James Langstaff Dunn
Originally published in Special Edition 2016 in the Surgeon’s Call
Clara Barton met Dr. James Langstaff Dunn at the battle of Cedar Mountain during her first trip to the front. Dunn was surgeon of the 109th Pennsylvania Volunteers and described the scene of their first encounter, “I first met her at the battle of Cedar Mountain where she appeared in front of the hospital at twelve-o-clock at night, with a four-mule team loaded with everything needed, and at a time when we were entirely out of dressings of every kind. At Bull Run while the battle was still raging the fiercest on Friday who should drive up in front of our hospital but this same woman.” Dunn goes on to say – “We were ordered to Fairfax Station; we had hardly got there when the battle of Chantilly commenced and the wounded began to come in. When the cars whistled up to the station, the first person on the platform was Miss Barton.” On the field of Antietam, Barton recalled the following scene – “Arriving at a little wicker gate, I found the dooryard of a small house and myself face to face with one of the kindest and noblest surgeons I have ever met, Dr. Dunn of Pennsylvania.”
James Dunn was born in Meadville, PA, in 1826. He graduated from Western Reserve College in 1850, and practiced medicine in Conneautville, PA, after graduation. He married Temperance Osborne in 1849 and they had four children. At the outbreak of war Dunn entered service as a three-month volunteer as company Captain. At the close of that service, he recruited his company for three years as Co. H, 83rd PA Volunteers. He was soon appointed a Surgeon of Volunteers and assigned to duty as a recruiting surgeon in Philadelphia, where he served until 1862. While in Philadelphia he attended classes at Jefferson Medical College and gained some surgical skills working with cadavers. In the summer of 1862, Dunn was appointed Surgeon of the newly formed 109th PA Volunteers, and then served as Brigade Surgeon for the 12th and 20th Army Corps. Dunn was praised for distinguished service in a public letter by Major General Geary, and also for gallant service during the March to the Sea.
At the close of the war in 1865, Dunn returned to Conneautville where he practiced medicine until moving to Titusville in 1869. He was an active and honored member of the GAR and served for 30 years as a member of the Board of Pension Examiners. In 1906 the Titusville Courier wrote –“Old age shuns him. He goes on daily rounds visiting patients with unabated promptness and energy.” In 1908, after being injured in an elevator accident, Dr. Dunn died and his wife outlived him by only a few months.
A Woman of Valor, Stephen Oates, The Free Press, New York, 1994.
Civil War Surgeon – Biography of James Langstaff Dunn, MD, Paul B. Kerr, MD, Author House, Bloomington, IN, 2005 and 2012.
Clara Barton Papers, Manuscripts Division Library of Congress, Washington, CD, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/eadmss.ms005010.
Clara Barton Professional Angel, Elizabeth Brown Pryor. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1987.
The Life and Times of Clara Barton, Founder of the American Red Cross, William Eleazer Barton, The Riverside Press, Houghton Miflin Company, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1922.
About the Author
Betsy Estilow currently serves as the president of the Board of Directors of the NMCWM and has been a museum docent and respected lecturer since the Museum’s founding. She is one of the co-founders of the Conference on Women and the Civil War and has served as president of the Historical Society of Frederick County. Ms. Estilow is a recently-retired Professor of Biology and Adjunct Lecturer in Civil War History at Hood College in Frederick, MD. She received a BS degree in biology from Albright College and certification in medical technology from the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. After completing a Master of Science degree in Clinical Microbiology at West Virginia University, she became the director of the microbiology laboratory at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, MD. In 1975, she joined the faculty at Hood College where she has taught a wide variety of courses ranging from introductory biology to biology of aging to pathogenic microbiology. She developed and taught a weeklong course on Civil War History for Hood Elderhostel entitled, “In the Footsteps of the Blue and Gray.” Ms. Estilow is a two-time recipient of the Mortar Board Excellence in Teaching Award, an award given by the students at Hood College.