Civil War Hospital Ship

The U.S.S. Red Rover, a captured Confederate vessel, was refitted as a hospital ship.

Evolution of Civil War Nursing

The evolution of the nursing profession in America was accelerated by the Civil War.

The Practice of Surgery

Amputations were the most common surgery performed during the Civil War.

Army Medical Museum and Library

Surgeon-General William Hammond established The Army Medical Museum in 1862. It was the first federal medical research facility.

Civil War Amputation Kit

Many Civil War surgical instruments had handles of bone, wood or ivory. They were never sterilized.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Salisbury Prison

From "Stories from the Civil War", an online course for teachers.
Provided by North Carolina Museum of History.

During the early days of the Civil War, the Confederacy, unprepared to confine Northern prisoners of war and deserters or Southern deserters and dissenters, housed these men in jails and abandoned buildings. In July 1861 the Confederate government appealed to the states for a prison. North Carolina, the only state to offer a prison, suggested the site of a former cotton factory in Salisbury. Its location on a rail line would facilitate prisoner movement. The main structure, a four-story brick factory, and accompanying wooden buildings would sufficiently house the anticipated two thousand inmates. On November 2, 1861, the Confederate government purchased the sixteen-acre site. Guards were hired, and repairs and modifications to the site were made. On December 9, 1861, the first 109 Union POWs arrived. By May 1862 Salisbury Prison held more than fourteen hundred inmates.

The inmates enjoyed good conditions initially. Food, water, and space were plentiful. Religious services took place each Sunday. The men performed in concerts and theatrical routines, and played chess and cards. Some made trinkets to pass the time. But their favorite activity was baseball; they played nearly every day the weather allowed.

In late May 1862 negotiations resulted in the parole to the Union of about fourteen hundred POWs. Salisbury Prison held few inmates until October 1864, when thousands of captives began arriving. On November 6, 1864, the prison held 8,740 inmates, the largest number at any one time and far more than the 2,500 for which it was designed. Conditions quickly deteriorated. Inmates faced overcrowding, poor sanitation, meager rations of food and water, vermin, inadequate medical care, and lack of warm clothing and heating fuel. Tents and dugouts in the ground served as makeshift shelters as buildings were converted to hospitals for the growing number of sick. Up to twenty men a day died in the fall of 1864 owing to these harsh conditions.

Prison workers, although frustrated by the conditions the POWs faced, could do little to alleviate the situation. The workers themselves, particularly the guards, were ill clothed and ill equipped because of shortages. Food, water, and other staples were in short supply throughout North Carolina and the Confederacy, and the public and Confederate government complained if precious commodities went to the prison rather than to the troops.

Many captives attempted to escape from Salisbury Prison, often by tunneling under the fence surrounding the prison site. The most ambitious escape attempt occurred on November 25, 1864, when captives rushed the prison gates, wrenched guns from the guards, and tried to run into the surrounding woods. The guards fought back, firing a cannon three times and recapturing the men, who were weak from lack of food. About 250 men, including several guards, died in the desperate escape attempt.

On February 17, 1865, the Confederate and Union governments announced a general POW exchange. Over the next three weeks, more than five thousand prisoners left Salisbury. The sick went by train to Richmond; the able marched to Greensboro, and then went by train to Wilmington, where on March 2 they were officially exchanged for Confederate prisoners. Only a few civilian prisoners and those too sick to be moved remained in Salisbury Prison.

Confederate officials debated the future function of Salisbury Prison, deciding it should be used for urgent needs. But on April 12–13, 1865, before the site could be put to use, Union general George Stoneman and his army burned the prison buildings and destroyed much of the property.

Between November 1861 and February 1865, Salisbury Prison held about fifteen thousand prisoners. Approximately four thousand men died because of poor conditions. In 1867 the site became a national cemetery honoring Union soldiers who died in the prison. The United States government in 1873, the state of Maine in 1908, and the state of Pennsylvania in 1909 erected memorials at the cemetery. Today, visitors taking the Salisbury Civil War Sites Driving Tour can see the prison site, a remaining guard building, and the national cemetery.

From: learnnc.org

Image: A "Bird's Eye View" of the Confederate prison at Salisbury as it existed in 1864, published in the North some years after the war. (Illustration by C. A. Kraus, 1886, published by J. H. Bufford's Sons Lith., Boston, New York, & Chicago

Soldiers' Food

By John Heiser, Gettysburg National Military Park.

