Reprinted from "A History of the Worcester Disrict Medical Society 1794-1954 by Paul F. Bergin" with permission from the Worcester District Medical Society. page 43-47. re Dr. Samuel Foster Haven,
It is appropriate at this point to record a letter written to Dr. Albert C. Getchell in 1899 by Dr. Thomas Gage, in which he recounts very interestingly and vividly the biography and memorial of Dr. Haven, who made the supreme sacrifice at the battle of Fredericksburg in 1862.
“It gives me pleasure to comply with your request for information concerning Dr. Haven. I knew him well and intimately. He began his professional life soon after I did, and our offices were adjoining. We had our meals at the same table, and we were much together. I went with him and his famous regiment when they left for the seat of the war, and I spent two weeks with him then in Washington and at Camp Kalorama. Sixteen months later I went again to find and bring home his remains.
“Dr. Haven was born in Dedham, May 20, 1831. His father was the late Samuel F. Haven, Esq., the well remembered and very distinguished Librarian of the American Antiquarian Society. His mother was the daughter of the Rev. Freeman Sears of Natick; he was an only child.
“When he was scarcely five years old his mother died, and from that time on, for several years, his intellectual and moral training were under the direction of Miss. Elizabeth Peabody, a sister of Mrs. Horace Mann and Mrs. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a lady widely known and greatly respected in both Europe and America, not for her philanthropies alone, but for her life long interest in the education of children.
“At the age of eight he came to Worcester to live, and to be with his father, who had been already for two years a resident here; and here, still under the general direction of Miss. Peabody, in the public and private schools of the town, he was fitted for college. At the age of 17 he entered Harvard, and in 1852, when he was 21 years old, he graduated.
“His medical studies, which he took up immediately after leaving college, he began with Dr. Henry Sargent of Worcester and continued in the Tremont Street Medical School in Boston, a private institution in which at that time instruction was given with daily recitations throughout the year by the full medical faculty of Harvard University; and from that University, after completing a three year course of study, of which one was spent in the Massachusetts General Hospital as house physician, he received in 1855 his medical degree. But, meantime having determined to make a specialty of diseases of the eye, he had decided to go, with that in view, immediately abroad, where for two years, in London, Paris, Vienna, and Berlin, he applied himself assiduously to the study and observation of the best ophthalmic practice. Returning in 1857, he opened an office in Boston. But he remained only a year. In 1858 he came to Worcester.
“When he returned to Worcester to make it his permanent residence Dr. Haven was a well educated man and an accomplished specialist in the department of medicine to which he had devoted particular attention. Natural abilities much above the ordinary, and an inherited taste and talent for literary pursuits, had been cultivated and developed. He was a diligent student, and his acquisitions, both general and special, were extensive and varied. In ophthalology, especially, he was a learned man, and his learning was not only theoretical but practical. It was ready for immediate use and application
“In character he was open, manly, frank and generous, with particularly high conceptions of duty and responsibility. He was loyal to his profession and honorably ambitious to excel. In all things, moral and intellectual, he was honest and upright. His manner inspired confidence and respect. There was about him indeed at times a slight appearance of reticence and reserve but this quickly and entirely disappeared under relations of close and friendly intimacy. It was wholly due to modesty
“Of course such a man had not long to wait for recognition at the hands of the public, nor for employment. Business came to him almost immediately, and every circumstance seemed pointing to a brilliant and prosperous future in his chose field of labor, when there came a change, a very sudden change, in all his plans.
“With the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion Dr. Haven, very much to the surprise of his friends, was seized with a desire and a determination to enter the military service, and with this in view eagerly sought a surgical appointment in the army. This was not from any fondness for military life, for he never had a thought or care for that; nor yet was it from love of novelty, notoriety, or change; it was from pure patriotism, from a feeling that his country needed a service it was in his power to render and that he could not conscientiously withhold it.
