Henry Mazyck Clarkson -- gentleman, poet, and educator -- was not a professional man of letters but a physician who served during the War Between the States as both a soldier and a battlefield surgeon.
Henry was born November 6, 1835, in Charleston, South Carolina, one of sixteen children born to Thomas Boston Clarkson, a commission merchant and cotton planter, and his wife Sarah Heriot Clarkson. Although the Clarkson boys were sent to the best schools in Charleston and tutored privately in the home as well, Thomas wanted more for his sons. In 1851, he sold the Charleston residence and moved the family to Columbia so his sons could more easily attend the University of South Carolina. Henry received a bachelor of arts degree in 1855 and a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1859.
Henry returned to his native state and had barely established a practice when South Carolina seceded from the Union. On Christmas Day 1860, Henry enlisted as a private in the Columbia Flying Artillery and was stationed at Fort Moultrie. He was quickly promoted to corporal and placed in command of Gun #13. On January 9, 1861, he was one of three gunners to fire on the Star of the West as the ship attempted to enter Charleston Harbor to resupply the Union garrison at Fort Sumter. His shot was the only one fired from Fort Moultrie. Three months later, from his station on Sullivan's Island, Henry took part in the bombardment of Fort Sumter.
While awaiting his certification as an army surgeon, Henry requested and was given an assignment as a corporal in the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry, which was operating in northern Virginia under the command of family friend Colonel Alexander Hamilton Boykin, the uncle of famed diarist Mary Boykin Chestnut. In the spring of 1862, Henry's medical certification came through, and he was appointed an assistant surgeon; on April 9, he was reassigned to the 13th Alabama Volunteer Infantry. Thus began an affiliation that would involve Henry in every major conflict fought by the Army of Northern Virginia between 1862 and 1863. A year later, on March 23, 1863, Henry was promoted to full surgeon.
His greatest ordeal came in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg. Early on the morning of July 1, 1863, Henry established a field hospital in the area of South Herr's Ridge. By late afternoon, fighting forced him to relocate the hospital to the McPherson barn. For the next two days, the fighting raged on around him, and casualties poured into his hospital in an endless stream. When the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac and regained the safety of Virginia on July 4, Henry remained behind and for the next three weeks treated the wounded of both armies. According to his granddaughter Eleanor Lee Templeman, "[he] received high praise from the officers of both armies for his untiring and impartial service to the wounded of both North and South." In recognition of his services, Henry's photograph was placed on the Wall of Faces at the Gettysburg Visitor's Center in 1998.
On September 1, 1863, shortly after his return to the ANV, Henry was ordered to report to the Surgeon General in Richmond for post duty; the following month, he was reassigned to duty at City Hall Hospital in Macon, Georgia. Before traveling to Georgia, however, he tended to some unfinished business of a less martial nature. While stationed in Culpeper earlier in the War, Henry had made the acquaintance of Jean Irvin Sayre, who with her widowed mother had fled occupied Alexandria and was refugeeing with the family of a local minister. The introduction was made by Constance Cary, who had sewn one the first three Confederate battle flags in 1862, and the young couple fell in love almost immediately. Henry and Jean were married on September 23, 1863, while he was on furlough. The union would last 52 years and produce 10 children.
When Henry left for his new post, Jean accompanied him. War's end found them in Columbus, Mississippi, where Henry was the surgeon in charge at Stout Hospital. After a brief stay in Virginia, Henry moved his wife and new daughter back to Richland County, South Carolina, where he resumed his medical practice. But the South he had known as a young man no longer existed. The Clarkson mansion in Columbia had been burned to the ground (Sherman reportedly ordered the torching personally after learning that Thomas Clarkson had eight sons in Confederate service), and the carpetbaggers were busily destroying everything that Sherman had missed. In 1870, Henry left South Carolina for good and established permanent residence in Haymarket in Prince William County, Virginia.
Henry once again hung out his medical shingle and was soon eking out a meager existence as a doctor. Although his practice was large, the citizens of rural Haymarket had very little with which to pay for medical services. The community had been devastated by the War; homes had been burned, crops had been stolen and livestock slaughtered to feed the armies, and horses had been confiscated. Henry never refused anyone in need, however, exhibiting an admirable character that many of his patients continued to take advantage of long after their recovery from the ravages of war.
In addition to treating patients, he served on the Prince William County Board of Health and was for a time in charge of the U.S. National Quarantine Station at Fortress Monroe. In 1892, he retired from the active practice of medicine and became Superintendent of the Price William County Schools, a post which he held until 1909. During his tenure, he assisted Jennie Dean in establishing the first vocational school for young blacks in Manassas.
Henry served as Senior Warden of St. Paul's Episcopal Church and belonged to the Saint Andrew's Society, the Haymarket Agricultural Club, the Medical Society of Virginia, the Pennsylvania Medical Society, and the Education Society of Prince William County. He was also a member of Ewell Camp No. 16, United Confederate Veterans, which was organized in Prince William County on March 3, 1890.
In accordance with his father's wishes, Henry had become a physician and had supported himself and his family through the practice of medicine. But as a young man, he had fallen in love with the written word and had begun to write poetry, an avocation that he practiced until his death in 1915. Every family occasion, whether mundane or momentous, was celebrated in verse. Henry composed love poems for his wife Jean, poems touching on political events occurring in Virginia, and, poems for Confederate memorial events.
Henry's work was thought to be of such merit that his poems were eventually collected and published under the title Songs of Love and War by the Manassas Journal Press in 1898. A second edition containing additional memorial pieces was printed in 1910. As one contemporary critic described his work, "...there is, in addition to admirable lyrical form, a rare delicacy of thought and expression." Another compared several of his war pieces favorably with those of Margaret Junkin Preston, the sister-in law of General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and a well-known poet in her own right, while yet another commented that he "might be called the poet-laureate of the "Lost Cause.'"
On June 17, 1915, at the age of 80, Henry Mazcyk Clarkson passed away following a brief illness. He was buried in the churchyard at St. Paul's, alongside 80 unknown Confederate soldiers who had died of their wounds following the First Battle of Manassas and several officers of the 8th Virginia Infantry. His obituary in the local newspaper remembered him as the gunner who had fired what many considered to be the true first shot of the War. In noting his passing, Confederate Veteran Magazine said, "Dr. Clarkson was a man of the noblest feeling, kind-hearted and self-sacrificing. Quiet and unassuming,he was especially admired by those who could appreciate his true worth. He was a Christian gentleman, the senior warden of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and allied with all that was best and most uplifting in his community."
"Daughter of the Confederacy"
This page is http://civilwarpoetry.org/authors/clarkson.html
Last modified 16-April-2001