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Full text of "Reminiscences of field-hospital service with the Army of the Potomac"






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Reminiscences 



Field-Hospital Service 



WITH THE 



Army of the Potomac. 



WILLIAM WARREN POTTER, M. D., 

irevet Lieutenant-Colonel United States Volunteers ; Surgeon in Charge First Division Field 

Hospital, Second Army Corps ;' Surgeon Fifty-seventh Regiment, New York Vchinteers ; 

Assistant Surgeon Forty-ninth Regiment, New York Volunteers ; Recorder Second 

Division Hospital in Sixth Army Corps, etc., etc. 



REPRINT FROM THE 

BUFFALO MEDICAL AND SURGICAL JOURNAL. 
October and November, i88q. 






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Reminiscences of Field-Hospital Service 
with the Army of the Potomac. 



It is the purpose of the writer in these pages, kindly allotted to 
the consideration of this interesting phase of army life, to give a 
succinct account of the field-hospital system of the Army of the 
Potomac, based upon his experiences of three years' service as a medi- 
cal officer in that army. Minute detail cannot, of course, be entered 
into within the necessarily narrow limits of a magazine article, — only 
distinctive features grouped and portrayed in outline. 

If it were necessary to seek a raison d'etre for the appearance of 
such an article at this time, when so much is being written about the 
war and its conduct, it could readily be found in the fact that, so far, 
only officers of the line have figured in conspicuous prominence, as 
having achieved renown in the military service. It is an undeniable 
fact that the medical department of the army was very near the hearts 
of the millions of patriotic people who, while compelled to remain at 
home, contributed, with lavish hands, their means and substance 
toward the successful prosecution of the war. It is presumed tha^ 
many of these will be interested to know something more of the 
manner of caring for the sick and wounded, in active service and on 
the field, than can be gleaned from ordinary or even official sources. 

The writer served in the various capacities of Assistant Surgeon, 
and Surgeon on duty with the troops, and as Recorder of the Second 
Division Hospital, in the Sixth Army Corps ; also, as assistant to 
Chief Operator, as Chief Operator, and as Surgeon-in-Charge of a 
division field hospital in the Second Army Corps, holding the latter 
place for more than a year. This statement is made that his oppor- 
tunities for knowledge as to the working of the system may be under- 
stood, and the value of his judgment thereupon properly estimated. 

An army in the field is, at once, confronted with the difficult 
problem of properly caring for its sick and wounded, — a question 
second only in importance to the ever-present one of feeding it. The 
difftculties increase in a manifold degree if, as was chiefly the case 
with the Army of the Potomac, the field of operations lies in an 
enemy's country. Military reasons demand that disabled soldiers 



4 REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

shall not impede the mobility of the columns; humane reasons insist, 
with equally cogent force, that they shall receive prompt and efficient 
care, and these with due regard to economy of life and limb. It is. 
affirmed, without the hazard of successful challenge, that both these 
grave considerations were met during the late' civil war, by the medi- 
cal staff of the army, with a skill and patriotic devotion to duty, 
alike worthy the profession and the cause. 

In the old army, /. e., the army as it existed prior to the war of 
1861-5, the Regimental Hospital was the only field-hospital recog- 
nized or provided for in the ' army regulations." During the Autumn 
of 1 86 1, and the Winter of 1862, this plan was still adhered to. The 
sick, who could not be properly treated in quarters, were, by order of 
the Surgeon, sent to the Regimental Hospital, which was conve- 
niently located near, and, indeed, formed part of the camp. To pro- 
vide therefor, each regiment was allowed three hospital tents, one Sib- 
ley tent, and one "A" tent. The hospital tents, each measuring 
14x16 feet area measure, were usually pitched one behind another, so 
that they formed three communicating apartments. The other tents 
were used by the attendants, and also for kitchen purposes. When 
the capacity of this hospital became overtaxed, the surplus was sent to 
General Hospital in Washington. Sometimes it was expedient as well 
as convenient to locate the regimental hospitals in or near dwellino-- 
houses that had been vacated by their owners or occupants, and aban- 
doned to the tender consideration of the Union forces. Our illustra- 
tion shows an example of such utilization of a deserted house for hos- 
pital conveniences by the 49th Regiment, N. Y. Volunteers. The hos- 
pital here shown was situate about half a mile in rear of the troops, on a 
road leading through Camp Griffin to Chain Bridge. This hospital 
was in operation on the spot depicted from the Autumn of 1861 to 
March 8, 1862. It is from an India ink sketch, drawn and presented 
to me by a member of Co. B, whose name I have forgotten. 

In the Spring of 1862, when the army was moved to the Peninsula, 
and it became necessary, in order to properly mobilize it for the field, 
to reduce the baggage and camp equipage to the minimum, each regi- 
ment was allowed but one hospital tent. Depot hospitals were, how. 
ever, on our arrival at the new line of operations, established at the 
army base, for the reception of the sick in excess of the regimental 
accommodations. During the siege of Yorktown, conveniences of a 
like character were provided at Ship Point and at Old Point Comfort. 
While the army was before Richmond in May and June, 1862, large 
field-hospitals were established at Savage's Station and at White 
House ; and their capacity was taxed to the uttermost, in the care of 
the sick and wounded during that portion of the Peninsular campaign. 




FlEI.O HOSI'ITAL AT SaVAGE's STATION, Va., JuNE, 1 862, SHOWING THE RECEP- 
TION AND FIRST CARE OF THE WOUNDED FROM THE BATTLES OF ElLER- 

soN's AND Gaines's Mills. From a photograph in possession 

OF THE author SINCE 1862.— W. W. P. 



REMINISCENCES OF FIELD HOSPITAL SERVICE. 5 

At Savage's Station were collected the wounded from the battles of 
EUerson's and Gaines's Mills, numbering over 2,000 men.^ In the 
movement to Harrison's Landing it was found impracticable to 
remove this hospital, and it was, therefore, left to fall into the enemy's 
hands. It was liberally supplied with surgeons, nurses, stores, and 
rations, and everything done for the comfort of its inmates which the 
exigencies of the service permitted. On Sunday, June 29th, at or about 
five o'clock p. M., the Confederates, under General Magruder, appeared 
in force in the vicinity of this hospital, approaching both along the 
railroad and the Williamsburg road. A vigorous attack was made 
upon a portion of the second corps, which was drawn up in line on 
the open field south of the hospital, facing west. A formidable railroad 
battery at once opened fire, the first shell exploding directly over the 
hospital, which was in direct range of the fire. Other shots quickly 
followed, with the effect of killing one man and wounding' others in 
the hospital, destroying some of the tents, and causing much dismay 
among the already suffering inmates. The hospital also contained a 
number of Confederate wounded, among whom was Colonel Lamar, of 
the Eighth Georgia Regiment. A flag of truce was immediately sent 
out by the surgeon in charge, notifying the commanding officer of the 
Confederate force which made the attack on the hospital, that it was' 
suffering from the fire of his batteries, and that some of his own men 
were likely to be among the victims. The following reply was 
returned : 

The hospital will not be fired into unless undue advantage is taken of its 
flag. 

(Signed) A. CONRAD, 

A. A. GenU, Confed. Forces. 

The division of General William F. (Baldy) Smith, in which I 
was then serving, had moved on the road toward White Oak Swamp a 
short time previous to the commencement of the engagement, which 
was known as the Battle of Savage's Station. But as soon as it was 
ascertained that the enemy had appeared in force and was making 
determined effort, General Smith countermarched his division and, 
on reaching the field, threw it in on the left of Sumner's Corps, 
where the fighting was spirited and considerable loss was sustained, 
chiefly by the Vermont Brigade under General Brooks. Night soon 
came on, however, and quickly put an end to the action, excepting 
some desultory firing that was continued until a later hour. 



