Leaving Sick Confederate Soldiers Behind In Retreat

lupaglupa

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Does anyone know if there was a specific policy or rule as to how sick and/or injured soldiers were treated by the CSA when retreating? Were they left behind or taken along? The specific instance I'm thinking of had to do with soldiers left behind when CSA troops pulled back into Vicksburg, but I don't know if leaving them was standard policy or due to the circumstances at Vicksburg.
 
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Lampasas Bill

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I don't know if either side had a "policy" about treatment of sick or injured soldiers while on the march. If there was a convenient wagon or ambulance, they would be brought along. If not, and they couldn't keep up, they might be left at a house or barn if they were lucky. Otherwise they were on their own and would most likely be captured and hopefully cared for by the pursuing force.
 

lelliott19

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@Lampasas Bill 's explanation correlates with most of the accounts I have read. The example I know the most about, Longstreet's corps at Gettysburg and Knoxville, seem to illustrate what would be considered the 'normal' process.

On the approach, the surgeons set up brigade field hospitals three to five miles behind the anticipated line of battle, at farms and houses along the approach route. Men who were sick, were treated before, during and after the battle. Men who were wounded were brought from the battlefield to the field hospital - usually the one of their brigade, although there are documented instances where a soldier or officer was brought to the nearest one instead. At both Gettysburg and Knoxville, men who were too sick or too badly wounded to transport were left behind in the barns and houses.

At Gettysburg, a group of surgeons and men serving as nurses was left behind to care for the patients. The hospitals were captured by the Union army soon after the Confederates retreated and the wounded left behind were eventually consolidated and incorporated into field hospitals run by the Federals.

At Knoxville, it was a bit of a different situation. There were not enough surgeons to leave any behind. At that point, each brigade seems to have had only a few surgeons and, in one brigade, only one. As far as I can tell, none were left behind with the wounded there. The hospitals were captured after Longstreet's force retreated. There was an outbreak of smallpox and so some of those in the hospitals were infectious. As far as I can tell, they were left where they were - out on the outlying farms. They were not moved into Federal hospitals in the city. A good number of them died and a good number of men who were left behind wounded, were infected. It was a mess.

EDIT TO ADD: I do not know what the exact situation was at Vicksburg, but it seems the retreat would have been an emergency situation..... not a planned one like Gettysburg or even Knoxville. In an emergency retreat, the sick and wounded would have most certainly have had to be left behind. No way to organize logistics and transportation in that situation.
 

Patrick H

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It's a very good and provocative question. I wish we could answer it definitively, but I fear we can never do so. I know that, in Missouri, the practice of leaving soldiers behind went way back to the days of the State Guard. Realistically, the organized force of that era had no means to care for boys who had come down with diseases. It's sad but true. Frank James and John McCorcle are examples of two boys who got left to the charity of others. Both boys eventually joined Quantrill's guerillas. As for regular Confederate soldiers later in the war, I imagine it also came down to the sheer availability of resources to care for those boys. I don't know if I am correct, but I imagine I'm not far wrong.
 

A. Roy

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I've read that, at least for some battles, a ride on a wagon or ambulance could be a terrible experience for someone in a lot of pain, and even fatal. Usually it would be better to evacuate the wounded if possible, to keep them out of the hands of the enemy and so they could re-enter service after recuperation. But sometimes the humane thing, and the more practical thing, would be to leave them to be captured, with or without a team of your own surgeons.

Roy B.
 

Patrick H

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I realize this does not answer the question of what happened to Confederate soldiers when they were so sick they had to be left behind. Nevertheless, it's informative. As Quantrill's men were retreating from Kansas after the Lawrence raid, some men were brought out in "ambulances." Let's say rude wagons. I believe many of these men were stashed away on sympathetic farms and hidden in the bush. I don't know what happened to them. Doubtless, some perished and some got nursed back to health. I am not saying this was a correct or an incorrect practice. I am saying I believe this is what happened whenever Irregular guerrillas got wounded in battle.
 

