Alternate Spellings of Surname: Sturdevant, Sturdevent, Sturdivant.
His name was Samuel Burton Sturdevant—and he was an adept surgeon who was witness to the best and worst of humanity during the mid-19th century.
Trained to provide state-of-the-art medical care by the very best physicians at work in America’s “City of Medicine,” he honed his skills to become a compassionate healer of broken bodies and minds at a time when his nation needed his talents the most.
When his life was over, he would be recognized by regional newspapers as not only a compassionate physician, but as a successful and civic-minded business leader and government official.
Born on 20 February, 1831 in Skinner’s Eddy, Wyoming County, Pennsylvania, Samuel Burton Sturdevant was a son of John Sturdevant of Skinner’s Eddy and Sarah (Fassett) Sturdevant, who was also a native of Wyoming County.
Sometime during his early 20s, Sam Sturdevant decided to pursue a life of service, and began preparations to become a medical student at Thomas Jefferson University’s Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. According to Robert G. Slawson, MD in his 2012 article, “Medical Training in the United States Prior to the Civil War”:
The requirements for the degree of Doctor of Medicine [from medical school to medical school during the mid-19th century in America] was somewhat uniform…. A candidate had to have completed 2 years of classes and 3 years of preceptorship [apprenticeship] and be 21 years of age. Although initially some preliminary education was required, this was gradually reduced to knowledge of Latin and Greek and evolved to no requirement beyond secondary school. However, many [medical students] did have college experience.
Sometime during the early to mid-1850s, Sam Sturdevant received word that he had successfully gained admittance at Jefferson Medical College. His timing was perfect because he was entering medical school during an era when Philadelphia was still considered to be America’s “City of Medicine.” According to Steven J. Peitzman, MD, professor of medicine at Drexel University’s College of Medicine:
Philadelphia’s place as a center of medical education can be traced to 1762 when William Shippen Jr. (1736-1808), son of a physician and educated in England and Edinburgh, initiated some lectures on anatomy and midwifery on Walnut Street near Third. Also a product of Edinburgh and European experience, the energetic John Morgan (1735-89) in 1765 proposed an enlightened plan for medical education, and with Shippen, inaugurated lectures at the College of Philadelphia intended as part of a course of study leading to a degree in medicine. From 1789 through 1791, both the revived College of Philadelphia and the newly chartered ‘University of the State of Pennsylvania’ offered medical lectures….
Perceiving room for another medical school … surgeon George McClellan (1796-1847) and some collaborators opened Jefferson Medical College in 1824. Both Penn and Jefferson welcomed huge classes, and so produced a high proportion of early American doctors. Jefferson’s faculty came to rival Penn’s in national reputation….
For most of the nineteenth century, medical practice drew upon the foundational sciences of anatomy and morbid anatomy (pathology, the study of structural change in organs caused by disease). Philadelphia’s skilled anatomists dissected, taught, and wrote books that added to the city’s reputation as a city of medicine. Several brought back the ideas and methods they had studied in Paris. The reputations of Philadelphia’s doctors spread through their participation in national organizations, consulting or teaching visits out of town, and the praise of their students. They benefited from Pennsylvania’s centrality in medical publishing: its enormous production of medical books in the nineteenth century far exceeded that of New York or Boston.
Following his graduation as an allopathic physician from Thomas Jefferson University’s Jefferson Medical College in 1856, the newly-minted doctor, Samuel B. Sturdevant, MD, opened a private practice in Dunmore, Lackawanna County that same year.
Before the dawn of a new decade, he wed Olive Leach, a daughter of Squire Leach of Providence (now known as Scranton, Pennsylvania). Together, they welcomed Lillian, their first child, to their Providence home.
Civil War Service—139th Pennsylvania Volunteers
Although Sam Sturdevant would not become one of the early responders to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to help end his nation’s Civil War, he would ultimately become one of those responders who would witness many of the war’s worst moments.
Leaving his private practice patients to the care of other doctors at the dawn of the war’s third year, he was enrolled for military service with the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in Harrisburg, Dauphin County by Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin on 11 February 1863, and promptly commissioned as an Assistant Surgeon.
