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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Civil War Stretchers and Stretcher Bearers

Civil War Union veteran surgeon Richard Swanton Vickery, born and educated in Ireland, wrote "Duties of the Surgeon in Action". He detailed the importance of, and directions for stretchers and the men who carried them. Dr. Vickery's instructions were directed to the Surgeon in charge on the battlefield.
 
"We will suppose his Regiment is formed in line of battle, expecting soon to be engaged; he has been notified that the Division Depot or Hospital is at some farm-house or other building, a mile or two to the rear, and during the few minutes quiet that he has left, he reviews his arrangements to see that they are as perfect as may be.
 
"He wants to have the wounded as they fall, picked up as rapidly as possible and brought to the Depot which he shall select, there to be cared for and dressed, and forwarded quickly to the Division Hospital in the rear. To ensure that his arrangements to that end are complete, he has to consider first his means of transportation, his stretchers, and stretcher bearers.
 
"For a Regiment of five or six hundred men he should have at least four stretchers--those generally issued now with light canvas bottoms, and with transverse iron bars at the head and foot, the side poles being stout enough to be firm, are the best. They have not so much of that springing motion to every step of the bearers which is so disagreeable and sometimes torturing to the wounded man. A horse-litter has sometimes been furnished to Regiments, but it was both unwieldy and inconvenient, and seldom if ever used. If it should happen that there are no stretchers, blankets or shelter tents stretched between two p9oles will make a good substitute. Failing even these a man can be carried, though not so comfortably or so easily, on a blanket held by four men at the corners, or seated on the crossed arms of two stout men.
 
"Then the stretcher bearers must be looked to, of whom there should be four to each stretcher. After reserving one or two of his Hospital attendants for other duties, he [the surgeon] will have three or four of them to act in this capacity. The Drum corps and the Regimental Band, if there is one, are always on the eve of a battle ordered to report to the Surgeon for duty, but the less he calculates on aid from them the better. With a few exceptions they are generally worthless as stretcher bearers, many of them being young lads physically incapable of such fatiguing duty.
 
"These may be sufficient while the wounded are few and come in slowly, but more help will soon be required when the combat thickens and some dashing charge or close firing brings them to the rear by dozens. In that case the Surgeon will find the Pioneers [construction troops] the best and most reliable aid. Generally numbering about ten under charge of an experienced sergeant [and] all able-bodied men accustomed to stand fire, they form a really effective corps of stretcher bearers, and can generally be procured for that purpose if required on application to the Commanding Officer of the Regiment."

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