Although yesterday's arrival of the medical supply wagons had brought sufficient army hospital tents to shelter all the wounded at the Second Corps, it was an ongoing process to get the great canvas monsters laid out and pitched for the thousands of men still laying in the open. There was a severe shortage of able-bodied men, or even wounded men with sufficient strength to render assistance, to erect the capacious walled tents, and the surgeons were still too busy to be of any assistance, especially with the departure of most of the surgeons and assistant surgeons to the Army of the Potomac on July 7. It was still going to be a few more days before the job was finished, with everyone finally stretched out on regulation cots with army-issue blankets.
Even though it was beginning to look more and more like a normal army encampment, with the arrival of provisions putting everyone again in touch with standard army rations, the situation out at the Schwartz property when Cornelia Hancock and her associates arrived was still awfully grim. "I feel assured I shall never feel horrified at anything that may happen to me hereafter. There is a great want of surgeons here," wrote Cornelia to her sister; "there are hundreds of brave fellows, who have not had their wounds dressed since the battle. Brave is not the word; more, more Christian fortitude never was witnessed than they exhibit, always say[ing] -- 'Help my neighbor first[,] he is worse.'"
“For more than four weeks (beginning the first few days after the fight) we were engaged in the field hospitals of the Second Army Corps,” wrote Jane Boswell Moore, who, with her mother at her side, cared for the needs of the Rebel wounded. “Words utterly fall short in describing the appearance of those woods in the morning we reached the hospital, after riding through swollen streams, amid the still unburied bodies of men and horses that lay putrefying on the field.”
Miss Moore describes in some detail the state of things immediately following the flooding of Rock Creek. “The site of the hospital, which had been hurriedly chosen, was in a grove of trees on a piece of rising ground, surrounded nearly on all sides by a ravine, along which ran a creek near whose banks lay hundreds of wounded and dying Rebels, most of whom were exposed to the pitiless pelting of the storm. Such a thing as a cot, a bed, or a stretcher, was scarcely to be seen....”
Exposure was the common denominator to most of the Gettysburg wounded, Union and Confederate alike. “Scarcely had one man out of a thousand anything more than the ground, covered with an old blanket or oil cloth, to lay on, and hundreds had undergone amputation since the battle. Miserable little shelter-tents alone protected them from the rain, whilst numbers of the poor wretched Rebels had not even these, but were exposed through all the heavy rain of Tuesday night, with scarcely covering enough to keep warm in dry weather.” She would be able to report with some satisfaction of the moving of the wounded, “ours mostly under the shelter of large tents....”
But as the tent city spread across the landscape, so, too, were the camp cemeteries expanding with each morning’s burials. “...But a few rods distant thirty or more interments were daily taking place...Men were employed as grave diggers, and the dead lay at tent doors on the ground, as well as on the bloody stretchers, waiting burial.”
The five senses were constantly assaulted at the hospital with a barrage of sights, smells, and sounds. “Shrieks, cries and groans resounded on all sides, not only from those in the tents, but on the amputating tables, which were almost constantly occupied; and who could pass them without a dreadful shudder at those ghastly bleeding limbs heaped without, which the eye, however cautious, could not always avoid?”
“All were clamoring for bread and butter; our own men were badly off; the Rebels begged piteously; the doctors were busily engaged in amputating; great piles of limbs being heaped up at the three different tents, and hundreds suffering to have their wounds washed and dressed. The air at times resounded with moans and shrieks of anguish....”
It was in this hellish maelstrom that Mrs. and Miss Moore turned their attentions to bringing about some semblance of order out of the discordant chaos. “We set to work immediately, buttering bread, making lemonade, changing bloody clothes for clean ones, giving out wines, brandy and towels....We had many delegates on the ground, and yet how unequal to meet the wants of so vast a number!”
Bushrod Washington James, as a medical representative of the Christian Commission, was working long, exhausting hours at one of those three operating tables, experiencing first-hand the critical shortage of skilled surgeons. "Every surgeon in the hospital was kept busy nearly a week amputating limbs, probing for and removing bullets, or sewing, bandaging and dressing the wounds of those who were too badly mangled and shattered to be aided in any more hopeful manner."
Even with amputations going on nonstop, twenty-four hours a day, there were still not enough tables or surgeons to go around. "Every hour the improvised operating tables were full, and many of the poor fellows had to be operated upon while lying upon the damp ground. We could not help it," wrote an frustrated and anguished Dr. James. "Among the thousands, there were those who could not be allowed to wait until there was a vacant table."
"Worse than that, my heart grew sick when I saw men, some officers among them, feverish and bleeding or weak almost to death because there were not then surgeons enough to operate upon the vast multitude in time to save them all ere gangrene set in, for the regimental surgeons had to join their commands on the march. With no bed but the earth, no comfort but a blanket, little food and drink, a knapsack pillow, and no possible surgical care, except the daily temporary dressings, they died, and we could not help it!"
One volunteer nurse from Philadelphia published a gruesome report of the injuries that he saw in his rounds of the camp. His words are made all the more chilling by its matter-of-fact tone, more like a grocery list than a roll call of real, live, breathing and feeling men. “The wounds were of every imaginable description, and upon all parts of the person. There were wounds in the head, the breast, the abdomen, the legs, the feet, the hands; there were wounds of the flesh merely, and others affecting the vital organism; in some cases legs and arms were swept away so closely to the socket that it was impossible to gather up the cords, and hurts were necessarily cauterized or left to fester and eat away the life; in others, the face would be partially shot away, leaving, perhaps, only a single eye or row of teeth; while in others still, simply an ear, or finger, or part of the nose would be missing.”
These were the kind of wounds that Dr. James was encountering at every turn, and the sheer immensity of human devastation was taking a horrible toll on the remaining Second Corps surgeons, and the few volunteer cutters. "We toiled nearly all day and night, snatching a few hours for rest only when we became too much exhausted to continue, began again as soon as nature would permit us to feel equal to the necessity. In fact, only the power of will kept some of us at our post. And we were such a pitiable few among so many wounded! The compulsory use of the knife was sadly trying, but, oh, it was far worse to see the wounded who were awaiting their turn, burning with fever or wasting with gangrene, which came quickly in the hot, sultry days of that weary season. It was July, and even those in health became almost exhausted in the sultry heat, but worse followed."
The Confederates were also sweltering in the equatorial heat, and most were still not under any kind of shelter. Many whiled away the time by talking amongst themselves, even fraternizing with Union wounded and members of the hospital staff. Wounded Virginian John Dooley had struck up a conversation with another Irishman, an enemy soldier from Lowell, Massachusetts, as he sought to pass the long hours of tedium. The Northerner was seeking to learn news of some common friends from back home in Ireland.
After bringing the Bay Stater up to date with news of the mutual acquaintances, now fighting for the South, Dooley and another wounded Virginian berated the New Englander, who himself had experienced persecution in the Old Country, for now fighting on the side of the North. Dooley questioning how he could "..consistently turn his back on his principles and for the pitiful hire of a few dollars do all in his power to crush a brave people asserting their right of self government; and now that he was engaged in the cause of tyranny, fighting against honesty, Justice and right, and moreover against those very gallant young men he was seeking to hear of...."
The tongue-lashing worked a remarkable effect on the now-sheepish New Englander. "The poor fellow's eyes filled with tears. He said he didn't know how it was at all, but they got him to enlist and if he got back to Lowell he didn't think they'd 'get him again.'" The encounter had an unexpected outcome for Dooley and his comrades, laying exposed to the elements in the midday heat. "He then went off and returned with two good blankets and a fly-tent which he insisted on our taking from him; and then hastily bidding us good-bye was gone and we never saw him afterwards."
Painfully working together, Dooley and his friends spread out the blankets under the meager shade of the fly tent, thinking all the while about the conversation with the Massachusetts man. "Perhaps we were too severe towards him," mused Dooley in his diary; "but when we see the Irishman supporting so foul a tyranny as ever blackened the pages of any history, our indignation cannot but be moved....
