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, May 26, 2015

Bullet Wound


Private Eben Smith, Co. A, 11th Maine Volunteers was wounded at Deep Bottom, Va., by a conoidal ball on Aug. 16, 1864. Primary amputation was done by acting assistant surgeon J.C. Morton on Sept. 14, 1864; the amputation at the hip was performed by acting assistant surgeon John H. Packard on Jan. 19, 1865.

Conoidal bullets were cylindrical soft lead bullets that became widely used in the Civil War. They were large-caliber, so they did a lot of damage and were responsible for many amputations. Illustration by Baumgras.

Lincoln’s Funeral in Immigrant New York

By Patrick Young, Esq.

Lincoln’s death at the hands of an assassin was met with rejoicing in some parts of the country. In the newly occupied former Confederate states, many celebrated the killing as an act that could undo defeat. In St. Augustine, Florida’s oldest city, whites taunted freed blacks with the news and the promise that they would be re-enslaved. In New Orleans, a former slave owner told blacks that they would now be hung. United States Colored Troops faced the jeers of former Confederates who shouted that “Your father is dead.”
Unionists sought to quiet dissent through violence. In St. Louis, soldiers shot people celebrating the assassination. A New York hotel fired its Irish waiters for their “Celtic talk approving Lincoln’s murder.” San Francisco Republicans rioted and attacked Democratic newspapers and the city was placed under military control.

Those who dissented from the “universal” mourning risked grave bodily harm. At least two hundred people were beaten, shot, assaulted or lynched for being seen by their neighbors as sympathetic to the assassin. One Union general even forbade the sale of images of John Wilkes Booth.

If Lincoln was now divine, his assassin was in league with the devil.

The assassination had a deep emotional effect on many immigrants in the Union army. Many felt a close personal tie to Lincoln.  When Lincoln was running for reelection German immigrant Major General Carl Schurz wrote to a friend about his feelings for the president. Although Lincoln was now at the head of a triumphant army, Schurz wrote, “he will never be dangerous to a liberal government.” Far from wanting to set himself up as a dictator, Schurz said, “he personifies the people, and that is the secret of his popularity.” Schurz offered his friend a “prophecy”:

"In fifty years, perhaps much sooner, Lincoln’s name will be inscribed close to Washington’s on this American Republic’s roll of honor. And there it will remain for all time. The children of those who persecute him now will bless him."

Three days after Lincoln’s death, Schurz wrote home to his wife that he could not send a letter to her sooner because of a “gloom that has settled upon me since the arrival of the news of the murder of Lincoln.” In what must have been a cry from the heart, he scribbled “Our good, good Lincoln!” He told his wife that a “thunderclap from the blue sky could not have struck us more unexpectedly and frightfully.” Although the Union armies had now subdued the main Confederate armies, Schurz wrote that “Our triumph is no longer jubilant.”

Mourning ribbons were sold or made so that people in all parts of the country could show their participation in the national sorrow.

Schurz was in occupied Raleigh, North Carolina and he wrote that the city was put under a curfew because the officers feared that the soldiers would “vent their rage by setting fire to the city.” With bitter anger, Schurz wrote that:

The people of the South may thank God that the war is over. If this army had been obliged to march once more…not a single house would have been left standing in their path… It is fortunate that it is over. If the war were continued now, it would resemble the campaigns of Attila. 6

While Schurz’s letter was still on its way to his wife, she wrote to him that her community in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania held a memorial service for Lincoln in the local cemetery followed by a procession to church. “We were all dressed in black, and I felt as though we were following an old, faithful father to his last resting- place. I could cry my heart out.”  She told her husband that she had been suffering from an “overwhelming, irrepressible sorrow.” She said that she consoled herself by recalling that Lincoln was “the greatest of all emancipators.”

Francis Lieber, the German law professor who had written Lincoln’s laws of war, wrote that the reason the president was assassinated was “Slavery! Slavery!” Lieber had lived for many years in South Carolina and he said that slavery “had perverted the minds of the Southerners.” Its cruelties and violence had made them into “fiends and fools,” people who could contemplate assassination to force political change.

News of Lincoln’s shooting had arrived in the North just as Jewish immigrants were beginning their Passover observances. Many Jews had joined other immigrants in voting against Lincoln in the 1860 election. The Republicans were tainted by their association with evangelical Protestantism and the Know Nothings. In his first term as president, Lincoln had consistently championed Jewish equality against Anti-Semitic institutions like the YMCA and prejudiced officials including Union hero Ulysses Grant. The president’s actions forced a reexamination of loyalties by immigrant Jews. In a tear-filled sermon after the assassination, the prominent Philadelphia Rabbi Isaac Leeser said that “Lincoln recognized in full our claims to an equality before the law.”

After the assassination, Lincoln’s body had lain in state in Washington and there were two funerals in the capital city, but these would not be the only ceremonies. Lincoln was to be buried in Springfield, Illinois, where he had first come to national prominence as an anti-slavery advocate. The president’s body would be transported on a grand Funeral Train.10

At every large city it passed through by train, Lincoln’s body would be given a new funeral. The Funeral Train left Washington on April 21, 1865 and stopped first in Baltimore, where black mourners were harassed by racist crowds. It next went to Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and on April 24, the train reached New York.

There had been concerns that the Irish immigrant community in New York would boycott the Lincoln funeral procession when it came to the nation’s largest city. Instead the Irish came out in such great force to mourn Lincoln that a nativist diarist, Ellen Kean, complained that the Irish marched in “inconceivable numbers, they were never ending.” She was equally annoyed at the large numbers of Germans, Jews and Scots who paid their respects to the dead president.

Immigrants played a prominent role in the elaborate ceremonies in New York. When the body was brought to City Hall, a German immigrant chorus of nine hundred sang the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Wagner’s Tannhauser.

Henry Raymond of the New York Times described the scene as the Germans “filled the charmed air with its sadly enchanting melody, the coffin was borne up the steps of the city Hall, and placed under the dome, draped, decorated, and dimly lighted, upon the place prepared for its reception.”

Immigrants and native-born, black and white, lined up outside City Hall for the chance to view the body. Raymond described the vast democratic wake:

Soon the doors were opened, and entering, one by one, in proper order, the citizens of the great metropolis came to look upon the illustrious dead. All through that day and the succeeding night the endless stream poured in, while outside the Park, Broadway, and the entire area of Printing House Square, reaching up Chatham Street and East Broadway as far as the eye could see, a vast throng of people stood silent and hopeless, but still expectant, of a chance to enter and see the body of the murdered President. Not less than one hundred and fifty thousand persons obtained admission, and not less than twice that number had waited for it in vain.

When the time came for Lincoln’s body to leave the city, a giant procession consisting of eight Divisions of marchers assembled to accompany the martyr. One entire Division was made up of the Irish.

Twenty Jewish congregations and organizations joined in the procession. A Jewish newspaper estimated that 7,000 Jews marched. Roughly two-thirds of the city’s Jews were immigrants.

Police Chief John Kennedy, himself the son of an Irish immigrant, stationed a police guard around the African American contingent in the procession. He had been stabbed two years earlier by Irish rioters and he feared an attack on this most solemn of days. Fortunately the reception of the blacks was not as feared.  “The part of the line which contained the colored citizens was almost everywhere greeted with irrepressible cheering and waving of handkerchiefs,” wrote the New York Post. “The populace spontaneously recognized the meanness and cruelty of the prejudice that would have shut them away from the equalizing sorrows of the bier….Fifth Avenue awarded them a continuous ovation.”

The sorrow was not confined to the route of the Funeral Train. In cities around the United States immigrants joined in mourning processions and memorial services. In San Francisco, fifteen thousand people processed through the streets, including a long line of prominent Chinese merchants in their carriages.

The mourning went beyond the shores of the United States. In Clontarf in Ireland, a mass outdoor meeting was held “to express the sympathy of the people of Ireland with the…people of America.” Similar meetings were held in Dublin and Belfast which adopted resolutions expressing “sorrow” and “indignation” at the murder. The resolutions were sent to Irish communities in the United States.

Image 1: Pictures of Lincoln being lifted up to Heaven proliferated after Lincoln’s Good Friday death. Mourners compared Lincoln to Washington and Jesus.

Image 2: If Lincoln was now divine, his assassin was in league with the devil.


America’s Pastime, Behind Bars

By George Kirsch, 4-2-13

Civil War prisons were terrible places: captured solders suffered and died by the thousands from malnutrition, disease and exposure to the elements. But in several Northern and Southern prisons, a few fortunate inmates were able to enjoy, for a moment, a lighter side of life: baseball.

The Civil War was the cauldron of America’s pastime, the period in which several prototype forms of the game – the New York game, townball – were melded into what we more or less know as the sport today. Such melding took place in camps, where officers on both sides permitted and even encouraged baseball playing. But it also took place in prisons, mostly notably those in Salisbury, N.C., and Johnson’s Island, near Sandusky, Ohio.

