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Adjutant and Inspector General Reports

1865 Report
Appendix C

Official Reports

XXXI. REPORT OF ROBERT R. CORSON, ESQ., MILITARY AGENT FOR VERMONT AT PHILADELPHIA, PA.

Vermont State Agency, Philadelphia, Sept. 15, 1865

Peter T. Washburn,
Adjutant and Inspector General.

Sir:--I have the honor herewith to present, at your request, the following report of my operations, as Military Agent for the State of Vermont. I am of course unable to give anything more than a mere outline of the work which I have performed; an elaborate report, embracing the individual cases that have received my attention, it would be impossible to offer, the wants I have supplied being so numerous and of so varied a character, as to preclude a report of this kind from being anything more than a mere summary of the labor done.

My office is, and has been, a general headquarters for the soldiers belonging to the different hospitals in this city. Here, men are furnished with any information they may desire, upon subjects connected with their positions in the army, while their private wants have also received my special and individual attention.

I have supplied them also, with stationary, postage stamps, tobacco, money, and with car-tickets, that they might visit different portions of they city.

My principal and most important duty, however, is that of visiting the men at the various hospitals. There are about twenty of these institutions in this department, containing twenty-five thousand beds. On several occasions, these have all been filled with sick and wounded men. In visiting them, I with my two assistants, ascertain the name, residence, regiments, company, hospital, ward, bed, and disease of each man, together with the full particulars of each case, as far as they can be learned. A list of these is regularly kept in my office, so that persons from a distance may readily find their friends, and those who are unable to visit them, may learn of their whereabouts and condition upon application by letter. The importance of this cannot be overestimated, as in a very large number of instances it has furnished parties with information concerning their relatives, whom they supposed lying dead on some distant battle-field. To make these visits, the services of two assistants are required, as I am particular to have the special wants of each man inquired into, and I feel sure that the records thus obtained and furnished you in Quarterly Reports, in addition to their value to the soldier personally, will be found of incalculable service hereafter to the State in settling disputed questions in relation to back pay, pensions, &c. But it is to the soldier more especially that these visits prove beneficial. Far away from home and friends, robbed of those comforts and delicate attentions which do so much to alleviate suffering, he feels that though languishing with disease on a hospital bed, i a strange city, he has not been forgotten, and will not be left uncared for, by those in authority in his native State. I have been made to feel upon very many occasions, by the warm expressions of gratitude, falling from their white lips, that this work was indeed a blessed labor, not only to those who received its benefits, but also to those who ministered to the wants of these brave and suffering men.

In addition to the duties devolving upon men in this immediate department, I have felt it to be incumbent upon me, in the proper discharge of the duties of my position to visit the various battle-fields, in order to render any aid in my power, to those who have not yet been removed to the hospitals in this city. Before the two great Commissions were established, I made a practice of taking stores with me upon these occasions, and in every instance found even the limited supply, I was able to furnish, of great service.

Since then, I have been able at all times to procure from either of the two Commissions whatever they had to give to the wounded men.

During the Peninsular campaign, and at Antietam and Gettysburg, I have made it my business to attend to shipping the wounded to the North. At Antietam, particularly, I found many very interesting cases. I was assisted here by several ladies who accompanied me, and performed most efficient service in cooking soft food for those who were wounded in the face, besides doing those other offices of mercy which only a woman can do.

The men were lying in all stages of suffering, in barns, barn-yards, outbuildings, and in the fields; these were hunted up and removed to more comfortable quarters, in houses of some kind, where they were washed and their wounds dressed. There can be but little doubt that very many lives were saved in this manner. After Gettysburg, as well as other terrible battles, much suffering was caused by the transportation of terribly wounded men in crowded cars. They were stowed away by hundreds in freight cars, and lay for days and hours upon hard floors unable to move, with their wounds unwashed, and but partly dressed, while the jolting over rough roads added to their already keen suffering.

From the various battle-fields of the Peninsula,the transportation was more comfortable, for although the number to be carried was always very large, and the vessels crowded, the steamers which conveyed them to Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia, had not that jolting motions which is always so excruciatingly painful to wounded men. Besides this, they could receive that attention on the boats, which, however small, was much more than could be given in the cars.

At Fredericksburg, during the battle of the Wilderness, which is as far back as this report should properly extend, I witnessed more suffering than at any other one place during the war, excepting at Annapolis. The wounded were brought in common springless army wagons, over the roughest Virginia roads, a distance of from three to seven miles to the town. They were stowed in every possible place until the whole town was actually filled, and there was hardly a spot where another man could be laid. The remainder were then sent to Belle Plain, eight or nine miles further, and from thence were shipped direct to Washington. I reached Belle Plain in time to meet the first arrival of wounded from the field. There was but one wharf here, and on this all the vast stores of the Army of the Potomac were being landed; from this also, the wounded had to be placed in the boats.

