Tag Archives: U.S. Civil War

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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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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