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.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Common Causes of Death in the Civil War Prison


Abscess - Swollen, inflamed area in body tissues with localized collection of pus.

Anasarca - Abnormal accumulation of fluid in tissues and cavities of the body, resulting in swelling. Also known as dropsy.

Ascites - Accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity.

Asphyxia - Loss of consciousness due to suffocation; inadequate oxygen, and too much carbon dioxide.

Catarrh - Inflammation of mucus membranes of nose and throat causing increased flow of mucus. (Common cold).

Constipation - Condition in which feces are hard and elimination is infrequent and difficult.

Diarrhea - Frequent, loose bowel movements. Symptoms of other diseases.

Diphtheria - Acute, highly contagious disease. Characterized by abdominal pain and intense diarrhea.

Dysentery - Various intestinal inflammations characterized by abdominal pain and intense diarrhea.

Enteritis - Inflammation of intestines.

Erysipelas - Acute infectious disease of skin or mucus membranes. Characterized by local inflammation and fever.

Gastritis - Inflammation of stomach.

Hemorrhoids - Painful swelling of vein in region of the anus, often with bleeding.

Hepatitis - Inflammation of liver, often accompanied by fever and jaundice.

Hydrocele - Accumulation of fluid in the scrotum.

Icterus - Characterized by yellowish skin, eyes, and urine. Also known as jaundice.

Laryngitis - Inflammation of the larynx.

Nephritis - Acute or chronic disease of kidneys, characterized by inflammation and degeneration.

Pleurisy - Inflammation of membranes covering lungs and lining of chest cavity. Characterized by difficult and painful breathing. Also known as pleuritis.

Rubeola - Measles.

Scurvy - Disease resulting from deficiency of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), which is found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Characterized by weakness, spongy gums, and bleeding from mucus membranes. Also known as scorbutus.

Smallpox - Acute, highly contagious disease. Characterized by prolonged fever, vomiting, and pustular skin eruptions.

Tonsillitis - Inflammation of tonsils.

Typhoid - Acute infections disease, characterized by fever and diarrhea.

Ulcus - Ulcer.

Civil War Prisons


Introduction to Civil War Prisons

The exigencies of Civil War (1861-1865) applied to the soldier, the grunt on the battlefield, but it also extended to the infantryman who became the prisoner of war. Union and Confederate prisons were unimaginable horror chambers employing slow agonizing deaths to its guests. Early in the war prisoner exchanges were common, but many on both sides believed that the war would only last 90 days. As months became years, it was obvious to Union and Confederate commanders that the continued battlefield gridlock and stalemate had to cease. The once honored prisoner exchanges were now viewed by Northern politicians such as Lincoln and Stanton as merely recruiting stations and reinforcements for the dwindling Confederate military. Attrition was the answer to winning the war, was the prevailing thought of Secretary of War Stanton. The Union Army could replace soldiers, but that was not the case in the South, so halting all exchanges indicated that the Confederacy would soon be unable to field an army. While it was true that it spelled the final hurrah for the men in gray, it also meant that until the war ended the Union prisoners could no longer hold to hopes of being exchanged, but they would now have to endure prison life knowing that only their death or complete Union victory would liberate them. Although the South continued to field an army for nearly two years after the prisoner exchanges halted in the summer of 1863, it was not able to adequately feed and clothe its men on the march. Since Rebel soldiers marching into the fray lacked shoes, uniforms, medicine, and food, how would Yankee prisoners fair in the Heart of Dixie? But the Confederacy continued to plead with Washington that it was vital to resume exchanges because they could not feed nor clothe Union prisoners. For the sake of humanity, we want for medicine, we can not feed nor clothe nor shelter the prisoners, so for their lives will you not exchange them? By failing to resume large scale prisoner exchanges, several thousand Union soldiers would die in Confederate prisons.

"Captain Wirz was unjustly held responsible for the hardship and mortality of Union prisoners at Andersonville, but the Federal authorities must share the blame for these things with the Confederacy, since they well knew the inability of the Confederates to meet the reasonable wants of their prisoners of war, as they lacked a supply of their own needs, and since the Federal authorities failed to exercise a humane policy in the exchange of those captured in battle." Former Andersonville prisoner-of-war Lt. James Madison Page, Company A, 6th Michigan Cavalry. After the execution of Wirz, Page, a Union officer, who had spent seven months as a prisoner at Andersonville, leveled unprecedented allegations against Washington, including remarks that Wirz was merely a scapegoat, his trial was unconstitutional, and the court was filled with perjurers. He also said that the trial was a feeble attempt by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to divert attention away from himself, because it was Stanton's no prisoner exchange policy that killed the Union prisoners. Federal propaganda and political cover-ups wrote Page in his 1908 best seller, The True Story of Andersonville Prison: A Defense of Major Henry Wirz, were disingenuous efforts by Washington insiders for their halting all prisoner exchanges, which resulted in thousands of Union men dying needlessly in Confederate prisons. Although Page had spent seven months as a prisoner at Andersonville, his captivity and imprisonment included several months at other Confederate prisons during 1863-64.

Overview of Civil War Prisons

When the Civil War began, neither side expected a long conflict. Although there was no formal exchange system at the beginning of the war, both armies paroled prisoners. Captured men were conditionally released on their oath of honor not to return to battle. This allowed them to return to camps of instruction as noncombatants. It also meant that neither side had to provide for the prisoners' needs. An exchange system set up in 1862 lasted less than a year. North and South found themselves with thousands of prisoners of war.

The confined soldiers suffered terribly. The most common problems confronting prisoners both North and South were overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate food. Mismanagement by prison officials, as well as by the prisoners themselves, worsened matters. The end of the war saved hundreds of prisoners from an untimely death, but for many the war's end came too late. Of 194,732 Union soldiers held in Confederate prison camps, some 30,000 died while captive. Union forces held about 220,000 Confederate prisoners, nearly 26,000 of whom died. The mortality rates for some of the Civil War prison camps are shown below.

