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Adjutant and Inspector General Reports

1863 Report
Appendix C

(Philadelphia, Penn., Oct., 1863)

Peter T. Washburn, Adjutant and Inspector General

Sir, -- I have the honor to submit to you, in accordance with your request, a Report of the results attained by the Military Agency established by Vermont, for the supervision of her sick and wounded soldiers in this city. In reference to its details of time, men and money, the Report extends from October, 1862 to October, 1863.

In making it, I have had to contend with a difficulty of a very peculiar nature -- one which I could not wholly overcome, consistently with my sense of self respect, yet which I must overcome, to a considerable extent, in order to give an approximate estimate of what has been accomplished. On the one hand, has stood a repugnance to speaking at large of my own work. On the other, the necessity of telling you the plain and full facts of the case.

Whether I have steered between these extremes, consonantly, at once, with a due regard for your interest, and a proper reserve on my own part, is not for me to determine. This, only, I wish to premise, and I do heartily bear testimony to -- that whatever comfort, by means of this agency, may have been carried to the soldiers of Vermont, lying sick and wounded in this city, is due solely to the care and the munificence of their State, in watching over and providing for them. Perhaps you can best know the necessities to be supplied by this agency, and the time, labor and money, expended in meeting them, if I tell you the regular routine of duties, which I think it incumbent on me to discharge.

That you may duly appreciate the size of our field of operations, let me stat, tat, at the time when this Report opens, there were here, twenty-seven hospitals, at distances varying from three to ten miles from the centre of the city. subsequently, these were reduced in number, though more than proportionally enlarged, in their several extents, so that, though our hospital inmates have been brought within a rather more convenient range, their numbers are to-day greater than ever before. There never have been any particular hospitals assigned to separate States. In consequence, Vermont men have been distributed over the whole number, no consideration determining a predominance in any one, except that, to the larger naturally the greater number go. These, as on this account the most important, are visited the most frequently; yet while there is a single sufferer, in a small or distant hospital, his wants must receive attention through that direct and personal supervision, which it is my special duty to supply. Remembering this, the great extent of our city, and the prominence that has been given to it as a hospital depot, you will readily see that no inconsiderable outlay of energy and time is required, simply to discover and keep the location and condition of the men of any State.

But granting the men found, my next duty is to register the name, company, regiment, residence, hospital, number of ward and bed, disease, and condition of each patient, and report the same to you, Sir, monthly, or more frequently, as the rapidity of hospital changes may determine.

A duplicate of the list is also kept at my office, in those forms which you have furnished. It is believed -- and I am glad to know, Sir, that you endorse the opinion -- that these records help the States in answering questions made by friends; commanders in finding their men; the soldiers themselves, in knowing the whereabouts of each other, while to me they are of particular assistance in enabling me to make successful search for missing men specially inquired for. As still further results of this simple means, the least possible amount of straggling is insured, corrections are readily made where desertions are report falsely; the State is enabled to maintain over her soldiers a supervision almost as intimate as when the ordinary avocations of peach were undisturbed; and the best reparation is made, that can be made, for the violent disruption of those relations, and the violent destroyed of those identified interest which previously obtained between the State and her every citizen. Lists of the discharged are also regularly sent, in order to keep you apprised of such changes as would, if unknown to you, defraud the State of bounty money.

Secondly, The conditions of every man is personally examined; and here are met difficulties not easily surmounted. For it involves no slight tax upon the judgment, to distinguish between those cases which truly need, and honestly deserve aid, and those which are exaggerated or wholly feigned in order to extort, and of course to misapply, pecuniary assistance. One is compelled to bde constantly upon his guard, and thoroughly to inquire into every case presented, seeking the other evidence that the ostentatiously offered, otherwise the pretenders have it all their own way.