I. For other illustrations of this hospital, see the Century Magazine for July, 1885, pp. 459-461. 
From the various battle-fields during the " seven days " fighting, the number in this hospital was 
increased to about 3,000. — W. W. P. 



6 REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

Smith's wounded were collected at a small house and shop about a 
mile down the Williamsburg road, toward White Oak Swamp, where 
there was a little opening of a few acres in the woods. 

About nine o'clock p. m., while I was busily engaged in caring for 
these wounded. Dr. J. B. Brown, Medical Director of the Sixth Corps, 
called me aside, stating that he had orders from General Franklin to 
leave the wounded where they were, with medical officers and nurses, 
and that I had been selected to remain behind with them. He stated, 
furthermore, that all our forces would pass by before midnight, movino- 
toward White Oak Swamp, and that I had better make such arrange- 
ments, at once, as would enable me to comply with the order ; where- 
upon my horses were despatched with the troops to avoid capture, and 
hastily collecting such hospital supplies as were available, I once more 
addressed myself to the care of the wounded. By midnight, or a litde 
after, the retreating columns had all passed by' on their way to White 
Oak Swamp, where the conflict was to be renewed on the morrow, 
with all the fierceness of its deadly energy. 

The consciousness of being between the lines with the certainty of 
falling into the enemy's hands in the morning, together with the 
pressing duties of the hour, were sufficient to counteract the fatigues that 
otherwise would have speedily brought that much-needed repose, which I 
vainly sought about two o'clock m the morning. Soon after dawn 
the Rebel skirmishers appeared slowly advancing through the woods, 
coming to a halt on a line with the hospital. Some officers immedi- 
ately rode up who were informed of the condition of aff'airs, but before 
the conversation was ended, General ''Stonewall" Jackson himself 
appeared upon the scene. Upon application he ordered a guard, con- 
sisting of a sergeant and twelve men, for the purpose of protecting the 
hospital during the passing of his columns ; and, after ascertaining the 
facts as to our authority for being there, gave the order for his line to 
advance. All day long the steady tramp of the foe made unwelcome 
music to our ears. They were a cheerful lot, flushed with what they 
delusively supposed was victory of a decisive nature ; their uniforms (?) 
were tattered, but their muskets were bright ; and their cannon, chiefly 
marked " U. S.", were, for the most part, drawn with rope traces. 

Some time during the forenoon the head of General D. H. Hill's 
division halted in front of the hospital, and from him a pass was 
obtained which authorized me to visit the battle-field of the evening 
before, for the purpose of ascertaining if any of the wounded had 
been overlooked. This I did in the afternoon accompanied by one of 
the gua rds, and met on the field a Confederate ambulance squad in 

n,^'; w'{.''?P'A"^ ^^""'^"^ of artillery inadvertently leit behind, and which thundered down the 
road to White Oak Swamp at early dawn.— W. W. P. "<=»<;u uown me 



REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 7 

charge of a sergeant, already engaged in the same duty. A few- 
wounded were found in the woods on the left, and I also counted 
about seventy Union dead, most of which lay in the opening through 
which the Williamsburg road passes out into the open field. ^ 

On Tuesday, July ist, the wounded left in my care were moved 
up to the main hospital at Savage's Station, and distributed to its 
wards. The guns of Malvern Hill were distinctly heard during the 
entire afternoon, and the cheering news of the enemy's defeat soon 
reached our ears. Two weeks later a train-load of wounded, on flat 
cars, was moved into Richmond, and I accompanied them. We 
arrived late in the evening and, owing to some mismanagement in 
regard to the arrival of the ambulances, were compelled to remain at 
the station all night. Next morning the wounded were distributed to 
the buildings then used for hospital purposes, and the medical officers 
were sent to Libby prison, then also using as a hospital. I was directed 
to report to the commandant, Lieutenant Turner, who ordered a 
search of my person, ostensibly to ascertain if I had in possession any 
counterfeit Confederate money. Not finding any, he contented him- 
self with seizing my pocket case of surgical instruments, which he re- 
garded as contrabrand of war, casting a longing eye upon some gold 
coin which I happened fortunately to have, but which he dare not 
take. I was assigned to the care of Union wounded in a large tobacco 
warehouse on Gary street, about four blocks east of Libby, and con- 
tinued upon that duty until my release, which happily occurred in a 
very few days. 

Richmond was, at this time, one vast hospital. Every building 
that could possibly be made to serve the purpose was filled with 
wounded, either Union or Confederate. These buildings were, for 
the most part, tobacco warehouses, and were devoid of any of the 
proper conveniences pertaining to hospital service. The Union 
wounded lay upon bare floors with, possibly in some instances, a 
blanket underneath and a knapsack for a pillow. The air was hot and 
stifling, saturated with the sickening odor of stale tobacco, and alto- 
gether it was a most uncomfortable state of affairs. However, I saw^ 
no disposition to treat any of our wounded with unkindness, and pre- 
sumed the authorities were doing the best they could with the 
resources at their command. 

One day, not long after entering upon duty at this hospital, acting 
upon the suggestion of Assistant Surgeon J. Sim Smith, U.S.A., a fellow 
prisoner,^ I obtained a pass from Lieutenant Turner to visit the officers' 



1. See plan of the battle of Savage's Station in the Century for July, 1885, p. 460 — W. W. P. 

2. Since deceased. — VV W. P. 



REMINISCENCES OK FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

prison on Eighteenth street, where some of my acquaintances whom 

1 was desirous of seeing were incarcerated. This prison was also a 
large tobacco warehouse and contained several hundred officers 
among whom were Generals McCall and Reynolds, the forme- cap- 
tured at the battle of Glendale, June 30th, and the latter at Gaines's 
Mill, June 27th. At the solicitation of my friends, Captain McLean 
5th U. S. Cavalry, and Captain Theodore B. Hamilton, 33d N. Y Vol- 
unteers, I remained all night as their guest; and on my return to 
Libby next morning, to my surprise I found a train of ambulances 
loaded and ready to start for Aiken's Landing with wounded for 
exchange. I immediately applied to Dr. Cullen,^ Longstreet's medical 
director, who had charge of the matter, for permission to accompany 
the train. This he readily granted and, mounting the nearest ambu- 
lance, I rode with the driver to Aiken's Landing on the James River 

a distance of about ten miles from Richmond. Here we were 
delivered to the hospital steamer " Louisiana," Lieutenant-Colonel 
Sweitzer, of General McClellan's staff, truce officer in charge, and 
reached Harrison's Landing next morning in safety; having, however 
anchored in the river near the point of embarkation for the night to 
avoid the danger of fire from the enemy's shore batteries, as our fla- 
would not protect us after dark. This was the first transaction o'f 
exchange under the cartel, just then concluded between the commis- 
sioners, Major-General John A. Dix for the United States, and Colonel 
Robert Ould for the Confederate authorities. 

General McClellan boarded the "Louisiana" by steam launch soon 
after we anchored off Harrison's bar, and spent nearly an hour in 
close conversation with Major Glitz and Captain Chambless, two reg- 
ular army officers wounded at Gaines's Mill, and who were lying upon 
cots in the saloon of the vessel. General J. E. B. Steuart, the famous 
Confederate trooper, paid several visits to these officers while they 
were quartered in Libby, sitting between their cots which were con- 
t.guous to each other, and passing a {gw moments of apparently 
pleasant conversation with them at each visit. The medical officers 
and nurses who were fit for duty here rejoined their respective com- 
mands, and the "Louisiana" proceeded on her way with the wounded 
to northern hospitals. 