Transported to where his regiment was stationed in Falmouth, Virginia, he remained in that vicinity until April when he moved with his regiment toward Chancellorsville. While there, his regiment’s officers and enlisted men took part in the Union Army’s intense Chancellorsville Campaign from 27 April to 6 May, engaging in operations at Franklin’s Crossing from 29 April 29 to 2 May, the Battle of Marye’s Heights on 3 May (also known as the “Second Battle of Fredericksburg”), and the Battle of Salem Church (also known as the “Battle of Banks’ Ford”) from 3 to 4 May.
According to historian Samuel P. Bates, as their brigade approached the vicinity of the Confederate States Army’s earthworks at Salem Heights, the 62nd New York and 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out on a mission to determine the number of enemy troops arrayed against the Union Army and assess the quality of their defenses (including the number of cannon present), and then “marched up to draw the enemy’s fire.”
Before the regiments were two hundred yards from the brigade line, they were opened on by a heavy musketry fire, and apparently five pieces of artillery from the rebel works and rifle-pits not two hundred and fifty yards distance, and compelled to fall back a few yards to a line where the slopes afforded them some protection from the enemy’s fire, which position they held until the heights were taken. The remaining three regiments of [the] brigade were then marched forward on a line with, and to the left of the two above mentioned, and formed in a line of battle.
At about noon the heights … were assaulted on the extreme right by the Light Brigade, and as soon as they were carried, [the Union] regiments [present] … were moved up at double quick to the support of the attacking column, and to hold the heights. When possession of the ground was assured, the troops were formed in two lines, Wheaton’s Brigade in advance, the One Hundred and Thirty-ninth being the first regiment on the left of the main road. When arrived on the main ridge one and a half miles out, the other two divisions came up, and when re-formed again advanced to Salem Church, where the enemy was found in strong position. The One Hundred and Thirty-ninth was at first posted in support of a battery, but soon followed where the Ninety-Third and One Hundred and Second were desperately engaged. For some time an unequal contest was maintained, and the enemy, who had come in upon the rear by a ravine, were driven back by the well directed fire of these regiments…. On the following day the One Hundred and Thirty-ninth occupied an important position on the front line, and could not be relieved when the rest of the brigade at night retired to the junction of the Main and Banks’ Ford Roads. The enemy having moved a heavy force around upon the flank of the corps in the direction of Fredericksburg, it was obliged to retire towards Banks’ Ford, the enemy following up and contesting every rood with great daring. Finally, on the night of Monday, the 4th, the division re-crossed the river on the pontoons which had been previously laid to ensure its safety, and encamped a mile and a half back. In few battles have troops suffered more severely than Wheaton’s Brigade in this. The One Hundred and Thirty-ninth lost one hundred and twenty-three in killed, wounded, and missing.
As a result, Assistant Surgeon Sam Sturdevant and his fellow surgical staff had their hands full caring for grievously wounded men, including several who required amputations of irreparably damaged limbs. Given barely a month to treat the 139th Pennsylvania’s casualties, they were then forced to regroup as the U.S. Army’s Sixth Corps was ordered to make its way across the Rappahannock at Franklin’s Crossing on 8 June 1863.
Surgeon Sturdevant and his fellow 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers were then sent north. Assigned to the Union Army’s Gettysburg Campaign from 13 June to 24 July 1863, they participated in the Union’s tide-turning Battle of Gettysburg. According to Bates:
At Gettysburg, on the 1st of July, [a Confederate States Army force led by General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Northern Army of Virginia] met the advance of the Union army, and the great [Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania] was at once opened. At eight o’clock that evening, the Sixth Corps was resting thirty miles away, when it was first apprised of the fighting at Gettysburg, and received orders to proceed with all dispatch the field of carnage. Wheaton’s Brigade arrived on the afternoon of the 2d, and was at once ordered to the support of the Third and Fifth Corps. Forming with the One Hundred and Thirty-ninth on the extreme left of the line, the brigade swept across the open ground to the right of Little Round Top, and over the rugged wooded knoll to the right of the road leading over to the Peach Orchard. Here it took up a position which it held, checking the enemy in every attempt to penetrate the Union lines. On the following day it was withdrawn a short distance, where it remained until the close of the battle.
Assigned with the Sixth Corps on 5 July to pursue Lee’s troops as they fled Pennsylvania, the 139 Pennsylvanians did so through the 24th of that month, and were then reassigned to duty on Union lines along the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers until October.
Assigned next to the Bristoe Campaign from 9 to 22 October, the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers were then directed to advance the Union’s lines at Rappahannock—an order which required the regiment to re-engage with the enemy at Rappahannock Station on 7 November, an encounter that was described by Bates as “a brilliant affair.”
