When Waterbury Historical Society curator Jack Carter was asked what made Dr. Henry Janes special to him, he paused and said, “Because he was such a good person.”

A Waterbury native and St. Johnsbury Academy graduate, Janes rose from the position of Surgeon for the Vermont Third Regimental Volunteers to having tens of thousands wounded soldiers under his care.

The American Civil War is such a fantastical part of history because people were confronted with extraordinary events and new problems on a scale seldom seen. The whole country was unprepared for what was to come; however, Janes, along with Pennsylvania’s Dr. Jonathan Letterman, worked to make dramatic improvements in the level of care provided to Union troops.

The Third Vermont was one of three regiments the state called up in response to Lincoln’s call, across all states, to provide a total of 50,000 troops. Unlike many states, where physicians and surgeons were political appointments made without regard to education or experience, Vermont required those filling such positions to be certified by a medical board. Janes had attended Vermont’s Woodstock Medical College and interned in New York City.

The first major engagement of the war occurred July 1861 at Bull Run, about 25 miles outside the nation’s capital. It was chaos ending in bitter defeat with Union troops confiscating the buggies and horses of onlooking civilians as they retreated to Washington D.C. while many wounded laid on the battlefield for days.

Dr. Janes and the Third Vermont would not see action until the fall of 1861. However, the next year, Gen. George McClellan appointed Dr. Jonathan Letterman as the Army of Potomac’s Medical Director with the charge to make whatever changes necessary to provide troops with top flite care.

One of his key initiatives was the development of an ambulance system. The ambulance itself was rethought. Wagons weighed 750 pounds to minimize jostling of passengers. They were pulled by 2-4 horses, with compartments for medical supplies and the capacity to transport between 2-6 wounded. Crews were trained, and wagons were periodically inspected.

Medical personnel in the field were given the responsibility and authority to provide care to whomever needed it. In order to maximize the use of medical resources, a triage system was implemented to prioritize which wounded would be treated in what order. Letterman’s approach would remain state of the art for three generations.

These protocols were in place for the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862, where the work of Dr. Janes in field hospitals caught the attention of his superiors.

During the subsequent Battle of Fredericksburg that winter, Dr. Janes went behind enemy lines under a flag of truce to treat wounded Union troops held by the Confederates.

In the following year at the Battle of Gettysburg, Dr. Janes was in charge of a network of field hospitals. For soldiers with severe limb wounds, amputation was commonly the treatment of first resort. Under Janes, it became the last. He relied on patience, good hygiene and herbal remedies. Consequently, the number of amputations was reduced dramatically.

In fact, through the work of doctors Janes and Letterman, the mortality rate among wounded at Gettysburg dropped from 33 percent during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia in 1862 to an astounding rate of only 2 percent in the summer of 1863.

After the war, Dr. Janes returned to Waterbury and directed the Sloan Military Hospital for veterans - now the campus for Vermont College of Fine Arts - until its closure in 1866.

According to the Revised Roster of Vermont Volunteers published in 1892, it estimated that Dr. Janes had 50,000 troops under his care over the course of the war. This is well over 15 percent of the total Union wounded.

As for the war, he voiced the following sentiments in an address titled, “Why is the Profession of Killing More Generally Honored than That of Saving Life?” An army marching past in well aligned platoons, with colors floating, bands playing...affords a costly pageant well calculated to enthuse an unthinking populace.” Then he spoke of what he had seen, “But...help me to receive the wounded at the field hospital...as they are brought on long lines of stretchers and ambulances. This man in a deep coma has concussion of the brain; see the pitiful expression of this boy with both eyes shot out.”

His kindness even extended beyond human beings. He provided for his livestock in his will; life well lived, distinguished by competence and compassion.

A good person, indeed.