During the first two years of combat, weather permitting, the Salisbury camp was the site of daily baseball games by captured Northern soldiers. Adolphus Magnum, a Confederate chaplain who visited the prison in 1862, wrote that a few inmates “ran like schoolboys to the play ground and were soon joining in high glee in a game of ball.” Charles Carroll Gray, a physician held at Salisbury from May 17 to July 28, 1862, recorded in his diary that the Fourth of July was “celebrated with music, reading of the Declaration of Independence, and sack and foot races in the afternoon, and also a baseball game.”

Some of the prisoners who were assigned to Salisbury had previously played baseball in other Southern prisons. William J. Crossley, a sergeant in Company C, Second Rhode Island Infantry Volunteers, was captured on July 21, 1861, at the Battle of Bull Run. He was transported to camps at Richmond, Va., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., before winding up at Salisbury on March 13, 1862. In his memoir he described a baseball game at Salisbury that spring between sides of men initially incarcerated in New Orleans and Tuscaloosa. He recalled that the “great game of baseball” generated “as much enjoyment to the Rebs as the Yanks, for they came in hundreds to see the sport.” He added: “I have seen more smiles today on their oblong faces than before I came to Rebeldom, for they have been the most doleful looking set of men I ever saw, and the Confederate gray uniform really adds to their mournful appearance.” The game ended in a draw (11 runs each), but “the factory fellows were skunked” – i.e., shut out – “three times and we [from the Tuscaloosa prison] but twice.”

Another commentator regretted “that we have no official report of the match games played in Salisbury between the New Orleans and Tuscaloosa boys, resulting in the triumph of the latter.” He explained that the “cells of the Parish Prison were unfavorable to the development of the skill of the `New Orleans Nine.’” Crossley was released that summer as part of a general exchange of prisoners, rejoined his old regiment in October, and fought again in campaigns at Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.

Josephus Clarkson, a ship chandler’s apprentice from Boston held at Salisbury, recalled that the prisoners preferred to follow the New York rules rather than the townball regulations, since the latter game allowed fielders to “plug,” or hit, base runners with the ball to record an out. He remembered that a pitcher from Texas was removed from the game after “badly laming” several prisoners. His side had to politely inform their captors “that we would no longer play with a man who could not continue to observe the rules.” Clarkson also wrote that “the game of baseball had been played much in the South,” but many of the guards “had never seen the sport devised by” Alexander Cartwright, a member of the Knickerbocker Base Ball club of New York who is often credited with devising the modern rules of baseball.

Through most of 1862 Salisbury prison was not filled to capacity, and the adequate supply of food, frequent prisoner exchanges and opportunities for recreation made life reasonably tolerable for many of the inmates. But conditions deteriorated severely in late 1862, and grew even worse until a new prisoner exchange agreement was negotiated in February 1865. Overcrowding, the intense cold winter weather, a breakdown in prisoner control and shortages of food, medicine and fuel made life miserable for the men. Approximately a quarter of Salisbury’s 15,000 prisoners died, many during its last few months. There is no documentary evidence of ball playing during that period, and given the horrific conditions and poor health of the inmates, it is unlikely that they participated in any athletic exercises from 1863 to 1865.

While baseball declined significantly in Southern camps after 1862, it remained a popular diversion for prisoners and guards in Northern facilities, especially at Johnson’s Island. The baseball historian John R. Husman has shown that it is very likely that a few of the Confederate prisoners had previously been members of the first baseball clubs in New Orleans. This group included Lt. Charles H. Pierce, captain of the Southern Base Ball Club at Johnson’s Island, who was a native of Ohio and grew up in Cincinnati. He later moved to New Orleans and enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861. After the end of the war he joined that city’s Southern club and also became an umpire.

Conditions at Johnson’s Island were generally better than at most other camps, in part because it was restricted to officers, and also because its average population was only about 2,500 men. Yet even there life became harsher by the summer of 1864, with food in such short supply that some inmates resorted to eating rats. But despite their hunger and bleak prospects, they organized a championship match for Aug. 27, 1864, between the camp’s two rival clubs, the Southern and the Confederate. Husman views that game as Ohio’s first formal interclub contest. (Cincinnati, Sandusky and a few other towns in Ohio had organized baseball clubs in the late 1850s, but they restricted their competition to recreational and intraclub play.)

The most detailed report of that grand contest appeared in 1874 in Col. Daniel R. Hundley’s diary. A native of Alabama and a graduate of Harvard Law School, Hundley married a daughter of a Virginia man who owned real estate in Chicago’s suburbs. Hundley purchased a house on Lake Michigan north of Chicago, but spent his winters in Alabama. A supporter of Stephen Douglas in the 1860 presidential campaign, after Lincoln’s election he moved to his home state and joined the 31st Alabama Infantry. After he was captured by Union troops in June 1864, he was transported to Johnson’s Island, just as the excitement was building before the contest between the Southern and Confederate nines. The former were officers below the rank of captain who wore white shirts, while the latter held higher ranks and wore red shirts. Hundley wrote:

During the progress of the game nearly all the prisoners looked on with eager interest, and bets were made freely among those who had the necessary cash, and who were given to such practices, and very soon the crowd was pretty nearly equally divided between the partisans of the white shirts and those of the red shirts, and a real rebel yell went up from the one side or the other at every success of the chosen colors The Yankees themselves outside the prison yard seemed to be not indifferent spectators of the game, but crowded the house-tops, and looked on that match with as much interest almost as did the rebels themselves.”

Another prisoner, William Peel of the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, recalled that several hundred dollars was wagered on the game by players and outsiders, which was won by the Southern club, 19 to 11. Lt. Michael McNamara, who wrote another account of this game, estimated the crowd of spectators at about 3,000, including inmates, officers and citizens of Sandusky. He recalled: “So apprehensive were the prison officials that the game was gotten up for the purpose of covering an attempt to break out, that they had the slides of the port holes” of a patrol vessel “drawn back and the guns prepared for action.”

Although a local newspaper published a detailed and highly favorable account of the game, some radical Northern journals were highly critical of the decision by Johnson Island’s commanding officer to allow it to proceed. According to McNamara, “their malicious efforts were successful, the commander was removed, and the amusement of the unhappy prisoners, for the time being, cut off.”

Generations of historians have endorsed Albert G. Spalding’s view that baseball games played in Union and Confederate prison camps contributed significantly to the spread of the game after the war. Many of the guards and spectators who watched the contests became enthralled with baseball, and after the war brought it back to their respective hometowns. But prisons were hardly the only place where men whiled away their time with a friendly game of baseball. Informal matches played by soldiers on makeshift grounds in army camps and contests between the first nines of the premier clubs of Northern cities kept the pastime alive during wartime and provided the foundation for the baseball boom that followed the return of piece.

And of course, the occasional baseball game does not overshadow the real horror of life in Civil War prison camps. But if nothing else, the fact that men deprived of their freedom and most of their physical comforts nevertheless found time for the sport demonstrates how deep a chord baseball had struck in 19th-century American culture, and foreshadowed how quickly it would spread after the war ended.

George B. Kirsch is a professor of history at Manhattan College and the author of “Baseball and Cricket: The Creation of American Team Sports, 1838-72” and “Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime During the Civil War.” His latest book is “Six Guys From Hackensack: Coming of Age in the Real New Jersey.”


Image: Library of Congress: Union prisoners playing ball at Salisbury, N.C., ca. 1863.

Kindness Amid the Slaughter

By Pat Leonard, 5-6-13

On the afternoon of May 2, 1863, Cpl. Rice Bull looked out over the position that his newly formed regiment, the 123rd New York Infantry, was assigned to defend, just south of the Chancellorsville crossroads. He and his fellow upstaters had not yet “seen the elephant” – the soldiers’ expression for experiencing combat – and he was reassured to see that they were supported by more veteran units, including the Second Massachusetts and the 27th Indiana. He noted the striking contrast between those units’ faded, bullet-ridden battle flags and the crisp, spotless condition of his regiment’s colors.

Bull’s reassurance, however, turned to disappointment when the Army of the Potomac’s commander, Gen. Joseph Hooker, circulated a message boasting that he had “caught the Confederates in a trap from which they could not escape.” In their naïveté, Bull and the other farm boys of the 123rd feared that the war would end before they got to see any action.

They need not have worried. On the next day – the second bloodiest day of the Civil War – their position came under assault by the Confederate general Richard Anderson’s division. Soldiers along the entire Union line – veteran and rookie troops alike – were now in a desperate struggle for their lives.

At the height of the battle, Rice Bull was struck by a bullet that entered his right cheek, glanced along his jawbone and exited his neck, but miraculously missed any vital blood vessels or nerves. While attempting to make his way to the rear, Bull was hit again, this time by a ball that pierced his left side just above his hip and exited near his spinal column.

Bleeding, disoriented and exhausted, he managed to find a depressed area behind the lines, where he joined other wounded men lying out of harm’s way while waiting out the battle, which was going poorly for the Union side. In fact, the Confederate onslaught surged past the wounded soldiers without their even realizing it, enveloping them behind enemy lines. Not long after, they were captured and taken further behind the front.

Yet they were not entirely abandoned. Bull noted: “While we were in the Confederate lines, all the Johnnies treated us with kindness and with consideration for our feelings; they did all they could to make us comfortable. They had no means with which to help us much but were willing to do what they could. I came in contact with many of their soldiers while I was a prisoner and without exception found them kind and helpful.” He went on to report: “Later in the afternoon we were visited by a good many of our late enemies; they were friendly and helped our wounded in every way they could.”

