Civil War Surgeon - Biography of James Langstaff Dunn, MD

Civil War Surgeon - Biography of James Langstaff Dunn, MD

by Paul B. Kerr MD


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ISBN-13: 9781468559811
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 03/23/2012
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)

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Civil War Surgeon - Biography of James Langstaff Dunn, MD

By Paul B. Kerr


Copyright © 2012 Paul B. Kerr, MD
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4685-5981-1

Chapter One

Seven Letters dated before 1860

11-18-1846 Cleveland, Oh.

To Miss Temperance Osborn, Mayfield, Crawford Co, Pa

Wax seal - this is before postage stamps.

Dear Temperance,

I am pleased to sit to address a few lines to you so you will know I'm living and enjoying a reasonable degree of health and strength.

It seems an age since I left home. The night before I started I felt some lonesome and downhearted, so I kind of naturally strayed over toward your house, and lo and behold! you were not there. I felt some disappointed in not seeing you but fate deemed it otherwise.

I arrived here on the fourth day after leaving home, being detained in Erie longer than I expected, and having to take the stage made my trip somewhat disagreeable.

I'm much pleased with the school, a good deal more so than I expected to be. I find myself associated with students once more, those students whose minds are directed in the same channels, whose hopes and fears are the same, whose desires are to benefit the human family and leave a name among the philanthropists of the world. Such, my dear, is the sentiments of the writer of this humble epistle, the one with whom you have chosen to link your life, in passing through the changing scenes of this world. And I hope that in that choice you would not be disappointed, that I shall prove to you all that you could expect or desire.

Temperance, you don't know how bad I want to see you. I have a thousand things to tell you, which I cannot without we were sitting in that old Rocking Chair. In imagination I see true affection beaming from your eye, telling me that there was one who loved me with true and holy love.

I have become acquainted with some first rate people since I came here, and among the rest some fine girls, but I don't find much time to devote to them, so I pass along the best way that I can. They have parties nearly every night and as a general thing I'm invited, but I didn't come here to go to parties. The brightness of the gay circles could not detract one jot or one title of that love I bore to you, love which was cherished in boyhood days.

Give my love to all enquiring friends and don't forget to reserve enough for yourself. I remain the same old coon, true to the core, which always will be the characteristics of your humble servant,


12-25-1846 Cleveland, Oh.

Dear Temperance,

Yes, 'tis Christmas today, and yet 100 miles of snow and Lake Erie storms keep us apart.

I hope you have a Merry time for I'm going to. I'm going to a party this evening at the house of one of the professors. It is made for the special benefit of the students. I think it will be a loud time; but to tell the truth I would rather be over to your house, resting with you in that Old Rocking Chair that to attend all the parties in the City of Cleveland.

It cost rather too much or it would be paying too dear for the whistle.

I found Phor Johanson here, the one who married Rosanna Dunn. He is a rich and independent fellow and keeps the best of company. Since I board with him I swing in a pretty good crowd. I attend the Roman Catholic Church and can pray in Lattin with a vengeance.

Write when you get this, tell me all about matters at home; let me know whether the Telegraf is in operation or not.

Tempy, I shall be home the first of March and then we'll have a Jubilee.

I remain the same, true to the girl I left behind me.

Yours affectionately, Lank

01-16-1850 Cleveland, Oh.

Records tell that James (Lank) and Temperance (Tempy) were married in the Osburn's parlor in Mayfield on November 15, 1849.

Dear Temperance,

I have been waiting for a letter from my little wife, and also waiting and hoping for one from my folks. It is almost two months since I left, and I have had only the one letter from you in that period, yet I go to the post office every day in hopes. How are things in our old distracted country?

I've been down sick with the home fever for some time, and found it necessary to get bled, but I don't hardly believe that even bleeding will cure me.

If I come forward to Graduate I shall not be home until the first of March. I don't visit any but stick to my books. The midnight oil has to burn and the buckwheat cakes to suffer.

I was out to Mary Ann's father last week. They told me they were going out home, would go see you and give you an idea of the manner your man was conducting himself. I had the pleasure of helping them eat a roasted turkey.

