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Dr Nathan Mayer

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Dr Nathan Mayer Veteran

Birth
Bavaria, Germany
Death
10 Jul 1912 (aged 73)
Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, USA
Burial
Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, USA Add to Map
Memorial ID
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~ Union Veteran of the Civil War ~
Regimental Surgeon of the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry
Assistant Surgeon of the 11th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

Major Nathan Mayer, M.D., of Hartford, Connecticut, was a surgeon, soldier, poet, writer, and both a dramatic and musical critic.

—EARLY LIFE AND CAREER—
Nathan Mayer was born on December 25, 1838, in Bavaria, Germany; the oldest of four children. After receiving his early education in his native land, he and his parents emigrated to the United States in 1849 when Nathan was ten years old. Nathan's father, Isaac Mayer, was a rabbi originally from Alsace who had lost his property during the German revolutions of 1848. The family settled in Cincinnati, Ohio and Nathan Mayer graduated from the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery in 1857. Both before and during his time in medical school, Nathan also accompanied his father to his rabbinical posts in Cincinnati (1849–56), and Rochester, New York (1856-59). After graduating from the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery, he studied in Munich, Vienna, Prague, and Paris. Mayer is noted as having said that his "study-residence" abroad lasted for about two-and-a-half years. Additionally, while in Europe in 1859, Nathan Mayer served with the French Army as a surgeon during the Second Italian War of Independence, also called the Franco-Austrian War. While Nathan was abroad, his parents had moved to Hartford, Connecticut. Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, back home, Mayer felt he had to return to the United States. Had the times been less troublous he might have pursued his medical graduate program further, but he was eager to serve his adopted land.

—OUTBREAK OF THE CIVIL WAR—
Nathan Mayer reached Hartford in January of 1862, and was commissioned as an Assistant Surgeon of the 11th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment and was stationed in New Bern, North Carolina. In his memoir, Mayer described with good humor how he lost his service trunk in transit and had to rely on the kindness of strangers to meet most needs. He was assigned 30 typhoid patients and scoured the area for fresh milk and kegs of beer "and stimulated my patients Munich fashion." Ultimately, 28 survived their illness due to Mayer's care, with only 2 succumbing to it. Dr. Mayer's smallpox patients were kept in isolation under the care of African-Americans. Mayer wrote "I was the only white person who went to the smallpox tent. Remember I had only my uniform — my trunk was lost — so you saw me in a scarlet, much-beflowered calico morning robe, my head tied up in a bandana, stalking across the field and into woods to see my patients." Through that spring and summer, Mayer learned to ride a horse, not very well by his account. After his unit moved north into Virginia and Maryland, he performed his first amputations and treated Confederate prisoners. Shortly after, he was promoted to Surgeon and assigned to the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment, replacing the previous regimental surgeon, who had resigned. Mayer described himself as "Surgeon Major" of the 16th Connecticut and other surgeons made the assertion that, in his military capacity, Mayer was "versatile and resourceful." Major Nathan Mayer would participate in both the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Fredericksburg with the 16th Connecticut.

—BATTLE OF ANTIETAM—
He arrived at Antietam the evening before the battle and spent the next day, September 17, under heavy fire, treating the badly wounded of his regiment, before relocating to a farmhouse that had been converted to a field hospital. "Every room was soon filled; the barnyard and garden were crowded with wounded, and I should not have known where to place more," he wrote. During the Battle of Antietam, Dr. Mayer's friend, John Griswold, a 25-year-old captain in the 11th Connecticut was mortally wounded as he boldly led a group of skirmishers across the 4-foot deep Antietam Creek. "In the middle of the creek a ball penetrated his body," Mayer wrote in a letter from Sharpsburg to his brother on September 29, 1862, "He reached the opposite side and lay down to die." Mayer, as the brave surgeon nearly all knew him to be, quickly summoned four privates, and together they forded the creek and climbed a fence while under heavy fire to reach Griswold. The men carried the soaked and bloody captain to a nearby small shed, where the surgeon from Hartford gave his "ashly pale" friend morphine to ease his pain. But they both knew the wound near his stomach was mortal. "He thanked me for my services in an elegant phrase," Mayer wrote, "and attracted my attention to the number of wounded that now filled the shed, intimating that he feared that he had monopolized too much of the time of so good a surgeon on the day of battle." Before the commencement of the battle, as he admired the beautiful countryside on the march to Antietam, Griswold discussed with Mayer philosophy and classic literature, from 'De Civatate De l' to 'Les Miserables.' "Whoever approached him," Mayer wrote, "felt that he had entered a circle of refinement." Mayer also recorded his experiences at the field hospital, writing "All the wounded came in exalted in spirit, full of patriotic fire, anxious for the battle, the defeat of the rebs, and complaining hardly of their own injuries. . . . Whether the whiskey which was given to a wounded man at once—and needed in the collapse of serious gunshot wounds, contributed to this exaltation, I know not. But I have still in my mind some badly wounded boys that fiercely demanded the fate of the battle before they cared about themselves, and the beautiful resignation with which others awaited their certain death. This is not romance. I saw it and it is realism."

—BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG—
At the Battle of Fredericksburg, from his post with the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Regiment, Dr. Nathan Mayer watched as wave after wave of Union infantry fell beneath the Confederate guns massed atop Marye's Heights. He wrote "All day long I had seen the troops, in brigade lines, marched up a wide slope against stone walls, defended by confederates. And line after line was received by deadly volleys, broken and driven back, while batteries from the top of the slope threw shrieking shells at them," as he recalled one of the worst Union defeats of the Civil War. Mayer also wrote of his time at Fredericksburg; "Seven miles away a picket in the woods had been shot by bushwhackers. With an orderly to guide and carry my surgical knapsacks, I went there, an ambulance following, as far as there was a road. The poor youth had a completely shattered arm and elbow. I operated on the spot [amputating] at the lower third of the humerus; the orderly assisted. I gave chloroform, got things ready and did as any of you would have done. It was a fair operation, but the flaps proved too short. I mounted the boy on my horse, the orderly carried his gun and his and my belongings and we treaded the woods for a couple of miles 'till we were able to reach the ambulance. All the interest of this was heightened by the knowledge that other bushwhackers might be around and pick us off during the work. The water for the operation we brought from the Rappahannock, 2 miles away, in several canteens. I heard later that in a Washington hospital they took some more of the bone."

—THE BATTLEFIELD DOCTOR—
As battlefield losses mounted, and disease riddled the camps, Mayer and others like him worked tirelessly to tend to the legions of wounded and sick. In addition to treating the usual wounds received in battle and performing amputations, Mayer treated typhoid, malaria, smallpox and the many other infectious diseases that decimated the soldiers' camps. In an era when the benefits of hygiene and causes of disease were, at best, dimly understood, they relied upon the best tools at their disposal: recently developed anesthesia for surgeries, opiates to relieve pain, and quinine, which is the ground, liquefied bark of the Peruvian cinchona tree, to treat tropical fevers. In extreme cases where there were masses of wounded soldiers in need of pain relief, nearly too many to individually care for, Mayer did not trouble to dismount from his horse to diagnose soldiers but instead dispensed morphine from horseback. In his memoirs, as he described a daylong march in which he trailed his regiment, examining stragglers and treating the sick and injured, Mayer recalled: "It was my duty to stop with those who fell out and see whether they were sick, or played out, or malingering. In one pocket I carried quinine, in the other morphine, and whiskey in my canteen. The hospital steward was behind if I wanted further stores. But ordinarily, when on horseback, I could inquire and judge without dismounting, and I got entirely practiced to dispense from the bottle into my hand and know the exact quantity. The quinine-Weightman's-was cottony, the morphine a fine powder. They licked from my hand and the men carried water in their canteens to wash it down." As for his reputation and other's opinion of him, Mayer was described as "a cut above" the best regimental surgeons and as a brave, energetic, resourceful, compassionate, and pragmatic individual. Experience had taught him that well-supplied, well-fed troops in sanitary living quarters were healthier; that some medicines, treatments, and techniques worked better than others; and that those stricken by disease or recovering from battlefield wounds had a better chance of survival with fresh air, regular changes of dressings and active nursing care. The 16th Connecticut's regimental historian, Lt. B. F. Blakeslee, wrote of Mayer: "He was a good physician, and as a surgeon could not be surpassed in the Army of the Potomac. He commenced immediately to make improvements in and out of the hospital and to look to the cleanliness of the tents, company streets, and cooking utensils. He also saw that the food issued was properly prepared by the cooks; and when he gave cough syrup, it was not stuff that men would use on their food for molasses."

—LATE WAR—
On April 20, 1864, "Surgeon Major" Mayer was taken as a prisoner of war following the Union defeat at the Battle of Plymouth in Washington County, North Carolina. Following a brief incarceration at Richmond's notorious Libby Prison, he was released during an exchange on November 30, 1864. Shortly after, Mayer was assigned to Foster General Hospital in New Bern, the city where he was originally stationed after his commission. There in the summer of 1864, he performed heroic service in combating a yellow fever outbreak. When the accepted method of treatment, large doses of quinine, proved ineffective, he defied an order by the U.S. Surgeon General, and the objections of his own staff, and prescribed Calomel (mercury chloride), successfully saving many lives, but Mayer risked court-martial by employing the unauthorized treatment to save his patients. Nathan Mayer himself barely survived the bout of yellow fever, which struck down all 18 of his surgical staff, killing nine. By the end of the war, Mayer was the hospital's chief doctor, its chief administrator, the medical purveyor for General William Sherman's Army and in charge of inventory and storage of captured Confederate stores. He was also promoted to the brevet rank of brigadier general, "and served in this capacity throughout the remainder of the Civil War."