The rebels that Bull saw assisting the Union wounded belonged to Ramseur’s Brigade, made up four North Carolina regiments. “They were well appearing and their kind treatment of our wounded stamped them as a fine class of men. They might have felt ugly and revengeful … yet held no grudge and were glad to do what they could for us.” When Bull found himself too dizzy to walk without assistance, one Confederate whittled a cane for him from a branch. He still possessed that cane 50 years later.

Bull’s experience was echoed by the Confederate surgeon Spencer Welch of the 20th South Carolina, who later reported that he “saw one of our soldiers cut a forked limb from a tree and make a crutch for a Yankee who was wounded in the foot.

In the meantime, the battlefront moved north. The advancing rebels continued to pursue the reeling Unionists, driving them back against their river crossings. Even though his army was greatly outnumbered, Robert E. Lee remained on the offensive and expected to crush the federals with an all-out assault on the morning of May 6.

Against the advice of several subordinates, Hooker didn’t give Lee the opportunity to renew his attacks. On the night of May 5-6, he withdrew his army across the river, then pulled back the pontoon bridges. Except for two wagons of medical supplies that his medical director, Jonathan Letterman, ordered to remain on the river’s south side – “with the hope that our wounded would receive a share of them, which they did” – the men left behind would have to fend for themselves.

Among those left behind, on another part of the field, was the surgeon Daniel Holt of the 121st New York. He continued to attend to his duties, dressing wounds and performing amputations, until so exhausted that he at last found himself standing, he later wrote,

"fast asleep over a dying man. Had not General Wilcox (Cadmus M. Wilcox, C.S.A, First Army Corps) kindly supplied me with food from his own table, and made me a guest rather than a prisoner, I believe I should have been compelled to throw myself down with the rest and crave the treatment I myself was yielding. As it was, I kept about, being the recipient of numerous favors from rebel officers, always treated with respect, and in very many cases with marked kindness. Here General Lee came to see me. Four times did this great man call and feelingly inquire if the men were receiving all the care that could be bestowed; at the same time remarking that it was beyond his power to yield such succor as his heart prompted. … I must in justice say for an enemy, that I was never treated with greater consideration by intelligent men, than I was by these very rebs for the ten days that I remained among them."

Holt was also befriended by a Confederate surgeon, Dr. George Rogers Clark Todd, Mary Todd Lincoln’s brother. In conversation, Todd told Holt that the first lady was “a poor weak-minded woman.” Though he didn’t say so at the time, Holt later admitted that he concurred with Todd’s assessment.

Just down the road from Holt’s location, the Rev. James Sheeran, chaplain for the 14th Louisiana regiment, was traversing the battlefield administering to dying soldiers when he came upon a makeshift hospital full of Yankees. Finding that no one had so much as cleaned and dressed their wounds, he rounded up several paroled attendants and ordered them to go through the knapsacks of dead soldiers to find shirts, handkerchiefs and other materials suitable for bandages. He then departed; when he returned two hours later, he was “pleased to find the surgeons and nurses all at work attending to their wounded.”

With the bulk of the fighting over, Letterman continued to agitate to supply and recover the wounded that were still south of the Rappahannock, whose number he estimated at 1,200. Under a flag of truce, he negotiated with his Confederate counterpart, Dr. Lafayette Guild, to arrange care for both armies’ wounded. “General Lee offered free passage to our ambulance trains to Chancellorsville and other points,” Letterman recounted. “When this information was received, on the 11th of May, I advised a pontoon bridge to be thrown over the Rappahannock, at the United States Mine Ford, that our trains, capable of carrying all the wounded at one trip, might at once pass over … and return without delay.”

Letterman’s request for a bridge was not immediately acted upon, so he was forced to ferry food and medical supplies across the river, a tedious process that was inadequate to the task at hand.

What Letterman feared, Rice Bull was experiencing firsthand. The noble actions of their captors notwithstanding, men were growing feverish and dying of their wounds at an accelerating pace. For the less severely wounded, starvation was becoming a concern. Bull wrote of the chaplain Thomas Ambrose, 12th New Hampshire, who had stayed with and cared for the men, only to watch them succumb to hunger and neglect. Ambrose walked to General Lee’s headquarters to beg for food and medicine. Lee had little to spare, but did manage to give the Union chaplain a 50-pound sack of meal, which he carried nearly three miles back to the wounded men. “It was the only food we had for the next six days,” Bull noted.

The rebel soldier who had provided Bull with a cane continued to work among the Union wounded, and shared what little rations he had with them. At one point, when a Southern civilian rode up and began to berate the Yankees, “our Johnnie friend turned on him, saying: ‘You just keep quiet old man, don’t you see these are wounded men? You have no right or business to insult them.'”

At last, after having his request telegraphed to, and approved by, his superiors in Washington, Letterman’s pontoon bridge was built on May 13. Immediately he sent 550 ambulances over the river and started to collect the Union wounded. He reported that by 9:30 p.m. the next day, “these sufferers, numbering eleven hundred and sixty, were within our lines. The trains of each Corps were halted as they crossed to the north bank of the river, refreshment given the men, and such professional care bestowed by the Medical officers accompanying them as the cases required.”

Corporal Bull was among the men that made this crossing. He welcomed the coffee he was handed after reaching the Rappahannock’s north shore, but found he could not eat any solid food. As one of the 17,197 Union casualties of Chancellorsville [1,606 killed, 9,672 wounded and 5,919 captured or missing], he was sent home to recuperate. Confederate losses were slightly less: 13,303 casualties [1,665 killed, 9,081 wounded and 2,018 captured or missing], but represented a significantly greater percentage of their total forces. Lee also lost “his right arm” – Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was wounded by friendly fire on the night of May 2-3 and died a week later.

Combatants’ recollections of most Civil War battles often mention acts of kindness performed for wounded enemy soldiers, but Chancellorsville stands out in this regard. Perhaps because both armies remained close to the battlefield for nearly a month afterward, there were more opportunities for the soldiers’ innate humanity to surface. And perhaps because the battle was fought at the war’s midpoint, when soldiers had learned to respect their adversaries, but hostilities had not yet degenerated into the “total warfare” of later engagements – like Spotsylvania, or during scorched-earth campaigns like Philip Sheridan’s in the Shenandoah Valley – the men were more favorably disposed to performing such acts. Whatever the reason, something in addition to “Lee’s greatest victory” can be assigned to the horrific encounter that took place in early May 1863, something in which soldiers on both sides could take pride.

As for Corporal Bull, he recovered from the wounds he suffered at Chancellorsville and later rejoined his regiment in the Western theater. He participated in Gen. William T. Sherman’s assault on Atlanta and the infamous “March to the Sea.” While crossing Georgia, his unit came upon a prisoner-of-war camp that the Confederates had abandoned just days before. Seeing the miserable conditions under which the prisoners were kept, he realized how fortunate he was to have been wounded and paroled the year before, and not just captured. Bull survived the war and went on to become the secretary treasurer of the Troy & New England Railroad. He died in 1930, three weeks before turning 88.

Pat Leonard is the editor and publisher of The Gold Cross, a magazine for volunteer E.M.T.s in New Jersey. He has written two novels, “Proceed With Caution” and “Damned If You Do.” His great-greatgreat uncle, Sgt. Jerome Leonard, 55th Pennsylvania Infantry, was wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor and later died at Bermuda Hundred hospital after his leg was amputated.

Image: A pontoon bridge over the Rappahannock River, after the Battle of Chancellorsville.Credit Library of Congress


The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga


John Clem: August 13, 1851-May 13, 1937
When President Abraham Lincoln in May 1861 issued the call for volunteers to serve in the Union army for a three year term, one of those who tried to answer was Ohio resident John Clem. Not yet 10 years old, Clem’s service was refused by the newly formed 3rd Ohio. Undeterred, Clem later tried to join the 22nd Michigan, where his persistence won over the unit’s officers. They agreed to let him follow the regiment, adopting him as a mascot and unofficial drummer boy. The officers also chipped in to pay his monthly salary of $13 before he finally was allowed to officially enlist in 1863.

Clem became a national celebrity for his actions at Chickamauga. Armed with a musket sawed down for him to carry, Clem joined the 22nd Michigan in the defense of Horseshoe Ridge on the afternoon of September 20. As the Confederate forces surrounded the unit, a Confederate colonel spotted Clem and shouted either “I think the best thing a mite of a chap like you can do is drop that gun” or called him a “damned little Yankee devil,” according to various sources. Rather than surrender, Clem shot the colonel and successfully made his way back to Union lines. For his actions, Clem was promoted to sergeant, the youngest soldier ever to become a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army, and became known as the “Drummer Boy of Chickamauga.”

Clem’s legend grew following the battle, although some stories may be apocryphal. One holds that his drum was destroyed at the Battle of Shiloh, earning him the nickname “Johnny Shiloh” and serving as inspiration for the song, “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh.” However, the 22nd Michigan, Clem’s unit, was not mustered until the summer after the Battle of Shiloh, making it unlikely Clem saw action in the battle with that regiment.