My dear I must close. Believe me, Tempy, the same both now and forever. Lank

{I interpret this letter as from the DARK AGES of Medicine. Here it appears that in 1850 a medical student in his senior year gets himself phlebotomized (blood letting) as therapy for his homesickness. This historically had been a time-honored treatment, but it is never mentioned in Dr. Dunn's letters from the 1860s. I'm sure there was enough blood letting on the battlefields to convince anybody it wasn't therapeutic. Paul Kerr}

{The name Alfred runs through the families. The following three letters are from Temperance Osburn's brother, Alfred Osburn, who appears to have left the farm and "gone West" to seek his fortune in the Gold Rush times. Temperance and James Dunn's only son is named James Alfred Dunn, and called Fred or Freddie in the letters. In later years he becomes a doctor. The Dunn doctors worked in Titusville as did my grandfather, Doctor William G Johnston. The first of the three Johnston children married Dunn's granddaughter. The second was my mother. The third was named Alfred.}

12-07-1850 Mooretown, Jefferson Co, Oh.

Dear sister,

This is the first letter where I addressed you. Since I left Geneva I have written once each to Walter and to Mother. They wrote to say you are doing well which was a delight to learn. I think often of them and wonder how they would get along if John also will leave the farm. For our parents live happily there with peace and plenty; it would look very strange to see the last of their young men leave a place like that.

So I think two hopes, that John will stay, and that Father would forget that strong degree of worldliness that seems deeply seated in his nature, and enjoy the comforts of old age with that which his industry and economy have already achieved. Thus they would live happily and pleasantly together and enjoy old age as it was no doubt intended to be enjoyed. For there is certainly a season to sew, a time to reap and a time to enjoy the harvest.

No doubt you know their minds. David heard Father say that he would rather see me keeping the same course which I am now pursuing than any other. I would like to remain agreeable to their wishes, so would like you to tell me what you know.

I was considerably disappointed by not seeing you the morning of my departure, for I had wished to have a long talk with you.

Your affectionate brother, Alfred

??-??-185? (undated) Moore's Saltworks, Jefferson Co, Oh.

Dear Temperance,

I have employed myself well since I left home, and enjoyed reasonable well that great blessing, health. Also had connections with admirable, generous and kindly people.

The second day after we left school we went to Chester, there to enjoy the hospitality of the Crawfords. They are very respectable here, upright and intelligent. Admirable culinary satiability in their home. Their house contains a splendid assortment of books including some from James' intellectual study at Yale College; beautiful drapery of bed and window hangings that they take great pride in, as well as vases that give ornament to a terrestrial hall.

With my adopted and well trusted brother Gary, our trip from Chester to the Ohio River was very pleasant. This is the most beautiful stream that I ever saw. Its appearance as it glides majestically along seems to awaken a high sensation of moral feelings and love for nature.

The people here are very different in general character from those of Crawford Co. Among the many homes which I have been at in Jefferson Co, I have found but two where family worship was not directly attended to, night and morning. I think them to be far more openhearted and hospitable that where I came from.

I shall perhaps go with James on New Years Day to visit his Father's grave. Lamentably, he was one who, had he been spared, would have been able to remove many rude obstacles which now obstruct James' way. Purer minds that have passed from earth often were worthy of escaping a polluted and corrupt world for one of redemption.

Now Temperance, do not neglect writing. I feel among strangers except for my reliable "brother," Gary. He and I send best wishes to you and your folks.

Your affectionate brother, Alfred

04-27-1854 Coloma, Northern Ca.

Dear Sister,

I sometimes reprove myself for not taking time to write you oftener. Indeed I remember your past faithfulness as a kind sister. I was a bad boy at home and must have led a miserable life; now having gone among strangers and with the passing of time, I have learned to appreciate the kind ways of home, to esteem the toilsome caring of parents and the counsel of intelligent sisters as the choicest of early gifts.

Whatever is true confirms the belief in my mind that there is a higher than human intelligence and a strength surpassing the combined force of nations, that there is one Great Source of all knowledge and one Fountain from which flows all that is lovely and conducive to real happiness; that there is one Center from which emanates all things.

