Killingly Historical Society

Dr. John McGregor

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Have you ever noticed how we look at people’s names or at things but don’t really understand what we are looking at nor do we question what we see?

Every Memorial Day since I can remember I have seen the ladies of the McGregor Post, G.A.R. Ladies Auxiliary marching in the parade. I knew G.A.R. meant Grand Army of the Republic and members were veterans of the Civil War. Of course, now there are no living veterans of that terrible conflict.

While Marilyn Labbe and her team were busily taking from the Windham County Transcripts in our Archives the letters from Civil War soldiers to the Transcript, we noticed many references to Dr. John McGregor. It was then discovered that if you Google his name on the Internet, you come up with a book entitled Life and Deeds of Dr. John McGregor by Jeremiah McGregor. I printed the book out and read the story of an extraordinary young doctor and surgeon and, yes, the G.A.R. Post was named for him.

In 1861, three days after the fall of Fort Sumter, President Lincoln issued the memorable proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteers to defend Washington, D.C. and to recover the U.S. forts, arsenals, and navy yards, which had been taken by the Rebels. Dr. McGregor—true patriot that he was—immediately upon hearing the news, wrote to Governor Buckingham of Connecticut offering his services to his country. They were accepted and he was appointed surgeon of the third regiment.

They made their way from Hartford to Washington. On July 4, 1861, he moved with the regiment to Fairfax Court House and Falls Church. On July 21st he went to the battlefield at Bull Run. He stopped at a house that he used as a temporary hospital. When all the rest of the regiment retreated after that dreadful battle, he chose to stay behind with the wounded to care for them and so ended up as a prisoner.

A news item in the Windham County Transcript in 1861 after the slaughter of our brave soldiers said the following, “All honor to the name of McGregor, who humanely and nobly preferred to sacrifice personal freedom for a season, rather than leave fallen friends to the mercies of their enemies.”

He was moved from prisons in Richmond, Charleston, Castle Pinkney, Columbia, Salisbury, and finally on the banks of the James River. All the while he tended the sick and wounded even though he suffered himself at the hands of his captors. The prisons were filthy and food was scarce.

He was finally released from prison August 3, 1862, and made his way back to Washington and finally home. He had been a prisoner for fourteen long months. His general health had weakened him so he could not endure life as a country doctor.

In July 1865, Dr. McGregor moved to Providence, R.I. and opened an office. He soon had a large practice for his reputation as a surgeon and physician were well known. He was then 44 years old.

Sadly, this young man met a tragic end on November 4, 1867, as he was driving down Dyer Street in Providence. The cars struck the hind part of his chaise, and he was thrown underneath and terribly mangled. It was determined that his arm must be amputated but he died during the operation.

It seemed to be so ironic that he had survived the dangers of the battlefield, fever, and famine only to be struck down accidentally while pursuing his life-saving profession in civilian life.

Dr. John McGregor is a name we should all remember as a hero from Windham County.