The Lexington Physicians of General Robert E. Lee

Richard D. Mainwaring, MD; Harris D. Riley, Jr, MD


South Med J. 2005;98(8):800-804. 

In This Article

Howard Thornton Barton, MD

Howard Thornton Barton was born on December 23, 1823 in Fredericksburg, VA. His father was Thomas Bowerbank Barton, and his mother's maiden name was Susan Katherine Stone. Howard T. Barton attended the Virginia Military Institute from 1840 to 1843, graduating second in his class. He entered medical school at the University of Pennsylvania (it has been incorrectly ascribed that he attended Jefferson Medical School) in 1845 or 1846, and he graduated in 1848, writing his thesis on the subject of dysentery. Dr. Barton commenced the practice of medicine in Berryville (Clark County), VA, where he is said to have had a very successful practice. He married Fairinda Fairfax Washington Payne in 1857. There were three children from this marriage, all red-headed girls.

At the onset of the War between the States, Dr. Barton organized a volunteer company from Westmoreland County, VA, and received the rank of captain. He was soon drafted into medical service and served as physician/surgeon from 1861 to 1865. He spent some time in the field, but most of his service was in the hospitals in and around Richmond, VA. He was Surgeon-in-Charge of the hospital established at the Old St. Charles Hotel in Richmond, which grew to be one of the largest hospitals in the Richmond area by the conclusion of the war.

Following the war, Dr. Barton (Fig. 1) moved with his family to Lexington, where he re-established his medical practice and was also a post physician at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). In 1866, his wife died, and he subsequently became a suitor of Mildred Lee, daughter of General Lee. Dr. Barton was such a persistent visitor that Lee referred to Dr. Barton as the last rose of summer.[1] The Bartons were members of the Grace Episcopal Church, where the Lees also attended.

Photograph of Dr. Howard Thornton Barton. Previously unpublished, this photograph is reproduced courtesy of the Virginia Military Institute.

In 1869, Dr. Barton, along with Dr. Madison, became attending physicians to General Lee. The year 1870 appears to have been a tumultuous one for Dr. Barton for other reasons as well. During that year, he asked the VMI Board of Visitors for an increase in salary, stating that he could not live on the income from private practice and the $500 he was paid annually by VMI. The board voted to raise his stipend to $700, but apparently that was not enough, and he resigned.[2] Dr. Barton remained in Lexington and continued to practice medicine.