1864: Peter Flanagan Whitehead to Irene E. Cowan

This letter was written by Dr. Peter Flanagan Whitehead (1838-1878) while serving as Chief Surgeon in Gen. Loring’s Division in June 1864. Dr. Whitehead was an 1859 graduate of the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, of Independence, Missouri—later Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Dr. Whitehead married Irene E. Cowan (1836-1902 of Vicksburg, Warren county, Mississippi, on 23 February 1865.

His biographical sketch follows:

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The restored William Root House in Marietta, Georgia, was known to have been used as a Confederate hospital after the Root family abandoned it in June 1864.

“Peter F. Whitehead was born in Winchester, Ky., June 9th 1838 and died at Vicksburg, Miss., September 5th 1878, being one of the victims of the yellow fever epidemic. He graduated from the Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, in 1860 and served as resident surgeon of the Blockley Hospital the succeeding year. After leaving Philadelphia he settled at Independence, Mo., where he remained until the outbreak of the civil war, when he was enlisted as a private in a Missouri regiment. Shortly afterwards he was commissioned surgeon in the Missouri State Guard and assigned to duty at Gen. Price’s headquarters. When the State Guard was mustered out in 1862 he re-enlisted, at Corinth, Miss., as a private in the Confederate service, but a few days later was commissioned surgeon of the Third Louisiana Regiment and was on duty at Vicksburg during the memorable siege. Later he served as chief surgeon of Gen. Loring’s division, with which command he surrendered at Greensboro, N.C., in April 1865. Returning to Vicksburg, where he married Miss Irene Cowan just before the surrender, Dr. Whitehead began the practice of his profession and here he lived the remaining years of his life. His untimely end was a signal for general mourning and the estimation in which he was held is well expressed in the Courier-Journal.” [History of the Mississippi State Medical Association]

Dr. Whitehead does not reveal the location of what he calls “my hospital” in Marietta, Georgia, but it may have been the William Root House which was abandoned by the Root family in June 1864 and first used as a hospital for Confederate soldiers and later as a barracks for Union surgeons working in other nearby hospitals.

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Addressed to Miss Irene Cowan, Eufala, Alabama
Postmarked Demopolis, Alabama

Marietta, [Georgia]
June 23rd [1864
11 o’clock A. M.

Special to Miss Irene

Hood—who had moved to the extreme left three days ago—attacked the enemy yesterday afternoon ¹ and took his line of rifle pits, about twenty pieces of artillery, some prisoners number not known, and retained possession of the field. His loss about five hundred in killed & wounded.

Lt. Cowan ² is not so well today. No casualties in Loring’s Division yesterday or today. I send this by Mr. Biglow who returns to parole camp at Demopolis.

The enemy threw shells in a few hundred yards of my hospital this morning. We have a Parrot Battery in Kennesaw which plays havoc with the Yanks in all directions. They throw shells up there without difficulty but have done little damage.

Sing “Suzie” for me. — From W.

¹ Dr. Whtehead is referring to the Battle of Kolbs’s Farm in which Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson, commanding one of Hood’s divisions, advanced towards Kolb’s Farm in the early afternoon of June 22 and skirmished with the 14th Kentucky and 123rd New York. Hood then threw in his entire Corps of 14,000 men against Hooker’s 15,000 men who were ready to receive them and was repulsed with considerable losses. The Confederate casualties were approximately 1500; the Federals about 500. The battle demonstrated Hood’s greatest weakness—his “willingness to attack without adequate reconnaissance.”

² Although he refers to him as “Lt. Cowan,” this was probably Irene’s brother, James Jones Cowan, who served as captain of Cowan’s Battery which was reorganized at Demopolis, Alabama in March 1864 and attached to Gen. Loring’s Division of the Army of Mississippi, Lt. Gen. Polk commanding.

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