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Civil War Medicine

by Janet King, RN, BSN, CCRN.

V. In The Hospital: General Hospitals in Vermont and elsewhere

"Into the ward of the clean white-washed halls, where the dead slept and the dying lay; wounded by bayonets, sabres and balls, somebody's darling was borne one day. Somebody's darling so young and so brave, wearing still on his sweet yet pale face soon to be hid by the dust of the grave, the lingering light of his boyhood's grace ..." [ Somebody's Darling: words-Marie Revenel De La Coste; music: John Hill Hewitt]

The journey of the soldier from the battlefield to the field hospital and thus on to an evacuation area or hospital was often an arduous one. He might well be aware of the hurried actions to place him on a stretcher and of the bone jolting agony of the ambulance as it covered the rutted roads to the field hospital. Once there he was taken off the ambulance and placed in an area awaiting the surgeons care. Chaos was all about. Men running here and there trying as best they could to care for the immediate needs of the injured soldiers. More detailed care had to wait for hospitals further in the rear, and that required more moving and more agony. The attendants tried to relieve some pain - splinting injured bones and stopping bleeding if they could. Administering opium pills and drinks of whiskey to decrease pain and act as a "stimulant". Still, the soldier had a very long journey ahead of him. On then, to the field hospital for needed surgery. An amputation perhaps - if the bone was shattered by the minie ball, as often occurred. "Would the journey never end?" " Would the pain never cease?" Eventually he would rest for a time at the field hospital, recovering somewhat from his surgery. But not for long. Wounded men kept coming...and those in the process of recovery had to be shipped out. Thus on to the evacuation hospital. Another agonizing ambulance ride over rough roads, with men crying out for the drivers to stop...anything was better than this constant agony as ends of bone grated against newly formed stumps and pain seemed to be unending. At last the ambulances pulled up to the evacuation hospital. The wounded were taken off the ambulances and placed in the hospital awaiting a train or ship that would carry them further north. Some would go to the great general hospitals - huge 1000 bed and more hospitals - located in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. Others would eventually be transferred to their home states. For those wounded Vermonters who were fortunate enough to have survived all this, that meant the General Hospitals at Brattleboro, Burlington, and Montpelier. Here they would be close to family and friends. Some would recover and return home once more, to resume their civilian occupations - if possible. Others would never leave these hospitals.

In the following section we shall go into a general hospital for a day and see what the day held for the patients, the doctors, nurses, stewards, visitors and others associated with the hospital.We will look at some of the wounded Vermonters and their doctors in a bit more detail to get a sense of what they experienced.


Beginnings of the General Hospitals

At the beginning of the war there were no large military hospitals. Thus, when the casualties from such battles as Bull Run were transported away from the battlefield they were held in improvised hospitals. Such "hospitals" in Washington D.C. included jails, hotels, girl's schools and warehouses. In Philadelphia: a coach factory, silk mill, and a railroad station were turned into hospitals. As with most endeavors of the Medical Dept. in those initial months, lack of organization was woefully prevalent. Most of the so-called hospitals lacked essentials: beds, bedding, medicines and dressings. It was so bad that if a wounded soldier could find a bed in a "private" hospital he did so, hoping the bill would be paid by the government.

With the reforms that occurred in the Medical Department, spearheaded by Surgeon General Dr. W.A. Hammond in 1862, along with Dr. Letterman and with the help of the Sanitary Commission, a hospital system was created that would ,in time, care for over one million soldiers and be considered one of the wonders of the medical world. These hospitals would come to out perform the established European military hospitals and show a mortality rate of 8%-the lowest ever recorded for military hospitals of that era.

Tour of a General Hospital

It did not take long for the medical authorities to realize that schools, churches and other such buildings were inadequate to provide care for the thousands of sick and wounded soldiers that were being sent to them from the "front". Construction of general military hospitals was thus commenced under the services of the Quartermaster Dept. and with input from the Medical Dept.