—AFTER THE WAR—
Upon the conclusion of the Civil War, Mayer returned to Hartford, becoming one of the city's most respected physicians; writing multiple medical essays, and maintaining his medical practice from 1865 until his death in Hartford on July 10, 1912, from heart disease at the age of 73. In his essays, which have been preserved in the Library of the Hartford Medical Society, Mayer wrote of his dealings with yellow fever, "reported a successful tracheotomy in a patient under two years with diphtheria; an abscess of the liver, with echinococci, and experience in the treatment of hypertrophy of the prostate." His mastery of German was also occasionally called upon for translating. In Dr. Mayer's office in a Hartford, hung a large crimson banner with gold lettering that said "Through battle-smoke and prison pen. You've brought your flag, ye Sixteenth men." Mayer was appointed as the Surgeon General of Connecticut in 1872 and held the position until 1873. While Surgeon General of Connecticut, he wrote a report on the state's prisons and county jails. Nathan Mayer was also a founding staff member of Saint Francis Hospital, which opened in 1897, and was a longtime member of the American Medical Association, the Hartford Medical Society, and the Connecticut Medical Society. His long association with the Hartford Medical Society saw his election to the presidency of the organization in 1906 and culminated with the award of the Society's Silver Loving Cup on New Year's Day 1912. Mayer also sat on the Board of United States Pension Examiners and served as its president for twenty-seven years (1885-1912). In addition to his professional accomplishments, the good doctor, who never married, found time to indulge his lifelong passion for literature and music. Nathan Mayer spent approximately 45 years as chief theater and music critic for the 'Hartford Times.' Additionally, he was a published poet, always ready with a poetic grace note for celebrations, and novelist. With 5 novels and 3 poetry collections about Jewish life to his credit, Mayer published his novels serially in the 'American Israelite' newspaper, and most were devoted to melodramatic accounts of Jewish heroism in past ages. One of Mayer's novels, however, "Differences," appearing shortly after the Civil War in 1867, was very possibly the ablest novel written until then by an American Jew. In simple, unadorned style, it dealt affectingly with members of a German-Jewish family in America, their rise to security, and their experiences in both the North and the South. The novel's points regarding Jewish nouveaux riches in New York and aspiring Jewish Bourbons in New Orleans were quite discerning. Examples of Mayer's other literary works are "The Fatal Secret! or, Plots and Counterplots: A Novel of the Sixteenth Century" and "The Count and the Jewess"; both were published when Mayer was still quite young, ages 18 and 20 respectively. "The Fatal Secret! or, Plots and Counterplots: A Novel of the Sixteenth Century" was first serialized in the 'Israelite' in 1858. Set in 16th century Portugal during the Inquisition and using an array of characters who are, in turn, wicked, innocent, seductive, and heroic, and whose stories are intertwined, this swashbuckling melodrama tells the story of how those last Portuguese Jews were saved from forced conversion and escaped to Amsterdam, the portal to the New World, becoming, in effect, the ancestors of the very first American Jews. "The Count and the Jewess," based on the legends of Rabbi Loew of Prague, was serialized in the 'Israelite' in 1856. According to that weekly's founder and editor, Mayer also "conducted the department of belles-lettres and wove incidents from Spanish-Jewish history into articles" for the 'Israelite.' A later issue of the 'Israelite' (March 26, 1858), contains two pieces by Mayer. One is an essay on poetry and religion that characterizes Jewish poetry as the poetry of reason stemming from the revelation of God at Mount Sinai. The other is a spirited refutation of a slur that appeared in the "Cincinnati Weekly Gazette," which stated that Jews are inherently incapable of owning and farming land. In this refutation, Mayer mentions, among other things, that Jews are bound to the countries in which they live, and he discusses their victimization and expulsions during the Middle Ages and their willingness to give up their freedom in order to stay in the lands "whose rights they had defended as soldiers, whose coffers they had they had enriched as merchants, whose literature and art they had developed as poets and painters," and from which they were forced out.