By far, the food soldiers received has been the source of more stories than any other aspect of army life. The Union soldier received a variety of edibles. The food issue, or ration, was usually meant to last three days while on active campaign and was based on the general staples of meat and bread. Meat usually came in the form of salted pork or, on rare occasions, fresh beef. Rations of pork or beef were boiled, broiled or fried over open campfires. Army bread was a flour biscuit called hardtack, re-named “tooth-dullers,” “worm castles,” and “sheet iron crackers” by the soldiers who ate them. Hardtack could be eaten plain though most men preferred to toast them over a fire, crumble them into soups, or crumble and fry them with their pork and bacon fat in a dish called skillygalee. Other food items included rice, peas, beans, dried fruit, potatoes, molasses, vinegar, and salt. Baked beans were a northern favorite when the time could be taken to prepare them and a cooking pot with a lid could be obtained. Coffee was a most desirable staple and some soldiers considered the issue of coffee and accompanying sugar more important than anything else. Coffee beans were distributed green so it was up to the soldiers to roast and grind them. The task for this most desirable of beverages was worth every second as former soldier John Billings recalled: “What a Godsend it seemed to us at times! How often after being completely jaded by a night march… have I had a wash, if there was water to be had, made and drunk my pint or so of coffee and felt as fresh and invigorated as if just arisen from a night’s sound sleep!”

Soldiers often grouped themselves into a “mess” to combine and share rations, often with one soldier selected as cook or split duty between he and another man. But while on active campaign, rations were usually prepared by each man to the individual’s taste. It was considered important for the men to cook the meat ration as soon as it was issued, for it could be eaten cold if activity prevented cook fires. A common campaign dinner was salted pork sliced over hardtack with coffee boiled in tin cups that each man carried.
The southern soldier’s diet was considerably different from his northern counterpart and usually in much less quantity. The average Confederate subsisted on bacon, cornmeal, molasses, peas, tobacco, vegetables and rice. They also received a coffee substitute which was not as desirable as the real coffee northerners had. Trades of tobacco for coffee were quite common throughout the war when fighting was not underway. Other items for trade or barter included newspapers, sewing needles, buttons, and currency.

From: learnnc.org

Image: Hardtack, a dry flour biscuit, made up a large portion of a soldier’s daily ration. Factories in the North baked hundreds of hardtack crackers every day, packed them in wooden crates and shipped them out by wagon or rail. If the hardtack was received soon after leaving the factory, it could be tasty and satisfying. Usually, the hardtack did not get to the soldiers until months after it had been made. By that time, they were too hard to be eaten without first being soaked in water or coffee. Sometimes they were infested with small bugs the soldiers called weevils.

Something to Eat

Major General Bryan Grimes to his daughter, April 16, 1862, in the Bryan Grimes Papers, North Carolina State Archives.

Yorktown — Va
April 16, 1862

My Dear Little Darling,
Your letters Cannot find me So I will write to you in order that you may know where to direct your letters.… at present I am stationed at Yorktown with the enemy in front of us not more than 1200 yds distant who are continually shoveling their big shot at us/ just as I had written that Sentence a large bomb in weight much heavier than you, Came rushing through the air which made us all drop flat upon the ground and fell within our regimental Camp not more than thirty or forty yds from where I am writing/ Three hours have elapsed since I Concluded the last Sentence the shells and shot of the enemy became too frequent and in too close proximity to us to remain quiet. So the regiment has been formed in what is called “line of battle,” and all… the positions in which we were ordered to stand or die but the firing gets slower and slower and in Consequence we have broke ranks to get something to eat. what at home would be a dinner but now it is merely a “filling up” to appease the cravings of hunger.… What would you think to See great grown Men eating Molasses and Sopping it out of an Oyster shell? and being well satisfied to be able to procure it any way. Our spoons were made by ourselves from a splint of pine — though for a week past we have had only Sassafras tea to drink and strange to say find it very palateable. We use Crackers… for plates and have found one great advantage in them that when we have finished all upon our plates — we turn in and eat them.… You doubtless would laught heartily to See us eating our meals. We frequently have the Colonels and Generals to dine and we all have to take it alike.… all this can be stood much better than laying down upon the… ground or at best upon one plank with not a particle of Covering to keep me warm — I frequently feel as tired when I wake as I did upon laying down and every bone in my body apparently grumbling at such rough treatment.… Dont you think we have hard times here — with nothing to sleep upon & but little time to do it even if we had an abundance of Necessary Covering. What will you think when I tell you that only one night Since the 8th day of March have I taken off any of my clothing to go to sleep and that Now I sleep with boots and all and half the time with Sword and pistol attached to my person — to be prepared to meet the foe at any Minute — but little to eat and Nothing to eat it upon — with the Yankees within 1/2 Mile shooting at us upon all occasions whenever we show ourselves — Not since my arrival here on the 10th of April has there been two Consecutive hours without their firing into our Camp and Sometimes at the rate of fifty a Minute — last Sunday night at about 2 O’Clock we all thought the battle was opened — Such a hail storm of iron and lead I had never Conceived of.… If you wish to imagine how a bomb or shot Sounds as it Come whizzing through the air get Spelman to make you a “whirlgig” that children often play with and whirl it around a few times and then the noise that it makes somewhat resembles the Sound except that you can hear the ball — that is a large one from a half Mile — and have time to drop behind the breastwork for protection.… Write me immediately upon the receipt of this… be a good girl — Remember me to all the family —
Afft. your father,
Bryan Grimes

