Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bristol Civil War Hospital Finally Gets Honored

By Tom Netherland, 4-27-14

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Long dead soldiers of the Civil War and the Bristol-based Confederate hospital wherein many received care and also died warrant acknowledgement.

So goes the sentiment among the Bristol-based Sons of Confederate Veterans James Keeling Camp 52.

“It’s preserving the history and the history of Bristol,” said James Booher of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Therefore on Saturday afternoon members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans dedicated an historical marker in downtown Bristol to recognize the Confederate Hospital. They initially sought partial funding from the state of Tennessee, yet were rebuffed, said John “Pappy” Hawthorne of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“We fought a battle for over two years,” said Hawthorne. “The war wasn’t over. The state kept coming up with reasons why they couldn’t pay for the sign.”

So, Hawthorne and other members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans raised about $2,000 needed to purchase the marker.

Placed in a far corner of a lot occupied by Citizens Bank along State Street and the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the marker comes about 116 years after the demise of the building that housed the hospital.

“On this site was formerly located the Bristol general Confederate Hospital,” the marker begins.
Tim Buchanan, president of the Bristol Historical Association, read and then snapped photos of the newly-placed marker.

“It’s really long in coming,” said Buchanan of the marker, “because we’ve forgotten our early Civil War history.”

Citizens Bank stands upon the spot where generations ago stood the hospital.

“It was housed in the former Exchange Hotel erected in 1858 (later known as the Nickels House),” continued the text on the marker. “The building was demolished in about 1898.”

Originally employed as a grain exchange and commission house, the large brick building was built for Joseph R. Anderson, Bristol’s founder. He soon thereafter converted it into a hotel.

“We’re in the approximate area of where the hospital was at,” said John “Pappy” Hawthorne of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and keynote speaker during the dedication.

Cars eased slowly by on State Street during the event’s proceedings. Some folks watched intently, others waved and a few honked their horns. Nary a jeer was heard.

Sun was bright, sky was blue and warmth of the day appreciated among a throng of about 30 in attendance.

“We can’t pinpoint the exact date,” Hawthorne continued, “but it was somewhere along 1862 when the Confederate government leased it as a general hospital.”

By then, multiple businesses had occupied the building during its short existence.

“Anderson never intended to operate the hotel himself,” said Bud Phillips within an article published in the Bristol Herald Courier on Oct. 17, 2010. “Instead, he leased it to Thomas W. Farley, a local school professor.”

Repurposed then rebranded, the building became the Exchange Hotel, which opened on Christmas Day 1859.

“Farley kept the hotel for perhaps a year then leased it to L.A. Womack,” Phillips wrote. “Soon afterwards, the Confederate government began to use it as a hospital.”

Geographic proximity between battlefields in the North and those in the deep South rendered the location as ideal for such a hospital.

“Bristol was mostly Confederate residents,” Buchanan said. “About 10 miles down the line, and it was mostly Union. Washington County, Tennessee as mostly Union. Kingsport was mostly Union. So, Bristol was the last bastion for the Confederacy on this line.”

Those were bloody days on the battlefields.

“Sick and wounded soldiers were brought here by train for medical and surgical treatment,” relates text upon the marker. “Bristol was approximately halfway between the battlefields of Virginia and the south.”

Translated, the hospital was placed perfectly.

“It made the hospital important,” Buchanan said.

Then as now, the rail runs alongside the site merely a few feet away.

“The railroad stopped right here,” said Jim Eller of the Sons of Confederate Veterans as he stood between the rail and the historical marker.

Indeed, the smell of creosote upon the railroad ties wafted in the wind on a breezy Saturday afternoon.

“The confederacy thought that if this line was lost, then they would lose the deep South and thus the war,” Buchanan said. “This, the railroad line, was essentially the interstate highway of the era.”
Confederate injured were thus transported from battle via the era’s “interstate highway” and to Bristol’s Confederate Hospital. They were then quickly taken to a ramp of entry at the hospital.

“Indeed, the old ramp that was long used to deliver grain to the rail side was still in place.,” Phillips wrote in an article published in the Bristol Herald Courier on Oct. 24, 2010. “Soon, many a wounded and sick soldier was brought over it — for many the last trip they ever made.”

Exact numbers of patients served and soldiers who died within the hotel, which operated from 1862 until the end of the Civil War in 1865, are not known.

“As the guys died,” Hawthorne said, “they were put on the back porch (of the hospital), loaded into a wagon that went up the dirt trail — about straight up the steep bank, to East Hill Cemetery.”
Anderson, according to Phillips, sold the building to Isaac A. Nickels on Feb. 12, 1864. The hotel reopened as the Nickels House Hotel in late 1866. Businesses including a law office, store, barbershop and saloon shared space the hotel within the building.

“The building stood vacant for a year or two and then was demolished about 1898,” Phillips wrote.
Centuries first one and then another came. Memories of the Confederate Hospital waned and then died with their beholders as generations passed by. As if cloaked in brick and mortar dementia, history of the building that witnessed countless deaths within America’s deadliest war, faded away.
As history disappears, reinterpretation that can lead to misinterpretation can appear in its place.
All parties involved with the placement of the historical marker that documents briefly Bristol’s Confederate Hospital agreed. It helps to revive historical fact.

“The Confederate history has been readapted for the times,” Buchanan said. “We need to accept the actual town history without readapting it.”

There’s no changing the most sober of all historical facts forever linked to the hospital that’s long gone. The marker establishes the site of the hospital. It underscores an era gone by. And it remembers those whose names are mostly long forgotten.

“Over 100 men who died in this hospital,” concludes the marker, “are buried in East Hill Cemetery six blocks east.”

Image: C. Phillip Kestner, Jim Eller and John "Pappy" Hawthorne pose with the historical marker dedicated to Bristol's Confederate Hospital moments after its unveiling.

From: heraldcourier.com


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