Category Archives: U.S. Civil War

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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1884: Arthur Bull reapplies for his Union Army pension

First 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.

When I last wrote about my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull — a Union Army veteran of the US Civil War — I described how the  federal pension office rejected his initial pension application in April 1883.

https://www.loc.gov/item/det1994016863/PP/
Utica, N.Y. monument to Union Soldiers and Sailors who fought in the US Civil War (1900). In October 1884, my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull traveled to Utica to reapply for his Union Army pension. Photo: Library of Congress

The following year may have been a difficult one for my Bull ancestors. Arthur’s health was declining due to war-related disability that made it harder for him to work in the tanning trade.

Pension income was vital for my ancestor and his family — and for thousands of other Union veterans in similar circumstances. So Arthur kept at it and reapplied for his pension the next year.

A new medical exam

On 22 October 1884, Arthur was examined by a new team of pension board doctors in Utica, Oneida County, N.Y. — about 30 miles south of his home in Hawkinsville, N.Y.

Arthur told the doctors he incurred heart and lung disease in 1864 at or near Cold Harbor (in Virginia) while serving as a private in Company L of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

The doctors’ notes on my ancestor’s claim and his medical examination revealed the following:

His pulse-rate is 120 per minute; his respiration 19; his height is 5 feet and 8 inches; he weighs 150 pounds, and states that he is 51 years of age.

At Cold Harbor he “gave out” and was confined 2 mos in hosp. & he cannot say of what his ailment consisted. Has now a hacking cough with expectorant and phlegm, has pains about the heart and turns of dizziness.

He is a well formed strong looking man. The heart rate is rapid with increased impulse and irregular rhythm, but without disease of the valves….Pulmonary resonance + vascular murmur are normal. The abdominal organs are healthy. His alleged symptoms are all due to the enlargement and irregularity of the heart, and for this condition we advise 1/4 rating for disability caused by disease of the heart.

Waiting for pension approval

Doctors W. E. Ford, Pres.; M. M. Bazz, Secretary; and W. H. Booth, Treasurer of the local pension board signed and posted Arthur’s new Surgeons Certificate. It was received by the US Pension Board in Washington, D.C., on 29 October 1884.

Then a new period of waiting began for the Bull family to see whether the doctors’ recommendation of 1/4 disability would be approved.

An ancestral legacy

Meanwhile, Arthur’s reapplication revealed many items of interest about my ancestor. From it I learned my great-great grandfather’s height, weight, age and general appearance — along with the service location where he first became ill and the long-term effects of his illness.

I also learned that he lived in Hawkinsville in 1884, placing him near my Charbonneau and Zinsk ancestors — an important discovery in a year with no state or federal census.

Arthur was undoubtedly focused on the immediate future — and sustaining his family — when he reported for a new physical examination and provided these details to the pension board.

Yet I am grateful for this documentary legacy, since I have inherited no photos or other mementos from him.

Up next: A Pension Board referee rules in Arthur’s favor. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Confusing diagnosis prompts pension rejection

Fifth and last in this series on my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

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

Nearly three years after my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull applied for a Civil War pension for persistent health effects from Union Army service, a confusing diagnosis by a pair of physicians resulted in a rejection of his original claim.

This was a disturbing outcome, because the  findings on the Examining Surgeon’s Certificate in Arthur’s pension file — signed by J. Mortimer Crane, M.D., and W.P. Massey, M.D., of Watertown, Jefferson County, N.Y. — appear to allow for wider interpretation than the one made by the U.S. Pension Office.

A confusing diagnosis

At my ancestor’s first examination — in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. on 12 July 1882 — Dr. Alex R. Gebbie diagnosed Arthur with “irritable heart.”

Six months later, Doctors Crane and Massey noted “Pulse feeble” in their 17 Jan. 1883 report — a symptom that appears to support Dr. Gebbie’s diagnosis and today would lead a physician to explore possible underlying cardiac conditions.

Yet despite this finding, they went on to rule out heart and lung disease in my ancestor’s case!

Instead, they attributed his pain to “rheumatism or neuralgia” and made the following recommendation for pension disability compensation (full disability was then $8 a month for a Private, or about $195 a month today).

  • Dis Heart Disease 0
  • Dis Lung Disease 0
  • Dis Rheumatism or Neuralgia 1/4 = $2. on statement [about $48.80 today]

Granted, diagnostic equipment was very limited in 1883 making it harder to detect and pinpoint cardiac and other health irregularities.

But a feeble pulse should have been an indicator, even then, that something was amiss in my ancestor’s health — something that began during Arthur’s wartime service and persisted as a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as he aged.

Original claim rejected

Then there is the Surgeon General’s report in his pension file.

The Record and Pension Division of the Surgeon General’s Office sent a 27 Jan. 1883 report detailing Arthur’s wartime hospitalizations in 1864 and 1865 for “Disease of heart,” “Heart Disease” and “functional disease of heart” — terms underlined in pencil on the document, possibly by the pension office reviewer.

Despite this supporting document, the heart findings in the report by the Watertown doctors — stamped into the pension board office on 1 Feb. 1883 — appear to have been the undoing of Arthur’s initial pension request.

On 9 April 1883, the U.S. Pension Board rejected Arthur’s invalid application for “causes alleged” on his 2 July 1880 application — specifically “Rejection for heart and lung disease.”

The rejection contains no mention of Arthur’s rheumatism and neuralgia, for which the two doctors did recommend some compensation.

Arthur Bull fights on

Arthur had now been trying to collect a disability pension for nearly twice as long as his 18-month wartime service in the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery, so this rejection must have been discouraging

But — no stranger to battle — my great, great grandfather was not about to surrender his benefits without a fight.

With the help of attorneys R.S. and A.P. Lacey, Arthur continued to press his rightful claim for pension disability compensation for his persistent war-related illness — a saga we will return to in future posts.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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