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Thomas Gardiner Mower

Biographies

THE ARMY MEDICAL BULLETIN, NUMBER 47 (JANUARY 1939)

Thomas Gardiner Mower, Surgeon and Major,

U. S. Army

Thomas Gardiner Mower (February 18, 1790-December 7, 1853), Surgeon and Major, U. S. Army, was born at Leicester, Worcester County, Massachusetts. Of his parents we know only that his father died early and that the son at seven years of age was turned over to an uncle, who supervised his early education and training. He completed the arts course at Harvard University in 1810 and began the study of medicine with Dr. Thomas Babbitt, a prominent surgeon of Brookfield, Massachusetts, formerly a surgeon in the United States Navy. He was examined and licensed to practice in 1812. With the reorganization of the army incident to the war with Britain, the recruitment of the Ninth Infantry was assigned to the state of Massachusetts, and the regiment, though a part of the regular army, was credited to that state. Colonel Simon Lamed of Pittsfield was assigned to command the regiment, Dr. Joseph Lovell of Boston was appointed regimental surgeon and Dr. Mower surgeon’s mate. Mower’s appointment was dated December 8, 1812, and he joined the regiment at Burlington, Vermont, immediately thereafter. Surgeon Lovell was early detached from the regiment for hospital duty at Burlington and on June 30, 1814, Mower was promoted to the post of regimental surgeon. In the meantime the regiment was sent to Sacketts Harbor where it took part in the defense of that place from a British attack on May 27, 1813. It remained at this post until the autumn when it formed part of General Wilkinson’s force which descended the St. Lawrence to attack Montreal. It participated in the battle of Crystler’s Farm on November 11 which ended the Montreal expedition. Mower was with the regiment in these engagements and with it spent an uncomfortable winter at French Mills.

In February 1814, the regiment was sent back to Sacketts Harbor as part of the army of General Jacob Brown. The American naval force was blockaded in the harbor and local operations were impossible. General Brown marched his army to the Niagara river where on July 3 he crossed at Black Rock and captured Fort Erie. The Ninth Infantry in the brigade of General Winfield Scott took part in the battle of Chippewa on July 5, and the battle of Lundy’s Lane on July 25. Both of the engagements were highly creditable to the American arms, though wounds sustained by Generals Brown and Scott in the latter fight prevented greater advantage being taken of the successes. Surgeon Mower served his regiment in these battles and with it went back to occupy Fort Erie. Here the garrison repulsed a heavy attack by the British on August 15 and sustained a siege until a sortie on September 17 drove off the British forces. This ended hostilities in the Niagara sector.

With the reorganization of the army following the close of the war, the Ninth Infantry was disbanded and Surgeon Mower was transferred on May 17, 1815, to the Sixth Infantry which was being reorganized at Fort Lewis, New York. In September the regiment went to Governor’s Island in New York Harbor and from there to Plattsburg in April 1816. Surgeon Mower was with his regiment at this post until March 1819, when it was ordered to the west. Leaving Plattsburg it reached Pittsburg in May and by river boats propelled by oars and sails reached St. Louis early in June. In July the regiment reembarked and reached Council Bluffs, Nebraska, sixteen miles north of the present site of Omaha in September. Here they built Fort Atkinson, named after the regimental commander. This was the so-called Yellowstone Expedition, though the regiment did not go beyond Council Bluffs. Mower was with the regiment during its long pilgrimage and during the following two years in the Missouri river post. His first winter of services here was marked by a severe outbreak of scurvy which carried off many of the command. With the reorganization of the medical department in 1821, which abolished the apothecary section, Mower was ordered to duty in New York City and assigned to the position of medical purveyor. In this reorganization Mower’s name appears upon the consolidated list of regimental and staff medical officers below only those of Joseph Lovell, his old superior officer in the Ninth Infantry and now the surgeon general and Surgeon Thomas Lawson.

From the date of this assignment Mower served in New York, except for short periods of detached service, for over thirty years. During this long period he was not only the purveyor of medical supplies, but at times medical attendant of army personnel in New York, medical examiner for the city recruit depot, and a perennial member of medical department examining boards which were almost always convened in New York.

A close friend of Surgeon General Lovell and of his successor Surgeon General Lawson, Mower through the last thirty years of his life exercised an influence over the medical department practically coequal with the chiefs of the corps. There was no far reaching project involving unusual judgment or foresight in which his views were not sought and given consideration. He served on every medical examining board, except one, that was convened from their first organization in 1832 until his death and with the above exception and one other he was always the presiding member. In 1833 and 1834, he traveled under orders as a member of a board of examination and inspection to a majority of the military posts of the country. Though exceedingly kind, gentle, and courteous to the applicants before his boards he was inflexible in the maintenance of the highest quality of scholarship and character for the corps. To him is due the credit for establishing and maintaining through a long service those standards which have assured efficiency and reputation to the medical service.

With the accession of Surgeon Lawson to the office of surgeon general Mower became the senior surgeon. As chief medical purveyor he was able to increase the variety and quantity of supplies and to improve their quality. There was also an improvement in preparation of supplies for shipment and in their despatch. He was highly regarded as a practitioner and no less a personage than General Winfield Scott paid him compliment as a medical attendant. A contemporary member of the corps furnishes the following personal description of Surgeon Mower: “He was of slender figure, erect and martial in carriage, with prominent, bright blue eyes, ruddy complexion and a pleasing expressive face; of delicate physical organization, in height not over five feet ten inches, in weight probably not more than one hundred and thirty pounds. Scrupulously neat in dress and person, pure and chaste in word and deed, he was a noble type of what an army surgeon should be”.

Surgeon Mower died in New York City while still in active duty in his sixty-fourth year.

During the Civil War one of the large military hospitals in Philadelphia was named the Mower General Hospital. A painting of Surgeon Mower hangs on the wall of the Army Medical Library in Washington.

(H. E. Brown, Med. Dept., U. S. Army, 1775-1873, 1873; Compilation of U. S. Army Registers, 1815-1837, 1837; T. H S. Hamersly, Complete Army and Navy Registers of the U. 5., 1776-1879, 1888; N. Y. Daily Times, Dee. 11, 1853; Am. Jour. of the Med. Sciences, 1854, Vol. XXVII).

James M. Phalen,

Colonel, U. S. Army, Retired.