Civil War Profiles: Selfless heroics of a Georgetown surgeon


Capt. William P. Seville, along with his follow troops of the 1st Delaware Regiment, had the utmost regard for their unit’s surgeon, Dr. David W. Maull. Seville wrote in the regimental history that “Surgeon Maull won the highest respect and affection of the men...”

Born in Georgetown, Del., David Maull followed in his father’s footsteps when he graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. While practicing as a physician locally, he developed traits that served him well later in life — especially his devotion to duty and dedication to relieve the suffering of others.

These qualities would be tested when war came in 1861. In May, Maull traveled to Wilmington to enlist in the 1st Delaware, formed for a three-month duration in response to a quota that President Abraham Lincoln levied on the loyal states to put down the Southern rebellion. Maull’s fellow enlistees honored him with election as an officer with the rank of first lieutenant.

When federal authorities concluded that expectations for a speedy end to the war were unrealistic, they called for units to enlist for three years. In September, the 1st Delaware reorganized under these guidelines.

Having established a campground at Hare’s Corner in Wilmington, the 1st’s commander, Col. John W. Andrews, appointed 2nd Lt. Maull as regimental surgeon. Before long, the unit embarked for Fort Monroe, Va., where it set up camp once again.

Many of the soldiers came to the regiment direct from the family farm and were vulnerable to sicknesses and diseases that soon became a serious problem. Seville explains that Dr. Maull “took active and efficient measures to meet the emergency.”

The regimental surgeon arranged for a nearby stone mansion to serve as a hospital for an increasing number of patients suffering from fevers and diarrhea. He acquired beds and furniture, as well as needed medical supplies. As a result, Maull limited the number of men who succumbed to these illnesses that proved to be prolific and so deadly throughout the war.

Maull studied each case with care and earned a reputation for willingness to sacrifice his personal comfort to relieve the suffering of others. In the eyes of his soldier patients, he was the “very model of an army surgeon” because of his gentle manner and winning personality.

On Oct. 1, 1864, the Army of the Potomac honored Maull with a promotion to the rank of major and assigned him as Surgeon-in-Chief of the Second Division, Second Corps. Brig. Gen. Thomas A. Smyth, an Irish-born Delawarean who had previously led the 1st Delaware, commanded the division.

From the Civil War Official Records (I, 46, I, page 758) we learn from Brig. Gen. William Hays’ rather understated report that Maull and other staff officers “performed their respective duties in an efficient and satisfactory manner” during the Appomattox Campaign near the war’s end in 1865.

One of these duties that Maull performed with special concern was caring for his mortally wounded commander, Gen. Smyth. A Confederate sharpshooter’s bullet had struck the general in the face while he was leading his troops near Farmville, Va., during Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s pursuit of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army after the fall of Richmond in April 1865.

Maull would later publish a biography of Smyth, describing how he was wounded while in the advance with the division skirmish line, and that he always led from the front. The penetrating bullet paralyzed the general, who was “tenderly moved by a relay of sorrowing men to a farm-house in the vicinity … where he received all the attention possible.”

In his regimental history, Seville poetically described the care that Maull selflessly provided Smyth: “Surgeon Maull was constantly in attendance on the wounded general, and all that the highest surgical skill could accomplish was done to relieve from pain his passage to the shadowy shore…”

Maull predictably bypassed the pomp and circumstance at the end of the war in celebration of the Union victory. Instead, he left for home to resume his former practice. Later, he moved to Wilmington, where he and his father helped establish Delaware Hospital at 14th and Washington streets (now known as Wilmington Hospital).

David William Maull passed from this life on Feb. 22, 1896, at age 64. It is perhaps symbolic that this modest hero, who quietly contributed toward the restoration of the Union, died on the birth date of its most famous founding father.

A Garrett’s Studio “carte-de-visite” photograph of Surgeon David W. Maull in military uniform is in the National Museum of American History’s Photographic History Collection online at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalmuseumofamericanhistory/7825189484/.

The Delaware State Archives preserves artifacts and documents about Dr. David Maull’s Civil War experience. Go to http://archives.delaware.gov/ or call (302) 744-5000 for additional information.

Thomas J. Ryan is a Civil War historian, speaker and author of “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War: A Political, Military and Social Perspective.” Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com.