Clem went on to fight at Perryville, Murfreesboro, Kennesaw and Atlanta, where he was wounded twice. Clem was discharged from the Army in 1864 at age 13, but sought to rejoin the military in 1870. Nominated to West Point by President Ulysses S. Grant, Clem failed the entrance exam several times before Grant appointed him a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Clem enjoyed a successful second military career, rising to the rank of colonel and assistant quartermaster general by 1906. He retired on the eve of U.S. entry into World War I with the rank of major general, the last Civil War veteran to actively serve in the U.S. Army. Clem died in 1937 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Dr. Gurdon Buck: Plastic Surgery Pioneer

Excerpted from:

Born: 4 May 1807, New York City, New York State
Died : March 6, 1877, New York City, New York State
Residence: United States of America
Nationality :United States of America
Fields Surgeon
Institutions: New York Hospital
Alma mater: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
Known for: Plastic Surgery pioneer and incorporation of pre and post-operative photography

Gurdon Buck was a pioneer military plastic surgeon during the Civil War. He's known for being the first doctor to incorporate pre and post-operative photographs into his publications. Buck's fascia and Buck's extension are both named after him.

Buck graduated from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1830 and interned at New York Hospital. He also studied in Paris, Berlin and Vienna. He was appointed visiting surgeon to the New York Hospital in 1837 which he held the rest of his life. He was also appointed to the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.

In 1845, Buck took the first clinical photograph and used an engraving of it in "The Knee Joint Anchylosed at a Right Angle." This was the first known published illustration of a medical photograph.

Dr. Buck was a founding fellow of The New York Academy of Medicine in 1847.

He wrote "Contributions to Reparative Surgery" (New York, 1876) which is the first American plastic surgery textbook.

He is buried in the New York Marble Cemetery.

Pinned Down at Port Hudson

 By Ronald S. Coddington, 6-14-13

Confederate artillery and infantry fire roared from the formidable defenses of Port Hudson, La., on June 14, 1863. Shot and shell raked the rough-and-tumble terrain where Union forces were pinned down after a failed assault, caught between the lines and unable to advance or retreat.

A glimpse through thick drifts of gun smoke revealed a knoll littered with broken bodies of men in blue. Dead, dying and wounded soldiers blanketed the exposed ground in the scorching heat of the day. Those who had not been struck hugged the earth as the hail of fire continued.

One of the injured federals trapped on the hill was Edward R. Washburn, a popular captain in the 53rd Massachusetts Infantry. A musket ball had ripped into his right leg during the attack. Near him lay the brigadier general who led the assault, Halbert E. Paine. He had also been shot in the leg. Attempts to rescue the general cost the lives of two men, and two more wounded. Paine waved off other rescuers. He “begged them to make no further efforts to get him,” reported First Lt. Henry A. Willis, who told the story of the assault in the 53rd’s regimental history years later.

General Paine and Captain Washburn kept each other’s spirits up as they waited for an uncertain fate. The two men talked, and lay so close to each other that Washburn was able to toss his knife to Paine to allow him to cut off his boot and relieve swelling in his wounded leg. Washburn also tossed his canteen of water to the general. “As for the captain himself,” declared Willis, the historian, “He was able to cautiously smoke a single cigar he had with him, and thought if he had taken along a half-dozen he would have got through the day very well.”

The third of five children born to a Lancaster, Mass., farmer and his wife, Washburn was an unlikely soldier. “He had never belonged to any military organization before the war, nor was there anything in his natural taste or inclination to lead him in that direction, but from motives of purest patriotism he entered the service of his country,” noted Willis. But in the summer of 1862, Abraham Lincoln called for more troops in the wake of Union setbacks in Virginia. Washburn left his job as secretary of a Lancaster insurance company and joined a group of local business and civic leaders who recruited volunteers for a ninth-month enlistment. The recruits formed a company and elected officers, a common practice in the volunteer army. They voted Washburn captain.

Washburn’s company became part of the Bay State’s new 53rd Infantry, the last white regiment mustered into federal service before the African-American 54th and 55th infantries were sworn in to the Union Army.

On Jan. 18, 1863, Washburn and the rest of the 53rd sailed for Louisiana on the steamer Continental. The transport was crowded with soldiers, baggage, officers’ horses, equipment and other stores. Also in attendance were a number of African-American servants, including Captain Washburn’s valet, Stephen Henry.

A week later, during a stop in Key West, Fla., Washburn and Henry joined other men on a stroll through town. “In the evening a few of us officers started out to attend church; curiosity induced us to wend our way to the negro church. We entered and took seats quite in the rear of the audience, and were soon surprised by seeing Stephen Henry,” noted Willis, “walk up the main aisle of the church, enter the pulpit and take full charge of the services. He preached an excellent discourse, (extemporaneous), from the text ‘Cast thy burden upon the Lord.’ No one in the regiment knew that he ever preached or spoke in public, not even the captain, who had employed him.”

The 53rd left Key West the next day, and arrived in Union-occupied New Orleans before the end of the month.

By this point in the war, the federals controlled most of the Mississippi River and were poised to split the Confederacy in two along the waterway. The last remaining Southern-held section was a 240-mile stretch anchored by two well-defended cities. At the northern end lay Vicksburg, where Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s army had been engaged in active operations since late 1862.

Port Hudson and its 7,500-man garrison lay at the southern end. “Port Hudson was undoubtedly the strongest position by nature on the river, with perhaps the exception of Vicksburg. The village stood upon a high, precipitous bluff, and upon this bluff the ‘works’ were constructed,” described Willis. “The position was practically impregnable from the river.”

In May 1863, the commander of Union forces in the New Orleans area, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, set out with 35,000 troops to take Port Hudson. Washburn and the rest of the 53rd participated in a series of frontal assaults on May 27. The attacks failed and Union casualties were high, although the 53rd’s losses were slight compared to those of other regiments. Banks settled into a siege after the repulse.

Two weeks later, Banks renewed the assault. He ordered a nighttime attack on June 14 led by General Paine and his entire division. Paine’s troops targeted a section of the Port Hudson defenses known as Priest Cap, a heavily fortified front-line complex of earthworks near Fort Desperate.

In the vanguard of Paine’s assault column were two regiments deployed as skirmishers, and other troops armed with hand grenades. (Patented by William F. Ketchum, they resembled darts and were designed to explode when the detonation device in the nose struck the ground. They were inefficient and ineffective.) Behind them marched the 53rd and three other regiments in its brigade. The rest of the division followed.

The ground that they had to cross to reach Priest Cap was forbidding. “It was said, by one who had visited all points on our extended line, that no point presented less protection to an attacking party than the one selected for the assault of this column,” declared Willis, the historian. “At all other points hills and ravines, covered with brushwood and stumps, afforded a covering to skirmishers, but here was nothing of the kind. The ground in places was slightly depressed, but every hollow which would have afforded any protection to a body of men approaching was completely enfiladed” by well-directed enemy fire.

Washburn and his comrades in the 53rd understood the perils, and knew that many would not survive.

A massive artillery bombardment opened the attack. Lack of communication and coordination delayed the assault until the early light of dawn. Finally, about 3:30 a.m., the first attack wave, which consisted of the skirmishers and the brigade that included the 53rd, raced across the exposed ground. “The firing is terrific, but we have succeeded in reaching a point within one hundred yards of the works. We had lost heavily but were not yet broken up,” reported Willis. Paine then gave the order “‘to charge forward and enter the works.’ The line sprang forward with alacrity, wildly cheering, and advancing at ‘double quick’ close up to the works amid a most galling front and enfilading fire.”

There they discovered to their horror a grim reality. The rest of the division had somehow confused its orders and did not follow the 53rd and the rest of its brigade. “We were alone just at the foot of the entrenchments,” recounted Willis.

A small number of soldiers entered Priest Cap and were promptly captured. The main attack stalled. It was at this point that rebel bullets tore into Paine and Washburn and stranded them on the little knoll. With no way forward and no reinforcements behind them, Willis recalled that, “No rally could be made for another charge, and we could only lie there, hugging the ground and protecting ourselves as well as we might from the heavy firing still poured in upon us, through the entire day.” The assault had failed.

“That fourteenth of June was a long day for us. It seemed an age,” wrote General Paine years later. “The experience of survivors lying in an open field in the burning sun, tortured with pain and thirst, waiting and hoping for rescue was that of hundreds of others who did not survive but gave their lives to their country on that bloody battlefield.”

Paine added, “A Confederate officer, who served in my front, has since the war informed me that when they learned who I was and observed the attempts to carry me from the field they concluded that I must be a good fellow and it was ordered that no more shots should be fired at me.” This act of soldierly respect may have saved the life of Paine and those around him, including Washburn.

Paine, Washburn and the other wounded were rescued after nightfall and transported to New Orleans for treatment. Paine’s left leg was beyond saving, and a team of army and navy physicians performed an amputation. He survived the surgery, returned to the Army and mustered out at the end of the war. He went on to serve as a congressman and President Grant’s patent commissioner. Paine died in 1905 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The bullet that struck Washburn’s right leg fractured the upper third of the femur and passed completely through his thigh. An assistant surgeon removed a fragment of bone and lead from the wound, and placed Washburn in traction to prevent extreme shortening of the leg. The doctor employed a procedure known as Buck’s Extension: named for the physician and pioneering plastic surgeon Gurdon Buck, the treatment combined adhesive bandages with a weight and pulley system connected by an elastic band.

