Civil War Surgeon and Union Hero - Dr. Franklin Dyer

Uploaded by theamericancollege on 20.07.2011

please welcome professor michael chesson
to tell the experiences of doctor franklin dyer
a civil war surgeon
mr chesson is a founding professor and dean of the newly established
american college of history legal studies
located here in salem
dr chesson has a degree in history from william and mary college
and a phd in american history from john hopkins university
dr chesson has received many honors in
has long academic career besides writing books and memberships in fifteen
historical societies
i don't know how he does it all
please welcome doctor and remember after the meeting to sign up for
the tour next month we already plugged that's so we don't have to do it again
so with that i give you our speaker
thank you and actually my doctorate is from that little school in cambridge
i did a year johns hopkins but
i had to leave
and I appreciate jonathan worth inviting me
and i can't think of a more appropriate day than flag day
to talk about doctor j_ franklin dyer
the flag
and that document the jonathan was paraphrasing from are what
frank dyer was fighting for
in new england history takes you by surprise
and perhaps that's happened to some of you
doing a research project
your family genealogy
some local history what have you
years ago a student at u mass boston where i taught for thirty-two years
approached me after class one day and he said
would you like to look at some
civil war papers
by one of my ancestors
and i said of course little knowing the treasure that was coming
because i assumed that he would bring me a copy of the new york times from
eighteen sixty one
or perhaps some confederate currency
or what i was really hoping to see was his ancestors compiled service record
and in a few days the student brought me a thick
bound in green leather
and it was the surgeon
uh... the the surgeons journal
doctor j franklin dyer
of the nineteenth
regiment of massachusetts volunteer infantry
written entirely in ink
in his own hand beautiful script
uh... and it contained the excerpts
from wartime letters that he had written to his wife
in gloucester massachusetts
and i was impressed by the entries knowing a little bit about the civil
war in the east and the army of the potomac
and his service in the army from july of eighteen sixty one
until august of eighteen sixty four
when he was mustered out during the siege of petersburg
and returned home
my student said that his aunt had
copies of
family letters
along with a variety of items relating to doctor dyer including his surgeons
his green sash
two medical kits that he carried on the field of battle
uniform buttons
and some other items
and she controlled the manuscript
and would decide who should edit it
well some say this conflict
is the war that never ended
but i found out very quickly why i did not go into sales
because when i made a cold call to missus wittmer
i found her to be a proper new england lady
but just a little bit on the frosty side
she found my academic credentials
the harvard degree helped
but she had one big reservation
i'm a white virginian
a native southerner
she did not believe
that i could edit her ancestors journal
and objectively
and i assured her that i respect physical courage and
regardless of the uniform
and we reached an agreement
as she loaned me several scrapbooks filled with family letters
and i started the editorial process
the letters which she loaned me
were those that frank dyer wrote from just before gettysburg
starting in june of eighteen sixty three
through august of eighteen sixty four
then is discharged from the army
general franklin dyer was born
april fifteenth eighteen twenty six
in eastport maine
he was the fourth of seven children
of charles dyer
who was a maine native
and hannah snow
of nova scotia
his roots go back to the founding of new england
he had military ancestors on both sides of his family
captain jonah dyer
his grandfather
fought in the revolution was captured by the british
and after his release settled in maine
a more distant ancestors the quaker
murray dyer
was hanged as know on the boston common in sixteen sixty
his maternal line descended from nicholas snow
a passenger on the mayflower to plymouth plantation
in sixteen twenty three
he married constance hopkins the daughter of stephen hopkins
he served under captain miles standish
nicholas and constance had twelve children
their descendants served in
various wars against the indians and also the seven years war or
french and indian war
jonahs father charles dyer died in eighteen forty four
when jonah
was still fourteen
charles henry dyer his
oldest brother
was starting a career that would eventually make him a prosperous
in eastport
but at the time of their father's death he was still and apprentice
he assumed the paternal roll as the oldest son
he advised frank
who by eighteen forty six preferred his middle name to jonah
and he cared for their mother
and their youngest siblings george and atealy
william snow dyer had moved a few miles away to run a general store
in one of the surviving letters he worried that charles appears to have the
charge of all the family
and it is a heavy burden
he also joshed his the younger brother frank
about being a
he'd recently apprenticed himself to a druggist
he said
rolling out pills
i think you would queer
doctor franklin dyer who would believe it
in a letter written before the battle of the wilderness
doctored dyer regretted that he had not yet been able to buy a pony
for their son frankie
he said I mean that he should have one sometime
for i know how i wanted such things and couldn't have then
and for that reason i want him to
that's a doting father
not a reflection of his own youth
dozens of the family letters in the scrapbook showed me that franks
childhood was of a middle status
neither rich
nor poor
his mother took occasional trips back to new brunswick to visit relatives
she hired a servant girl
to help around the house when she could find someone suitable
and the boys got a good education
george was learning latin in the eighteen forties
and when frank finally decided to go to medical school william arranged to
have his old texts
sent to him
more important for a man who would see three years of war
franks family was a warm and loving
the bond between the brothers was particularly strong
they wrote regularly to each other
they loaned each other money
even when hard-pressed themselves
frank benefited from his family's generosity but he was not the only one
to do so
william wanted to use young george in his store
but thought better that george
stay in school
when his father died frank was already the editor of a small
eastport weekly
the sentinel
in less than two years he was a was forced to abandon journalism for
health reasons
frank uh...
