while his respiration appeared normal, his heartbeat was characterized by a “soft flowing murmur…very intermittent…so much so that it is impossible to count the pulse.”

Stating that Arthur had “Disability in a permanent degree equal to the loss of a hand or foot” due to his war-related irritable heart, the Board made the following recommendation:

From the existing conditions and the history of this claimant, as stated by himself, it is, in our judgement, probable that the disability was incurred in the service as he claims, and that it has not been prolonged or aggravated by vicious habits. He is, in our opinion, entitled to a 3rd Grade rating for disability caused by Disease of the heart.

Arthur finally prevails

Arthur was not alone. According to an 1888 Commission of Pensions Report to Congress, 25,994 Union pensioners were classified as disabled from war-related heart disease between 1862 and mid-1888.

The Olean, N.Y.,  Board signed off on the Surgeon’s Certificate (shown above) on 31 Dec. 1888, and it was received at the U.S. Eastern Pension Office on 11 Jan. 1889.

Fortunately, this time my ancestor did not have to wait long for a decision. On 4 Feb. 1889, the U.S. Pension Board approved an increase in Arthur Bull’s pension to $17 a month commencing on 26 Dec. 1888.

There will be more on Arthur and his family in future posts. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

Up next: Starting on March 1 — St. David’s Day — a new series on my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen of Baltimore City, Maryland.  

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Dec. 1885: U.S. Pension Board approves Arthur Bull’s claim

Sixth and last in this 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 10 Dec. 1885, the U.S. Pension Board finally approved my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull for a one-half disability pension of $4 a month for “disease of heart.” The decision followed both a legal and medical review — and came more than five years after he applied for his Civil War pension.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Army#/media/File:Union_Private_infantry_uniform.png
Union private infantry uniform in the U.S. Civil War. My great-great grandfather Arthur Bull’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery unit primarily fought as infantry. The rigors of battle, along with double-quick marches through rough environments carrying heavy packs and gear likely contributed to the war-related illness he was pensioned for in 1885. Photo: Wikipedia

Today, Arthur’s $4 monthly pension would be worth about $102 in purchasing power — or about $1,224 per year. Not an extravagant sum, but something coming into the household on a regular basis to supplement his reduced earnings.

In addition, the start date for Arthur’s monthly pension was 2 July 1880 — the day he filed his application — so the family likely received a retroactive sum of about $256 (worth $6,136 today) to cover the years of waiting.

Entering the pension system

Also important, once Arthur entered the U.S. Civil War Pension system he was eligible to apply for additional support if his ability to work diminished.

No longer would my great-great grandfather have to prove that he served or that his illness was war-related. Henceforth, Arthur would only need to document any further decline in his health.

These pension developments must have come as a relief to my aging ancestor and his loved ones after their long wait.

Landmark dates

I particularly cherish the document admitting my ancestor Arthur Bull to the pension system because it contains the dates of his Union Army service and pension application — as well as health details that place him at Cedar Creek, Va. at a turning point in the Civil War:

Elisted Jan’y. 4th 1864 — Mustered Date not stated — Discharged Aug. 24, 1865 — Declaration filed July 2, 1880 — Continuous service from Jany. 4th, 1864, to Aug. 24th, 1865, in Cos. L, E & F 6th N. H. Art. (by transfer) — Not in service since Aug. 24th, 1865

Basis of Claim (Claimant writes): Alleges in declaration, filed as above, that in service and line of duty, near Cedar Creek, Va., about Nov. 10th, 1864, he contracted disease of the heart and lungs and was treated at Point of Rocks Hospital, Bermuda Hundred; also in hospital at Fortress Monroe.

These details, and others in Arthur’s pension file, helped me piece together my ancestor’s military history — which I wrote about during the 2014 Sesquicentennial of the U.S. Civil War.

Fortunately for Arthur and his family, his re-application for a Union Army pension was successful — but his story does not end here. There will be more on Arthur Bull and his family in future posts.

Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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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1885: Steven E. Watson’s Limestone testimony

Fourth 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.

A mysterious one-year gap occurred in my ancestor Arthur Bull’s re-application for his Union Army pension. A medical referee recommended a one-half disability pension for him in October 1884.

http://www.oleantimesherald.com/news/a-look-back-at-limestone-town-s-history-rich-with/article_1a8315e0-9f30-549c-a16b-453df7eff28d.html
Street scene in Limestone, Cattaraugus County, N.Y. (1893). Construction of a tannery here in 1858, and the later discovery of oil in 1865, drew new residents to the area. By 1885, my Bull ancestors were among them. Photo: Olean Times Herald/Bradford Landmark Society

So why was the next affidavit in my great-great grandfather’s case not provided until 15 Sept. 1885 — nearly a year later?

The first clue lies within that affidavit from S.E. Watson of Limestone, Cattaraugus County, New York.

Steven E. Watson, a tanner, was married to Arthur’s oldest daughter Emma. As detailed in A Broome County bride, their wedding took place “at the home of the bride’s father in the town of Binghamton” on 11 Oct. 1874 — when Arthur, a tanner, was living in New York’s Southern Tier.

A move to Cattaraugus County

Shortly after the wedding, in 1875, the Watsons relocated to the Adirondack foothills— at the same time as Arthur, his wife Mary and their children, and Arthur’s parents Mary and Jeremiah (who also worked as a tanner.) They were three generations of tanners apparently moving together for work.

In the mid 1880s, the extended Bull family moved again to Cattaraugus County, probably in their continuing quest for jobs. The logistics of such a move — especially given Arthur’s delicate health — could explain the yearlong gap in his pension documents. However, his application process picked up again once he re-settled and was seeing local Limestone doctors.

Intriguing family details

Besides the geographic clue, Steven E. Watson’s 1885 affidavit also provides intriguing family details. He testified:

…that he has known the claimant for the last fourteen years; has been his fellow workman and intimately acquainted with him during that period; knows that he has been troubled with heart and lung trouble and unable to obtain subsistence by manual labor and, in affiant’s judgement, his disability has been one half since his first acquaintance with him.

Steven said he knew Arthur for fourteen years — as a co-worker and apparently a friend. But he had only been married to Emma for eleven years. Did Arthur introduce them? Or did they meet by chance while attending a social, church or Bull family get-together?

Hard to know for sure. But the pension examiners ruled Steven Watson’s “credibility good” when they examined the affidavit — and I have no reason to dispute that finding.

Limestone: oil wells and a tannery

According to an article in the Olean Times Herald, Limestone was the site of the first commercial oil well in New York State — erected in 1865, right after the US Civil War.

More pertinent to my family’s history, a tannery was established there in 1858 by Dodge & Smith Company — a potential source of jobs for the next generation of the Bull family as production wound down at the Adirondack tanneries where my ancestors worked.

However, my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull — now less able to work — needed his U.S. Civil War pension more than ever. So he began seeing doctors in Cattaraugus County, both for health reasons and in connection with his claim.

More on this in the next post.

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