The surgeon began Washburn’s extension treatment at half a pound and gradually increased the weight to 18 pounds. His body acted as the counterweight. On July 30, 1863, seven weeks after the wound occurred, the doctor described Washburn’s condition as “strong,” and reported that his leg had shortened by only one-half inch. Washburn was discharged from the hospital and sent home to Massachusetts with a prognosis for a full recovery.

Meanwhile, his comrades in the 53rd witnessed the surrender of the garrison of Port Hudson on July 9. The Confederate commander, Franklin Gardner, was forced to capitulate after Grant’s capture of Vicksburg five days earlier had made their position untenable. The 53rd completed its nine-month enlistment and mustered out of the Union army in early September 1863.

Washburn returned to his old job at the insurance company about the time the 53rd returned home. He was determined to get back into the Army, but the injured leg did not completely heal and he suffered its ill effects. The wound broke open the following summer and became infected with sepsis. On Sept. 2, 1864, as he lay on his deathbed in agony, his fellow officers in the 53rd met for their first reunion. Three days later, Washburn succumbed to the infection at age 28.

Ronald S. Coddington is the author of “Faces of the Civil War” and “Faces of the Confederacy.” His most recent book is “African American Faces of the Civil War.” He writes “Faces of War,” a column for the Civil War News.

Image 1: Edward Richmond Washburn pictured as a captain, circa 1862

Image 2: This illustration of Buck¹s Extension was included in a paper, 'An Improved Method of Treating Fractures of the Thigh,' by Dr. Gurdon Buck, circa 1863 Credit The Transaction of the New York Academy of Medicine, Vol. II, digitized by Google


Recounting the Dead

By J. David Hacker, 9-20-11

Even as Civil War history has gone through several cycles of revision, one thing has remained fixed: the number of dead. Since about 1900, historians and the general public have assumed that 618,222 men died on both sides. That number is probably a significant undercount, however. New estimates, based on Census data, indicate that the death toll was approximately 750,000, and may have been as high as 850,000.

The notion that we’ve drastically undercounted the Civil War dead is not a new idea: in fact, Francis Amasa Walker, superintendent of the 1870 Census, estimated that the number of male deaths was “not less than 850,000.” So how did the lower number come to be the accepted count — and why does it matter that it was wrong?

Efforts to identify, rebury and count the dead began as soon as the war ended. A precise count proved impossible, however: both armies lacked systematic procedures to identify the dead, wounded and missing in action, as well as an official means to notify relatives of a soldier’s death. Men went missing; battle, hospital and prison reports were incomplete and inaccurate; dead men were buried unidentified; and family members were forced to infer the fate of a loved one from his failure to return home after the war.

Instead, postwar counts of the Union dead drew from regimental muster-out rolls and battle reports. An 1866 report compiled under the direction of Provost Marshal General James B. Fry estimated that 279,689 men in the Union forces died in the war. The estimated death toll increased to 360,222 by the late 19th century, partly as a result of widows and orphans bringing forward information when applying for pensions and survivors’ benefits.

But a direct count of the Confederate dead proved impossible. The destruction of the Confederate army and many of its records limited investigators to partial counts. The Fry report documented just 133,821 Confederate deaths from incomplete returns. That number didn’t change much: since Confederate widows and orphans were ineligible for federal benefits, the estimate was never supplemented with information from survivors.

Francis Amasa Walker’s interest in estimating the number of war-related deaths was a result of the 1870 Census returns. The final Census count put the population at 38,558,371, up just 22.6 percent from the count in 1860. All previous 19th-century censuses had documented decennial growth rates between 32.7 percent and 36.4 percent, a near-constant rate of increase that 19th-century Americans had come to expect and celebrate as a measure of the nation’s strength, progress and future prosperity.

The 31-year-old superintendent was understandably defensive. City boosters in Philadelphia and New York had charged the 1870 enumeration with excessive coverage errors, and President Grant had taken the unusual step of ordering a recount of those cities. Although the second counts failed to turn up many additional residents, the Census remained suspect. After all, if past growth patterns had continued, the population should have been 41.5 million. Had the Census somehow missed 3 million people?

Walker acknowledged that the 1870 census was far from perfect, but he refused to concede that it was more deficient in its coverage of the population than preceding censuses. Instead, he reasoned, the war was to blame. The disappointing growth rate, he countered, was the result of the “notorious and palpable effects of the war, which hampered the growth of the black population, checked immigration, limited marriages and births and led to the direct loss of close to a million men.”

Although the Surgeon General’s Office had at that point documented 304,000 Union deaths, Walker noted that the number was based only on those men who died during their terms of service. About a third of the 285,000 men discharged for disabilities and many of the remaining 2 million men who survived the war, he argued, subsequently died as a result of diseases and wounds contracted while in the Army. “Tens of thousands were discharged to die; tens of thousands died within the first few months after discharge,” he wrote. “Tens of thousands more lingered through the first or second year.” Together with the losses calculated by the Surgeon General’s Office, Walker concluded that “500,000 will surely be a moderate estimate for the direct losses among the Union armies.”

Walker’s estimate of Confederate losses was necessarily rougher. He started with a guess at the number of men participating — about half of the aggregate number participating on the Union side — and his assumption that Confederate soldiers’ longer average terms of service and relative lack of nourishing food, medicine and skilled physicians resulted in a greater risk of death. “Without attempting to deal at all nicely with this subject,” he argued, “it is difficult to see how anyone could, upon reflection, place the losses of the confederate armies at less than 350,000 men.”

Unfortunately, Walker did not pursue the line of inquiry further. After his reappointment as superintendent for the 1880 Census, he had to explain the overly rapid growth of the South’s population between 1870 and 1880 and defend the Census from charges of fraud in the form of over-counting. After a field investigation by the Census geographer Henry Gannett failed to turn up any evidence of fraud, suspicion returned to the 1870 census. Gannett charged that many of the 1870 enumerators were appointed for their Republican political connections, not for their local knowledge or ability to conduct a census. The inevitable result, he concluded, was a large undercount.

This time Walker agreed. Having been successful in pushing through many costly reforms for the 1880 census, one of which was to shift enumeration responsibilities from federal marshals answerable to the Justice Department to a much larger field force selected for their qualifications and answerable to the Census Office, Walker must have felt some measure of justification from Gannett’s report.

But with the census discredited — a crude calculation by the 1890 census office subsequently indicated that the 1870 Census had undercounted the South’s population by 1,260,078 (10 percent of the region’s and 3 percent of the nation’s population) — the opportunity for a more comprehensive examination of the war’s human cost was lost to the political winds. The estimate of 360,222 Union deaths stood.

The count of Confederate dead was, however, heavily debated. William F. Fox, a private citizen and Union army veteran whose 1889 book on regimental losses remains a classic reference work for Civil War historians, relied on battle reports and unofficial estimates to obtain a total of 94,000 Confederate battle deaths. He complained, however, that records were incomplete, especially during the last year of the war, and that battlefield reports likely under-counted deaths (many men counted as wounded in battlefield reports subsequently died of their wounds). In 1900 Thomas L. Livermore, who, like Fox, was a private citizen and Union army veteran, put the number of Confederate non-combat deaths at 164,000, using the official estimate of Union deaths from disease and accidents and a comparison of Union and Confederate enlistment records.

Livermore’s estimate assumed Union and Confederate troops suffered an equal risk of death from disease, a conservative assumption that Walker had explicitly rejected. Despite acknowledging that his estimate of disease mortality likely undercounted Confederate deaths and his concern that Fox’s estimate of battle deaths could “be accepted only as a minimum,” Livermore combined the two estimates to arrive at a total of 258,000 Confederate deaths, a total that remains unrevised more than a century later.

So why should we now doubt that number? For one thing, Fry, Walker, Fox, Livermore and other early investigators were limited by the quality of the data available. Using new quantitative sources, we can now make a more comprehensive and accurate estimate of war-related deaths. With one exception, microfilm copies of the original manuscript returns have been preserved for all censuses since 1850 (the 1890 Census manuscripts were lost in a fire). Census microdata samples created from these returns at the Minnesota Population Center make it possible to estimate undercounts by age and sex in censuses back to 1850 and to construct a Census-based estimate of male deaths caused by the war.

Census undercounts are estimated using multiple censuses and a demographic method known as back projection. The results confirm that, indeed, the 1870 Census was the most poorly enumerated. It was not nearly as bad as Walker feared and as 1890 census officials charged, however: the net undercount was 6.5 percent in 1870, compared to 6.0 percent in 1850, 5.5 percent in 1860, and 3.6 percent in 1880.

War-related losses are estimated by comparing sex differences in mortality during the 1860s with sex differences in mortality in the 1850s and 1870s. The results indicate that the war was responsible for the deaths of about 750,000 men (using less conservative assumptions, the total may have been as high as 850,000). Although that estimate is 100,000 fewer than the 850,000 deaths suggested by Walker, it is closer to his guess than it is to traditional estimate of 618,222 deaths, which has been cited uncritically for too long. If the Census-based estimate is correct, the traditional estimate is about 20 percent too low.