The 139th Pennsylvanians were then assigned to the Mine Run Campaign from 26 November to 2 December, and then began to wind down their operations as winter approached. According to Bates:
Upon the abandonment of offensive operations, it went into camp near Brandy Station. Near the close of the year in 1863, Wheaton’s Brigade was detached from the Army of the Potomac, and ordered to Harper’s Ferry. The weather was unusual for severity, even at that season, and the journey, made upon box cars without fire, was attended with great suffering. After crossing the Potomac, and advancing to Halltown, the brigade was ordered back, and went into permanent quarter’s at Harper’s Ferry. About the middle of March, 1864, it returned and re-joined the corps at Brandy Station, where it was transferred from the Third to the Second Division.
With the arrival of spring, the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers resumed their fight with the Confederate States Army, engaging in the Rapidan Campaign from 4 May to 12 June 1864. Their combat experiences during this time included: the Battle of the Wilderness from 5 to 7 May, operations in and around Spotsylvania, Virginia from 8 to 21 May (including the Union Army’s Assault on the Salient, 12 May), the Battle of North Anna from from 23 May to 26, duty on the front lines along the Pamunkey River from 26 to 28 May, the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek from 28 to 31 May, the Battle of Cold Harbor from 1 to 12 June, operations near Petersburg from 17 to 18 June, actions along the Jerusalem Plank Road and Weldon Railroad from 22 to 23 June, and the Siege of Petersburg through 9 July. According to Bates, this most intense phase of duty unfolded in the Wilderness and surrounding areas as follows:
The Second Division was separated from the rest of the corps, soon after crossing the Rapidan, and was ordered to take position at the junction of Brock and Plank roads, four miles east of Parker’s Store, and to hold it until the Second Corps could return from its march southward of the early morning. While moving forward through the dense thickets, this division was suddenly attacked. The One Hundred and Thirty-ninth was on the front line, and with the Ninety-first received the first fire. It was promptly returned, and the enemy driven. The fighting during the afternoon was very severe, but a breast-work thrown up along the Brock Road, proved an impassable barrier, and the fierce assaults of Longstreet’s Corps, on the following day, were repulsed with immense slaughter. The regiment lost in killed and wounded one hundred and ninety-six, including nearly every commissioned officer…. Major Snyder was mounted, acting as Lieutenant Colonel, and was urging on his men, when he was struck by a rebel bullet directly in the forehead, and killed instantly.
In the operations about Spottsylvania [sic] Court House, which lasted from the 8th to the 21st, the regiment bore a part, being almost constantly under fire, and at times contesting the ground with the most determined bravery. At the North Anna, the regiment was but lightly engaged; but at Cold Harbor, where the enemy was again found athwart the way of march, the fighting was most bloody and heroic…. The losses in both men and officers was very severe.
On the 15th, the corps crossed the James, and marching up, immediately commenced operations in front of Petersburg. On the 18th, a grand assault was delivered, but the enemy’s works proved too strong to be carried. On the 29th, the regiment joined in a movement upon the Weldon Railroad, which resulted in the destruction of a portion of the road, and in the relief of the cavalry which had been cut off while upon a raid on the enemy’s communications in rear of Richmond.
Directed to move with the U.S. Army’s Sixth Corps to Washington, D.C. on 9 July 1864, the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers and their fellow Union troops confronted the Confederate troops of Major-General Jubal Early, which were “easily repulsed,” according to Bates, “and sent flying through Virginia to the Shenandoah Valley.”
The 139th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry then continued to pursue Early’s men from 14 to 24 July, marching for Snicker’s Gap, where it participated in the Battle of Cool Spring.
On 29 July 1864, Samuel B. Sturdevant was promoted to full Surgeon. Hunting for more of Early’s men, his regiment reached the vicinity of Strasburg on 13 August.
Six days later, Surgeon Sam Sturdevant mustered out from the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers in order to accept a transfer to a different volunteer regiment—the 84th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry—a regiment which had participated in many of the same campaigns as the 139th Pennsylvania and had also seen hard service since 1863.
Note: Among the engagements the 84th Pennsylvanians had already endured were: intense combat experiences at Chancellorsville and Mine Run in 1863, the Wilderness Campaign of May 1864, casualty-heavy skirmishing at Pleasant Hill, Virginia on 1 June, the Siege at Petersburg, the mine explosion at Petersburg on 30 July (which later became known as “the Battle of the Crater”), and the Demonstration North of the James at Deep Bottom from 13 to 20 August.