Union and Confederate Prisons and Prisoners

"We will not exchange able bodied men for skeletons. We do not propose to reinforce the Rebel army by exchanging prisoners," Union Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton
Regarding the treatment of the Prisoner of War: “For the Northern side there is no excuse; for the Southern side there is one--and but one. The Union prisoners were starved, as I have said before, because we were starving ourselves; our children were crying for bread, and our Confederate soldiers were fighting on half-rations of parched corn and peas. The North had plenty of food, clothing, and provisions, but they intentionally withheld every provision from the Confederate prisoner… And it was done with calculated cruelty that has gone unmatched in any civilized society.”

Statistics indicate that the U.S. Government exchanged and paroled 329,963 "Rebels" and the Confederacy exchanged and paroled 152,015 "Federals." Because exchanges and paroles often occurred on the battlefield, the soldiers were not subjected to the privations of prison. Once Total War was implemented, however, the exchanges halted abruptly. The North had recognized that the paroled and exchanged prisoners were merely being recycled into the Confederate army, thus prolonging what it now viewed as a war of attrition. Of 194,732 Union soldiers who were held in Confederate prison camps, some 30,000 died in prison. While Union forces detained nearly 220,000 Confederate prisoners, nearly 26,000 died. An exact number of deaths will never be known because of poorly kept and destroyed records.

While the North had no shortage of troops, the South, however, could not afford to lose a single soldier. It was now simply a war of attrition, but, on the other hand, although it favored the Union on the battlefield, it had strong ramifications for the Federal prisoners.

Grant, in his Memoirs, discusses why the Federal government, as late as 1863, paroled the enemy during the Civil War. On the Confederate capitulation at Vicksburg, Grant wrote: "The enemy surrendered this morning. The only terms allowed is their parole as prisoners of war. This I regard as a great advantage to us at this moment. It saves, probably, several days in the capture, and leaves troops and transports ready for immediate service. Sherman, with a large force, moves immediately on Johnston, to drive him from the State. I will send troops to the relief of Banks, and return the 9th army corps to Burnside."

At Vicksburg alone, 31,600 prisoners were surrendered, with 172 cannon, approximately 60,000 muskets, and a large amount of ammunition. Whole regiments were captured and paroled at Vicksburg, and most of the paroled Confederates simply reformed or mustered into their prior (paroled) units and then returned to battle.

The attitude of United States Secretary of War Stanton and of General Grant that no exchange so long as the North held the excess of prisoners was a necessity of war is best seen in their own communications on the subject. On August 8, 1864, Grant sent the following telegram to General Butler: "On the subject of exchange of prisoners, however, I differ with General Hitchcock. It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to release them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. To commence a system of exchange now, which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those already caught, they amount to no more than so many dead men. At this particular time to release Rebel prisoners would insure Sherman's defeat and compromise our safety here."

"General Grant is a great general. I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always." Words of General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1864 regarding his successful March to the Sea

To Exchange or Not to Exchange Prisoners of War

Grant states in his Memoirs that "the exchanged Confederate was equal on the defensive to three Union soldiers attacking." In other words, an exchanged Confederate soldier would divert and engage three Union soldiers. Grant simply did not want to allow and permit the South that luxury.
Stanton's words are well known: "We will not exchange able bodied men for skeletons. We do not propose to reenforce the Rebel army by exchanging prisoners."

In a letter from Washington September 30, 1864, H. W. Halleck, major general and chief of staff, says to Major General Foster, in charge of exchange of prisoners at Hilton Head, S C.: "Hereafter no exchange of prisoners shall be entertained except on the field when captured."

General Grant in a telegram August 21, 1864, to Secretary Stanton says: "Please inform General Foster that under no circumstances will he be authorized to make an exchange of prisoners of war. Exchange simply reenforces the enemy at once, while we do not get the benefit for two or three months, and lose the majority entirely. I telegraph this from just hearing that some five or six hundred prisoners have been sent to General Foster."

Skeletons For Soldiers, No Thank You

On one occasion, when General Ould had effected arrangements with General Butler for an exchange at Fortress Monroe, Grant's order that no able bodied man should be exchanged without his consent came into effect. (General Butler stated on the floor of Congress that after he had arranged with the Confederate authorities for an exchange of prisoners on his own terms, the whole plan was defeated by the intercession of Mr. Stanton and General Grant. They claimed that by such an exchange Lee would get thirty thousand fresh troops, and that Grant's position at Petersburg would be endangered and the war prolonged.) A little later Grant telegraphed to Butler to take all the sick and wounded the Confederates would send him, but to return no more in exchange therefor.

At one time President Davis ordered General Lee to go under a flag of truce to Grant and ask in the name of humanity that exchange of prisoners be granted, showing him how proper care of the captives was beyond control of the South. Grant did not allow the interview, and treated everything with a deaf ear. On Lee's testimony before the Congressional Reconstruction Committee he said: "I made several efforts to exchange the prisoners after the cartel was suspended." When his attempts at exchange had met only with failure, General Lee reported to President Davis: "We have done everything in our power to mitigate the suffering of prisoners, and there is no just cause for a sense of further responsibility on our part."

Approximately 13,000 Union prisoners died at the Confederate's Andersonville Prison, Georgia, because of starvation, malnutrition, diarrhea, and disease. Meanwhile, Prisoner of War Camp Douglas in Chicago was considered the “Andersonville of the North,” because of similar conditions that resulted in nearly 6,000 Confederate deaths.