Although there are limitations to using Census data to estimate of Civil War mortality — civilian deaths are too few to be measured accurately, and deaths cannot be reliably divided into Union or Confederate subtotals — the method provides a more complete assessment of the war’s human cost. In addition to the men who died during their terms of service, the Census-based estimate of male mortality includes men who died between the date of their discharge and the 1870 Census from diseases and wounds contracted during the war, as well as non-enlisted men who died in guerilla warfare and other war-related violence. It excludes, however, men dying from war-related causes who would have died under the normal mortality conditions of the late 19th century. This final group, included in all direct counts of the Civil War dead, represents about 80,000 men.

So what? Above a certain count, do the numbers even matter? Well, yes. The difference between the two estimates is large enough to change the way we look at the war. The new estimate suggests that more men died as a result of the Civil War than from all other American wars combined. Approximately 1 in 10 white men of military age in 1860 died from the conflict, a substantial increase from the 1 in 13 implied by the traditional estimate. The death toll is also one of our most important measures of the war’s social and economic costs. A higher death toll, for example, implies that more women were widowed and more children were orphaned as a result of the war than has long been suspected.

In other words, the war touched more lives and communities more deeply than we thought, and thus shaped the course of the ensuing decades of American history in ways we have not yet fully grasped. True, the war was terrible in either case. But just how terrible, and just how extensive its consequences, can only be known when we have a better count of the Civil War dead.

J. David Hacker is an associate professor of history at Binghamton University, SUNY.


Image: Francis Amasa Walker

Dr. Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler: First African-American Woman to Become a Physician in the United States

By Jacqueline Taylor

Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler was an American physician. Rebecca Lee was the 1st African-American woman to become a physician in the United States. She married Dr. Arthur Crumpler after the Civil War. Her publication of A Book of Medical Discourses in 1883 was one of the 1st written by an African American about medicine.        

In 1831, Rebecca Davis Lee was born in Delaware  to Matilda Webber and Absolum Davis. During the antebellum years, medical care for poor blacks was almost non-existent. She moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts by 1852 and was employed as a nurse until she was accepted into the New England Female Medical College in 1860.  It was rare for women or black men to be admitted to medical schools during this time.

When she graduated in 1864, Rebecca Lee (later Crumpler) was the 1st African American woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree, and the only African American woman to graduate from New England Female Medical College. Crumpler first practiced medicine in Boston,  primarily for poor women and children. During this time she "sought training in the 'British Dominion'".  Rebecca married Dr. Arthur Crumpler around the time of her graduation, but by the time she moved back to Boston. Her neighborhood on Joy Street in Beacon Hill was a predominantly African American community. She "entered into the work with renewed vigor, practicing outside, and receiving children in the house for treatment; regardless, in a measure, of remuneration."

The Rebecca Lee Society, one of the 1st medical societies for African American women, was named in her honor.  


Huge Pewter Irrigator Syringe


This is an extremely large irrigatory made out of pewter and marked on the rim "HD/US" meaning "Hospital Department/ United States." Internal leather plungers seal off the inner cavity so that liquids and gels could be forced out tip by ramming down on the wooden plunger.

This was used for larger body cavities and could even have been employed in the Veterinary Care of the Cavalry's horses (hopefully not on two species in the same day!)... Without an effective use of electricity yet during the American Civil War, equipment was literally hand-driven with elbow-grease. Thus, both suction effects and washing procedures were done with such pieces of equipment. Imagine a wounded or sick soldier's dread when seeing the physician carrying such a big metal human plunger toward you! Some might claim that staying sick was the better option!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Memorial for a Teenage Soldier: Charles Edwin "Charlie" King


Birth: Apr., 1849
West Chester
Chester County
Pennsylvania, USA
Death: Sep. 20, 1862
Washington County
Maryland, USA

Civil War Folk Figure. At age 13, he served as a drummer boy in Company F of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which was part of the Union Army of the Potomac's VI Corps. During the September 17, 1862, Battle of Antietam, Maryland, the 49th Pennsylvania was stationed in the East Woods near the Miller Cornfield. During an artillery salvo of Confederate cannons, a shell exploded nearby, wounding several soldiers including Charlie King. Several of his company members carried him to a field hospital where three days later he died. He is known to be the youngest soldier of both Union and Confederate Armies to be killed in action in the Civil War. King's burial location is unknown to historians; he may have been laid to rest in a mass grave at Antietam. His parents are buried at Green Mount Cemetery, and a monument for King was later erected there as an Eagle Scout Project.

Family links:
  Pennell King (1828 - 1902)
  Adaline King (1837 - 1900)

Green Mount Cemetery *
West Chester
Chester County
Pennsylvania, USA

Then & Now: Caring for War's Dead and Wounded


A Civil War burial ground was a profoundly religious place. The circumstances of a person's death was thought to indicate much about the nature of one's afterlife; a "good death" meant passing at home surrounded by the family and friends one hoped to reunite with in heaven. The American Civil War upended these Christian notions of the proper way to die. On the battlefield, most soldiers died alone, anonymous, and without comfort, their families unaware of their fate.

Today, our government provides services for surviving veterans and their families, but it took the mass casualties of the Civil War to bring about this standard. The four-year war that claimed 2.5% of the American population caused the government to recognize the responsibility it owed to its soldiers and citizens, transforming the relationship between the nation and its people forever.

Before the Civil War:

*There was no effective ambulance corps to transport wounded soldiers from the battlefields to aid locations. As late as August 1862, a Union division took the field at the Second Bull Run without a single ambulance. After numerous pleas to the government by public health advocates such as Henry Bowditch, an ambulance corps was finally established in 1864.

*There were no federal hospitals providing comprehensive care. Wounded soldiers lucky enough to be rescued were taken to hastily established field hospitals constructed on an emergency basis. Volunteer relief groups, such as the U.S. Sanitary Commission, organized medical aid, while individual medical professionals such as Clara Barton bravely took to the battlefields to care for the wounded.

*Soldiers did not wear dog tags or have any system of personal records. Hundreds of thousand of bodies remained unidentified, leaving families with no knowledge of how their loved one died, or where they might be buried. When officials did attempt identification, it was often unreliable, resulting in live soldiers being recorded as deceased and dead soldiers being marked as only slightly wounded. By World War I, soldiers were wearing official id badges.

*There was no official system for notifying next of kin. If a body was identified, a fellow soldier might take it upon himself to write to the family of the deceased explaining how their loved one died and offering words of condolence. In the spring of 1865, Clara Barton established the Missing Soldiers Office in Washington, D.C. Her organization eventually helped provide information for about 22,000 soldiers who would have otherwise remained unknown.

*There was limited technology available to preserve the war dead for proper burial. With so many families requesting that the bodies of their deceased loved ones be transported home, preservation methods had to evolve beyond simply keeping a body on ice. When the use of arsenic in embalming fluid became widespread during the Civil War, the Medical Department of the Union Army set up battlefield embalming stations to put this chemical advancement into practice. This allowed bodies to be preserved for the often  long journey home.

*Using refrigerated transportation cases for bodies was not common. In addition to the advancements in embalming fluids, refrigerated transportation cases were greatly improved to preserve the body on its often long, and slow journey back home. The Staunton Transportation Company distributed fliers claiming that its "portable refrigerator" cases preserved the body in perfect condition.

*Federal services for veterans and their families were inadequate. After the war ended, the Nation's veterans assistance program expanded to include benefits and pensions not only for veterans, but also their widows and dependents. The first state veterans homes were also established which provided medical care even for injuries or diseases not acquired through battle. This paved the way for Congress to establish a new system of veteran's benefits when the U.S. entered World War I, which included disability compensation, insurance, and vocational rehabilitation for the disabled. In 1930, a comprehensive Veterans Administration was established, and today the system includes 152 hospitals, 800 outpatient clinics, 126 nursing home care units, and 35 domicillaries as well as numerous mental health and crisis prevention programs.

*There were no national cemeteries at Arlington, Gettysburg, or anywhere. As there were no federal provisions for burying the dead, responsibility for clearing a battlefield of dead bodies fell to individual units, volunteer organizations, and even civilians. It was almost two full years after the end of the Civil War before Congress finally passed formal legislation to establish and protect a vast system of national cemeteries.

*There was no Memorial Day. After the burial of many Union and Confederate soldiers, "decoration day" rituals began to spring up, which included placing fresh flowers on soldiers' graves. In the spring of 1868, General John Logan officially designated May 30th "for the purpose of strewing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country," and Memorial Day as we know it today was established.

Today, the United States spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year trying to recover servicemen who are missing and presumed dead from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. And with a $137.6 billion budget the Department of Veterans Affairs now offers dozens of programs, including medical and financial services.

Humanity and Hope in a Southern Prison

By Peter Cozzens, 4-24-14

For more than the obvious reasons, Civil War soldiers in both armies despised military prisons. Not only were the inmates held against their will, but the hunger, filth, vermin, rampant disease, overcrowding, brutal treatment and soul-crushing ennui made prison camps slaughterhouses of slow death. Andersonville, the infamous Georgia prison, was the ultimate abattoir; during the summer of 1864 nearly one in three Union inmates died. In other Confederate prisons, the average mortality rate was 15.5 percent; in Union prisons, 12 percent.

