Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Union Army Ambulance Corps


In time for Antietam, the Army of the Potomac, under its medical director Jonathan Letterman, developed the Letterman Ambulance Plan. In this system the ambulances of a division moved together, under a mounted line sergeant, with two stretcher-bearers and one driver per ambulance, to collect the wounded from the field, bring them to the dressing stations, and then take them to the field hospital. It was a vast improvement over the earlier "system," wherein bandsmen in the Union command, and men randomly specified in the Confederacy, were simply appointed to drive the ambulances and carry the litters. This plan was implemented in August 1862 when McClellan issued General Orders No. 147 creating the Ambulance Corps for the Army of the Potomac under the control of the Medical Director.

Frequently, prior to the Ambulance Corps, the most unfit soldiers were detailed, which often meant that, not being good fighters, they were little better as medical assistants. Often in the first year of the war they got drunk on medicinal liquor and ignored their wounded comrades in order to hide themselves from enemy fire.

Such improved organization was copied or approximated in the other field armies despite loud opposition from the Quartermaster Corps, which wanted to keep control of ambulances and drivers, and from some field commanders, of whom Major General Don Carlos Buell of the Army of the Ohio was notable for noncooperation.

Despite the vast improvement in the evacuation of the wounded from the battle field, it was not until March 1864 that Congress published the act (Public 22) to create an Ambulance Corps for all the Union Armies.

Image: Union hand stretchers at Maryre's Height's, May 1864


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