Tag Archives: U.S. Civil War

Arthur T. Bull’s GAR Descriptive Book

Sepia Saturday 502: Second in a series of posts based on recent research discoveries, starting with my U.S. Civil War ancestor Arthur T. Bull of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

Delegate badges worn at GAR conventions. Photo: Molly Charboneau

In the last post, I discussed my recent genealogy research trip to the New York State Archives and Library and one of the collections I looked at — the Grand Army of the Republic New York Dept. collection.

This week I want to share some of the remarkable documents and artifacts in this collection — several pertaining to my Union Army ancestor Arthur T. Bull of the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

My ancestor’s GAR enrollment

First among these (shown below) is the Descriptive Book in which — on 21 July 1886 — my great-great grandfather Arthur was enrolled in GAR Nathan Crosby Post 550 in Salamanca, Cattaraugus Co., N.Y.

Cover of the GAR Nathan Crosby Post 550 Descriptive Book. These post books with marbleized covers were standard issue. The New York State Archives has many of them in their collection from GAR posts statewide. Photo: Molly Charboneau
Number 30: My ancestor’s enrollment in the GAR. My great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull enrolled as “A.T. Bull.” He was not a founding member of Nathan Crosby Post 550. However, he joined in 1886 soon after moving to Salamanca, N.Y., from the Adirondacks region. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Digital images of the book and his listing are available online — but they were just no substitute for holding the actual Descriptive Book and knowing that my great-great grandfather directly provided his life and military details, which were entered by a fellow veteran.

I was doubly fortunate that a photographer documenting the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society trip happened by and photographed me as I was researching!

Viewing my ancestor’s GAR enrollment record. My great-great grandfather Arthur T. Bull joined the GAR in 1886. Seeing his name in the post’s Descriptive Book was a high point of my Nov. 2019 genealogy research trip to the New York State Archives in Albany, N.Y. Photo: Jennifer Clunie, New York State Archives Partnership Trust

The GAR support network

The story of my ancestor Arthur T. Bull’s membership in the GAR is detailed in a previous post — along with a transcription of his record.

Arthur and his wife Mary benefited greatly from his GAR membership — and through it developed new friendships in an area that they moved to late in life.

The GAR provided a valuable support network to assist with pension issues. And after my great-great grandfather Arthur died, his fellow veterans helped my great-great grandmother Mary with probate.

So it was wonderful to view and photograph the embossed, folio-sized founding charter of the Nathan Crosby Post — a GAR chapter pulled together by a group of Union Army veterans who were there when my ancestors needed them.

Founding charter of my ancestor’s GAR NY Nathan Crosby Post 550. These folio-sized documents are impressive. The New York State Archives has a large collection of GAR charters from throughout the state. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Other items of interest

The GAR New York Department collection — with 99 boxes in 14 sub-series — is a significant source of statewide information about Union Army veterans.

Reunion, encampment and campaign badges from Grand Army of the Republic gatherings. Photo: Molly Charboneau

In addition to specific items pertaining to my ancestor Arthur T. Bull, I pulled several boxes of general interest — and I was amazed at the breadth of what was available.

The collection preserves badges, books, photographs, minutes and other documents from a pivotal time in U.S. history — yet remains very personal in its presentation.

One can almost imagine the veterans who — long after the U.S. Civil War — proudly wore, and carefully saved, their GAR pins and badges from conventions, encampments and reunions before fading from history’s stage.

This archival collection assures that New York’s Union Army veterans and their invaluable contributions are not forgotten.

Up next, more research discoveries in the New York State Archives. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 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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