Battlefield Surgeon of the Civil War

Battlefield Surgeon of the Civil War:

Hartwell Carver Tompkins

Hartwell Carver Tompkins was born on March 15, 1828 in Henrietta, Monroe County, New York. His father was rarely present and his mother died when he was only six, leaving him to be raised mostly by his grandfather.

Hartwell received a common school education in Henrietta, and would attend the Collegiate Institute in Rochester. By age nineteen, Hartwell began the study of medicine and surgery under Dr. E.M. Moon of Rochester.

On January 20, 1853, Hartwell married Orinda M. Garlick, daughter of Samuel Garlick of Pittsford, Monroe County. They would have four children, one of whom died at the age of three.

In June 1853, at age twenty-four, Hartwell graduated with a degree in medicine at Woodstock, Vermont.  After graduation, Dr. Tompkins practiced medicine in Knowlesville, Orleans County until war broke out between the North and South.

On February 25, 1862 he received a commission as Assistant Surgeon of the 61st Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, which was part of the First Brigade, First Division, Second Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac.  He would stay with the 61st for almost a year, being promoted to Surgeon on August 21, 1862.

While with the 61st, Dr. Tompkins would serve honorably in such famous battles as Fair Oaks and Fredericksburg in Virginia, and Antietam in Maryland. As Surgeon-in-Chief of the Army of the Potomacís First Division Second Army Corps at Antietam, Dr. Tompkins had his hands full treating wounded and sick soldiers from both sides. His obituary notes, "After the battle of Antietam (the bloody battle) for want of assistants he was compelled to stand knee deep in amputated limbs."

The 61st, being in the thick of the battle, fought with great distinction at Antietam.  Colonel Francis Barlow, commander of the 61st, would execute a brilliant flanking maneuver and destroy a Confederate force defending the famous "Sunken Road."  Barlow, however, was gravely wounded during the battle, but was ably attended to by Dr.Tompkins. After the war, while serving as Attorney General of New York, Francis Barlow would become famous for his successful prosecution of Boss Tweed and the corrupt New York City Democratic Party machine.

Lieutenant Colonel Nelson A. Miles, then acting commander of the 61st, wrote in an after-action report filed in Antietam on September 19, 1862 that, "[The officers] were noticed as behaving in the most excellent manner; also Dr. Tompkins, who followed the regiment upon the field and rendered prompt assistance to the wounded."  Miles later became famous as the man who caught Geronimo.

After almost a year of continuous service with the 61st, including Fredericksburg in December 1863 where he was compelled to perform many operations under direct artillery fire, Dr. Tompkins resigned from duty on February 18, 1863 with a Surgeonís Certificate of Disability. He was emotionally and physically spent. After six months of recuperation, however, Dr. Tompkins felt he needed to get back to the war.

On August 11, 1863 he received a commission as Assistant Surgeon of the 4th Regiment, New York Heavy Artillery commanded by, among others, Colonel John C. Tidball, who later became the first Governor of Alaska. He was quickly promoted to Surgeon on November 16, 1863, and would stay Surgeon of the 4th until the end of the war. Dr. Tompkins would serve with the 4th in Virginia during such battles as the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and the Appomattox Campaign. 

He was mustered out of the United States service with his regiment on September 26, 1865 in Washington D.C., having served three years and one month in the Army of the Potomac.

After the war, Dr. Tompkins returned to his practice in Knowlesville, Orleans County. He became an important member of the community, serving as coroner, pensioner examiner, postmaster, and school trustee for many years.  Dr. Tompkins passed away on August 5, 1903 at the age of seventy-five, and is buried at Tanner Cemetery in Ridgeway, Orleans County. It seems he lived a full and rewarding life.

Dr. Tompkinsí obituary probably best sums up what kind of man he was: "He will ever be remembered by all who knew him as a good citizen, a true friend, often giving his valuable services to the needy without charge. His family will remember him as a kind husband, an indulgent father. The whole community will miss him."

-Fuller, Charles A. Personal Recollections of the War of 1861, as Private, Sergeant and Lieutenant in the Sixty-first Regiment, New York Infantry. Sherburne, NY: News Printing House, 1906.

-Kirk, Hyland C. Heavy Guns and Light: History of the 4th New York Heavy Artillery.  New York: C.T. Dillingham, 1890.

-Phisterer, Frederick, comp. New York in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865. Vol.2.  Albany, NY: Weed and Parsons, 1890.

Submitted by: Andrew Tompkins 1 Aug 2004