********Auburn, New York********
For the overworked Second Corps surgeons, help was on the way in the person of Dr. Theodore Dimon. Dimon, like Dr. Bushrod James, had volunteered his professional services to the military in the past to care for the wounded; upon hearing of the need for medical help at the battlefield hospitals, he determined to volunteer his services again. On July 8, he sent off a telegram to the Surgeon General of the United States, offering to "...report to any Army medical officer for duty, without expense to the Government if my services were needed, till the first of August." The following day, the return message came over the wire from Assistant Surgeon General Smith's office, "...accepting [the] offer and directing me to report to Medical Inspector Cuyler U S A at Gettysburg."
Dimon immediately gathered together his belongings, preparing to leave later in the evening of July 9. "Mr. James S. Seymour of Auburn with some other gentlemen advanced me one hundred dollars to defray my expenses while engaged in this service."
As if there were not already enough problems at the Second Corps hospital -- shortage of surgical staff, lack of proper food, insufficient or inadequate shelter, and horribly unsanitary conditions -- now a new problem was rearing its ugly head, and this one had the potential of being the most deadly of them all. "I begin now to suffer from thirst, for the only water they bring us is from a neighboring run which is warm and muddy and has the additional properties belonging to human blood and dead bodies." Being shot through both legs was bad enough for John Dooley, without having to drink contaminated water as well. "I have therefore determined to refrain from this nauseating and unhealthy draught as long as I possibly can....."
Dooley was absolutely right; the runoff from the almost daily thunderstorms, carrying the effluvia of decomposing and insufficiently buried soldiers, putrescent horse carcasses, and the hastily and carelessly located latrines of tens of thousands of men was tainting the water supply all around Gettysburg. In addition, the approximately 72,243 horses that came to town with both armies, from July 1 to 4, produced a staggering 433,458 gallons of urine, and over 1,950 tons of manure. All of this battlefield drainage had to go somewhere.
Compounding the shortage of potable water was the fact that the water table of the entire region was being stressed far beyond its capacity. Most wells and cisterns had been drained dry within days by the mouths of thirsty soldiers, both friend and foe alike. Even with the extensive rainfall, it was simply going to take time to restore the depleted water table. In the meantime, all that remained for patients and staff of the Second Corps Hospital was the brackish and polluted drainings from the battlefield.
Dr. Bushrod Washington James remembered that noxious water and its effects very well. "There came a shower which washed the battle-field soil and drained it into the stream at the outskirts of the woods, it overflowed and infected the spring from which we obtained water for drinking and cooking, and it was only a few hours until nearly every one in the camp was more or less affected with the dangerous poison."
This was a problem with no apparent solution, because, in all the supplies being imported into Gettysburg, and then forwarded to the hospitals, from the very basic foodstuffs to the most exotic delicacies, there were no shipments of bottled water. "There appeared to be no help for it! We must use it or suffer with thirst. No one can tell how many more of those on that fearful field might have lived -- maimed or crippled, perhaps -- if it had not been for that infectious water, which must have involved almost every stream and spring near by the late field of carnage."
Even the hospital staff were not immune to the effects of this fetid water; a number, including the indomitable Dr. James, were suffering nausea and severe gastric problems from drinking the water, even after boiling it for protracted periods. James opted, like Dooley, to refrain from using the brown water, but the summer heat and exertion finally forced him to partake of it sparingly. "I refrained from drinking it until it was impossible to do without it longer, then I drank tea or coffee made with the water, and even after boiling, it had the power to sicken me; but it was the poor patients tossing with fever and begging for water who were most to be pitied. We knew that there was danger in the draught, and we gave it sparingly."
With all the crises and difficulties at the hospitals, there was at least one bright spot on Wednesday, July 8 -- the primary operations, mostly amputations, were finally coming to an end. After the primary surgeries were completed on the Union wounded, the Confederates were then operated on and their wounds treated. Although it seems terribly harsh, it was a standard procedure in Civil War field hospitals, both Northern and Southern alike, that surgeons treated their own wounded first, then the wounded of the enemy.
The remaining Second Corps surgeons had been putting in almost superhuman stints at the operating tables in order to process all the wounded men. At the First Division Hospital, Medical Director Richard C. Stiles stated in his after-action report that "Surg. [Charles Squire] Wood, who was left in charge of the division hospital, informs me that about 800 of our wounded & 200 of the enemy's were cared for in our division hospital -- that he performed 120 capital operations, 150 operations in all -- Surg. [William Warren] Potter performed 54 amputations & resections; and Surg. [J. W.] Wishart almost 30, making almost 230 operations in all."
"It took nearly five days for some three hundred surgeons [in all seven of the Union Corps hospitals] to perform the amputations that occurred here [at Gettysburg], during which time the rebels lay in a dying condition without their wounds being dressed or scarce any food. If the rebels did not get severely punished for this battle, then I am no judge," added Cornelia Hancock sententiously.
Since the Confederates had left only their most seriously injured men behind, there was an extremely high mortality rate among the Confederate wounded at the Second Corps hospitals. "We have but one rebel in our camp now [at the Third Division hospital south of the Schwartz farm]; he says he never fired his gun if he could help it, and, therefore, we treat him first rate. One man died this morning. I fixed him up as nicely as the place will allow; he will be buried this afternoon. We are becoming civilized here now and the men are cared for well."
As the condition of the men improved, their fighting spirit and political tendencies were beginning to return as well. Whenever a scrap of newspaper made its way onto the hospital grounds, the nurses would go from tent to tent, and then circulate throughout those still waiting to be taken to the tents as were pitched. The nurses would read and reread the newsprint to each enthralled audience of listeners. "On reading the news of the copperhead performance, in a tent where eight men lay with nothing but stumps (they call a leg cut off above the knee a 'stump') they said if they hold on a little longer they would form a stump brigade and go and fight them."
Along with the returning interest in politics came a resurgence of partisan feelings between the Northerners and Confederates. Men who had magnanimously rendered aid to a fallen foe in the heat of battle were beginning to remember that this was the enemy that had put them in the hospital in the first place. Men in blue were put in tents with other Union men, while the Confederates were sequestered in their own tents or in Farmer Schwartz's barn.
Old campfire controversies and partisanships over favorite commanders were again popping up among the bored convalescents. "Most of the men are from New York here now; they are very intelligent and talk good politics. McClellan is their man mostly. Meade they think sympathizes with McClellan and therefore they like him. Hooker is at very low ebb except they think he fed them well -- a circumstance that soldiers make great account of. Such feeders you never saw," enthused Miss Hancock.
As for herself, the volunteer nurse from rural Hancock Bridge, New Jersey was taking to nursing as if she had been doing it all her life. After two challenging days spent at the Third Division Hospital of the Second Corps, she felt as if she was becoming quite the seasoned veteran of hospital care, and frequently looked down her nose at the new nursing arrivals and the other female visitors to her domain. "We have some plucky boys in the hospital, but they suffer awfully. One had his leg cut off yesterday, and some of the ladies, newcomers, were up to see him. I told them if they had seen as many as I had they would not go far to see the sight again. I could stand by and see a man's head taken off I believe -- you get so used to it here...I have torn almost all my clothes off of me, and Uncle Sam has given me a new suit. William says I am very popular here as I am such a contrast to some of the office-seeking women who swarm around hospitals. I am black as an Indian and dirty as a pig and as well as I ever was in my life -- have a nice bunk and tent about twelve feet square. I have a bed that is made of four crotch sticks and some sticks laid on that with blankets on top. It is equal to any mattress ever made. The tent is open at night and sometimes I have laid in the damp all night long, and got up all right in the morning."
"I have the cooking on my mind pretty much," she confided in one letter to her sister. Foodstuffs were now beginning to arrive regularly from both national and local relief associations, and kitchens cooking special diets for those unable to stomach standard army rations were up and running in each of the divisions. "The Christian Committee supports us and when they get tired the Sanitary is on hand. Uncle Sam is very rich, but very slow, and if it was not for the Sanitary, much suffering would ensue. We give the men toast and eggs for breakfast, beef tea at ten o'clock, ham and bread for dinner, and jelly and bread for supper. Dried rusk would be nice if they were only here."
