Tag Archives: U.S. Civil War pensions

1884: A medical referee rules in Arthur’s favor

Second 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 November 1884 — four years after he applied and twenty years after he served — a Pension Board medical referee ruled that my ancestor Arthur Bull was sufficiently disabled to receive a Union Army pension. He was 51 years old.

https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2010/spring/civilwarpension.html
Pension clerks at work in the Pension Building, ca. 1900. Each folded bundle is one pension claim. Union Army veterans like my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull had to verify their Civil War-related health issues to collect a pension — a process that often took years. Source: US National Archives

The month before, a team of doctors at my great-great grandfather’s  local Pension Board — in Utica, Oneida County, N.Y. — recommended he be compensated at a rate of 1/4 disability.

However, the medical referee at the US Pension Office in Washington, D.C., recommended a higher rate. In his 12 Nov. 1884 response to Arthur’s attorneys R.S. and A.P. Lacey, the referee said:

Claimant is entitled to a rating of 1/2 for Disease of the Heart. If clean face is appended to the brief it will be so endorsed.

There may have been sighs of relief in the Bull household at this finding, as it put Arthur one step closer to receiving his pension. Yet more proof was needed before the pension office would start sending payments.

Background checks begin

So Arthur’s attorneys collected a series of affidavits and reports — from doctors and family members who had known him since the Civil War ended — to verify that his disability was war-related. I found these bundled together in his pension file.

PENSION AFFIDAVITS/REPORTS – Pvt. Arthur T. Bull – 6th NY Heavy Artillery
Year Date Names NYS Location
1881  25 Jan. Edward C. Tamkins & William Whitney Binghamton
1884 15 Sept. D.D. Douglas, MD Port Leyden
1884 22 Sept. G.P. English, MD Boonville
1884 22 Oct. Pension Board doctors Utica
1885 15 Sept. S.E. Watson Limestone
1885 22 Sept. M.W. Smith, MD Limestone
1885 1 Oct. M.W. Smith, MD Limestone
1885 30 Nov. William Whitney (supplementary) Binghamton

The 1881 affidavit from Arthur’s brothers-in-law Edward C. Tamkins (husband of his sister) and William Whitney (husband of his wife’s sister) was summarized by the attorneys — since it was previously submitted to the Pension Board. The later affidavits and doctor reports are more detailed.

Combined, they tell the heart-rending saga of Arthur’s struggle with war-related illness as his ability to work declined — a story that will unfold here on Molly’s Canopy over the next few weeks.

Bull family diaspora

These documents also trace the Bull family’s trajectory across New York State during Arthur’s declining years. They traveled from the Southern Tier (around Binghamton, N.Y) to the Adirondack region (near Port Leyden, Boonville and Utica) and finally to Western New York (around Limestone).

The period from 1880 to 1900 is a difficult one for locating and researching an ancestral family. There are few remaining remnants of the 1890 federal census, which was destroyed in a fire — and a significant gap also exists between the 1875 and 1892 New York State censuses.

Yet because my great-great grandfather applied for his Union Army pension during this period, his file provides many precious clues about family names, relationships and geographic locations that help fill out his ancestral story.

What do these pension records tell us about Arthur Bull and his family in the 1880s? Please stop back for the next chapter in his story.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Confusing diagnosis prompts pension rejection

Fifth and last in this series on my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

Civil War Vet
Living History: A Civil War veteran and his wife at the Violet Festival in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y. (2015). Union veterans like my ancestor Arthur Bull worked and raised families after the war, but relied on military pensions for war-related infirmities as they aged. Here, a Civil War veteran speaks to factory owner Alfred Dolge during a portrayal of the town’s history. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Nearly three years after my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull applied for a Civil War pension for persistent health effects from Union Army service, a confusing diagnosis by a pair of physicians resulted in a rejection of his original claim.

This was a disturbing outcome, because the  findings on the Examining Surgeon’s Certificate in Arthur’s pension file — signed by J. Mortimer Crane, M.D., and W.P. Massey, M.D., of Watertown, Jefferson County, N.Y. — appear to allow for wider interpretation than the one made by the U.S. Pension Office.

A confusing diagnosis

At my ancestor’s first examination — in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. on 12 July 1882 — Dr. Alex R. Gebbie diagnosed Arthur with “irritable heart.”

Six months later, Doctors Crane and Massey noted “Pulse feeble” in their 17 Jan. 1883 report — a symptom that appears to support Dr. Gebbie’s diagnosis and today would lead a physician to explore possible underlying cardiac conditions.

Yet despite this finding, they went on to rule out heart and lung disease in my ancestor’s case!

