Tag Archives: U.S. Civil War pensions

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.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1884: Doctors bolster Arthur Bull’s Civil War pension claim

Third 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.

In October 1884, a medical referee from the U.S. Pension Board recommended my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull for a partial disability pension — but more proof was required before payments would begin.

http://www.postcardpost.com/leyden.htm
Main Street in Port Leyden, N.Y., showing a bridge over the Black River Canal (1889). In Sept. 1884, an affidavit from Port Leyden physician D.D. Douglass, M.D., bolstered my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull’s Civil War pension claim. Photo: Larry Meyers/Port Leyden NY in Postcards

So my great-great grandfather’s attorneys created an abstract of affidavits — from relatives and doctors who had known/treated him since the Civil War — to verify his  war-related illness.

These testimonials chronicle my ancestor’s steadily declining health, which he attributed to  the rigors of the U.S. Civil War during his Union Army service.

A Port Leyden doctor’s findings

On 24 July 1880, D.D. Douglass, M.D., from Port Leyden, Lewis County, N.Y., treated Arthur for chronic post-war health problems. According to the abstract of his affidavit —  filed on 15 Sept. 1884 and characterized as “credibility good” —  Dr. Douglass testified:

…that he was called to treat claimant on the 24th July, 1880, and found him suffering from debility, asthmatic affection of lungs, “attended with severe palpitations of heart;” that he continued treatment up to Aug. 31st 1882, occasionally; that he was not able to perform manual labor; “would have spells of exhaustion, especially if he exercised too much,” and that the disease being chronic, his improvement is doubtful.

A Boonville physician weighed in

Next was an abstract of an affidavit from another credible witness, G.P. English, M.D., of Boonville, Oneida County, N.Y. In the document, filed on 27 Sept. 1884, Dr. English stated:

…he was called to treat claimant in July 1883 and found him suffering from heart and lung trouble, was asthmatic and had palpitation of the heart of long standing; could call it chronic; thinks it doubtful whether he ever recovers fully. Is still treating him and thinks his disability fully one half.

The testimony of these doctors, bolstering an earlier affidavit from relatives, appears to have helped Arthur’s case. The U.S. Pension Board medical referee recommended a one-half disability pension for Arthur the month after these two medical affidavits were filed.

The rigors of war

Earlier, I wrote about my great-great grandfather’s US Civil War experience — from his participation in the Army of the Potomac’s 1864 Overland campaign and his wartime illness to his later service in the Shenandoah Valley and in Virginia’s Bermuda Hundred.

In 1863, Arthur stepped up to serve in the Union Army during the final push to end slavery and maintain the union — marching bravely into wartime conditions that likely left him chronically ill.

In the 1880s, a new struggle for his military pension was the battle Arthur had to win — and his family rallied round to help him.

Up next: Arthur’s relatives testify in support of his pension claim. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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