To It we must look - upon It we depend. Life is but a passing day at best. That there is an Other I have not the least doubt. There is a vista more to be desired than earthly conquest.

Our recent trials just prepare us for the sterner conflicts of life. There is a pleasure in trials that seem to strengthen rather than exhaust us. We need the discipline.

I presume most of you feel anxious of my return. If hardly know what to say, but will remark that I have strong thoughts of making my future home in the extreme West. Home ties are pleasant yet they will inevitably be broken. We are warned and instructed by the stern monitor of death. "Though we die, we shall live again," I believe it and rely on it. It is but trivial that many rolling years and thousands of miles should sever us. I conclude we may all then live, then die, and then we may join those loved ones gone before, rendering endless songs of praise to Him who died that we might live again.

Since John left I have been thinking more of my own intentions and future plans of life. I have thought some of going up into Oregon to commence as a teacher. This Western climate agrees with me so well that it seems to me I can accomplish much more here than Ii could possibly a home. However I have not decided nor will I soon, but I am inclined to resolve to live and labor and die in this Land of the Stranger.

Give my love to all and a buckwheat to the little ones, and believe me ever your affectionate brother Alfred H Osburn

{This single letter to Dr. Dunn's wife in 1852 from a young niece has several insights including a description of Panama from a relative; that Pa and brothers are planning to go to the Gold Fields in California; and about chores and health.

{The Isthmus of Panama is now the trans-shipment place for sailing ships; from New York to Panama, cross by horse carriage, another ship on the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco. Two thirds of the migrants to the Gold Fields came this way. The rest either sailed about Cape Horn or did a wagon train through the Indian-infested midland of North America. Panama is the safest way, quickest way, but also the most expensive.

{Temperance is now married and Josie, her first child, has been born.}

03-13-1852 Meadville, Pa.

To Mrs T Dunn, care of Dr J L Dunn, Crossingville, Crawford Co. Pa

I suppose that your little baby has grown a good deal since I saw it. and my grandmother told me that you called it Maiy Josephien. I wish when you come to Hayfield again that you would come to town and pay us a visit.

The last that was heard from the isthmus was on the twelth. The first that Pa heard was from Alexander. He said that the bread was a year old and that the natives resemble our niggrows and that they speak spanish. He said that their houses was made of canebreaks tied together with bark. He said that panama was the durtiest place that he ever saw.

I do not go to school now but I went one quarter. I studdy at home the lessons that I stouddyed at school. I stoddy geography, philosiphy, reading, writing and spelling. You must excuse me for my bad writing.

Pa's health is improving. I think when spring opens he will be able to go to the west. And Ma says that Pa shant go without she goes herself. Pa says for her to get grandpa's land warrent. Pa says if they go they will send me to Uncle John in Meadville so I can go to school. I expect that Mary will feed the chickens and look after the calfs and milk the cows. I will enjoy myself for I can go to sabbath school and to church.

About two weeks ago we got a letter from Alfred. He said he is doing well and he would be home the first of april, and bring me a pair of earrings. Mary sent her love. If you don't come and pay a visit I will not give you a kiss. It seems quite strange to me that there have not been an uncle here this winter. There used to be Alfred and Alexander and John but they are now sailing the Pacific Ocean.

Little Ellie Hamilton died with the scarlet fever two weeks ago. I thought so much of her. She went to school where I did and she could read as well as I could.

I want you to answer this letter as quick as you get it. It took a great deal of thinking to write it. This is all that I can thingh now.

Your affectionate niece.

Hellen L Culbertson

Eight Letters dated 1861

05-02-1861 Camp Wilkins, Pa.

Dear Wife,

We are all in a bustle this morning, having received orders to be ready to move out at 6 O.C. We are ordered to the Va line; an attack is expected on Uniontown in Fayette Co, as the Rebels are concentrating in Morgantown, Va and have cut the telegraph wires and stopped all communication with that place. We learned we are moving out at 4 O.C.; the men turned out from quarters and gave three cheers, showing that they are spoiling for the fight. Now comes the tug of War. The nice fancy parades that have so pleased the people of Pitt is now over and the grim visage of war is what we will be introduced to for the next sixty days and perhaps longer. I think we will smell powder in less than ten days. My hope that you could join me here is now useless to talk about.

