July 4th, 2013: Member Submission: Dr. William F. Osborn

Posted on: 07/02/2013

Imagine the chaos 150 years ago after the battle raged around Gettysburg and casualties were strewn throughout the countryside in houses, barns and fields.  Physicians were ill prepared for what they faced in the beginning of the conflict and as time and the war progressed became better able to rise to the many challenges they were presented.  One of those men was Dr. William F. Osborn, an ancestor of Friends member Janet Oakley.

William Osborn was born in Fayette County Pennsylvania in 1830.  He moved to Quincy, Illinois at the age of 23 to begin his study of medicine with Dr. W. S. Everett.  He attended Michigan University for a time and then continued his studies with Dr. Daniel Brainard in Chicago.  He graduated Rush Medical College in 1860. He moved to Memphis, Missouri where he practiced medicine and was an editor for the Memphis National Democrat. He was a strong advocate of the Union cause and, in 1861, returned to Pennsylvania. On March 24, 1863, he joined the 11th PA Volunteer Regiment as an Assistant Surgeon at the request of Dr. Jonathan Letterman, referred to by many as “The Father of Battlefield Medicine.”

The 11th PA Infantry was comprised of recruits from several counties in April 1861 as a three- month unit.  In August it was reorganized as a three-year regiment in and was stationed in Annapolis, MD. The following April, it guarded the railroad in Manassas Junction and then, after only a month, was moved to the Shenandoah Valley to McDowell’s Corps.  Eventually, they became part of the First Corps and were involved in the Battle of South Mountain and Antietam (Sharpsburg).

Above: The 11th Pennsylvania Monument at Gettysburg.

The 11th PA was in Middletown Maryland on June 28 and marched to Frederick, Maryland.  By June 30, they were camped by Gettysburg and engaged the Rebels on July 1. The official report of Captain Jocob J. Bierer, 11th PA Infantry is as follows:

“ July 1-The regiment marched to Gettysburg and were engaged with the enemy, Colonel Coulter being in command, (whose report has already been made.(see below)  July 2 – The regiment, on the evening of July 1, having taken position in rear of breastworks on the south side of the town, was early this morning relieved by troops of the Second Corps, and marched about one-fourth of a milt to Cemetery Hill, in rear of which, with the division, it was formed to support a battery stationed on the hill. It remained here until 8pm, when it was marched to the left.  At 9:30 pm it resumed its former position, and was subsequently formed in rear of a stone wall between the hill and town, along the road, where it remained until the morning of the 3d, at daylight, when it was moved to the position it formerly occupied in the rear of the cemetery.  It remained until noon, when it was moved to the right.

About 2p.m. the enemy commenced shelling so heavily as to make it necessary to move t the north side of the hill, where it remained about an hour, when it was marched across the cemetery to the right of the position occupied on the 2d, where it was formed inline, and remained during the balance of the day and until the 5th.”

 

Colonel Coulter reported the following:

Reports of Col. Richard Coulter, Eleventh Pennsylvania Infantry,
Commanding Regiment and First Brigade.
O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/1 [S# 43] -- Gettysburg Campaign

GETTYSBURG, PA., July 6, 1863.

The ACTING ASSISTANT ADJUTANT-GENERAL,
Second Brigade, Second Division, First Army Corps.