From: learnnc.org

Life in Camp

Walter Waightstill Lenoir to Selina Louisa Avery Lenoir, March 2, 1862, in the Lenoir Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Camp Lee, S. C., Mch. 2d 1862

Dear Mother,
As I write so many letters home to let you all hear from me and brother Tom, I will commence by telling you something about myself and him. I continue in very fine health, with my digestion improved, and hardly ever deranged now, even by my hearty meals which are always somewhat in excess. But I enjoy Uriah’s coarse corn bread & wheat bread & fried midling & rice & potatoes, so much so that it is hard to stop when I have eat enough. We have been out of coffee for some time, but are doing very well without it, & have all become so fond of Yeopon tea that we will continue to use it, although we have now got a new supply of coffee, at 75 cts per lb. I find the Yeopon so palatable & apparently wholesome that I would be glad to know that you had sent for a supply to Wilmington or Newberne. I have advised Mr Norwood by all means to order a bushel. I do not know that I am fattening any, but I am increasing in weight by the development of the muscles of my arms and legs, which are growing perceptibly larger & harder. All this fine progress which I am making as to my health, by becoming a soldier & adopting the life of the camps may of course be upset at any time by an attack of fever, if I escape safely from the other dangers of war. I am not, however, entirely negligent of my health. With the exception of eating too much, I am, I think, reasonably prudent in regulating my diet. I have my hair now trimmed quite short, without having caught cold by its loss, and I wash myself every morning to my waist carefully with cold water, including the whole of my head in the ablution; and then rub myself dry with a towel. And I wash my whole person at least once a week. I change my shirt, drawers, and socks but once a week, as soldiers can’t afford to be fastidious about their wardrobe. I don’t wear the cotton shirts that I brought, the [unclear] ones being quite sufficient to keep me warm in this mild climate, and I have very seldom worn my great heavy overcoat, but my other clothing has not become oppressively warm, as I can leave off the coat or waistcoat or both in the warmest weather. My heavy jeans will soon, however, I suppose, be quite unsuitable for the climate here. I will try, though, if we still remain here to supply myself if necessary with something lighter. I am more cheerful and light hearted here than I could possibly be at home during the continuance of the war, and on the whole may be said to enjoy myself amazingly, all things considered. The worst of it is I am getting gray much too fast.…
Your affectionate son

Image: This photograph of an encampment at Cumberland Landing, Virginia, was taken from a hill above the camp.

From: learnnc.org

A Plea for Supplies

Lt. Col. S. H. Walkup to Gov. Zebulon Vance, October 11, 1862, in the Governors Papers, North Carolina State Archives.
Camp Near Winchester Va. Octr 11th, 1862.

(This letter from Lt. Col. S. H. Walkup to North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance describes the pitiful situation of Confederate troops in the fall of 1862.

From the beginning, the Confederacy was ill prepared for war. The Confederacy did not have a large supply of arms or ammunition and hoped to import the necessary tools of war from Europe. Most Confederate soldiers brought their own guns to war. The South also lacked factories for producing clothing or shoes, and by the middle of the war, soldiers were in desperate need of both. Food, too, became scarce as the Union blockade prevented the South from importing necessities from the Caribbean and Europe.

Making matters worse, the South had a much smaller population than the North, and most of its able-bodied men were eventually drafted into the army. This left few men at home to help grow food. Prices soared during the war, and the government had to pay extraordinary prices to speculators who bought up food and resold it at a great profit — or else simply confiscate the much-needed supplies.

By the end of the war, the lack of food, clothing, and equipment motivated thousands of men to leave the army. Not only were they starving and suffering, but the lack of supplies indicated to soldiers that their cause was hopeless — if the South couldn’t even provide soldiers with shoes, it was unlikely that the Confederacy would be victorious.

