Dr. Major Dowell Sterrett was born on June 27, 1840, near Columbiana, in Shelby County, Ala., the son of Judge A. A. Sterrett. He received his acedemic training at Howard College, Alabama, and at the University of Virginia. He studied medicine at Selma, Ala., in 1859-60, was licensed to practice medicine by the Shelby County Medical Board in 1864, and graduated valedictorian of his class at the Atlanta Medical College in 1866.
While at Howard College Dr. Sterrett was elected to membership in the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity. Onn entering the University of Virginia he met there two other Phi Gams, Major T. William Jones, of Marion Ala., and T. Major Freeman, of Kentucky. With the thee "Majors" thus fortunately thrown together a Chapter of this brotherhood was organized at the University of Virginia. A warm and intimate friendship grew up between these three men of the Omicron Chapter, and ot was under their guardianship that a group pf the best minds in the student body was gathered together. But the call to arms in 1861 dissolved this band of brothers, who, returning to their several homes, at once took service with their own troops and saw or knew but little of the other members till after the war. Major Jones fell in the battle of Gaine's Mill and was buried on the field.
The following notes are from a letter written by Dr. Sterrett to me in January, 1910: "I joined the army in Selma, Ala., April 10, 1861. My company was Company C, 4th Alabama. We were sent to Harper's Ferry, and it was after that the 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas, the 6th North Carolina, 2d and 11th Mississippi, and the 4th Alabama were organized into a brigade with Hood as our commander. My regiment was the only one of the brigades that got into the First Manassas battle. There we lost heavily. Our colonel was killed, lieutenant colonel badly wounded, and our major shot down. My company had sixteen men killed and over forty wounded. I was not wounded there, but in the battle of Antietam, September, 1862. I was slightly injured before that in the battle of second Manassas while commanding my company. I was a private the first year, elected first lieutenant at the expiration of our twelve months' enlistment, promoted to captain in the battle of Gaines's Mill, and then made major at Antietam. On recovering from the effects of the amputation of my right leg I was transferred to the Fourth Congresional District of Alabama and made quartermaster, in which capacity I served until the end of the war. After the surrender I was commissioned by Governor Parsons, of Alabama, to reorganize the militia of North Alabama and was given a colonel's commission. The sad part of it all to me is that out of the one-hundred and twenty-six boys (none over twenty-one, only one married) I alone am alive, so far as I know."
After Dr. Sterrett recovered from the loss of his right leg, he was chosen to carry money for the payment of General Smith's Trans-Mississippi army; anf this one-limbed young man made the trip alone, crossed the river (closely paroled by Federal gunboats), swam unknown creeks and bayous in the Louisiana swamps, and finally reached his destination.
Returning to his home at the close of hostilities, he found it pillaged and destroyed as only Wilson's raiders in 1865 knew how to pillage. Determined not to be a burden on his father, he at once set out for Texas to make his way among strangers as a physician. And here shows forth a determination and love for humanity rarely ever seen. He made a vow that he would never take a fee from a wounded Confederate soldier, a soldier's widow or orphan, or a preacher. But still he prospered, his practice carrying him in every direction for forty or fifty miles. It goes without saying that no physician ever had a more devoted clientele.
Dr. Sterrett was married at Marshall, Tex, in June, 1870, to Miss S. J. Vawter, daughter of Col. A. L. Vawter. Six daughters and a son were born to them, three daughters surviving him. In addition to his own children, they reared and educated the orphaned child of a friend as their son and also reared three grandchildren and all are a credit to their excellent training.
Converted early in life, Dr. Sterrett united with the Missionary Baptist Church and always lived up to his profession. In 1861 he was given the sublime degree of Master Mason and the principles of that order were exemplified in his everyday life; he had also been and Odd Fellow for many years.
Such is a brief account of this remarkable man's career. After a long and useful life, he crossed into the great beyond on October 24, 1919, at the age of seventy-nine years. "True as the needle in the brazen ring," ever faithful to the task he had to do, his bark at last safely reached those "happy isles on whose shining beach the sounds we shall hear and the sights we shall see will be those of joy and not of fear." Thus closing a life of singular devotion to duty, "he went like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams," mourned not only by a devoted wife and family, but by his people througout the whole countryside.
I can imagine as he crossed the river with the pale ferryman and climbed the bank of yonder shore that gallant band of young men of Company C, 4th Alabama, in serried ranks, with thier banner high, advanced, dipped their banner in glad applause for their long-delayed and weary brother, and exclaimed: "Alabama! Here we rest."
Beloved comrade and friend, for a while fare thee well.
[T. M. Freeman.]
SOURCE: Confederate Veteran Magazine, November, 1920.
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