|War-time and post-war image of Surgeon John Gaines. (Boonsborough Museum of History)|
If you are a longtime reader of this blog, Civil War relic hunter-historian Richard E. Clem is a familiar face and byline. A lifelong resident of Hagerstown, Md., Clem and his brother have hunted for Civil War relics for more than 40 years in the Washington County area and beyond. In this post, he tells the story of Confederate surgeon John Gaines and his medical ledger from Gettysburg.
|Richard E. Clem|
By Richard E. Clem
The intent or purpose of army doctors and surgeons during the Civil War was not to abolish slavery or to preserve state’s rights. Their main objective often was to save the life of a fellow human being. Frequently working under the worst possible conditions, they removed bullets by the thousands and performed countless amputations to the point of physical and mental exhaustion. One of these self-sacrificing individuals who tested personal stamina and endurance at Antietam, Gettysburg and, finally, at Appomattox was Surgeon John Mutius Gaines of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The second son of Edwin Ruthven and Mary Slaughter (Jurey) Gaines, John was born on the old Locust Hill Plantation, Culpeper County, Va., on Sept. 1, 1837. From a wealthy family, Gaines attended private schools in the Culpeper area. In June 1859, he graduated from the University of Virginia and, later, from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, known as the “West Point" of the medical schools.
His first practice opened in Alexandria, Va., where he rented a room at the Marshall House, site of the death of the Union’s first martyr, Colonel E. Elmer Ellsworth. When Virginia seceded from the Union, Ellsworth’s militia regiment, the famous Fire Zouaves, were sent to Alexandria to maintain peace. A Rebel flag flying over the Marshall House got Ellsworth’s attention, but after removing the offensive banner, he became a victim of a Southern landlord’s shotgun. In turn, one of the Zouaves instantly pulled a pistol, drew a bead on the assassin and evened the score with an ounce of lead. Dr. Gaines immediately appeared on the bloody scene, but it was too late – both men were dead. The killing of Ellsworth, a good friend of President Lincoln, fueled the fire for civil war.
Seeing the coming of the War Between the States and a great need for military doctors, John Gaines closed the door on his Alexandria office and joined the Confederate Medical Corps. Later, he was assigned as an assistant surgeon with the 8th Virginia Infantry, raised by Colonel Eppa Hunton in Leesburg, Va. The 8th Virginia Regimental history gives a description of the 24-year-old surgeon at the time he joined the army: “5 foot-11 inches tall, gray eyes, dark hair with a sandy complexion.”
|Otho J. Smith's thatched roof barn was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers after|
the Battle of Antietam. After the war, Smith became Dr. John Gaines' father-in-law.
(Alexander Gardner | Library of Congress)
At the village of Sharpsburg, Md., the Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George B. McClellan, finally caught up with the “Gray Fox” and brought a sudden halt to the South’s Northern invasion. Fighting to a tactical standstill on Sept. 17, 1862, Lee, having no choice, left hundreds of casualties on the battlefield of Antietam. Reluctantly, the Rebels' battered forces crossed back over the Potomac River to Virginia – West Virginia today.
|Cropped enlargement of the photo above shows a man,|
presumably a wounded solder, in a makeshift enclosure.
Considered a prisoner of war, John now faced some of the greatest challenges of his medical career. It is believed Dr. Gaines had been promoted by November 1862; his orders were now forwarded as “Surgeon Gaines” instead of assistant surgeon. Working through the aftermath of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history, Gaines would have been well-experienced with the horrible ordeal of amputation. A curious spectator to the still-smoking Antietam battlefield witnessed and recorded one of these grueling operations: “Sept. 18, 1862 – Today I saw the leg above the knee taken off a large man. They first cut the flesh around where they intended to cut off and then took up the arteries and tied the ends of them. Then shoved the flesh up the bone 3 or 4 inches, and then sawed it off. Drew the flesh back. Closed it together, and the job was done.”
A local newspaper noted after Antietam that every church, house, barn and even hog pens from Boonsboro at South Mountain to the Potomac River were crammed with wounded soldiers, making southern Washington County “one vast hospital.” Dr. Otho Josiah Smith owned a large farm two miles northeast of Sharpsburg bordering on Antietam Creek. The barn on this property was used as a hospital for Union wounded, although makeshift tents nearby housed numerous fallen Confederates.