Carol

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I don't think an official rule was in place for this but I do believe that a general "common rule' was acted upon which was greatly influenced by the details of each battle. Such as location, participants, physicians on hand, etc. One incident comes to mind regarding Brigadier General Henry Sibley during 1861. The battle of Glorieta Pass resulted in hundreds of Confederate soldiers who were left behind after the retreat. I have included a source for further reading on this battle and the ideas of western expansion with Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy.

National Park Website for Battle at Glorieta Pass, New Mexico
 

lelliott19

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Another incident comes to mind for which I can provide some particulars. During Streight's Raid into north Alabama, wounded Federals were left behind - some on the fields, in the woods, etc. It was a "running fight" in enemy territory so no logistical support and no doubt insufficient medical personnel to leave any behind. Forrest too was without logistical support and left wounded behind.

Anyway, the local Alabama farm families took in the wounded Federals and nursed them in their cabins. It's important to note that these were very poor people, living in the wilderness - not planters or city folk with means. Also, many in the mountains of north Alabama were Unionists. It was a great burden when they didn't have enough to feed their own families, but wounded soldiers (Confederate and Union) were taken in and nursed by Alabamians along Streight's route.
 

Vicksburger

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Does anyone know if there was a specific policy or rule as to how sick and/or injured soldiers were treated by the CSA when retreating? Were they left behind or taken along? The specific instance I'm thinking of had to do with soldiers left behind when CSA troops pulled back into Vicksburg, but I don't know if leaving them was standard policy or due to the circumstances at Vicksburg.
I don't know if there was any uniform policy but I do know that a badly wounded CSA soldier from Texas was doctored by the Feds when it was found that he had earlier helped some wounded Feds at Shiloh. So they returned the favor and he survived the war.
 

Rhea Cole

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Policy is too strong a word, sick & wounded men were regularly abandoned by the Army of Tennessee. The army that looses a battle & retreats only has so many wagons for transporting wounded men. At Stones River, the hospital at the large Baptist College building was filled with wounded & sick men of both sides. Dr. Eames, who took command of the hospital, stated that the sufferers were lying in straw on wooden bunks & covered in their own filth. He paid self-liberated slaves to clean both the building & the patients.

In 1860, the six square blocks of Murfreesboro had a population of 2,000 half & half free & slave. The 24,000 casualties of the Battle of Stones River completely overwhelmed the available buildings. Churches & businesses on the square were emptied of furniture & fixtures. Every available square foot of floor space was filled with wounded & diseased men of both sides. Wounded men were assigned to local families, who were paid to care for them. Needless to say, the wounded experienced kindness, indifference & outright abandonment. One soldier who had been left on the field for days was assigned to a family who locked him in a pig shed & fled southward with the cash. He somehow lingered there for an extended period of time before being rescued. He must have been one tough customer.

I have done an impression of Dr. A.N. Reed of the Unites States Sanitary Commission during living history programs at Stones River N.B. There were "almost 20" hospitals in Murfreesboro. He inspected them in 1863 & found them well run. The Sanitary Commission's credo was to treat anyone who came under their care, no matter what state or side they came from, the same. It was the precursor of the Red Cross. The role of the USSC in succoring the men of both sides cannot be exaggerated.

Without a doubt, the most moving collection of letters that I have involve a 40 something man from Strawberry Plaines in East Tennessee who had been drafted into CSA service. His unit was sent to Vicksburg, where he became ill. He was scheduled to be evacuated when Grant's movements cut the RR. By the time of the surrender, he was in a pitiful state. Union doctors arranged for him to be cared for by a very compassionate couple who owned a farm nearby. His letters home written on the back of wallpaper are filled with musings about how his bee hives were faring. He arrived at the home where he was nursed flthy & reeking. The kind letters written by the couple as his condition continued to deteriorate are deeply sad. They buried him in their family cemetery & expressed his few possessions home.

Weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg a couple of hundred Army of Northern Virginia wounded were discovered in a stand of timber where they had been abandoned by Lee's retreat. Local farm families rallied to the aid of the surviving sufferers, many of whom were all but naked.

I don't know of a definitive figure for the number of CSA sick & wounded were cared for by Union hospitals. One of my CSA ancestors had his life saved by a Union surgeon. It was the end of the medical dark ages. Any small child knows more about sepsis than any doctor in the world at that time. As any medical professional will tell you, keeping a patient clean, comfortable & fed will go a very long way toward allowing the body to heal itself. That was something that CW era medical practitioners understood very well. A soldier who entered the U.S. hospital system had a 90% chance of survival no matter which side they came from.
 