Various plans were drawn up and different designs were utilized, but eventually the general hospitals were designed and constructed in the "pavilion" style - where long wings branched out from a central building. The designers felt this would permit "better segregation of the various categories of cases and inhibit the concentration of hospital poisons" (George Adams: Doctors in Blue ). Proper ventilation, the doctors claimed, would keep the "poisons" and "effluvia" from accumulating in such large facilities.

Army regulations for general hospitals were refined as the war went on. Perhaps, at it's most organized, in 1864 the regulations called on general hospitals to consist of the following components:

SITE: "...Well drained - with a subsoil of gravel..the situation should not be elevated ...as remote as possible from marshes or other sources of malaria...and must have a convenient supply of pure water".

PLAN: "...will be constructed on the principle of detached pavilions, each ward being in a separate building, with beds for 60 patients. Besides the wards there will be detached buildings ...and these are to be connected by covered walks which will have floors but no sides....At least 30 feet should intervene between two parallel buildings. Each ward will be a ridge-ventilated pavilion, 187 ft by 24 ft. At each extremity two small rooms, nine by eleven feet, one on each side of the passage, six feet wide, will be partitioned off. The space remaining for patients will be 165 ft by 24 ft. [Windows placed every two beds: I.e. 2 beds then a window, and so on for the entire length of both walls. Doors placed on each end of the hall way and connecting wards to one another.] The small rooms are to be occupied by: chief nurse [male]; closet for medicines; bath-room; closet for close-stools. The wards will be 14 feet high from floor to eaves...the floor to be elevated at least 18 inches from the soil, with free ventilation beneath it. A ward thus constructed will accommodate 60 patients, allowing more than 1,000 cubic feet of air space to each...The number of wards will be regulated by the number of patients the hospital is intended to accommodate.

DETACHED BUILDINGS:

Administration:"...contains the general office, office of the surgeon in charge, linen and store rooms, dispensary, chaplain's office, lodging rooms for officers etc.

Dining-Room and Kitchen for Patients: "...large enough to seat a number equal to two-thirds the number of beds. The kitchen will be divided into two unequal parts - the larger for the preparation of ordinary diet, the smaller for the extra diet, the cooking in both to be done on ranges..where there is an engine steam [which] may be advantageously used for boiling.

Dining-Room and Kitchen for Officers: "A small building situated near the administration building".

Laundry:"A building two stories high, with lodging for the laundresses on the second floor. The roof being flat, with posts for stretching clothes-lines."

Commissary and Quartermaster Store-room: "A small two story building, furnished with boxes and shelves for the various parts of the ration - having an ice house connected with it for the preservation of meats and other perishable articles, and a room for clothing. The second story to contain lodging rooms for the cooks.

Knapsack-house:"A building to receive the effects of the patients while in hospital. It will contain as many pigeon-holes, each two feet square, as there are beds in the hospital.

Guard-house: "A detached building to lodge the guard, with a guard room for prisoners.

Dead-house: "A small building containing two apartments, located so as not to be observed from the wards, and lighted by skylights."

Quarters for Female Nurses: "A detached building, containing lodging rooms, dining room and kitchen for the female nurses.

Chapel:"A detached building, fitted for the purpose of religious services, so arranged as to be used as a library and reading room.

Operating Rooms: "Two rooms, each 15 feet square, one well lighted by skylights, the other by windows; the first to be used for surgical operations, the second for discharge boards [exams] etc."

Stables: "For ambulance and officer's horses."

Water-supply: "...a large tank erected and kept supplied from wells or springs by pumps worked by steam engines. The engine...situated near the kitchen and laundry, in which case the steam is used in cooking, and the power may be employed in working the washing and mangling machines."

Sinks: "Where the water supply is adequate water closets may be constructed in one of the small rooms in each ward; but where this is not the case privies will be built at a convenient distance from the wards, furnished with water tight boxes, which must be emptied every night.