Approximately three days after the battle, a photo of Dr. O. J. Smith’s barn was taken by Alexander Gardner while it was used as a hospital. Land records show Smith owned this farm in 1862, but he resided in and maintained a medical office in Boonsboro. There is no record to indicate Dr. Gaines operated at this barn, but because of their friendship, it is believed the surgeon from Virginia labored in Boonsboro directly alongside Dr. Smith.
These doctors had another common bond: Miss Helen Jeannette Smith, Dr. Smith’s only daughter. Evidently, Helen assisted Surgeon Gaines in his arduous tasks. In those surroundings of turmoil and pain near Boonsboro, love bloomed and flourished for the young army doctor and the daughter of a physician. Through a system of prisoner exchange, after six weeks of tending to the wounded at Boonsboro, John Gaines returned to the Confederate army, now attached to the 18th Virginia Infantry, Pickett’s Division, Longstreet’s Corps. For now, his affections for Miss Helen Smith would remain on hold.
Another Alexander Gardner image of O.J. Smith's farm near the Antietam battlefield.
Combining courage with determination, in June 1863, Bobby Lee once again decided to fight the war on Northern soil. This gallant attempt would extend deeper into Yankee territory than the first Confederate invasion, but it was a disastrous failure at a small crossroads town in Pennsylvania. While approaching Cemetery Ridge during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, the 18th Virginia’s ragged battle flag was captured by the 59th New York Infantry. Flags can be replaced, but the loss of this pivotal battle more than any other weakened the Confederacy’s hope of becoming an independent nation.
With a taste of defeat strong as the smell of gunpowder still hanging over the battlefield, on July 4, General Lee spoke in despair: “We must now return to Virginia. As many of our poor wounded as possible must be taken home.” The brilliant but now bewildered chief knew he must escort his embattled army 40-plus miles south to Williamsport and cross the Potomac again.
Led by General John D. Imboden, a 17-mile-long Rebel wagon train of suffering humanity finally reached Williamsport, Md. It was then discovered that, due to recent record-setting rainfall, the Potomac River was at flood stage. When the Confederate wagon train that included thousands of wounded entered the riverfront town (population 1,900 in 1863), Williamsport quickly became a giant hospital. After a stand-off of several days in Washington County between the weary armies, the Army of Northern Virginia quietly succeeded in crossing the still-receding Potomac on the night of July 14.
Left behind on the Maryland shore to look after hundreds of the remaining wounded, Dr. Gaines was appointed surgeon-in-charge. Captured, he and the rest of the injured soldiers were treated as mere POWs. History leaves no record what Surgeon Gaines must have witnessed those miserable, blood-soaked days following Gettysburg -- days when the fate of his Southern homeland hung in the balance.
Hagerstown, Md., just north of Williamsport, was also in the path of both armies’ withdrawal from Gettysburg. Although many buildings in Hagerstown were converted into Union and Confederate hospitals, Kee Mar College, standing on the highest elevation in town, was strictly Confederate. Transferred from Williamsport to Kee Mar College, Dr. Gaines used his skill and experience to aid the sufferers at the all-female seminary. (Founded in 1851, Kee Mar College received several large additions and, starting in 1911, served as the Washington County Hospital. The outdated structure was later demolished and replaced by another medical facility.)
Gaines was later sent to Chester, Pa., near Philadelphia, where he tended to injured Confederates who were transferred earlier from Hagerstown. From Chester, he was shipped from one hospital to another, including Fort Delaware and Point Lookout, before he was exchanged at Fort Monroe, Va., on Dec. 12, 1863. Dr. Gaines’ service records are non-existent for the last year of the war, with the exception of a note that he “rejoined his old command at Petersburg” just before the Army of Northern Virginia’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.
worked after the Civil War. (Google Street View)
Nearly seven months after Appomattox, John Gaines returned to Washington County. The army doctor never forgot those warm September days of turmoil in 1862, or the sensitive, compassionate hands of a certain daughter of Dr. Otho J. Smith. In October 1865, Miss Helen Jeannette Smith of Boonsboro, Md., became the 25-year-old bride of Dr. John Mutius Gaines of Culpeper, Va.
|Otho J. Smith's grave|
in Boonsboro (Md.) Town Cemetery.
