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Dr. Charles B. Fager – Medical Cadet and Contract Surgeon in the Civil War

Posted By on November 18, 2015

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Dr. Charles Buffington Fager was born on 31 March 1841 in Harrisburg and died there on 24 January 1908.  During the Civil War, it was said that he served as a medical cadet (in 1862) and as a contract assistant surgeon (in 1864).  However, no actual military service has been located for him.  The stories that attribute the medical service to him appeared after the Civil War but during his lifetime or shortly thereafter and were printed and re-printed in several places.  Very little has been found that specifically describes his actual service.

One of the earliest accounts appeared in the Commemorative Biographical Encyclopedia of Dauphin County , which was published in 1896, and compiled at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, by the J. M. Runk Company:

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FAGER, CHARLES BUFFINGTON, M.D., son of Dr. John Henry Fager and Mary [Buffington] Fager, was born in the year 1841, at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  He was educated at the public schools of Harrisburg, read medicine with his father, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, medical department in 1864, and commenced the practice of his profession at Harrisburg.  He was a medical cadet in the United States Army in 1862, and contract assistant surgeon in 1864, vaccine physician of Harrisburg, 1866-67, and one of the founders of the Homeopathic Medical Society, Dauphin County, in 1866. Dr. Fager married Susan Hummel, daughter of Valentine Hummel, of Harrisburg.  He was a member of the Board of Control of the city schools in 1884, and was president of the same in 1887, 1888 and 1889.

The biographies that appeared in the Commemorative Biographical Encyclopedia were usually self-submitted or sumitted by an immediate member of the family.  The information was published as presented and rarely fact-checked.  For those who died after the publication of this work, the newspapers often copied verbatim from the Commemorative Biographical Encyclopedia for assistance in compiling the obituary.  Such was the case in Dr. Fager’s obituary which appeared in the Harrisburg Daily Independent, 24 January 1908:

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DR. CHARLES B. FAGER DIED THIS MORNING

He Was one of Harrisburg’s Most Prominent Citizens

Dr. Charles Buffington Fager, a life-long resident of this city, died this morning at his residence, 120 Walnut Street, after a six days’ illness from pneumonia, aged 67 years.  Dr. Fager, who was one of this city’s most prominent citizens, contracted a chill last Saturday which, developed into pneumonia and resulted in his death.

The end came at 10:45 o’clock, when surrounded by his entire family, he peacefully passed away.  Dr. Fager held many public offices.  He was one of the founders of the Homeopathic Medical Society, Dauphin County, which he helped organize in 1866, and for twenty-seven years was an active member of the Harrisburg School Board, of which he was at one time president.,  He was a director of the Harrisburg National Bank, Dauphin County Historical Society, and also Director of the West Harrisburg Market House.

Besides his wife, three children survive:  Dr. V. Hummel Fager, Dr. C. B. Fager Jr, and J. H. Fager Jr.

Dr. Fager was born here in 1841 and received his education at the public schools.  He later read medicine with his father, Dr. John Henry Fager, and later was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical Department in 1864.  Dr. Fager’s practice was successful from the beginning.  He was a medical cadet in the United States Army in 1862 and Contract Assistant Surgeon in 1864, vaccine physician of Harrisburg from 1866 to 1867.

Dr. Fager married Susan Hummel, daughter of Valentine Hummel, a resident of this city.  Then he came into many local offices.  He was President of the local School Board from 1887 to 1889.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been arranged.

 

Funeral arrangements appeared the next day in the Harrisburg Telegraph, but did not feature any information about Dr. Fager’s Civil War service:

 

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DEATHS AND FUNERALS

DR. CHARLES B. FAGER

The funeral services for Dr. Charles B. Fager, who died yesterday morning, will be held on Monday afternoon at 2 o’clock at the home, 120 Walnut Street, and will be conducted by Rev. Winfield S. Herman, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, assisted by Rev. Dr. Pfuhl, pastor of the German Lutheran Church on State Street.  The interment will be in the Harrisburg Cemetery.

The body will be open for view to all of Dr. Fager’s many friend after 11 o’clock Monday morning.

Near the end of the year in which Dr. Fager died, there appeared a tribute to him in “Old Time Notes of Harrisburg”, written by J. Howard Wert, and published in the Harrisburg Daily Independent, 20 November 1908.  At that time, Wert expanded on previously published but sketchy information on Dr. Fager’s wartime service:

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Dr. Charles B. Fager

This series of “Notes”… extending over years, and covering a vast variety of topics, of necessity, must be drawn from a great variety of sources….

No one individual, perhaps, has contributed to this fund as did he whose name stands at the head of this number, whilst I still have many notes furnished by him which I hope to weave into future interesting stories….

I do not intend to attempt any biographical sketch of the friend who, in the ripeness of a busy and well-spent life, recently left us….

