Saturday, July 14, 2018

A 'humble instrument': Echoes of Nashville's Hospital No. 8

Circa-1860s image of Nashville's Downtown Presbyterian Church, used as a Union hospital during the war.
(CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
A present-day image of  Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville.
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At the corner of 5th and Church streets in downtown Nashville, two blocks from the honky-tonks on Broadway, a tour bus creeps through busy traffic. Nearby on the steamy Saturday morning, diners sip coffee at outdoor tables while three young men jostle for a spot on a bench next to the historic Downtown Presbyterian Church. A giant sign on front of the unusual Egyptian Revival-style building notes its history, but few seem to notice it.

A large sign on the church notes its use as a
Federal hospital during the Civil War.
During the Civil War, life-and-death decisions played out at the church, one of at least 25 Nashville structures commandeered by the U.S. government for use as a hospital. Pews were removed from the church sanctuary, creating room for 206 beds for sick and wounded soldiers, and the Union army used the basement as a stable for horses. The Presbyterian church, along with the four-story Masonic Hall across the street, was designated Hospital No. 8.

Near the end of the war, a "very pleasant affair" -- a small slice of humanity -- took place in Ward 5 at Hospital No. 8, either at the church or the long-gone Masonic Hall. On behalf of the attendants and patients, acting assistant surgeon George Duzan, a 23-year-old from Indiana in charge of the ward, was presented a "beautiful" inscribed silver watch, chain and key that cost $75 (a little more than $1,000 today). The gift, the hospital chaplain noted, was in recognition of Duzan's "kind attention and skillful treatment" and "gentlemanly deportment" during his service at the hospital. Duzan, who served with the 52nd Indiana, became emotional during the presentation, according to this account of the event published in the Nashville Daily Union on March 28, 1865:


COMPLIMENTARY TO A SURGEON

Post-war image of George Duzan,
Federal surgeon during the Civil War.
U.S. General Hospital No. 8, Nashville, Tenn., March 25, 1865 -- A very pleasant affair came off this afternoon in ward 5 of our hospital, showing the feeling existing between Dr. Duzan, A. A. Surgeon, U. S. A., in charge of the ward, and attendants and patients he daily comes in contact with. At  4 o'clock all were assembled, when Chaplain Goodfellow presented the Doctor with a beautiful American Silver watch, chain and key, costing 75 dollars with the following inscription engraved upon it:

"Presented to G. U. Duzan, A. A. Surgeon, U. S. A, by attendants and patients of ward 5, Hospital No. 8, Nashville, Tenn., March 25th, 1865."

In the following words:

Dr. Duzan: "It is my pleasant duty to present you this watch and chain in the name, and in behalf of the ward-master attendants, and patients of ward 5, as a testimonial of their respect, for your kind attention and skillful treatment, as well as your gentlemanly deportment, since you have been on duty among them. May you when you look on the figures indicating the hours of the day, and the minutes comprising those hours, remember that one represents your days and the other the hours of those days and may you be thereby taught a profitable lesson. And when these brave but afflicted donors have separated, this ward broken up, and this cruel rebellion crushed -- may you look upon this gift as a kind remembrance of these men, as is now felt by them, in presenting it."

Duzan may have received
a pocket watch similar
 to this one.
The Doctor with emotion responded in the following words:

Attendants and patients: Your afflictions, the result of privations endured for our country's good have caused our association. You as patients, the suffering subject of disease, I as an humble instrument, employed to alleviate your sufferings and to minister to your physical wants. That our association with each other has been an agreeable one, this gift will testify. I accept it as testimonial of your appreciation of my services; as such it will be preserved and cherished with feelings of gratitude and pride."

POSTSCRIPT: After the Civil War, Duzan continued to practice medicine and surgery in Zionsville, Ind. A "man of pleasant address and commanding appearance," he died Nov. 6, 1893. "His death was sudden," the Indianapolis News wrote about the 51-year-old doctor. "He rose in fright from his bed, and was caught by his friends and returned to the bed -- dead." The primary cause of death was heart disease. The whereabouts of the precious watch he received during the Civil War are unknown.


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SOURCES:


-- Indianapolis News, Nov. 6, 1893.
-- Nashville Daily Union, March 28, 1865.
-- National Historic Landmark nomination form, Old First Presbyterian Church, National Park Service. Accessed July 14, 2018.

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