Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Malaria: An Epic Tide of Sick and Wounded Flows into Civil War Hampton

By Mark St. John Erickson

One of the most epic sights recorded in a place that has seen many was the immense tide of sick and wounded Union soldiers that washed up on the east bank of the Hampton River in August of 1862.

Ferried by the thousands from the giant Army of the Potomac camp at Harrison's Landing in Charles City County, the stream of casualties filled ship after ship in a makeshift hospital fleet -- then made those vessels repeat the long trip up and down the James River over and over again for nearly a week.

By the time the massive evacuation was completed, some 20,000 soldiers recovering from wounds or laid low by typhoid, dysentery, malaria or Chickahominy Fever had been rescued from the endless expanse of tents that had served as the Union field hospital during the Peninsular Campaign near Richmond.

Nearly a quarter of them -- mostly those too ill or hurt to endure the longer trip north -- ended up in the sprawling complex of newly built wards and hastlily erected tents that would soon transform Hampton into the second largest facility in the Federal hospital system.

"Near the end, the Hampton hospital was like the drain for the whole campaign," says Terry Reimer, director of research for the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Maryland.

"The Union was evacuating the sick and wounded as fast as it could. It was just insane."

Just how overwhelming this stream of soldiers became can be seen in a Harper's Weekly story that reported on the scene from nearby Fort Monroe.

""For several days ... the hospital steamers, with their little crimson flags flying from the masts, were at the upper dock,"  the correspondent noted.

"A large number (of the patients) were convalescing, so that they walked to the hospitals ... It was a touching and sympathetic sight, with forms and faces indicative of disease, some with fans, and most with staffs in their hands, they slowly walked along, like pilgrims to the promised land."

Hampton Military Hospital became a dreaded dateline in the New York Times, which published the lists of the dead on a regular basis. Amputees abounded, resulting in the construction of an isolated Gangrene Camp where many died and many others lingered.

By the time the war ended, the constant flow of sick and wounded from the Siege of Petersburg had resulted in a vast building complex that stretched from near the mouth of the Hampton River to just short of today's Booker T. Washington Bridge. So far did it extend that administrators built a special rail line from Fort Monroe and then through the camp just to keep their patients moving.

Today the only evidence that remains is Hampton National Cemetery, where many patients of the Civil War hospitals are buried, and the Veterans Administration Hospital, which is the successor to the Soldiers Home that was formed from the hospital's buildings after the war ended.

Image: Taken shortly after the Civil War, this close-up view shows the 4-story Chesapeake Female Seminary building commandeered by Union doctors for use as officers' wards. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

From: dailypress.com


Post a Comment


Facebook Twitter Delicious Stumbleupon Favorites