Healing the wounds of war

My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull reentered civilian life as a U.S. Army Civil War veteran on 24 Aug. 1865 — undoubtedly grateful that he had survived and happy to be reunited with his family.

What little I know about my ancestor’s return home is contained in affidavits from family and  friends supporting his application, decades later, for a military pension.

https://rockyhillhistory.wordpress.com/tag/soldiers-statue-ct-veterans-home-rocky-hill-ct-returning-soldier-monument/
The Returning Soldier monument on the grounds of a veterans home in Rocky Hill, Conn. My ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull, a father of three, mustered out of the Union Army on 24 August 1865 and returned home to his family in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. Image: Rocky Hill Historical Society

Arthur’s brother-in-law William Whitney, of Binghamton, Broome Co., N.Y., filed one such affidavit on 30 Nov. 1885. He was married to Rhoda (Blakeslee) Whitney — the sister of Arthur’s wife Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull.

Arthur’s homecoming

In his affidavit, Whitney described his memory of Arthur’s homecoming  — testimony labeled “Credibility good” by the claims examiner, who summarized it in his case notes as follows:

[Whitney] testifies that he has been well and personally acquainted with claimant [Arthur Bull] since 1861 and has personal knowledge that he returned from the army, in 1865, in a weak, emaciated condition, and suffering from what seemed to be heart trouble, with pain in the region of the heart, and with his lungs; had a cough and much trouble to get his breath…

U.S. Civil War pensions were among the few social programs supporting veterans of that war in their old age — and providing sustenance to their families. And government examiners were tasked with assuring that the claims were genuine.

In my great, great grandfather’s case, not only were there records of hospitalizations during his service with the 6th NY Heavy Artillery and of his post-war medical treatment, but also eyewitness testimony, like Whitney’s, from those who knew him well. Again, from the claims examiner’s notes:

…and he (affiant) saw claimant almost daily, from 1865 to 1875, and had personal knowledge that he complained of and suffered from these disabilities, and that he was — in affiant’s opinion — fully one-half disabled thereby for manual labor.

A tanner once more

My ancestor Arthur Bull was a leather tanner by trade, a calling he resumed after the war, so the ability to do manual labor was essential to his livelihood.  Records in his pension file make clear that the wounds of war — in his case, heart and lung conditions — stayed with him long after the fighting ended.

http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-ad3a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Open air tannery (1860-1920). My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull resumed his work as a leather tanner after he mustered out of the Union Army at the end of the U.S. Civil War. Photo: New York Public Library Digital Collections

Yet being back with family must have been a  healing balm. Arthur saw many productive years before applying for his Civil War pension. And he and Mary Elizabeth had many more children after the war. First among them was my great grandmother Eva May Bull, born on 24 July 1866 —  just over 10 months after Arthur came home.

More in the next post.

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Returning home

When I learned that my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull remained on duty until August 1865, I was disappointed that he did not get to march in the May 1865 Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D.C., marking the end of the U.S. Civil War.

But it’s possible that my great, great grandfather’s homecoming was greeted in a more personal and spontaneous way than allowed for by the pomp of the huge, official Grand Review in the U.S. capitol.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3c29687/
Home from the war (1863). My ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull mustered out on 24 Aug. 1865 and returned home to Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. in early September. Image: Library of Congress

Sgt. William Thistleton, of my ancestor’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment, wrote about his homecoming in his diary — and the stir created by returning soldiers as they marched through New York City to the armory where they were temporarily housed.

July 2nd …arrived at Pier (one) north river at 6 P.M. disembarked and marched up Broadway in “Column” by company to Grand Street down Grand to Center market and halted, we created quite an excitement on the march up from the Boat crowds congregating at different corners and cheering us vociferously our shell and shot torn colors were sufficient evidence that we had seen service and elicited hearty cheers at every step.

Sgt. Thistleton mustered out near Petersburg, Virginia, and was headed home to Eastchester, Westchester Co., N.Y. — just north of New York City. My ancestor mustered out near Washington, D.C., and may have taken a different route to his upstate home in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. But I am sure his homecoming was no less grandly received.

Broome County sent many young men into the Union Army. Though I have not yet found a notice about my great, great grandfather, the names of discharged soldiers were often published in the local newspaper to let loved ones, friends and neighbors know they were due home.

Sgt. Thistleton chronicled the final steps in mustering out — a process that took him just over two weeks to complete.

July 10th Company reported and tuned in arms and equipment at 11 a.m. July 12th reported again this afternoon and were engaged in running around. July 13th Discharged from the Service of the United States and Paid in full to date and this closses [sic] the record of Company “I” 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

My great, great grandfather mustered out on 24 August 1865, so he likely arrived home around 9 September 1865. Whether there were cheering crowds in the streets of Conklin or in the larger, nearby city of Binghamton, Broome Co., N.Y., I cannot say without further research.

But I am sure he was warmly welcomed home by the group that mattered most — my great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull and their children Emma, Carrie and Milo.

More on Arthur Bull’s return to civilian life in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Aug. 1865: Mustering out

My great, great grandfather Pvt. Arthur Bull mustered out of the Union Army’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment near Washington, D.C., on 24 August 1865.

According to records in his pension file, he had transferred into Co. F on 20 July 1865 — and that’s the company he mustered out with on his final day of service.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2013647397/
Sailors relax on the deck of the U.S.S. Miami warship (1861-1865).  U.S. Navy crews were integrated during the U.S. Civil War — a potent symbol of the fight to end inequality and defeat the brutal slave system , and a signal of a new day to come in post-war civilian life. Photo: Library of Congress

During his 18 months on duty, Arthur had fought in historic battles, endured grueling marches and been hospitalized for wartime illness — all while doing his part, like millions of others, to end the brutal slave system and preserve the Union.

Now my ancestor would leave behind the rifle and the big guns and return to civilian life, to a united country where slavery had been abolished, where women were fighting for the right to vote, where new industries supplanted the old and attracted fresh waves of immigrant workers — a country transformed in so many ways and set on a new path by the dramatic upheaval of the U.S. Civil War.

The route back home

Before he could return home, Arthur had to complete the process of mustering out, which could take several weeks. Sgt. William Thistleton, also  of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, mustered out before my ancestor — on  27 June 1865 — and wrote about his experience.

June 27th Mustered out of the United States service today at 5 P.M. by Capt. Krauth. June 28th and 29th occupied both days getting our discharges signed and in preparing to go home.

According to Sgt. Thistleton’s diary entries, he and the Union troops who mustered out with him retraced the path they had taken months before as they headed into battle at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia. Now they were going home on a journey like the one my ancestor took in August 1865.

June 30th Broke camp and off at 7 a.m. recrossed the Appomattox and marched to the south side depot entered the train awaiting us and were taken to City Point arriving at 9 a.m. at 11 a.m. embarked on the steamer Northern…proceeded down the James River arriving at Fortress Monroe at dark received a new pilot and sailed up the Chesapeake.

On 1 July, Sgt. Thistleton and his fellow soldiers arrived in Baltimore, home of my Dempsey ancestors, and marched to the President Street Depot — through the streets where Northern troops had fought off an attack by a pro-slavery mob at the start of the Civil War.

Then they traveled by train to Philadelphia and — after cleaning up at a Union Volunteers facility — resumed the trip back to New York, where they received a heroes welcome from the civilian population.

I imagine my great, great grandfather had a similar experience at the end of his Civil War service. More in the next post.

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Growing family trees one leaf at a time