I want you to keep an eye on my business and see that it is closed up, either in notes or cash. Many who have accounts owe me. I saw Jones who I owe on our lot - he says if there are any who want to pay in ash lumber that he will take it on the debt. Tell Walter to see if such lumber could be got. Barter may accommodate some; money is out of the question.

Today our men are cooking provisions enough for three days, for each to carry in his haversack. Each man is fixing up his revolver, running bullets, sharpening up their swords.

You must keep up good spirits and manage and to get along as well as you can for three months. Then I'll be home if nothing happens and health is good. I feel that I can march the required distance and stand the fatigue if there are any who can in this regiment. Tell everone that the boys are all healthy and in good spirits, ready to do their duty. Tell Mrs Patton the Lieutenant is not coming home as planned, due to the orders.

Good morning and believe me, your most devoted husband, J L D

05-20-1861 Camp Wilkins, Pa.

Dear wife,

I received your letter and read its contents with an eagerness of a hungry man, for it seems a long time since I left home. The life in camp is of such sameness that it makes time drag. I keep wondering how you are, how Freddy's speeches go, etc.

I wrote you last that we would leave Pittsburgh for Va but our orders were countermanded before we got off. We were all ready, had everything packed and could have started in ten minutes, when the Gov. Aide, Col. Roberts, came and informed us that we were not needed. This news very much disappointed our boys for they were spoiling for a fight.

I see a good many of our Crawford Co. friends. Judge Dickerson was to see us this morning with regard to the men. We are all right except for Eberhart who is the same insignificant puke as at home; and Mantor, who complains to everybody and blows away like a mad bull. He can't serve under me.

The Meadville Company from our County is here, and have been unable to get into16 McLean's Regiment and now are trying to join with one of the Pittsburgh Regiments, but I doubt their success. Many of their men have wanted to join my Company but I could not take them.

{there is more about personalities which I omit, and no closing for this letter is found}


Excerpted from Civil War Surgeon - Biography of James Langstaff Dunn, MD by Paul B. Kerr Copyright © 2012 by Paul B. Kerr, MD. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Seven Letters dated before 1860....................9
Eight Letters dated 1861....................16
Twenty-Eight Letters dated 1862....................24
Fifty-Two Letters dated 1863....................61
Thirty-Three Letters dated 1864....................119
Seven Letters dated 1865....................159
Topical Subjects....................166

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Civil War Surgeon - Biography of James Langstaff Dunn, MD 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am glad to have read the biography of Dr. Dunn. It was very interesting to read his letters written from different Civil War battlefields to his wife, family, and colleagues. Most of the letters were addressed to his wife. These written accounts are primary sources of real history, which are very difficult to find. Included in this book are a plethora of letters that describe Dr. Dunn's medical training and war time experiences first-hand. They cover his profession, the battles, the soldiers, his increasing sense of patriotism, & his unending love for home and family. It was enjoyable to read. In order to put the personal letters in historical context, the author includes a description of the political atmosphere and the battles. These mini-history refresher lessons are quite helpful. They appear every few chapters, or as relevent. Unfortunately, the transitions from postal mail to historical comments are not well delineated. Each letter has an appropriate title, but the historical comments are not always titled as such. It makes for confusing reading at times. Another complaint is that the author spends the last 60 or so pages reiterating the letters, comments, and history. It is redundant, and not entirely necessary. My favorite quotes from the book are as follows. I believe that they describe Dr. Dunn's feelings about the war. He started out naive and trusting, but later becomes jaded. It was to be expected, I guess. "War has no pleasures." "It is only the soldiers who can truly appreciate the blessings of peace." I recommend this biography to those readers who appreciate Civil War history. This book does refer to medical procedures, but not in graphic detail. It may not be for everyone, because it is medically focused. I liked reading about the battles from a first person point of view, even if it was viewed from the field hospital. -AvidReader