The only object of this article is to present three salient points that especially attracted my attention in an acquaintance extending over nearly one-third of a century…

[1] Dr. Charles B. Fager‘s Educational Zeal was the most pronounced feature of his public career, outside of his strictly professional life….  A member of the Democratic Party, he was elected, again and again, in the strongest Republican ward of the city….  When the time comes… in electing a school director, a councilman, or any similar official, the only question asked… will be… “Is he the best man for the place?”….

[2] Dr. Fager’s Intense and Virile Patriotism was the second feature of his character to which my attention was especially drawn in the many years in shich I enjoyed his acquaintance.

From 1861 to 1865 Harrisburg was keyed up to a very high point.  The interest in the great national struggle was at all times of the tensest, but it attained its most fervid conditions during the Gettysburg Campaign.  Dr. Fager, like thousands of other Harrisburgers, performed faithfully the duties of various kinds that came to his hands, both before and after the great battle which was the culmination of that campaign.

He was then a young man and very young in his chosen profession; and, when school houses, public buildings and warehouses were filled up with the wounded of both the armies that had faced each other on the rocky heights of Gettysburg, his zeal knew no bounds in ministering professionally to suffering humanity. He established many warm friendships then which lasted through life.  When, in after years, in different cities, I met veterans who had lain wounded nigh to death’s door in the cotton mill hospital, in the school house hospitals and at other points, as soon as they understood I was from Harrisburg there would be inquiries about those who, in 1863, had helped to alleviate their suffering condition.

I soon came to know that, in probably nine cases out of ten, the first inquiry would be either about Samuel Ettla and his sisters or else about a very young doctor, Charles B. Fager by name.  When in 1885, I issued my first work on the Gettysburg battle and monuments, the doctor became very greatly interested in the story, as the advance chapters appeared in the pages of the “Morning Call” and voluntarily placed me in communication with a number of parties from which I obtained some of the most thrilling new matter of that work.

[3] Closely allied with the patriotism which took in the whole of our broad republic was the third feature characteristic of Dr. Fager’s whole life… His Pride in Everything Pertaining to Harrisburg.  Born here, spending his entire life in the place of his birth, all that related to the glory, the history or the progress of our capital city touched him closely….

He had a little room in his residence, removed from the public gaze, which to me was one of the most interesting and sacred I have ever seen in our city.  In it were stored his… cherished relics of the long ago.  Here was the carbine he proudly carried as a member of Captain Jacob Eyster’s celebrated military company composed of scholars in the Lancasterian School… as was related in the article “The Passing of the Lancasterian”….

Another account of Dr. Fager’s Civil War service can be found in A Complete Handbook of the Monuments and Indications and Guide to the Positions on the Gettysburg Battle-Field, by J. Howard Wert, published by R. M. Sturgeon, Harrisburg, in 1886.  Wert credits Dr. Fager with obtaining for him an account of a Confederate soldier, J. A. Harwood, who was a patient in one of the Harrisburg hospitals in which Dr. Fager served.   However, that account is  primarily about Pickett’s Charge and only refers briefly to Dr. Fager and the care Harwood received in 1863 at Harrisburg:

Lieutenant Harwood fell beside his chieftain [Gen. Lewis Armistead, who was mortally wounded at Gettysburg] wounded almost to death, and slowly regained health and strength whilst a prisoner in the hospital at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Through the kind offices of Dr. C. B. Fager of Harrisburg, who was at that time his attending surgeon, we have obtained from Captain Harwood the following graphic account of his personal experiences in and recollections of Pickett’s charge….

The writer and his two gallant sergeants from Erin’s Green Isle (McLees and Pierce), were removed to Harrisburg, where they received the best attention and the most skillful treatment in the hospital at that place.

As already stated, Dr. Charles Buffington Fager was the son of Dr. John Fager and Mary Hayes Buffington (1816-1893).  Mary’s great-grandfather was Benjamin Buffington (1730-1814), a Revolutionary War soldier and a pioneer settler of the Lykens Valley.

Additional information is sought about Dr. Fager’s Civil War service as well as any other pertinent information about his life and career.  Comments can be added to this post or sent by e-mail.

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News clippings are from Ancestry.com.  The portrait of Dr. Fager at the top of this post was originally published in The Evening News (Harrisburg), 14 July 1938, as part of a regular feature entitled “The Family Albums of Harrisburg.”

 


Comments

One Response to “Dr. Charles B. Fager – Medical Cadet and Contract Surgeon in the Civil War”

  1. Ramsey Davenport says:

    Nice work, I spent this morning with my cousin Charles B. Fager the 4th. Be he an I appreciate history, family or not. I placed several photos on my Ancestry tree of this, as well as all the Fagers in this family line. Easy to find and copy!

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