Regarding prisoner exchange, during Union General Stoneman's Raid in North Carolina in 1865, General Gillem, commanding the cavalry division, appropriated and sacked the house of Mr. Albert Hagler. Gillem, furthermore, was especially impertinent to Mrs. Hagler, an accomplished young lady, though she parried his attacks with the civility of a lady. On one occasion he said to her rudely, "I know you are a rebel from the way you move--an't you a rebel?" She replied, "General Gillem, did you ever hear the story of the tailor's wife and the scissors?" "Yes." "Then I am a rebel as high as I can reach." Coarseness, however, can not always be met playfully, and Mrs. Hagler incurred his anger to its fullest extent when, in reply to his violent denunciation of the Confederates for starving their prisoners, she ventured to suggest that the Federal authorities might have saved all this suffering had they agreed to [prisoner] exchange and take them North, where provisions were plenty. The General's reply to this was the giving his men tacit license to plunder and destroy the houses of Mrs. Howard's daughter (Mrs. Hartley) and niece (Mrs. Clark), who both lived near her. No houses in the place suffered more severely than theirs. The house of her daughter, Mrs. Hartley, was pillaged from top to bottom. Barrels of sorghum were broken and poured over the wheat in the granary, and over the floors of the house. Furniture and crockery were smashed, and what was not broken up was defiled in a manner so disgusting as to be unfit for use. Mrs. Clark, the niece, was driven out of her house by the brutality of her plunderers.


General Grant in his "Memoirs" bluntly but honestly gives the reason for not exchanging prisoners. It seems that it was decided at Washington that exchange meant the reinforcement of the rebel army, and he goes on to explain that the exchanged rebel soldier behind barricades and fortifications fighting on the defensive was equivalent to three Union soldiers attacking him. This was the Stanton policy, and if this atrocious and inhuman doctrine is anyway meritorious, the "War Secretary" is entitled to the credit.

"The Government held a large excess of prisoners, and the rebels were anxious to exchange man for man; but our authorities acted upon the coldblooded theory of the Secretary of War, that we could not afford to give well-fed, rugged men for invalids and skeletons. Those 5,000 loyal graves at Salisbury, North Carolina, will ever remain fitting monuments of rebel cruelty and the atrocious inhumanity of Edwin M. Stanton, who steadfastly refused to exchange prisoners. The war office at Washington preferred to let us die rather than exchange us! The refusal upon the part of our government to exchange prisoners was now an assured fact. The sick lost hope and died. Those in better condition physically became disheartened and sick. It is no wonder that during August, 1864, nearly 3,000 prisoners died at Andersonville." Lieut. James Madison Page, Company A, 6th Michigan Cavalry, after spending seven months at Andersonville.

In December 1865, the New York News printed a contrarian story that sent shockwaves across the Northern states. "Stanton wanted to treat the populace at the North to a bloody spectacle; they believed he wanted to divert attention from his own barbarous and persistent refusal to exchange prisoners of war; they believed he deliberately resolved to make poor Wirz the scapegoat of the iniquities of his own Government and of himself, and to this end he violated the spirit and the letter of the military convention between Johnston and Sherman as well as the fundamental law of the land. They believed, moreover, that the military commission before which Wirz was tried, setting aside all decency and catching at the spirit of the Secretary of War, was overbearing and dictatorial, and that he did not have a fair trial. And, finally, they believed the war minister of the Government, taking counsel of his passions, his prejudices, and his hatreds, sought by the conviction and execution of Wirz to write a false chapter in the history of the war and to infamize the South. The revulsion of feeling in the North over the unjust execution of poor Wirz was too strong even for "the great War Secretary" to face, and Jefferson Davis, Alex. H. Stephens, General Cobb, Josiah H. White, R. R. Stevenson, W. J. W. Kerr, Captain Reed, and last but not least, Colonel Ould, the "Confederate Commissioner of Exchange," were never brought to trial. Therefore, poor ill-fated Wirz must have "conspired" single-handed and alone to starve and murder Union prisoners."

Image: "The 100." When A.J. Riddle took this photograph on August 17, 1864, there were nearly 33,000 Union prisoners confined within Andersonville's 26-1/2 acres. In May of '64, 708 prisoners died, but while scorching temperatures loomed during August, approximately 3,000 died -- an average of 100 prisoners per day.

New York Hospital and the Civil War: Regimental Surgeons

By Elizabeth M. Shepard on May 31, 2013

When the war broke out, each state began forming volunteer regiments. Most of the New York Hospital doctors who served in the war began their service as volunteer surgeons in the regiments from New York State. Often doctors who were recruited for these regiments were small town physicians who had no training in military medicine and were ill prepared to treat wounded soldiers or perform amputations. Surgeons had to pass an exam and be approved by the war department. Their first task was to conduct the exams for the enlisted men and officers. These surgeons were responsible for treating the soldiers in the camps or after the battles in makeshift field hospitals. In the first year of the war, surgeons got some of their medical supplies from their states as well as the Medical Department.

Starting in 1862, the supplies were distributed by brigade surgeons to the regiment surgeons. Regimental physicians were furnished with medicine chests designed to be carried on horseback. Orderlies carried knapsacks with essential bandages, instruments, and medicines. Each surgeon had four sets of surgical instruments: major, minor, pocket case, and field case.


Gettysburg and the Christian Commission

Edited with an introduction by Daniel J. Hoisington

Following the battle of Gettysburg, the United States Christian Commission provided spiritual and physical care to thousands of wounded and dying soldiers of both armies. More than three hundred volunteers came to the battlefield, leaving a legacy of “a thousand little nameless acts.”

In his introductory essay, Daniel Hoisington explains the pivotal role that the Christian Commission played at Gettysburg and its lasting effect on evangelical Christianity. Delegates included J. B. Stillson—Dwight Moody’s mentor, George Junkin—Stonewall Jackson’s father-in-law and staunch Unionist, Rowland Howard—brother of General Oliver O. Howard and later Secretary of the American Peace Society, and George Duffield—composer of the hymn, “Stand Up! Stand Up for Jesus!”

