We get all sorts of books pertaining to Civil War medicine donated to the museum, but I think my favorites are the diaries. They go beyond the medical facts and figures and give glimpses into the lives of the medical caregivers of the time. Today I thought I’d give you a look at a small diary kept by an Assistant Surgeon in the Civil War.
This diary is on loan to the museum and is currently on display in our Camp Life gallery. I was offered the chance to borrow it by the great-grandson of its author. We had talked on the telephone a few times, and he was very interested in sharing this diary and a few other related artifacts, so that more people could enjoy them. He was a very charming gentleman, and we were in the process of arranging for the delivery of the artifacts when I stopped hearing from him. I was shocked and quite sad to learn that he had passed away. I was very grateful when his daughter decided to honor his wishes and go forward with the loan of the artifacts.
The diary was written by Thomas Clark Lawton, who was an Assistant Surgeon with the 37th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Thomas Lawton was born in Hartland, CT, on February 8, 1834. He attended Sheffield Medical School and graduated in 1859, after which he worked at the Rainsford Island Hospital in Boston, MA. Dr. Lawton was one of the first volunteers to enlist in the 37th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, remaining with them from August 15, 1862 through February 23, 1864. He was in the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, as well as the 1863 New York draft riots.
The first entry in the diary is for New Year’s Day in 1863. Dr. Lawton notes that they were camping along the Rappahannock River (Virginia), and that he was doing picket duty. He adds that the previous New Year had been much more pleasant! Later entries describe muddy marches, setting up tents in the rain, shortages of food, illnesses and deaths, sending requisitions for medicines which never arrived, going on furlough, and seeing President Lincoln reviewing the troops.
It appears that he was in our local area as well:
Friday, July 10 – Left our camp near Boonsborough early and marched towards Hagerstown. Heavy canons a little in advance. Marched some 4 miles and took position on the right of the corps in line of battle. Lay there all day and night. Located my hospital in a nice grove in the rear. Seven companies under the Maj. Detailed about 10 ock at night to go on picket. After packing up and going 2 miles it was concluded they were not needed and sent back.
Saturday, July 11 – Lay in same position all day. Rec’d orders to pack up and put all meds away about sundown. After about an hour’s waiting rec’d orders for the men to go to sleep. Went back to our old position and had a good night’s rest. Orders to march at 4 tomorrow morning.
Sunday, July 12 – Left our position this morning and marched in the direction of Hagerstown passing through Funkstown. Came up with reb pickets about a mile beyond. Funkstown and Antietam Creek formed in line of battle and sent out skirmishers. Lay in first position for about 2 hours. Then moved to the left about a mile or so and formed again. A very heavy shower in p.m. Skirmishing very heavy – quiet at night when we advanced our pickets. Several of the 2nd RI wounded. Took a house for a hospital. Slept in a hay loft. Had my horse stolen at night – found her again.
Thomas Lawton was not the only one who made entries in his diary though. His fiancée left several short notes, poems, and drawings for him to find, as well as an entry on January 10 reminding him that it was her birthday! Her name was Nina Vose, and seeing her additions makes me think that this diary may have been a gift from her. Dr. Lawton makes many references in his diary about to writing to Nina and receiving letters from her. While Dr. Lawton’s diary entries are mostly matter of fact, Nina’s little additions are more playful. On one page she left him this little ditty:
“Thomas was an idle lad,
And lounged about all day.
And though he many lessons had,
He minded naught but play.”
I had chuckle when reading that Nina signed many of her entries “Pinkie”, and in one instance, “Naughty Pinkie!” It seemed quite evident that these two were more than just a little fond of each other! As difficult as it must have been for them to be apart, their story does have a happy ending. After the war, Dr. Lawton set up a private practice in Hinsdale, MA, married Nina, and they raised four children together.
The last diary entry on December 30 is a poem written in the doctor’s handwriting that seems to tell it all:
“They never loved who idly say
That lover’s hearts are apt to stray.
For O, I tell thee, gentle one,
True love is changeless as the sun,
Unlike a transient flashing flame
It glows eternally the same;
‘Tis fixed in reason and the will,
And ceases not till hearts are still.”
Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
My entire blog can be viewed at www.guardianoftheartifacts.blogspot.com.