Unfortunately, fresh clothing and linens had not kept pace with the number of wounded coming into the hospitals. Every bit of water was needed for drinking and cleansing wounds; none could be spared for laundry purposes, and some things were desperately needed. "Bandages are plenty but sheets very scarce. We have plenty of woolen blankets now, in fact, the hospital is well supplied, but for about five days after the battle, the men had no blankets nor scarce any shelter...Pads are terribly needed here. Bandages and lint are plenty. I would like to see seven barrels of dried rusk here."
With her shift coming to an end, a bone-tired Cornelia Hancock sat down to write a quick update to her sister as the sun set on another long day of ministering to the wounded:
Volunteer nurse Charlotte McKay took upon herself the role of chief procurement officer for her divisional hospital. She made it her business to keep the larders stocked with whatever foodstuffs she could lay hands on, and set herself an arduous daily regimen to make it all happen.
“My programme for a day at Getty-burg was to rise as early as possible in the morning, and send out everything that was available in the way of food to the wounded. An item for one morning was a barrel of eggs, and as it was impos-sible to cook them all, they were distributed raw, the men who had the use of their hands making little fires in front of their tents, and boiling them in tin-cups, for themselves and their disabled comrades.”
“Breakfast being over, I would ride to the town, and gather up everything in the way of sanitary sup-plies that I could get, from the Sanitary and Christian Commissions, the large and generously filled storehouse of Adams Express Co., or any quarter where they could be obtained I would take butter, eggs, and crackers by the barrel, dried fish by the half kentle [sic], and fresh meat in any quantity....”
After making her early morning circuit of all the relief agencies, she returned to where she had left the army teamster and his vehicle, and told him where to go to pick up the requistioned supplies. “...Having seen them loaded on an army wagon, [I] would return in my ambulance, which was well filled with lighter articles, in time to give some attention to dinner.”
With dinner cooked and served, there was still plenty of time before darkness closed on the camp to personally make the rounds through the camp. “The remainder of the day would be de-voted to the distribution of such stimulants as egg- nog and milk punch, -- which would be prepared in large buckets, and served to the patients in little tin-cups, -- or supplying there with clothing, pocket- handkerchiefs, cologne, bay rum, anything that could be had to alleviate their sufferings.”
When her visits were finally completed, she made the weary trip back to Gettysburg in an ambulance to catch a few brief hours of sleep, and then the demanding cycle of foraging resumed anew.
“Thus passed nearly six weeks at Gettysburg, with little variation in the daily routine, save that which came from urgent claims of special cases of suffering, which, indeed, were many. Men with both hands amputated or disabled, who would eat nothing unless I gave the food with my own hands; men discouraged and desponding from loss of limbs, and painfulness of wounds, to whom a few cheerful or playful words would do good like a medicine; men dying, to whom a few words of sympathy and encouragement as to the future were so precious.”
Charlotte’s fellow hitchhiker on the government wagon train, Rev. Isaac W. Montfort, was also busy bringing supplies out to the hospital. The Indiana Military Agent, along with his five staff members, were delighted when the railroad reopened, and supplies were able to flow into town. “I had the pleasure of loading a six mule team several times with provisions for our wounded in the different corps hospitals,” wrote Montfort. Governor Oliver O. Morton had chosen his Military Agent well, and Hoosier troops scattered in and around Gettysburg benefitted from his compassion and wholehearted dedication to duty.
With the primary operations now coming to an end, the surgeons, following their first real night of sleep in over a week, set to work on the morning of July 9 to dress the wounds of the men with serious, but non-fatal, wounds.
Men with wounds considered mortal were largely left alone to die, freeing up time to devote to those who had at least some hope of survival. Mary Cadwell Fisher, volunteer nurse from York, Pa., was one of the very few who paused to visit with these “fatalities.” “Among the most harrowing in those days of horrible sights were those of sufferers who had been left to their inevitable death. There was no time or means on the first day or two after the battle to spend on the mortally wounded. Our strength and resources were taxed to the uttermost limit to even insufficiently help the men who had a chance of life, but those whose days were numbered and were pronounced beyond surgical aid had to depend upon their fellow-sufferers’ care. Many a poor fellow died on the hard ground, with no shelter, and happy he who found a pitying comrade to close his eyes and fold his hands across his wounded breast. I could never pass the unfortunates without stopping a moment to say some word of sympathy or give the cup of cold water for which they thirsted.”
In this dumping ground of "mortal wounded” lay Captain John G. B. Adams of the 19th Massachusetts Volunteers. With several serious wounds, his case had been pronounced hopeless almost a week earlier, but he had stubbornly clung to life, and left to his own devices until now.
"I remained here [at the Second Corps hospital at the Schwartz farm] six days, and my wounds received no attention only such as my comrades gave. They kept my canteen filled with water, which I used freely, to prevent inflammation. Do not think that I blame the surgeons. No nobler men ever lived than composed the medical staff of the Army of the Potomac; but there were twenty thousand wounded men, and the cases requiring amputation must receive attention first."
Even though his wounds had still not been examined and cleaned by a surgeon, Adams was greatly encouraged by a visit from fellow officers of his unit. "One day I was made happy. Lieutenant Shackley and Adjutant Hill came to see me. They had ridden back fifteen miles. Some of the boys had found a chicken, and they had made a broth and brought it to me in an old coffee pot. It was the first thing that had tasted good, and I shared it with [Duncan] Sherwood [Company A, 19th Massachusetts Volunteers]. Some think soldiers are hard-hearted. No hearts more tender can be found than in the breasts of brave men."
After spending some time with their desperately wounded comrades, it was finally time for the visitors to ride back to their regiment. As far as they knew, this was the last time they would ever meet their "dying" friend Captain Adams, and it was terribly hard to say good-bye. "When those officers parted from me that day not one of us could speak, and tears ran down our cheeks as we pressed each other's hands."
Others of the wounded were being showered with gifts of food and "delicacies," foodstuffs thought to be desirable because of rarity or palatability -- canned lobster and oysters, caviar, home canned pickles, preserves, fresh fruits, a vast range of domestic and imported wines, and alcoholic decoctions of every imaginable kind. "All of [the] home luxuries that could be carried, were lavished with an unsparing hand by a now deeply grateful people," noted Anna Morris Holstein.
"Everyone who came to see me brought something that they thought might tempt the appetite," remembered one soldier wounded on July 3. "The Hon[orable] and Colonel Maish, who was himself convalescing from wounds received at Antietam, made several journeys from his home at York, Pa., to Gettysburg, to bring me delicacies that would have been the delight of an epicure. One corner of the tent was literally packed with all sorts of canned provisions, baskets of champagne, native and foreign still wines and liquors of all kinds...."
Unfortunately, not all of the wounded were able to enjoy this windfall of goodies. Those with severe injuries to the mouth and throat often greatly desired these tempting items, but could not chew or swallow the foods. Others, with wounds about the chest and abdominal cavities, often did not desire to eat anything at all. Patients with life-threatening fevers and infections could not bear the rich fatty foods, and, for those that lay dying, thoughts were of friends and family in distant homes, and not of food, however epicurean it may be.
Even those with non-mortal injuries, such as amputations, were finding it hard to find someone to examine their wounds after surgery, and change their dressings. "The surgeons were continually engaged upon new cases that had received no attention. Those of us that had been treated knew this, and we found no fault at what otherwise would have been terrible neglect. I think it was six days after my amputation before a doctor could be found to look at my stump," remembered Lieutenant Charles Fuller of the 61st New York Volunteer Infantry.
Fuller had been experiencing the full range of phantom pains and sensations from his missing leg, and other, rather novel, sensations. "The night before [the doctor's visit] I had been made very nervous by crawley [sic] feelings on that side of me, just where I could not tell. It is, I think, the rule with amputations, that the patient cannot from the feeling put his hand on the place of amputation. It takes a good while for the nerves to realize where 'the end' is. They were made to carry the news to the brain from the extremities, and, until the new arrangement has become somewhat acquainted with the change, these lines of communication are doing duty for parts of the body not there. My bad feelings were not at the end of the stump, but down in the foot and ankle, where there were constant beats, and pulls and cramps...."