As a result, when Sam Sturdevant assumed his new role as Surgeon, he was fully aware that the 84th Pennsylvanians he would be treating had been battered as badly as the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers he was leaving.
Civil War Service—84th Pennsylvania Volunteers
By the end of September, Surgeon Sam Sturdevant’s new regiment, the 84th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, was ordered to engage the enemy in a new round of fighting—first at Peebles’ Farm and the Poplar Grove Church from 29 September to 2 October 1862 and then at Boydton Plank Road and Hatcher’s Run from 27 to 28 October.
During the month of October, according to Bates, “the [members of the 84th] whose terms of service had expired were mustered out and the veterans and recruits were organized in a battalion of four companies, which remained on duty until the 13th of January 1865, when it was consolidated with the Fifty-seventh Pennsylvania.” When that consolidation occurred, Surgeon Sam Sturdevant was officially mustered out from his second regiment and reassigned to a third unit—the history-making 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
Civil War Service—47th Pennsylvania Volunteers
Mustering in for the third time on 1 March 1865, Sam Sturdevant was commissioned as a Surgeon with the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at “Stevenson” in Virginia, which had just begun a gradual relocation back to the Washington, D.C. area, via Kernstown and Winchester, Virginia, after having been reassigned to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade, Army of the Shenandoah in February.
On 19 April 1865, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was charged with helping to defend the nation’s capital in the wake of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Encamped near Fort Stevens, they received new uniforms and were resupplied.
During this period of service, several 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantrymen were given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while other members of the regiment were reportedly involved in guarding the key assassination conspirators during the early days of their imprisonment that May.
As part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania also participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May.
Subsequently assigned to care for the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers during the early days of Reconstruction, Surgeon Sam Sturdevant accompanied the regiment on its final southern tour. Initially assigned to Provost (civic governance) duties in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June, the 47th Pennsylvanians were then ordered to relieve the 165th New York Volunteers in July. Transported to Charleston, South Carolina, they were attached to Dwight’s Division as part of the 3rd Brigade in the U.S. Department of the South with headquarters for the 47th Pennsylvania located in a mansion formerly owned by the Confederate States’ Secretary of the Treasury and duty assignments ranging from guarding prisoners in local jails to facilitating the smooth operations of the area’s court system.
On Christmas Day 1865, Surgeon Sam Sturdevant and the other members of the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers began their final mustering out—a process which continued through early January 1866.
Following a stormy voyage home, the weary 47th Pennsylvanians disembarked in New York City, and were transported by train to Philadelphia where, at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, they were officially given their final discharge papers.
After the War
In 1870, Samuel B. Sturdevant, M.D. and his family continued to reside with his wife’s parents in Scranton, Lackawanna County. By 1880, they had moved out on their own, and were residing in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County.
An invalid for a number of years, Olive widowed S. B. Sturdevant on 30 December 1893. She was just 56 years old. Her obituary on page one of the New Year’s Day edition of The Scranton Republican recounts her struggles with her illness, and described her husband as “a well known and successful practitioner of medicine.”
S. B. Sturdevant’s own obituary which appeared in The Wilkes-Barre Record 16 years later confirms that he had been a Wilkes-Barre resident for more than 30 years at the time of his death and that he had, during that time, become “well known as a business man and public official.” It also notes that he had stopped practicing medicine, and that he was predeceased by his brother and business partner:
Since his coming to Wilkes-Barre he had never engaged in the practice of his profession but for a number of years was associated with his brother, now deceased, in conducting a china store on South Main street.
The Monday, 19 October 1894 edition of The Scranton Republican reported that he had been “taken suddenly and seriously ill” on the previous Friday evening, and that “after a few hours of intense suffering,” he “became unconscious and delirious.” Although his health had improved by Saturday, he remained “completely prostrated by the violence of the previous night’s attack.”
His son, Richard, was also taken ill nine months later, as reported in the 27 June 1895 edition of The Scranton Republican: “Lieutenant Richard Sturdevant is quite ill at the residence of his father, Dr. S. B. Sturdevant.”
S. B. Sturdevant later served several terms as a city assessor before retiring from professional life in the late 1890s. Following a brief illness, he passed away at the Wilkes-Barre home of his son-in-law, H. G. Shupp, on 21 October 1909.