But this question of when to give being settled, the what and how came up next; and here the generosity of your State has put it in my power to supply many wants which are ignored by the General Government. In our hospitals all the nursing, attendance and diet are given that could reasonably be expected under the circumstances, but these very "circumstances,"the immense number of men, contracts, new and multiplied duties, &c., make it impossible to extend to the sufferers many of those gratifications which appear luxuries to the eyes of health, but become real necessaries to the cravings of the sick. THese little longings of the very ill, and the convalescent, I supply to the extent that the physician in charge thinks proper. There is one article, however, that is more imperatively demanded than any of the former. Men will go without their ordinary food, and are willing to be deprived of all delicacies if they can only get tobacco. In reference to this matter, I have not thought it my business to decide according to my opinion of the advantage or disadvantage of the practice. I have to meet facts as they are, and since I know that tobacco, indulged in for years, becomes absolutely necessary for any sort of comfort, I have given it in small quantities, whenever it has been asked. Another expense that I have thought it right to make, has resulted from the peculiar facilities for locomotion enjoyed by our citizens. I allude to the Passenger Railways that threat our city in every direction. If these institutions had served no other purpose than giving to our thousands of convalescent solders cheap transportation, harmless recreation, and healthful exercise, they would have justified their establishment. For the sum of five cents a soldier can go from one end of our city to the other, and for seven cents he can go across diagonally, -- reaching any point, from any point, and even riding a considerable distance into the country. In this way, comrades can visit each other in distant hospitals, can come down into the heart of the city from suburban hospitals, or can ride about, without jolting or inconvenience, for the sake of air and exercise. I therefore purchase many car tickets for distribution to the soldiers under my supervision, and am convinced that the use of them conduces to their innocent enjoyment, as well as to their health.

Stationary and postage stamps also, are no small items, when the demand for them is made by a class of people so intelligent as the generality of your soldiers.

Besides these things and many others of small account that will readily suggest themselves to you, I not infrequently give for pocket money, a dollar here and there, when I know it will not be misused. It is a very hard thing that our men, accustomed, most of them, to comfortable circumstance -- at least to a condition that would permit of their making small expenditures, from what we call pocket-money, should walk about the streets for months, convalescent, without a single cent in the purses. Of course the precaution to be taken here, is against giving anything to those who have contracted inveterate habits of intemperance; but I have yet to see a single instance of abuse of your generosity in the way of dissipation. and this leads me to remind you of the circumstance that made donations like the above, almost imperatively necessary at the time when this report opens, and that now urges their continuance, though not so strenuously.

I mean the long suspension of pay. A year ago this deficiency in the army regulations was a very serious evil, and one that entailed much suffering upon its victims. It was no uncommon thing to meet men with two months' pay owing to them, utterly destitute, yet needing a score of purchases that could be made only out of their own private funds.

This great wrong to the soldier is now partly remedied, yet it occurs every day with sufficient frequency to justify special attention from the State and her Hospital agent.

As illustrating the destitution caused by this non-payment, let me call your attention to the fact that just previous to many of our severest battles, the troops were mustered on the field for pay. They passed through the action; and such as escaped, wounded, were sent to our hospitals in a condition which, more than all others, demanded for its relief occasional private expenditures on the part of the sufferers. This was, of course, impossible and the men would have been forced to shift, as best they could, without a single cent, if your State had not put it in my power to relieve them to an extent which has moderately satisfied the requirements, except when both their character and their scope, have been augmented by unusual severity of active operations.

In addition to these offices, there is another in which I have frequently been called to be your almoner. Discharged soldiers arrive here from Washington who either have had but little falling due to them at the time of their discharge, or have spent all their pay in excesses. Such cases occurred more frequently a year since, than they occur now. But whenever they present themselves it is as cases of entire destitution. The Government takes no cognizance of them, and it becomes my duty to send them home.

There are also men -- and their number seems to be increasing -- who are fortunate enough to secure furloughs, under extraordinary circumstances, for home, but who have not at the time sufficient means to carry them to their destination. THese I assist in the same way as the former. Since the date of the opening of this Report, my lists show the names of about fifteen hundred Vermont men, or in the average about one hundred a month, constantly on hand. The number was greater in the first part of the year, before the establishment of the U. S. General Hospitals in your State; that cases now, or lately, here, however, are generally, more serious -- those which will not permit removal.