By July 9, even the Confederate wounded were finally being moved under military shelter as the hospital tents continued to be put up. After spending the previous day beneath the meager shade of the fly tent provided by the conscience-stricken Massachusetts soldier, Dooley and his tentmates were upgraded to a full-size hospital tent. "My condition is somewhat ameliorated by the kindness of our Lowell Irishman, and today, Thursday [the] 9th, 5 or 6 of us are assigned to a larger tent and here for the first time my wounds are washed and some lint and bandage put over them. They give me no pain unless when I try to walk or stand. There are incipient maggots in them which further develop themselves in a few days."
Maggots proved to be the bane of most of the Second Corps patients, regardless of uniform color or patriotic sympathies. “Great green flies in swarms of millians gathered in the camp, grown unnaturally large, fattened on human blood,” remembered one Confederate casualty. “Fever-smitten, pain-racked, there came to us another terror: we were to be devoured while living by maggots -- creeping, doubling, crawling in among the nerves and devouring the soldier while yet alive.” Even the noise that silent little creatures made, when present in sufficient number in an open wound, added to the feelings of loathing. “The noise they made as they doubled and twisted, crept and crawled, was that of hogs eating corn.”
After having finally been provided adequate shelter, and having his wounds cleaned and dressed for the first time, John Dooley lay back on his Army of the Potomac cot and waited to see what new experiences awaited him as a prisoner of war.
With the Second Corps hospitals now stepping down from emergency status and beginning to operate as a longterm convalescent facility, the primary focus changed from crisis surgery to the bedside care of thousands of wounded men. Secondary surgeries (for men who had not been strong enough earlier) and amputations (for limbs and members that developed gangrene or had not properly healed) were going on, but not at the frenzied pace of the past week.
Sadly, there were some injuries that could not be cured by all the surgery or medicine or care that could be provided at the hospitals. Sometimes, the effect of the Minie balls or shrapnel were too devastating, ripping and puncturing what simply could not be fixed. Every day, the bodies of those that had died, furiously fighting for life to the very last instant in the heat of the bright daylight, or surrendering to quiet death in their feverish sleep, were laid outside tents doors or along the walkways of the hospitals, awaiting burial.
"The mortality, especially among the Confederates, was very great for several days after the battle," remembered Rev. Thomas G. Murphey, chaplain of the 1st Delaware Veteran Volunteers. "The surgeon [Harry M. McAbee] in charge of our [Third] Division Hospital assigned me to the duty of burying the dead. An idea of the scarcity of assistance and of the mortality may be inferred from the fact that, although every effort in our power was made to inter the dead, they accumulated, and lay for days unburied. At length we were obliged to call in assistance from another Division Hospital."
The shortage of able bodied men was now acute at the hospitals. With the bulk of the army away pursuing the retreating Confederates, the only uninjured help in the medical facility were a now-drastically reduced contingent of eighteen Second Corps surgeons and assistant surgeons, a smattering of hospital stewards, a thirty-man hospital guard detail, fifty male nurses and attendants assigned by the Medical Director, a few volunteer commission agents, a handful of Confederate surgeons and assitants, and any soldiers specifically left behind by their commanders to care for the wounded of their regiment. Among these few were spread the necessity for medically caring for the wounded, moving the wounded as the need arose, pitching the tents, slaughtering and dressing the beef cattle, unloading incoming supply wagons, distributing clothing, medicines and food, and burial of the dead. Without the aid of the volunteers that continued arriving at the Second Corps, many of the jobs would simply not have been able to be accomplished. As it was, the wounded still often found themselves laying side by side with the dead, waiting for someone to take the deceased away for burial. One soldier remembered a corpse "...lay by my side [from early morning] until afternoon, before they could find time to take him away."
The Second Corps wounded had left a trail of graveyards in their wake as they moved from the battlefield, on through the aid stations and divisional hospitals, finally to arrive at the corps hospital. The ground in the triangle between the Bryan farm, the Peter Frey farmstead, and the Hummelbaugh place, even though sown with boulders and rocky scree, saw at least one hundred and sixty three burials as the cemeteries of the two aid stations ran together and overflowed with the mortally wounded, and those dead on arrival from the battlelines. The First Brigade of the First Division buried at least three of their dead on the farm of the J. Bair family. Brigadier General Alexander S. Webb’s “Philadelphia Brigade” of the Second Division seem to have had their own personal cemetery for their killed in action on July 3 -- the 69th, 71st and 72nd Pennsylvania buried at least ten of their men in the fields of the G. Herling (or Herting) farm.
The Third Division aid station attendants at the
Jacob Swisher house laid at least eight Second Corpsmen to rest out behind
the farmhouse, including two troopers of the 6th New York Cavalry, which
was serving as Corps Headquarter guard.
Back at the divisional hospitals clustered near the western end of Granite Schoolhouse Road, small cemeteries were created spontaneously around the back of this house, or on the other side of that barn, as patients in critical condition expired from the trauma of invasive wounds and massive shock. Six interments were made in various recognizable places on the William Patterson farm (such as near a cedar tree, or near the fortifications, or near the Second Corps divisional hospital). Even Sarah Patterson had a few Second Corps burials on her property.
As the bodies of the dead began to accumulate at the Corps hospital out beyond Rock Creek, so, too, did the need for places to inter them. The Schwartz farmlands were soon dotted with four growing cemeteries, called "yards" in some records, near the three division hospitals. “Yard A” was a Union cemetery closely adjacent to the farm buildings, in a field to the northwest of the barn and house. “Yard B,” holding both Union and Confederate bodies, was off to the southwest, between the Schwartz buildings and those of neighbor Lewis A. Bushman, whose farm sat on the western side of Rock Creek. “Yard C” lay on a hill along Rock Creek, in the woods on a ridge known as "Red Hill," and both Northerners and Southerners were interred there. “Yard D” lay along a lane through a cornfield, near a walnut tree, at an unspecified location, but probably south of the farmstead in the vicinity of the confluence of Rock Creek and White Run. It likewise saw burials of bodies clad in bloody blue uniforms, as well as those dressed in ripped and punctured butternut and gray.
Beyond the four official “Yards,” there were also a series of other “unofficial” cemetery plots scattered about the expansive Second Corps facility. The Schwartz farm lane was flanked by the graves of at least nine casualties from the Third Corps, along with at least one lonely Confederate, interred under the cooling shade of a stand of walnut trees. The Third Division Hospital, a half-mile south of the other two division facilities, used Michael Trostle’s “Walnut Row” as an extensive burial ground, with at least twenty three interments from that division, as well as a few from other Second Corps divisions.
Death, even death on such a massive scale, was still a somber and humbling thing. But here, in the midst of mass pandemonium and medical chaos, some efforts were still made to observe the social mores of everyday life, and to honor the passing of those who did not survive.
The bodies were brought out to the nearest “yard” and laid out for burial. Nurses tenderly cleaned up each corpse after death, arranged the clothing as neatly as possible, and wrapped the remains in an army blanket. (Only those fortunate enough to have friends with ready cash were buried in coffins, and those in the price range of foot soldiers were often made of unadorned pine boards, hastily nailed together).
William and Anna Holstein from Upper Merion, Pennsylvania had taken personal supervision of the burials at at least one of the cemeteries; they would walk out to the open graves when all was ready. After putting on his spectacles, William read a brief burial service and prayed over the deceased. When the ceremonies were completed, the burial detail (sometimes composed of friends and acquaintances of the soldier) would lower the corpse into the grave, then shovel the gaping hole shut in the hot July sunshine. Headboards, made of whatever flat boards were available, were erected by the hospital staff, and included name, rank, and regiment; fitting remarks were sometimes added, written in pencil or crayon by friends or relatives. Frequently the nurses could be seen walking through the cemeteries in the evenings, reading the markers and silently grieving over the wounded men they had come to know and love, and had been unable to save.
Nurses, and whatever other staff and friends were available, often came out to see the final disposition of favorite messmates or patients that they had befriended. With deadening regularity, the bearers brought ravaged bodies out to the four cemeteries, and there they were buried. Swaddled in coarse army blankets, the corpses were laid out, the make-shift shrouds here and there stained red from seepage of death wounds; white faces, etched with pain, silent now, and still. No eulogies, no bands, and little pomp and glory attending these simple funerals; but then, dying at the Second Corps hospital was a very unglamorous end to the hopes and dreams of many young men.