wrote him did you did you give this or or or rather uh... william wrote him in
eighteen forty six he said did you give up the newspaper business
because of uh...
because of smoking
is is that why you
quit the cigars
frank didn't respond at least not directly
charles warned frank about moving to new york city and going into what he called
the rather uncertain business
of daguerreotype
and frank also thought of going to wisconsin with brother william who was
who was going out west
and william did go to milwaukee in eighteen forty seven
he wrote back boasting of the opportunities in milwaukee compared with
those in new england
and when he returned to new england
he found that he couldn't borrow the money that he needed to set up business
for himself and compete with established firms in milwaukee
and he soon went west with other forty niners
frank meanwhile had decided to become an apothecary
he apprenticed himself for three years to a druggist
in south berwick maine
his mother and the family physician thought it was the best of several
for his health
he began working doctor charles t trafton
and he studied medicine with him
from august eighteen forty six until february eighteen forty eight
while working in the pharmacy
a friend wrote him
since you concluded to go into the apothecary business
that three years was too long to devote to the study of pharmacy
this pal and a doctor parsons who they both knew
told him that only a few months reading of medical books
and a few months more of rudimentary practice
sort of on-the-job training presumably some of the patients would recover and
some might not but
that was all you needed to set yourself up as a as a pharmacist
fortunately for his army comrades and other patients frank was intent on more
advanced studies
he visited in eighteen forty seven with his employer
augustus trafton
the son of his boss who was graduating from
the medical school of maine
in brunswick
co-located with bowdoin
college and staffed by bowdoin faculty
lacking money to pay for political lectures
frank decided he wanted to go to medical school too
his family sought loans
his mother
started calling in iou's and asking for favors and trying to mass the funds
to pay for her sons medical school
he began at brunswick in february of nineteen forty eight
the same month
that joshua lawrence chamberlain
enrolled as a bowdoin freshmen
a friend want to congratulate him
you're now then fairly committed as a disciple of Asclepius
and have taken a seat in the consecrated halls of bowdoin
well go it
and see that you go it thoroughly
be not a superficial pretender
pause not till thoroughly informed on every branch of your anticipated
thats how they wrote back then
and of course they wrote a lot
documentation for future historians
uh... good luck uh... documenting what
we're doing today with
twitter and uh... of social media and a lot of other
conversations that aren't going to survive
frank's money troubles continued
before the start of his last term in february eighteen forty nine he asked to
attend the medical election on credit
the professors told him that wasn't possible
only in extreme cases would that be allowed
uh... one teacher told him to borrow the funds for the necessary lecture tickets
another suggested he pay half the fee in advance
if he couldn't come up with the entire amount
somehow frank
uh... got the money
he finished his coursework in eighteen forty nine
he concluded his thesis on acute
and was approved for the MD
young doctor dyer moved to boston
and continued his studies with an older physician that summer
while waiting for his degree to be formally conferred
older brother charles writing
i feel very much pleased to think that you have succeeded in getting a
and hope that you may do well
franks diploma came in september
but he found it hard to establish himself in the hub
with its large medical fraternity
he decided to relocate to annisquam a
village in gloucester
on the cape peninsula
which may have lacked a resident physician
but in any event he found it easier to establish himself there and
build a practice
that would support him
he practiced medicine in annisquam and gloucester center
the remainder of his life
frank had a healthy interest in young women
talk of them filed the letters between the brothers
and other male friends
charles told him be a good boy and keep straight
william warned about young women especially
factory girls
meaning the mill workers near the pharmacy in south berwick
a boston druggist who was a partner with doctor trafton frank's boss
uh... wrote that women
were a failing of young men
a friend in eastport told of the sudden death of a wife commenting
strange isn't it how many young married women die
and brother charles wrote that william had had to testify
in a trial of a man accused of murdering his wife
william had sold him the poison
then he told of two young men they both knew
one asked the other
how did you meet your wife
and his friend responded
i got acquainted with her permiscuously
and that's how he spelled it p e r
after charles married in september eighteen forty seven he found
that it agreed with him and
me played matchmaker with frank the next year
he told frank
the correspondence you're carrying on with a particular local woman
i think you and she or doing a great business but
watch out
that you do not get smashed with your pretty face
friends wrote of women who wanted to meet him
frank replied
god keep me from all such things
less two years after moving to annisquam frank had a practice that would support
a wife
on may fourth eighteen fifty three he married maria haskell french
but whether it was in boston
or back in eatport as suggested on ancestry dot com
is uncertain
like frank she was twenty seven