The book includes important contemporary accounts of the battle’s aftermath, including the first complete publication of the diary of John Calhoun Chamberlain, one of the first delegates at Gettysburg and brother of the hero of Little Round Top. Jane Boswell Moore’s letters provide a glimpse of women’s work among the soldiers. Andrew Cross’ official report describes the carnage of battle as “a most fearful judgment of God upon a nation and people.” In a postwar story, George Peltz tells of a return to the Second Corps Hospital eight years later on a final mission of mercy.

". . . especially welcome for integrating the religiously inspired work of a prominent voluntary agency into broader accounts of this much-studied battle." --Mark Noll, Books & Culture

"Gettysburg and the Christian Commission at Gettysburg offers a varied overview of a neglected aspect of the care of the wounded at Gettysburg. This study is highly recommended. Its unique perspective provides an understanding of the roll of the U. S. Christian Commission at Gettysburg as a case study of its contribution during the Civil War. " -- Michael Russert, Civil War News

On H-Net, David Raney wrote about Gettysburg and the Christian Commission, saying: "Hoisington has enriched our understanding of the United States Christian Commission, one of the least-known and least-understood participants in the American Civil War."


The First Female Medical College: "Will you accept or reject them?"


How were the first women physicians of the 19th century perceived?

The 19th century was a period of rapid social change and experimentation. The reform movements that swept through American society after 1820 were built on a new vision for the young nation and were reactions to a range of factors: slavery; the abuse of alcohol; the transformation of the American economy through industrialization; urbanization; and lingering goals of the American revolutionary period. These reform movements included: the Public Schools Movement to ensure public education for all; better care and treatment for the mentally ill; the Temperance Movement to control alcohol abuse; and most famously, the abolition of slavery and the promotion of women’s rights.

Two significant reform movements of the period, the abolition of slavery and the promotion of women’s rights, were inextricably tied together. Women were very active in the anti-slavery movement, even though their contributions were limited by their legal and societal status as second-class citizens. By participating in the abolition movement, women moved beyond their traditional domestic world of home and child-rearing and entered public life. They attended meetings, strategized, spoke out, and raised money for the anti-slavery cause.

The experience of advocating for equal rights for African Americans taught women the power of organizing and acting for change. Women used what they learned in the abolition movement to publicly fight for their own equal rights, including access to education and employment opportunities.

Prior to 1850, women practiced medicine in their communities and worked, informally, as nurses and midwives, but there was no opportunity for formal medical education. Many thought that it was improper for women to study medical subjects alongside men, and were opposed to women entering medicine as professionals. Others, though, thought it would be more appropriate for a woman physician, instead of a male physician, to treat women patients.

It was at this time that a small group of Philadelphia Quakers began to imagine a future where women were professional physicians, appropriately educated, bearing a medical degree, and serving their communities equally with their male counterparts. In 1850, they founded the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, the first medical school in the nation for women.

A Female Civil War Surgeon: "How Dr. Mary is Remarkable”


Explore the story of a controversial woman doctor who served in the Civil War and fought for women's rights

Mary Edwards Walker was born in 1832 in Oswego, New York. In 1855, she received her M.D. from Syracuse Medical College. In March 1864, late in the Civil War, she was appointed as a contract surgeon for the Union's 52nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In April 1864, Dr. Mary Walker was captured by Confederate soldiers and held prisoner for four months in Richmond, Virginia. She was released in August in exchange for a Confederate officer.

In recognition of her services to the Union Army, President Andrew Johnson awarded her a Medal of Honor in November 1865. However, her Medal was revoked in June of 1916, along with others, by an Act of Congress. The Medals of Honor for distinguished conduct had not been awarded according to the requirements specified by law, which requires those who receive the Medal of Honor to be involved in actual conflict with the enemy. Efforts made by her descendants ensured the posthumous re-instatement of her Medal by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

Dr. Mary, as she liked to be called, was also a strong advocate for women’s dress reform. She began wearing bloomers [loose-fitting pants, gathered at the ankle and often worn under knee-length dresses] during the Civil War, and after the War began wearing “men’s clothing” -- trousers and jackets, accompanied by short hair and sometimes a top hat. Dr. Mary became president of the National Dress Reform Association and was active in the Central Women’s Suffrage Bureau. She also supported the temperance movement. In the late 1860s and early 1870s, she toured the United Kingdom lecturing on her Civil War experience and the physiological arguments against women's traditional dress.

Dr. Mary, her stories, and her ideas could be controversial, and she caused quite a sensation. In 1874 Congress granted her a pension, and from 1882 to 1883 she served as a clerk in the Department of Pensions. Dr. Mary made occasional appearances at Congressional hearings and was quite well-recognized within Washington, D.C. While many women may have agreed with her ideas, Dr. Mary’s strong personality and sometimes impolite manner made people hesitant to work with her.

In her later years, Dr. Mary moved back to the small town of Oswego, where she lived alone and was often seen wearing denim overalls and a shabby hat, driving her horse-drawn wagon through town. She died in 1919 after a long illness.

Lucy Seaman Bainbridge: Sister Ohio


A VISIT TO WASHINGTON with my mother, in 1864, brought about an immediate change in my life. We were guests at a public dinner where one of the speakers told of the need of nurses at the war front--a vital need, for which there was no adequate supply. At that time our country had no trained nurses; the women who took upon themselves that duty had only their home-experience and common-sense on which to rely. I went into service with hardly that much knowledge, I was so very young.

Through the courtesy of The Outlook I am able to include here an account of my work as printed in the issue of May 28, 1919, bearing the title: Sister Ohio. A Memory of the Civil War.

