- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

Surgeon John Mutius Gaines, Army of Northern Virginia, worked amid the gore of war from the Battle of First Manassas to Appomattox. But in the midst of misery, he fell in love.

The second son of Edwin Ruthven Gaines and Mary Slaughter (Jurey) Gaines, John was born on the old Locust Hill Plantation, Culpeper County, Va., on Sept. 1, 1837.

Growing up on Locust Hill and coming from a wealthy family, young Gaines attended private schools in the Culpeper area. In June 1859, he graduated from the University of Virginia and shortly after from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, known as the “West Point” of the medical field.

He opened his first practice in Alexandria, where he was renting a room at the Marshall House when Union Col. Elmer Ellsworth was killed there.

In the early days of the war, Ellsworth’s militia regiment, the famous Fire Zouaves, were sent over the river to secure Alexandria. A Rebel flag flying over the Marshall House got Ellsworth’s attention, but after removing the offensive banner, he became a victim of the Southern landlord’s shotgun. In turn, one of the Zouaves instantly pulled a pistol, drew a bead on the assassin, and with an ounce of lead evened the score.

Dr. Gaines immediately appeared on the bloody scene, but it was too late — both men were dead. Col. Ellsworth, a good friend of President Lincoln, became the Union’s first martyr.

Shortly thereafter, Gaines closed down his Alexandria office and joined the Confederate Medical Corps. He was assigned as an assistant surgeon with the 8th Virginia Infantry. A regimental history describes the 24-year-old Virginian as “5 foot-11 inches tall, gray eyes, dark hair with a sandy complexion.”

Grim conditions

After the Battle of Antietam (called the Battle of Sharpsburg by the South) on Sept. 17, 1862, Dr. Gaines was left at Boonsboro, Md., to tend to the wounded of both sides. The small town, founded in 1792 and originally spelled “Boonsborough,” rests at the base of South Mountain just east of Sharpsburg.

Gaines, considered a prisoner of war, now faced some of the greatest challenges of his medical career. Working under the most grim conditions, he would have been familiar 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 it 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.”

Love and friendship

Dr. Otho Josiah Smith — known to his friends as O.J. — was a well-known physician in Boonsboro. This doctor, a huge property owner in Washington County, would soon cross paths with the surgeon from Virginia.

A local newspaper noted that after Antietam every church, house, barn and even hog pens from Boonsboro to the Potomac River were crammed full of wounded soldiers, making southern Washington County “one vast hospital.”

Dr. 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 and Confederate wounded.

This location being several miles southwest of Boonsboro, it is unlikely Dr. Gaines served here. In all probability, the Southern physician labored in Boonsboro directly alongside Dr. Smith, forming a lasting friendship.

These two doctors had another bond — Miss Helen Jeannette Smith, Dr. Smith’s only daughter. Evidently, Helen assisted Gaines in his arduous surgical tasks, for somewhere in those surroundings of turmoil and pain, love bloomed and flourished for the 25-year-old army doctor.

However, after six weeks of tending to the wounded at Boonsboro, John Gaines was exchanged and returned to the Confederate army, assigned to the 18th Virginia Infantry. For now, his affections for Miss Helen Smith would remain on hold.

Second invasion

In June 1863, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee once again decided to bring the war to Northern soil. Although the Confederate army probed deeper into Yankee territory than the first invasion, it, too, suffered disastrous results — at a small town in Pennsylvania.

During Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, while approaching the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge, the 18th Virginia lost some of its finest men. Near the “Angle” (a small stretch of ground on Cemetery Ridge, just south of Gettysburg), the 18th’s ragged battle flag was captured by the 59th New York Infantry.

Led by Gen. John D. Imboden, a 17-mile-long Confederate wagon train of pitifully suffering and dying men finally reached Williamsport, Md., on the banks of the flood-swollen Potomac River. When more than 10,000 Southern soldiers entered the small town (population 1,900 in 1863), it quickly became one giant hospital.