About this time an important change took place in the administra- 
tive head of the medical department of the Army of the Potomac 
Surgeon Charles S. Tripler, U. S. A., a most able and accomplished 
officer, w ho, from the accession of McClellan, had performed the 

I. I had met Dr. Cullen at Williamsburg in May. when he was sent into our lines by Lons 
street to look after his wounded,— W. W. P. ^ i-ong- 



REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 9 

duties of medical director, was nominated by the President to be 
medical inspector-general of the United States Army ; and Surgeon 
Jonathan Letterman, U. S. A., was appointed to the vacancy occa- 
sioned by this promotion. Dr. Tripler's experience had been wide, 
and his training of such a nature as well suited him to the responsi- 
bilities of the office he had so long and admirably filled ; but the diffi- 
culties to overcome had been many and various, and while the cam- 
paign just ended had taxed his energy and capacity to their uttermost, 
it had yet left as a heritage other and newer experiences, as well as a 
trained medical staff, — resources of inestimable value to be drawn upon 
by his successor. 

These experiences had demonstrated the inadequacy of the regi- 
mental hospital system, as well as the defectiveness of the brigade 
hospitals which were tried for a time, to meet the necessities of mili- 
tary operations conducted on so large a scale as now, where the 
marches were so long and arduous, and the fighting so terrible and 
bloody. The new medical director addressed himself almost at once 
to the solution of the difficult problems of providing a comprehensive 
field-hospital system, which should be adequate to the great exigencies 
of the military operations of so vast an army, and a disciplined ambu- 
lance service as well, which should be competent to promptly and 
efficiently transport the sick and wounded, both on the march and in 
battle. Orders were promulgated on August 24, 1862, on the sub- 
ject of the ambulance corps, and on October 30, 1862, in relation to 
field hospitals; and so complete were the plans set forth in these 
orders in all their details, that they remained in force without material 
charge, until the end of the war. Moreover, their provisions were 
subsequently adopted by the Surgeon-General, and made the uniform 
practice throughout all the armies in the field. 

Briefly summarized, these plans were as follows: Each division 
hospital was to organize with a staff, consisting of one surgeon in 
charge ; one assistant surgeon as recorder ; one assistant surgeon to 
provide food and shelter ; three medical officers to perform operations, 
each operator to have three assistants; and additional medical officers, 
according to necessity, to attend the wards, dress wounds, etc. 
There were also one chief hospital steward, one chief cook, one ward 
master, and a few nurses attached to the permanent organization. 
Extra hospital stewards, cooks, nurses, and other attendants were to 
be detailed for duty as occasion required. On the march, or in camp, 
the extra medical officers, hospital stewards, cooks, nurses, and atten- 
dants remained with their respective regiments ; only the permanent 
staff was constantly on duty at the hospitals, or accompanied the 
ambulance trains. 



lO REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

The ambulances were organized into division trains with a first 
lieutenant in command, and second lieutenants from each brigade as 
assistants ; the entire trains of each corps being commanded by a cap- 
tain attached to the corps commander's staff. A sufficient number ot 
enlisted men were detailed from the ranks to properly man the trains 
of each division, in the proportion of two men and a driver to each 
ambulance, and a mounted sergeant from each regiment.' A medicine 
wagon, properly supplied with stimulants, dressings, and medicines 
for each brigade, also formed a part of the division field-hospital 
equipment. Each division train was provided with a saddler, a black- 
smith, and a traveling forge, to keep the train in order ; and each 
ambulance was supplied with stretchers, buckets, kettles, lanterns, 
beef stock, bed-sacks, and kitchen utensils. 

This is but a faint setting forth of the great labor and multiform 
details which such a comprehensive plan involved, and, whereas in 
July the young medical director of the Army of the Potomac came 
into office finding a medical department somewhat disorganized and 
chaotic, by the end of October he had gathered around him an amply 
equipped and thoroughly drilled hospital staff, as well as a trained, 
organized, and efficient ambulance corps, adequate to meet the pressing 
necessities of the great army in its self-imposed Herculean labor. 

As soon as a battle became imminent, the medical director of the 
corps ordered the establishment of a hospital for each divisi-on of the 
corps, in positions selected by himself convenient to the troops, yet 
sufficiently out of range of fire to insure comparative safety. Houses 
were, when available, chosen for these hospital sites, the adjacent 
grounds usually affording conveniences for pitching the tents, obtaining 
water, and other supplies for the comfort of the wounded. The 
wagons were ordered up at once, the hospital staff repaired to the site 
selected, and, under the superintendence of the surgeon in charge, 
prepared the hospital for the reception of the wounded. Tents were 
pitched; straw, fuel, water, blankets, etc., provided; hospital flag 
conspicuously hoisted ; markers displayed at suitable points to indicate 
the route to the hospital ; kitchen organized, and everything made 
ready for active usefulness. On the arrival of the wounded, the 
operating surgeons and their assistants took their places at the 
operating-tables in the rear of the medicine wagons, over which a fly 
had been spread, and where instruments, dressings, anesthetics, and 
stimulants were at hand. 

One medical officer, usually the junior assistant surgeon, remained 



I. These men wore chevrons, half-chevrons, and cap-bands of green, as distinctive badges. 
\V. W. P. 



REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. I I 

with each regiment, together with a nurse or two and the hospital 
orderly, which latter carried a field companion supplied with dressings 
and other necessaries ; and these were ordered to establish themselves 
at temporary depots, at such distance in the rear of each regiment as 
would ensure safety to the wounded. Sometimes these temporary 
depots were consolidated into one or two for each brigade ; especially 
was this plan considered more feasible when regiments were small. At 
these advance depots, the ambulances received the wounded for con- 
veyance to division hospital, and, as fast as they were loaded and 
driven away, their places were supplied with others from the ambu- 
lance reserve, still farther in the rear. On the arrival of the ambu- 
lances at the hospital, the recorder made an entry of each case in a 
book provided for that purpose, stating name, rank, company, and 
regiment of the soldier, and the nature of the wound, together with 
any particulars of value to note. If an operation appeared to be 
required, the case was sent at once to the operating staff, — otherwise to 
the wards, and given in charge of a dresser. This record was further 
perfected to show the treatment, operation (if any), and the result or 
disposition of the case, daily reports therefrom being made to the 
medical director of the corps, and by him sent, with those of the other 
divisions, to the medical director of the army. And so the work went 
on in its busy round, until the wounded were all brought off the field, 
operations made, wounds dressed, patients fed, reports made up and 
sent in, and the wounded finally shipped to the depot hospitals at the 
army base. So complete was the working of this system, that, on sev- 
eral occasions after the severest battles, I have seen more than a thou- 
sand wounded cared for in one of these hospitals, the urgent opera- 
tions made, and all the first attention rendered, within a few hours 
after the arrival of the first ambulance load. 

These hospitals were subjected to a rigid system of inspection, both 
during action and at other times, not only by the medical inspectors 
of the corps, but also by medical inspectors from the headquarters of 
the army ; so that it was almost impossible for affairs to go very wrong 
in their conduct. If, perchance, evils crept in, or inefficient officers 
obtained responsible places, they were of certain detection and swift 
remedy. The ambulance trains were also subjected to frequent and 
thorough inspections ; the men were drilled and instructed in their 
duties, and everything pertaining to this important service constantly 
maintained at the highest possible standard of efficiency. 