—ANTIETAM POEM—
Dr. Nathan Mayer's wartime experiences would remain close to his heart until his death, as evidenced by the poem he wrote and recited on October 11, 1894, at the dedication of the memorial to the 16th Connecticut at Antietam. He dedicated the work "to my brave and faithful comrades whose individual history, endurance, sufferings and loyal devotion in campaigns, in hospital and in prison, no one had better opportunities to know." As Mayer read his poem, and upon its conclusion, nearly all in attendance wept. The lengthy poem, titled "Antietam" reads as such:

"'COMRADES! the value of a thing
Is stamped by sacrifice we bring
In its attainment. If bright gold
Like sand and pebbles 'round us rolled,
And pearls like daisies blossomed nigh,
We should admire yet let them lie!
'Tis by the effort and the strain,
The reaching forth with might and main,
The sudden summons into play
Of forces that within us lay,
The risks we boldly gauge and take,
The loss we dare though hearts should break,
The living price, whate'er it be,
Which we fling in for victory,
By all we gave and all we lost -
A chosen self-appointed cost-
We mark on scales of human fame
The human value of our aim.
Who senses e'er the merry day
Of childhood's growth or boyhood's play?
When, sweet life stirring, every hour
Brings keener knowledge, firmer power,
And forces weave from span to span
The mightier texture of a man?
Who senses it, till, past recall,
The self-same forces fail and fall?
And who can realize the worth
Of all the miracles on earth
That, commonplace and everyday,
Compel our course? The lightsome ray,
The air we breathe, the earth below
That moulds the fruit, the water's flow,
The sense with which we see and deal,
The heart by which we love and feel,
The liberty that makes us man -
All these we have. Yet never can
We know their worth until we need
And have them not; then, stung to deed
By courage born of stress and pain,
We combat, that we might regain
What erst we held at lightsome rate —
A birthright; till avenging fate
Demands for it the bloody fee
Of battle and of victory.
'Tis only thus we sense the cost
Of what we held and what we lost.
So was our Union. Mighty source
of power and glory, and the force
That awed the world, and kept us free
Forefended by the boundless sea.
It was the force that made us great,
Where each one stood for every State,
And every State for each was gaged,
And friendly interests but waged
A war of mutual excellence.
Yet knew we not, and could not sense
The life-need of this bond of power,
Until it broke. Then, in one hour,
With sudden jar the wide-spread land
Did see, and feel, and understand
What Union was, what it must be —
Our guard of peace and liberty!
Then, like a sea, the hearts of all
That loved their country, rose.
A call who knows?
Went forth - from whom, from whence,
It flamed up as the wild wind blows:
From every lip rang forth the cry,
And every heart beat quick reply,
And every hand was raised and swore
Union for aye and evermore!
Far o'er the hills and through the dales,
Resistless as the storm-king sails,
This rally leaped from ear to ear.
It blew out prudence, cast out fear,
Shredded apart with ne'er a strife
The ordinary bonds of life,
And stamped stern purpose on each soul
To save the country, one and whole!
This brought us here-a thousand men
With hearts on fire but bare in ken
Of warlike methods and of arms.
Such as they came from shops and farms,
From busy mart, from college halls,
From life 'tween close-set office walls,
They stood in line- undrilled, untrained.
Though shrapnel burst and bullets rained
Beyond the broad brook's verdant banks,
Among the green corn's waving ranks,
They fill the gap!- Forward! – Advance ! -
They send their lead down in the dance
Of Death, who sweeps with crimson hand
O'er the blue hills of Maryland.
And forward still! Stern duty placed
Their brave and untried ranks. — Square faced
Against the picked men of the South,
Against their batteries' belching mouth,
Against the fire-lined gray stone wall -
A living line to stand or fall -
They met their fate, this martyr band,
For Union and their Native Land!
And now we come when years have gone,
When all the States are made as one,
When, what was welded in the fire
Of contest, peace has drawn up nigher
And stronger bound - we come intent
To dedicate a monument.
To whom? To those that fell? To all
That hither came to live or fall!
To all who in this holy strife
Went forward with their sweet young life
Prepared to give. And, let it show,
Set high in noonday's golden glow
Upon this verdant field of blood,
That life is not the highest good,
But higher, holier, sweeter far
Are life's ideals. Like a star
They point to sacrifice whose fruit
Lives on, though tongues of men are mute.
The future of the land, the fate
Of eras that upon us wait,
The race to come, and Liberty
Secure for all the times to be -
They dwindle human lives to naught!
'Tis to the Cause for which we fought,
The Country in its strength and might
Enthroned on Justice, ruled by Right,
A splendid chain of beauteous lands,
Their peoples one in hearts and hands,
The Union of the Continent -
TO THESE we set our monument!'"

