Lowville, NY: Examining surgeon appointment

Third in series about my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull, a Union Army veteran, first saw a doctor in connection with his U.S. Civil War pension application on 12 July 1882 — a couple of months after the pension office received the first supporting affidavit in his case.

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nylewis/lowville2.jpg
Parade on State Street in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. (undated). In 1882, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was examined by a doctor in Lowville in connection with his application for a U.S. Civil War pension. Photo: Rootsweb

Arthur’s medical appointment with Dr. Alex R. Gebbie, a Scottish examining surgeon — which took place in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. — came a full two years after he filed for his pension on 2 July 1880!

Seems the wheels of government turned pretty slowly back then. One reason for the delay may have been the new Arrears of Pension Act of 1879, which  allowed retroactive payments to the date of discharge.

This pension act prompted tens of thousands of aging Union veterans — including my ancestor — to apply or reapply for war-related disability pensions in 1880, swamping the Civil War pension system.

However delayed, I am grateful to Dr. Gebbie for providing a description of my ancestor Arthur at age 46 — 5’8″ tall, 156 lbs., dark complexion — and for including these valuable details on the examining surgeon’s certificate:

Says that on the march in the Wilderness Campaign near Cold Harbor gave out & was sent to Hospl. — I find no disease of the lungs. — Heart irritable and excitable, with a double click to the first beat. — His color is good. & he is well nourished.

Irritable heart

In previous posts, I wrote about Arthur’s irritable heart diagnosis, which is mentioned for the first time by this examining surgeon — probably brought on by the rigors of battle and double-quick marching carrying heavy knapsacks and gear weighing up to 50 lbs.

After he “gave out” on the march to Cold Harbor — as did hundreds of other soldiers — I have been able to document that Arthur was sent to hospitals away from the front, where he was treated and recuperated during the summer of 1864.

According to records in the U.S. Sanitary Commission files, he was even furloughed briefly to see his family — a policy the military found helpful to recovery — before returning to the front in September 1864.

Persistent wartime illness

However, during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in November 1864, Arthur was again laid low by heart and lung complaints — for which he was hospitalized and from which he apparently never fully recovered.

For more than 15 years after he mustered out with his unit at the end of the U.S. Civil War, Arthur continued to work as a tanner and tannery foreman to support his growing family — hardly the actions of a fly-by-night slacker.

Then at age 46, apparently less able to work, Arthur turned to a possible source of supplemental income that he had earned by laying his life and health on the line — his U.S. Civil War pension.

Now the U.S. Pension Office — through its review of affidavits, military records and medical reports like Dr. Gebbie’s — would be evaluating the veracity of my great, great grandfather’s claim.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Broome County, NY: First supporting affidavit

Second in series about my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

On 14 July 1862 — about two months before my ancestor Arthur Bull registered for the draft in Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — the U.S. government approved an important pension act (12 Stat. 566) that covered Union veterans of the U.S. Civil War.

https://dmna.ny.gov/historic/btlflags/artillery/6thArtFlankMarkers.htm
U.S. Civil War flank marker of my ancestor’s regiment. Fifteen years after he honorably mustered out with the 6th NY Heavy Artillery at the end of the U.S. Civil War, my ancestor Arthur Bull filed a declaration requesting his veteran’s pension due to lingering health effects from his military service. Image: NYS Military Museum

The act “increased pension rates and provided potential eligibility for pensions to every person in military or naval service since March 4, 1861, their widows and orphans, and for dependent orphan sisters,” according  to the U.S. National Archives website.

Two decades later, an amended version of this act would provide my great, great grandfather Arthur with an invalid pension for partial disability due to the persistent effects of war-related illness — sustained during his 1864-1865 service in the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

But first he would have to prove his case. So after filing for benefits on 2 July 1880, Arthur approached family members for help.

First of many affidavits

On 25 Jan. 1881, Arthur’s two brothers-in-law signed a general affidavit testifying to their knowledge of his health status before and after the U.S. Civil War.

