Category Archives: U.S. Civil War

1888: Arthur Bull requests a pension increase

Sepia Saturday 406: Sixth in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull and his final years in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N.Y.

In 1888, Union Army pensioners like my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull were having trouble supporting their families as their ability to work declined.

This widespread need forged the Grand Army of the Republic into a powerful national veterans’ lobby for increased benefits — a burning issue that made it onto the agenda of Republican National Convention held in June 1888 in Chicago.

https://www.gsa.gov/real-estate/historic-preservation/explore-historic-buildings/heritage-tourism
The U.S. Pension Building in Washington, D.C., was constructed in the 1880s for the agency that administered military pensions. The imposing edifice is  often described as a memorial to Civil War veterans. My ancestor Arthur Bull’s 1888 application for a pension increase eventually found its way here for processing. Source: U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)

According the Donald L. McMurray in “The Political Significance of the Pension Quesion” both veterans and the public — likely including my Bull ancestors — supported the GAR’s pension campaign. [1. McMurray, Donald L., The Political Significance of the Pension Question, 1885-1897.  The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 9 (1) (Jun., 1922), 19-36; Oxford University Press on behalf of Organization of American Historians. JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/stable/1886098 : accessed
accessed 7 February 2018.)]

The development of pension activity by the Grand army was contemporaneous with a rapid growth of membership, from 60,678 in 1880 to 269,689 in 1885, and 427,981 in 1890. At the latter date about one-third of the survivors of the war were members. No doubt this growth was caused in part by interest in the increasing activity of the organization in regard to pensions….Throughout the northern states a large part of the public believed in giving the veterans what they wanted so far as the means of the government enabled it to do so.

Declaration for pension increase

Nevertheless, a document in his Union Army pension file indicates that Arthur, 56, could not wait for the issue of pension increases to be resolved at the national level.

Signature of my great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull on his pension increase declaration (22 Aug. 1888). I have inherited no photos or artifacts from my ancestor, so his signature — still fairly strong despite his declining health — is precious to me. Photo by Molly Charboneau

On 22 August 1888, my ancestor personally appeared before a Salamanca, N.Y., justice of the peace and filed a Declaration for the Increase of an Invalid Pension under then existing laws.

Arthur stated he was a pensioner of the U.S. and described the circumstances.

…enrolled at the Syracuse Pension Agency at the rate of $4.00 a month…by reason of disability from disease of heart and lungs incurred in the military service of the United States, while serving as a private in Co. F. 6th Regt. of New York H.A. Vols.

He went on to request a pension increase due to inability to work and appointed a lawyer to act on his behalf.

…on account of increased disability from the disease of heart and lungs, rendering claimant almost entirely incapacitated from the performance of manual labor [and] that he hereby appoints with full power of substitution and revocation Willard H. Peck of West Valley, Cattaraugus So. N.Y. as his true and lawful attorney to prosecute his claim.

A stamp on the document shows that it was received in the U.S. Pension Office in September 1888. Then Arthur waited for the next step — an examination by the local Pension Board — which finally came in December 1888.

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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Arthur Bull and the GAR in the late 1880s

Sepia Saturday 403: Third in a series on my Union Army great-great grandfather Arthur Bull and his final years in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N.Y.

When my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull joined the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) in 1886, the Civil War veterans’ group had recently reorganized — which led to an explosion in recruitment.

114th Regimental Reunion, May 30, 1897, Norwich, N. Y.
The 114th Regimental Reunion in Norwich, Chenango Co., N.Y. (30 May 1897). G.A.R. is penciled on the back of this photo. My ancestor Arthur Bull, a Union Army veteran of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, might have attended similar gatherings during his time in the GAR. Photo: Library of Congress

The New York State Archives online finding aid to its GAR records describes the group’s founding and metamorphosis.[1]New York State Archives, New York State Historian Grand Army of the Republic Records finding aid, webpage, accessed 20 January 2018: Administrative History.

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a large multi-faceted organization (fraternal lodge, charitable society, special interest lobby, patriotic group, and political club) founded in 1866 by Union Army Surgeon Benjamin Franklin Stephenson. The organization was originally envisioned as a brotherhood of veterans who were dedicated to helping other veterans.

Transformation of the GAR

The GAR initially structured itself along military lines — with sentries at the door, members transferring from post to post, and a local, state and national chain of command.

In 1869, the GAR transitioned to a fraternal group with lodges, similar to the Masons — but an unpopular internal grading system prompted a mass exodus of rank-and-file members.

So in the late 1870s, the GAR transformed itself again — and its new focus on pensions likely prompted my ancestor Arthur Bull to finally join as a pensioner in 1886.[2]Ibid.

As a result of these changes, the GAR’s membership rose sharply in the 1880’s….It was through the GAR, and the pension lobby, that many soldiers and their families received pensions. The Grand Army of the Republic also promoted patriotism through parades, national encampments, placement of war memorials, and the establishment of Memorial Day as a national holiday.

An integrated fraternal order

Unlike other fraternal orders in the 1800s, the Grand Army of the Republic was racially inclusive and integrated — as befitted veterans who had fought together to end slavery — and welcomed all honorably discharged Union vets, including at least two women. [3]Wikipedia, Grand Army of the Republic, webpage, https://en.wikipedia.org, accessed 21 January 2018: Women members. According to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War:[4]Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War National Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic History, webpage, accessed 20 January 2018.

Membership was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003668501/
African-American GAR veterans parading in a New York City (30 May 1912). Unique among fraternal groups of the era, the GAR was integrated and open to all honorably discharged Union Army veterans of the U.S. Civil War Photo: Library of Congress

The GAR was also quick to embrace Memorial Day — a commemoration begun on 1 May 1865 by African-American freepeople with a march of 10,000 in Charleston, S.C., to honor 257 Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp there. [5]David W Blight, “Forgetting Why We Remember,” The New York Times, 29 May 2011, online archives, accessed 20 January 2018.

Because the group was indispensable to Union Army veterans and their families, my great-great grandparents Arthur and Mary (Blakeslee) Bull likely found comfort in the milieu of the GAR — and perhaps its affiliated women’s group, too.[6]Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War National Headquarters, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, webpage, accessed 20 January 2018.

And they might have turned to the GAR for assistance as Arthur’s war-related health issues reduced his ability to work, requiring him to apply for pension increases.

More on Arthur’s life in Salamanca 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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References

References
1 New York State Archives, New York State Historian Grand Army of the Republic Records finding aid, webpage, accessed 20 January 2018: Administrative History.
2 Ibid.
3 Wikipedia, Grand Army of the Republic, webpage, https://en.wikipedia.org, accessed 21 January 2018: Women members.
4 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War National Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic History, webpage, accessed 20 January 2018.
5 David W Blight, “Forgetting Why We Remember,” The New York Times, 29 May 2011, online archives, accessed 20 January 2018.
6 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War National Headquarters, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, webpage, accessed 20 January 2018.

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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