On the march, each division ambulance train followed immediately 
in the rear of the troops to which it belonged, and was accompanied 
by the permanent staff of the hospital, viz. : the surgeon-in-charge. 



12 REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

the executive officer, and the recorder. When a soldier was taken 
sick on the march, one of his regimental medical officers gave him an 
ambulance pass, which entitled him to make his way slowly along, or 
rest by the wayside until the train came up. One of the medical offi- 
cers accompanying it examined the soldier and his pass, and, if proper, 
gave orders for his admission to an ambulance. On reaching the 
camp for the night, the sick and foot-sore thus gathered up were either 
returned to their regiments or retained in hospital, according to the 
nature and severity of the cases. 

At the lirst battle of Fredericksburg, December 13th, 1862,' the 
hospital of the Second Division, SixthArmy Corps, where I served as 
recorder, was located at the Bernard mansion,^ a large stone house 
situated near the south bank of the Rappahannock river, about half a 
mile to the left of Franklin's Crossing. The owner, a haughty Vir- 
ginian of the old school, had decamped with the Confederate forces on 
our approach, and so hasty had been the departure that the partly filled 
glasses and uncorked bottles of half-drunk wine, still standing on the 
dining-table and open side-board, attested to the convivial nature of 
his last night at home. It was understood at the time that several 
Confederate officers, including some of high rank, were partakers of 
Bernard's hospitality until a late hour that night, but, warned of the 
approach of the Union columns, host and guests hastily departed 
together, leaving behind them the tell-tale evidences of the night's 
hilarity. The house was comfortably, even luxuriously, furnished, and 
several fine pictures, together with other articles of taste and refine- 
ment, gave evidence of the wealth and culture of the late occupants. 
The next day, Bernard returned, but his behavior was so insolent that 
he was placed under guard, and subsequently sent to Washington, 
where he was given quarters in the Old Capitol Prison. 

On the lawn in front of the house, where the tall trees lifted their 
stately forms majestically toward the heavens, were seen, during a tem- 
porary lull in the battle, a group of generals with their attendant staff- 
officers and orderlies. Conspicuous among the number was a young brig- 
adier-general of cavalry, the gallant George D. Bayard. While convers- 
ing with Generals Franklin, Smith, and others, a solid shot, ricochetting 
across the field, struck him down, and he was brought into the hospital 
with a mortal wound, from the effects of which he expired twenty-four 
hours later. He was to have been married in five days more, it was said, 
to one of Philadelphia's fairest daughters. When it was finally decided 
to withdraw to the north bank of the river, the wounded of the Sixth 



1. This house was subsequently burned, and an accurate illustration of the- ruins, which I 
visited June. 1863, just before the Gettysburg campaign commenced, may be found in The Century, 
August, 1886, p. 637.— W. W. P. 



I REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. I3 

Corps were removed to a temporary hospital near Falmouth. As soon 
as cars could be obtained, they were shipped to Acquia Creek, and 
thence by steamers to Washington. I was selected to accompany 
those from the Second Division, and reached Acquia Creek with them 
in charge about eight o'clock in the evening. Two steamers lying at 
anchor in the harbor were ordered to the wharf, and the transshipment 
to them was accomplished by three o'clock a. m. Washington was 
reached at seven in the morning, but it was not until three in the 
afternoon that the last of the wounded were loaded into ambulances, 
and on their way to the General Hospital. I had eaten nothing 
up to this time since leaving Falmouth, nearly twenty-four hours 
before, but the wounded were served with hot coffee and sandwiches 
at the Sixth-street wharf by the Sanitary Commission agents. 

When I reached the camp of the Sixth Corps, near White Oak 
Church, on my return from Washington, I found awaiting me a pleas- 
ant surprise in the nature of a letter from Surgeon-General S. Oakley 
Vander Poel, S. N. Y., promoting me to be surgeon of the 57th Regi- 
ment N. Y. Volunteers, in the First Division of the Second Army 
Corps. 

My service with the 49th Regiment and the Sixth Corps terminated 
upon the issuance of the following order : 

Headquarters Left Grand Division, | 

' Camp near White Oak Church, Va. \ 
Special Orders, } December 27, 1862. 

No. 35. f 



5. The following named officers, having tendered their resignations, are honor- 
ably discharged from the Military Service of the United States. 

Assistant Surgeon William W. Potter, 49th N. Y. Vols., to enable him to 
accept a commission as surgeon of the 57th N. Y. Vols. 

By Command of Major-General Franklin. 

(Signed,) M. T. McMAHON, 

Majo7- and A. A. A. General. 

This promotion afforded me an opportunity to pay a short visit 
home, my first absence from duty since entering the service. I was 
mustered in as surgeon at the War Department, in Washington, on 
the 22d of January, 1863, and reported to the regiment for duty on 
the 31st. 

The 57th N. Y. Volunteers was then encamped above Falmouth, 
and was attached to the Third Brigade of the First Division of the 



14 REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

Second Army Corps. This division was then commanded by Major- 
General W. S. Hancock, who subsequently became famous as com- 
mander of the Second Army Corps. I had known General Hancock 
when he was a brigade commander in General Smith's Division of the 
Sixth Corps, as well as the members of his personal staff, who were 
still with him, and this acquaintance served me to a good purpose in 
my new relations about to commence. 

We remained in camp near Falmouth, the troops doing picket 
duty along the Rappahannock, until the Chancellorsville campaign 
opened April 27th. 

On the morning of Tuesday, April 28tb, we marched at sunrise, 
and on the 30th crossed the river at United States Ford, bivouacking 
near Chancellorsville late that night. 

At the battle of Chancellorsville, May ist to 4th, the hospital of 
the First Division, Second Corps, was located in the woods, three- 
fourths of a mile in the rear of the Chancellor House, near the road 
leading to United States Ford. Here it was impracticable to even 
pitch the tents, for the position of the troops was so changeable, and 
the lines were so unstable that, besides the danger of the enemy's 
fire, there was the additional danger of possible capture ; so the 
wounded were placed in rows upon blankets, the dry leaves gathered 
by the attendants, serving in the place of straw. Colonel Nelson A. 
Miles, 6ist N. Y. Volunteers (now Brevet Major-General U. S. A.), 
was brought into this hospital with a supposed mortal wound. He 
was placed upon the table for examination, and, while the surgeons 
were thus engaged, a shell burst near by, killing the ambulance ser- 
geant who brought the gallant Colonel off the field, and who was 
sitting on his horse intently watching the surgeons, anxiously await- 
ing the result, that he might take back to the front accurate informa- 
tion concerning the condition of his beloved commander. The 
wound proved less serious than was at first supposed, though the 
symptoms of collapse were alarming ; nevertheless, this distinguished 
officer was spared to render valuable service afterward, both with the 
Army of the Potomac, where he rose to the command of a division, 
and in fighting the Indians on the plains since the close of the civil 
war ; his record as a soldier having passed into history, while he is 
yet in the full vigor of his usefulness. On Monday, May 4th, a train 
of ambulances was loaded with wounded, and sent across the Rappa- 
hannock at United States Ford, onwards to Potomac Creek Hospital. 
I was sent in charge of the train, and delivered the wounded at the 
hospital the same night, remaining there on duty for two weeks after- 
wards. While en route we passed sufficiently near to witness Sedg- 



REMINISCENXES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. I 5 

wick's gallant fight at Bank's Ford/ the bursting of the shells 
above the tree-tops, in the gray twilight, making a brilliant, though 
destructive, pyrotechnic display. 