—BURIAL—
Dr. Nathan Mayer is buried in Beth Israel Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut. His tombstone references his service with the 16th Connecticut and his time as a medical practitioner in Hartford.
~ Union Veteran of the Civil War ~
Regimental Surgeon of the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry
Assistant Surgeon of the 11th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

Major Nathan Mayer, M.D., of Hartford, Connecticut, was a surgeon, soldier, poet, writer, and both a dramatic and musical critic.

—EARLY LIFE AND CAREER—
Nathan Mayer was born on December 25, 1838, in Bavaria, Germany; the oldest of four children. After receiving his early education in his native land, he and his parents emigrated to the United States in 1849 when Nathan was ten years old. Nathan's father, Isaac Mayer, was a rabbi originally from Alsace who had lost his property during the German revolutions of 1848. The family settled in Cincinnati, Ohio and Nathan Mayer graduated from the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery in 1857. Both before and during his time in medical school, Nathan also accompanied his father to his rabbinical posts in Cincinnati (1849–56), and Rochester, New York (1856-59). After graduating from the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery, he studied in Munich, Vienna, Prague, and Paris. Mayer is noted as having said that his "study-residence" abroad lasted for about two-and-a-half years. Additionally, while in Europe in 1859, Nathan Mayer served with the French Army as a surgeon during the Second Italian War of Independence, also called the Franco-Austrian War. While Nathan was abroad, his parents had moved to Hartford, Connecticut. Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, back home, Mayer felt he had to return to the United States. Had the times been less troublous he might have pursued his medical graduate program further, but he was eager to serve his adopted land.

—OUTBREAK OF THE CIVIL WAR—
Nathan Mayer reached Hartford in January of 1862, and was commissioned as an Assistant Surgeon of the 11th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment and was stationed in New Bern, North Carolina. In his memoir, Mayer described with good humor how he lost his service trunk in transit and had to rely on the kindness of strangers to meet most needs. He was assigned 30 typhoid patients and scoured the area for fresh milk and kegs of beer "and stimulated my patients Munich fashion." Ultimately, 28 survived their illness due to Mayer's care, with only 2 succumbing to it. Dr. Mayer's smallpox patients were kept in isolation under the care of African-Americans. Mayer wrote "I was the only white person who went to the smallpox tent. Remember I had only my uniform — my trunk was lost — so you saw me in a scarlet, much-beflowered calico morning robe, my head tied up in a bandana, stalking across the field and into woods to see my patients." Through that spring and summer, Mayer learned to ride a horse, not very well by his account. After his unit moved north into Virginia and Maryland, he performed his first amputations and treated Confederate prisoners. Shortly after, he was promoted to Surgeon and assigned to the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment, replacing the previous regimental surgeon, who had resigned. Mayer described himself as "Surgeon Major" of the 16th Connecticut and other surgeons made the assertion that, in his military capacity, Mayer was "versatile and resourceful." Major Nathan Mayer would participate in both the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Fredericksburg with the 16th Connecticut.

—BATTLE OF ANTIETAM—
He arrived at Antietam the evening before the battle and spent the next day, September 17, under heavy fire, treating the badly wounded of his regiment, before relocating to a farmhouse that had been converted to a field hospital. "Every room was soon filled; the barnyard and garden were crowded with wounded, and I should not have known where to place more," he wrote. During the Battle of Antietam, Dr. Mayer's friend, John Griswold, a 25-year-old captain in the 11th Connecticut was mortally wounded as he boldly led a group of skirmishers across the 4-foot deep Antietam Creek. "In the middle of the creek a ball penetrated his body," Mayer wrote in a letter from Sharpsburg to his brother on September 29, 1862, "He reached the opposite side and lay down to die." Mayer, as the brave surgeon nearly all knew him to be, quickly summoned four privates, and together they forded the creek and climbed a fence while under heavy fire to reach Griswold. The men carried the soaked and bloody captain to a nearby small shed, where the surgeon from Hartford gave his "ashly pale" friend morphine to ease his pain. But they both knew the wound near his stomach was mortal. "He thanked me for my services in an elegant phrase," Mayer wrote, "and attracted my attention to the number of wounded that now filled the shed, intimating that he feared that he had monopolized too much of the time of so good a surgeon on the day of battle." Before the commencement of the battle, as he admired the beautiful countryside on the march to Antietam, Griswold discussed with Mayer philosophy and classic literature, from 'De Civatate De l' to 'Les Miserables.' "Whoever approached him," Mayer wrote, "felt that he had entered a circle of refinement." Mayer also recorded his experiences at the field hospital, writing "All the wounded came in exalted in spirit, full of patriotic fire, anxious for the battle, the defeat of the rebs, and complaining hardly of their own injuries. . . . Whether the whiskey which was given to a wounded man at once—and needed in the collapse of serious gunshot wounds, contributed to this exaltation, I know not. But I have still in my mind some badly wounded boys that fiercely demanded the fate of the battle before they cared about themselves, and the beautiful resignation with which others awaited their certain death. This is not romance. I saw it and it is realism."

—BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG—
At the Battle of Fredericksburg, from his post with the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Regiment, Dr. Nathan Mayer watched as wave after wave of Union infantry fell beneath the Confederate guns massed atop Marye's Heights. He wrote "All day long I had seen the troops, in brigade lines, marched up a wide slope against stone walls, defended by confederates. And line after line was received by deadly volleys, broken and driven back, while batteries from the top of the slope threw shrieking shells at them," as he recalled one of the worst Union defeats of the Civil War. Mayer also wrote of his time at Fredericksburg; "Seven miles away a picket in the woods had been shot by bushwhackers. With an orderly to guide and carry my surgical knapsacks, I went there, an ambulance following, as far as there was a road. The poor youth had a completely shattered arm and elbow. I operated on the spot [amputating] at the lower third of the humerus; the orderly assisted. I gave chloroform, got things ready and did as any of you would have done. It was a fair operation, but the flaps proved too short. I mounted the boy on my horse, the orderly carried his gun and his and my belongings and we treaded the woods for a couple of miles 'till we were able to reach the ambulance. All the interest of this was heightened by the knowledge that other bushwhackers might be around and pick us off during the work. The water for the operation we brought from the Rappahannock, 2 miles away, in several canteens. I heard later that in a Washington hospital they took some more of the bone."

—THE BATTLEFIELD DOCTOR—
As battlefield losses mounted, and disease riddled the camps, Mayer and others like him worked tirelessly to tend to the legions of wounded and sick. In addition to treating the usual wounds received in battle and performing amputations, Mayer treated typhoid, malaria, smallpox and the many other infectious diseases that decimated the soldiers' camps. In an era when the benefits of hygiene and causes of disease were, at best, dimly understood, they relied upon the best tools at their disposal: recently developed anesthesia for surgeries, opiates to relieve pain, and quinine, which is the ground, liquefied bark of the Peruvian cinchona tree, to treat tropical fevers. In extreme cases where there were masses of wounded soldiers in need of pain relief, nearly too many to individually care for, Mayer did not trouble to dismount from his horse to diagnose soldiers but instead dispensed morphine from horseback. In his memoirs, as he described a daylong march in which he trailed his regiment, examining stragglers and treating the sick and injured, Mayer recalled: "It was my duty to stop with those who fell out and see whether they were sick, or played out, or malingering. In one pocket I carried quinine, in the other morphine, and whiskey in my canteen. The hospital steward was behind if I wanted further stores. But ordinarily, when on horseback, I could inquire and judge without dismounting, and I got entirely practiced to dispense from the bottle into my hand and know the exact quantity. The quinine-Weightman's-was cottony, the morphine a fine powder. They licked from my hand and the men carried water in their canteens to wash it down." As for his reputation and other's opinion of him, Mayer was described as "a cut above" the best regimental surgeons and as a brave, energetic, resourceful, compassionate, and pragmatic individual. Experience had taught him that well-supplied, well-fed troops in sanitary living quarters were healthier; that some medicines, treatments, and techniques worked better than others; and that those stricken by disease or recovering from battlefield wounds had a better chance of survival with fresh air, regular changes of dressings and active nursing care. The 16th Connecticut's regimental historian, Lt. B. F. Blakeslee, wrote of Mayer: "He was a good physician, and as a surgeon could not be surpassed in the Army of the Potomac. He commenced immediately to make improvements in and out of the hospital and to look to the cleanliness of the tents, company streets, and cooking utensils. He also saw that the food issued was properly prepared by the cooks; and when he gave cough syrup, it was not stuff that men would use on their food for molasses."

—LATE WAR—
On April 20, 1864, "Surgeon Major" Mayer was taken as a prisoner of war following the Union defeat at the Battle of Plymouth in Washington County, North Carolina. Following a brief incarceration at Richmond's notorious Libby Prison, he was released during an exchange on November 30, 1864. Shortly after, Mayer was assigned to Foster General Hospital in New Bern, the city where he was originally stationed after his commission. There in the summer of 1864, he performed heroic service in combating a yellow fever outbreak. When the accepted method of treatment, large doses of quinine, proved ineffective, he defied an order by the U.S. Surgeon General, and the objections of his own staff, and prescribed Calomel (mercury chloride), successfully saving many lives, but Mayer risked court-martial by employing the unauthorized treatment to save his patients. Nathan Mayer himself barely survived the bout of yellow fever, which struck down all 18 of his surgical staff, killing nine. By the end of the war, Mayer was the hospital's chief doctor, its chief administrator, the medical purveyor for General William Sherman's Army and in charge of inventory and storage of captured Confederate stores. He was also promoted to the brevet rank of brigadier general, "and served in this capacity throughout the remainder of the Civil War."