Ventilation: "During warm and mild weather the wards will be ventilated by the ridge..[obtained by ridge-shutters which could be closed when warmth was desired. These were designed to give buildings the advantages of a tent - free flowing air circulation - without the disadvantages I.E. drafts.] During winter the ridge will be closed and ventilation shafts substituted. Four stoves will be allowed to a ward, each partly surrounded by a jacket of zinc or sheet iron, with an air-box opening beneath it to furnish the supply of fresh air.

[The regulations above are from The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, J.K. Barnes, Surgeon General's Office, Washington, D.C., 1875-1888: Regulation from the War Dept, dated July 20,1864]

Vermont's General Hospitals

1864 data gathered by the US Army Medical Department, showed some 120,521 patients scattered throughout the country in it's general hospitals. The largest general hospital was the huge Satterlee Hospital of Philadelphia, with 3500 beds. The smallest was in Tullahoma, Tennessee, with 100.

Vermont was listed in the Department of the East with 3 general hospitals

Why Vermont?

Dr. Elisha Harris, a native of Westminster, Vermont and a co-founder of the Sanitary Commission, was instrumental in the establishment of these general hospitals in Vermont. Here, he believed,the patients would receive something even better than medicine - "Vermont's clean air". Whether it was indeed Vermont's clean air that had a healing effect upon its soldiers or just being "home" and near family and friends, the Vermont doctors noted that a substantial number of the soldiers went on the recover from their diseases and injuries. The doctors of Montpelier considered it "a miracle" when more than six hundred of the thousand soldiers brought to Vermont hospitals "recovered in the first year of the experiment.

Vermont could look to some of its own medical school graduates to aid in the care of the ill and wounded soldiers. Prior to the war there were medical schools in Castleton, Woodstock and Burlington. Many of the graduates of these programs went on to be physicians in the Army Medical Department.

Another well known Vermonter was Henry Janes. Dr. Janes was born in Waterbury, Vermont in 1832, receiving his MD in 1855 and setting up practice in Waterbury in 1857. He joined the 3rd Vermont in 1861 as the regimental surgeon, and later was given a commission as surgeon of US Volunteers.. Following the battle of Gettysburg, Janes was given charge of all the military hospitals in the Gettysburg region - being in charge of some 20,000 wounded soldiers. In time he returned to Vermont. There he was made surgeon in charge of the Sloan Hospital in Montpelier.

These three hospitals were about to be hit hard in the year 1864. This was the year of General Grant's "Overland Campaign" and of the tragic battles of : the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. The casualties the Vermonters endured that year were staggering. The Vermont Brigade, in its journey from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, lost 249 men killed; 1,231 wounded and 170 men missing. Some 400 of these men would be sent on to hospitals in the North. Some two-thirds of the men who started with the original 5 regiments of the Vermont Brigade in early May, were now gone. This loss was staggering and the shock and dispair reached almost every family in the Green Mountain State.Citizens and government renewed their efforts to support their Vermont troops. Governor Smith and the state's surgeon general -Dr. Samuel Thayer of Burlington, VT, along with some 20 other Vermont physicians- including Dr. Horace Powers of Morristown, traveled south to assess the needs of the troops and to assist in any way possible.Dozens of mothers, wives and other family members traveled with them to Fredericksburg, Virginia - one of the great evacuation centers of the war. Here they found conditions atrocious. One soldier recorded: "The sufferings of our wounded at Fredericksburg, from lack of beds, supplies and medical care, have been dreadful". Drs Thayer and Powers found thousands lying in their bloody garments on the bare floors, some not having had their wounds dressed for days. They found more than a thousand Vermont troops in Fredericksburg - and the military surgeons and attendants overwhelmed with the numbers. .Governor Smith, it was reported, was "directing his assistants, laboring with his own hands, hunting up the sick and wounded, ...sleeping on the bare floor..cheering the despondent..writing letters to fathers and mothers whose sons were in the hospitals, or had given up their lives for their country. Smith and the doctors with him did much in Fredericksburg. Perhaps even more crucial for the well-being of the Vermonters, they were instrumental in getting them transferred to the general hospitals at Montpelier, Brattleboro and Burlington.