At Gettysburg the hospital of the First Division was literally 
shelled out of its first position. The site was chosen early in the day 
on the 2d of July, soon after the arrival of the corps on the field, after 
its night's march from Taneytown. In the afternoon, while there was 
yet quietude along the whole line, I rode over to General Meade's 
headquarters on the Taneytown road, and, after making a short call, 
passed on to Cemetery Hill, to take a survey of the field from that 
point. Sweeping my glass towards the left, I saw the Third Corps, 
under Sickles, advancing in magnificent line of battle towards the 
Emmetsburg Pike. The day had been cloudy, with a misty rain a 
portion of the time ; but now the clouds were breaking away, and, as 
the sunlight glinted on the burnished muskets and bright colors of the 
advancing host, a most beautiful and entrancing picture was presented 
to the view. Two general officers, Howard and Doubleday, were 
standing near by watching the scene intently, and when, presently, 
a white smoke was seen farther to the left, the latter exclaimed, 
"There, General, go the enemy's batteries," I began to realize, 
indeed, that the battle had opened. Returning to my post, I called 
again at headquarters ; but in a few minutes the shells began to fill the 
air with their shrieking and hissing music, the location being such 
as to receive all long-range and stray projectiles. The fire soon grew 
so hot that everybody took to horse — generals, staff officers, orderlies, 
and escort, all left the place, but in the most quiet manner — Meade 
for the front, Pleasanton to look after his cavalry, and other officers 
to their various posts of duty. Meanwhile, I discovered that the first 
position of our hospital had become untenable, by reason of being in 
range of the enemy's fire, and a new location covered in by a hill, 
near a stream of water, had been selected. Here we remained until 
the battle was over, performing operations and attending to the 
wounded night and day, until all were finally cared for and removed 
to more permanent hospitals. General S. K. Zook, of the First 
Division, received a mortal wound on the evening of July 2d, and we 
sent him to a house near by. He survived less than twenty-four hours, 
and it was my sad duty to minister to his sufferings during this period. 

During the battle of Gettysburg, the hospitals of the army, except- 
ing those of the Twelfth Corps, were without their usual camp equip- 
age, and, as a consequence, everything had to be improvised as best 
it could. Houses, barns, straw-stacks, and all available localities 

I The Sixth Corps here literally cut its way through the enemy, and crossed to the north bank 
in the night.— W. W. P. 



l6 REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

were seized upon ; while even woods were, in many instances, the 
only protection obtainable. It appears that General Meade had given 
strict orders that no wagons should go to the front, excepting the 
hospital and ammunition trains, but the Chief Quartermaster had 
somehow failed to include the hospital trains in the exception, hence 
the embarrassment. When this was finally discovered, it was too late 
to rectify the mistake, and so we were obliged to improvise, as I have 
stated. Thus it came about that during the greatest battle of the war — 
certainly a pivotal battle — the wounded were subjected to greater pri- 
vations, in many respects, than when we were fighting on the soil, 
which, by common consent, was designated the enemy's country. 
But they made no complaint, and, as the weather was warm, the suffer- 
ing by this deprivation of usual shelter was reduced to a minimum. 
The Twelfth Corps, which somehow succeeded in evading the order 
about the trains, brought its hospital wagons up, and was thus enabled 
to carry on its hospital work more systematically. 

On the 8th of August, 1863, while the Second Corps was 
encamped near Morrisville, Va., guarding some of the fords of the 
Rappahannock, east of the' Orange & Alexandria railroad, the follow 
ing order was issued, assigning me to the charge of the First Division 

Hospital : 

Head(juarters Second Army Corps, "I 
August 8,' 1863. i 
Special Orders, ") 
No. 717. J 

Surgeon W. W. Potter, 57th N. Y. Volunteers, is hereby detailed to the com- 
mand of the hospital of the First Division, Second Corps relieving Surgeon George 
L. Potter, who, on being thus relieved, will report to his regimental commander 
without delay. 

By Order of Brigadier-General Caldwell. 

(Signed,) JOHN HANCOCK, 

Assistant Adjutant- General. 

I continued upon this duty until mustered out of service, and the 
remainder of this memoir will be devoted to an account of service in 
that capacity. 

During the succeeding few months the army was engaged in a 
campaign of manoeuvres, extending from Mitchell's Station back to 
Centerville, then out to the Rappahannock again ; finally across the 
Rapidan to Mine Run, and thence back to Winter quarters, between 
those two rivers, with the headquarters of the army near Brandy 
Station. During this period, hospital work consisted chiefly in receiv- 
ing and caring for the sick on the march, as we had comparatively 
few wounded to provide for, and we were practically an ambulance 
or flying hospital. In the retrograde movement to Centerville in 



REMINISCENCES OF FIELD- HOSPITAL SERVICE. 1 7 

October, however, the First Division, under General Caldwell, cov- 
ered the rear the last day, October 14th, wher there was some sharp 
work, culminating, just at nightfall, in the battle at Bristoe Station. 
During the day we were once or twice in precarious positions, our 
hospital train narrowly escaping capture at Auburn, in the early 
morning. I was obliged, also, on this occasion to provide for the 
cavalry wounded, besides my own, and, after the fight at Bristoe, 
all were taken to Centerville, where we arrived late at night. Being 
short of medical officers, I was compelled to make some urgent opera- 
tions in the night, with only one surgical assistant; the hospital 
steward and nurses were, however, utilized to advantage, and all were 
cared for before morning. Next day all our wounded were sent to 
Fairfax Station for shipment to Washington, and we were again ready 
for the forward movement, which soon commenced. 

All were cared for, did I say ? No ! Not all. One poor fellow, 
just returned from General Hospital, where he had been for months^ 
was wounded that day by a shell, which shattered his right leg and left 
forearm at one fell swoop. He was placed in an ambulance and 
brought up to Centerville that night, but he was so low from shock 
that we dared not remove him therefrom, and so fed him with brandy 
and beef stock in the ambulance until morning, a nurse being specially 
detailed for that purpose. When daylight came he was still too feeble 
to go upon the operating table, and so was watched and fed until the 
order came to move in the afternoon of the 15th. Something now 
must be done, the order to move was imperative, and the wounded 
were all loaded into the ambulances, to go to Fairfax Station. Hastily 
summoning the Medical Director of the Corps, Dr. A. N. Dougherty, 
of Newark, N. J., now deceased, we determined, upon consultation, 
that the only proper way was to amputate. One ambulance was kept 
to receive this man, and the others were allowed to depart en train to 
the railroad station. A shower had now arisen, and all shelter had 
been struck and loaded in the wagons, so, while four men held a rub- 
ber blanket over us for protection from the rain, I made the double 
consecutive amputations of his right thigh and left arm, and placed 
hjm in the waiting ambulance with a special nurse and stimulants, to 
follow the remainder of the train to Fairfax. He recovered and wrote 
me afterward from General Hospital in Washington. His name is 
Frank Rose, private Co. D., 57th N. Y. Volunteers, and the case is 
recorded in the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the 
Rebellion,— the arm amputation in Part II., surgical volume, p. 711, 
and the thigh amputation in Part III., surgical volume, p. 253. 



1 8 REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

This incident is mentioned to show the exigencies of the service, 
and how even extreme surgical emergencies must be subordinated to 
the inexorable demands of military necessities ; and, further, to show 
how, even under the most unpromising conditions and adverse cir- 
cumstances, surgical work may turn to success, — how lives on the field 
were sometimes snatched from the very jaws of death. 

