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Dr. Henry Janes: Waterbury Icon

by C. B. Hall
Janes's surgeon general's uniform and other memorabilia on display at the Waterbury Historical Society.
Janes’s surgeon general’s uniform and other memorabilia on display at the Waterbury Historical Society.

Dr. Henry Janes was a physician, public servant and man of uncommon achievement. And he may be the most revered citizen of a town—Waterbury—that can also claim three Vermont governors and two winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor as native sons.
Born in Waterbury in 1832, Janes was educated at the Morrisville and St. Johnsbury academies. He commenced medical training in 1852 and completed it three years later. He returned to Waterbury in 1857 and opened a medical practice in a house next door to his family home. Over the ensuing decades, in addition to the routine of treating patients, he published numerous scientific articles and served as surgeon general of Vermont, University of Vermont trustee, and representative to the state legislature, among other duties.
His most salient accomplishments, however, grew from the bloodied soil of the Civil War. As an army field surgeon, he tended the wounded after the Battle of Antietam, the Second Battle of Fredericksburg and, most notably, the three days at Gettysburg. He lacked neither decency nor determination in discharging his duties. After surgeries on all the other wounded Union soldiers from the Fredericksburg battleground had been completed, according to the Revised Roster of Vermont Volunteers (1892), “Janes went with a flag of truce into the Confederate lines for the purposes of attending the wounded prisoners of the [Union’s] Sixth Corps, and bringing them back into the Union lines.”
The Roster goes on to note that “between 49,000 and 50,000 men were treated during the war … in hospitals under his charge.” His defining moment may have come at Gettysburg, where, in the battle’s aftermath, he supervised hospitals treating 20,000 wounded soldiers—Union and Confederate—gathered from the killing fields of the war’s bloodiest engagement. The Roster notes that “a special hospital of about 2000 beds was established … for the purpose of treating to termination the most dangerously wounded.” There, under Janes’s supervision, 449 leg amputations were performed, but even more cases of leg trauma were treated without amputation—a testament to the skill and judgment of Janes and his colleagues.
“In the Civil War, particularly after a great battle, if you were dealing with a badly wounded arm or leg, the standard thing was to amputate it,” says Montpelier historian Howard Coffin. Janes’  reluctance to do that “saved many a man an arm or a leg.”
In 1864 Janes took charge of the army hospital in Philadelphia, and then returned to field duty with the Army of the Potomac. That autumn, after a stint commanding a hospital steamer, he returned to Vermont, having been assigned to run Montpelier’s newly established Sloan United States Army General Hospital [sidebar].
Janes directed the Sloan Hospital until it closed in late 1865. He mustered out of the army early in 1866 and returned to private practice in Waterbury in 1867. Over the years, he both studied and published scientific papers on gunshot wounds and amputations. He kept meticulous records of his patients and their outcomes, records which served his own and others’ research. The Waterbury Public Library retains many of his notes, including some on patients at Gettysburg.
Janes married only at age 50, relinquishing his status as Waterbury’s most eligible bachelor. In The Waterbury Record: More Vermont Memoirs, R.L. Duffus describes him as a man “of extraordinary attraction for women.” Such attributes may not have been lost on a woman from the town’s Kneeland Flats area, who, local lore informs us, summoned him to her home repeatedly to treat ailments which as repeatedly proved undetectable to the clinician. One winter’s day, the woman finally summoned him once too often. Arriving, Janes went to the “sick” woman’s room and took off his coat. He then began taking off his suspenders, too. The woman screamed. Janes left. She never sent for him again.
His philanthropy generated more local lore. Filling a prescription for an impoverished local family, he sent off the medicine wrapped in some money. He also managed to maintain a herd of cows, whose milk he sold unpasteurized, Duffus reports. If the doctor had a shortcoming, it was his record in abdominal surgery, in which he experienced recurrent failures, apparently because his habits of surgical hygiene had formed under the compromised conditions of the Civil War.
In his seventies, in the course of a 1905 operation, he sliced open his own hand and developed a case of blood poisoning described by the Waterbury Record as “very serious”—serious enough to convince him to retire after a half-century of practice.
Walter Davenport, in his Montpelier Seminary and Its Students (1934), depicts Janes as “a medical man of large learning and wide professional repute.”In his History of Waterbury, Vermont (1915), T. G. Lewis characterizes Janes as “an affable host, an entertaining conversationalist, cheerful companion and staunch friend” who exhibited a “a self-effacing modesty” (although he made no secret of his having been on the speaker’s platform on the occasion of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address).
In 1890 Janes gave his family’s house at 28 North Main Street an elegant addition, in late-Victorian style, with scalloped siding and flared brick chimneys reaching well above the ridge line. The house’s features included an organ which the doctor taught himself to play. Duffus writes, “How he learned to play I don’t know. He had enough else to do. Perhaps this music was the medicine he had prescribed for himself as a cure for what he had gone through as a surgeon in the Civil War.”
Duffus’s surmise comports with Janes’s own pacifistic statements. The man hated war as only a soldier can, and his considerable stature as a physician gave him something of a platform to tell the world so. In a 1903 address, “Why Is the Profession of Killing More Generally Honored than That of Saving Life?,” he bared his sentiments: “An army marching past in well aligned platoons, with colors floating, bands playing … affords a costly pageant well calculated to enthuse an unthinking populace. But … help me to receive the wounded at the field hospital … as they are brought on the long lines of stretchers and ambulances. This man in the deep coma has concussion of the brain; see the pitiful expression of this boy with both eyes shot out …”
His disgust for war also comes out in an obituary he wrote to honor a fellow Civil War surgeon, Charles M. Chandler of Montpelier. Janes writes that “personal bravery of the highest kind is needed in the Army Surgeon, for he is expected to face, unflinchingly, without the excitement of battle or the hope of glory, dangers from which the bravest, so called, fighting officer shrinks appalled” (Transactions of the Vermont Medical Society for the Year 1889[1890]).
Janes lived in his stately North Main Street home until his death in 1915. His wife, Frances, had passed away in 1909. Dying without children, he bequeathed the house and its adjoining fields to the town whose most esteemed citizen, in the opinion of many, he had become. In his will he described his testamentary purpose as the establishment of a library, which would increase “intellectual and moral development among the people of Waterbury and adjacent towns.”
Only six days after his passing, in its issue of June 16, 1915, the Waterbury Record reported, “When the end came Thursday night last, after weeks of waning vitality, the people’s grief was in no sense mitigated by reason of its expectancy.”
Coffin, from his historian’s perspective, focuses on the events at Gettysburg as the physician’s crowning, if unsought, achievement. In his Full Duty: Vermonters in the Civil War (1995), Coffin writes, “The dead were everywhere, men, horses, mules. But the living carnage of the great battle was a more formidable challenge, for … [the wounded] overwhelmed the capabilities of the 2,500 Gettysburg townspeople and the army medical staff … Dr. Henry Janes took charge of this most awesome medical challenge in the history of America.”
His home in time became the home of the town library, which, along with the historical society, continues to occupy the house. His bequest has been in the news lately, since the town has voted to build a major extension onto the building to house municipal offices that will replace those damaged beyond repair in tropical storm Irene. The rehabbed Janes house will encompass the municipal offices and historical society, with the library moving into the new extension.
The historical society’s collections are being packed up in preparation for the rehab, and are not extensively available to the public. Interested persons may refer to the society’s website at www.waterburyhistoricalsociety.org for information on when the society’s collections might become more accessible.
Janes was buriedin Hope Cemetery, Waterbury, alongside his wife. The gravestone bears no elaborate epitaph that would hint at the man’s stature: it was left to those who came after him to make his greatness known.

