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Richard Sherwood Satterlee, Brevet

Brigadier General, U. S. ARMY

Richard Sherwood Satterlee (December 6, 1796-November 10, 1880), Brevet Brigadier General, U. S. Army, was born in Fairfield, Herkimer County, N. Y., the son of Major William Satterlee, an officer of Connecticut troops in the Revolutionary War, and Hannah Sherwood, of English Puritan descent. His native town was the seat of Fairfield Academy, with a medical school and faculty which in Satterlee’s youth ranked with the best in the country. It is probable that he obtained his education in this institution though the list of graduates of the medical school does not carry his name. He was licensed to practice in 1818 and located in a rural neighborhood in Seneca county. He moved on shortly to Detroit, Michigan, where he practiced medicine and was employed at times as attendant upon the garrison of Detroit Barracks. His association with the military gave him a wish for the army medical service. In furtherance of this idea he accompanied Governor Lewis Cass to Washington and through his influence obtained appointment as an assistant surgeon, from February 20, 1822. He was stationed successively at Fort Niagara, N. Y., Detroit Barracks, Mich., and Fort Howard, Wis., until June 1825. At that time he was transferred to Fort Mackinac, Mich., where he served until November 1831. While at this station he went to Detroit in June 1827 and married Mary S. Hunt, sister of the Hon. John Hunt, one of the judges of the state supreme court. With Indian difficulties increasing in Wisconsin he was transferred from Fort Mackinac to Fort Winnebago in that state in November 1831, and with the troops from that post participated in the pursuit of the Sac and Fox band in the summer of 1832, which ended on the second of August in the fight where Bad Axe creek enters the Mississippi river. The Black Hawk war, thus ended, entailed relatively few battle casualties, but was notable for the prevalence of disease, particularly cholera, among the troops.

Satterlee served at Fort Winnebago until September 1833 when he was transferred again to Fort Howard at Green Bay, Wisconsin. In the meantime he had been promoted to the grade of surgeon on July 13, 1832. In October 1837 he left Fort Howard for duty in Florida, where he was assigned as chief medical 0fficer of the brigade, commanded by Colonel Zachary Taylor, engaged in a campaign against the Seminole Indians. On December 25 he served his command at the battle of Okeechobee, and was given an official commendation by Colonel Taylor for his care of the wounded. His report upon this engagement stresses the difficulties encountered in the transportation of a large number of wounded to a distant base. After a trip with troops to the Indian Territory with captured Seminoles in September 1838, Satterlee was transferred to Plattsburg Barracks, N. Y., but after two years in this station he was again sent to field duty in Florida, where he remained until the end of the Seminole disturbances in 1842. Then followed four years of duty at Fort Adams, R. I., and then the Mexican War. Satterlee accompanied troops to the rendezvous of General Scott’s army at Lobos Island and here in the reorganization of the army he was assigned to the post of medical director of General Worth’s division of regular troops. In this capacity he took part in the siege and capture of Vera Cruz and in the advance upon Mexico City. In this campaign he directed the medical service of the division at the battles of Cerro Gordo, Cherubusco, Molina del Rey, and Chapultepec. On July 5, 1847, he sent from Puebla a detailed report upon the health of the army. After the occupation of Mexico City he was advanced to the position of medical director upon the staff of General Scott, in which capacity his great responsibility was the organization of general hospitals to take over the functions of the division hospitals which had been operating during the advance. The details of organization of these hospitals which occupied a large group of public buildings, were assigned to Surgeon Charles S. Tripler, who had been medical director of General Sykes’ division. With the signing of the treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo and the departure of General Scott, Satterlee remained on the staff of General William O. Butler until with the evacuation of the troops he was returned to Fort Adams in June 1848. Here he served until, pursuant to orders, he embarked on December 21, 1853, on the steamship San Francisco which was carrying the Third Regiment of Artillery to San Francisco, California, by way of Cape Horn. On the evening of the twenty-third the ship ran into a tropical hurricane and the following forenoon a gigantic wave carried away the entire superstructure of the boat and with it four officers and about one hundred and thirty enlisted men of the regiment. The boat, entirely disabled and leaking badly, drifted for four days when the bark Kilby took off something over a hundred passengers including most of the officers and the families. The storm increasing through the following night the two boats lost contact and again the San Francisco drifted for another nine days before the remainder were taken off by the steamers Three Bells and Antarctic. In the meantime suffering upon the wrecked boat was intense, with numerous deaths from disease and exposure. The San Francisco sank soon after the last rescues. With some of the regimental officers, Satterlee and Assistant Surgeon Horace R. Wirtz, also aboard, were subjected to criticism for having quitted the boat and left the bulk of the enlisted men aboard. In their behalf it must be remembered that there was every expectation that all on board would be taken off by the first rescuing boat and that only the recurrence of the storm prevented. Landing in New York with the other survivors, Satterlee’s orders were changed and he was assigned to duty in that city as attending surgeon and medical purveyor. He continued at this post of duty up to and through the Civil War. The amount of his purchases and issues ran into many millions of dollars and so satisfactory was this service that he was given in turn the brevets of lieutenant colonel, colonel, and brigadier general, the latter in 1864. The accompanying citation commended him “for diligent care and attention in procuring proper medical supplies as medical purveyor and for economy and fidelity in the disbursement of large sums of money”.

When in 1862 Surgeon General Finley was removed from his office, Satterlee was left the senior officer of the corps. His candidacy for the succession received the active support of General Scott, but Surgeon William A. Hammond was given the place. A reorganization of the medical department of the army in 1866 caused his appointment as chief medical purveyor with the grade of lieutenant colonel to date from July 28 of that year. He continued in charge of the supply depot in New York until he was retired by direction of President Johnson on February 22, 1869, and continued his residence in that city until his death there on November 10, 1880, in his eighty-fourth year. His funeral was held at the Church of the Holy Communion on Sixth Avenue.

Very little has come down to us in regard to General Satterlee’s personal qualities. He is credited with high professional skill and judgment and he had well recognized gifts in administration. His portraits show him a handsome military figure, with a fine face, indicative, however, of sternness and austerity of character.

(A. C. Wildey, Geneal. of the Descendants of Wm. Chesebrough, 1903; W. B. Atkinson, The Physicians and Surgeons of the U. S., 1878; R. F. Stone, Biog. of Eminent Am. Physicians and Surgeons, 1898; H. E. Brown, The Med. Dept. of the U. S. Army 1775-1873, 1873; T. H. S. Hamersly, Complete Army and Navy Registers of the U. S. 1776-1879, 1888; Army and Navy Journal, Nov. 13, 20, 1880; N. Y. Times, Nov. 11, 1880).

James M. Phalen,

Colonel, U. S. Army, Retired.