Sloan Hospital - Montpelier

Henry Janes traveled about a mile outside of the town limits of Montpelier. Here, as he stood on the hill overlooking the Onion River, surrounded by high hills - spurs of the familiar Green Mountains- he gazed upon his current assignment. There was the general hospital with it's buildings radiating from an octagonal central space, around the whole of which was a covered platform or pathway connecting the whole. This hospital was of the pavilion style, in favor with the Surgeon General's office. Not all the hospital was completed- and as it came to be some portions were never completed. Still, 8 of the planned 12 wards were completed and they were substantial. The workmen of Vermont had done well. The buildings were of wood, lathed and plastered, clap-boarded, shingled and double floored. By December there would be 421 patients in this hospital where Dr. Janes was the surgeon in charge, and only 48 beds vacant.

Baxter Hospital - Burlington

When Surgeon Thayer returned home to Burlington from Fredericksburg he was assigned the charge of Baxter Hospital. This hospital was built on the grounds of the Marine hospital. The location was a congenial one - overlooking Lake Champlain, and some 100 feet above the level of its waters. The Marine hospital was a two story brick house, and this was included within the layout of Baxter Hospital. 21 wooden pavilions, nine of which were much longer than the others and were used as wards, a general kitchen, a mess hall, a dispensary and store room. Other buildings included a finished attic for noncommissioned officers, an isolated pest ward, dead house, ice house, store room and barn, a knapsack room and quarters and mess of the Veteran reserve guard. Baxter was built in the pavilion style, with the wards being parallel with each other and separated by 48 feet and abutted on a covered corridor which extended rearward from the administration building [the old Marine hospital].Two rooms per ward at either end were used for the nurses, water closets, bath rooms etc. The remaining ward space was ample for 64 beds. Hospital tents were pitched for the accommodation of about 120 patients. Water was supplied to the kitchen from a neighboring spring by a wooden conduit. The bath rooms and water closets in the pavilions were found to be defective, and so were not used. Covered sinks were provided for the use of the patients of the pavilions. By the winter of 1864 Baxter had 336 out of its 500 beds occupied.

Governor Smith Hospital-

Surgeon E. Phelps was given charge of the first, and largest of Vermont's general hospitals. Named after the Governor of Vermont, this hospital had a capacity of 725 beds, and in the winter of 1864 had 415 of those beds occupied. Interestingly, it was not Governor Smith who had initiated the building of this hospital.In the winter of 1862-1863 when Governor Holbrook was in office, the great need for a military hospital in Vermont became apparent. Holbrook was concerned about the condition of the Vermont troops. Those Vermonters were in sad shape in the hospitals in Washington D.C. He observed "with pain the anxiety of many families in Vermont, occasioned by the condition of our troops who were disabled and confined to hospitals in and around Washington and in the camps, wasting away from their sufferings, from homesickness and from the influence of a malarious climate. The casualties of army life by sickness were perhaps proportionately larger among our Vermonters than among those from other sections...under these circumstances numbers of our citizens made long and trying journeys, at an expense which many could ill afford, to look after their disabled boys." Holbrook traveled to Washington with an appeal "to establish a military hospital in Vermont". At first his plan was frowned upon, being seen by the War Department as impractical, too far away from the front, and too dangerous for sick troops to be transported that distance. Eventually Gov.Holbrook convinced the War Department to allow him "6 months as an experiment".He could return to Vermont and establish a general hospital for the care of its troops. He was allowed to send "agents" to search US Army hospitals to find Vermont soldiers in need of treatment in Vermont. Upon returning to Brattleboro, Gov. Holbrook assigned Surgeon Edward E. Phelps, "of established Army experience and reputation" to oversee and later command the new hospital. The site was the old parade grounds, where many of the Vermonters had mustered in for service to their country. Holbrook describes the establishment of the hospital, "The old barrack buildings were moved to form a hollow square and fitted up with plastered walls, good floors, chimneys, provisions for ventilation, and abundance of pure spring water and all needed appliances and facilities for hospital purposes..and by the middle of February [1863] this was completed." Citizens of Brattleboro were very pleased to have a hospital where the patients could be cared for. As Mrs. Levi Fuller recalled, "for..nearly every house had a sick soldier in it to care for, and many of them died." With the advent of the hospital, "..People were allowed to visit the wards, and carry things to entertain the convalescents. How they did enjoy looking over our photograph albums, and books of prints. Some did want home cooking".[The site of this hospital is marked by a monument located at the entrance to Brattleboro Union High School playing fields, which was placed in 1906 as a memorial to the Vermont troops who mustered in there. The graves of 20 soldiers who died in this hospital are located in Brattleboro's Prospect Hill Cemetery.]