There was one remarkable exception: the virtually unknown Cahaba Federal Prison, 15 miles southwest of Selma, Ala. At Cahaba, the mortality rate was just 3 percent, a lower death rate than that among American prisoners in German stalags during World War II. According to federal figures, only 147 of the 5,000 prisoners interned at Cahaba died there.

What made Cahaba unique among Civil War prisons? Simple humanity. The prison commandant, Col. Henry A. M. Henderson of Kentucky, understood Northerners. He had graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and the Cincinnati Law School. Shortly after graduation and finding his true calling in the church, Henderson became a Methodist minister. When he assumed command of Cahaba in July 1863, a month after it opened, he pledged to run the prison with as much compassion as discipline and good order permitted.

Henderson didn’t have a lot to work with. The prison was built around a partly completed, 15,000-square-foot cotton warehouse in the town of Cahaba on the west bank of the Alabama River. Within its brick walls, 250 rough-timber bunks, capable of sleeping two men each, were built one atop of the other. An unfinished roof left 1,600 square feet in the center exposed to the elements. Confederate prison authorities built a 12-foot-high wooden stockade around the warehouse, with allowance made for a small outdoor cooking yard. The prison’s official capacity was 500; by the time Henderson arrived, it already had climbed to 660, with latecomers compelled to sleep on the dirt floor of the warehouse.

The Kentuckian’s first order of business was to improve sanitary conditions. Drinking water came from an artesian well that emptied into an open gutter, which in turn flowed 200 yards through town before entering the northwest corner of the stockade. In his effort to depollute the water supply, Henderson had a willing ally in the prison surgeon R. H. Whitfield. Making his case to the Medical Department, Whitfield said the water, in its course from the well to the stockade, “has been subjected to the washings of the hands, feet, faces, and heads of soldiers, citizens, and negroes, buckets, tubs, and spittoons, of groceries, offices, and hospital, hogs, dogs, cows, and filth of all kinds from the streets and other sources.” Whitfield’s graphic plea did the trick; quartermasters installed pipes to replace the open ditch, and clean water flowed into the prison.

To ensure it remained that way, the latrines – closed outhouses, not open filth holes in the center of camp, as at Andersonville – were built at the southeastern corner of the prison, where the water exited. Consequently, dysentery was almost unknown at Cahaba; the majority of prisoners who died there seem to have entered the prison already in a weakened state.

Those who fell ill were well cared for at the prison hospital, located in a rambling, two-story hotel called Bell Tavern that the Confederacy had commandeered to serve both the guards and the prisoners. Whitfield treated Northerners and Southerners with equal consideration. Men died in the Bell Tavern hospital, but not for want of care.

Neither did they die for want of effort by Henderson, who in the autumn of 1864 found himself commandant of the most overcrowded of all Civil War prisons. That summer the Union’s commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant, halted prisoner-of-war exchanges. As a result, Cahaba’s population surged to 2,151 in October, a number 600 percent above the prison’s capacity (Andersonville ran 330 percent above capacity at its peak). Each man had only 7.5 square feet to call his own; those at Andersonville had 35 square feet of space, albeit squalid, per man.

Despite the ban on exchanges, Henderson bypassed his own chain of command and proposed to the Union district commander, Maj. Gen. Cadwallader C. Washburn, a special exchange of 350 of Cahaba’s most debilitated inmates. Cadwallader forwarded the request, along with a letter praising Henderson’s management, but General Grant denied the appeal.

Henderson persevered. With winter drawing near and the prisoners poorly clad, he suggested to Washburn that the federals send a truce ship up the Alabama River to Cahaba with supplies. Henderson and Washburn overcame the reservations of their superiors, and in December a Union steamboat offloaded 2,000 uniforms, 4,000 pairs of socks, 1,500 blankets, medicine and mess tins.

Henderson had done his best. But with overcrowding came a drop in rations, an inevitable course in a South scarcely able to feed its own troops by then. Prisoners wanted food more than supplies. Most of them bartered their new clothing to guards in exchange for victuals, and, reported Henderson sadly, the prisoners “were left with the same scanty clothing and ragged blankets in a climate particularly severe in winter.”

Homesickness and ennui could kill men as effectively as disease, so Henderson and his subordinates did what they could to keep the men’s minds occupied. “Every day on the arrival of the mail, one of them would bring in a late paper, stand up on a box and read the news,” recalled Sgt. Melvin Grigsby of Wisconsin. “In many other ways, such as procuring writing material and forwarding letters for us, they manifested such kindly feeling as one honorable soldier will always manifest toward brother soldier, enemy though he may be, in misfortune.”

Prisoners at Cahaba also were blessed with their own angel of mercy: Amanda Gardner, whose well-appointed home stood just outside the prison compound. There was no doubting her pro-Confederate convictions; Ms. Gardner had lost one of her two sons to Yankee bullets at the First Battle of Bull Run. But she had a reputation, a prison guard told Sergeant Grigsby, “of being one of the kindest-hearted and most intelligent women in town.” Soon after Cahaba opened, she began sending gifts of food that her young daughter slipped through cracks in the stockade walls with the connivance of friendly guards. When winter came, she cut every carpet in her home into blankets to “relieve the suffering of those poor prisoners.”

Most beneficial to prisoner morale was the generous use she made of a superb book collection her uncle had bequeathed her. Prisoners had only to send a note by a guard to Gardner or her daughter to borrow a book from library. At Andersonville prisoners scuffled over dog-eared back issues of Harper’s Weekly to alleviate the tedium. At Cahaba inmates enjoyed finely bound copies of the classics and a wide assortment of recent novels, as well as works of history, philosophy, science and poetry. Word of Gardner’s kindness spread beyond the prison walls to the Union lines; when a federal cavalry detachment realized they had captured her remaining son, they paroled him through the lines to her care.

Despite the best intentions of Henderson and Gardner, life at Cahaba was not easy. By late 1864 the average daily issue of rations fell to 12 ounces of cornmeal, 8 ounces of often-rancid beef and occasionally some bug-infested peas. Prisoners were not starved, but they were hungry enough that thoughts of food permeated their dreams. “The same experience was often repeated,” remembered an Illinois cavalryman, Jesse Hawes. “Go to the bed of sand at 9:00 p.m., dream of food till 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., awake, go to the water barrel, drink, and return to sleep again if the rats would permit sleep.”

The rat population grew apace with that of the prisoners until they became a plague. They burrowed through the warehouse and swarmed over the cooking yard. “At first they made me nervous, lest they should do me serious injury before I should awake,” said Hawes. “But after several nights’ experience that feeling was supplanted by one of irritation that they should keep waking me up so many times that at length became nearly unbearable.”

Harder yet to bear were lice, from which no prisoner was free. An Illinois private said that after his first night at Cahaba his uniform was so infested that it “looked more like pepper and salt than blue.” Hawes agreed. Lice “crawled upon our clothing by day, crawled over our bodies, into the ears, even into the nostrils and mouths by night.”

To compound the prisoners’ misery, in early March 1865 the inmates of Cahaba faced a natural disaster of the first order. For several days rain had pounded the prison and inundated the surrounding countryside. On March 1 the Cahaba River, north of town, overflowed its banks. Water raced through Cahaba and swept into the stockade. Latrines backed up, and by nightfall prisoners found themselves waist-deep in ice-cold, fetid water.

Unfortunately for them, Colonel Henderson was no longer at Cahaba. With the war winding down, General Grant had relented on prisoner exchanges. Confederate authorities detailed Henderson to organize exchanges at a neutral site in Vicksburg, leaving the prison under the command of Lt. Col. Samuel Jones, a mean-spirited martinet who once threatened to run Ms. Gardner out of town because of her “sympathy for the damned Yankees.” Refusing an appeal from his own guards to permit the prisoners to seek refuge on high ground outside the stockade until the waters receded, Jones left the federals shivering in the water for three days. Then, as the water finally drained from the stockade, he told the incredulous inmates that they were to be paroled immediately. The war was all but over.

For four weeks steamboats plied the Alabama River with prisoners. Most were taken to Vicksburg, where they mingled with the skeletons in blue from Andersonville. Some 4,700 Union prisoners awaited transportation home. Some 1,100 were sick, nearly all of whom were from Andersonville. The Cahaba men, reported Union department commander Napoleon T. Dana, were in “excellent health.”

But not for long. On April 24, the long months of humane work by Henderson ended in unspeakable tragedy. The Union paddle steamer Sultana left Vicksburg crammed with 2,000 Union prisoners, more than half of them Cahaba men. The Sultana had faulty boilers and a legal capacity of 376 passengers. Three days after setting off up the Mississippi three of the four boilers exploded, and the Sultana sank. Three-quarters of the men onboard died.

General Dana took care to see that no harm came to Henderson while he was at Vicksburg, assigning a detachment of Indiana cavalry to act as the colonel’s personal bodyguard. After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, not even a well-meaning Confederate like Henderson was safe within Union lines. So Dana spirited him across the Mississippi River into a camp of Texas Rangers.