The Sloan U.S. Army General Hospital, 1864-1865

The facility occupied about 30 buildings, on and near what became the green of the Montpelier Seminary, which has since evolved into the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Prior to the Civil War, the hilltop had been the site of a fairgrounds, complete with racetrack, in an area that was then quite rural. It also served as a camp and drill ground for the Sixth Vermont Regiment in September 1861, before the volunteers headed off to the battlefields.
The hospital had a pavilion layout of the sort first proposed by Florence Nightingale, the Englishwoman who pioneered battlefield nursing in the 1853–56 Crimean War. Nightingale perceived a need to avoid the bad air of big, monolithic hospital buildings, and Sloan’s site and construction adhered to her dictum, with excellent outcomes. In all, Sloan’s 496 beds accommodated a total of 1670 patients. The institution tended only to Union soldiers; the primary conditions treated were malaria, diarrhea and, of course, gunshot wounds. The hospital returned an exceptionally high 75 percent of its patients to active duty, in spite of the lack of insulation, plumbing and central heating, to say nothing of the myriad of medical advances taken for granted today.
According to Walter Davenport’s Montpelier Seminary and Its Students (1934), Janes “was accustomed to bear witness to the salubrity of the air, the healthfulness of Seminary Hill as a location for a hospital.” The facility included a chapel, a laundry and “one of the best icehouses in the entire state,” Davenport writes. “A water supply was purchased and water was brought from an adjacent hill and kept in an octagonal building constructed for a tank located … about where the Seminary [Vermont College of Fine Arts’ College Hall] now stands,” He adds that the water, “from a far distant spring,” sufficed to supply all of the seminary’s buildings for some 50 years.
The army took care to collect medical specimens for research purposes. An army communication cited in Janet Bucklew’s Dr. Henry Janes: Country Doctor & Civil War Surgeon (2008) instructed Janes to preserve “tumors, morbid growths of every kind, malformations & congenital anomalies, parasites, calculus & concretions illustrating diseases of the nervous system.”
Not all was gore and gloom, though, whatever the tragedies the patients had endured and witnessed. “A wide veranda circled the wards at their hub,” Davenport writes, “and the writer has seen crippled soldiers racing each other on crutches around this veranda.” The locale thus featured a racetrack for the second time.
The hospital closed in late 1865, and on August 7, 1866, the property, with its structures, was sold to the Newbury Seminary for $15,500.From this raw material, the seminary proceeded to fashion its new home as the Montpelier Seminary. Hospital buildings were moved across what is now College Street on rollers and transformed into the institution’s main boarding hall: the recycled structures were jacked up 11 feet, and a new first floor slid under them. The new seminary opened its doors to students in 1868. The building survived until 1957, when it was razed.
Today, only one of the hospital’s structures—the guardhouse—remains where it was built, and essentially as built; it is now a private residence.“Many of the older homes onSeminary Hill were [like the seminary’s main boarding hall] fashioned from lumber or whole buildings from Sloan Hospital … [and] moved into place on rollers,” William A. Shepard writes in The Hospital that Became a College (1983). Some of the buildings were moved “a goodly distance down College Street,” where they continue to serve their structural functions today.