On the bank of the treacherous river, Dr. Gaines, appointed surgeon-in-charge, would see to the care of thousands of maimed and crippled humanity. Quietly on the night of July 14, what was left of the Army of Northern Virginia succeeded in crossing the still-receding Potomac.

About 200 Confederate doctors and surgeons were left behind to look after the wounded. These medical personnel were captured and treated as POWs.

Kee Mar College

Hagerstown, just north of Williamsport, was also in the path of both armies withdrawing from Gettysburg. Many buildings there were converted into Union and Confederate hospitals. However, the Kee Mar College, standing on the highest elevation, was “strictly Confederate.”

Being relocated to Kee Mar College from Williamsport, Dr. Gaines, due to his medical knowledge and experience, served again as surgeon-in-charge at this all-female seminary founded in 1851.

Gaines was later sent to Chester, Pa., where he tended to injured Confederates transferred from Hagerstown. From Chester, he was shipped from one hospital to another, including Fort Delaware, Point Lookout, Md., until being exchanged at Fort Monroe, Va., on Dec. 12, 1863.

Gaines’ service records for the last year of the war are lost to history, with the exception that he “rejoined his old command at Petersburg” just before the Confederate surrender at Appomattox in April 1865.

Marriage and death

Nearly seven months after the South stacked arms for the final time, Gaines returned to Washington County, Md. Apparently he never forgot those horrid, hot September days of 1862, and the sensitive, compassionate hands of a certain daughter of Dr. Otho J. Smith.

In October 1865, Miss Helen Jeannette Smith of Boonsboro became the 25-year-old bride of Dr. John Mutius Gaines of Culpeper.

Dr. Gaines soon teamed up with Dr. Smith in Boonsboro. As a matter of fact, Gaines worked and resided with his new bride in the same two-story home of his father-in-law. This beautiful, spacious, native limestone home (circa 1810) still stands on North Main Street in Boonsboro. Putting the Civil War behind, life was good for John and Helen.

But on June 14, 1868, 20 months after teaming up with his son-in-law, Dr. O.J. Smith died. John Gaines had been appointed executor of Dr. Smith’s vast estate and was in the process of finishing some legal details when tragedy struck again. Only six months after her father’s death, Helen Jeannette Gaines passed away at age 28.

The cause of her death is unknown, only that it occurred on Dec. 22, 1868. Helen Gaines was interred in the Smith plot of the community cemetery in Boonsboro. The grief-stricken physician would continue his practice in Boonsboro.

Country doctor

In September 1870, after two years of mourning, Dr. Gaines remarried. This second marriage was to Susan M. Rench, daughter of Andrew Rench, an influential businessman and farmer who lived in Williamsport as well as the Downsville District of Washington County.

Susan Gaines gave birth to three daughters and a son, Edwin R. Gaines, who eventually settled on the Locust Hill Farm in Culpeper. There were no children from Gaines’ first marriage.

From 1866 to retiring in 1893, Gaines was one of the most respected, trusted doctors in Boonsboro, his services extending over Washington and Frederick counties of Western Maryland. The practice was so extensive that, according to “Williams History of Washington County,” 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 country to his patients, and it often happened that he tired all four of them.”

One of John’s assistants at Boonsboro was his younger brother, Dr. James H. Gaines of Culpeper.

A new home

In 1890, John purchased a lot on North Potomac Street in Hagerstown for $2,000, planning to build a home there for his retirement. It seems the aging physician was very fond of Hagerstown from his army days.

When construction began on the 2½-story mansion, Dr. Gaines personally “supervised and demanded work which did not meet his standards be done over,” historian Thomas J. Williams wrote.

In little over a year, the imposing brick structure on a solid stone foundation was finished, and the Gaines family moved in. In retirement, the doctor’s interest turned to agriculture, owning several farms in Washington County along with Locust Hill in Virginia.