The speaker at the dinner was the Ohio Military Agent, head of the Ohio Soldiers' Aid Society. He told of the terrible suffering at Fredericksburg, and continued: "The conditions are worse than in the winter of 1862, when so many dead and wounded lay along the banks of the Rappahannock and the Army of the Potomac was so sorely pressed. Without going into the causes or blunders which brought this, the fact is that by the river and in the city streets and on the floors of the houses our men are sick, wounded and suffering, helpless and dying. It is an awful condition there." Strange talk for a dinner table, but it was a time of war!

"I am here to send down a relief party to do what it can for those poor, brave boys of ours," the Military Agent went on. "In our State, furloughs have been granted so that great numbers of our young men may leave business, and the Rev. Mr. Prugh, an Ohio clergyman of good standing, will be the head of the party. There is also ready to go one efficient woman; she will arrive to-morrow, but I cannot send one woman alone.

Turning to my mother he asked: "Will you go? You have had wide experience and could give most valuable help. Can you not go down with the party? And take your daughter along--she can help."

Because of a telegram she had received informing her of sickness at home, my mother was compelled to answer that her going was impossible."But you may send my daughter," she added, "and I will go as far as Acquia Creek with her to see, whether or not, she can be of any use."

IT WAS NO GALA PARTY on that transport which took us down from Washington to meet the train from Fredericksburg. There was nothing before us but work for suffering, dying men. It was understood from the first that hardly the ordinary courtesies of social life were to be observed. If women were to go into that kind of service, they were to be ready to do fully their part, and in no sense to become a burden to the men who were so greatly needed. This was understood.

Oh, what a procession that was from train to transport! Men hobbling, limping, staggering— each man able to help lending a hand to those utterly helpless. There were few stretchers; blankets, and even sheets, were used for carrying the men who could not walk. Wounded, sick, and faint, they reeled from the railway to the friendly boat, where they gladly lay down on the hard boards. A narrow pathway was left between the feet of the two rows of men packed closely together on the floor of the transport. The few doctors were indeed busy, and very quickly used my mother's practical knowledge of nursing and medicine. In the midst of groans, creaking of machinery, and swash of the river, and no one to direct her, what could a girl do? Only this: A pail was found and filled with water; then lips were moistened, dried rags soaked with blood around the wounds wetted, and bits of old flannel shirts, made to serve as temporary bandages, eased up by the water. Water! Water! Water! How the men on that hard floor, packed closely together, craved the comfort of it on face and hands and wounds!

"Good!" said the doctor, as he hurried by. "Now make some punch--can you? We must keep these fellows alive till we get them to Washington." All through that night--long for the poor men but short to us who worked--we fought pain and death. Kneeling on the floor beside the men, one and another looked up as the comforting water or the spoonful of punch touched his lips, and said feebly, "Oh, bless ye! God bless ye!"

ON REACHING WASHINGTON, our boat was quickly emptied. The men were lifted into ambulances and sent to the hospitals, but many were laid away in quiet rest at Arlington. We made ready promptly to return for another boat-load. "I shall be very pleased if you will spare your daughter to go down to the base of supplies with our party," said the Military Agent gent, very cordially, to my mother. "All of them ask this, and Mr. Prugh, the leader, will take her under his wing." And so I went to the Front.

There was no pretty nurse's cap or white uniform to wear, but just plain, every-day clothes--a gingham dress and apron; no dainty and becoming white veil with a red cross over my forehead or on my arm. My distinguishing mark was simply a badge of red silk pinned on my left breast, on which were printed in gilt the words "Ohio Relief." Thus I went down the Potomac under the special guardianship of my leader, whom I called Father Prugh. At Port Royal on the Rappahannock, White House Landing on the Pamunkey, and, finally, at City Point, I had experiences of war which memory will never lose. How much was accomplished is a problem for the arithmetic of eternity!

The State of Ohio gave us stores of condensed milk, dried, toasted bread, crackers, sugar, canned fruits, jellies, and so forth, and our Practical State sent to each of us women a good umbrella, to be used against sun and rain. Away down within the boom--boom--boom of the cannonading, close to the Front, what could our party of untrained though willing people do? Surely, What could a mere girl really accomplish? Yet, after all, woman's work is made up of little things, and these "littles," put together, make the whole. So with that thought I worked.

Because of lack of army supplies, or because they were tied up with red tape, more poor fellows were brought wounded and helpless back from the Front than there were tents to cover them. On the grassy floor they were laid close together, with an orderly to care for them as best he could. When the tents were filled to the utmost, other men from the battle and rifle pits were left outside on the grass.

One very hot day a soldier lay with upturned face exposed to the pitiless heat of the Virginian sun. The bandages around his arm and leg were stiff and hard with blood. Was he black or white? Dirt, powder, and sunburn made it difficult to determine. Was he dead or asleep? He did not move. To inexperienced eyes he did not seem to breathe even, but water on the rags about the wounds, water on his lips, water on his face and head, had the desired effect, and his eyes slowly opened. With such material as I could find in the vicinity, a little improvised tent was put up over his head, face and neck. One of the doctors, coming hurriedly by and seeing my attempt to protect the man from the hot sun, called out, "Bully for you, Miss Ohio! I'm awfully busy, but I'll try to come back and give you a little help with that fellow. Feed him some punch."

Among the wounded men lying in one of the tents another day—men recently brought from the very Front and waiting to get to Washington—was a soldier who called out, "Say, Ohio Relief, what's your name, please? "Pointing to my badge, I replied, "There's my name." "Well, Sister Ohio," said the soldier, "I am from that State too, and the worst of it is I am hungry, and the orderly has too much to do to bother with me. What are you going to do for a fellow who wants to eat and can't feed himself?" Both arms were shot through and he was helpless. I soon found that he was ready for bread-and-milk, and liked it better than anything else. So my supplies of crackers, toasted bread, and condensed milk were put to good use. I fed my wounded Ohioan for several days, until he was carried to a Washington hospital.