and had only a month to live
she died in annisquam on june sixth
frank dyer had good relations with her parents
even after he remarried
following the customary period of mourning
his second wife was mariah davis
of hancock new hampshire
two years younger than frank when they married
september seven eighteen fifty four
most of his wartime letters were addressed to this second mariah
whose name the family pronounced with a long i
frank dyer served from july eighteen sixty one
till August twenty-eight eighteen sixty four
he mustered into federal service on august third
at thirty five he was one of the oldest officers
in the nineteenth massachusetts
he rose to become the third brigades surgeon
the surgeon in chief of the second division
and the acting medical director of the entire second corps
army of the potomac
he served on the staff of generals oliver o howard
john gibbon
and winfield scott hancock
dyer developed a healthy respect
for confederate infantry
and a corresponding scorn for union cavalry
he felt about the calvary sort of the way that
today feel about aviators
dyer thought lee a dangerous opponent
and he considered stonewall jackson a god-fearing man
and his death a
severe loss to the south
here's how this yankee described the secession crisis
not long after he came home from the war
obedient to the will of
their political leaders
the south raised the standard of rebellion
the people of the north rose to overcome it
whatever errors may have been committed in the beginning
and failing to appreciate the magnitude of the undertaking
they were alike shared by all
both north
and south
i consider this a just and righteous war on our part
and i should not be doing my duty
if i did not take part in it
in july eighteen sixty one before bull run
he offered his services to doctor william j_ dale
surgeon general
of the commonwealth of massachusetts
and after a medical exam
they gave him a test they gave him some questions
they asked him about various operations he was accepted
and appointed the acting surgeon of the nineteenth
massachusetts regiment
well frank survived ball's bluff that fall
he's steamed down the chesapeake bay the following spring for mcclellan's
peninsula campaign
he described the virginians white and black
physical surroundings various bottles
as mcclellan's army moved slowly up
of the peninsula toward richmond
he withstood army brass and his medical superiors
insisting that mcclellan's troops were suffering from scurvy
their teeth were falling out and
lack of fresh vegetables and they were showing other classic symptoms of scurvy
everyone was saying you're wrong you're wrong keep quiet
he would not keep quiet
and finally medical inspectors were sent down from washington to shut him up
and they concluded
the men
are suffering from scurvy
this diagnosis
was a brave act
and it was praised by the compilers of the medical and surgical history of the
war of the rebellion
when they put that
uh... collection of volumes together in the eighteen eighties
uh... it's on the reading list that
I distributed
the MSH has details about many of his most difficult operations
like most army surgeons of this war
frank did not include the gore
in his letters home
to his dear wife
you'd have to do
read the medical and surgical history
the twenty-six case reports that are cited by the compilers of this
mammoth reference
to learn that dyer had medical ability and knowledge well above the average
his case reports are cited on wounds and injuries
of the spine abdomen and hip joint
lower and upper extremities
rectum and testes
he described amputations of the shoulder arm
elbow and thigh
and he wrote long reports on scurvy
typhoid continued fevers
and chronic rheumatism
leaving the peninsula he was at second bull run in august eighteen sixty two
and as john pope recruited
dyer experienced
friendly-fire i'll
never know why they call it that because it can kill you just as dead
a gun went off accidentally on the night march
the cavalry panicked
thinking they were being attack
and they started galloping about
and infantry started firing in every direction and
doctor dyer mounted on horseback and his assistant surgeon
also on a horse
uh... the assistant surgeon was hit in the leg
and doctor dyer could not find an ambulance for him
so he sent the regimental chaplain
the reverend ezra winslow
while he tended his badly wounded colleague
and of reverend winslow
he remarked in his journal he
did not see the chaplain again for three months
he did not stop until he got to massachusetts
frank dyer's scorn could be withering
for those who showed what he called the white feather
when the wounded doctor hill got to the lines around washington he was denied
because of red tape
and he died three days later of his wound a victim of paperwork
and dyer warned him
and he would miss him in the months ahead because this doctor from
charlestown massachusetts
was the only competent assistant he'd ever have
his most starring language was about battles
took possession near antietam creek monday night remained there all of tuesday
the thirteenth and fourteenth of september
eighteen sixty two
the rebels through shot and shell at us from their position on the other side of
the creek
went up on a hill on our front and had a good view of their lines
though not a safe position by any means
next morning ordered to be ready at daylight without knapsacks and with eighty rounds
our corps marched in three columns our regiment leading one column
doctor willard and myself with our attendants
went into the fight with our regiment
as did most of the surgeons in our corps
we forded the antietam
advanced nearly a mile in the same direction
through plowed ground corn fields and woods then faced to the front forming