As the sun went down on July 9, the situation at the hospitals was slowly improving, but the burial details were still running far behind. The sight of the dead, Union and Confederate, laying slack and cold awaiting burial grieved the nurses trying so desperately to save lives. . Ellen Orbison Harris had been at the Second Corps hospitals since July 4, and the pressures of those five days were beginning to tell on the slender field secretary of the Philadelphia Ladies Aid Society. As she sat down to write to one of her constituents, fatigue and despair sounding heavily in each pen stroke:
Friday, July 10, found the hospital hunkering down to the long-term task of restoring the wounded men to some semblance of health, and getting them evacuated away from the pestilential atmosphere and poisonous water of Gettysburg to general hospitals back east as quickly as humanly possible. The time for frantic action was largely past now; what remained was the patient ministration to men doggedly fighting off infections and fevers; men struggling to recover from the trauma of losing an arm, a leg, or a combination of appendages; men mustering their strength to come back from the edge of death; men slowly dying, and knowing it.
"...The events daily occurring in the hospitals were most painful," wrote Anna Ella Holstein; "they might be summed up, briefly, to be: fearfully wounded men; nurses watching for the hour when suffering would cease, and the soldier be at rest; parents and friends crowding to the hospital, hoping for the best, yet fearing the worst; strong men praying that they might live just long enough to see, but once more, wife, or child, or mother."
"Not the least distressing sight, after a great battle, is that of friends in search of the wounded and fallen," wrote another nurse. "Ofttimes the claims of those suffering are so great that the dead can scarcely be thought of." In ever increasing numbers, these folks were now finding their way out to the clustered hospitals east of Rock Creek. From metropolitan neighborhoods and isolated farms they came -- fathers and brothers, mothers, wives, and sisters, the wealthy and the impoverished -- it made no difference now; all were on an equal footing as they made their way, with desperately hoped hopes of who they would not find, and gnawing fears of who they would find, in the wards of the corps hospitals. These were mixed hopes and fears -- hoping that their son, brother, or husband was really not there at all, but back at the regiment; then again, being wounded was far better than being shot dead on the field...or was it? For many, it was a desperate race against time and mortality to reach loved ones before it might be forever too late.
Nurses and other hospital volunteers were now called upon to extend their care, not just to the thousands of wounded, but to frantic family members and friends as well. Sometimes this care involved going to incredible lengths to be of help, as illustrated by Baltimore nurse Jane Boswell Moore. "One evening a poor widow, with five little children at home dependent on her earnings as a seamstress, came from Philadelphia to look for her eldest boy on the field of Gettysburg. She had heard he was dead, but could not believe it. On reaching the hospital she was told he was in one of the tents. 'O,' she said, 'how my heart beat for joy! but when I went in, they told me he was dead.'"
Inquiries from those in the tent and other wounded related the story of his last fight. "He had written to her that nothing would induce him to miss this final battle, as on it depended the fate of Pennsylvania, and perhaps the whole country. During the last day's battle he had raised his head from behind a stone wall to fire, and being shot through the head, was instantly killed. 'O,' said the poor mother, 'if I could only know he was prepared!' She could be resigned to it all, she said, if her boy's body could go with her, and be buried where she could see his grave. And in perfect trust, she handed me fifteen dollars, -- all she had, --and begged me to tell her what to do."
As a Second Corps nurse, Jane Boswell Moore's time was consumed with the care of the wounded entrusted to her oversight. Still, she searched for a way to be of help to this distraught mother. "I had not a minute to spare, save early in the morning; but I made diligent inquiry, and found a comrade of her son, who described his grave. Then we went together to the man who removed and prepared bodies for transportation."
The average price of embalming in the Gettysburg was $20.00, with another $15.00 being needed to cover the cost of the coffin and case. Transportation costs from the battlefield to the family cemetery or private plot back home were currently about $30.00. Payment of gravediggers on both ends of the trip, any food and lodging along the way, and other miscellaneous expenditures, could add still further to the overall expense. It was painfully obvious to Miss Moore that the widow's fifteen dollars would barely begin to cover the costs of taking here son back to Philadelphia. "It was clear her money would amount to little. I said so while I was thinking what to do, and she fearfully caught at the words, assuring me she would sew at government tents and bags, any length of time after her return, to make it up. 'Such an idea never entered my mind,' I replied; 'I was only thinking of what was best to do. We will arrange it some way.'"
After reassuring the grieving mother, the first necessity was to find her a place to stay while she waited for her son's body. "So I told her story to the grave-digger, whose wife at once gave her board in their humble house, while her husband reduced his charges. Then we walked to [the] Adams express office, passing a great pile of rusty muskets lately gathered from the battle-field. I could hardly get her away from these. 'I wonder if my boy's is there,' she said sadly; and then, as she entered the express office, where her feeling overcame her, 'It was through it,' she said, 'my boy used to send me his little bit of money!' Only the beginning, I thought, of sad memories to haunt her after-life."
The Adams Express Company, a private cartage and rail freight carrier, had been instrumental in the transportation of much of the foods, relief supplies, and medicines for the various relief commissions, and Jane Boswell Moore felt confident she could look to them for help in shipping the boy's remains home. "Here I pleaded her case again, not doubting the result, as every facility possible had been afforded me during the war from the company. Transportation tickets to Baltimore were next procured, and I hurriedly wrote, in the office of the provost, a note to a friend who would pass her the rest of the way."
With all the paperwork and transportation details cared for, the grim task of retrieving the body yet remained to be done. "Then she rode in the ambulance as far as it went on her way to search for the grave, and I promised to see her again in the evening." With her shift at the hospital over, the young nurse from Baltimore made her way in the gathering darkness to the gravedigger's home to visit the widow. "The excitement was then over; she had found the grave, and though unable to see her boy, a lock of hair had been cut for her, and all was ready for her to leave on the morrow, a gentleman in Philadelphia having offered her burial-room in his lot. But words failed her when she tried to express gratitude; she could only pour out blessing."
This same story, with minor variations, would be enacted again and again in the ensuing days and weeks, a mournful and unexpected Greek tragedy of epic proportions played out in the lives of unprepared relatives, in the shadow of departing armies following the end of battlefield fighting. But for these devastated family members and friends, however, the battle was only beginning as they made arrangements for funeral services in distant cities and remote villages, donning mourning bands on arms and hats, draping black crepe from their doorsills. For them, the war had forever ripped away a vital part of their very being that could never be replaced. For the widows, the orphans, for the grieving mothers, destitute fathers, and bereft fiancees of both North and South, the name "Gettysburg" would linger as a constant anathema, an ever-present malignant reminder of pain and irretrievable loss.
Relief in the form of volunteers and supplies continued arriving in Gettysburg. Dr. Cyrus Cort, pastor of the Reformed Church of Altoona, Pennsylvania, had walked most of the way from Carlisle to minister to the wounded. Arriving July 8, he noted in his diary the torrential rains that had swollen many of the neighboring creeks, and had caused much havoc at the Second Corps hospital site along Rock Creek two days before. The pastor even had difficulty fording some of the streams, so much had they risen above their banks.
After working the battlefield area for two days, Cort and a companion found themselves in the fields south of the Schwartz farm at the Third Division hospital. "Friday July 10, 1863 I visited the 2nd Army Corps Hospital four miles from town where we saw sights never to be forgotten. The woods and creek bottoms were full of badly wounded rebels who piteously asked for water, medicine, attention to wounds, etc. Amputations were rapidly taking place by rebel and Union doctors. Most of the wounded were North Carolinians and Georgians who were hurled against the impregnable entrenchments of Round Top and swept down like chaff [probably referring to Pickett's Charge]. These men expressed abhorrence of the war and of their ambitious leaders who presipitated [sic] secession. We labored in behalf of the Christian Commission (Dr. Cort and friend were then young clergymen) until dark among these fallen foes."
Mary Cadwell Fisher and her companions from York had also found the Confederate wounded to be in poor shape. "Much of my work lay among the Confederate troops, whom I found in a most deplorable condition. In some instances they were entirely destitute of clothing, being covered with a piece of old blanket. Others had nothing on but a ragged shirt or pair of drawers, those who were fortunate enough to have two garments sharing with those who had none. The long march had completely worn out the poor uniform, and the distance from the base of their supplies rendered it impossible to replace them. Providentially our ample stores enabled us to clothe them all decently."