Many months afterwards, this same soldier, in the uniform of a Major with his left sleeve empty, called at my home in Ohio, and said: "You see, I found out your name and who you were. So I have come to thank you and to have some bread-and-milk with you. But you won't have to feed me this time." Later, this soldier honoured me with the suggestion that I take bread-and-milk with him all his life!

Outside a tent, under the ropes which held it in place, lay a soldier-boy, groaning, and doubled-up with pain. "I'm just sorry for him, Miss Ohio," said the orderly, in a kindly voice, "but he can't be 'lowed in the tent; it's chuck full of wounded men now. He's got the cramps and he don't stay in one spot very long. He was over the other side until a few minutes ago. I'm too awful busy to 'tend to him.'' In my supplies were medicines for dysentery, and so I went to work. Careful feeding, regular medicine, a warm blanket on the grass, with the added oil of kindness, did the work, and in time the lone boy was in fair condition for the next boat-load to Washington.

When other duties to the suffering soldiers allowed a respite, Father Prugh held a short, informal service of song and cheer, in each tent. Here a girl could really help.

Frankey was a Michigan boy. Our duty was first to the men of Ohio, and after that to any one else. The lad had been terribly hurt, shot through both arms and one leg, and his wounds were full of gangrene and vermin. Frankey had lied about his age and had run away from home to enlist. He was only a boy.

"Miss Ohio," said the doctor, "that little fellow thinks he is to have a furlough and that he is to go home to his mother. But he isn't. He's going to die. Don't make him feel badly—but—oh, well, do as you like." The boy responded to every kindness and wanted "Sister Ohio" to take care of his precious possessions—green-and-yellow skein of sewing-silk taken at Fairfax Court-House, and a ring he had cut out of a nut when his leg had been hurt, but when he could still use his arm. He talked of his furlough and his mother and the Sunday School, and how glad he was that he had been in the fight. At last his mind was turned to the thought that, perhaps, he might not be able to go home to his mother; that his furlough was to be a very long one, and that in the Father's house he would meet his mother and tell her how sorry he was that he had lied. At the service that Sunday afternoon he asked that we sing his favourite hymn. It may sound a bit old-fashioned now, but the boy loved it—"There is a happy land, far, far away." He tried to join in the singing; and when we sang the hymn—"I have a Saviour in the Promised Land," he wanted us to go over it twice. Before the next boat-load was shipped to Washington, Frankey had entered into the land where there is no war. He said "good-bye" that Sunday afternoon and gave me as a token of remembrance the tiny skein of silk; the other things I was to send to his mother. "Please, Sister Ohio," he said, "you tell her I am all right inside, and you are my sister, you know. Maybe I won't be here to-morrow, so will you kiss me ‘good-bye,' 'cause my mother ain't here?" So I kissed him.

At the end of a row of men lying on the ground in one of the tents, one day, was a man so wounded that he had severe hemorrhages. "Don't waste any time on him, Miss Ohio," an orderly said. "He is a goner; he will never get to a hospital." The poor fellow knew it himself, all too well, but, as I sat by him, he said, "Will you write to my wife and tell her to make my children know that I gave my life for my country? I want my boy to know about his father. Tell them I thought of them." The story was written in full. I added a tiny lock of hair and a special message from the father to the boy who bore his name, and as I read it to the suffering man, his gratitude was expressed in a whispered "God bless you." As night came on I gave him a verse of comfort and strength from God's Word, and as I left him he said, longingly, "Sister Ohio, please come here first in the morning, and if—." At the first break of the dawn I was there, but his place on the grass was empty. A sudden severe hemorrhage—and his spirit had been released. The body had been taken away, for there was no time for delay. I hurried to the cemetery. There were so many who had died in the night, and there was so much to do for those who were suffering, that there was no time for services. But as that body was laid underground, "Sister Ohio" was kindly allowed by the man in charge to have the spade of earth held for a moment while a verse and a short prayer were repeated.

WHEN THE ARMY BASE WAS MOVED to City Point, there was much delay in the arrival of the stores and goods. There were tents, but beds and blankets did not come until later. Our food was of the simplest sort for a day or two. Johnny, a drummer boy, detailed temporarily to the Christian Commission tent near by, all unseen, rolled in a can of peaches under the edge of the canvas of our tent, and later came peeping in to say, "Well, Sister Ohio, I'm from good old Bosting, but just you count on me if you need anything." When he went back to the Front, he asked for a little piece off the side of my blue-check apron as a memento of our friendly acquaintance. Many years,—yes, very many years afterward—a bald, gray, bent man, worn and disabled, called to see me, and asked if I were Sister Ohio, and did I remember Johnny, the drummer-boy at City Point?

While it was true that at City Point we only had a tent, yet each of us had a big shawl, and there was a log for a pillow and a grassy floor to lie on. On the first night an officer came along at dusk and said: "There is a lady alone whom we want to accommodate. She has business with Headquarters. All we can do is to ask you ladies to take her in as your guest to-night." We gladly gave her a share of our log pillow, and I divided my warm shawl with her as a covering. It was dusk when she came, it was early dawn when she left. So our guest, Clara Barton, who later organized the American Red Cross, and was its first President, did not know who had been her hostess. Years afterwards, Dr. Amory Bradford, of Montclair, held a series of meetings in his church, giving one day to addresses on the work of women. There were three speakers—a lady from Boston, Clara Barton, and myself. With the permission of Dr. Bradford, I was allowed to introduce the speaker who followed me. I had never seen Clara Barton since the night we had spent together under my blanket-shawl at City Point. I told the story of the stranger who came to us that night in the tent, and then presented Miss Barton to the audience. With her cloak thrown back, showing its gay lining, the medals on her breast flashing, and her face full of light and life, she extended her hand and, clasping mine, said: "I have often wondered who the girl was who gave me a part of her pillow and warm shawl, and I have always wanted to thank her for her hospitality, and to meet her again—and now I say, God bless you." The hearty cheers of that big audience one can never forget.