At the Mine Run affair, in the last days of November, we only 
employed the ambulance hospitals in the Second Corps, as we had but 
few wounded, and they, for the most part, were only slight cases. 
The weather was bitter cold, and the only comfort to be derived from 
the movement was its brief duration. On our return to the north side 
of the Rapidan, every one felt that campaigning was over for the 
Winter, and we soon settled into the hum-drum ways of every day 
camp life. Orders were soon issued for the preparation of more per- 
manent hospitals, and a site was selected for those of the Second 
Corps in apiece of woods situated about a mile from Brandy Station, 
on the road to Stevensburg. Trees were felled, ground cleared, and 
tents pitched for the three hospitals of the corps, which were arranged 
side by side in their numerical order, that of the First Division being 
on the right. 

It so happened that within the lines of the First Division were two 
saw-mills, situated upon a stream that flowed along the camps, and 
which furnished the power to run them. They were immediately put 
in order by the Chief Quartermaster of the division, logs were cut and 
hauled by the soldiers, who enjoyed this diversion from ordinary mili- 
tary duties, and, by working the mills night and day, sufficient lumber 
was soon obtained to make the cantonments of the entire corps very 
comfortable. The hospitals received the first supply, next the enlisted 
men, and lastly, the officers; so that by the middle of January, 1864, 
the camps began to assume quite a home-like air. 

The hospitals were laid out in streets, with a double row of tents 
on each side, facing inwards, and the quarters of the Surgeon-in- 
Charge located at the head of the street, facing south. A separate 
cot was provided for each patient in thiswise : four crotched posts were 
driven into the ground, one at each of the four corners of the bed ; a 
firm stick rested in the crotches across the head and foot, on which 
were placed small springy poles cut from straight saplings, extending 
lengthwise of the bed, and as close together as they could lie ; a bed- 
sack filled with straw, a pillow, warm blankets, and clean white sheets, 
served to equip a very comfortable bed. The aisles, as well as the 
spaces between each cot, were floored ; spacious fire-places were con- 




H S 



REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 1 9 

structed in the rear end of each ward ; and sidewalks built on both 
sides of the streets, and elsewhere about the camp, as convenience 
required. This may seem, as described, a crude and rough place for 
the care of the sick, to one not familiar with army life ; but civilians, 
who visited these hospitals, were surprised and gratified to find them 
both cheerful and comfortable. It was, moreover, a matter of expe- 
rience that recoveries were more prompt, not to say more certain, 
when the soldiers who were disabled by curable diseases, were treated 
in field hospitals, surrounded by comrades who had a personal interest 
in their welfare, and ministered unto by their own surgeons. The 
hygienic surroundings, too, were usually superior to those of large 
general hospitals, and, besides, the sick treated in tents have an incom- 
parable advantage in being able to obtain plenty of fresh air with- 
out the dangers of a draught. [See illustrations.] 

A special supply of fresh oysters, milk, and crackers, brought 
daily from Washington, together with other obtainable comforts and 
luxuries, contributed much to the welfare and contentment of the 
sick ; while the presence of a bright, cheery, and faithful woman nurse, ^ 
who also presided over the special diet kitchen, aided not a little to 
make the service of the hospital more effectually successful. The 
wounded from Morton's Ford, February 6, 1864, instead of being 
sent to Washington after the first attention, were distributed to these 
three division hospitals, where all the operations were made, and 
where they were kept until recovery or other termination of the cases 
occurred. 

Early in January, 1864, General Meade issued orders permitting 
officers who so desired, to invite their wives, mothers, or sisters, to 
visit the army for a limited period and something like 4,000 ladies 
availed themselves of this privilege, during the Winter and early 
Spring. A large music hall was built at General Caldwell's headquar- 
ters, (First Division, Second Corps,) which was in almost nightly use 
for concerts, hops, lectures, and other social gatherings. Grace Green- 
wood (Mrs. Lippincott) paid us a visit during the course of the sea- 
son, and favored us with three or four of her characteristic " talks," 
which always bristled with wit, wisdom, and genuine loyalty. The fre- 
quent visits of many of these ladies to the hospitals, and their kind 
and cheery words to the sick, will long be remembered by both those 
who were the recipients and those who witnessed their beneficial 



I. Miss Cornelia Hancock, who also rendered good service afterwards in the base hospitals a 
Fredericksburg and City Point. This deserving woman has rendered distinguished service on sev 
eral occasions during dire disaster since the war — notably, at Charleston, S. C, after the earth 
quake, and more recently at Johnstown, Pa., after the flood. — W. W. P. 



20 REMINISCENCES OF FIELD- HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

effects, as a bright oasis in the desert-like expanse of war's dreadful 



arena. 



In the latter days of April the unrecovered sick of the arm)^ were 
sent to Washington, surplus baggage and camp equipage sent to the 
rear, and everything put in readiness for an active campaign, which 
actually began on the 3d of May. The campaign equipment of the 
First Division Hospital consisted of twenty-two hospital tents, forty- 
three ambulances, fourteen army wagons to carry supplies, and five 
Autenreith medicine wagons. We had thirty-six hospital attendants 
under charge of a ward-master, a chief hospital steward, and a chief 
cook. Other hospital stewards, nurses, cooks, and attendants were 
supplied as occasion required. 

The organization of the hospital staff, at the opening of the cam- 
paign, was as follows : 

Surgeon W. W. Potter, 57//; N. V. Volunteers, In Charge. 
Surgeon Charles S. Hoyt, sgth, N. Y. Volunteers, Executive Officer. 
Assistant Surgeon P. M. Plunkett, 2d Delaware Volunteers, Recorder. 
Lieutenant Burkhardt, 6bth N. V. Volunteers, Acting Assistant Commissary 
of Subsistence 

Dr. Plunkett was mustered out July 2, 1864, by reason of expira- 
tion of term of service, and his place was filled by the appointment 
of Assistant Surgeon J. C. Norris, 81st Pa. Volunteers. The division 
consisted of four brigades— one more than the usual number— and, 
consequently, our necessities were proportionately larger in the way 
of hospital equipment. Each brigade was allowed one medicine 
wagon of the Autenreith pattern, and I had one for my own operat- 
ing uses, in which I also carried supplies to issue to the others in case 
of emergency, making five in all, as I have above stated. 

During the Winter, Dr. Letterman had been, at his own request, 
relieved from duty as Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, 
and Surgeon T. A. McParlin, U. S. A., appointed in his stead. Dr.' 
McParlin proceeded to carry out the wise provisions of his predeces- 
sor's administration, and his orders at the opening of the campaign 
evinced a knowledge of the magnitude and responsibilities of his 
position, which gave him, at once, the confidence and support of the 
medical staff of the army, and which strengthened as the campaign 
progressed. 

In the battle of the Wilderness, where we remained from the 4th to 
the 7th of May, we obtained native ice the first day, taken from an 
ice-house near the lines, which General Francis C. Barlow, then com- 



•^ O 

> 2 



^ c 



^ txi 




REMINISCENCES OF FIELD HOSPITAL SERVICE. 21 

manding the First Division, with his characteristic thoughtfuhiess for 
the welfare of his wounded, ordered seized and sent to the hospital. 
From this time until we reached the lines before Petersburg, we had 
liberal supplies of native ice wherever we established our hospital. 