a line of battle
in advance of the same kind of ground
nearly a mile toward the rebel lines
all this distance we were under the fire of rebel batteries
a shell would plow through the ranks a break would be seen
and as the line passed on
one or more men would be seen lying on the ground the
battle was actually fought on friday
september seventeenth
getting here we passed many wounded who have been lying there since the night
before both rebels and our own
while occupied in dressing wounds in the rear of the regiment just on the edge of
the woods
fire became pretty hot
kirby's battery was ahead of us a little to the left
about seventy yards distant
rebels came up in heavy masses to take it
pouring in in a regular but terrific fire the battery was well working through
showers of canister
regiment and support got up and fled past us
through the woods
the battery maintained its position however
and drove off the assailants
after which anticipating a more vigorous attack
it moved to the rear
when the fire slackened we were obliged to move
our lines having fallen back our regiment to the right and rear
and our whole corps
having been considerably shattered
at night the enemy held possession of a small part of the field but we held most
of it
next day little was done except to remove the wounded
and the night following the rebels left
I went over the battlefield on friday
and even though all the wounded had not been removed many of them having been within
the rebel lines
the fight had raged over a space
about three miles in length by two in width
and in places where our own
where the rebel line was formed
a perfect row of dead
was lined
in one place behind a rail fence
rebel dead were lying as closely
as if their line had laid down for shelter
i met the medical director of the corps who ordered me to go to the hoffman
and take charge
the wounded were fast coming in and in an hour there were five hundred there
i remained twenty four hours i got relieved to go and collect together
some of the wounded of my own regiment
there were in other place they were scattered in
improvised hospitals all over the area
colonel hincks with three other officers was at mister prize in valley mills
found him severely wounded a ball having passed through the right forearm
shattering the radius the
radius is the
arm to the front of your forearm the thicker
or shorter of the bones in your arm
passing through the abdomen it came out on the left of his spine
surgeons who examined his wound
consider his case quite hopeless
very little had been attempted for his relief
i cannot say how many thousand wounded are in this vicinity but every house and
barn for miles is filled with them
all the churches and school houses in sharpsburg
are used as hospitals
also those in keedysville
and boonesboro
the bloodiest day in american history
the wounded are being removed from hospitals near the field as the odor is
hundreds of horses were killed
they were generally burnt
citizens have been flocking in by hundreds not to render assistance
but to go over the battlefield and pick up mementos
such as broken muskets
and some to steal
what they can find but
there is nothing about the poor ragged rebels to covet
many good-hearted men have come from a neighboring towns brought supplies and taken
wounded to hospitals
in frederick city
and hagerstown
surgeons have come from baltimore
and other places
but i'm sorry they do not care to stop
and do the work
frank often complained civilian surgeons
would not do routine operations
returning to virginia he watched the crossing the rappahannock in
by burnsides army in december eighteen sixty two
amphibious crossing led by the nineteenth massachusetts
this hospital was at the lacy house
vividly described by walt whitman civilian nurse
from the north side of the river
equipment first approached the lacy house
you knew it was a hospital because outside the windows
there were enormous piles
of arms and legs
after the defeat at fredericksburg and burnside's removal
as the commanding general
dyer had breakfast with joe hooker
the morning of chancellorsville
and the journal is filled with these kinds of details
the first of his surviving letters to his wife was written in june
eighteen sixty-three at the start of the gettysburg campaign
and then this one one thursday
near gettysburg
july second midnight
you have heard of the battle ere this reaches you
it is over now now and thousands lay dead in the hospitals under the trees and
about the barnes
the fight was terrible
we marched from our camp of last night about four miles to the front and took
this morning
the second day of gettysburg
skirmishing and artillery firing occupied nearly all day until we found their
and the fight began at about four o'clock in earnest
from that time till after eight the roar of battle was terrific
they came down on our left with a large force and at first overpowered us
we threw in more troops and they brought more column after column formed into the gap
which they tried to force but they were baffled
the gap of course had been created by that idiot dan sickles
about dark sedgwick came up
they were forced back
several times my heart almost failed me
as our men were forced back
but when i sat uncle john sedgwick's flag advancing
I knew we should check them
or the sixth corps
would not survive
john sedgwick the union journal
his men called him uncle john because they loved him
he wasn't a very good general but
he did have the loyalty and love of his troops
and union corps
had corps insignia
and the insignia of the sixth
corps army the potomac was a greek cross
and when dyer in desperation is looking around for reinforcements to save his
and his patients and his part of the army