My evenings at the Front were all needed for writing letters—letters to mothers, wives, and sweethearts. One very warm night as I sat at my deck, which was the top of a packing box, writing by the light of a candle, the entrance curtain of my tent was pushed back and a man, not a soldier, came in to have a social chat with my tent-mate, a widow. I was introduced; that was all. I had many letters to get off, and was not there for any social calls. Late that night, when my widow friend was out on some errand, a tap on my tent pole roused me. "Who is there?" I asked. "What is wanted?" A man's voice replied, giving his name, and making it evident that he had utterly mistaken my character and my mission. My sharp reply was followed by my taking up a hatchet with which I had opened a box, and, clanging it down upon a pile of nails which lay there, saying, with a tone and emphasis which he could understand, "The first man who crosses the threshold of this tent will be a dead man." The vile creature did not walk away, he ran—with all his might.

For the first time in all her experiences at the Front "Sister Ohio" called upon the kind services of Father Prugh and the staff of royal young men with him. That midnight caller left for Washington the next day.

Furlough-time was up for some of the party; the widow had special business to attend to in Cincinnati; and so I went to my home in Cleveland, Ohio.

During the many years which have come and gone since the days of which I am now writing, I have received a few letters. One to myself, and one to my son, are added here:

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas,
January 9, 1881.

Dear Madame: You are no doubt surprised at a letter from an old friend. I hope you have not forgotten your little soldier friend, who knew you down with the Army of the Potomac. I was of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers. After that I went into the Navy and was shipwrecked. Good-by, and God bless you is the prayer of your old friend,

Johnnie Doyle.

Treasurer's Office, Trumbull County,
Warren, Ohio, September 10,1903.

November 5,1861, I enlisted in the 6th 0. V. Cav. Re-enlisted January, 1864, and on May 28, 1864, was severely wounded at Erron Church or Hawes Shop, Virginia. The Army moved, and the sick and wounded were sent to White House Landing on the Pamunkey River. Tents at the landing were put up for us soldiers, and well I remember your mother (then a young lady) with an older lady from Cincinnati, Ohio, going around among the soldiers looking for Ohio boys, as they were sent by the Ohio Relief to care first for Ohio soldiers. How well I remember boys from other States wishing they were from Ohio!

One day one of the boys from my regiment was walking around with his arm in a cling (he was wounded in the arm) and suddenly his arm began to bleed very bad. The boys called and one of our soldier nurses came and took him to the doctors who were amputating limbs. But soon the poor fellow came back, and such a look as he had when he said the doctors said he had to die, as mortification had set in and an amputation would do no good. I shall never forget that poor fellow's look. But he rapidly grew worse, and lay down upon the ground (we had no cots then) suffering very much. A doctor came in and the soldiers asked if he could not do something for him. The doctor replied: "My poor fellow, I can't do a thing for you." He soon died and was carried out for burial just as your mother came in. How she did hurry out to see if she was too late to get a lock of his hair to send to his wife and family with a letter! I wonder if she remembers it. The Army again had to move and change its base of supplies. The sick and wounded were put in transports. Another comrade and myself were put on the transport Connecticut, and your mother saw that our cots were placed side by side and she gave us a bottle of wine to keep our strength up during our trip to Washington.

Very truly yours,

J. A. Sager, Treasurer.

Military Medicine at Wilson's Creek

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

An examination of field medical practices at the Battle of Wilson's Creek (and elsewhere in the CiviL War) gives a sense of the horrors inflicted on the common soldier during the war, as well as an understanding of the period medical techniques, procedures and equipment used by surgeons operating with the armies. Medical science at the time treated wounds and sickness with the best knowledge of the day. Most surgeons took great care to ensure the well being and survival of their patients. We should not be too quick to judge them based on modern medical practices, just as we would not expect future historians to pass judgment on the knowledge and techniques of healthcare professionals today.

Typhoid, dysentery or diarrhea, malaria, measles, sexually-transmitted diseases, pnuemonia and other ailments killed more soldiers, North and South, than musket, cannon or saber.

Of the approximately 618,000 fatalities of the Civil War, some 2/3 (approximately 414,000) were the result of disease. Typhoid, dysentery or diarrhea, malaria, measles, sexually-transmitted diseases, pneumonia and other ailments killed more soldiers, North and South, than musket, cannon or saber. Many of these ailments were due to the living conditions of the soldiers, their dietary habits and poor hygiene. Although some attempts were made to treat diseases with home remedies, surgeons also used large doses of opium, quinine, turpentine, carbonate of soda, powdered rhubarb and calomel (a mercury compound). Surgeons did not understand the concept of sterilizing their instruments and hands before an operation, and would literally spread germs from patient to patient, only stopping to wipe instruments on a dirty shirt, apron or coat, or dipping them in a bloody and stagnant bucket of water.

The most common surgical procedure of the Civil War was amputation, but only when the severity of the wound made it necessary to preserve life. Amputations were necessary when any one of three conditions prevailed: massive tissue or muscle loss, severe trauma to joints and bones, and vascular damage. A primary amputation, done within 24 hours after receiving the wound, significantly reduced infection and septicemia. Contemporary medical knowledge recognized that amputation was the best hope for a soldier's survival. Surgeons also preferred to save as much of the limb as possible, to provide the patient with a more functional arm or leg in later life. Statistics also reveal that the farther away the wound was from the trunk or torso of the body, the greater the patient's chance for survival.

The wounded soldier would be brought to the operating table, which was in some cases nothing more than a door on two saw horses, a table or even church pews - anything that would support the weight of a man and was available to the surgeon in the field. The wound would require examination to determine severity. If amputation was deemed necessary due to any of the reasons mentioned above, the surgeon would proceed. The next step was to use a general anesthetic to put the patient to sleep. Chloroform and ether were the two anesthetics available to surgeons during the war. In fact, contrary to popular belief, anesthesia had been widely used by American physicians since the 1840s.

