Field Hospitals

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Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
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At Gettysburg, as Laura notes in #20, typically a Confederate brigade and Union division established their own hospital run by surgeons belonging to that brigade or division respectively. Those hospitals were established at larger farms or in larger buildings in the town itself; they were intended to be beyond artillery range. Sometimes these surgeons were overzealous and would turn away soldiers from their own army who were not part of their division or corps. Enemy soldiers who showed up were often treated last.

Field hospitals, on the other hand, provided "first aid" and were generally much closer to the fight, in the nearest structure at hand, and were run by more junior assistant surgeons, who would attend to any soldier who showed up at that location. From there the wounded would be sent on to the hospital assigned to their command, further to the rear. These hospitals were typically beyond the range of infantry small-arms, but not longer range enemy artillery.

Virtually every farmhouse or public building within two to three miles of the battlefield was turned into a temporary hospital for a period of days or weeks.

Nearly all of the remaining wounded in the vicinity of Gettysburg were eventually transported to Camp Letterman General Hospital east of the town, enabling the closure of the temporary hospitals and allowing area farmers and townspeople to resume their lives. A few officers were treated at private residences.
 
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lelliott19

Brigadier General
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@huskerblitz thank you so much for starting this thread. After reading through it again, I thought it might be helpful to review some of the terminology. Some terms seem to have been used interchangeably and that is probably contributing to some of the confusion around what exactly was a "Field Hospital." As @Tom Elmore pointed out, what I call an "aid station" others may refer to as a "field hospital." Tom please let me know if you have any corrections to the general explanations I've provided below.

Aid Station, Regimental Field Hospital - just in rear of the lines; out of range of small arms. Could have been inside the nearest building or just on the ground, perhaps under the shade of a tree. The Regimental surgeon and assistants carried with them, basic medical supplies and instruments (field kit), bandages, etc. Litter bearers or comrades carried the wounded from the field to the aid station. Some men, who were able, hobbled back on their own. Any man who happened to be wounded and came to the place was treated regardless of his regiment or brigade. Mostly "first aid"- Wounds were dressed. If needed, a tourniquet was applied or other "minor" procedures like ligature to stop bleeding. Perhaps an occasional emergency amputation. Ambulances, wagons, etc were employed to transport the men from the aid station to their assigned brigade or division hospital in the rear. I suppose its theoretically possible that the aid station could have moved forward or back, as the lines changed, as long as the previous patients had been transported away to the rear. But this would likely only have been possible when the number of wounded was small and there was plenty of transportation available.

Brigade or Division Field Hospital - usually a mile or more in rear of the anticipated line; out of range of artillery. Established ahead of time; location chosen by senior brigade and division surgeons. Usually a house, barn, etc used for "operating room." The availability of water nearby was an important factor. When individual brigades set up a field hospital, they were usually in proximity to other brigades of their division. The Brigade or Division Field Hospital was ideally set up before the battle commenced and was stocked with instruments, supplies, chloroform, bandages, etc and maybe some stores - straw for bedding and food, if possible. If available, tents would have been set up on the surrounding grounds. Most all of the surgical procedures would have been performed in the "building" of the Brigade or Division Field Hospital or in a tent erected specifically for the purpose - amputation, bullet removal, etc. Once the fighting ended, or when the number of wounded became overwhelming, the regimental surgeon would have gone back from the aid station to assist with surgeries. This would have left the asst surgeon and/or steward to perform the "first aid" at the aid station. Brigade or Division hospitals did not move. Once established, they stayed put - due mainly to the sheer volume of wounded that would have accumulated. No way to move that many wounded men simply to relocate. If the enemy was pressing the hospital, those who could were evacuated and a few surgeons and nurses were selected (or volunteered) to remain behind to care for the wounded. In such cases, these folks were taken prisoner, along with the wounded.