He was interred at Hollenback Cemetery on 23 October 1909. Arrangements were handled by the C. F. Murray Funeral Company of that same city.
Surviving family included his son, Richard Sturdevant (Leadwood, Missouri) and daughter, Mrs. H. G. Shupp (Wilkes-Barre); and a sister, Mrs. S. G. Beach (Philadelphia) and brother, W. H. Sturdevant (Wilkes-Barre).
- Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. 1: “Forty-Seventh Regiment,” pp. 1150-1190. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly State Printer, 1869.
- Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. 2: “Eighty-Fourth Regiment,” pp. 1307-1337. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
- Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. 4: “One Hundred and Thirty-Ninth Regiment,” pp. 378-406. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1870.
- “Battle of Wyoming Historical Marker,” in ExplorePAhistory.com. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 2019.
- “Battle Unit Details: 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry,” in “The Civil War.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Park Service, retrieved online, 3 May 2022.
- “Battle Unit Details: 84th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry,” in “The Civil War.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Park Service, retrieved online, 3 May 2022.
- “Battle Unit Details: 139th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry,” in “The Civil War.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Park Service, retrieved online, 3 May 2022.
- Civil War Veterans’ Card Files, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives, retrieved online, 2014.
- Death Certificate of Dr. Samuel Burton Sturdevant (1909). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bureau of Health, Department of Vital Statistics.
- Death Notice of Samuel Burton Sturdevant, M.D., in Directory of Deceased American Physicians. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry.com, 1909.
- Death Notice of Samuel Burton Sturdevant, M.D., in Journal of the American Medical Association. Chicago, Illinois: The American Medical Association, 1909.
- (Major) John Sturdevant, in History of Luzerne, Lackawanna, and Wyoming counties, Pa.: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Their Prominent Men and Pioneers, p. 59. New York, New York: Munsell & Co., 1880.
- “Mrs. Susan G. Beech” (obituary of older sister of Samuel B. Sturdevant). Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, 15 May 1919.
- Notice (brief) of Richard Sturdevant’s Illness. Scranton, Pennsylvania: The Scranton Republican, 27 June 1895.
- Notice (brief) of S. B. Sturdevant’s Sudden Illness. Scranton, Pennsylvania: The Scranton Republican, 19 October 1894.
- Obituary of Major John Sturdevant (Samuel B. Sturdevant’s father). Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: Wilkes-Barre Record, 8 December 1879.
- Obituary of Olive Sturdevant (Samuel B. Sturdevant’s wife). Scranton, Pennsylvania: The Scranton Republican, 1 January 1894.
- Obituary of S. B. Sturdevant. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: The Wilkes-Barre Record, 22 October 1909, front page.
- Peitzman, Steven J. “City of Medicine,” in The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Camden, New Jersey: Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, Department of History, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, retrieved online, 1 May 2022.
- “Pennsylvania Constitution of 1838,” in Pennsylvania’s Constitution: A Brief History. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Constitutional Review Commission, Pennsylvania Bar Association, retrieved online, 3 May 2022.
- “Samuel B. Sturdevant,” in “139th Regiment: Field and Staff,” in “Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers,” in “Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs” (Record Group 19). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
- “Samuel B. Sturdevant,” in “84th Regiment: Field and Staff,” in “Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers,” in “Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs” (Record Group 19). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
- “Samuel B. Sturdevant,” in “47th Regiment: Field and Staff,” in “Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers,” in “Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs” (Record Group 19). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
- Slawson, Robert G. “Medical Training in the United States Prior to the Civil War,” in Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 2012, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 11-17. Newbury Park, California: SAGE Publishing.
- “Sturdevant, Samuel” (Captain Noble Benedict’s Company, Connecticut Militia, 1775-1776; burial location of Samuel B. Sturdevant’s grandfather, the Rev. Samuel Sturdevant: Black Walnut Cemetery, Black Walnut, Pennsylvania), in “Records of Burial Places of Veterans.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
- Sturdevant, Samuel B., in U.S. Civil War Pension Index (application no.: 1267827, certificate no.: 1029549; filed from Pennsylvania by attorneys at Twombly and McGetrick, 8 May 1901; remarks by DH: 2546251). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
- Sturdevant, Samuel B. and Family, in U.S. Census (1850-1900). Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.