—AFTER THE WAR—
Upon the conclusion of the Civil War, Mayer returned to Hartford, becoming one of the city's most respected physicians; writing multiple medical essays, and maintaining his medical practice from 1865 until his death in Hartford on July 10, 1912, from heart disease at the age of 73. In his essays, which have been preserved in the Library of the Hartford Medical Society, Mayer wrote of his dealings with yellow fever, "reported a successful tracheotomy in a patient under two years with diphtheria; an abscess of the liver, with echinococci, and experience in the treatment of hypertrophy of the prostate." His mastery of German was also occasionally called upon for translating. In Dr. Mayer's office in a Hartford, hung a large crimson banner with gold lettering that said "Through battle-smoke and prison pen. You've brought your flag, ye Sixteenth men." Mayer was appointed as the Surgeon General of Connecticut in 1872 and held the position until 1873. While Surgeon General of Connecticut, he wrote a report on the state's prisons and county jails. Nathan Mayer was also a founding staff member of Saint Francis Hospital, which opened in 1897, and was a longtime member of the American Medical Association, the Hartford Medical Society, and the Connecticut Medical Society. His long association with the Hartford Medical Society saw his election to the presidency of the organization in 1906 and culminated with the award of the Society's Silver Loving Cup on New Year's Day 1912. Mayer also sat on the Board of United States Pension Examiners and served as its president for twenty-seven years (1885-1912). In addition to his professional accomplishments, the good doctor, who never married, found time to indulge his lifelong passion for literature and music. Nathan Mayer spent approximately 45 years as chief theater and music critic for the 'Hartford Times.' Additionally, he was a published poet, always ready with a poetic grace note for celebrations, and novelist. With 5 novels and 3 poetry collections about Jewish life to his credit, Mayer published his novels serially in the 'American Israelite' newspaper, and most were devoted to melodramatic accounts of Jewish heroism in past ages. One of Mayer's novels, however, "Differences," appearing shortly after the Civil War in 1867, was very possibly the ablest novel written until then by an American Jew. In simple, unadorned style, it dealt affectingly with members of a German-Jewish family in America, their rise to security, and their experiences in both the North and the South. The novel's points regarding Jewish nouveaux riches in New York and aspiring Jewish Bourbons in New Orleans were quite discerning. Examples of Mayer's other literary works are "The Fatal Secret! or, Plots and Counterplots: A Novel of the Sixteenth Century" and "The Count and the Jewess"; both were published when Mayer was still quite young, ages 18 and 20 respectively. "The Fatal Secret! or, Plots and Counterplots: A Novel of the Sixteenth Century" was first serialized in the 'Israelite' in 1858. Set in 16th century Portugal during the Inquisition and using an array of characters who are, in turn, wicked, innocent, seductive, and heroic, and whose stories are intertwined, this swashbuckling melodrama tells the story of how those last Portuguese Jews were saved from forced conversion and escaped to Amsterdam, the portal to the New World, becoming, in effect, the ancestors of the very first American Jews. "The Count and the Jewess," based on the legends of Rabbi Loew of Prague, was serialized in the 'Israelite' in 1856. According to that weekly's founder and editor, Mayer also "conducted the department of belles-lettres and wove incidents from Spanish-Jewish history into articles" for the 'Israelite.' A later issue of the 'Israelite' (March 26, 1858), contains two pieces by Mayer. One is an essay on poetry and religion that characterizes Jewish poetry as the poetry of reason stemming from the revelation of God at Mount Sinai. The other is a spirited refutation of a slur that appeared in the "Cincinnati Weekly Gazette," which stated that Jews are inherently incapable of owning and farming land. In this refutation, Mayer mentions, among other things, that Jews are bound to the countries in which they live, and he discusses their victimization and expulsions during the Middle Ages and their willingness to give up their freedom in order to stay in the lands "whose rights they had defended as soldiers, whose coffers they had they had enriched as merchants, whose literature and art they had developed as poets and painters," and from which they were forced out.