“Consequently he received at the hands of Governor Andrew, with great gratification, an appointment to the post of Assistant surgeon in the 15th Mass. regiment, the regiment of which the Hon. Charles Devens was Colonel, George H. Ward, Lieut. Colonel, and Dr. Joseph N. Bates, Surgeon, and, with this famous command, in August 1861 left Worcester for the front. The day of this regiment’s departure will long be remembered. It was the first to go from Worcester, and one of the first to leave the State. It was also one of the first to be engaged with the enemy in battle. Moreover it was one that from first to last seemed to be chosen for the deadliest strife and the costliest sacrifice of life.
“To write the story, from this time on to the end of Dr. Haven’s life, would necessitate the writing of the history of his regiment, and all its engagements during the sixteen months of its service in Virginia and Maryland. But for such a task I have, of course, neither time nor space. I can only suggest something of what he did and dared by mentioning a few of the great battles in which he bore a part. But before I do that I must mention a determination to which he unalterably adhered, and which in the end cost him his life. He conceived it to be his duty to keep close to his men, even when they were under fire or in the hottest of the fight, in order that he might be immediately at hand for any casualty requiring his assistance. He would not remain in the rear to have the wounded brought to him.
"He felt that he belonged to his men and that it was his duty to share their dangers. It was in vain that friends, brother surgeons, officers, and men, expostulated and endeavored to dissuade. He would not be moved. His purpose was fixed, and his mind made up. And so our first glimpse of him, after his departure, is a Harrison's Island, in the middle of the swollen Potomac, after the terrible and disastrous battle of Ball’s Bluff, where the 15th had its first awful taste of war, in the dark and dismal night, within sight and sound of rebel rejoicing and illumination, in momentary expectation of capture, with the wounded of his men who had escaped the danger of drowning around him, and with no means at hand of removing them to a place of safety, resolving, and declaring his resolve, to remain by his men and to be taken prisoner with them, if such was to be his fate.
“And in this same spirit of self-forgetfulness and devotion to duty we know that he went on to all that lay before him in the awful battles of Williamsburg, Cold Harbor, Fair Oaks, Mechanicsville, Gainesmill, White Oak Swamp, Malvern Hill, and a multitude of smaller engagements in the Peninsular campaign. And so again to the terrible engagements of South Mountain and Antietam, into the latter of which the 15th went with 583 men and came out with only 175, 321 having been killed or wounded, and 24 made prisoners.
“And by the best evidence again, we know that in this spirit he approached his tragic fate at Fredericksburg, for we have the testimony of his Division Surgeon. Surgeon Sherman in a letter to dr. Haven’s father soon after the battle, after speaking of his sons sacrifices to duty, and his utter disregard of danger goes on to say ‘Witnessing his self exposure at the battle of Antietam, I had, as medical Director of the Second Division, detailed your son, in a written order, in the event of battle to repair to the Division Hospital, and give his service there instead of in the field with his regiment. When I communicated this order to your son he evidently felt disappointed. He expressed a strong desire to go wherever his regiment went; and when the column to which the 15th Mass. regiment was attached was about to pass over the bridge in front of Fredericksburg he was expostulated with, and reminded of the previous order, but he asked as a special favor to be allowed to go with his regiment, and said that at soon as the fight was done he would return to the hospital and remain there.
“But shortly after, while marching beside his regiment, in the streets of the city, to the place assigned it, he was struck in the leg by a shell. The limb was shattered, but he was not instantly killed. For a time it was hoped that he might sufficiently rally to allow an amputation, but he did not. A few hours later, with the battle still raging about him, he died.
“His remains were brought home and buried from the Church of the Unity in Rural Cemetery. A great concourse attended his funeral and followed him to his last resting place. It was sad and sorrowful, and it was at a time when sad and sorrowful days were coming thick and fast.
“To give you some idea of the feeling caused by the sacrifice of this young and heroic life to an exalted sense of duty, and love of country, I am inclined to append some beautiful lines which, inscribed to Dr. Haven’s memory, appeared, soon after the funeral, in the ‘Spy’. They are from the pen of the Rev. Mr. Wasson.
‘With skilful touch he turned away death’s wishful hand from wounded men;