Dr. John Warren, youngest brother to the famous Dr. Joseph Warren, had been at his home in nearby Salem when he first heard news of the Battle of Bunker Hill, hours before its conclusion. Further news came shortly after the battle ended, reporting devastating losses, the Americans defeated, and that his brother was thought to have been in the engagement. Though anxious, John determined to get a few hours sleep before departing. But after a restless nap, he could stand it no more, and so departed Salem on horseback at two o’clock in the morning. Upon reaching Medford, John learned the distressing news that his brother was missing. Unfortunately, his oldest brother Joseph was in fact dead, having died in the American retreat from the battle, though in the hours following, few yet knew that Joseph was indeed gone.
Writing in his journal, John Warren gave the following:
Upon this dreadful intelligence I went immediately to Cambridge, and inquired of almost every person I saw whether they could give me any information of him. Some told me he was undoubtedly alive and well, others, that he was wounded; and others, that he fell on the field. This perplexed me almost to distraction. I went on inquiring, with a solicitude which was such a mixture of hope and fear, as none but one who has felt it can form any conception of. In this manner I passed several days, every day’s information diminishing the probability of his safety.
Finally, John Warren had had enough. He was determined, being in grief and not in his right mind, to go across Charlestown Neck (to British occupied Charlestown) and inquire there. John became so overzealous with a British sentinel guarding the Neck that the sentinel bayoneted him. Though it is not recorded where he received this injury, it took the sharp pain of a steel blade to snap him back into a proper state of mind. He was forced to give up his search and assume the worst. His physical wound would eventually heal, though he carried the scar for the rest of his life, but his emotional wound would remain until he found that intangible bandage known as closure. Yet such closure could not come until Charlestown was again in provincial hands. Only then might he hope to find the remains of his fallen brother. Perhaps in part as an homage to his brother, Dr. John Warren focused his grief toward good by joining the American Army as a physician. He would serve with the Continental Army for the next two years of the war.
In April of 1776, John, John’s brother Ebenezer, and Paul Revere would go onto Breed’s Hill, abandoned after the Evacuation of the British from Boston. There they would discover Joseph Warren’s remains.
John left the Army service in late 1777, returning to his home in Salem, where he would take custody of his brother Joseph’s four orphaned children. John would later help found the Harvard Medical School.
Some of the surgical instruments John Warren used during his time in the Revolutionary service, as well as instruments of his physician son John Collins Warren (founding member of Massachusetts General Hospital), will be up for auction on Oct 16, 2011. Two kits are pictured here, both of Dr. John Warren.
Next: a series about Dr. Joseph Warren, with a guest blogger contributing…
Update on this auction, as of 10/18: I went back on Grogan’s site, to learn the fate of the medical kits. They didn’t appear in the catalog of October sales, so I did a general search on Google. This brought up a cached page stating that: “Lot 405, the Warren Revolutionary War Medical Kits, have been withdrawn from the auction. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused”. I emailed Grogan’s for clarification, and they responded: “The medical kits were withdrawn from the sale because of an issue of clear title. They were returned to the consignor with the hopes that we will be able to offer them again in a future auction.” I sincerely hope that museums, Harvard Medical School, etc. are watching this as well and will make their own bids, so the rest of us can have a chance to enjoy these remarkable items!
Thank you Tamesin for the update!