The rain had made the roads almost impassable, but hundreds of ambulances and wagons were waiting in the rain and mud for their turn to discharge their terrible freight of wounded and dead, for many a poor fellow had gasped out his life while making the journey to the landing. Every possible thing that could be was done, to alleviate the suffering of the brave men by Dr. Cuyler and Capt. Pitkin, and too much praise cannot be awarded them for the efficient and able manner in which they discharged the duties of their responsible positions. Between twenty-five and thirty thousand sick and wounded were received here and shipped North, while the Quartermaster's stores and general supplies for the whole army were being landed. The men were placed on the steamers, and after having their more pressing wants attended to, were sent to Washington.

I accompanied some of them, afterwards returning to Fredericksburg, where from fifteen to twenty thousand wounded were distributed in churches, banks, warehouses and dwelling houses. Remaining there a short time, attending to the multifarious duties that presented themselves, I accompanied a train of ambulances to Belle Plain and Washington. From here, the hospitals in this department received vast numbers of men belonging to every loyal State in the Union, and were soon completely filled. By means of the most excellent arrangements made by the State of Vermont, by which she has several hospitals established within her own borders, most of the Vermont soldiers were transported to their own State by Col. Holbrook. Vermont has acted more promptly and efficiently in this matter than any other of her sister commonwealths.

THrough the energetic exertions of Col. F. F. Holbrook, agent at Washington, her soldiers have been more rapidly transferred home than has been the case with others. He was in the constant habit of visiting the various hospitals from Fortress Monroe to New York, obtaining lists of the men, ascertaining their condition, supplying their wants, and procuring orders from Washington to have removed to their State hospitals all who were able to bear the fatigue of the journey.

Apart from the beneficial influence of a change of air, the associations of home, and the tender offices of friends who could thus reach and minister to those they loved, was the undoubted means of hastening the recovery of very many, and the State of Vermont was thus enabled to return to the Government a much larger percentage of convalescent and well men, than would have been the case had they been left in distant hospitals to receive thos attentions which, with so vast a number to share them, can be bestowed but sparingly on individuals.

To Col. Holbrook is due the credit for the prompt transfer of so many men to their beloved State. Frequently he accompanied them in person, and attended himself to whatever wants could be satisfied during the journey.

As the season grew on, the slightly wounded and sick men gradually recovered, and the hospitals, of course, lost many of their inmates, and there were many vacant beds left in them. About this time an arrangement was made with the rebel authorities, by which thirty thousand of our prisoners were to be exchanged. I learned the time of their expected arrival an Annapolis and immediately sent my two assistants there, to await the coming of the vessels, with instructions to furnish the men with any little articles they might want, and also to obtain the names of the soldiers, in order to report to you. Before their arrival I repaired to Annapolis myself and visited them in person. And here let me add my testimony to that fearful record, which is heaped up against those who controlled the rebel prisons.

Although long accustomed to the horrible scenes which are the necessary result of terrible battles; familiar as I am, with the ghastly spectacles which cover every field of conflict; acquainted with human suffering in a thousand dreadful forms, I confess that I was not prepared for the horrible sight which I witnessed on the wharves and in the hospitals at Annapolis. Here, day after day, these floating charnel-houses poured forth their contents. Men, emaciated, hunger-stricken, worn away to skeletons by disease and starvation, trooped out from the ships in vast numbers, until the heart sickened at the fearful sum of human misery here presented. No pen can ever depict the awfulness of these scene, much less overdraw it.

Here were human beings, men made in God's own image, so worn, and wasted by disease and want, that they were unable to move their limbs. Covered with filth; their bodies alive with vermin; with gaping wounds that had never been cleansed or dressed, filled with maggots; fairly eaten up alive; sometimes with these festering sores covering the whole of one limb. With pallid, sunken cheeks, the skin drawn tightly over the bones; with eyes that had lost their light, and souls from which every spark of intelligence had forever fled; crazed, idiotic, dead in life, with all that makes existence worth having, forgotten, or only remembered as a dream,--as a thing long passed away; maimed, distorted, half-rotten, unable to speak, or mumbling inarticulate words of senseless import; they were awful illustrations of the fact, than when a people have so far forgotten the rights and duties of the race, the one to the other, as to enslave their fellows, to buy and sell human flesh, to strip women of their sanctity and virtue, and to traffic in their own kindred, there is no depth of crime, however fearful, which they may not reach.

This, then, this deliberate, malignant, fiendish torture of innocent men in the earthly hell at Andersonville, by the side of which the agony of the Black Hole of Calcutta was blissful, and the torment of the Spanish Inquisition happiness; before which, every species of cruelty, which the malice of the most barbarous men ever devised, seems but as child's play, was but a fitting termination to the long, weary years of bondage, of oppression, of outrage and cruelty, of the lash, the stake, the concubinage, the murder, which, I thank God, from the inmost recesses of my soul, have passed away forever.