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Does anyone know if there was a specific policy or rule as to how sick and/or injured soldiers were treated by the CSA when retreating? Were they left behind or taken along? The specific instance I'm thinking of had to do with soldiers left behind when CSA troops pulled back into Vicksburg, but I don't know if leaving them was standard policy or due to the circumstances at Vicksburg.
Intriguing question.
Like seemingly everyone else I would say there wasn’t a policy but only what circumstances and the ranking CO dictated.
During the retreat from Gettysburg, the wagon train of wounded in the AoNV was five miles long. I think that’s not long considering the carnage. Meaning most wounded must have been left on or near the battlefield.
When Lee ordered a pull back to the second line of defense at Bloody Angle, his orders were to leave the wounded behind. I have read too many sad accounts of wounded soldiers begging their comrades to take them back to the safety of their fallback position.
But perhaps one of my most memorable accounts was of a war time pastor of my former home church. His name was John Hilldrup. He received a Minnie ball in one of his lungs near Dunker church at Sharpsburg. The surgeon could do little more than make him comfortable. He was left behind and captured by the federal army. He survived the war and lived a full life with the ball still lodged in his lung when he died of natural causes many years later.
You have a great thought provoking question and I am looking forward to the replies you are going to get.
 

Ole Miss

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Shiloh was the first major battle in the West and both sides were dealing with a situation that was imaginable just weeks before. 100,000 men clashing over 2 days with over 20,000 soldiers from both sides killed and wounded with an antiquated medical system! The 1st field hospital was established by General William Nelson's Division Medical Director. The numbers of dead and dying were overwhelming the medical resources of both armies.

During the 20 mile retreat to Corinth, Confederate commanders had little time to care for casualties as they were more concerned with saving the Army of Mississippi. Lack of supplies and organization created a living he** for doctors, staff and patients then coupled with the continual moving each day with the retreating army. The road to Corinth was and still is littered with the unknown graves of young Southern men who died on the way.

It was so much as abandoning the wounded as it was of not being prepared for the numbers needing care after such a large battle. First Bull Run had fewer than 5,000 casualties and was only 30 miles from the nation's capitol and available hospitals, medicines and care. Shiloh was 20 miles from any source of hospital care and that was in Corinth a small rural town that could provide little care. In fact after Shiloh

During the 2020 Shiloh Muster, @lelliott19 made a presentation about a Confederate Hospital operated by her ancestor who was the surgeon for the 16th Alabama Infantry on the exact spot it occupied in 1862! She enabled one to understand the overwhelming flood of wounded was beyond the capabilities of the medical staff in April 1862.

The ACW was a watershed for so many inventions and developments one bing the care of the wounded and medical care in general. It was a terrible price to pay for the outstanding care the military provides today for our heroes today.
Regards
David
 
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Does anyone know if there was a specific policy or rule as to how sick and/or injured soldiers were treated
Great question !

I've always thought the physicians on both sides in any war wish to treat anyone that needs help.
The "brass" of either army may have had different thoughts.

The classic 1970's TV show MASH often dealt with the same subject.

Again, great question !
But I doubt there is an easy answer.

Regarding the CSA Medical Department, I don't think it was about not taking care of wounded Union prisoners,
as much as it was not having enough medical supplies to even properly treating their own wounded.

Only a few thoughts.
 

lelliott19

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The 1st field hospital was established by General William Nelson's Division Medical Director.
That was the first regular tent field hospital ......with supply logistics and organized treatment for patients until they could be transported to General Hospitals. "Field hospitals" were already being established at forms in barns, sheds, houses, by both sides prior to that. They did use tents too but they lacked the manpower, supply logistics, treatment plans, and established evacuation plans that made Dr. Irwin's hospital unique.
 
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That was the first regular tent field hospital ......with supply logistics and organized treatment for patients until they could be transported to General Hospitals. "Field hospitals" were already being established at forms in barns, sheds, houses, by both sides prior to that. They did use tents too but they lacked the manpower, supply logistics, treatment plans, and established evacuation plans that made Dr. Irwin's hospital unique.
Kind of off topic, but my Grandfather served in the US Army Medical Corps during World War One.
Thankfully medicine had advanced since the 1860's.
However, the protocol was basically the same routine in France during 1917.


