ECW welcomes guest author Charlie Knight
In his last few moments of life, Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur recounted the Atlanta Campaign in front of dozens of veterans of his former regiment, the 24th Wisconsin Infantry. Just as he began to describe the action at Peachtree Creek fought on July 20, 1864, he was stricken by what in modern terms would be called a hemorrhagic stroke, which left him dead at the podium. And although there was nothing that doctors could do for him, history has perhaps overlooked the physician, one of them at least, who sought to aid the fallen general.
MacArthur had been looking forward to the regimental reunion in Milwaukee in September 1912 for some time. He had been out of the army – really the only career he had ever known, except for a very short experiment as a lawyer – for three years. Although he had risen to the rank of lieutenant general and commanded a division in the Philippine-American War and afterward served as military governor of the islands, it was during the years 1862-1865 that the young officer had truly proven himself. The chance to refight old battles and relive past glory with his former comrades certainly appealed to MacArthur.
Beginning the Civil War as adjutant of the 24th Wisconsin, Arthur distinguished himself in nearly every engagement in which the regiment participated. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Missionary Ridge outside Chattanooga in November 1863. He was wounded at Franklin and credited with saving the Union army from defeat there. He finished the war as a colonel, one of the youngest in the entire Union army.
But the general was not in the best of health in 1912, suffering from a variety of ailments. When the day of the reunion arrived, MacArthur could not attend the parades or even the grand banquet, but he did leave his sickbed to make his speech that evening. Although most accounts mention both the overwhelming heat that permeated Wolcott Hall and MacArthur’s frail appearance, his remarks began well. But then as he began to describe the action at Peachtree Creek, his face went ashen and was instantly covered in beads of sweat. He tried to continue but could not. “Comrades, I cannot go on. I am too weak. I must sit down.” And with that he slumped into his chair, dead.
Most contemporary accounts of the evening mention that MacArthur was quickly attended to by his friend Dr. William J. Cronyn. (Some writers, including Arthur’s son Douglas, incorrectly list Dr. Cronyn as the 24th’s regimental surgeon. Cronyn was a fixture in Milwaukee and a founder of Marquette University but it was his friendship with Arthur that brought him to the reunion, not his past service in the 24th for he was a veteran of the short-lived 30th Michigan Infantry.)
But Cronyn was not the only one who attempted to revive MacArthur; at least one newspaper account mentions an unknown individual who also tendered medical assistance. It seems however that little effort was put into identifying this other person. In fact, no mention of this unknown other appears in Arthur’s only biography, (Kenneth Ray Young’s The General’s General: The Life and Times of Arthur MacArthur), the regimental history of the 24th (William Beaudot’s The 24th Wisconsin Infantry in the Civil War: The Biography of a Regiment), or in Douglas MacArthur’s Reminiscences.
However, the other good Samaritan wanted to set the record straight decades later. In May 1942, a Chicago physician, King David Cammack, wrote to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and revealed that it was he who responded first to the calls for a doctor and that it was he who pronounced Arthur MacArthur dead. Douglas MacArthur did not reply to Dr. Cammack’s letter, and there is no known further correspondence between the two, so whatever his reaction was is unknown. Nearly two years later, on April 23, 1944, the Chicago Tribune ran a short blurb about Dr. Cammack’s claim.
Proving Cammack’s claim is difficult, if not impossible. I first ran across his letter to MacArthur about 15 years ago when I was working at the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia. Needless to say, I was intrigued by it. As he explained to Gen. MacArthur, Cammack had just graduated from Meharry Medical College – the first medical school for African-Americans – in Nashville in June 1912. After graduation, Cammack moved to Milwaukee to open a medical practice and was asked by the 24th reunion organizers if he would be interested in serving as a waiter at the evening banquet. As he told MacArthur, “I gladly accepted because I needed money anyway. . . . So you see, I was not a guest.”
Meharry’s records confirm that K. David Cammack graduated in June 1912, but offer little else. Military draft registration records show that Cammack was born in Richmond, Virginia, in either 1878 or 1886. He apparently moved around considerably, living for a time in Schenectady, New York, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and possibly New Orleans and Alabama as well before establishing his practice on E 43rd St. on Chicago’s Southside. He was licensed to practice medicine in Wisconsin in January 1913; in either 1945 or 1947, Cammack was indicted for violation of narcotics laws and his license revoked while practicing in Chicago. Unfortunately, much of the rest of his life seems to be hidden in the shadows of history.
Whoever it was – Cronyn or Cammack, or perhaps both – neither could do anything for Arthur MacArthur, who had passed from this life before they ever reached his body. Most accounts say that the regimental colors were taken down from the stage and draped over him. Cronyn could not bring himself to tell Mrs. MacArthur that her husband died, leaving that sad duty to another of MacArthur’s close friends. Recalling the event decades later, Douglas MacArthur wrote “My whole world changed that night. Never have I been able to heal the wound in my heart.”