I listed to the stories of those who retained their senses, as they lay, with white lips whispering their anguish, on the hospital beds, over and over again. At first I was incredulous, hardly daring to believe that human beings could be guilty of such awful outrages against God and man, but it was confirmed by hundreds of them, and indeed it needed no confirmation. I had but to look upon the emaciated, ghastly shapes which lay around me, wrecks of a once splendid manhood, to find the strongest proof of the facts I had heard.

After the landing they died by scores. To many it was but a blessed relief from unutterable agony; from misery that no tongue can ever tell.

I have seen from forty to fifty bodies in the dead-house at one time, and upon one occasion I attended the funeral of forty-three who had died in two days. At another time sixty-five were buried at once. Nothing could avail to save these men when brought from the ships. Dr. Vanderkief, the Surgeon in charge, together with Dr. Ely his assistant, and the ladies i attendance, used every exertion in their behalf, but in vain; they were too far gone for human skill. In one instance four men were sent ashore in one boat; two of them died before reaching the wharf, while the other two expired almost immediately after entering the hospital.

So accustomed to brutal treatment had these men become, that as I passed from bed to bed, offering each some little word of encouragement and cheer, or giving them some article which in their miserable condition they could enjoy, their cried like children, sobbing out their thanks for the kindness,--and indeed they were just like children. All the stern dignity of the manhood was gone, and with their wasted feeble bodies seemed to come that feeling of dependence, that consciousness of utter helplessness, which characterizes a child.

But few persons i the North would believe the reports which were published regarding the inhuman treatment of these brave men, and although photographs were taken, of what were by no means the worst cases, persons were still incredulous, doubting that the cases were as bad as represented. The Wirz trial has proved these stories to be authentic, although many, who could give the most terrible testimony from their own experience, are forever at rest, and can give it along to Him that judgeth righteously.

More than thirty thousand men confined in an enclosure of less than fifteen acres! This of itself is proof enough that there must have been great suffering, but the graves of thirteen thousand, who lie buried at Andersonville, make it stronger and more damning, while twice that number, who died after reaching home, but add to the already overwhelming testimony.

So much suffering was enough to sadden any heart, and this duty at Annapolis, was the most painful I have ever been called upon to perform. no battle-field,t hat I have visited, so impressed me. Gunshot wounds are very terrible in their effects, but the evidence of slow, deliberate torture by starvation, inflicted upon our prisoners, was a thousand times more awful.

Some of these men were sent to the hospitals in this department, and received the kind treatment for which the surgeons in charge are noted. whenever any of them recovered entirely, they were returned to their regiments.

I cannot close this report without speaking of the kind and obliging manner in which the Medical Director of this Department, Dr. John Campbell, Col. U. S. A., has always attended to any request. I have had occasion to make, for the relief of special cases, and of the promptness with which he has always investigated any improper treatment of invalids, when reported to him. The service has no more efficient officer. The excellent regulations of our hospitals, and the admirable manner in which all their different departments are conducted, is ample and sufficient proof of this.

Alto to Dr. Robert S. Kenderdine, Medical Director of Transportation, I desire to give great credit, for the manner in which he has discharged the arduous duties of his position. All the wounded soldiers coming to this city were under his personal care and supervision until placed in the hospitals. They were all sent first from the depot to the Citizens' Volunteer Hospital, and afterwards distributed among the others.

I wish, also, to make honorable mention of the Fire Ambulance system, which was organized here. the firemen have done a great and good work, and brought credit to themselves and to the city, by the manner in which they transported the disabled soldiers t the various hospitals on their arrival here. The ambulance corps was entirely under the control of Dr. Kenderdine, and to his uniform good management and kind treatment, the soldiers are indebted for the prevention of a vast amount of suffering, in the gentle and careful manner in which they were handled.

In closing this report, Sir, and in resigning my commission as State Military Agent for the State of Vermont, which I have had the honor to hold for upwards of three years, I feel it to be incumbent on me, to thank you for the assistance you have always so cheerfully and willingly rendered to me upon all occasions. Our personal as well as official relations have always been of such a pleasant character, that I can truly say, I heartily regret our official separation.

In years to come, when the many intricate problems arising out of the late war will present themselves for solution; when the multitudinous claims of Vermont soldiers will come up for adjudication; and the thousand vexed questions that naturally grow out of the conduct of war on such a vast scale, will have to be answered, I feel sure, that the admirable and exact manner in which the duties of your important and responsible office have been performed, will do much to facilitate the transaction of business, and to lighten the labors of those who succeed you, as it will certainly be a source of great satisfaction to those brave and noble men who have risked so much, and sacrificed to much, in the defence of our beloved country.

I have the honor to remain, General, your very obedient servant,

ROBERT R. CORSON.