Working her way through the wounded Confederates, she struck up conversations with a number of them; for their part, they were glad to have someone with which to talk. "How emaciated they were! Some of them told me they had subsisted almost entirely upon corn, gathered from the fields in their hurried march, which ravenous hunger often compelled them to devour green from the stalk. After the struggle was over and there was no longer need for exertion, nature seemed to have exhausted her resources, and they were for the most part indifferent, depressed and hopeless."
With evening coming on, hospital steward Charles
Merrick of the 8th Ohio, serving at the Third Division hospital, paused
long enough to jot a quick note home to his wife, Dr. Myra Merrick, the
first female physician to practice in Cleveland, Ohio:
That "quiet, lady-like Quakerish" Mrs. Harris was also sitting at the Third Division hospital, not far from Steward Merrick, penning a letter to Mrs. J. of the Philadelphia Ladies Aid Society, the woman responsible for the forwarding of all collected supplies to society representatives working in field hospitals. After working for a few days at the First Division hospital, Harris had moved her efforts down to the Third Division, most likely because of the primitive conditions still in existence there. Much had happened since yesterday, and much of the melancholy so evident in her last letter was now gone.
Since Saturday, the 4th, I have been on this 'field of blood,' seeing suffering of the most fearful character. Every hour brought to my view my own boys, maimed and mutilated, whose joyful greetings almost break my heart. The poor fellows, how bravely they bear the loss of members, and such extreme discomforts, which would be hard to bear by men in good health. Abijah, our Abijah is now dying; lost a leg; was taken off close to the body. But I cannot particularize.
Thirty-eight boxes of stores from 'Ladies Aid' have reached us. We are sending many to Frederick City. A battle is imminent there....
Have had opportunities of conversing with many rebel officers; they all admit the war to be 'the slaveholders war.' A chaplain from Florida, an intelligent and Christian man, justified the war, saying, 'The preservation of slavery, one of God's wisest and most beneficial plans for Christianizing the African race, demanded and deserves all the blood and treasures given to its defence.' Is it not wonderful?
Miss B. goes with me. An ambulance has gone on with chloroform, sticking plaster, &c., to be ready at once, should a battle occur. The amount of stores here at this time is very large, more than adequate to meet present wants, indeed prospective ones, except in the matter of bread and butter. We have cut and dispensed four hundred loaves daily, and comforted many."
With her letter finished, the field secretary from Philadelphia saw to its posting, then set about making final arrangements for her departure for Frederick.
The delegation from the Ascension Church in Philadelphia finally arrived at Gettysburg on Friday, July 10. It had been a tedious and tiring four day trip, and John Y. Foster and the other relief agents were exhausted when they arrived in Gettysburg. "...Bridges, railroads, every thing within rebel reach had been destroyed; horses, wagons, and even cattle had been carried off, and travel was difficult. Now and then some dilapidated vehicle crept cautiously along the highway; occasionally a company of returning refugees crowded to join our little caravan; but otherwise the pulses of life seemed to have stopped their beating in all the smitten region. Even sleeping accommodations were scarcely to be had; as we neared our destination every house seemed to be stripped of the most ordinary conveniences."
"We arrived at Gettysburg in a drizzling rain, on the evening of Friday, July 10," wrote the weary Foster, "and reported to the head-quarters of the Christian Commission, were immediately assigned to duty at the Second Army Corps field-hospital, situated on a wooded slope on the Baltimore pike, some four miles from the town."
If these volunteers thought that they had seen devastation along the road from Philadelphia, it was nothing compared to what they saw around them now. Even a full week after the end of battle, desolation and destruction surrounded them as they headed their jaded teams out the Baltimore Pike in the dwindling light of evening. "The scene which presented itself as we proceeded toward our destination no words can depict. Every where the scars and rents of the conflict which had raged along these hills was painfully visible...Every tree was scarred and torn, a chilly blight resting upon its summer crown of beauty. Almost every bush was a lair into which some one had crept for refuge, and found it in agonizing death. Far and near along the hills and in the stretches of lowlands tents stood out against the gathering shadows, revealing where the wounded and dying lay. Here and there great girdles of fire blazoned the slopes, telling of slaughtered animals slowly consuming. Broken caissons, knapsacks, canteens, and small-arms were strewn on every path. Fences were prostrate, and blood sprinkled every tuft of grass which the feet of the contending armies had not trampled down. The houses presented marks of the conflict. One, which was occupied as a hospital, revealed a gaping wound in the second story, where a cannon-ball had gone straight through...Other buildings were riddled in a hundred places; and all, except those used for hospital purposes, were deserted, not a light flashing in the windows, not a child playing on the door-step, not even a dog growling at the gate as we marched on toward our destination through the gathering night."
Awed by the vast and terrible silence, the wagon train pressed on through the outskirts of town, searching for some sign of the Second Corps hospitals.
With some few sketchy directions, and an occasional question of a passerby, the Philadelphia delegation saw the campfires of the Second Corps hospital blazing off to the right of the Pike. They arrived late enough, however, that there was little that could be done in the gathering darkness. The volunteers unhitched and groomed their teams, then sought out some place to stretch out for the night. Saturday morning, July 11, arrived all too soon, and they were soon rubbing the sleep from their eyes, all the while looking around at the bustle of activity in the Schwartz farmyard, house, outbuildings, and fields.
"The following morning our labors commenced in earnest. Stores had come up, and their distribution was a duty and a necessity. On all sides the wounded and sick were pleading for help.
'Do carry me to a tent.'
'Must we lie here forever?'
'I am so weak; can't you give me something to revive me?'
'Please give me a drink of water.'
'I want something to eat.'
''O, God! must I die here alone?'
Such were the appeals which sounded in our ears."
The situation of the Confederates at the hospital was so grave that Foster and his men were quickly assigned to minister specifically to them. "Especially were the rebels in need of attention. While Lee, in retreating, had left a detail of men and a number of surgeons to look after his wounded, the necessity of effort was so urgent and immediate that, had they been disposed, they could hardly care for a tenth part of those who were actually suffering. To the care of our enemies, therefore, we devoted our chief attention."
Foster and his companions were struck with the same utter destitution of the captured enemy troops that had so affected Mary Cadwell Fisher when dealing with the Confederates. "Their condition was horrible. All were dirty, many were filthy, while others were almost absolutely naked, and crouched in their tents, as if ashamed to look into any human face. Almost the first sufferer we encountered was destitute of every article of clothing except a torn shirt; he lay huddled in a heap, striving, in obedience to an irrepressible instinct, to hide his shame and nakedness. Many others we found stretched out upon the ground, silent and helpless, with only blankets flung over them. All lay upon the ground, with pools of water all around them, often with channels the rains had made flowing under them in the hollow of the soil."
John Dooley of the 1st Virginia Infantry stalwartly declared that General Lee had left behind "...many hundreds of nurses (from among our private soldiers) and many surgeons of his army to assist and to care for the thousands of the brave men whom he knew could not receive the attention they required from the hands of the enemy." Unfortunately for the almost one thousand Southerners at the Second Corps hospitals, the Confederate commander apparently left behind only those doctors and nurses that could be spared, and many (if not most) were simply not top quality medical men. While primary surgeries were largely finished at the First and Second Divisions, rebels surgeons, aided by some Northern cutters, were still swamped with amputations at the Third Division.
The two-story Schwartz barn, looming over the house and outbuildings of the barnyard, served as a horrifying centerpiece of all the Confederate surgical activity in the First and Second Division hospitals. "In that part of the field to which we were assigned there was a barn, which had been taken as a hospital by the rebel surgeons. The building was broad and strong, but was rather slatternly than otherwise, and by no means, in the manner of cleanliness, what was desirable for hospital use. The rebel surgeons, however, every thing having been removed by the rebel cavalry upon their first appearance, had piled the ground-floor with their wounded, placing them so thickly that it was almost impossible for one to stir without communicating a shock to all."