Instead, they attributed his pain to “rheumatism or neuralgia” and made the following recommendation for pension disability compensation (full disability was then $8 a month for a Private, or about $195 a month today).

  • Dis Heart Disease 0
  • Dis Lung Disease 0
  • Dis Rheumatism or Neuralgia 1/4 = $2. on statement [about $48.80 today]

Granted, diagnostic equipment was very limited in 1883 making it harder to detect and pinpoint cardiac and other health irregularities.

But a feeble pulse should have been an indicator, even then, that something was amiss in my ancestor’s health — something that began during Arthur’s wartime service and persisted as a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as he aged.

Original claim rejected

Then there is the Surgeon General’s report in his pension file.

The Record and Pension Division of the Surgeon General’s Office sent a 27 Jan. 1883 report detailing Arthur’s wartime hospitalizations in 1864 and 1865 for “Disease of heart,” “Heart Disease” and “functional disease of heart” — terms underlined in pencil on the document, possibly by the pension office reviewer.

Despite this supporting document, the heart findings in the report by the Watertown doctors — stamped into the pension board office on 1 Feb. 1883 — appear to have been the undoing of Arthur’s initial pension request.

On 9 April 1883, the U.S. Pension Board rejected Arthur’s invalid application for “causes alleged” on his 2 July 1880 application — specifically “Rejection for heart and lung disease.”

The rejection contains no mention of Arthur’s rheumatism and neuralgia, for which the two doctors did recommend some compensation.

Arthur Bull fights on

Arthur had now been trying to collect a disability pension for nearly twice as long as his 18-month wartime service in the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery, so this rejection must have been discouraging

But — no stranger to battle — my great, great grandfather was not about to surrender his benefits without a fight.

With the help of attorneys R.S. and A.P. Lacey, Arthur continued to press his rightful claim for pension disability compensation for his persistent war-related illness — a saga we will return to in future posts.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Jefferson County, NY: More doctor visits

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

Feb. 1883: U.S. Pension Office stamp on Watertown, Jefferson Co., N.Y. Examining Surgeon's Certificate. Nearly three years after he applied for his Civil War disability pension, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was still seeking compensation. Photo by Molly Charboneau
Feb. 1883: U.S. Pension Office stamp on Watertown, Jefferson Co., N.Y. Examining Surgeon’s Certificate. Nearly three years after he applied for his Civil War disability pension, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was still seeking compensation. Photo by Molly Charboneau

By 1883, my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s pension application process was starting to resemble what injured workers endure today when filing for Worker’s Compensation — ill or injured and unable to work full time, they must often wait for years to receive compensation.

Nearly three years after Arthur applied for a disability pension for Union Army service during the U.S. Civil War, my ancestor had to go through a series of doctor examinations — along with a background check on the details of his war-related illness.

He also had to travel significant distances to doctors’ offices to be seen. Yet he complied with these requirements because he needed the supplemental income to support his family due to a diminished capacity to work.

Watertown physical exam

In the summer of 1882. Arthur’s first doctor in nearby Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y., diagnosed an irritable heart.

But in early 1883 he was apparently directed to see another pair of physicians in Watertown, Jefferson County, N.Y. — about 70 miles from his Moose River home in Lyonsdale, Lewis County, N.Y. Back then, the journey would have required about a day’s travel each way.

According to documents in his pension file, Arthur made the trip. He was seen in Watertown on 17 Jan. 1883 by J. Mortimer Crane, M.D., and W. P. Massey, M.D. — and they chronicled his visit on an Examining Surgeon’s Certificate.

Claims that on the occasion of the Battle of Cold Harbor, was attacked with pain & difficulty of breathing in left side in cardiac region & has suffered from that time to the present with sharp darting pain which he attributes to heart & lungs.

Rheumatism and neuralgia

The patient history is consistent with what my ancestor told the first doctor about the condition for which he was repeatedly hospitalized during the war. However, Doctors Crane and Massey did not report the same findings after they examined him.

We find no valvular disease of heart …Apex beat in normal position & not heard beyond normal limits. Pulse feeble. Respiration clear & distinct on whole of both lungs. Breathing easy and regular at this examination. Looks well nourished. Pain probably rheumatism or neuralgia.

The two doctors then signed the Examining Surgeon’s Certificate and sent it to the U.S. Pension Office, where it was stamped in on 1 Feb. 1883, as shown above.

Their finding of “pain probably rheumatism or neuralgia” was new — but their assessment of “normal” heart function differed from the first doctor’s report.

What would this mean for my great, great grandfather Arthur’s pension application? More in the next post.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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