Friday, May 6, 2011

Dealing with the Scars of War: A Marianna Dentist Helps a Neighbor

Hentz practiced in Downtown Marianna
The Marianna Courier of March 21, 1867, includes the unexpected story of how a Marianna dentist invented an appliance to help conceal a grievous inury suffered during the War Between the States by a Jackson County resident:

Mr. Milton Moseley of this county was wounded during the war in his face, carrying away his entire upper lip and nearly the entire nose, his palate was cleft its whole length and all the front teeth carried away, making his appearance as unseemly as possible, and interfering with his speech and respiration to such an extent as to be extremely annoying. - Marianna Courier, March 21, 1867.

Dr. Thaddeus W. Hentz, Marianna's dentist, had a strong interest in helping his fellow Confederate veterans recover as well as possible from their wounds. In fact, he had been wounded himself during the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864, when he suffered the loss of a finger that was shot off after he had surrendered to Union soldiers on the grounds of St. Luke's Episcopal Church. After surviving incarceration at Ship Island and Elmira, he returned home in 1865 and resumed his practice, soon taking interest in Mosley's horrible disfigurement:

Dr. Hentz made for hima palate and teeth, an india rubber nose, supported at its base by wires attached to the plate and at its upper extremity by a pair of spectacles. Also attached a moustache to the upper lip, thus converting Mr. Moseley to Quite a handsome man. His difficulty in speaking is removed, and unless by close inspection cannot be distinguished from a natural nose and palate. – This ingenious contrivance can be removed or put back at pleasure. Dr. Hentz deserves great credit for his skill and ingenuity, and the everlasting thanks of his patient, and we doubt not that if the apparatus was submitted to a competent committee his meed of praise would be more than enough for one man. - Marianna Courier, March 21, 1867.

The remarkable appliance invented by Dr. Hentz allowed Mosley to return to his normal life. He opened a store on the site of what would later become Malone and even became involved in politics during the turbulent Reconstruction era. In 1876, in fact, he would figure prominently in a controversy that may have decided the Presidential election.

The contest between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden, much like the election 125 years later between George W. Bush and Al Gore, hinged on a few hundred votes in Florida. As fate would have it, major focus was placed on the Friendship Church Precinct in Jackson County, where Milton Mosley was one of the poll workers.

Friendship Church near Malone, Florida
Because Friendship Church was then a rough log structure with no heat or light and because as darkness fell on that election day, temperatures had plunged as well, Mosley and his fellow poll workers took the ballot box to his nearby home where they could have both heat and light to count the votes. This led to the return of the precinct being contested as the law required ballots to be counted at the voting location. The Friendship Church ballots were thrown out by the state canvassing board for that reason, a move that in part prompted a major Congressional investigation.

A subcommittee of U.S. Congressmen convened a hearing at the Jackson County Courthouse in Marianna to hear testimony from various residents of the county with regard to the contested election. One of those who testified was Milton Mosley.

The votes of the people of the Friendship Precinct were not restored as the election had been declared decided by the courts, but the records of Congress contain pages and pages of testimony from the poll workers and voters there.

Had the votes been counted, the election might have swung in favor of Tilden, a Democrat. Instead, he lost in a contest that was so close his fellow Democrats were able to force Hayes to agree to end Reconstruction and withdraw occupation troops from the South.

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