what he sees coming across the field toward him
is a large flag with the cross on it
he knew he was going to be saved because the six corps had a good reputation we were
nearly driven out of our hospital but held out and afterward were relieved by
their being driven back
i was so busy i could not indulge curiosity to watch more than i saw before me
but i never saw or heard such fighting
hour after hour the volleys poured incessantly
i have about five or six hundred in hospital
i had no knowledge of the number killed and wounded
it is to be reckoned by the thousands
in fact it added up the tens of thousands
i've sat down in the kitchen of the little house where we are to write
the family have fled and
well they might
all took their children and fled
leaving their homes perhaps not to find them again
as the rebels burnt several houses
the fight will probably be renewed in the morning
i hope we she'll be able to hold our position
if nothing more
but it is one o'clock
I must get a little sleep
and be up at daylight goodnight
god help us
and give us the victory our
army has fought with desperation
and will fight tomorrow
we have done the best we could
if we fail it
is because we have not men enough
or god
it's not on our side
next letter field hospital near gettysburg july fourth
dear m about one o'clock the enemy fired its artillery one hundred pieces as
we heard afterward and ours replied
along the whole line there was a perfect roar
we have probably more guns then they and the fire was so incessant that it
blended together in one roar for at least four hours it continued without
batteries fired till all the men were disabled
and infantry detailed to take their places guns and caissons were knocked to pieces
wheels were replaced
and knocked to pieces again
guns fired til they were heated and taken off to cool and
new batteries put into place
horsed killed by the hundreds
it seemed as impossible for one to escape as it would
to escape a drop of rain in a shower
generals hancock and gibbon wounded
some generals killed
zook of third division
colonel cross
who had just been promoted
new hampshire
and some officers and men by thousands
then line after line of the enemy infantry came up in front of our
they broke through it at point where the second brigade were posted
i rolled third brigade wheeled around and poured such a fire into them
that today i saw the ground fairly covered with their dead
here twenty one rebel colors were taken
our regiment took four
i saw a lots of them
they were finally reposts from every point
and hundreds of prisoners some say thousands
remained in our hands with all their wounded
we are victorious
for three days they have attempted to force our lives and were three times
the last assault
pickett's charge was a desperate one
never in the history war was known such a fiercely contested flight
and such slaughter
the second corps has lost probably three thousand in killed and wounded
the nineteenth massachusetts at least sixty
the nineteenth maine
his brother george's regiment
two hundred and twelve
they did bravely
colonel revere of
the twentieth massachusetts
is dead
we have lost heavily
the rebel army
is in danger of destruction
leaving behind surgeons to care for the wounded
frank dyer rode south of meade's army and its pursuit of lee
the rejoiced in the victory over A P Hill at bristoe station and he
suffered the cold at run
then got a furlough home
to see his wife and
son and
family in hancock new hampshire
he returned to camp
just as grant began the overland campaign
as soon as the snow melted
the spring of sixty four
frank rarely boasted
he has all the usual yankee virtues and
as far as i can tell none of the vices
with frank dyer what you see is what you get
so he rarely boasted but during the
overland campaign he
he said
hancock and i
run this machine
by which he meant the second corps
he is now the medical director of that legendary organization
at spotsylvania's bloody end he saw hundreds of rebel prisoners taken
including two generals and
winfield scott hancock was cursing
at the top of his lungs as only hancock could curse
and demanding a pencil so he could write his after-action report
and dyer handed him a stub
and mariah wrote him did you get the pencil back
as a souvenir
frank growls in his response
nobody ever gets anything back that they loan to hancock
of the man now directing the war
dyer wrote there's nothing very remarkable in general grants appearance
he is a common size man looks tough and healthy
but you would not pick him out of a crowd of officers
as a remarkable man
but then our magnificent men are not always the best soldiers
grant rides a fine bay horse with a handsome embroidered saddle cloth
and was well dressed
gossip about his extreme simplicity is nonsense
he dresses as becomes his position
no more
no less
after cold harbor grant's stolen of march on lee
dyer rejoiced that marsh robert had been outflanked
as the army the potomac crossed the james river
on the longest pontoon bridge ever erected in war time
they put it up and took it down
after their army crossed
in four days
but grant's subordinates
including ben butler who buyer detested failed him
petersburg was saved
grant settled in for a siege
dyer saw the crater explosion
and witnessed a number of other fights
the doctor's opinion of black soldiers
responding to mariah's home front news about draft resistance in the north
he wrote her a few weeks after gettysburg
those who cried out with horror
when negro soldiers were talked of now cry out why don't you send the negroes to
very well
i would rather have a good hardy negro
then twenty copperheads who lack courage to fight
for their country or openly against it
i have some respect for a good soldier if he is a rebel
