Chancellorsville Say What Special: Surgeon Daniel Morse Holt on the Aftermath of Chancellorsville May 1863

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All that he could do, he did do: he sent the Medical Director of their army to look in upon us and to supply help in amputations &c., which by this time had become imperative. Death was upon our track and most nobly did these Surgeons combat it. Not alone in the breasts of our men dwell humanity. Human nature is about the same the world over, and I found just as sympathetic hearts here as anywhere.

The Battle of Chancellorsville took place April 30-May 6, 1863, near the village of Chancellorsville, VA. It was a Confederate victory, but also resulted in the mortal wounding of General Stonewall Jackson by friendly fire. The battle ended May 5-6, 1863 when Sedgwick exited via Bank's Ford and Hooker withdrew across the Rappahannock River at U. S. Ford, leaving the wounded in the hands of Federal surgeons left behind for that purpose. One of the Surgeons who stayed behind to care for the wounded was Assistant Surgeon Daniel M Holt*, of the 121st New York, Bartletts brigade, Brooks' division, Sixth Army Corps. People are sometimes surprised to learn that Surgeons treated the enemy's wounded. In this example, we see that occurring, but also a record of the commanding general coming to check in regularly. In a letter to his wife, dated May 15, 1863, Surgeon Holt wrote:

Worn out by fatigue and faint through want of proper food (for I had for the three days previous, neither seen meat or bread, and had slept but a very few hours during all that time) I went to work, more dead than alive, but with a will which in some degree compensated, and thus struggled on for four days longer until help arrived from our side of the river. When I now look back upon those days so full of incidents and suffering, I can hardly realize that I have passed through it, and am still alive. Yet I worked and staggered on until it seemed as if I could not drag one foot before another; and while bending over the bodies of our boys dressing their wounds, my eyes, in spite of me, would close, and I have found myself fast asleep over a dying man. Had not General Wilcox (Confederate) kindly supplied me with food from his own table, and made me a guest rather than a prisoner, I believe I should have been compelled to throw myself down with the rest and crave the treatment I myself was yielding. As it was, I kept about, being the recipient of numerous favors from rebel officers, always treated with respect, and in very many cases with marked kindness.​
Here General Lee came to see me. Four times did this great man call and feelingly inquire if the men were receiving all the care that could be bestowed: at the same time remarking that it was beyond his power to yield such succor as his heart prompted. Their army, he remarked, was not supplied as ours, with Sanitary and Christian Commission supplies, neither was the Medical department as completely and thoroughly equipped—no chloroform for minor cases of Surgery—no stimulents [sic] for moderate or severe prostration, and as a consequence no means of alleviating the suffering of their men,—​
All that he could do, he did do: he sent the Medical Director of their army to look in upon us and to supply help in amputations &c., which by this time had become imperative. Death was upon our track and most nobly did these Surgeons combat it. Not alone in the breasts of our men dwell humanity. Human nature is about the same the world over, and I found just as sympathetic hearts here as anywhere. I must in justice say for an enemy, that I never was treated with greater consideration by intelligent men, than I was by these very rebs for the ten days I remained among them; and at the same time I might say I never had so hard a time. The experience of a lifetime was crowded into these eventful days. [Emphasis mine] http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/civil_war_series/8/sec10.htm

*Daniel Morse Holt was born @1820 in Herkimer County NY. He received his medical training in Cincinnati OH (Class of 1853). He married and settled in Newport, NY where he practiced as a physician, including serving as the doctor for the Herkimer County Poor House. In August 1862, at the age of 42, Holt was appointed Assistant Surgeon of the newly formed 121st New York. He was the oldest member of the staff. He was captured on May 4, 1863 in the Union retreat to Scotts Ford. Holt received permission to care for Union soldiers at the Salem Church. Holt served until Oct 17, 1864 when ill health forced him to resign. He returned home and died Oct 15, 1868 at the age of 47/8. Holt is buried in Newport NY.
 
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