As soon as the patient was unconscious, tourniquets or the hands of a competent assistant would be used to stop the flow of blood to the surgical site. The skin would be incised or cut with an amputating knife, then retracted or pulled back, and the muscle would be incised. The bone would be exposed and a surgical or capital saw used to sever the limb from the body. The surgeon would then ligate, or tie off, the major blood vessels with surgical silk thread, using an instrument called a tenaculum to grasp the arteries. Ligatures were often left dangling from the stump to allow for their removal later (this later removal could lead to secondary hemorrhaging, as surgeons were unable to quickly stop the flow of blood when the ligatures were pulled).

After the major bleeding was stopped, gnawing forceps and a bone file would be used to smooth the rough edges of the stump of the bone and aid in the healing process. The wound was then closed with curved needles and silk thread. The average amputation could be finished in 10-15 minutes, partly due to the fact that the surgeon had to treat many patients and had to work as quickly as he could. After the operation, the patient would then be removed from the table for post-operative care. Several different painkillers were available, including morphine and opium. Pulverized opium could be rubbed directly into the wound, or mixed with whisky to make laudanum.


Image: A patient is prepared for an amputation at Camp Letterman in Gettysburg, Pa

Deadly Diseases: A Fate Worse than Dying on the Battlefield

by Elise Stevens Wilson

Cannons blasted and bayonets tore through flesh in America’s worst war, the American Civil War. This war was gruesome for many different reasons. It tore the country apart and created divides that exist to this day.

One of the more ghastly aspects of the war concerned medical practices. Being wounded and sent to the hospital was as much a death sentence as being sent to the front lines. Medical equipment was bulky and hard to move. It was a lower priority than ammunition and food, so the doctors rarely had what they needed. At the time, people had little to no understanding of how bacteria spread so surgeon’s tools were used on multiple patients with a simple cleansing with water between uses, and wounds were packed with filthy rags that encouraged the wounds to fester. Surgeries were crude and resulted in astonishing pain as anesthesia was rarely used, and painkillers were basically non-existent. Lastly, there was a severe lack of well-trained personnel. Soldiers were grateful for the thousands of female volunteer nurses and members of the Sanitary Commission. Needless to say, the state of medicine in the Civil War was deplorable, and for many people today, unimaginable. Records clearly show that more people died of diseases than in actual battles or of field wounds.


Taking Care of Those in Need

Antietam National Battlefield, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

In 1862, a stately brick mansion overlooking the picturesque water gap at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, was converted into "Clayton General Hospital." Long tents were pitched in the yard, and by the third week of July, this former armory paymaster's quarters housed 285 patients.

"I noticed a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, etc. -- about a load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near, each covered with its brown woolen blanket"
Walt Whitman

Mrs. Abba A. Goddard traveled over 600 miles from Portland, Maine to care for the soldiers of her hometown's 10th Maine Infantry at Clayton. She was named "Matron of the General Hospital." Despite the limited medical services and comforts provided by the government, Goddard worked to make the hospital as comfortable as possible. Within two weeks of her arrival, she solicited donations from civilians and received seventeen boxes filled with slippers, socks, fans, pin cushions, towels, handkerchiefs and checkerboards.

The future of the soldiers under her care worried the Matron. "When I look at our host of maimed--some without an arm, some without a leg, others minus a foot--and realize their privation is life-long . . . I can hardly restrain my tears."

In early September, the hospital was closed and the patients moved to nearby Frederick, Maryland. "The cause of this sudden removal is a mystery," Goddard reported. "I am informed that some important events are about to transpire." She did not know that approximately 28,000 Confederates were marching on Harpers Ferry and that many more wounded would soon be in need of assistance.

Nearly 10,000 soldiers passed through the Frederick hospitals alone in the aftermath of the Maryland Campaign. Many of the patients who could be safely moved were quickly transferred by railroad to the large hospitals in Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia. Many others were treated in Frederick until they recovered enough to be transferred, discharged or returned to their units.

The patients were treated by a combination of Army and civilian surgeons, volunteer female nurses, enlisted male nurses, medical cadets, cooks, and laundresses. In addition to the medical staff and employees, many private citizens helped out as they could. Supplemental food, clothing, medical supplies and various personal items were donated to the hospital and the patients by the Frederick Ladies Relief Association and other private groups.

The Poet Who was a Nurse: Walt Whitman
When the war began, poet Walt Whitman was exempt from service due to age, though two of his younger brothers joined the Union Army. Upon hearing the news of the wounding of his brother, George, in 1862, Whitman left his home in New York to care for him in Virginia. During his mission of mercy, he was overcome with sympathy for all the wounded young men he saw, many of them bound for hospitals in Washington, D.C. After George's recovery, Whitman decided to move to the Capital to care for wounded soldiers. Finding a job as a clerk in an army office, Whitman spent much of his time away from work volunteering in several of the area hospitals. Spending his pay on gifts for soldiers and volunteering his time writing letters for soldiers and changing dressings, Whitman quickly became a beloved and respected figure among the wards. Moved by the suffering of the wounded and stories of the battlefields, he scribbled poetry in his notebook as he moved among the hurt and dying. Many of these poems were included in his 1865 collection, Drum Taps.

"I noticed a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, etc. -- about a load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near, each covered with its brown woolen blanket... The house is quite crowded; all the wounds pretty bad, some frightful, the men in their old clothes, unclean and bloody. Some of the men were dying. I had nothing to give at that night, but wrote a few letters to folks home, mothers, etc. Also talked to three or four who seemed most susceptible to it, and needing it." -Walt Whitman

Image: Sketch of a woman writing a letter for a wounded soldier



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