who's willing to fight for what he calls his rights
but none for a sneaking traitor
who dares do neither one thing or the other
at petersburg he reported
i find the colored troops are getting into favor among all
they appear to be very soldierly looking
and feel that they are quite elevated
by being made soldiers
i saw some fine looking colored soldiers bring in a miserable wretch of a rebel
on a stretcher
and i thought at the time
where the better men
they could easily have saved themselves by putting a bayonet through it
but they had brought a good many in
of women
in army hospitals never changed
the clearest sign of his innate conservatism
and his adherence to military tradition
assuming this Gettysburg comment
most of the women quarreled with each other
each whispering very quietly
they didn't want to associate with some others
on account of their reputation being
not good
it is singular that each one was the only truly pious and virtuous one in the
whole lot
the men wounded in the head wanted one to wash and fix him up a little
as the blood had dried on his face
of course the surgeons cannot go about washington mens faces
and if these women can do anything that is what they can do
my dear friend said she
i will read you a chapter from the bible
and that will do just as well
rather doubtful
these outsiders may have good intentions but they don't know how to do anything
i've heard that one has been threatening to come here but i will not have her
very severe on the ladies i suppose
but i've had enough of them about field hospitals
i see that miss clara barton
who was at the lacy house last december
is now at morris island south carolina
i hope she will stay there or not come here
she plagued me so that i had to get her out of the cookhouse and put one of my
own man in charge
he grudgingly acknowledged the contributions of other civilians at petersburg
he wrote
there is no sanitary or christian commission that ever did or ever could do
what many suppose in our field hospitals
they have large numbers and full supplies at city point
they do a great deal toward feeding and clothing the wounded
but it a mistake to suppose that they go to the battlefield bring off wounded
or do anything but the most insignificant share of work
they do a great deal afterward though
during his last week in the army
he was almost captured
and escaped death twice
on the weldon railroaded reams station
the first and second divisions of the second corps
and gregg's cavalry division
a total of nine thousand men
we're tearing up lee's
railway to wilmington north carolina the last blockade running port still open
to the confederacy
and they were overwhelmed by a confederate attack
august twenty fifth eighteen sixty four the rebels first attacked us on the
right then left
and being repulsed both times brought a large force and attack us on all
sides with great impetuosity
this last charge was very obstinate
and enemies fired from one side of our position reaching across to the other
a part of our line had fire in both front
and rear
our lines finally gave way
the nineteenth massachusetts and most of the twentieth
were taken
finding the lines broken and the enemy coming over our works
i got the ambulance train started ahead
and soon followed
with several of the medical officers
there being but one road to passover
and the rebels having directed their fire
toward that quarter it became quite dangerous to pass that way
but the hope of coming home in
two or three days
on the one hand
and the prospect of quarters in libby prison on the other
being dually weighed
i concluded to run the gauntlet
the shot and shell from our captured batteries following us pretty fast
and the last one a round shot
solid iron ball throwing
the dirt
in our faces
as we rode along congratulating ourselves on being
out of range
at dark we're on the road and before morning back in their own camp on the
plank road
i stopped with general gibbon along the road
and one contributing a rubber coat and the other a cape
we slept under a tree two or three hours
next day picked up by stragglers
established our hospital
and took care of our wounded and
began to reckon up our losses and gains the latter very small
the former
rather large
the next day frank tied up loose ends for his successor
got his mustering out papers
and after a ceremony and banquet in his honor
dyer left second corps headquarters
writing on august twenty seventh from city point
where he was about to get on a steamer
and come back to massachusetts
city point was a giant supply depot and it was grants headquarters
we wrote my troubles were not yet over
wishing to see my brother george
who was in the eighteenth corps
i follow the road up toward the city
but few men have arrived to take the places of those that had left
and the lines in some parts were unoccupied except by pickets
there was silence all along the line
the roads and fields through which we passed were quiet
and unoccupied
and the pleasant morning sun
shown down
on a scene of perfect rest
while urging my horse to jump a gulley in the road
zip came a bullet just before my eyes and in the second another at my orderly
others followed in quick succession but
generally too high
finding ourselves unnecessarily exposed
lots of yankee understatement in this journal
we dismounted
and found we were very near the enemy's lines
with some of our men who were near concealed in gopher holes
who had escaped our observation
replied to the enemies fire
while we walked across the field leading our horses
sharp fire all along the line
with artillery accompaniment
was the consequence of our
sergeant mehan his orderly remarked
that we had raised the devil along the whole line
guess the johnny's thought it was general grant