—ANTIETAM POEM—
Dr. Nathan Mayer's wartime experiences would remain close to his heart until his death, as evidenced by the poem he wrote and recited on October 11, 1894, at the dedication of the memorial to the 16th Connecticut at Antietam. He dedicated the work "to my brave and faithful comrades whose individual history, endurance, sufferings and loyal devotion in campaigns, in hospital and in prison, no one had better opportunities to know." As Mayer read his poem, and upon its conclusion, nearly all in attendance wept. The lengthy poem, titled "Antietam" reads as such:

"'COMRADES! the value of a thing
Is stamped by sacrifice we bring
In its attainment. If bright gold
Like sand and pebbles 'round us rolled,
And pearls like daisies blossomed nigh,
We should admire yet let them lie!
'Tis by the effort and the strain,
The reaching forth with might and main,
The sudden summons into play
Of forces that within us lay,
The risks we boldly gauge and take,
The loss we dare though hearts should break,
The living price, whate'er it be,
Which we fling in for victory,
By all we gave and all we lost -
A chosen self-appointed cost-
We mark on scales of human fame
The human value of our aim.
Who senses e'er the merry day
Of childhood's growth or boyhood's play?
When, sweet life stirring, every hour
Brings keener knowledge, firmer power,
And forces weave from span to span
The mightier texture of a man?
Who senses it, till, past recall,
The self-same forces fail and fall?
And who can realize the worth
Of all the miracles on earth
That, commonplace and everyday,
Compel our course? The lightsome ray,
The air we breathe, the earth below
That moulds the fruit, the water's flow,
The sense with which we see and deal,
The heart by which we love and feel,
The liberty that makes us man -
All these we have. Yet never can
We know their worth until we need
And have them not; then, stung to deed
By courage born of stress and pain,
We combat, that we might regain
What erst we held at lightsome rate —
A birthright; till avenging fate
Demands for it the bloody fee
Of battle and of victory.
'Tis only thus we sense the cost
Of what we held and what we lost.
So was our Union. Mighty source
of power and glory, and the force
That awed the world, and kept us free
Forefended by the boundless sea.
It was the force that made us great,
Where each one stood for every State,
And every State for each was gaged,
And friendly interests but waged
A war of mutual excellence.
Yet knew we not, and could not sense
The life-need of this bond of power,
Until it broke. Then, in one hour,
With sudden jar the wide-spread land
Did see, and feel, and understand
What Union was, what it must be —
Our guard of peace and liberty!
Then, like a sea, the hearts of all
That loved their country, rose.
A call who knows?
Went forth - from whom, from whence,
It flamed up as the wild wind blows:
From every lip rang forth the cry,
And every heart beat quick reply,
And every hand was raised and swore
Union for aye and evermore!
Far o'er the hills and through the dales,
Resistless as the storm-king sails,
This rally leaped from ear to ear.
It blew out prudence, cast out fear,
Shredded apart with ne'er a strife
The ordinary bonds of life,
And stamped stern purpose on each soul
To save the country, one and whole!
This brought us here-a thousand men
With hearts on fire but bare in ken
Of warlike methods and of arms.
Such as they came from shops and farms,
From busy mart, from college halls,
From life 'tween close-set office walls,
They stood in line- undrilled, untrained.
Though shrapnel burst and bullets rained
Beyond the broad brook's verdant banks,
Among the green corn's waving ranks,
They fill the gap!- Forward! – Advance ! -
They send their lead down in the dance
Of Death, who sweeps with crimson hand
O'er the blue hills of Maryland.
And forward still! Stern duty placed
Their brave and untried ranks. — Square faced
Against the picked men of the South,
Against their batteries' belching mouth,
Against the fire-lined gray stone wall -
A living line to stand or fall -
They met their fate, this martyr band,
For Union and their Native Land!
And now we come when years have gone,
When all the States are made as one,
When, what was welded in the fire
Of contest, peace has drawn up nigher
And stronger bound - we come intent
To dedicate a monument.
To whom? To those that fell? To all
That hither came to live or fall!
To all who in this holy strife
Went forward with their sweet young life
Prepared to give. And, let it show,
Set high in noonday's golden glow
Upon this verdant field of blood,
That life is not the highest good,
But higher, holier, sweeter far
Are life's ideals. Like a star
They point to sacrifice whose fruit
Lives on, though tongues of men are mute.
The future of the land, the fate
Of eras that upon us wait,
The race to come, and Liberty
Secure for all the times to be -
They dwindle human lives to naught!
'Tis to the Cause for which we fought,
The Country in its strength and might
Enthroned on Justice, ruled by Right,
A splendid chain of beauteous lands,
Their peoples one in hearts and hands,
The Union of the Continent -
TO THESE we set our monument!'"

—BURIAL—
Dr. Nathan Mayer is buried in Beth Israel Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut. His tombstone references his service with the 16th Connecticut and his time as a medical practitioner in Hartford.

Inscription

16th Conn Vols in the Civil War (1862-1865) and in medical practice here 1865-1912



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