Hospital Staff

Surgeon-in-charge: Acted as the hospital administrator and was usually commissioned with a rank of major. He was in charge of all hospital staff and patients and was considered as their "military commander".

Assistant Surgeon-in-charge/ExecutiveOfficer: Acted as the assistant hospital administrator, being in charge of the day to day operation of the hospital. This included being responsible for the records of the hospital, controlling activities of the clerks and orderlies, and distribution of the new patients.

Assistant Surgeons/Ward Physicians

Contract Surgeons

The Assistant Surgeons were commissioned officers of the Medical Staff. The Contract Surgeon was a civilian surgeon/physician hired by the Medical Dept. or the Surgeon-in-Charge of the hospital. These physicians/surgeons were known as ward physicians. There was generally one physician for each 75 to 100 patients in the general hospital setting.

Medical Cadet: Usually a medical student. Given the same rank as a cadet in the US Military Academy. These cadets assisted the ward physicians- dressing wounds and making themselves available as needed.

Hospital Stewards:. These were noncommissioned officers who ranked the same as Ordnance Sergeants, being a rank above a First Sergeant. Each had specific duties. General Steward: Responsible for the condition of patients, clothing and hygienic state of the wards. Usually made inspections twice daily to see to this. CommissarySteward:Responsible for the food and cooking.Dispensing Steward:Operated the hospital pharmacy (dispensary). Often these men had been druggists in civilian life. At some general hospitals the stewards did not have such separation of tasks and did "a bit of everything".Stewards, as well as nurses, changed dressings as directed by the doctor.

Ward Masters: These noncommissioned officers were usually convalescing soldiers who were detailed to work in the general hospitals until they were discharged or returned to their regiments.Their duties included being in charge of the nursing and cleaning in their ward.

Male Nurses:These were usuallyconvalescing privateswho were detailed to work in the hospital. Like the Ward Masters they could be discharged or returned to the ranks at any time.The usually had no prior nursing experience. Civilian male nurseswere sometimes hired by the Surgeon-in-charge of the hospital or by the Medical Dept. The nurses were responsible for basic patient care i.e. feeding ,bathing and assisting with activities of daily living.There were also those who volunteered their services, Walt Whitman being a more famous example.

Female Nurses: These were hired either by the Superintendent of Female Nurses - Dorthea Dix, or by the Surgeon-in-charge of the hospital. Few had any type of training. Catholic nuns also were assigned to the general hospitals, and usually had some prior nursing experience. Some nurses worked in the hospitals on a volunteer basis. Clara Barton, Louisa May Alcott, Mary Ann "Mother" Bickerdyke, and Jane and Georgeanna Woolsey are a few of the nurses who worked in the general hospitals of the North.

Cooks and Laundresses: Some convalescing soldiers were detailed to act as cooks in the general hospitals. Women were often hired or volunteered to act as cooks and laundresses.