An old ledger

Around 1900, while sorting through his private library on North Potomac Street, Gaines came across a list of Confederate soldiers — some members of his own state of Virginia. It appears the former army surgeon had started the list while caring for the wounded after the struggle at Gettysburg and at some point had forgotten it, misplaced among his huge collection of medical books.

The list contained the names of 214 wounded Rebels, including each soldier’s rank, state, date wounded and, in some cases, date of death. The old ledger compiled almost 40 years before was titled “Sick and Wounded Confederate Soldiers at Hagerstown and Williamsport.”

The document was sent to Virginia Gov. James Hoge Tyler with an explanation by Dr. Gaines: “The list has never been published, and it will be read with interest, not only by the men who took part in the great struggle at Gettysburg, when what has been termed the ‘High-Water Mark of the Rebellion’ was reached, but by all old soldiers and by their children.”

Prominent names

Two names on the list stand out.

Near the end of the record is found: “Colonel S.P. Lumpkin, 44th Georgia Regiment; Wounded July 1st.” Lumpkin came from a very prestigious family in the history of the Peach State.

Col. Samuel Pittman Lumpkin, while commanding the 44th Georgia Infantry at Gettysburg, lost his left leg to Union shrapnel and died on Sept. 18, 1863, at Kee Mar College in Hagerstown.

Sam’s cousin Joseph Henry Lumpkin was the first chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Another cousin, Wilson Lumpkin, had served as governor of Georgia from 1831 to 1835. Col. Lumpkin’s remains were interred in the Confederate section of Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown.

Also near the bottom of the list is found “Major H.D. McDaniel, 11th Georgia Regiment; Wounded July 10th.” During the engagement in the wheat field at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, McDaniel, while leading the 11th Georgia, was shot down and captured, but escaped and just eight days later was wounded again at Funkstown, Md.

Maj. Henry Dickerson McDaniel is one of about 30 soldiers appearing on the list wounded on July 10, 1863. The reason “July 10th” surfaces so often is due to the battle at Funkstown, fought on this date during the retreat from Gettysburg. A total of 479 casualties remained at this small town after a costly encounter, one mile south of Hagerstown.

Private homes and the Kee Mar College in Hagerstown, with surgeon Gaines in charge, would have received some of the “overflow” of Confederates struck down at Funkstown.

Incidentally, Maj. McDaniel survived the war, and 20 years later became the governor of Georgia, serving from 1883 to 1886. Anyone wishing to view “Gaines’ List” should go to www.csa-dixie.com/csa/prisoners/t71.htm.

‘Devoted to duty’

John M. Gaines departed this life on March 27, 1915. An obituary published in a Hagerstown newspaper read: “Dr. John M. Gaines, a prominent retired physician, died at his residence on Potomac Avenue [North Potomac Street today] Saturday night, aged 77 years.”

The same column carried an appropriate eulogy: “Dr. Gaines was a man of wonderful force of character and always ‘devoted to duty.’ It mattered not whether a peasant or prince, rich or poor, all received the same attention.”

Gen. Stonewall Jackson once said, “Duty is ours, the consequences are God’s.” Dr. Gaines made a similar statement: “Duty is the most important word in the English language.” The body of John Mutius Gaines was laid to rest in Rose Hill Cemetery just yards from the grave of Col. Samuel P. Lumpkin.

Looking north within clear view of the Gaines’ tombstone is the Washington County Hospital. It was in this same building — Kee Mar College in 1863 — that Dr. Gaines, while a prisoner of war himself, labored day and night to the point of exhaustion to save the lives of broken and bloodied comrades.

Richard E. Clem is a cabinetmaker in Hagerstown, Md., and frequent contributor to this page. He says the story of Dr. Gaines is dedicated to two practicing physicians in Hagerstown — Dr. Peter F. Danziger and Dr. John J. Wroblewski. “These eye surgeons with professional skills and ‘devotion to duty’ restored the eyesight of the forever-grateful writer.”

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