Illnesses of a Doctor

Many individuals would encounter sickness that pervaded the armies during the Civil War. Brought on by populous living space, insufficient sanitation, inclement weather and other factors, disease was rampant in the camps. For one officer, it became commonplace.

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James D. Cureton
(Courtesy of Sarah Grace Cureton)

Before the war, Dr. James Douglas Cureton lived with his wife and newborn son. A second-generation American of Welsh-descent, the 25-year old Cureton had studied dentistry in Baltimore, Md. before practicing in Greenville, S.C. There, he married the daughter of a wealthy planter, Narcissa Bowers.

Relocating almost one hundred miles away to Winnsboro, Cureton continued his work until daily life was interrupted on Apr. 11, 1861 with the incident at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. With war fully inaugurated, he entered the service and was placed in Co. E of the 6th South Carolina Infantry with the rank of second-corporal. According to James Phinney, leadership was lacking as the regiment trained and organized itself that May.[1] “In speaking of the unpopularity of the Colonel, I cannot say why it exists,” he commented. “The commander of a regiment or [even] of a company must conduct himself very circumspectly or his popularity is at an end.” Over the next several weeks, Cureton proved himself differently and he was elected third-lieutenant at Camp Woodward in Summerville.

On July 10, the unit was ordered from Columbia, S.C. to Richmond, Va. with an objective to defend the capital from the approaching Union army. But shortly upon arriving in Virginia, Lt. Cureton became sick; the first of many times to come. Measles and typhoid fever were quite prevalent throughout the entire unit as a matter of fact. “There are many deaths occurring in the regiment,” reported Lt. Phinney. “And at this time some companies numbering eighty men (before we left home), can scarcely parade twenty-five effective men.” For two weeks, Cureton convalesced at a private residence near Germantown, Va. before returning to the regiment.[2] The entire army settled into winter camp near Centreville, Va. for the remainder of the year. Other than a small probe near Dranesville the South Carolinians saw little action.

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Lt. Col. John Steedman led three companies of the 6th regiment in Redoubt Nine at Williamsburg.

Spring of the following year brought drastic changes. The Federal army was once again focused on the Confederate stronghold of Richmond. Cureton’s regiment (then part of the Confederate Army of the Potomac) responded to their actions and was sent down the Virginia peninsula in May 1862. That month, army life was especially deprecating on the men. Capt. James Phinney (the commanding officer) wrote that they were “now in a clump of pine woods without tents” and had “nothing to eat but army crackers, a little salt pork, and a little beef.” They had come under fire while defending Williamsburg, but it was at Seven Pines (Fair Oaks) that the Palmetto Staters saw serious action. “It was the first time and many of our Regiment fell,” wrote Capt. John White of Co. B. “We would yell and charge, never failing to drive them before us and always reserving our fire until they would rise to run, then we killed many of the scoundrels.”[3] One company suffered thirteen wounded and one missing in the assault on Fair Oaks Station.[4] Phinney was also among the killed on May 31st. “I hope to be able to give satisfaction to all under me, yet I feel the heavy responsibility that rests upon a captain,” he reflected two weeks prior. And with that mentality, Cureton succeeded Phinney thereafter.

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Assault of the 6th S.C. and Palmetto Sharpshooters on Fair Oaks Station
(CWT)

However, his ability to demonstrate leadership was halted again, as Capt. Cureton became sick a second time. He was sent to the nearby Episcopal Hospital in Williamsburg, Va. where he was admitted, stricken with dysentery on June 9th. He reported back to the unit almost a month later, having missed the entire Seven Days Campaign. Barely a week later, he returned to the same hospital for a returned case of diarrhea, although he was furloughed and released within forty-eight hours.

Then began the Army of Northern Virginia’s hard-fought validation to invade the North which became the bloodiest day of fighting of the entire war at Antietam. But Capt. Cureton would not take part in that either; he was left in a hospital in Frederick, Md. as the continued west to Sharpsburg. With both armies stalemated in that vicious fight and Lee’s men retreating back to Virginia, Cureton was unable to return with them and shortly thereafter was taken prisoner by the federals. Paroles were still being granted at that time and the captain was able to obtain one. He was sent from Baltimore, Md. to Fort Monroe in Virginia having signed an oath to “not take up arms or serve in any military capacity against the Govt. of the U.S.” until returned to his regiment. Cureton agreed, signed his name, and was exchanged near Aiken’s Landing (about 10 mi. outside Richmond) that fall. Later that year, the South Carolinians played a limited role at the battle of Fredericksburg, having only one man in the entire regiment sustaining a wound to the head.[5]

 

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Pass for parole signed to Capt. Cureton at Frederick, Md.

But sickness brought on by winter’s bitterness came again. And Capt. Cureton’s immune system wasn’t strong enough to withstand a bout of pneumonia that sent him to two hospitals in Richmond that February 1863.[6] That spring was particularly hard on his body and while he did return to his command, illness struck a fifth time in April. The surgeon deemed him in such bad health that he was granted leave for ten days, but he never returned to the regiment. Unable to adequately serve as officer, Cureton requested a transfer to the Invalid Corps exactly two years after his promotion to captain.[7] Unfortunately, the Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office later found him “totally disqualified” and revoked his request under Special Orders No. 241. Cureton would’ve had to reapply the following month, which he never did. For all intents and purposes, his military career was over.

