Tag Archives: U.S. Civil War pensions

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

1885: Steven E. Watson’s Limestone testimony

Fourth 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.

A mysterious one-year gap occurred in my ancestor Arthur Bull’s re-application for his Union Army pension. A medical referee recommended a one-half disability pension for him in October 1884.

http://www.oleantimesherald.com/news/a-look-back-at-limestone-town-s-history-rich-with/article_1a8315e0-9f30-549c-a16b-453df7eff28d.html
Street scene in Limestone, Cattaraugus County, N.Y. (1893). Construction of a tannery here in 1858, and the later discovery of oil in 1865, drew new residents to the area. By 1885, my Bull ancestors were among them. Photo: Olean Times Herald/Bradford Landmark Society

So why was the next affidavit in my great-great grandfather’s case not provided until 15 Sept. 1885 — nearly a year later?

The first clue lies within that affidavit from S.E. Watson of Limestone, Cattaraugus County, New York.

Steven E. Watson, a tanner, was married to Arthur’s oldest daughter Emma. As detailed in A Broome County bride, their wedding took place “at the home of the bride’s father in the town of Binghamton” on 11 Oct. 1874 — when Arthur, a tanner, was living in New York’s Southern Tier.

A move to Cattaraugus County

Shortly after the wedding, in 1875, the Watsons relocated to the Adirondack foothills— at the same time as Arthur, his wife Mary and their children, and Arthur’s parents Mary and Jeremiah (who also worked as a tanner.) They were three generations of tanners apparently moving together for work.

In the mid 1880s, the extended Bull family moved again to Cattaraugus County, probably in their continuing quest for jobs. The logistics of such a move — especially given Arthur’s delicate health — could explain the yearlong gap in his pension documents. However, his application process picked up again once he re-settled and was seeing local Limestone doctors.

Intriguing family details

Besides the geographic clue, Steven E. Watson’s 1885 affidavit also provides intriguing family details. He testified:

…that he has known the claimant for the last fourteen years; has been his fellow workman and intimately acquainted with him during that period; knows that he has been troubled with heart and lung trouble and unable to obtain subsistence by manual labor and, in affiant’s judgement, his disability has been one half since his first acquaintance with him.

Steven said he knew Arthur for fourteen years — as a co-worker and apparently a friend. But he had only been married to Emma for eleven years. Did Arthur introduce them? Or did they meet by chance while attending a social, church or Bull family get-together?

Hard to know for sure. But the pension examiners ruled Steven Watson’s “credibility good” when they examined the affidavit — and I have no reason to dispute that finding.

Limestone: oil wells and a tannery

According to an article in the Olean Times Herald, Limestone was the site of the first commercial oil well in New York State — erected in 1865, right after the US Civil War.

More pertinent to my family’s history, a tannery was established there in 1858 by Dodge & Smith Company — a potential source of jobs for the next generation of the Bull family as production wound down at the Adirondack tanneries where my ancestors worked.

However, my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull — now less able to work — needed his U.S. Civil War pension more than ever. So he began seeing doctors in Cattaraugus County, both for health reasons and in connection with his claim.

More on this in the next post.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

1884: Doctors bolster Arthur Bull’s Civil War pension claim

Third 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.

In October 1884, a medical referee from the U.S. Pension Board recommended my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull for a partial disability pension — but more proof was required before payments would begin.

http://www.postcardpost.com/leyden.htm
Main Street in Port Leyden, N.Y., showing a bridge over the Black River Canal (1889). In Sept. 1884, an affidavit from Port Leyden physician D.D. Douglass, M.D., bolstered my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull’s Civil War pension claim. Photo: Larry Meyers/Port Leyden NY in Postcards

So my great-great grandfather’s attorneys created an abstract of affidavits — from relatives and doctors who had known/treated him since the Civil War — to verify his  war-related illness.

These testimonials chronicle my ancestor’s steadily declining health, which he attributed to  the rigors of the U.S. Civil War during his Union Army service.

A Port Leyden doctor’s findings

On 24 July 1880, D.D. Douglass, M.D., from Port Leyden, Lewis County, N.Y., treated Arthur for chronic post-war health problems. According to the abstract of his affidavit —  filed on 15 Sept. 1884 and characterized as “credibility good” —  Dr. Douglass testified:

…that he was called to treat claimant on the 24th July, 1880, and found him suffering from debility, asthmatic affection of lungs, “attended with severe palpitations of heart;” that he continued treatment up to Aug. 31st 1882, occasionally; that he was not able to perform manual labor; “would have spells of exhaustion, especially if he exercised too much,” and that the disease being chronic, his improvement is doubtful.

A Boonville physician weighed in

Next was an abstract of an affidavit from another credible witness, G.P. English, M.D., of Boonville, Oneida County, N.Y. In the document, filed on 27 Sept. 1884, Dr. English stated:

…he was called to treat claimant in July 1883 and found him suffering from heart and lung trouble, was asthmatic and had palpitation of the heart of long standing; could call it chronic; thinks it doubtful whether he ever recovers fully. Is still treating him and thinks his disability fully one half.

The testimony of these doctors, bolstering an earlier affidavit from relatives, appears to have helped Arthur’s case. The U.S. Pension Board medical referee recommended a one-half disability pension for Arthur the month after these two medical affidavits were filed.

The rigors of war

Earlier, I wrote about my great-great grandfather’s US Civil War experience — from his participation in the Army of the Potomac’s 1864 Overland campaign and his wartime illness to his later service in the Shenandoah Valley and in Virginia’s Bermuda Hundred.

In 1863, Arthur stepped up to serve in the Union Army during the final push to end slavery and maintain the union — marching bravely into wartime conditions that likely left him chronically ill.

In the 1880s, a new struggle for his military pension was the battle Arthur had to win — and his family rallied round to help him.

Up next: Arthur’s relatives testify in support of his pension claim. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin