Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Two Doctors Erskine

Dr. Alexander O. Erskine and his younger brother Dr. John Henry Erskine arrived in Memphis about 1858. The two brothers were born in Alabama to Dr. Alexander Erskine and his wife Susan Catherine Russel Erskine. Both brothers served in the Confederacy as surgeons.  After the war they continued their practice in Memphis. Alexander married twice, his first wife was Augusta Law White.  After her death he married Margaret Louisa Gordon, sister of George W. Gordon a general in the Confederate States of America. Alexander had children with both women.  Henry never married.  Many of the Erskine family are buried at Elmwood Cemetery.

Both Alexander and John remained in Memphis throughout the Yellow Fever Epidemics that occurred during the 1870's.  John Erskine was the City's Health Officer and contracted Yellow Fever during the epidemic of 1873.  At that time, it wasn't known how Yellow Fever was transmitted and it was believed that once you had it, you could not contract it again.  Sadly, that was not the case.  John Erskine succumbed to Yellow Fever in September, 1878, dying at his brother's home. As the head of the Board of Health, the death of John Erskine was a terrible loss and it took the Board at least a month to recover from his death. His brother Alexander remained in Memphis until his death in 1913.

Letterhead from the office Dr. Alexander Erskine

The following obituary comes from the Southern Practitioner, v. 36, 1914.  
Dr. Alexander O. Erskine, pioneer physician and Confederate soldier, died Saturday afternoon, December 13, 1913, at 4 o'clock, at his residence, 1466 Monroe Avenue, in Memphis, Tenn.  Dr. Erskine was 81 years of age.  His death was due to general debility and to a stroke of paralysis he suffered late in life.  his wife and six children were at his bedside when death came.  Dr. Erskine is survived by his wife, four sons, John, Gordon, William, and Albert R., of East Aurora N.Y., and three daughters, Misses Loulie and Laura, and Mrs. S.F. Gill.

Dr. Erskine for more than 50 years has been one of the best known physicians in Memphis and in Western Tennessee.

He came to Memphis in the year 1858, and began the practice of medicine, which he continued until the breaking out of the war, when he enlisted in the armies of the Confederacy as a surgeon.  He served with the Fifteenth Tennessee Infantry, under Col. Tyler.  Later he served with the Second Tennessee, under Col. Robertson in Lucius E. Polk's Brigade of Gen. Pat Cleburne's division in Hardee's famous corps.  He was in the battles of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Perryville, Ky.

He had charge of an army hospital at LeGrange, Ga., during the latter part of the war and was paroled at Covington, Ga., in 1865.  He returned to Memphis, where he resumed the practice of his profession.

He remained in the city throughout every epidemic of yellow fever, including the dreadful scourge of 1878, when the city was almost depopulated by death and the desertion of the residents.

Dr. Erskine was born in Huntsville, Ala., on September 26, 1832.  He was of Sctoch-Irish descent, a son of Alexander and Susan Russell Erskine.

He attended the schools in his native state and was afterward graduated from the University of Virginia in the classical course and then went to New York, where he was graduate from the medical department of Columbia University.  He afterward had several years' experience in hospital work in that city.  

He was considered almost the dean of the medical profession in Memphis, being one of the oldest practitioners.  He was professor of obstetrics and diseases of children in the Memphis Hospital Medical College from 1885 to 1906; was dean of that college from 1868 to 1873, and was on the staff of the Memphis City Hospital from 1902 to 1910.

He contributed many valuable articles to the leading medical journals.

Dr. Erskine was a member of the Presbyterian Church and was an elder in the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis for forty-eight years.  he was married twice.  His first wife was Miss Augusta Law White, whom he married in December 1861.  His second marriage was to Margaret Louisa Gordon, in 1872.

Dr. Erskine's death leaves Dr. g.B. Thornton as the only antebellum doctor in Memphis, and Dr. Thornton was greatly affected when informed of the death of his old friend.

"He and I were most intimate," Dr. Thornton said, "for much more than a generation, and it was our custom for years to pay occasional social visits. each to the other.  I never knew a better, a more consecrated or a gentler man than Dr. Alex. Erskine.  If the doctors of today would follow his ethical path the profession would be much better off."

A fond and loving father and husband, an humble and upright citizen, devoted to his profession, a true Christian gentleman, his loss will be greatly deplored.

The following obituaries come from the Memphis Daily Appeal, 1878.  Dr. Henry Erskine was a hero of the Yellow Fever Epidemics.  Had he lived as long as his brother Alexander there is no doubt that he would have had a lengthy and successful career and a longer accounting of his life's work as did his brother.

Dr. John Henry Erskine
DIED--At the residence of Dr. Alex Erskine, 238 Beale Street, September 17 1878, of yellow fever, Dr. John H. Erskine, in the forty-fourth year of his age.

Dr. John Erskine, Health Officer, after a week's illness, died at an early hour yesterday.  When taken with the fever he had been so completely worked down that there was little of strength for him to fall back upon or with which to rally from the attack of the scourge.  He had literally given his life in the service of the people who had trusted him as Health Officer, and thereby increased his burdens more than a hundred fold.  No nobler man or more gallant ever lived, or one more worthy of this people. Proud of his profession and devoted to it, he responded to every call, giving his advice and services freely, never grudging a moment when good was to be done.  During the epidemic he proved this a thousand times, and so built for himself an enduring place in many hearts.  His death is a great loss to the city and to the faculty of which he was one of the chief ornaments.
  Originally published in the Memphis Daily Appeal, September 18, 1878

The Tuscumbia Democrat: "Dr. John H. Erskine was a native Alabamian, having been raised in Huntsville.  He belonged to one of the oldest and most highly respected families of that city.  He located in Memphis a short time before the war, to practice his profession, but was among the first to respond to his country's call, and enlisted as surgeon in the Confederate Army.  Here his courage, gentlemanly deportment and superior skill soon won for him distinction, and he was placed in one of the most important positions in the medical department of General Johnston's army.  he returned to Memphis after the war and soon built up a lucrative practice which he enjoyed until his death.  Dr. Erskine was a man of fine personal appearance, warm in his attachments, outspoken in his opinions, liberal in his views and benevolent in his nature.  No man had a warmer or more sympathetic heart. An ornament to society and an honor to his profession, his death is a calamity, and his loss irreparable.  Peace to his noble spirit.
  Reprinted in the Memphis Daily Appeal, September 27, 1878 from the Tuscumbia Democrat

A more extensive account of Alexander and John Erskine can be found here in the Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans.

1 comment:

  1. Great article...ironically I was talking about John Erskine tonight when I spoke at the Scottish Society Monthly meeting. I pointed out that he doesn't have a gravestone...HINT< HINT. :-)