 

Dr. Cureton returned to Winnsboro, S.C. and took up farming instead. His first wife died in 1865 and he remarried the following year to Catherine Ladd, the daughter of a local artist. He fathered five more children and retired to Pickens Co. where he died in 1904.

Notes:

[1] James Monroe Phinney served as a lieutenant (later captain) in the 6th South Carolina. A slave-holder and merchant by profession, he served from the unit’s formation in May 1861 until his death at the battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks) a year later. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond.

[2] The camp of the regiment was located about thirteen miles from Alexandria, Va. and one and half miles from Fairfax Courthouse. The small village of Germantown, Va. was recently burnt by Federal troops leaving that area.

[3] Katherine Wooten Springs, The Squires of Springfield (Charlotte, NC: William Loftin, 1965), 205-206.

[4] E. B. Cantey, “Casualties in Captain E. B. Cantey’s Company,” Camden Confederate, August 2, 1862, accessed June 25, 2013. Sent-in late to the fight, the 6th South Carolina moved alongside the Richmond & York Rive Railroad around 3:00 p.m. to support Georgians under Col. G.B. Anderson on May 31, 1862.

[5] Cureton’s regiment was then under the command of Brig. Gen. Micah Jenkins whose reserves were deployed just above Hazel Run late in the battle. R. A. Tinkler (also of Co. G) sustained a head wound on Dec. 13th.

[6] He was sent to the General Hospital No. 9 on Feb. 16 before transferring to General Hospital No. 4 (Baptist Institute Hospital) in Richmond.

[7] He retired to the Invalid Corps on May 13, 1864 by an act (chp. LVI) of the Confederate Congress which was approved on Feb. 17, 1864. However, because the Adjutant & Inspector General’s Office later revoked his assignment there, he did not receive full veterans benefits after Oct. 11, 1864.

Sources:

  • Brian Brown, “Dr. James Douglas Cureton,” Ancestry.com, last modified August 2005, accessed June 17, 2013, http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com.
  • Carol Kettenburg Dubbs, Defend This Old Town: Williamsburg During the Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 2002), 144.
  • James M. Phinney, “1862 May 13 Camp near Chickahominy River,” 150 Years Ago This Month: A Civil War Blog, May 12, 2012, accessed June 25, 2013, http://150yearsago.library.virginia.edu/2012/05/12/1862-may-13-camp-near-chickahominy-river.
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One thought on “Illnesses of a Doctor

  1. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?qqdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2001.05...

    http://www.wtv-zone.com/civilwar/dysentery.html

    Rogue Historian…please read the above sites. I assume since you are making judgements on men who fought in the Civil War 150 years ago that you have at least seen the WHiTE ELEPHANT.

    Dr. Cureton did! He was noted for valor and promoted to Captain after the battle of Seven Pines. Micah Jenkins, the Palmetto Sharpshooters and the SC 6th Infantry were legendary that day. Captain Phinney died heroically at Seven Pines. If you read his letter to his wife in totality you will see he was not besmirching the name of Dr. Cureton but questioning if he could lead the men of the 6th. He did that and then some!

    Dr. Cureton also saw action at 2nd Manssas. The 6th was on the right wing of Longstreet’s attack on Chinn Ridge and Henry Hill. Once again under the command of Micah Jenkins (The Citadel).

    A newspaper article in the early 20th century states as follows…

    “Tuesday of this week, Dr. J.D. Cureton was made a happy of by the return of what to him a long lost friend—an old sword that he wore during the war. It has a unique history, and if it could, it would relate history more vividly than we can hope to portray.

    This interesting old relic has played its active part in two wars—the Mexican and the Civil. It belonged to Col. Dunavant who carried it through the Mexican war. It then came into possession of W. B. Crate of Winnsboro , who then gave it to Dr. Cureton when he became a Lieutenant . Shortly after this Dr. C. was promoted Captain of Co. G. Sixth Infantry.

    During the terrible battle of Second Mannasas the scabbard was cut in twain by a shell. Dr. Cureton stopped to pick up the piece of shattered scabbard and fell a little behind his company. The unionists were slowly retreating and one shrewd Yankee concluded to secrete himself in a ditch and wait till the Confederates passed, and then kill the commanding officer of the regiment, who was Col. Steadman. Just as he raised his gun to fire Dr. Cureton turned and almost severed his head with this same sword.” Oct. 1907

    Dr. Cureton was also buried with the Southern Cross-of-Honor…endorsed by JB Newberry and JM Steward…both from the 6th. He was also in attendance at General Bratton’s speech in 1885.

    Rogue Historion…the men he served with considered him honorable but you do not! My Dad fought though Omaha and the battle of the bulge….I woke up to his nightmares. I have friends who fought in Vietnam that I am proud to call my friends. God forbid…if 150 years from now some rogue historian goes through a few letters and make assertions that are not the truth.

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