Dr. Richard Matthew Fletcher - D, A Vintage Vignette

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Dr. Richard Matthew Fletcher - D
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
January 2, 2009

In the 1964 biography of her father, “DR. RICHARD MATTHEW FLETCHER, 1830-1906”, Octavia Fletcher Frazier said that he enlisted into the Confederate forces with his brother Algernon Sydney Fletcher at Huntsville on April 1, 1861. Dr. Fletcher served as a Captain in the Medical Corps, according to Octavia. He treated Confederate and Union soldiers wounded at the first Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in 1861. Because there were only a few elderly doctors left in Huntsville and Athens to treat the populace, several hundred citizens petitioned Dr. Fletcher’s commanding officer, requesting that he be returned to his practice in the Madison area. Octavia reported that when the request was honored her father was not satisfied until he had a substitute to report for duty in his place. He paid a German-American $1700 to fight in his stead. However, at the second Battle of Manassas (1862), the substitute was fatally wounded, to Dr. Fletcher’s deep regret.

Octavia wrote, “I do not remember who was in command at Athens (during the Union occupation), but Father told us after his return there was an epidemic of pneumonia; many of the Yankee soldiers fell ill with it. The Commanding Officer requested Dr. Fletcher to treat them, notwithstanding there were many patients and friends so afflicted that his hours of sleep were few and far between. Nevertheless, Father did treat them and saved many an enemy’s life. For months Father was in and out of the Federal tents as a humanitarian, skilled physician and faithful Christian.”

“In 1864 the (Union) troops were ordered elsewhere and a new Army of Officers and men were sent to replace them. Father and the former commander had become friends, though enemies. There were several Yankee soldiers too ill to be moved, so Father continued to treat them, consequently he was arrested as a spy.” Octavia’s detailed account of that arrest, which was carried out at Dr. Fletcher’s home after midnight, tells that the trusted house servant, “Uncle Dick”, saved her father’s watch and wallet by hiding them from the soldiers. In Mrs. W. D. Chadick’s “Diary of Civil War Days”, on page 253 it was told that “On May 18, 1864, the Federals brought in Dr. Fletcher and Mr. Betts (Fletcher’s neighbor) from Madison Station. They were accused of guiding the rebel forces to the station”, where the Union forces were routed and the cotton and railway depot were burned the previous day.

Octavia related that her father was held in jail in Huntsville for months. During that time, he heard the sounds of a scaffold being constructed for his hanging, as confirmed through overheard discussions among the workmen. However, after months of trying to contact Dr. Fletcher’s friend, the former Union commander of Federal troops in Athens, the message finally got through. The Union officer rushed to Huntsville, infuriated by Dr. Fletcher’s arrest. He had Dr. Fletcher released, and all those who were billeted near Athens were sent elsewhere, according to Octavia.

Of his last days, Octavia told that her father was an invalid for two years. During the last three months his brother Syd would drive him over the plantation for last visits with the tenants. She said, “The night before he died, Dr. DeLaney thought he would not live past midnight. The next morning the family was with him. I leaned over his bed and took his hand. He laid it upon my head, saying faintly, ‘My baby.’ I left the room. Syd lifted him up to adjust his pillow. In a moment his soul had winged its flight. The services were in the little (Methodist) church (on Church Street in Madison) which had meant so much to him. It was packed with black and white alike. The funeral procession from Madison to Huntsville was more than a mile (in length). They came from far away homes – in wagons, buggies, on horseback, and on foot to pay their last respects to the Doctor they had all known and loved.” Doctor Fletcher was obviously much appreciated by those who knew him and had become a part of his vast “extended family”.

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