General Hospital at a battlefield - Occasionally, such as at Gettysburg, after the battle concluded and the enemy left the area, all the wounded (at Gettysburg, Union wounded and Confederate prisoners) were eventually congregated into tents in the area established as a "General Hospital." At Gettysburg, it was the tent city known as Camp Letterman. This was done to make supplies more readily available. Instead of dividing supplies and transporting them out to the various Brigade/Division Hospitals, the supplies could be taken directly to one place. And all the available surgeons and nurses were in one place. Still, these battlefield General Hospitals were usually unlike General Hospitals in cities and towns. For General Hospitals in cities, think Richmond VA or Frederick MD - even though the ward buildings were crude, at least they had actual buildings - with roofs.

In the case of the unusual situation at Chickasaw Bayou, with the Yazoo River in back of the line, it's hard to say for sure. I think its likely that the plantation and outbuildings served as a sort of way-station and that individual brigades were assigned "hospital" space on one of the three steamers. It sounds like the operations were accomplished at the plantation and then the wounded were boarded onto the steamers, by brigade?
 

huskerblitz

Captain
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Jun 8, 2013
Location
Nebraska
In the case of the unusual situation at Chickasaw Bayou, with the Yazoo River in back of the line, it's hard to say for sure. I think its likely that the plantation and outbuildings served as a sort of way-station and that individual brigades were assigned "hospital" space on one of the three steamers. It sounds like the operations were accomplished at the plantation and then the wounded were boarded onto the steamers, by brigade?
I'd have to check my sources, but I think most of Johnson's Plantation was already burned by this time. Three ships were used to take wounded back to Memphis. They were the Von Phul, City of Memphis, and the John J. Roe.
 
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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
I hate to side track the thread but Chimborazo drives me a little crazy because you just can't find much and it was huge. I found a sketch of it but I'm not sure it's public access so can't post it. We've just seen the slightly blurry image it, perched on that hill overlooking Rocketts.

Mortality rate there was so small it's just always fascinated me. What made the difference at Chimborazo?
 

Rick Richter

Private
Joined
Dec 6, 2012
@huskerblitz thank you so much for starting this thread. After reading through it again, I thought it might be helpful to review some of the terminology. Some terms seem to have been used interchangeably and that is probably contributing to some of the confusion around what exactly was a "Field Hospital." As @Tom Elmore pointed out, what I call an "aid station" others may refer to as a "field hospital." Tom please let me know if you have any corrections to the general explanations I've provided below.

Aid Station, Regimental Field Hospital - just in rear of the lines; out of range of small arms. Could have been inside the nearest building or just on the ground, perhaps under the shade of a tree. The Regimental surgeon and assistants carried with them, basic medical supplies and instruments (field kit), bandages, etc. Litter bearers or comrades carried the wounded from the field to the aid station. Some men, who were able, hobbled back on their own. Any man who happened to be wounded and came to the place was treated regardless of his regiment or brigade. Mostly "first aid"- Wounds were dressed. If needed, a tourniquet was applied or other "minor" procedures like ligature to stop bleeding. Perhaps an occasional emergency amputation. Ambulances, wagons, etc were employed to transport the men from the aid station to their assigned brigade or division hospital in the rear. I suppose its theoretically possible that the aid station could have moved forward or back, as the lines changed, as long as the previous patients had been transported away to the rear. But this would likely only have been possible when the number of wounded was small and there was plenty of transportation available.

Brigade or Division Field Hospital - usually a mile or more in rear of the anticipated line; out of range of artillery. Established ahead of time; location chosen by senior brigade and division surgeons. Usually a house, barn, etc used for "operating room." The availability of water nearby was an important factor. When individual brigades set up a field hospital, they were usually in proximity to other brigades of their division. The Brigade or Division Field Hospital was ideally set up before the battle commenced and was stocked with instruments, supplies, chloroform, bandages, etc and maybe some stores - straw for bedding and food, if possible. If available, tents would have been set up on the surrounding grounds. Most all of the surgical procedures would have been performed in the "building" of the Brigade or Division Field Hospital or in a tent erected specifically for the purpose - amputation, bullet removal, etc. Once the fighting ended, or when the number of wounded became overwhelming, the regimental surgeon would have gone back from the aid station to assist with surgeries. This would have left the asst surgeon and/or steward to perform the "first aid" at the aid station. Brigade or Division hospitals did not move. Once established, they stayed put - due mainly to the sheer volume of wounded that would have accumulated. No way to move that many wounded men simply to relocate. If the enemy was pressing the hospital, those who could were evacuated and a few surgeons and nurses were selected (or volunteered) to remain behind to care for the wounded. In such cases, these folks were taken prisoner, along with the wounded.

