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Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

Three Civil War vets were
doctors in Baytown area

by Wanda Orton
Wanda Orton

We wonder whether three doctors in the Baytown area got together and compared notes on the Civil War.

Ashbel Smith, Nicholas Schilling and Asa Morgan had fought in the War Between the States but not all were on the same side. Schilling and Morgan wore the dark blue Union Army uniforms while Smith - a Connecticut Yankee -- suited up in the Confederate gray.

What the Civil War vets shared in common was the fact that, in spite of their northern heritage, all three chose to live in Texas. And all three had graduated from top medical schools of the 19th century.

Although he had been Surgeon General of the Texas Army and was a renowned physician, with a degree from Yale Medical School, Smith didn't practice medicine as a Confederate Army officer. He was more involved in fighting a war than in treating war wounds.

He trained the Bayland Guards in his own backyard on Evergreen Road in Baytown and led the local boys off to war. His recruits came from eastern Harris and western Chambers counties.

Schilling, born in Bavaria, came to America with his parents when he was three months old. The Schilling family first lived in Maryland and later relocated to Illinois and finally, Iowa.

A few years after the Civil War, Schilling graduated from the Chicago Medical College, the present-day Northwestern University Medical School.

Born in Ohio, Morgan moved with his family moved to Indiana and then to Iowa.

Before the Civil War, Morgan graduated from medical school at Keokuk, Iowa, considered at the time to be one of the best in the country. He served as a surgeon in an Iowa Cavalry Unit.

Morgan and Smith didn't know each other then, but both were involved in one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the war, at Shiloh in Tennessee.

Smith suffered severe wounds in the battle as did Sam Houston Jr., a member of the Bayland Guards.

Although never injured on the front lines, Morgan became ill with pneumonia and, after the battle at Shiloh, his commanding officers sent him home to recuperate.

Schilling, as far as we know, never knew combat. He enlisted in the Union Army a year before the war ended and served as a shoemaker for the troops. (His duty brought a whole new meaning to the words foot soldier.")

Much older than Morgan and Schilling, Smith had the longest tenure as a Texan. He came to Baytown in the formative days of the Republic of Texas and, in addition to being a medical doctor, was a trailblazer in government and education.

Schilling had trouble finding work as a doctor when he first came to Baytown so he did menial labor in the Cedar Bayou brickyard. His skill as a doctor became surprisingly evident when he treated an injured local resident.

After that, Schilling set up his medical practice.

We've never read or heard why Schilling came to this particular area. It was rumored that he had been jilted by his girlfriend up north, but why did he choose this corner of Texas, a long way from his home up north.

We know why Morgan chose this area. While in Houston, after discharged from the Union Army, Morgan traveled to Cedar Bayou with a friend and reportedly fell in love with the location. Right there and then, his descendants tell us, he decided Cedar Bayou would be his home.

Schilling's home and office stood on the west banks of Cedar Bayou.

Morgan's home was located on the east bank of the bayou north of Baytown, south of present-day Interstate 10.

Smith's Evergreen Plantation, overlooking Tabbs Bay, was near the mouth of Cedar Bayou. (Tabbs Bay first was called Baker's Bay in reference to Evergreen's original owner Moseley Baker.)

So, that's another thing these three local doctors from up north had in common. They liked living near the water.

Of the three, Smith is the most famous. A building is named after him at the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston, and a statue of the doctor serves as the focal point of Baytown's Republic of Texas Plaza.

Schilling probably is better known today in Baytown for a street named after him. More honor actually has been paid to his memory in Chambers County than in Baytown, but that's understandable. Technically, he belonged to Chambers County, living on the west side of Cedar Bayou, the eastern boundary line between Chambers and Harris counties.

Several years ago the Chambers County Historical Commission moved office to Anahuac to restore and preserve it.

Schilling and Smith may not have been close pals, but we know they had a doctor-patient relationship. Smith was Schilling's most prominent patient, and he was at his bedside at Evergreen when Smith died.



Wanda Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
"Wandering" April 1, 2016 columns

See Baytown | Anahuac
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