The Doctor Returns
IN FLORIDA, THE war against the Seminoles was going well.1 News reached St. Louis that Col. William S. Harney, one of the city’s own officers, had captured 40 Indian “savages” and hanged 10 of them on the spot. The newspaper applauded the swift executions as more effective than the government policy, which, they said, coddled the Indians and their runaway slave allies.2 Although in war Col. Harney’s brutality made him a hero, he was already infamous among the black population of St. Louis for having beaten a slave woman to death on the street for disobedience.3
In early 1842, after almost two years, much of the time sick and serving in various makeshift swamp hospitals, Dr. Emerson was finally granted a leave. Surgeons were required to accompany large troop movements, and so Emerson was assigned to accompany a group destined for New Orleans. Even more to his liking, he was permitted to take a leave of absence for 30 days once he reached New Orleans. By Valentine’s Day 1842, the tall, bespectacled, romantic husband was moving upriver to St. Louis for a month with his wife.
At month’s end, when the doctor reported to the Gulf for duty, Irene probably accompanied him.4 He later mentioned making arrangements for her.5 His return posting lay just off Pensacola—an area safe from where the fighting continued and a suitable place for military wives to join their husbands. It’s not certain whether either of the Scotts accompanied the Emersons to Florida. If they were rented out, there was no reason to disrupt a wage-earning arrangement. The doctor had previously arranged slaves’ services in Florida. Even if Dred went along, there was no reason to bring Harriet and their child.
Seeing St. Louis again only seemed to increase Emerson’s desire to return permanently. By April, the homesick Dr. Emerson wrote his superiors, requesting again to be stationed near St. Louis.6 The doctor was edgy at Fort Pickens. He feared a return to the miserable swamps, and he got into disputes again with the local quartermaster there. They quarreled over worn-out hospital materials that