We moved towards Spottsylvania on the night of the yth ; were 
at Todd's Tavern on the 8th and 9th ; at the River Po on the loth ; 
and at Spottsylvania from the nth to the 19th. The hospital was 
located near Cossins's from the nth to the 14th, where its capacity 
was taxed to the uttermost, more than 1,000 wounded having been 
received before noon of the 12th. General Barlow sent the Division 
band to the hospital on the 13th, to give a concert for the wounded, 
which cheered the men very much, as it was the first music we had 
been permitted to enjoy since crossing the Rapidan. The wounded 
of the Second Corps were sent to Fredericksburg on the nth and 
13th, numbering at both shipments 2,923, in 133 ambulances, and 258 
army wagons. The First Division Hospital sent 450 on the nth; 
and had still 950 for shipment on the 13th. We spent most of the 
night of the 13th in this work, and after exhausting all our transporta- 
tion, both ambulances and army wagons, daylight fomid us with 
about 200 still on hand. ' 

The movement of the corps to the left, during the night of the 
13th, uncovered our position at Cossins's, and rendered a like movement 
of the hospital necessary ; so we left the remaining wounded, supplied 
with the necessary medical officers, rations, and hos]Mtal supplies, to 
fall into the enemy's hands." I left the place on the 14th, after com- 
pleting all arrangements for their care, and soon after my departure 
the enemy's cavalry, under Rosser, came in, capturing all hospital 
attendants who wore no distinctive badge, and carrying off the greater 
part of the rations which had been left for the wounded. The Con- 
federate wounded, who were left behind, were also removed to their 
own lines by the troopers. A force from the Second Corps was sent 
to drive away the marauders, but they were off before our troops 
arrived. Sadly enough, Surgeon Thomas Jones, 8th Pa. Reserves, 
left with the wounded of the Fifth Corps, similarly abandoned, was 
killed by one of our own soldiers, who, in the darkness, mistook him 
for a guerilla. On the i6th, just at evening, a train of ambulances, 



1. This was. indeed, a most trying night and the permanent staff could be seen, with lanterns 
in hand, superintending the loading of the wagons during all those weary hours, with the mud over- 
foot, and the rain still falling. I presume Dr. Hoyt, the then Executive Officer, who is now Secre- 
tary of the New York State Board of Charities, should his eye meet this, will remember the occasion 
vividly. General Francis A. Walker, Assistant Adjutant-General of the Second Corps, who was 
then an inmate of my own tent, as a guest for a week, by reason of an injury received on the morn- 
ing of the assault at the salient, May 12th, will, I am sure, recall the scene. — \V. W. P. 

2. This was done under orders from army headquarters. — W. W. P. 



22 REMINISCENCES OF FIELD HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

protected by Gibbon's Division, went to Cossins's and brought in the 
wounded from all the abandoned hospitals, together with the stores, 
tents, and attendants still remaining. After being fed and dressed, 
the wounded were sent to Fredericksburg. 

At Cold Harbor, the Tyler House' on the left was first selected as 
our hospital site, but, as the military authorities deemed it unsafe, the 
tents were pitched in a field farther to the right, near army headquar- 
ters. Here we remained during the heaviest part of the battle, 
from the 2d to the 4th of June, where we cared for more than 1,000 
wounded in our hospital. The dead bodies of three brigade com- 
manders were brought to the First Division Hospital here, viz. : 
Colonel O. H. Morris, 66th N. Y. ; Colonel H. B. McKeon, 8ist Pa., 
and Colonel Peter A. Porter, 8th N. Y. H. Artillery, where they were 
embalmed and sent North. Colonel McKeon fell between the lines, 
and his body could not be recovered until after night-fall, when 
volunteers were called for, who brought it off. 

On the 5th we moved the hospital to the Tyler House, where it 
was originally intended to establish it, the lines now having been suffi- 
ciently extended to protect that position. We were now about two 
miles from Gaines's mill, the scene of Porter's great battle of two 
years before, which was now within the enemy's line. Here the tents 
were pitched on a beautiful lawn facing an avenue of locusts of 
ancient lineage, leading from the road to the house, a distance of some 
twenty rods. The Recorder's office, hospital commissary, and 
officers' mess were established in the house, which afforded conveniences 
for these important departments, so essential to the successful conduct 
of our hospital. A well-filled ice-house supplied us liberally with ice 
during the week we remained there, but it was completely emptied by 
the end of that time. Our mess was made up of the members of the 
permanent staff of the hospital, the five ambulance officers of the 
division, and the hospital commissary of subsistence ; and during 
engagements I always invited the operating staff to join us, which they 
gladly did, as their own messes were temporarily disrupted. There 
was always a unity of feeling between the hospital staff and the ambu- 
lance officers in the First Division, and each department enjoyed the 
confidence and received the support of the other. 

On Sunday, June 12th, preparations were made for the movement 
to the James river. The sick and wounded were sent to White 
House, the hospital packed up, and by night-fall we were on our way 



I. The property of the late Dr. Tyler, a relative of ex-President Tyler. The owner died two 
years before, while the army under McClellan was occupying the Cold Harbor region. — W. W. P. 



REMINISCENCES OF FIELD- HOSPITAL SERVICE. 23 

to participate in the plan recommended by McClellan in 1862, which 
the army was about to take up, namely, to attack Richmond and the 
rebel host from the South, via Petersburg. Fifteen ambulances and 
one medicine wagon accompanied each division ; the remainder of the 
hospital train, consisting of ambulances, medicine wagons, and army 
wagons joining the supply trains and moving with them. The James 
river was crossed on a pontoon bridge, at Wilcox's landing, hear Fort 
Powhatan.^ The supply trains, having in some manner obtained the 
right of way over the bridge, delayed the crossing of the medical train 
from early morning until late in the afternoon of the i6th, so that it 
did not reach the front until between nine and ten o'clock that night. 
Meanwhile, a battle was in progress, the Second Corps having made 
an assault at six o'clock in the evening, and Medical Director Dough- 
erty had selected sites for the hospitals ; but nothing further could be 
done, excepting to build arbors and prepare the ground, until the 
wagons arrived. This was the first time during the campaign that the 
hospitals had not been fully prepared for the reception of wounded in 
advance of the necessity, and this was without fault of the medical 
department. Tents, however, were pitched, the wounded brought in, 
food prepared, and serious cases attended to; the hospital staff, ambu- 
lance corps, and attendants working hard all night with energy and 
alacrity for humanity's sake. By noon of the 17th, the First Division 
Hospital had received over r,ooo wounded, the third time this had 
happened since the opening of the campaign, the two other instances 
having been at Spottsylvania and Cold Harbor. 

Mrs. General Barlow, who had been with us a few days at the 
Tyler House, visited us again at this point, and was kept busy in pre- 
paring milk-punch, which she administered to the wounded with her 
own hands. This philanthropic woman yielded up her life to her 
country's cause, breathing it out a month hence, from fatal disease 
contracted in her efforts to alleviate the suffering of wounded soldiers. 
The campaign thus far had been almost a perpetual battle from the 
Rapidaii to Petersburg, taxing the energies and endurance of the medi- 
cal staff and the ambulance service to an extreme degree ; but they 
had not been found wanting, and, notwithstanding the unusual hard- 
ships of the campaign, had met every demand made upon them in a 
spirit of cheerful obedience to duty, and with a promptitude amidst 
many difficulties that were, oftentimes, well-nigh overwhelming. I 
would not wish to make, at this time, invidious distinctions where all 
worked so well and faithfully, but a few men, besides the hospital staff 
proper, were a tower of strength to me during this trying campaign. 



I. The river is nearly a mile in width at this point. — W. W. P. 



24 REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

The never-tiring and always amiable Medical Director of the corps, 
Dr. A. N. Dougherty, was ever ready with advice and timely aid; 
General Francis C. Barlow, a martinet in discipline and a brave and 
capable field commander, always manifested the kindliest interest in 
the hospital, granting every request consistent with military exigency 
to render it efficient; Dr. D. H. Houston, Surgeon-in-Chief ; Dr. 
J. W. Wishart, Chief Operator, and Dr. A. Vander Veer, Surgeon of 
the 66th N. Y. Volunteers, were among my confidential advisers and 
able coadjutors in the work. These, and others whom I should be 
glad to mention by name, did space permit, contributed in an inesti- 
mable degree to whatever of success my administration of the First 
Division Hospital may have attained. 

