1890: Arthur T. Bull, a soldier to the end

Sepia Saturday 424: Third in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull’s final years as a U.S. Civil War pensioner.

Documents approving a U.S. Civil War full-disability pension for my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull are the last ones pertaining directly to him in his pension file.

Sadly —  just seven months after his full military pension was approved — Arthur, 58, died on 30 January 1890 in Salamanca, Cattaraugus Co., N.Y.

However, because my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull filed a claim for a widow’s pension, there is one more document that describes his final days.

Aug. 2014: Union Army encampment on Governors Island, N.Y. A soldier to the end, on 29. Jan. 1890 — despite his war-related rheumatism and heart disease — my ancestor Arthur T. Bull  made a final half-mile march  to the doctor’s office in freezing weather to be seen about a severe cold. Photo by Molly Charboneau

A pension bureau request

On 29 April 1892 a Bureau of Pensions commissioner wrote from Washington, D.C., to Dr. Abner P. Reeker of Salamanca — Arthur’s last physician — asking for clinical details of his final days as part of the verification process for Mary’s claim:

In the pension claim No. 427,089 of Mary E. Bull as widow of Arthur T. Bull, late of Col L. 6 N.Y. HA, will you please supplement your affidavit by a statement, giving a full and complete clinical history of the soldier’s last illness, its commencement and duration, which he suffered at that time, and the immediate cause of his death, and the direct pathological connection, if any, between the death cause and the disease of heart for which he was pensioned.

A doctor’s response

Dr. Reeker responded promptly by return post on 9 May 1892 with a moving portrayal of my ancestor’s final days:

Arthur T. Bull suffered from heart disease for 4 years before his death and dropsy [edema] of the lower extremities. He had an ulcer on one of his legs. He took a cold I think on the 28th day of Jan 1890 — I did not see him until Jan 29th 1890.

He walked to my office half a mile. Saw him last time on evening of the Jan 29th 1890. To the best of my knowledge he died or his death was caused from heart disease and dropsey [sic.], hastened by his taking a severe cold as he died on the morning of Jan 30th 1890. It has been 2 years since his death, and the above statement is as near the facts as I can recall.

A soldier to the end

As difficult as Dr. Reeker’s letter is to read, it also fills me with tremendous admiration for my great-great grandfather Arthur.

There he was, suffering from rheumatism with symptoms of advanced heart disease — yet, a soldier to the end, he made a final march of half a mile to the doctor’s office in freezing January weather to be seen for a severe cold!

And I can’t help but wonder whether Arthur had merely contracted a severe cold or something worse. The deadly 1889-1890 flu pandemic was then sweeping the globe, and its U.S. mortality rate peaked on 12 January 1890 — only a few weeks before Arthur’s final doctor visit.

More on the late Arthur Bull and his family in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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6 thoughts on “1890: Arthur T. Bull, a soldier to the end”

  1. Appreciate these comments from all of you. Interesting how the smallest detail about an ancestor, such as Arthur’s final brave trip to the doctor, can capture some of the essence of who they were.

  2. Thanks for another chapter about your great grandfather…sad that he didn’t live longer with his pension, but I hope his widow received it.

  3. Your great great grandfather sounds like a rather amazing man with a strong will to do what he felt was necessary no matter what!

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