Hospital Chaplain:Chaplains from various faiths were commissioned by the Union Army. These were assigned to regiments as well as general hospitals. In the hospital they were responsible for "morale", operation of the library; supervision of the cemetery and distribution of the mail - in addition to religious services for the staff and patients.

Other staff workers:These included blacksmiths, maintenance workers, stable workers, carpenters, storeroom workers, "dead-house" attendants, general clerks for the administration of the hospital and library and attendants for the officer's quarters and mess halls.

Adams states that a typical 1000 bed hospital had approximately 20 ward masters, 40 to 100 nurses, 5 or 6 cooks, 8 or 10 assistant cooks, and about 28 other staff members.Overall, from 120 to 200 men staffed such a hospital.

Support Organizations/Regulatory Agencies: The two great support organizations of the Civil War were the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission. The Sanitary Commissionwas founded in 1861. Vermonter Elisha Harris was instrumental in getting this agency started. Its purpose was to assist the army in providing care for sick and wounded soldiers and to protect their dependent families. They did so in numerous ways. Through huge "Sanitary Fairs" they raised money that provided inspectors for military camps/hospitals(assure sanitary conditions and quality care for the soldiers); supplies for the soldiers, that the army did not provide i.e.stamps, writing material, special foods/fruit, special medicine, food, clothing etc. They also contributed nurses and physicians to aid in the care of the wounded. Many communities throughout the North, including Vermont, had branches of the Sanitary Commission, where women gathered to sew, cook and otherwise provide the goods that would be distributed throughout the Union camps and hospitals. The Christian Commission was also organized in 1861. It was formed by the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). It provided some of the "physical comforts" that the Sanitary Commission did i.e. box lunches, coffee wagons etc. It too sent volunteer nurses to help the injured and ill soldiers. But, their primary service was for the "inner man". They provided Bibles, christian magazines and books, religious tracts and "missionaries" to help the soldiers.

Today, one could compare the workings of the Sanitary Commission to the Red Cross and the Christian Commission to the Gideon Society. Both helped improve the conditions of the soldiers and the care they received in the hospital remarkably.

A Day in the General Hospital

Early Morning:The ward physician is due to make his inspection. All patients who are able are up and standing at attention. When the physician passes they are required to salute him and remain in this manner until given leave to sit or lie down. The ward master makes certain that each patient is clean and neat and ready for inspection. Surveying his ward he glimpses two rows of beds, two beds between each pair of windows. Each bed is 4 feet apart. Most are made of light iron ; some wood with a canvas cover. Each bed is made unless the soldier must be on bedrest, and these are seen to be tidy and in good order. The ward master fetches his notebook and the nurse in charge accompanies him to meet the physician. Rounds are about to commence. The doctor and attendants walk the length of the ward, moving from man to man. The doctor examines each and prescribes drugs and diet as needed. He also changes dressings or orders the steward, nurse or medical cadet to do so. All must be done to his specifications. At the foot of each man's bed are two cards. One is a particular color indicating what diet the soldier is on- full, half or low. The other has the soldiers name, diagnoses and treatment listed. Each patient wears a tag on his chest, with his name, rank and unit listed. So, on down the ward then, the ward master recording the doctor's orders and the nursing staff and attendants seeing they are done. Once the doctor had given permission the men are allowed to return to their beds. The diet kitchen is busy assembling the food for the patients. Breakfast, dinner and supper have standard foods that are given depending on what diet the doctor ordered. No choice is given the individual patient but "special" foods are allowed to be purchased or given to the soldier if the doctor gives his permission. Thus, for breakfast, the cooks assemble: for the Full Diet: coffee, cold meat and bread; for the Half Diet: coffee, bread and butter; for the Low Diet: coffee or tea; bread or toast and butter.

