“He Stood the Operation Like A Soldier:” Lucius Davis

An image of Lucius Davis reprinted in the regimental history of the 76th NY.

When we think of the Civil War, we need to look beyond just a few individual days. We need to look beyond Manassas, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, or even Appomattox. Often, we need even to look beyond 1865. The war changed livelihoods and lives irreparably, leaving lasting scars. One such story of lasting damage is the life of Lucius Davis, who enlisted in the 76th New York Infantry in September 1861 as a Private. Serving through combat at several battles, including a chest wound at Second Manassas, he rose through the ranks and earned a commission. Davis was a First Lieutenant at the battle of Gettysburg, where the regiment suffered greatly on July 1. There, he received a grievous would that led to his discharge in November 1863. However, what caught my attention was not his wartime service, as notable as it is. Instead, I find myself drawn to the lifelong struggles he endured that stemmed from the Gettysburg wound.

One common thread in Davis’s life is determination. A brief biography in the 1867 regimental history states that the first time he tried to enlist “he was thrown out as physically incapable of military duty,” but he reapplied and was accepted. In November 1862, he was promoted to Orderly Sergeant “for bravery and strict attention to business,” which was followed that February by a commission to First Lieutenant, also for bravery. As mentioned, he was First Lieutenant by the time he received his wound at Gettysburg. Following his recovery, he had attempted to return to the regiment only to be denied by a surgeon declaring him unfit for duty.[1] He returned home to Marathon, Cortland County, New York, where he was as diligent and hardworking in peace as he was in war. In 1871, Davis received a brevet promotion to Major “for gallant and meritorious services in the late war.”[2]

A membership ribbon for the 76th New York Infantry’s Veteran Association from the author’s collection.

An article in an Emira newspaper in 1895 stated that “since the war [Davis] has suffered a good deal from a diseased bone of the leg.”[3] Though the records in the aftermath of Gettysburg list Davis as being wounded in the hand, I find it possible that his hand may have been at his side when he was shot. If so, the same bullet that wounded the hand may have also injured his leg, not proving dangerous enough to amputate in 1863 but causing problems later. His leg wound may also have been a separate injury that was seen as less significant at the time. Despite two previous operations, likely to remove infected tissue or fragments of bone or projectiles, Davis travelled to Elmira to have his left leg amputated nearly thirty-two years after his wound. Though the operation was long after the battle and Davis was 60 years old, the paper noted “he stood the operation like a soldier and now promises to make speedy recovery.”[4] Again, Davis faced adversity with determination.

It seems that the amputation was a success, as Davis lived another 17 years until his death in December 1912.[5] Just a month prior, he had presided over the 44th annual reunion of the 76th NY and been elected president of the association. Several members had died that year, and only thirty-eight veterans had attended. Davis’s death made the number of survivors one fewer.[6] It is important to see stories such as this to understand that the American Civil War did not suddenly end in April 1865, and soldiers continued to bear the physical and emotional burdens of their service for the rest of their lives. Davis endured several surgeries long after the war in an attempt to mitigate pain and disability. By the time of his death, very few comrades of the 76th remained to recall stories of his rise from enlisted to officer, to speak of the horrors of combat, and to commiserate over lost friends. We sit now over a century after Davis’s death, and we should remember not only the sacrifice men like him made from 1861 to 1865, but also the continuing burden of the war on veterans.

[1] A.P. Smith, History of the Seventy-Sixth Regiment New York Volunteers (Gaithersburg, MD, Ron R. Van Sickle Military Books, 1988), 385-386.

[2] Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, One Hundred and Thirty-Fourth Session 1911 Vol. XXXI, Part 1 (Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1911), 329.

[3] Elmira Gazette, May 10, 1895.

[4] Ibid,.

[5] “Lieut Lucius Davis,” FindAGrave https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/16986562/lucius-davis

[6] “To Go To Cortland For Next Reunion,” Elmira Gazette, October 11, 1912.

5 Responses to “He Stood the Operation Like A Soldier:” Lucius Davis

  1. What a terrific story. We often forget that the Civil War was fought by flesh and blood human beings like you and I. These post-war stories help to bring it all into focus. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Scott! I think expanding analysis beyond just a few single days or even beyond four years is the best way to improve understanding of people as, well, people.

  2. I am reminded of the iconic and recently-deceased, Ed Bearss, who told me the following personal story in Jan, 2018:
    Following his 4 near-fatal, Japanese machine-gun wounds on New Britain on 2 Jan1944 and 26 months of surgeries and recuperation, he was honorably discharged and eventually became Chief Historian of the NPS. In the spring of 2017, he noted pain in his arm, sought out-patient medical attention(after a few days!) and watched while the physician removed several slivers of bone from a 73-year-old wound. At age 94, he healed uneventfully!
    Ed ended his remarkable story in typical modesty, ” I guess I should thank Union surgeon Jonathan Letterman and his triage system for saving my life.”

    1. Gene, that is an excellent comparison. Both Davis and Bearss have similarities there, with both lengthy recovery at first and the necessity of surgery so many years after the fact. It is remarkable how much longer those slivers remained for Bearss, nearly as remarkable as the man himself. I had the pleasure of meeting him the summer of 2017, so it is fascinating to hear what he had experienced just before.

      1. Jon, if you will send me your email, I will be happy to send you a brief(400 words) description of my asking my friend, Ed, to talk to our joint roundtables about his wounding in WWII. More than 200 people heard his remarkable first-hand story about New Britain.

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