But worse -- far, far worse -- than the overcrowding in the filthy cattle pens of the barn was the bloody spectacle that dominated the lower floor. "In the centre of the floor the surgeons planted a table for amputating purposes; and there, in full view of hundreds of enfeebled wretches, the process of cutting, and carving, and butchering (for it was nothing else) went on day after day. The scene, as we saw on more than one occasion, was horrible. It was torture for the faint, disheartened wounded to lie, hour after hour, perfectly helpless, compulsory witnesses of the atrocities which these surgeons dignified by the name of 'operations.'"
While their Union counterparts labored around the clock, even to the point of total prostration, to treat the injuries of the wounded, the Confederate surgeons apparently did not work at night. Whether it was due to a lack of lanterns, or simply because they got tired, almost all of the Southern medical team rested nine hours every night before resuming surgery in the morning. "During every minute of fifteen hours every day some sufferer was upon the table. Groans, shrieks, and curses constantly filled the air, the sound of the knife and crash of the saw blending continuously with the din of agony. Legs and arms falling from the table were raked out in armfuls, with every eye fixed on the spectacle, and carried away for burial."
John Y. Foster, for one, was highly derogatory of the Confederate surgeons left behind by General Lee. “It may be said here as elsewhere that much of this distressing condition of the rebel wounded was owing to the neglect and indifference of their own surgeons. Many of these surgeons seemed altogether destitute of those sensibilities which lend a softening influence to the rugged necessities and always forbidding duties of this important office. Some were almost brutal in their treatment of the men left to their care. Indeed, among all the officers and men whom the rebel commanders had intrusted [sic] with this work, we saw but a single one -- a captain -- who appeared to appreciate the gravity and importance of his office. Night and day, regardless of personal comfort, indifferent to every thing except the welfare of his suffering soldiers, he planned and worked, facing bravely all emergencies, overcoming all obstacles, and so commended himself to those about him that every face kindles at his coming, and all felt the influence of his high example.”
For the hopeful wives and sweethearts of wounded Virginians, or Carolinians, or Georgians, having passed through enemy lines, having endured jibes and taunts all the long way to Gettysburg, the grisly spectacle of unearthly screams and severed body parts must have been totally inconceivable. "One circumstance alone which fell under my personal observation will quite suffice, without elaborating further this unpleasant topic, the utter insensibility and want of feeling on the part of the rebel surgeons. The day of our arrival the wife of a rebel officer, who was supposed to have been wounded, rode up to the place we have described, thinking that possibly she might there discover her husband. The groans and screams of agony which saluted her were quite sufficient to fill her mind with dread and sickening fear; but she was doomed to see in a worse form still the barbarous nature of the treatment which might possibly fall to the lot of the one she sought."
"Hardly had she stated to an officer the object of her visit, when a rebel surgeon, with a knife in his hand, leaving a victim on the table, came to the door, and in a loud voice directed one of the hospital detail to 'fetch him a carving-knife,' adding that he would like to have also a razor-strop, as his 'instrument was getting dull.' The scene was too much for the smitten woman. Covering her face, she urged the driver to his quickest pace, and, with the unutterable wail surging in her ears, was hurried away."
Having experienced such unthinking callousness and harsh treatment at the hands of their own surgeons, most wounded Confederates were stunned by the care and compassion shown them by members of the Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission, the surgeons, and volunteers of the Second Corps. "The effect upon the enemy of the kindly ministrations of the representatives of the Sanitary and Christian Commission, who thronged the field, in such marked contrast with the treatment of their own nurses, was most marked and palpable. At first many did not seem able to understand it; but when the fact dawned upon them their surprise knew no bounds. They had been taught to regard Northern men as savages; but they found that they had tender hearts, and carried blessings instead of curses in their palms, and for the most part they accepted the kindness frankly and thankfully in the spirit in which it was offered. Scores of men said to us daily, 'We are disappointed in you Northern men; you are doing more for us than we deserve, and much as you are doing, we see that you would gladly do more if you could.'"
All the hopes and dreams of the Southern wounded for a dramatic Confederate victory over demoralized Northern foes had ended ignominiously in captivity behind enemy lines. For many, fierce nationalism and regional pride had crumbled, only to give way to feelings of anger, embarrassment, and confusion. "...One short week before they stood in battle array, with 'all the pride, pomp and circumstance of war,' to crush the Northern army. Now prisoners on the invaded soil they lay at the mercy of their captors. They manifested the utmost surprise at the impartial treatment they received at our hands, and could not understand why we fed and clothed them as promptly and willingly as we did our own men."
Mary Cadwell Fisher related one such encounter she had with a group of quizzical Confederate wounded. "One day, after a very fatiguing morning, I sat down on a stump for a moment's rest among the Southern soldiers. As usual a group of boys gathered around me and one said:
'Madam, I can't understand your treatment of us. Our women would not be so willing to help prisoners from your army, but you are just as kind to us as to your own men.'
'Oh,' I said, 'the reason is that we do not look upon you as enemies. We still regard you as our children, and although you have gone astray we have not given you up and expect you to come back to us, just as a loving mother hopes her wayward boy will repent of his wanderings and disobediences and return again to take his place around the hearthstone. You belong to us yet, and the time will come when we shall again be one people, under a united government.'
'Well, boys,' said one of the brightest of them, 'there is something in that. Now, mar'm, won't you please give us a chaw of tobacker?'"
The Confederate death-toll continued to mount.
Lee had left behind only the most severely injured men, many with hopeless
wounds. Now, even though in the relative care of a corps hospital,
these mortally wounded men, in ones and twos, finally succumbed to the
effects of their injuries. “Within three hundred yards of the headquarters
of the 2d Corps Hospitals, I saw, on Sabbath morning, the 12th inst., twenty-seven
bodies of dead confederates, unburied, the food of worms,” reported Indiana
Military Agent Rev. Isaac W. Montfort to his governor on July 16.
“The living, too, in many cases, were found, whose wounds were alive with the maggot. It was not possible, with the supply of surgeons left, to do all that was needed to be done.”
But due in large portion to the ministrations of the volunteer nurses, coupled with the care and supplies of the Sanitary Commission, Christian Commission, and smaller organizations such as the Baltimore Fireman's Relief Organization and the Germantown Field Hospital Association, many of the Confederates were well on the road to recovery. In spite of the dire circumstances in which they found themselves, the good humor of these seasoned campaigners was slowly returning. Soon even the nurses who had been faithfully caring for their wounds were becoming the target of their good-natured jesting. "What fun we have when the nurses come round to administer 'cornstarch.' About every hour a nurse of the feminine persuasion enters the tent and gives each one about a tea spoonful of this delectable refection. All take it just for the fun of the thing."
It had been a long day for Dr. Theodore Dimon, still on the road from New York. He had arrived late the previous night in Philadelphia; at first light, he was out trying to discover the best way to reach the battlefield. "After inquiring about the condition of the railroad communication with Gettysburg I concluded to take the Pennsylvania Central R. R. to Columbia on the Susquehanna."
Heading northwest to go west was not the straightest way to reach Gettysburg, but Dimon was mostly headed in the right direction. "Accordingly, on the morning of the 11th [of] July I took the cars for Columbia, Pa. The bridge across the Susquehanna had been burned on one of the last days of June to prevent Lee's troops from crossing the river at this point. I was ferried over the river to Wrightsville in a small rowboat. I here found the Northern Central (Pa.) [Rail] Road had been broken up by the Confederate troops and took a private conveyance to York where I got dinner."
After heading southwest to York, Dimon was following in the tracks of both Dr. Bushroad Washington James and his party, as well as Mary Cadwell Fisher and her companions. But instead of walking as had James, Dimon got lucky -- this time veering off to the southeast before turning northwest toward Gettysburg. "By good fortune I soon obtained railroad transportation in a quartermaster train to Hanover Junction and thence by similar means to Hanover, where I was obliged to remain for the night."
As the New York doctor settled in for the night, he had an opportunity to size up his traveling companions. "The carriage from the Junction to Hanover was upon freight cars and the train was crowded with people going to Gettysburg for various reasons. Some out of curiosity to see the battlefield and get trophies, some to take care of wounded friends and relatives, some few to make a profit and business out of the matter, and some to aid in the care of the wounded of their own and other states."
