The Fat File

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Back in November I wrote a Blog article on my 2nd great grand uncle that I found information on his service in the Civil War on I sent for information on both Joseph West and his brother John. I was hoping for more family information in the complete service records.


Today I received the packet for John West, born January 1846 and died July 2, 1925. The archive sent the first 100 pages that were guaranteed. From the pink note included in my package, I will be receiving a quote for the remaining pages in the file.


John was the younger of the two brothers and his stint in the army was very short and he didn’t see any battle. In March of 1864, John enlisted in Company I of the PA 7th Regiment when he was 17 years old. Within 6 weeks of joining the regiment in Nashville, Tennessee, the regiment would move on to Chattanooga, Tennessee.


According to his statement sent to the pension board, he was mounted on a very rough riding horse riding hard for 2 or 3 days. About 30 miles outside of Chattanooga he found himself with extreme pain in his stomach and groin area. The pain would be on both sides and extend up into his breast bone area. John slid off his horse and lies down at the road side and let the Brigade pass by.


He felt a bit better once the Brigade had passed and climbed back onto the horse following the last of the Brigade, letting the horse walk. He met up with the Brigade and the next morning was sent to the regiments surgeon and then on to the hospital on Lookout Mountain. This surgeon was never able to support John’s story as he was killed by guerillas shortly after sending John on to the general hospital.


John would remain in the hospital until after the war was over in 1865. He was then sent on to his regiment, encamped in Macon, Georgia to be released from duty. Being young and naive, John didn’t tell the doctors of his complete problem. He was a bit embarrassed by the 2 large bulges that appeared in his groin area, so he never showed the doctors at Lookout Mountain that he had a double hernia. He also blames riding the horse for a large spot on his inner thigh where a button had rubbed a sore spot. Over time that spot would enlarge to twice the size of his fist.


From the paperwork the NARA sent me, John fought for increases in his pension from 1883 until 1910. His case was explained over and over about how he was incapacitated from the hernias brought on by the 2 to 3 day ride to Chattanooga. His injury was even claimed to be equivalent to the loss of a hand or a foot. He was rejected repeatedly. His original claim netted him $4 per month, July of 1883 and was increased to $8 per month, October 17, 1888, where it seemed to have stopped for the remainder of his life. Time and again they tried to get the pension increased to $17 per month and failed.


After the war the doctors would try all sorts of things to help John out of his misery. Catheters caused more problems; surgery at that time wasn’t an option. One physician put a name to part of his problem, aside from the hernias as dysuria, which could have been caused by bladder stones. The man must have lived in a bit of pain until his death at 79 years of age. Buried in the documentation were 2 pages of information on his family. The information included his marriage date, wife’s maiden name and the names and dates of his living children. Most of this information I had with the exception of his wedding date and some of his children’s birth dates. I would imagine they would use this information to verify his wife or children’s claim for his pension in the event of his death. The file also had information in it on the number of times John moved between 1860 and 1877, what type of work he had done, steel mill work and plasterer, and who he had lived with.


His biggest problem seems to be that the military surgeons had never documented his hernias. According to John’s claims they told him he would never be able to go back to the war and gave him pills that did not help his condition. He was unable to provide documentation as to what they were treating him for.


It will be interesting to see what his brother’s pension file holds and if it is as thick as the documentation for his brother.


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