The operations before Petersburg soon began to partake of the 
nature of a siege, and the hospitals, likewise, began to assume a more 
permanent mien. At the Burchard House, on the Norfolk & Peters- 
burg stage road, where the First Division Hospital located itself some- 
time in July, ovens were built, cots erected, and many of the comforts 
of Winter quarters provided. Purchases of fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, 
milk, etc., were made from the hospital fund; ice was obtained from 
City Point, and many other luxuries were likewise added to the ordi- 
nary army supplies that served to improve the efficiency of our work. 
A portion of the family, with a few servants, still occupied the house 
and premises, but Mr. Burchard himself, who was the father-in-law of 
the Confederate General Dearing, was absent in Petersburg, whither 
he went with Mrs. Dearing just before our forces appeared. The 
establishment of our lines on the i6th of June cut off his return, and 
he was thus compelled to remain away until Petersburg fell, in 
April, 1865. 

Several expeditionary movements were made by the Second Army 
Corps, while the Army of the Potomac was besieging Petersburg. 
One of the first of these was to Dee]) Bottom, on the James river, 
which began on the evening of July 26th, and which had for its 
objective the diversion of a sufficient force of the enemy away from 
his works to enable the Ninth Corps to make an assault, with increased 
chances of success, after the explosion of its famous mine, that was 
now about completed. Another object in the movement was to move 
on Richmond from the north side of the James river, in case it should 
be found feasible to do so. The first division took fifteen ambulances 
on this expedition, and sufficient material to conduct a flying hospital. 
We crossed the James river before dawn, on the 27th, and captured a 
battery of four twenty-pounder Parott guns at sunrise. We remained 



REMINISCENCES OF FIELD HOSPITAL SERVICE. 2$ 

in observation until the dark of the 29th, when our wounded were 
shipped by steamer, and the corps returned to the Petersburg lines in 
time to witness the explosion of the mine on the morning of the 
30th, though, happily, none of our troops were engaged in the assault. 
We reestablished our hospital at the Burchard house, where we 
remained until the 12th of August, when we once more moved to 
Deep Bottom. The hospital train crossed the river on the same 
bridges as before, and established itself on the north bank. Here we 
remained from the 14th to the 20th of August, during which time 
there was much spirited fighting, and we had many wounded to care 
for, among whom was Captain James C. Bronson, 57th New York Vol- 
unteers. Captain Bronson was doing staff duty with the Third Brig- 
ade, when he received a wound of the right forearm that rendered 
amputation necessary. I cared for him in my own quarters from the 
14th to the 20th, when we were ordered to ship our wounded by steam- 
ers, and again prepare to retrace our steps to our old position. The 
morning of August 21st found us once more at the Burchard house, 
but we moved the same day to the left, to assist Warren's Fifth Corps 
in securing the Weldon railroad, and finally brought up, on the 25th, 
at Reams' Station. The 26th found us still again at the Burchard 
house ; and this time we remained comparatively quiet for some time. 
The movement to Hatcher's Run, in October, temporarily disrupted 
the hospital, but it was again established at the Burchard house, and 
substantially occupied the site during the late Fall and Winter, even 
until the final campaign, in the early Spring of 1865. 

Colonel James A. Beaver,^ 148th Pa., who lost a leg at Reams' 
Station, August 25th, was quartered in this house until his recovery. 
After the amputation, which was made in the temporary hospital on 
the field, he was brought hither on a stretcher, a distance of over 
eight miles, by a detail of sixteen men.^ Here he was faithfully 
nursed by Miss Gilson, niece of the Hon. Mr. Fay, of Chelsea, Mass., 
a prominent member of the United States Sanitary Commission. Mr. 
Fay, himself, was also a frequent visitor to the hospital, contributing 
time and means to the alleviation of the suffering sick and wounded, 
here and elsewhere throughout the army. 

Both the Sanitary and Christian Commissions rendered efficient 
service to the hospital inmates during the overland campaign, as well 



1. Afterward Brevet Brigadier-General U. S. Volunteers, and now Governor of Pennsylvania. — 
W. W. P. 

2. A similar service was rendered to General Sickles, at Gettysburg, the same night of the 
amputation, July 2d. A detail of forty soldiers carried him to Westminister, a distance of twenty-five 
miles. I have no doubt both these lives were saved by this expedient.— W. W. P. 



26 REMINISCENCES OF FIELD HOSPITAL SERVICE. 

as at other times, furnishing suppHes of lemons, oranges, shirts, 
drawers, and other useful articles, besides rendering personal atten- 
tion to individual cases, writing and mailing letters, and doing 
a variety of other work which cannot be specified, but which 
economized the time of the already overworked medical staff and 
attendants, on many occasions. 

The large base hospitals established at Fredericksburg, Port Royal, 
White House, and City Point, under the charge of Surgeon E. B. 
Dalton, U. S. Volunteers, were an important part of the hospital 
system of the Army of the Potomac, and are worthy of more than a 
passing reference ; so, too, of the railway and steamboat transporta- 
tion of the wounded ; but this article has already reached its limits, 
and the distinctive features of field-hospital service which was its pur- 
pose to present, have already been set forth. 

From the 3d of May to the 19th of September, 1864, the First 
Division Hospital register contained the names of between 7,000 and 
8,000 sick and wounded, who had been cared for during that period. 
Many of these were slight cases that recovered in a few days, more 
or less, and were returned to duty. If they had been at once sent 
beyond the Field Hospital to the General Hospitals, in the North, 
they would not have returned for several months, if at all. In this 
way, alone, the division system of hospital organization exhibited an 
economic value of no mean proportions. 

The post of the surgeon in action has erroneously been supposed 
by many to be free from danger. The records of the Surgeon Gene- 
ral's office, at Washington, show that during the late war thirty-two 
medical officers were killed in battle, or by guerrillas, or partisans ; 
nine killed by accident ; and eighty-three wounded in action, of whom 
ten died. This is believed to be a casualty list proportionately larger 
than that of any other staff corps. Three medical officers were killed 
at the battle of Antietam, one of whom, Surgeon W. J- H. White, 
U. S. A. Medical Director of the Sixth Corps, was the first officer 
killed in Franklin's command in that battle. On the loth of May, 
1864, at the engagement at the River Po, Surgeon A. N. Dougherty, 
U. S. Volunteers, Medical Director of the Second Corps, than whom 
there was no braver or more efficient officer in the medical staff of the 
army, was wounded by a shell while superintending the affairs of his 
department. These instances are cited to show that even medical 
officers of the higher grades were often exposed to the greatest 
dangers. 



REMINISCENCES OF FIELD-HOSPITAL SERVICE. 2/ 

As an interesting final fact, showing the importance of the care of 
the sick and wounded of an army from another standpoint, it is ascer- 
tained fron.i carefully compiled financial tables, also derived from the 
Surgeon Geii^eral's office, that the total money cost of the maintenance 
of the Medicc3l Department of the army from 1861 to 1865, exclusive 
of the salaries of officers, was something over forty-seven and one- 
third millions of dollars. Surely a republic that dealt so generously 
with its soldiers wibo suffered from the casualties of war in its defense, 
cannot justly be charged with neglectfulness, indifference, or ingrati- 
tude. 

284 Franklin street. 



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