While dietary preparations are underway, the male nurses attend to those patients too ill to clean themselves or attend to bathroom needs. Store house personnel take stock of the supplies issued by the army and the supplies donated by such agencies as the Sanitary Commission. There are new nightclothes, underwear , bandages and liquor in the latest shipment and all need inventory so they can be distributed. The clerks in the administration building are busy with attending to the various requests from the cooks, stewards and surgeons. Army paperwork is plentiful! The workers in the other buildings are just as busy. Not a day goes by that the "dead house" attendants do not have work, and the Chaplain is just as busy with advising families that their sons have died. Burials need to be arranged and all paper work put in order. Hospital stewards tend to the dispensing of medications as the ward physician ordered. Female and male nurses go from bed to bed in their assigned wards, caring for the ill and injured as best they can. One male nurse later sets his experiences down on paper in poem form, giving a vivid glimpse of the care the nurses give and the pain and suffering that is to be seen in the hospital wards:

"Bearing the bandages, water and sponge; straight and swift to my wounded I go, where they .lie..under the hospital's roof. To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return, to each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss. An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail soon to be filled with clotted rags and blood, emptied and filled again. I onward go, I stop. With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds. I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable. One turns to me his appealing eyes - poor boy! I never knew you, yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you. On, on I go(open doors of time! open hospital doors!). The crushed head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away), The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through I examine. Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard. (Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death! In mercy come quickly). From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand, I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and the blood. Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curved neck and side falling head. His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump and has not looked on it yet."(The Wound Dresserby Walt Whitman)

Afternoon:Family members:the wife of the young man with the foot amputation over there; the mother of the man with the head wound here, the sweetheart and sister of a very ill soldier, who,it is feared,will die today gather round their loved ones.A word of encouragement and talk of home. The comforting presence of a hand held tightly. These are the joys of being in the hospital in one's home state. Other visitors come this day. The Chaplain sees all the "boys" and tries to keep their spirits up. A fervent prayer for all...The ladies of the Christian Commission come too. But, oh be careful what you advise! One admonishes against the evils of dancing to a soldier who is lying in bed covered by a quilt. He looks at this dear Christian lady, a sad smile on his face, and shows her where the surgeons have amputated both legs above the knee. With a horrified look she hurries out. Some bring home- baked bread; jellies and other treats for the sick soldiers. Some share newspapers and talk of hometowns. They want each soldier to know they care.

Evening:Dinner and supper have been served. If not for the kind visitors and Sanitary Commission agents both would have been dull and boring. Some of the ladies from the local church are here to sing for the fellows. That brings smiles to many faces. Any entertainment is much enjoyed. There is yet another inspection by the ward master and the doctor. Medicines are given by the steward. The young soldier, with the grieving sweetheart and sister, is taken from the ward. The Chaplain will help with the paperwork needed to aid the family in his burial in Troy, Vermont. It is dark now. Pain seems more severe and loneliness creeps in.Opium and other pain relievers are given by the steward. The nurses go from bed to bed. Care is shown each one - a smile, a hand held, a bible verse read, a letter written to a loved one telling how the soldier is faring - all is done that can be done... Now the lamps are extinguished. Here and there a few hold vigil with those who are dying. The rest try to sleep, for morning is not far off.


"Future years will never know the seething hell and black infernal background of the war, and it is best they should not...O the sad scenes I witness - scenes of death, anguish, the fevers, amputations, friendlessness, hungering and thirsting young hearts, for some loving presence - such noble young men..such endurance, such native decorum, such candor." [Walt Whitman]

"Somebody's watching and waiting for him, yearning to hold him again to her breast; yet there he lies with his blue eyes so dim, and purple child-like lips half apart. Tenderly bury the fair, unknown dead, pausing to drop on his grave a tear; carve on the wooden slab over his head, "Somebody's darling is slumbering here". [Somebody's Darling: words: Marie De La Coste; music: John Hewitt.]


Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. In the Beginning.
  3. The Microscopic War.
  4. The Surgical War.
  5. From Battlefield to Hospital.
  6. In the Hospital.