i concluded that as i was out of the service
i would mind my own affairs
and go home
well i still had a head on my shoulders
in the military the first thing that they teach you is don't volunteer and the second
thing is don't be a tourist don't go anywhere you don't have to go
and trying to find his brother whom he loved
he almost got himself killed
frank got a joyous welcome from family and friends in gloucester but he returned
to virginia in december
to care for his badly wounded brother-in-law
lieutenant kiefer james davis
of the seventh new hampshire
recruited in manchester served through the end of eighteen sixty five
finding his medical practice gone
he sought political appointments to support himself until we could attract new
he discovered
like many veterans
that civilian memories fail
once a war
is over
he was disappointed in his efforts to find a position despite glowing letters
of recommendation for massachusetts governor john andrew
major general alexander webb
and other prominent men
frank dyer finally managed to win the lucrative post
of gloucester
that appointment required that he support the policies
of the new president andrew johnson
and the ben butler wing of the state republican party
and that he contribute to both
which dyer refused to do
he lost the job before he could fill it
even though the news of his appointment had been announced in gloucester and boston
finally he found a temporary job as acting surgeon
at the local fort
in cape anne
dyer resumed his life with mariah and frankie a
second son edward james was born in eighteen sixty nine
but frankie died of consumption on
july eighteen seventy five
a month short of his nineteenth birthday
before he could start his sophomore year
at bowdoin
frank held positions of increasing responsibility
and beat his democratic opponent for a term in the legislature in eighteen
sixty nine
he really enjoyed that beating a democrat
his greatest honor was being elected the third mayor of the newly incorporated
city of gloucester in eighteen seventy eight
though his official oil portrait
later disappeared
while i was working on the journal a
volunteer on the city's archives committee
made herself
notorious with the custodians and the staff at the city hall
and eventually
unlocking many
little cubby holes and closets
she found the official portrait of mayor dyer
under a tarp
hidden in a broom closet
there's a story there but we'll probably never know what it was
his health not good as an adolescent had been ruined by three years of
especially the last winter of eighteen sixty three sixty four
after a bout of pneumonia
june eighteen seventy eight
he developed active symptoms of tuberculosis
frank dyer died at his annisquam home on february ninth eighteen seventy nine
two months short
of his was fifty third birthday
when the nineteenth massachusetts regimental history finally appeared in
nineteen o six
more than forty years after he left the service
the survivors
of the regiment still remembered their surgeon
his comrades called him one of the most skillful physicians in the army
a man of gentle temperament
but thorough
in every detail of his position a
quarter-century after his death the regiments rear-guard
nearing their own
end called him
a great surgeon
mariah raised ned with the aid of frank's brothers and her pension
as a veterans widow
when women won the vote
mariah like frank a fervent republican
was one of the first to register at the annisquam village hall
active throughout her life in women's clubs
she was the city's expert on rare flowers
frank's early death
and her extended widowhood
were part of the cost of
the preservation of the union a
price paid by mariah
and countless other women and
like queen victoria
after prince albert's death
she never remarried
perhaps she felt
that no man
could take the place
of her major
mariah died in june nineteen twenty five of a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by
gloucester daily times announced on its front page
that the city's oldest resident was gone
edward dyer followed his mother in nineteen twenty eight
after years in the state hospital suffering from epilectic psychosis
he was buried in oak grove cemetery
with his parents and
brother frank the
inscription in the simple obelisk
has only the dates and places of doctor dyer's birth and death
there's no mention of his political roles in gloucester
his generation of service as a physician
or what he did
in the war for the union
perhaps frank dyer would have wanted it that way
a maine man a
massachusetts surgeon
who'd only done what duty
required Thank you
yes sir you mentioned in several places where
the doctors field hospital was about to be overrun by the opposition
what was the usual outcome of that
i mean this is clearly before the geneva convention of course
this era was before the geneva convention but
by of the summer of eighteen sixty two both sides had adopted
a kind of protocol
where they would not hold as p_o_w_s
the other side's surgeons
so if a hospital was overrun
they might take
your prisoners
enlisted and officers i mean your patients enlisted and officers
but they wouldn't take the doctors they wouldn't take the the surgeons
they they would simply be left there or
or returned to their side sent through the lines to
the army whose position had been overrun
some of the officers not just medical officers but the line officers
in mcclellan's army were accused of
deliberately allowing themselves to be captured
and then quickly exchanged
knowing that they would not have to fight again
until their opposite member a colonel or a major or lieutenant on the other side was
and this would extend the time when you weren't being shot at
dyer had scorn for them as well
but uh...
