Little Doctor of the Black Horse
by Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton
Little Doctor on the Black Horse is a story written by my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton about the experiences of her grandfather, David DeForest Benedict, a Union surgeon in the Civil War. David wrote many letters to his wife during that conflict and over 60 survive today. My grandmother used these letters as the basis for her story and includes many extracts.
In this story, we catch a glimpse of David Benedict as a human being. He was a cheerful man on the greatest adventure of his life. In spite of the hardships he endured, his letters have a sense of fun about them. In a letter to Harriott, he described how he built a fence of split logs around where he was sleeping so he would not be trampled by horses, and then set it afire when it became so cold he couldn’t sleep.
He also had an eye for the ladies. Often in his letters, he mentioned seeing pretty young women on the streets. Displaying his sense of humor in one of these letters, he told his wife that the dirty underclothes of an otherwise elegant young lady ‘spoiled the charm some’. He was affectionate. His love for his wife and young daughters shines through in his letters. He missed them terribly and was disappointed when Harriott’s letters did not arrive.
His courage is also evident, not only in his letters, but in the description of him by Solon Hyde, an enlisted Hospitalman in the 17th OVI. When a rebel brigade attacked their hospital during the Battle of Chickamauga, all the other medical personnel ran. Only Solon and Doctor Benedict stayed behind with the wounded. He was courageous not only in the face of the enemy, but also when he saw injustice in his own ranks. When the army was encamped outside of Savannah, a soldier was bound and gagged with a bayonet as punishment for being drunk. David had the man released, in spite of the opposition of the officer who had administered the punishment.
Through all the accounts, we see a compassionate man. When Confederate guards took Solon Hyde’s blanket, David Benedict shared his with him. Wherever he was, the young doctor spent his free time caring for the civilian population, both Union and Confederate. It was while doing this that he became known as ‘the little doctor on the black horse’.
In his travels around the countryside, David befriended many people, including a farmer named Brown in Tennessee, who repaid his kindness with food and fodder for his horse. When Farmer Brown’s grandson took ill, Doctor Benedict sat with the boy through the night. In spite of his efforts, the boy died. In a letter home, he told his wife of his sadness, and of his concern for the safety of his own children. Ironically, he would one day experience a loss as heartrending himself.
I hope you enjoy the story.
Highlands Ranch, Colorado
Post #2 – With the Army of the Cumberland – Part I
Post #4 – Prisoner of War
Other Civil War Posts