Posted tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

Dr. Andrew F. Sheldon, Originator of the Field Tent Hospital

March 7, 2012

If someone had told Ralph and Minerva Flint Sheldon that their son, Andrew, would grow up to become a renowned physician and a personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln, they probably would have scoffed. 

In 1830, Andrew was born in the small town of Huron in Wayne County, New York.  As one of Ralph and Minerva Flint Sheldon’s five children, Andrew was expected to help them with the farm.  However, at some point, Andrew developed an interest in medicine.  At the age of 22, he graduated from the University of New York’s Medical Department.  He married Miss Lucetta Salsbury in 1857, and they began their married life together in Williamson, New York.  They then moved to Junius, New York, where Andrew practiced medicine until he was called upon to put his skills to the test for the Union army during the Civil War.

Seven months into the War, Dr. Sheldon was commissioned as Assistant Surgeon with the 7th New York Cavalry.  In April 1862, he was appointed as Assistant Surgeon with the 78th New York Infantry.  By October of 1862, Andrew had been commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Volunteers.  President Lincoln himself promoted Dr. Sheldon to Surgeon of the United States Volunteers in charge of Campbell Hospital in Washington, D.C. in April, 1863.  It was sometime during these early years of the war that Dr. Andrew Sheldon is credited in the War Department with creating the first field tent hospital.  According to the office of the Wayne County Historian, Andrew F. Sheldon financed the first tent hospitals with his own money after having been unable to obtain the funds elsewhere.  Tent hospitals are still in existence today throughout the world, and serve as an invaluable tool to obtaining immediate medical treatment before the sick and wounded are transported to conventional hospitals.

On April 14, 1865, just hours before his assassination by John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln presented Dr. Andrew F. Sheldon with a case of surgical instruments at Campbell Hospital.  The case, created by G. Tiemann & Company of New York, was made of mahogany with brass corner straps and lock, and the compartments are lined with blue velvet.  Many of the handles on the surgical instruments are of ivory.  That case was, for many years after Andrew’s death, in the collection of his son, Ralph Sheldon, M.D.  In 1948, it was displayed in the Lyons, New York, drugstore window of Bill Dobbins in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of Wayne County.  Dr. Sheldon’s surgical case is now in the possession of the Wayne County Historical Society.  President Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Steward personally contributed toward the gift.  On the same date, Dr. Sheldon was presented with an ebony cane mounted with a gold cap and engraved, “Presented to A. F. Sheldon, surgeon U.S.V., by his friends at Campbell Hospital, Washington, D.C. April 14, 1865”.

After the war ended, Andrew resumed his practice.  He and Lucetta had six children together, three of whom died in infancy.  Daughter Nora Belle married Charles F. Powers and they had two sons, Whitney and Albert.  Despite his medical background, Andrew was unable to save the life of his daughter and she died at his home in Lyons at age 35 of gastric catarrh.  Son Ralph followed in his father’s footsteps and became a physician.  Both father and son practiced medicine for over 50 years.  Although Ralph was twice married, he had no children.  Younger son, Albert, became a manager of the International Silver Company based out of Lyons, New York.  He also served as Lyons Village Trustee.  Albert and his wife, Caroline Hersey Sheldon, had one daughter named Mary Elizabeth.

After spending the last 31 years of his life in Lyons, New York, Andrew F. Sheldon died in 1914 at the age of 83.  He and his family are buried in Wayne County, New York. 

Andrew F. Sheldon spent much of his life as a servant of the people.  Besides being a physician, he also spent many years as the Wayne County Treasurer, President of the Soldiers and Sailors Association of Wayne County, and was very active in the G.A.R., a patriotic organization dedicated to aiding veterans of the Civil War.  His greatest legacy, however, is as originator of the field tent hospital during the Civil War.

This article was originally published in the ‘Baker-Cederberg Notebook’, Vol. 22, No. 2, Fall-Winter 2010, a semi-annual newsletter published by the Rochester Medical Museum & Archives.  To learn more about the Rochester Medical Museum & Archives, please visit their website at http://www.rochestergeneral.org/rochester-general-hospital/about-us/rochester-medical-museum-and-archives/.

George Wiltsie’s Wartime World

June 11, 2009
George B. Wiltsie, 4th NY Heavy Artillery

George B. Wiltsie, 4th NY Heavy Artillery, standing second from left

In April I received an incredible gift in the mail, courtesy of Bill Keeler of the Perinton Historical Society and Fairport Museum.  Bill has spent much time transcribing the Civil War diary of George B. Wiltsie which came into the possession of the Fairport Museum last year.  The disk I received contained the transcription, and soon I was transported back in time, into George Wiltsie’s wartime world.

