The Peninsula Travel time of hospital transport ships during the Peninsula Campaign

letterreader

Private
Joined
Oct 16, 2016
My question isn't an exact fit for any of the forum categories, but thought I'd share it here as well.
For those of you interested in transportation, logistics, and hospital ships, I have a question for you. How long would it have taken one of the hospital ships transporting Union wounded soldiers from Harrison's Landing on the James River to Alexandria, Virginia following the Seven Days Battles? The reason I ask is because I have an ancestor who was transported by one at the earliest, on June 30, but more likely July 1 or 2, 1862. He was severely wounded at Savage's Station, late afternoon or early evening, on June 29. We know for certain from the OR by his Captain, Rufus Pettit, Battery B, 1st NY LA, that he was "strapped to a caisson" for the very long march to White Oak Bridge during the retreat (across the swamp). This was likely an unconventional way to transport the wounded but the main hospital at the Station was in chaos and an estimated 2,500 wounded were left behind. More than likely, after they crossed White Oak Bridge my wounded ancestor was transferred to some other means of transportation to make the remaining few miles to Harrison's Landing, in part because Pettit's Battery unlimbered their guns and was heavily engaged for several hours in the battle defending the crossing and opposing Jackson's troops who were threatening to cross, etc., a part of the fight at Glendale.

The last important detail to my question: I have a letter written to my ancestor's father, by someone working at Mt. Pleasant Hospital, informing him of his son's wounds. (He stayed there for several weeks, recovering, re-joining his battery just in time for Antietam!) The letter is dated July 1, 1862. I can't help think that the writer wrote an incorrect date as it seems highly unlikely a transport ship could make that trip in less than 24 hours (down the James River, around the bay to Fortress Monroe, up the Chesapeake, to the Potomac and to Alexandria. I believe under normal conditions a steamer might average 5 miles an hour, but with a ship full of wounded soldiers, staff, and supplies - that might be overestimated their speed. So, what are your own thoughts and calculations? Also, if you happen to know the names of the hospital transport ships leaving Harrison's Landing between June 29 and July 3, let me know. Thanks for listening.
 

ayh256

Cadet
Joined
Aug 20, 2020
Location
Virginia
So, to bring this old thread back up and speculate on this very interesting question, having grown up on and as a native on the Peninsula, I could probably provide you a little insight into this question. This seems to be a real specific question that not many others on CivilWarTalk could answer as it requires some knowledge of the geography of the Tidewater area and the Chesapeake in general. So, the first thing we need to remember is that Harrison's Landing is on the upper James River. A large hospital ship, like the one carrying your ancestor, most likely had the advantage of the downstream current. This would've definitely sped up the movement of the ship down the river despite its heavy load and variable, controlled speeds by the crew. The mouth of the James is quite large and porous as you reach Ft. Monroe leading out to the open Bay. That trip alone, if you add the speed of the steamer, the downstream current, and the gale force winds blowing on the wide river together would have most likely shortened the trip tremendously. The trudge up the Chesapeake, and inevitably the Potomac, may have been the hurdle as you're then having to deal with upstream currents leading out into the ocean past the Eastern Shore. I'd speculate that the steamer would've been able to have made the trip in a day or day and a half given you're cutting in half the time it takes to get through the first waterway. Look at the map and calculate the distances which should give you a rough estimate then divide by five if that's the speed of the ship -2 for good measure to accomodate the heavy load. I hope this helps you and good luck on your searches!
 

letterreader

Private
Joined
Oct 16, 2016
So, to bring this old thread back up and speculate on this very interesting question, having grown up on and as a native on the Peninsula, I could probably provide you a little insight into this question. This seems to be a real specific question that not many others on CivilWarTalk could answer as it requires some knowledge of the geography of the Tidewater area and the Chesapeake in general. So, the first thing we need to remember is that Harrison's Landing is on the upper James River. A large hospital ship, like the one carrying your ancestor, most likely had the advantage of the downstream current. This would've definitely sped up the movement of the ship down the river despite its heavy load and variable, controlled speeds by the crew. The mouth of the James is quite large and porous as you reach Ft. Monroe leading out to the open Bay. That trip alone, if you add the speed of the steamer, the downstream current, and the gale force winds blowing on the wide river together would have most likely shortened the trip tremendously. The trudge up the Chesapeake, and inevitably the Potomac, may have been the hurdle as you're then having to deal with upstream currents leading out into the ocean past the Eastern Shore. I'd speculate that the steamer would've been able to have made the trip in a day or day and a half given you're cutting in half the time it takes to get through the first waterway. Look at the map and calculate the distances which should give you a rough estimate then divide by five if that's the speed of the ship -2 for good measure to accomodate the heavy load. I hope this helps you and good luck on your searches!
I'm slow to respond, but thank you. The information on the James River current makes sense. Good to hear from someone who knows the area well. It may well be possible that my ancestor made it to the Alexandria Hospital in less than 48 hours. I'll do some more math! Thanks.
 

Arioch

Sergeant
Annual Winner
Joined
Dec 24, 2010
This could shed some light for folks to kick around; I have a diary from a soldier who was a participant in the 7 days campaign. Here are some entries and some paraphrasing about these water movements in relation to the original question.

Leaving for the Penninsula:

June 11: "We left our anchorage in the Rappahannock at daybreak....run to Yorktown, in the York river about 4 o'clock...took in coal..."

June 12: "We left our anchorage in the 'Pamunkia' river at day break...arrived at White House at 9 am...."

Return trip:

August 16: @ 9pm the troops board ship and cast anchor in Hampton Roads, off of Ft. Monroe...since it was windy, they stayed through the next day anchored, with steam up ready to go,...

August 18 / 19: they transferred, at midnight, to a different transport.

August 19: @ 9am 'weighed anchor at Ft. Monroe', then, 'run into Potomac river @ 8pm'.

August 20: 'arrived at Acquia Creek landing @11am'.

The last 2 dates here, are probably the most relevant to the original question. I thought the others might shed some light on general water movements at that time.
 
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