Henderson went on to live a long and productive life. He served two terms as superintendent of public schools in Kentucky before returning to the clergy. The Reverend Doctor Henderson was pastor of the Jersey City, N.J., Methodist Church when on May 11, 1883 its most prominent member, Mrs. Hannah Simpson Grant, passed away. Her son, Ulysses S. Grant, entrusted funeral arrangements to Henderson and asked him to prepare an appropriate eulogy. It was a high tribute to Henderson’s character indeed that the former commanding general of the Union army would place such trust in the one-time commandant of a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp.

Henderson died in Cincinnati in 1912. Obituaries incorrectly said he had been a Confederate general, omitting any reference to his duty at Cahaba. Not that it mattered. After the 1865 flood the county seat moved from Cahaba to Selma, and by the turn of the century Cahaba was a ghost town; the warehouse prison demolished for the bricks. The horrors of Andersonville and notoriety of its commandant Henry Wirz would forever remain etched in American memory; memories of Col. Henry A. M. Henderson’s humanity were buried with the good reverend.

Peter Cozzens is the author of 16 books on the American Civil War and the Indian Wars of the American West, including “The Shipwreck of Their Hopes: The Battles for Chattanooga.”

Image: Cahaba Federal Prison


Pewter Medical Irrigator Tip


This is a dug pewter syringe-irrigator tip. It has threads where it was screwed into a metal syringe. Water could be used to flush wounds, body cavities, or the andomen during surgery. The end of this has holes for creating a pressurized jet of water. This was dug near Fairfax Station, VA. The site is forever covered by a McDonalds now! What other relics from our past are locked under new homes, parking lots, roads, schools and strip malls? A bullet from same site shows the size of this irrigator tip. It is 4 1/8 inches long.

Left for Dead in Virginia

By Ronald S. Coddington, 6-28-12

George T. Perkins and his Union comrades breathed a collective sigh of relief on the afternoon of June 27, 1862. Positioned behind breastworks along a stretch of pinewoods on the battlefield of Gaines’s Mill, they listened as the pounding of artillery and rattling of musketry on their left rose and faded. Then another din on their right, followed by three Yankee huzzahs.

A round of smiles, handshakes and backslapping broke out among this hearty band of brothers who belonged to the 22nd Massachusetts Infantry. Held in reserve, the regiment did not expect to fight this day. It appeared that the services of Perkins, a 26-year-old hospital steward, would not be required.

The celebration was premature.

The Confederates renewed the fight toward nightfall and broke the lines on either side of the 22nd. On came the gray juggernaut, its battle line visible as it swept across a hill opposite the Massachusetts men. Perkins would be needed after all.

Caught off guard by the unexpected advance, Union soldiers from one defeated regiment stumbled up and over the breastworks, the Confederates in hot pursuit. The Federals cried out, “Get up, boys, and give them some!” as they ran to the rear.

Perkins and the rest of the 22nd braced for the Confederate onslaught. According to the historians of the regiment, an officer ordered “Commence firing! Shoot low!” The rank and file responded with a well-aimed volley. “This galling fire delivered in the centre of the rebel line, staggered it, and they came on in the shape of a V, with the opening toward us.” The engagement heated up as gun smoke wafted through the woods and mixed with the lingering light of day.

The Confederates flanked the 22nd and began to fire. The thin blue line broke and the men fled. They had not gone far before their colonel, Jesse Gove, barked, “Halt! Twenty-second!” A respected commander who had served in the pre-war regular Army, his words checked the retreat. The men rallied just as the Confederates rushed to finish them off. “Those who had charges in their guns turned and delivered fire into the very faces of the advancing foe,” stated the regimental historians.

The Confederates returned fire. Colonel Gove was instantly killed, his body left behind and never recovered. A bullet ripped into the regimental major’s shoulder, and the adjutant suffered a wound. Many of the company officers were hit as well, while enlisted men were shot down or captured as the unit’s integrity disintegrated. Command fell to a captain, who tried unsuccessfully to rally a remnant of the shattered regiment around the colors.

Meanwhile, Perkins scrambled to save the fallen as a hail of Rebel lead swept the battlefield. As he attempted to rescue one man, a musket ball tore into his right lower back near the spinal column. He fell heavily to the ground. An alert soldier managed to place Perkins on a riderless horse and get him out of there.

Perkins was taken to a field hospital, where a surgeon examined him and located the bullet, which had lodged in his right chest. Pvt. George Copeland, a family friend who served with Perkins, happened to be on the scene. Copeland described the surgeon’s response: “He said he would not extract the ball as it would make no difference. I asked him if I should infer that it was mortal. He did not give me an answer and hurried off.”

Another surgeon examined Perkins and came to the same conclusion. Soldiers transported him to nearby Savage’s Station, where wounded soldiers were gathered for further treatment — or, in Perkins’s case, so his last hours could be as comfortable as possible.

Copeland accompanied Perkins and dressed the wound as best he could. “He seemed to be suffering considerably. I asked him if he felt the ball had entered the cavity. He said no. I do not think he thought it mortal for he said nothing about his home, but asked me to send his things by the first opportunity.” Copeland returned to what remained of the 22nd, leaving Perkins to his fate, crudely bandaged in his torn and bloodied uniform with his sword, belt and sash.

Perkins understood his situation as well if not better than the surgeons who had examined him. A doctor in peacetime, he had earned a medical degree from Harvard in 1857. His interest in medicine stemmed from his parents: his father, Thomas, was an “eclectic physician,” or a doctor who treated patients with botanical remedies and physical therapy. His mother, Betsey, was as a “clairvoyant physician,” or one who made a diagnosis after “astute observation” — literally, the alleged ability to see the patient’s symptoms.

Perkins eagerly offered his medical services to the Army after the war started. He had hoped to become a surgeon, the ranking doctor in a regiment, but there were not enough of the coveted commissions to go around. He joined the Army anyway. In the autumn of 1861 he enlisted as a hospital steward in the 22nd, also known as “Henry Wilson’s Regiment,” after the Republican senator who raised and briefly commanded it.

Ordered to Virginia and assigned to the Army of the Potomac, the regiment received its baptism under fire before Yorktown at the beginning of the Peninsula Campaign. A few men were listed as wounded on April 5, 1862. Gaines’ Mill, fought at the end of the campaign as one of the engagements of the Seven Days battles, exacted a much higher toll. Regimental casualties amounted to 279, including 71 killed outright. “It was a sad night for the Twenty-second. Not a man but had lost a comrade, for one-half of those who marched in the morning were no longer in the ranks,” recorded the regimental historians.

A number of the wounded from the 22nd, Perkins included, were treated in the field hospital at Savage’s Station. Hundreds of injured men streamed onto the hospital grounds from the surrounding area. Surgeons worked feverishly to save lives.

On the second day after Perkins arrived, as the entire Union Army continued its retreat to a new base at Harrison’s Landing along the James River, Confederates captured the hospital and 2,500 men, including doctors, attendants and patients. Perkins now became a prisoner of war. About this time a surgeon, one of the Union doctors who had chosen to remain with the wounded, revisited Perkins and removed the bullet. Miraculously, the projectile had not broken a bone, damaged his spine or pierced an organ.

Meanwhile, news of Perkins’s plight made its way to his wife, Annie, in Boston. She determined to travel to Virginia and plead for her husband’s release. She confided her plans in a letter to Private Copeland. He replied, “I do not think it would be advisable for you to try to get him. He is probably receiving good care and will be returned.,” he replied. “Prisoners are being released as fast as exchanged.”

Indeed, Perkins gained his release a month later. He went home to Boston to recuperate and rejoined the regiment before the end of the year. He went on to become an assistant surgeon and served with distinction — during the Overland Campaign in 1864, according to a fellow physician, Perkins was “almost constantly at the front, often under fire, rendering great aid to our brave boys as they came out wounded from the bloody fields.”

Perkins mustered out of the 22nd after its three-year term of enlistment ended in late 1864. He went on to serve in two more regiments, and ended his volunteer military career as a full surgeon in the summer of 1865. Afterward he returned to Boston, reunited with Annie and began a family that grew to include three children. In the late 1870s, voters elected him to the city council on the Republican ticket.

His wound troubled him for the rest of his life. Almost every year it swelled and broke open. Annie recalled that “there came from the wound small bits of cloth or threads and after these openings and discharges for some little time then it would apparently be sealed up again.” One November night in 1880, after another episode when his old wound had reopened, he was seized with difficulty in breathing and speaking. Twenty minutes later Perkins was dead. Annie remembered, “Just before his death he laid his hand over the wound and exclaimed, ‘Oh! My stomach, my stomach!’”

His doctor first claimed that his war injury resulted in death, but later ruled heart failure as the likely cause. Perkins was 44.

Ronald S. Coddington is the author of “Faces of the Civil War” and “Faces of the Confederacy.” His new book, “African American Faces of the Civil War,” will be available in the fall. He writes “Faces of War,” a column for the Civil War News.

Image 1: George Thomas Perkins pictured after his promotion from hospital steward to assistant surgeon, circa 1863.

Image 2: Massachusetts Infantry in action at Gaines’ Mill from Henry Wilson’s Regiment, digitized by Google.



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