George B. Wiltsie was born on May 16, 1837, the seventh child of Thomas Wiltsie and his wife Rachel Brownell Wiltsie.  The Wiltsie family homestead was located in Duanesburg, New York until the spring of 1834, when the entire Wiltsie family traveled by packet boat on the Erie Canal toward their new home.  Maps of the time show that the Wiltsies settled on land west of the Erie Canal in Perinton, New York, right about where Route 31 passes over the canal between Mill and Kreag Roads.  It was here that George Wiltsie’s story began.

Little is known of George’s early life in Perinton.  We can imagine that life must have been hectic in a household that eventually grew to include 11 children.  Thomas Wiltsie was a farmer, and George followed in his father’s footsteps until August 12, 1862.  That was the day that George enlisted in the 4th NY Heavy Artillery.

George’s first journal entry is written one week later, and expresses his reasons for joining the fight:  “August 19, 1862 …I bid adieu to friends and old associates, feeling it a duty to [fight] for home and its comforts, to assist in the rescue of a Government in peril.”  The next few entries in the journal tell of traveling with the Army, and of the poor food and filthy conditions.  It occurred to me that through most of the diary, George was very optimistic and upbeat.  He mentioned having leave and seeing the Smithsonian and the Liberty Bell.  He commented on the beautiful architecture that he saw on his travels with the Army.  Soon after arriving at Fort Pennsylvania, George came down with typhoid fever.  He managed to pull through and rejoin his unit.  However William Cook, who was a comrade in the 4th NY Heavy Artillery and a fellow Monroe County resident, became sick at the same time as George and died within one week from the disease.  William Cook is another of my Pittsford boys who will be mentioned in upcoming posts. 

George’s happy frame of mind continued even through August of 1864 when, on the 25th, George matter-of-factly mentioned that “…the Rebels advanced on us and the battle commenced which ended with our defeat and capture of a large number of prisoners myself among the number.”  I can’t even imagine the terror I would feel at being captured by the enemy.  However, George took his imprisonment in stride and even managed to joke about his new surroundings, “Paid adieu to Libby [Prison] this morning and went to the famous resort of Uncle Sam’s boys for three days better known by them as Bell Island.”  Ultimately ending up in Salisbury Prison, George’s journal chronicles the boredom, crime and lack of proper shelter at Salisbury but still sounds optimistic.

As the days turned into months of imprisonment, George’s optimism began to fade.  The entry for November 8, 1864 noted that it was Election Day and George wished he could vote for Abraham Lincoln.  The last journal entry was made on December 9, 1864.  He may have already been ill with the typhoid fever that would take his life in Annapolis, Maryland on March 21, 1865.  His body was returned home and buried at Pittsford Cemetery beside his sisters Antoinette and Eliza and his brother Frank.  The man who remarked on the beauty of architecture and who took joy in historical monuments was dead at the young age of 28.

I have seen a photo of George B. Wiltsie.  It is in the personal collection of Jason Puckett, a Wiltsie family descendant.  Unbelievably, Jason bought the photo on eBay.  It was labeled with the names of the four soldiers pictured – William B. Lyke, George Wiltsie, Henry Root and Albert E. Lyke.  The Lyke boys are mentioned several times in George’s journal.  George is standing second from left sporting a bushy black beard.  Military service records provided by the New York State Archives show that George had brown eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion, and that he stood 5′ 4 1/2″ tall.

After sharing his photo of George Wiltsie, Jason shared something with me that meant even more.  In an email, Jason wrote to me, “You have taken it upon yourself to remember my ancestors and acknowledge their existence when others might just think of them as headstones in the cemetery. I honestly doubt that there is anyone that goes to visit George’s grave anymore out of remembrance of his life. You still do that, and I thank you for that respect for my family.  I really just want to say thank you because it is an honor to me and my family that someone cares enough to remember. Your passion for the Civil War and the men who chose to serve inspires me.  Thank you so much for taking your time to remember my family and the other men who were willing to give their lives to defend my family.”  Jason’s eloquence moved me to tears. 

The goal of my Civil War project, cemetery tours, speaking engagements and my Illuminated History blog is to remember these men who took time out of their lives to serve our country during a period of division and strife.  It honors the memories of our hometown heroes because their stories deserve to be told.   Every time I place a flag by a Civil War soldier’s grave, I speak their name and promise aloud that they will not be forgotten.


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