As you can see from this letter, the army was having trouble supplying its troops only a year and a half into the war.)

Govr. Z. B. Vance,

I lay before you for your consideration the destitute condition of our Regt. with the hope that you, who have experienced some of the severe trials of a soldiers life, may hasten up the requisite relief --
We have present Six hundred & nineteen men rank & file in the 48th Regt. N.C. Troops — There are of that number Fifty one who are completely & absolutely Barefooted — & one hundred & ninety four who are nearly as bad off, as Barefooted, & who will be altogether so, in less than one month. There are but Two hundred & ninety seven Blankets in the Regt. among the 619 men, which is less than one Blanket to evry two men.

In truth there is one Compy (I) having 66 men & only Eleven Blankets in the whole company — The pants are generally ragged & out at the seats — & there are less than three cooking utensils to each Company — This sir is the condition of our Regt. upon the eve of winter here among the mountains of Va. cut off from all supplies from home & worn down & thinned with incessant marchings, fighting & diseases — can any one wonder that our Regt. numbering over 1250 rank & file has more than half its no. absent from camp, & not much over one third 449 of them fit for duty? The country is filled with Stragglers, deserters, & sick men & the hospitals are crowded from these exposures. A spirit of disaffection is rapidly engendering among the soldiers which threatens to show itsef in general Straggling & desertion, if it does not lead to open mutiny.
Add to this that our surgeons have no medicines & don’t even pretend to prescribe for the sick in camp, having no medicines & you have an outline of the sufferings & prospective trials & difficulties under which we labor.…

Want we most pressingly need just now is our full supply of Blankets, of Shoes & of pants & socks. We need very much all our other clothing too. But we are in the greatest need of these indispensable articles & Must have them, & have them Now. Otherwise how can the Government blame the soldier for failing to render service, when it fails to fulfil its stipullated & paid for contracts? A contract broken on one side is broken on all sides & void.…

The soldiers of the 48th N.C. & from all the State will patriotically suffer & bear their hardships & privations as long as those from any other State, or as far as human endurance can tolerate such privations, But it would not be wise to experiment to far in such times & under such circumstances as now surround us upon the extent of their endurance. With Lincolns proclamation promising freedom to the slaves, What might the suffering, exhausted, ragged, barefooted, & dying Non slaveholders of the South, who are neglected by their government & whose suffering families at home are exposed to so many evils, begin to conclude? Would it not be dangerous to tempt them with too great trials?

Dear Sir… I feel the very earnest & solemn responsibility of my position as commander of this Regt. at this critical period & under these trying circumstances & wish to do all I can… to remove the evils by seeking a speedy supply of Blankets, Shoes & clothing. & therefore beg your earnest attention to the premises & your zealous & I hope efficient aid to supply our necessities.…
Your Excellencys most obt Servt.
S. H. Walkup Lt. Col. [Commanding]
48th Regt. NC Troops

From: learnnc.org

Enduring Amputation

Letter from Walter Waightstill Lenoir to Thomas Lenoir, April 8, 1863, in the Lenoir Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

(Walter Waightstill Lenoir was born in 1823 into the wealthy Lenoir family. He attended the University of North Carolina and practiced law in North Carolina before the Civil War. Although Lenior opposed slavery and disagreed with secession, he joined the Confederate army in January 1862. In September 1862, Lenoir was injured and his right leg was amputated. He returned to his family and moved to Haywood County, where he became a farmer. In 1883, he was elected as a representative to the North Carolina Assembly and served one term.

It is estimated that about 30,000 Union troops had a limb amputated, and it is probable that as many Confederate troops suffered a similar fate.)

Dear Thomas
My leg is finished at last, and I have been using it for over a week. It is, I suppose, as good as they make ‘em,’ but it is a wretched substitute for the one that I left in Virginia. It will take me a good while to become enough accustomed to it to know how it will do, as the skin and flesh where the weight is received will have to become hardened by degrees. At present I can’t walk near as well with it as I could with the one Rufus made me; but as I learned that others had the same difficulty at first in using such legs I will not get out of heart yet. I will have to make up my mind however to take very little exercise and to do very little work, which goes hard when I think how much I ought to do. I am greatly pleased to find that I can ride with ease, though I will have to have a gentle and sure footed horse to ride in safety. I can sit, too, much more comfortably with the new leg than I could with the old one.
Your Brother
WW Lenoir

From: learnnc.org


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