Tag Archives: Civil War

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.

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The Returning Soldier, a monument on the grounds of a veterans home in Rocky Hill, Conn. My ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull, then a father of three, reentered civilian life as a U.S. Army Veteran on 24 August 1865 and returned home to his family in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. Image: Rocky Hill Historical Society

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

© 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.

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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.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Final duty in Petersburg, Va.

On 27 June 1865, my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull joined Co. E of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — a consolidated battalion that was created at the end of the Civil War when 10th NYHA soldiers were transferred in to replace 6th NYHA soldiers who were returning home.

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U.S. Bvt. Major General E. Ferrero and staff (1861-1865). Like the soldiers at the lower right, my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull served as a provost guard at BMG Ferrero’s headquarters, and later in Petersburg, Va., from June – August 1865. Photo: Library of Congress

The reorganized 6th NYHA was assigned to provost guard duty in Petersburg, Va. from June – August 1865. This assignment speaks highly of the integrity of the men — among them my great, great grandfather.

They were tasked with keeping order in support of the Union Army’s political, economic and social service functions in a severely damaged city that lacked a civilian government at war’s end.

Sometimes this included serving as headquarters guard for Union officers — a duty my ancestor carried out at the headquarters of U.S. Brevet Major General Ferrero — or coming to the aid of the civilian population.

At war’s end, the Union Army also relied on the provost guards to keep order during the earliest stages of Reconstruction as it set about assisting and protecting the newly free African American population now that the brutal system of slavery had at last been eliminated.

Alas, my ancestor’s pension file contains little information about this period of his military service.  But in a letter to his wife, one of his fellow soldiers — Pvt. Orson Reynolds of the 6th NYHA — wrote a humorous passage indicating that the dangers of battle appeared to be over.

Petersburg, Va. June 29, 1865: All is quiet within our lines and no great battles have been fought within the last few days of late in this vicinity except it be with mosquitoes and fleas which are somewhat troublesome [in] this warm weather.

As Pvt. Reynolds, my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull and their compatriots carried out their duties, they likely did so while longing for home now that the fighting was over — especially as they bid farewell to fellow soldiers who were being mustered out ahead of them. Again, from Pvt. Reynolds’ letter:

I read in the papers that great preparations are being made to celebrate the 4th in our State [New York]. Some time ago I hoped to be with you on that day but it was a vain hope and not to be realized…John O’Connor left Petersburgh (sic) for home some time ago and no doubt has reached it ere this.

And here I pause to express my gratitude to 6th NYHA Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds of Bombay, Franklin Co., N.Y., for his detailed, heartfelt letters home — the last of which is quoted above — and to his family members, who saved his letters and generously shared them by allowing them to be transcribed.

My great, great grandfather’s story would have been that much harder to tell had it not been for Pvt. Reynolds’ correspondence — written between September 1864 and June 1865 during a time when he shared by ancestor’s Civil War experience.

My great, great grandfather Pvt. Arthur Bull remained on duty in Petersburg, Va.,  through the summer of 1865, until he was mustered out with his company in August. More on this in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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