I may also add that -- in what I could not but feel a fair behest of duty, I twice visited Antietam, just after the battle, staying a week upon each visit. I pursued a similar course also, after the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. In the first two instances I was able, I trust, to relieve much suffering, but in the last, finding the field wholly and satisfactorily occupied by the larger operations of the Christian and the Sanitary Commissions, -- while your special agent, Mr. F. F. Holbrook, was making every effort to secure the transportation to your State, of as many as possible -- my mission seemed ended, when I had obtained (in order to report to you) the locations of the graves of those who had fallen; and I returned to this City, to await the wounded here.

I cannot close this resume of my duties without making some mention of the general conclusions forced upon me by surveying these great plans of Sanitary operations that have been born so suddenly, of our necessity, and indicating to you my views of the relations that ought to exist between the general hospitals and individual efforts in the same direction. First, then, I gladly bear testimony to the usual excellence of our Government hospitals in reference to their constitution, appointment, and the thoroughness with which they discharge their multiplied offices.

Considering that their formation was not more sudden than unusual; that their functions are not more strange than numerous; that their organizations have frequently been subjected to party had partizan influence; that their rules of action have had to form themselves, since they have found no precedent and have had no guide beyond the exigencies which they have been called on to meet; that they have been peculiarly liable to the frauds of contractors, the complaints of the disaffected or disappointed, the crude aspirings of the unqualified; remembering in short, that they have been, as it were, extemporized from a chaos, and expected to reduced a chaos to consistency and order, -- all praise is to be accorded to the devotion and the energy, as well as to the professional skill of the Medical Faculty having our hospitals in charge. Yet the very end that these institutions subserve requires them to consider men in the mass; did they take an opposite course, they must instantly relinquish three-fourths of the field, because of the greater attention bestowed on the rest.

The loss of individuality, which, from the necessity of the case, ensues immediately upon enrolment, exists in the hospital, as much as in the field. The aim is, not to cure one man, but to cure a hundred thousand men; but so impossible is it to dispose this number sanitary-wise, without inaugurating sever and complicated system, that the system finally grows to be the larger factor, and too often casts into the shade the medical end, which it was created to subserve. Here it is that the action of States steps in. It takes up this neglected element of individual treatment, and develops it; -- it resolves the rough answer which the Government makes to the problem, into separate and special applications and uses. It does not militate against any hospital regulations, or cast any slur upon them as inefficient; it rather does that half of the sanatory work which the hospitals (from the very nature of their formation, the ends they have in view, and the vast demands made upon them,) cannot attempt to do. In brief, State agency and private generosity fill up the great outline sketched by the hospitals.

But let me further suggest that there is a still higher end accomplished by this State action, if it be rightly directed, inasmuch as it goes far to supply that element of cheerfulness which physicians and moralists equally declare is as necessary for the restoration as for the preservation of health.

Whatever diffuses this through the wards of a hospital, obliterating with sunshine the remembrance of past suffering, lightening the present tedium of convalescency, or re-animating the hope of recovery, is a most powerful adjuvant of the medical art, to say nothing of the finer humanities, which, by exhibiting, it awakens.

To the eyes of one of your volunteers, Sir, who, thanks to your glorious common school system, are ordinarily men of considerable education, to eyes that have been roaming wearily, despondently over the depressing scenes of a hospital ward, dropping from sick-bed to sick-bed and seeing the sad monotony broken by death, how gratefully must come the sight of a book, a daily paper or an amusing game; but better than all is the sight of a friend deputed directly by his State, to inquire into, report and relieve his case.

Here is a proof to the man that his home has not forgotten him; that he is not a mere animal to be used by the Government till he is broken down, and then either to be cured, in a cold, mechanical way, that he may resume duty or to be sent back to private life disabled, and with but a questionable competence allowed him; but that his native State will care for him, since it has opened a direct, because a personal, communication with him.

In conclusion, Sir, let me only say that having before my view the work done and to be done, I cannot but be thankful that the States have adopted this direct means of bearing relief to their sick and wounded volunteers; while in the same breath I cannot but hope that what has been accomplished will prove the desirability of strengthening the hands and increasing the power of those engaged in this work.

	I have the honor to remain,
		your obedient servant,
			ROB'T R. CORSON,
				Vermont State Military Agent