The Lyonsdale lead

First in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

The quest to find my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull began almost by accident in the early 1990s when I was living in Washington, D.C.

I was telling an out-of-town friend about my recent, exciting discovery on a trip to Montreal — the 1832 baptismal record of my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau.

“You know, you have the National Archives there in D.C.,” she said. “You could look up some of your other ancestors in the U.S. Census. The records are open after 72 years.”

The National Archives and Records Administration building in Washington, D.C. Photo by mrgarethm

Seriously? I was totally new to genealogy then. This was too good to be true!

So one night after work, I took the Metro over to the National Archives and Records Administration and stepped through a towering door into a wonderland of family history research.

In those pre-Internet days, I began by watching NARA’s video “Reeling Through History” about how to create a soundex code of my ancestors’ surnames to find them in an index, and from there in the census. Then I’d pull rolls of microfilm from endless cabinets lining the walls and load them into a reader.

The hunt for my Bull ancestors started where many searches do with the fully indexed 1880 U.S. Census — the first to show relationships to the head of household. From my dad, Norm Charboneau, I knew the maiden name of my great grandmother Eva Bull. I was thrilled when I located her family in Lyonsdale, Lewis Co., N.Y.

And there, in that hushed NARA research room, was where I first met Eva’s parents — my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull, 46, a tannery foreman, and my great, great grandmother Mary E., 41, who was keeping house. When the census taker called on 28 June 1880, they had eight children living at home — four daughters and four sons.

I wanted to learn more, and would drop by the archives on free nights to continue researching the Bulls — but to no avail. I had hit my first brick wall.

One lead from the 1880 census proved invaluable, though: Eva was their only child born in Pennsylvania. And a road trip with my dad to her adult hometown yielded the next breakthrough in finding Arthur Bull.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

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Prescription potions

Civil War doctors used an arsenal of medical weapons to battle illness and injury among the troops. Wielding a pharmacopoeia of odd-sounding remedies – such as iodide of potassium, acetate of potash, Fowler’s solution, wine of colchicum and syrup of sarsaparilla – they treated the chronic rheumatism that afflicted my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull.

A collection of Civil War era medicines. Photo by Raymond Bryson

Opiates were given for pain. Morphia was administered at bedtime to aid sleep. Irritant lotions, warming plasters and carded cotton wrapped in oiled silk – even arnica, which is still used today – were applied externally to affected joints.

For my great, great grandfather’s irritable heart, doctors brandished other medicines – digitalis, aconite, veratrum viride and belladonna – to lower and steady the pulse, reduce the force of the heart, calm cardiac irritability, reduce pain and restore regular heartbeat.

These were the days before modern medicine. The Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion sums it up:

“Rest constituted the essential of treatment; tonics and diet the adjuvants.”

Hence Arthur’s two-month stay at De Camp General Hospital in July and August 1864 – where his prescription potions were compounded onsite and his diet followed the recommendations of The Hospital Steward’s Manual (1863). 

My dad, who was all about the food on our genealogy road trips, would totally identify with our ancestor’s full diet. It reads like the basic meat, fish, potatoes and vegetables, with coffee or tea, that Dad consumed all his life — with fruit or jams donated by local communities rounding out the hospital fare.

And the thoughtful writer of the Steward’s Manual deserves accolades for including this balm for Arthur and the other patients:

“It is believed by the author of this work that a pint of some mild malt liquor might advantageously, and without too great expense, be added to the dinner of a general hospital in most localities.”

Now that Arthur is resting and recuperating until his September 1864 return to the Civil War battlefields, I have time to answer the questions many of you have asked: How did I find my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull in the first place? And what did it take to unearth his Civil War history?

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

 

 

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Irritable heart

Besides chronic rheumatism, my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull may have suffered from irritable heart — a combat-related debility that emerged during the the U.S. Civil War.

Dr. Jacob Mendez Da Costa studied what was then seen as a cardiovascular disease among Union soldiers at Turner’s Lane hospital in Philadelphia. It became known as Soldier’s Heart and, later, Da Costa Syndrome.

Da Costa probed the war-related origins of irritable heart and found that, in some cases, it could transition into organic heart disease  — discoveries that would become important to my great, great grandfather in his later years.

Union Reenactors Gear
Union Army reenactors load heavy knapsacks, Spotsylvania Court House, Va., 4 May 2014. Overexertion before and during the stress of battle under burden of packs, gear and arms contributed to irritable heart. Photo by Molly Charboneau

What the Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion says about irritable heart  jibes closely with Arthur’s description of his llness:

“Among the affections of the heart a functional disturbance known by the name of irritable heart or cardiac muscular exhaustion was the most notable product of the war.”

“Irritable heart appears to have been a result of active field service” including “drills and double-quick movements of camp, effected under the full burden of arms and accouterments” as well as “some over-action of the heart during a particular battle or campaign.”

“The affected soldier was subject to fits of fluttering cardiac action, accompanied by pain in the praecordia, shortness of breath and perhaps haemoptysis, dizziness and dimness of vision; sometimes these were so severe as to occasion insensibility.”

With advances in medicine and diagnostic testing, the irritable heart of the Civil War era is now regarded as a stress-related neurological/anxiety syndrome — the first identification of a post traumatic stress disorder among U.S. combat troops.

After Arthur “gave out” he was sent to De Camp General Hospital for two months of treatment — consisting of rest, a therapeutic diet and an intriguing regimen of pain relievers and unusual-sounding tonics that predated modern medicine.

What were these analgesics and potions? Are any still used today? What was the diet like? The detective work continues.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

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Growing family trees one leaf at a time