Philadelphia had also seen some very odd correspondence over the last several days, between some of the highest members of the United States Army Medical Department. The cause of all this stir was the unprecedented size of Medical Director Jonathan Letterman’s liquor requestion.
Medical Purveyor Murray, in Philadelphia, a stickler for details and a tight-fisted bureaucrat of the old school, had sent off a panicky dispatch to the Surgeon General Hammond on July 7:
“Sir, I am receiving requisitions every few days for brandy, 100 dozen is required by Surg Letterman for Gettysburg and Frederick. This will take all I have on hand & it is important that I should have some for emergencies. I propose to make a purchase of 800 or 1000 gallons to be put up at the Laboratory, unless you disapprove of it.” Apparently, Purveyor Murray did not deem the aftermath of Gettysburg to be an emergency, and was anxious to pass off the buck to the Surgeon General as quickly as possible.
The Surgeon General Hammond’s office wrote back three days later, trying to straighten out the boondoggle, but Medical Purveyor Murray was still blustering and fidgeting over the paperwork in his Philadelphia office.
On July 11, the flappable Murray wrote again to Washington: “I have the honor to acknowledge your letter of the 10th inst. in relation to issue of brandy instead of whiskey, & explaining the requirements for my accounts, etc. I am receiving large requisitions from the field in Pa. & Md. & for the Hospitals here, occasionally articles are ordered & approved by the Med Director here which are not on the supply table. Shall I continue to issue these, or ought such requisitions be referred to your office?”
Happily, Dr. Letterman and the Gettysburg hospitals did finally get their brandy, as well as “articles...not on the supply table,” in spite of the preponderance of military red tape and petty tin despots like Medical Purveyor Murray.
Dr. Dimon and his fellow passengers were up early, all intent on reaching the town of Gettysburg. "At 7 A.M. I left Hanover and arrived in an hour at Gettysburg...At 8 A.M. of the 12th...I reported to the Medical Inspector in charge of the general management of the wounded, viz. Dr. [John M.] Cuyler. I found his office on the central square of the town. He said that if I would call again at 9 A.M. he would give me transportation out to the 2nd Corps Field hospital to report to Surgeon Divinelle [sic] and to take charge of Confederate wounded who needed assistance there."
At last, there was going to be one administrative person detailed to oversee the care of the Southerners at the bloody barn on the Schwartz farm. While waiting, Dr. Dimon took the opportunity to nose around town and get the feel of Gettysburg. "Meanwhile I deposited my traps at the Purveyor's office and made inquiries so far as possible among people excited and busy with the crowd of unusual occurrences. I found as usual great readiness to convey information among the volunteers and great reticence about the same among the regular medical officers here, while the volunteers appeared to be the most busy and the regulars to have the most liesure [sic], and probably for the reason that very much of their business was attended to for them by others."
Finding so many medical men in one place, Dimon asked them how to find the Second Corps hospital. First one, then another shook their heads. Each in turn -- every surgeon, assistant surgeon, contract surgeon, and hospital steward -- were totally ignorant of the location of the largest Union field hospital at Gettysburg. "The result of my inquiries were nil. I could not ascertain where the 2nd Corps hospital was, nor what chances for eating or sleeping were to be obtained there. Nothing to eat was purchasable in the town."
With such grave need for a qualified surgeon to oversee the care of wounded Southerners at the Second Corps hospitals, the Confederates still waiting to be treated were just going to have to wait a little longer. Unable to locate Surgeon Justin Dwinelle and his facilities, even at the headquarters of the Medical Department in Gettysburg , Medical Inspector Cuyler finally assigned Dr. Theodore Dimon by default to care for wounded New Yorkers at a temporary hospital in one of Gettysburg's hotels.
For now, at least, the Second Corps rebel wounded were just going to have to do without the services of Dr. Theodore Dimon. Throughout Sunday, July 12, the push continued to finish up the primary surgeries of the wounded Southerners. For the many ministers representing volunteer aid societies, this was going to be another Lord's Day without time to devote to any worship services. Many of the nurses and representatives of various relief organizations rallied in a major effort to feed, clothe, and dress the wounds of those Southerners still awaiting the none-so-gentle attentions of their surgeons.
Not everyone, however, was delighted with the generous
treatment accorded to the Second Corps' unwilling guests. Hospital
Steward Charles Merrick of the 8th Ohio was extremely irritated by the
attention paid to the enemy soldiers laying in the camp. Frustrated
and angry, he ended up blowing off steam in a letter to his doctor wife
Myra, detailing the apparent injustices he had observed on the part of
the various relief agencies laboring at the Second Corps, Third Division
I have been the rounds among my patients and
report to you their condition. I have only about twenty left - most
of them I have sent away - some of them have died. I have eight very
serious cases yet, two of them I have no hope for. Since I
wrote to you, two have died, which makes seven since the battle.
The two cases I refer to are both shot through the nates - the ball coming
out near the os pubis. One has the rectum and bladder both wounded
- the other the rectum. We have plenty of help as far as dressers
are concerned, but no Surgeon at all to look after the boys.
Our boys are very indignant at the conduct of the "Christian [and] Sanitary Commissions" They devote almost their whole time to the rebels -- give them everything to eat and wear -- preach and pray with them -- but pay very little attention to our men. I have watched them close and bear testimony against them. Not once have they had singing and praying among the Union boys. Is it a compliment to us? Are we so good we do not need their missionary labors? I don't complain on this point, but I do complain that our boys have not had their share of the comforts, the delicacies, the attention they bestow on the rebels. The 14th Ind Sutler sent a lot of wine to their boys. The "Christian Commission" took it and gave every drop to the rebels. These are facts. They will doctor up the rebels and send them back into their ranks to shoot us down with less mercy than ever.
I went over the battle field yesterday. The citizens are flocking there in crowds, hunting for relics. I counted thirty dead horses in one Battery alone - that is, the Battery we lay in front of. The trees are terribly cut by the storm of shells and solid shot. Gettysburg is a pretty little city. It is not much hurt by cannon, but bullet marks are visible on almost every house and store.
I hope I shall be able to return to the Reg soon, and expect to find a pile of letters then. My health is good.
Others in the three division hospitals of the Second Corps were also wishing they could escape to healthier environs. The polluted water was beginning to take a grave toll on inmates of the camps, both doctors and patients alike.
As for wounded Virginian John Dooley, he stubbornly refused to drink any of the tainted water. While others sickened from the contamination, Dooley gritted his teeth and silently suffered the gnawing pangs of dehydration and extreme thirst. Tough to the very end, he held out "...for four days, at the end of which I was so fortunate as to obtain some spring water."
Dr. Bushrod Washington James, surgical representative of the Christian Commission, had not fared nearly as well, however. Intestinal disorders from using the battlefield runoff, even after boiling, were finally forcing the doctor to leave for home. "I watched and toiled among that army of wounded, some from the flower of Lee's routed forces, some from among the noblest and best of the Northern troops, until I became so thoroughly sick and debilitated that I could work no longer!"
While someone went out to find some transportation for the ailing doctor, James, sickened in body by the water, and sick at heart over all that yet remained to be accomplished at the hospitals, gathered together his few possessions and bade his fellow surgeons and patients a sorrowful good-bye. "With the deepest regret I was compelled to leave the hospital in the woods and start for home, so weak that I could but just crawl to an old hay wagon that was going to the town." "The danger of a rough ride in an old hay wagon to the railroad station, about three miles away, was less hazardous and preferable to the risk of remaining in the neighborhood of six or seven thousand wounded men, at the battle-field, after a copious rainstorm, or in the wet forest in which the hospital was situated. All these led me to adopt the plan of trying to reach home."
"The farmer lifted my valise, then helped me up into
the springless vehicle, and jolted, bruised and shaken up he conveyed me
to the railroad station, and after a tedious railroad trip by way of Baltimore
I was enabled to reach home, where I suffered both illness and weariness
for weeks before I began to feel the least return of my usual vigor and
Dr. Bushrod Jones survived his brush with destiny in a small Pennsylvania hamlet. What would happen to the men stranded in Gettysburg, however, still remained to be seen.