General Hospital at a battlefield - Occasionally, such as at Gettysburg, after the battle concluded and the enemy left the area, all the wounded (at Gettysburg, Union wounded and Confederate prisoners) were eventually congregated into tents in the area established as a "General Hospital." At Gettysburg, it was the tent city known as Camp Letterman. This was done to make supplies more readily available. Instead of dividing supplies and transporting them out to the various Brigade/Division Hospitals, the supplies could be taken directly to one place. And all the available surgeons and nurses were in one place. Still, these battlefield General Hospitals were usually unlike General Hospitals in cities and towns. For General Hospitals in cities, think Richmond VA or Frederick MD - even though the ward buildings were crude, at least they had actual buildings - with roofs.

In the case of the unusual situation at Chickasaw Bayou, with the Yazoo River in back of the line, it's hard to say for sure. I think its likely that the plantation and outbuildings served as a sort of way-station and that individual brigades were assigned "hospital" space on one of the three steamers. It sounds like the operations were accomplished at the plantation and then the wounded were boarded onto the steamers, by brigade?
Aid stations, usually located a few hundred yards behind the battle lines, were abandoned once the conflict ended. Field stations stayed in operation until all the men being treated there could be moved to more permanent hospitals (or in the case of Confederates in field hospitals and Camp Letterman at Gettysburg, to prisoner of war facilities).
 

The_Bilbo

Cadet
Joined
Jul 18, 2017
Location
Connecticut
My Great Great Grandfather, Anderson Bowman, was a private in Co. D, Third Missouri infantry, his Regiment part of Steele's Fourth Division in Sherman's Army of the Tennessee. The Regiment was assigned to the transport steamer "Dacotah" during the Yazoo Pass Expedition and the Chickasaw Bluffs engagement. His Company Muster Roll for November and December 1862 showed him "Absent" with the remark, "Left on Str. Dacotah, sick, Dec. 29/62." One wonders about the meaning of "left" used here: does it mean that during the engagement he was sick and so remained on the transport, or that the transport steamed away on that date with him aboard? Also, he later died of illness near Helena, Arkansas, in September 1863, on another steamer, the "Metropolitan," which was also used as a transport but in Smith's First Division, assigned to the Sixth Indiana Infantry. To my knowledge, neither the "Dacotah" nor the "Metropolitan" were hospital steamers.
 
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huskerblitz

Captain
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Jun 8, 2013
Location
Nebraska
My Great Great Grandfather, Anderson Bowman, was a private in Co. D, Third Missouri infantry, his Regiment part of Steele's Fourth Division in Sherman's Army of the Tennessee. The Regiment was assigned to the transport steamer "Dacotah" during the Yazoo Pass Expedition and the Chickasaw Bluffs engagement. His Company Muster Roll for November and December 1862 showed him "Absent" with the remark, "Left on Str. Dacotah, sick, Dec. 29/62." One wonders about the meaning of "left" used here: does it mean that during the engagement he was sick and so remained on the transport, or that the transport steamed away on that date with him aboard? Also, he later died of illness near Helena, Arkansas, in September 1863, on another steamer, the "Metropolitan," which was also used as a transport but in Smith's First Division, assigned to the Sixth Indiana Infantry. To my knowledge, neither the "Dacotah" nor the "Metropolitan" were hospital steamers.
From what I can tell yes, you are correct in that he was likely left on board the boat while the rest of the regiment disembarked and engaged the enemy. Sherman has a lot of men sick when they landed.
 
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