Casualty Clearing Stations
Field hospitals
Evacuation hospitals
General Hospitals
Base hospitals

(That's a simple example of medical care during WW1 trench warfare)
There were other specialty hospitals dedicated to poison gas victims along with venereal diseases.

Yes . . . a soldier's weekend pass to Paris,France could be more devastating than a week in the front trench.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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At the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, MD one of the very first things you learn as you walk through the museum (you walk in a VERY specific order) that an injured combatant is no longer an enemy. Especially after Letterman took over and established triage methods used to this day. CSA soldiers were given the same care, ONCE they made it to a Union hospital. It was getting there that was the difficulty.

I’ve read a number of diaries from the Union side where they just pick up any and all wounded, AND I’ve read a number where they pick up the Union ones first based on Captain’s orders. But mixed into that is, I find a great number of soldiers, after a battle or especially as it is winding down, helping each other, as long as they didn’t have SPECIFIC orders telling them to not help the wounded. They would sometimes get those orders when they were falling back and it really broke their hearts.
 

Scott1967

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At the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, MD one of the very first things you learn as you walk through the museum (you walk in a VERY specific order) that an injured combatant is no longer an enemy. Especially after Letterman took over and established triage methods used to this day. CSA soldiers were given the same care, ONCE they made it to a Union hospital. It was getting there that was the difficulty.

I’ve read a number of diaries from the Union side where they just pick up any and all wounded, AND I’ve read a number where they pick up the Union ones first based on Captain’s orders. But mixed into that is, I find a great number of soldiers, after a battle or especially as it is winding down, helping each other, as long as they didn’t have SPECIFIC orders telling them to not help the wounded. They would sometimes get those orders when they were falling back and it really broke their hearts.
I'm not so sure about the bravado and compassion bit to be honest.

I remember reading an eyewitness account of CSA soldiers shooting wounded Federal soldiers at the Cornfield in the Battle of Antietam and I would also be confident this happened more than people are letting on.

Simple fact remains even if a soldier is wounded he can still pull a trigger this rings true more if your advancing and leaving wounded enemy soldiers in your rear.

While i agree great acts of compassion did exist i would also be inclined to agree that wounded soldiers were sometimes shot in Battle and murdered after the battle by looters although this was a lot rarer.

The trick to being wounded seemed to be get away from the battle as fast as possible if you can rather than wait for medical personal from either side to find you at least until the battle has ended.
 

NDR5thNY

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I'm not so sure about the bravado and compassion bit to be honest.

I remember reading an eyewitness account of CSA soldiers shooting wounded Federal soldiers at the Cornfield in the Battle of Antietam and I would also be confident this happened more than people are letting on.

Simple fact remains even if a soldier is wounded he can still pull a trigger this rings true more if your advancing and leaving wounded enemy soldiers in your rear.

While i agree great acts of compassion did exist i would also be inclined to agree that wounded soldiers were sometimes shot in Battle and murdered after the battle by looters although this was a lot rarer.

The trick to being wounded seemed to be get away from the battle as fast as possible if you can rather than wait for medical personal from either side to find you at least until the battle has ended.
I believe I read in Brian Pohanka’s book, “The Vortex of Hell” where Captain Winslow and his Chaplain father returned to Second Bull Run a couple of days after the battle under a white flag . They found numerous wounded and dead union on the battle field. My wife’s great grandfather was shot just above the right knee . The CSA removed him to a field hospital were he was treated and exchanged 3 days after the battle. He remained in an Alexandria hospital until his medical discharge from the Army on 19 Dec 1862.
I also reading of a wounded Union officer who was treated for a gun shot wound lodging in his spine. He was treated at a CSA hospital. He walked 10 miles to the Union lines and later died in. Union hospital.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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He walked 10 miles to the Union lines and later died in. Union hospital.
I really can’t imagine the sheer grit of these people. If he didn’t need to walk like that and exhaust his body’s resources , he might not have died.
 
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