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Simon Baruch’s Reminiscences of a Confederate Surgeon

Posted: April 4, 2014 11:01 a.m.
Updated: April 7, 2014 5:00 a.m.

 

After the death of Dr. Yates Snowden, long time history professor at the University of South Carolina, his papers were placed in the South Caroliniana Library. After being accessioned, they were given a general description for the card catalog. Pamphlets and other publications were removed and given an individual card catalog description.

Recently Dr. Allen Stokes, retired former director of the library, began the development of a finding aide and a detailed descriptive catalog of the collection. A few weeks ago, he came to me while at the library and excitedly told me of his discovery of a rare pamphlet in the Snowden collection that had been overlooked, a copy of Simon Baruch’s Reminiscences of a Confederate Surgeon. Allen was well aware of my interest in historical material concerning Camden and Kershaw County.

Dr. Baruch delivered a speech to the Long Island Historical Society and this was a version of his speech printed soon after he delivered it on Sept. 23, 1915. Earlier that summer, the historical society had received a Union account of a Civil War surgeon from one James A. Scrymser.

This pamphlet has now been removed from the Snowden collection and cataloged separately. Apparently, only three other original copies of this item are known. It is also believed the Caroliniana copy may be the only one autographed by Baruch. He wrote on the pamphlet cover, “With author’s compliments To Professor Yates Snowden, Feb. 28/17 [1917] S. Baruch.”

Simon’s connection to Camden dates from the 1850s when he migrated to Camden from Posen in Prussia, present day Poland. This began a Baruch connection with Camden and Kershaw County which has continued to this day. A family friend, Mannes Baum, had invited him to come to Camden to learn English, study medicine and become a doctor.

He studied under local doctors Thomas J. Workman and Lynch Horry Deas. He next attended the Medical College of South Carolina in Charleston until the Civil War brought about its closure in the spring of 1861. He learned the Medical College of Virginia was still open and he enrolled there, graduating in March 1862.

Simon immediately joined the Confederate Army as an assistant surgeon. After a short stay at Rikersville Hospital in Charleston, he joined Joseph B. Kershaw’s Brigade in Virginia.

In 1994, Patricia Spain Ward authored Rebel in the Ranks of Medicine, 1840-1921, an interesting, well-crafted biography of Dr. Baruch. She devoted 42 pages to his Civil War experiences in which she quotes from his reminiscences.

She recounts his experiences at Second Manassas where he saw a surgeon using a house door laid on top of a box and a barrel as an operating table. The surgeon invited Baruch to perform the amputation and he did so, his first as a doctor. He later also used a door laid on top of two barrels as an operating table.

He was captured at Antietam and exchanged, was in the battle of Chancellorsville, at Gettysburg where he was captured and then exchanged, in the battle of the wilderness, became ill, furloughed home, and transferred to Goldsboro, N.C., in February 1865.

Near there at Thomasville, N.C., he set up a hospital which he described in detail in his reminiscence pamphlet. “I received a telegram announcing that 280 wounded from the Battle of Averysboro were on the way to Thomasville.” He then described how he took over several buildings including some factories and two churches, had men to gather pine straw and pine knots, women to cook food and bake bread, and girls from a school to fill sacks with pine straw for pillows.

Baruch continues, “Two surgeons came with the wounded in the most piteous condition, lying upon cotton direct from the battlefield. I did not retire until every man was fed who would eat and all were as comfortable as possible. After two hours sleep I proceeded to organize the hospital, operated all day and far into the night.

“On the following day my head began to throb like a sledge hammer. I dictated a telegram to Medical Director [Peter E.] Hines to send someone to take my place and lapsed into unconsciousness.” Baruch suffered with typhoid fever for two weeks. Before he recovered, Lee had surrendered and he was paroled while unconscious by the Union Cavalry of George Stoneman. He relates, “I returned to Camden, S.C., my home, on crutches, to begin life as a country practicioner.”

Simon Baruch remained in Camden until 1880 when he moved to New York City. While in Camden and later in New York, Baruch was active in medical societies, developed new medical practices, sought to improve himself as a doctor and to improve his profession. He published many articles and books on his medical practices and discoveries. He always viewed his Civil War experiences positively since he learned many things of later value to him. Patricia Ward devotes much of her biography of Simon Baruch to his post bellum accomplishments.

In honor of his father’s recognized achievements and his reputation in the field of medicine, Bernard Baruch made a significant contribution to establishing the Camden Hospital in 1912. Bernard had spent his early years in Camden and later became more successful in the field of banking and as a stockbroker and investor on Wall Street than his father’s success in medicine. He became an advisor to many presidents on financial matters and was one of the wealthiest men in the country.

A few months ago, a sculptured likeness of Bernard Baruch was placed on the grounds of the Camden Archives and Museum to honor him and his family’s contributions to Camden and Kershaw County.

 

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