(Photo: Richard E. Clem)
On June 14, 1868, less than two years after teaming with his son-in-law, Dr. Otho J. Smith passed away. Appointed executor of Smith’s vast estate, John Gaines was in the process of finishing some legal details when tragedy struck again. Only six months after her father’s death, 28-year-old Helen Jeannette Gaines died. The cause of death on Dec. 22, 1868, is unknown. It is only speculation, but perhaps the early passing of Helen came from contracting a disease while tending to wounded soldiers following Antietam. The doctor’s wife was interred in the Smith family plot in Boonsboro’s Town Cemetery, and the grief-stricken veteran continued his practice in Boonsboro.
|Dr. John Gaines' house at 465 North Potomac Street in Hagerstown, Md. (Richard E. Clem)|
From 1866 until retiring in 1893, John M. Gaines was one of the most respected and trusted doctors in Washington County. His services extended over South Mountain into Frederick County. His practice grew to the point it became necessary to hire “two assistants in his office as well as to keep four of the best blooded driving horses – to take him back and forth through the county to his patients, and it often happened that he had tired all four of them.” One of John’s assistants in Boonsboro was his younger brother, Dr. James H. Gaines of Culpeper.
Planning ahead to retirement after practicing medicine in Boonsboro for 28 years, in 1890, the aging physician purchased a building lot on North Potomac Street in Hagerstown for $2,000. When construction began on the imposing three-story mansion, John personally “supervised and demanded work which did not meet his standards be done over.” In little over a year, the brick structure on a solid limestone foundation was finished. Shortly after completion of the beautiful home, the Gaines family took possession. In retirement years, the doctor’s interest turned from medicine to agriculture – he owned several farms in Washington County as well as the Locust Hill property in Virginia.
|44th Georgia Colonel Samuel Lumpkin|
died of wounds suffered at Gettysburg.
His name appears in Dr. Gaines'
Also near the bottom of the list is another noteworthy entry: “Major H. D. McDaniel, 11th Georgia Regiment; Wounded July 10th.” During the engagement in The Wheatfield at Gettysburg on July 2, McDaniel was shot and captured while leading the 11th Georgia, but escaped and eight days later was wounded again at Funkstown, Md. McDaniel is one of many soldiers who appear on the list as wounded July 10, 1863. The reason “July 10th” surfaces so often is because the Battle at Funkstown was fought that day during the Confederates’ retreat from Gettysburg. A total of 479 casualties remained at this small village a mile south of Hagerstown. Therefore, private homes in Hagerstown and Kee Mar College, with Surgeon Gaines in charge, would have received some of the overflow from Funkstown. Incidentally, Major Henry Dickerson McDaniel survived the war and 20 years later became the governor of Georgia (1883-1886). (To view “Gaines List,” go here.)
|Grave of John Mutius Gaines in Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown.|
General Stonewall Jackson once said: “Duty is ours, the consequences are God’s.” Dr. John Gaines made a similar statement: “Duty is the most important word in the English language.” The body of the surgeon from Virginia was laid to rest in Rose Hill Cemetery. Nine years later, on April 2, 1924, Susan Gaines passed away. She was placed at her husband’s side in Rose Hill, just yards from the grave of Colonel Sam Lumpkin.
Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.
-- Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam, Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Va., 1984.
-- Cutter, William R., American Biography: A New Cyclopedia, New York, NY, 1916-33.
-- Douglas, Henry K., I Rode With Stonewall, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC., 1940.
-- Divine, John E., 8th Virginia Infantry, H. E. Howard Inc., Lynchburg, Va., 1984.
-- Find A Grave Memorial.
-- French, Steve, Imboden’s Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign, Morgan Messenger, Berkeley Springs, W.Va., 2008.
-- Gaines Family Bible, M. Carey, Philadelphia, Pa., 1816.
-- Keller, Roger, Roster of Civil War Soldiers from Washington County, Maryland, Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, Md., 1993.
-- Morrow, Dale W., Washington County Maryland Cemetery Records – Volume II, Willow Bend Books, Westminster, Md., 1993.
-- Robertson, James I., 18th Virginia Infantry, H. E. Howard Inc., Lynchburg, Va., 1984.
-- Virginia Military Institute, Preston Library Records, Lexington, Va.