he operated on confederate wounded
as well as union
he saved lives on both sides
his medical reports are extensive
the actual manuscripts had
long statistical appendices
which the publishers chose not to
print because they're
so hard to format
but you can watch dozens then hundreds then thousands of men
marching across
page after page
of course many of them died
chances of being killed by uh... huh
a microbe
or an infection
at least
three times that of being
killed by a bullet
the rate of infection is
just incredible
diseases of some kind they had
no knowledge of sanitation or sterilization
or the germ theory
and the surgeon that is performing these operations
he saws off a leg he wipes it on his bloody
apron and then saws off an arm and then
repeats the process and
it would take about three minutes to saw off a leg
but anesthesia was widely available particularly on the union side
almost nothing
they had
what they called uh...
wholesome puss
that wasn't the exact term they used but it was a sign that the infection was
cleansing itself when this puss was exuted
they would use maggots
to eat the
decaying flesh to try and clean the
the decaying or dead flesh away
that was a constant danger
trying to amputate that limb before it set in
and to amputate high enough so
you're cutting off good flash and not flesh that was already infected with
they did't give you liquor
as an anesthetic because its a depressant
not a stimulant
and the last thing you want to give a man in that shape is a depressant
and they wouldn't give them bullets to bite on there was too much danger they might swallow them
they might give you a leather strap
or a piece of rope
something that can be pulled out
if the man
in his paroxysms in his spasms started
trying to swallow it
you go to the medical and surgical history which is about seventy five
hundred pages
they have lithographs they have detailed drawings
of wounds to every part of a man's body
showing the most
horrible injuries that you can imagine
and dyer's writing detailed case reports like many other surgeons
north and south for a generation after the war the most
skilled surgeon they said you would find in boston or chicago or atlanta
were army surgeons who had served on one side of the other
the founders of the american medical association
many of them were civil war surgeons
you know within a few years after the war's end
we've got lister
we've got sterilization
and we begin to have some some new drugs
some new discoveries some new inventions
if some of those things had come just a few years sooner
the casualty rate would have been much lower
mrs whitman and the family asked me to check out various archives in the area
that they might donate them to
because her mother had passed and she didn't want the responsibility
for them and she wanted them to go to a
a reputable archive and i
investigated a number of places and the one that i thought was probably the best
and the most appropriate
was the peabody essex museum in salem
so she and her husband took all the manuscripts
uniforms the sword
the medical kits
there are pictures
in the book of all of those things
she took them to salem and they donated them
and it wasn't too long thereafter that
i guess they got a new director or a new board and they decided to
downsize the archives and deemphasize research
and build this big new
museum and bring in tourists and lots of tourist dollars
so the last time i was there you could visit
the archives maybe two-and-a-half days a week very very abbreviated
research hours if you're trying to
write the next big book on the civil war
you better be prepared to spend a long time in salem
uh... because you're only going to be able to get in there about
two-and-a-half days a week
most of the archivists and the librarians were fired
institutional decision
you just don't know when those things are going to happen so
i thank all of those manuscripts and the uniforms and the sword
i'm sure they're locked up safe somewhere but
uh... I don't know how you would get to see them
you'd probably have to make an appointment
they used laudanum they used ether they used uh...
they had a variety of
they had morphine sure for pain
that produced addictions in some
and some men brought home social diseases to their wives and girlfriends
the rate of sexual infidelity was just uh...
i mean nothing compared with the current congress but
yes sir
just to give you a little info
i belong to a civil war group and some of our people portray
and I believe that one of the knives thats in their surgeons kit
is about this long even though they had an assistant
with them
the tendency is for them to have two free hands
to work so they put the knife
so now you know how they transmitted
a lot of things to their patients and they never knew it
there's a collection of letters
from a union color seargent
from new york he came up to boston visit
its called irish green and union blue published by fordham university press
and while he was in boston he had a wee nip or two
and spent all his money and didn't have enough fare to get back to new york city
to rejoin his wife
so he enlisted in the union army in massachusetts
and her wrote all these letters to his wife during the war and
during the overland campaign whether at the wilderness or spotsylvania
the sergeant was wounded
in the tip of his finger
minor wound
flesh wound
i don't think it took any of the bone
he was dead in six weeks infection
his wife didn't understand why he fought didn't understand why he staid in the army
didn't understand what it was all about
but she saved the letters
so now there's another account of the war that transformed our country
shelby foote famously called it the crossroads of our being
it changed everything
for better or worse
we are not
what we would have been without that war
i don't know how it would have turned out without the war counterfactual scenarios
the best historian in the world couldn't prove that
something would or would not have happened
we we just don't know what would have happened
but the war did happen
and we are still studying the consequences and the significance and
how it was fought
how it was won why it was lost
to me its a
never-ending story
well thank you again copies of the book are for sale