        SIR: I report the following as the part taken by my command in the action with the enemy on July 1, near Gettysburg, Pa.:
        The First Division had been for some time engaged when this brigade, about 11 a.m., was massed on the west side and near the embankment of the railroad. At this point I was directed by the general commanding the brigade to proceed with the Ninety-seventh New York Volunteers, Colonel Wheelock, and my own, Eleventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, which I did, deploying both regiments, and moved with skirmishers about a quarter of a mile beyond the railroad track. Discovering that the enemy's movement was being directed against the left flank, I changed front to the left, and took position on the ridge (where the fighting subsequently took place), connecting the left of my command upon the right of General Cutler's brigade, of the First Division. I was here joined on the right by General Baxter, who resumed command of the entire line.
        The skirmishers had been a short time engaged, and about 12.30 p.m. the firing became general along the entire line. The enemy, after several attempts, finding it impossible to force our position, commenced moving his troops toward the left, under a galling and effective fire from our line. While this was being done, a sally was made by part of the brigade (the Ninety-seventh New York Volunteers and my own regiment engaging in it), which resulted in the capture of about 500 of the enemy.
        The line was steadily maintained under a brisk fire until after 3 p.m., at which time, the ammunition being exhausted, we were relieved by a by portion of the First Brigade. Upon being so relieved, the regiment was moved to the railroad embankment on the left, and there remained in support of a battery until ordered to fall back to the town of Gettysburg, the enemy having in the meantime turned both flanks; then retired with the brigade along the railroad, suffering most severely from a galling fire of musketry and artillery. The division immediately assumed another position in the rear of the town, on Cemetery Hill. Here my regiment was transferred to the First Brigade, and I assumed the command of the brigade. At this point, therefore, my report ceases as connected with the Second Brigade.
        The loss in my regiment during this period was: Killed--enlisted men, 5; wounded--commissioned officers, 6; enlisted men, 44; missing --commissioned officers, 3; enlisted men, 63; of which a report has heretofore been furnished. Some of those reported missing, it has since been ascertained, were wounded; others were secured upon the retaking of the town, the residue having been taken by the enemy. An additional and detailed report of the losses will be made so soon as the necessary information can be had.
        The conduct of both officers and men as they came under my observation during this trying engagement was most creditable, so much so as to secure even the encomiums of the enemy. Not a single case of faltering came under my notice.
        I desire to mention the gallantry of Colonel Wheelock and Lieutenant-Colonel Spofford, of the Ninety-seventh New York Volunteers, the first for the manner in which he brought his regiment into action and sustained it, the second on account of his moving forward and fighting the skirmishers of the two regiments as he did. Both subsequently fell into the hands of the enemy.
        I wish also to call attention to the conduct of one of General Robinson's mounted orderlies, Sergeant Johnson, of the First Maine Cavalry. The promptitude with which he conveyed orders and communicated information was highly creditable. He has proved himself on this as well as on other fields to be a brave soldier.

I have the honor to remain, yours, respectfully,
R. COULTER,
Colonel Eleventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers.

 

BALTIMORE, MD., July 9, 1863.

Lieut. S. M. MORGAN,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Second Division.

        SIR: The following is a report of the part taken by the First Brigade in the engagements with the enemy, from the 1st to the 4th instant, at Gettysburg, Pa.:
        My regiment was transferred from the Second to the First Brigade about 5 p.m. on the 1st instant, when the division was formed in the cemetery. I was directed to assume command on account of the disability of General Paul and loss of other field officers. I can, therefore, state but little of the part taken in the engagement of the earlier part of the day on the west side of the town, excepting what is contained in the reports of the several regimental commanders, which accompany and are made part of this report.
        In the action, this brigade was formed on the left of the Second Brigade and right of the First Division, and was engaged until 3 p.m., when a part was moved to the right, to relieve the Second Brigade, their ammunition being exhausted. Both flanks of the corps in the meantime having been turned by the enemy, this brigade retired, with the residue of the division, under a very destructive fire, along the railroad embankment and through the town to the cemetery, where the division was reformed about 5 p.m. Here, as before stated, I assumed command.
        Later in the evening, moved toward the left, and took position on the left of the Eleventh Corps, and, having built breastworks of such materials as were at hand, remained there in support of the batteries at that point until relieved by the Third Division, Second Corps, about noon next day.
        About 7 o'clock in the evening were moved farther to the left, to support the operations of the Third Corps, in which we were subjected to a considerable artillery fire, with some loss; which duty being accomplished, we returned.
        About 10 p.m. were placed in position on the Emmitsburg and Gettysburg road and in front of the cemetery, to support a portion of the Eleventh Corps, from which duty we were relieved at daylight on the 3d.
        About 2 p.m. of the 3d, the artillery fire becoming heavy and general along the line, the brigade was moved quickly to the right, to the support of Captain Ricketts' and other batteries operating on the right of the cemetery. Here we remained about an hour, and were exposed to both the front and rear fire of artillery and the enemy's skirmishers. When about to move on return to the left, I was wounded and temporarily disabled, and the command was transferred to Colonel Lyle, of the Ninetieth Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment. I remained with the brigade, however, and soon after resumed the command.
        About 3 p.m. moved rapidly to the left, under a severe fire, to the support of the Second Corps, upon which the enemy appeared to have concentrated their attack, and took position in support of a battery on the right of the Third Division, Second Corps. Brisk skirmishing was kept up with considerable loss on both sides until 9 p.m. About 11 p.m., it being ascertained that the enemy were removing the fences within reach, either for the purpose of making defense against attack or of opening the way, the breastworks in our front were much strengthened by the addition of stone and timber, the brigade working almost the entire night.
        No change was made on the 4th. The skirmishing was continued with some loss.
The following table gives the loss each day:

Date

Officers
Killed

Men
Killed

Officers
Wounded

Men
Wounded

Officers
Missing

Men
Missing

Officers
Total

Men
Total

Aggregate

July 1

1

35

35

68

39

598

75

701

776

July 2

----

5

1

9

1

12

2

26

28

July 3

----

1

7

4

----

2

7

7

14

July 4

----

1

----

2

----

----

----

3

3

Total

1

42

43

83

40

612

84

737

821

        This table does not include the loss of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Volunteers on the 1st instant, it being then attached to the Second Brigade, and its loss being accounted for with that brigade. Many reported missing, it has been since ascertained, were killed or wounded. Some were recovered on re-entering the town, and the residue are in the hands of the enemy.
        The conduct of officers and men, so far as they came under my observation, was in every way creditable.
        Three officers of General Paul's staff being reported among the missing, I selected Adjt. A. R. Small, Sixteenth Maine, as acting assistant adjutant-general, and Lieutenant Howe, of the Thirteenth Massachusetts, as aide-de-camp, of whom I desire to make special mention for assistance rendered me.
        This report is made under unfavorable circumstances, away from the brigade, and without means of obtaining full information, which facts will account for any deficiencies.

I have the honor to remain, your obedient servant,
R. COULTER,

Colonel, Commanding Brigade

Dr. William Osborn was stationed at the Christ Lutheran Church during the Battle of Gettysburg, which was one of the first locations used as a hospital.  The marker at the front of the church reads:

Completed in 1836, Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church’s building is the oldest in Gettysburg used continuously for religious worship.

During the battle of Gettysburg it became a haven for serving humanity.  When the first wounded appeared along Chambersburg Street, the church’s doors were thrown open to serve as a hospital.  Within a few hours the chancel, pews, and isles were filled to capacity with stricken and suffering Union soldiers who remained under care until late July.

On the Sunday, July 7th, following the Confederate withdrawal, the church was able to conduct a brief service for parishioners and patients.  Mary Horner long remembered,”…the pathos of those poor wounded men as they sang.”

This was the last service until July 29th, after the wounded were removed to the consolidated army hospital, Camp Letterman, east of town.

As indicated on Colonel Coulter’s chart, the majority of the soldiers were injured on July 1. During the course of the three-day battle at least 150 wounded were treated at Dr. Osborn’s station at the church. On average, seven out of ten wounds, treated were to the extremities with the majority of that damage caused by bullets. Wounds caused by shells, swords, and bayonets rounded out the types of injuries Dr. Osborn would treat. 

Above: Union field hospital during the summer of 1862.

Amputation was common and anesthesia, introduced in 1846, was used in most cases with chloroform the preferred type. Limbs that were broken or wounds that tore through major blood vessels required amputation.  The term “Sawbones” was coined during this time period and was a common slang term for the surgeons who used a saw to sever damaged limbs.

Dr. Osborn was promoted to Surgeon on February 3, 1865 and was reassigned to the 13th Regiment Pennsylvania Cavalry.  He remained with the 13th until the end of the war and was mustered out on July 14, 1865 at Raleigh, NC

After the war, Dr. Osborn lived in Mount Pleasant, PA and practiced medicine until his move to Burlington, Kansas in 1870.  After studying law, he was admitted to the bar in 1872.  He also served in the Kansas legislature and was town mayor, although preferring medicine to his other endeavors.  In 1875, he married Frances Freeman and had three sons, William, John and Carl. 

Dr. William F. Osborn was 83 years old when he attended the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Several of his descendants will attend the 150th Anniversary to honor his memory, including Janet who submitted Osborn to the Great Task project.

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