Friday, March 30, 2012

Faces of the Civil War: Captain Frederick Barber

Frederick Barber, a captain in the 16th Connecticut, was mortally wounded
at Antietam. He died three days after the battle, on Sept. 20, 1862.
(Photo courtesy Scott Hann)
The scene was ghastly, equal parts Dante's Inferno and sheer terror.

At the center of a barn, five overworked surgeons quickly determined how they should treat badly wounded Union soldiers brought to a bloody 12-by-20-foot table after the Battle of Antietam.

Slightly wounded men helped make beds of straw as cries and groans of  much more serious cases filled the air.

Reverse of the carte de visite above.
(Courtesy Scott Hann)
Amputated limbs were tossed out a window, filling as many as two cartloads within 48 hours.

In the center of this whirlwind of madness at a Third Division, Ninth Corps hospital near Sharpsburg, Md., badly wounded 16th Connecticut captain Frederick Barber lay, quietly offering encouragement to 25 wounded men of his regiment. The 32-year-old soldier in Company H from Manchester, Conn., did not expect to live long. (1)

In the chaos of the 16th Connecticut's poorly conceived attack on Sept. 17, 1862 (see video below), Barber was pierced by a musket ball near the top of his right leg. And like other men in the barn, he soon took his turn on the bloody table for surgery.

A post-war account described Barber's gruesome operation in cold, clinical language.

"On the morning of September 18th, the patient being anaesthetized by chloroform, Surgeon Melancthon Storrs, 8th Connecticut Volunteers, proceeded to make a straight incision four inches long passing through the wound of entrance," the  report published in 1869 noted. "The comminuted fragments of the neck and rochanter were extracted, the round ligament was divided, the head of the femur was removed, and the fractured upper extremity of the shaft was sawn off by the chain saw." (2)

Translation: Barber lost a major portion of his right leg.

"The edges of the wound were then approximated by adhesive straps and simple dressings were applied," the report continued. "But little blood was lost, and the patient rallied promptly from the operation, quite comfortable during the day."

Wracked by fever, however, Barber soon took a turn for the worse and the man "noticeable for his religious character, earnest convictions and high regard for duty" died two days later. Barber and Bristol's Newton Manross were among four captains in the 16th Connecticut killed or mortally wounded at Antietam. (3)

Storrs was considered a terrific surgeon, "quietly faithful, skilful, cool in peril, quick to see, and steady and calm in executing." In fact, Dr. Eli McMellan, a surgeon in the regular army in charge of the hospital at Fort Monroe in Virginia, called him "the most efficient surgeon ever on duty" at the fort. (4)  But the procedure of amputating at the hip joint was criticized after Antietam by medical people.
Frederick Barber is buried in Green Cemetery in Glastonbury, Conn.
“Surgeon General (William) Hammond and Col. Muzzy united in complaining about the conduct of some of the volunteer surgeons sent to Western Maryland by State authorities or benevolent associations, after the Battle of Antietam," the Indiana (Pa.) Messenger reported two weeks after the battle. "In too many instances they neglected the dressings of the wounded, and did not note even the slightest care of them.

"They also strenuously insisted on performing operations," the newspaper continued. "Their zeal for operations was not always according to knowledge. Many operations are performed without judgment and in a totally unjustifiable manner, frequently hastening the death of the patient. The Surgeon General intends to issue an order prohibiting amputation at the hip joint on the battlefield -- such operations invariably proving fatal, and being mostly abandoned by the English and French surgeons, as well as the best American.”  (5)

Front of the Civil War memorial on the town green
in Glastonbury, Conn.
Barber's body was soon returned to Connecticut, where a well-attended memorial service was held for the  captain at the Methodist Church in South Manchester. His coffin was then transported to nearby Glastonbury, where he married Mercy Turner before the war, and buried at ancient Green Cemetery.

On Memorial Day 1913, 51 years after Frederick Barber was mortally wounded in farmer John Otto's cornfield, a large crowd that included old soldiers gathered at the Glastonbury town green for the unveiling of a Civil War monument. The chairman of the town Memorial Day committee called for three cheers for Barber's 82-year-old widow, who paid for the memorial in honor of her husband and soldiers from Glastonbury who died during the Civil War.

"When your eyes are lifted to the flag, the brightest symbol of our government," the old woman told the crowd at the dedication, "may you be reminded of the cost of blood and treasure that preserved it, and cemented the Union forever." (6)

Mercy Turner Barber, who never re-married after Frederick's death, died at her sister's house in Providence, R.I., on Jan. 27, 1917. She is buried near her husband in Green Cemetery, about 45 yards from the monument in his honor.

(1)  History of the Sixteenth Connecticut Volunteers, B.F. Blakeslee, Hartford, The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., 1875, Page 19
(2) Excision of the Head of the Femur for Gunshot Injury, George C. Otis, War Department Surgeon General's Office, 1869, Page 22
(3) Ibid
(4) The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-65, William Augustus Croffut, John Moses Morris, Page 681
(5) Indiana (Pa.) Messenger, Oct. 1, 1862, Page 2
(6) Hartford Courant, May 31, 1913, Page 9
This Glastonbury Civil War monument was erected to honor Frederick Barber 
and soldiers from the town who died during the Civil War. It was funded by 
Barber's widow, Mercy. At left, the memorial at its dedication in 1913. 
(Left photo: Historical Society of Glastonbury)
A crowd gathers for the dedication of the Glastonbury Civil War monument on 
Memorial Day 1913. (Photo: Historical Society of Glastonbury)

No comments:

Post a Comment