The document was notarized, then signed and sealed by a New York State Supreme Court clerk for Broome County. The affiants were:

  • Edward C. Tamkins, 41, of Conklin Station, Broome County, N.Y. [widower of Arthur’s late sister, Mary E. (Bull) Tamkins] and
  •  William Whitney, 62, of Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y. [husband of Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney, sister of Arthur’s wife, Mary].

The notary wrote that the two men “are personally known to me, and they are credible persons.” Written in Edward’s hand, they stated the following:

That we have primarily known the said Arthur T. Bull for 10 years previous to his enlistment and knew him to be a sound man physically and mentally. And that since his discharge he has been unwell and part of the time under a physician’s care. And know personally that his health was impaired by service rendered between the date of his enlistment and the date of his discharge.

Eventually, their testimony found its way to the U.S. Pension Office, where their affidavit was stamped on 27 May 1882 — a year and a half later! Which raises some questions.

Missing pieces

On a genealogy research trip to Washington, D.C., I copied the entire contents of my ancestor Arthur Bull’s pension file. But now that I have finally begun to closely examine the documents, I wonder whether pieces may be missing.

The date that Arthur filed his pension declaration is clearly stated as 2 July 1880 on later documents. But an original copy of the declaration was not in his pension folder at the National Archives.

And could it really have taken a year and a half for the Tamkins-Whitney affidavit — apparently the only supporting document between 1880 and 1882 — to make its way to the pension office?

Or might there have been other documents filled out and filed in the interim that also did not make it into the pension file?

Stay tuned as I try to unravel these mysteries and continue on the trail of my ancestor Arthur Bull’s Civil War pension application.

To be continued.

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Union Army pensioner

First in series about my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

When my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull had lived in New York State’s Adirondack foothills for about five years, declining health began to interfere with his work as a leather tanner and he applied for his U.S. Civil War pension — events I first wrote about in A decade in Moose River Settlement.

The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. This edifice was once the Pension Building in which U.S. Civil War pension claims, such as my ancestor’s, were processed. Photo by: National Building Museum

According to his pension file, Arthur filed a declaration for an Invalid Pension on 2 July1880 citing persistent health effects from his Union Army service during the war. He was just 46 years old.

Supporting a large family

In 1880, Arthur was working as a tannery foreman and headed a large household according to the federal census for Lyonsdale, Lewis County, New York.

In addition to his wife, Mary E. (Blakeslee) Bull, 41, there were seven children in the household: Carrie, 20; Milo, 18; my great grandmother Eva, 13; Frederick, 8; William, 6; Alice, 3 and Waples, 2.

Son Milo was helping out, working as a common laborer according to the census. But Arthur’s physically-demanding tannery job was the family’s primary source of income — and declining health may have been affecting his ability to work.

With so many family members depending on him, Arthur needed a reliable income. During the U.S. Civil War, he fought with the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery and was hospitalized several times for heart and lung complaints that continued to affect him after the war’s end.

So applying for an Invalid Pension was likely the only option — in the days before Social Security — to supplement declining income due to lost work time, probably caused by the lingering effects of Arthur’s wartime illness.

Proving his case

Today, Union Army veterans are regarded as heroes who put themselves in harm’s way to preserve the union and help end the brutal system of slavery. So it’s hard to imagine denying them the support of a veteran’s pension as they aged and grew infirm.

But in 1880, the pension system for U.S. Civil War veterans was still controversial. According to a brief history on the U.S. Social Security Administration website:

Such a large federal expenditure could not help but engender some criticism. The process of awarding pensions, which was administered locally, was amenable to political patronage and other forms of corruption. Also, a robust legal specialty sprung up of lawyers who specialized in helping would-be recipients secure potential pensions. Over time, these developments led to skepticism about the program and to concerns that it was rife with fraud, waste and abuse.

How did this impact my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull? It meant that — even as his health declined — his claim would take years to process, requiring many doctor visits and supporting affidavits from extended family and others to prove that he was legitimately entitled to his Civil War pension.

We will join my ancestor on this difficult journey beginning with the next post.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf at a time