“Little Doctor on the Black Horse” Post#1 – Doctor David DeForest Benedict Joins the Union Army –

War is often pictured as a vast pageant, with the roar of cannon and bombs, with flying flags and bemedaled heroes, glorious victories and tragic defeats. But War is also a million personal stories, of quite ordinary men and women, caught up by forces beyond their control. For them, War is a strange new way of life. This is the story of one of these.

David Benedict was born in Norwalk, Ohio in 1833. He lost his mother at an early age, and when his father also died in 1851, David used part of his inheritance to go to college at Kenyon (where his dearest friend was Fred Tennard of Louisiana, a boy with strong southern views). After graduation, David married Hattie Deaver of New Haven and enrolled in Western Reserve Medical School in Cleveland, from which he graduated in 1861. At any other time, life would have been quite uncomplicated for David. He had only to take the state exams and then open an office in his home town, where he already owned his late father’s home, and begin raising his fast-appearing family (he had three little girls by that time). But this was the spring the nation was shaken by the firing on Fort Sumter, and Lincoln was calling for volunteers.

David established his wife and babies in the house where he had been born, and enlisted as a “contract surgeon” in the Union army. He was named director of the military hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, [1] to which casualties were brought from the Western Campaigns” of Tennessee. He had left home Jan. 3rd, 1862. A year later he was commissioned as Assistant Surgeon in the 17th Volunteer Infantry.

New Orleans had fallen to the Union, the battles of Forts Henry and Donnellson, of Pittsburgh Landing and Shiloh were over. The battle line was across the south edge of Tennessee, centered around Murfreesboro, and it was here that David joined his regiment and began the series of 58 letters to his wife which form the basis for this memoir (there are some letters missing).


[1] This is from the Firelands Pioneer, an article by Caleb Gallup (a cousin) in 1901. However, it may have been in Cincinnati, as Eleanor is sure that at one time he and his family were in Cincy, while he was with a hospital there, but perhaps that was after the war.

NEXT WEEK – With the Army of the Cumberland – Part I



© 1961 by Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton. All rights reserved.


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