Number 123. Petersburg Campaign Report of Surg. T. Rush Spencer, U. S. Army, Medical Director

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

Numbers 123. Report of Surg. T. Rush Spencer, U. S. Army, Medical Director.1

HEADQUARTERS FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
MEDICAL DIRECTOR’S OFFICE,

April 30, 1865.

COLONEL: In compliance with instructions, I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the medical department of this corps from November 1, 1864, to April 30, 1865:

The corps remained encamped in the vicinity of the Yellow House upon the line of the Weldon railroad, some six or seven miles south of Petersburg, from the time of the battles by which this line had been secured on the 18th, 19th, and 21st of August. The hospitals of the corps, established at the same time near Parke’s Station, two miles in the rear, remained in the same position on November 1. The ambulance train had its park near the hospitals. The sites occupied for camp were such as were dictated by military necessity upon or near the battle-field. They were upon a thin, sandy soil, underlaid by clay, holding moisture and giving it forth readily under the rays of the sun. The general surface was flat and but poorly drained. The water obtained from springs or very shallow wells was necessarily bad. Wood of a second growth and sufficiently abundant. The troops, fatigued, worn, and exhausted by the severest campaign of the war-that from the Rapidan through the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Bethesda Church, Petersburg to the Weldon railroad-would have well nigh recovered, it would seem, from the effects; but the constant labor in the trenches, on forts, in the building of roads, together with daily and nightly exposure in rifle pits and the sleepless vigilance of picket duty, kept up the constant strain upon the physique, as well as morale of the men. The absence of anything like an abundance of fresh vegetables, the scarcity of soft bread, the noxious emanations from a soil saturated with decaying vegetable and animal matter, and that in a region noted for its malarious character, had its natural effect upon the health of the command, as seen in numerous cases of camp diarrhoea, malarious and typo-malarial fevers. The hospitals of the corps, placed upon slightly elevated sites, enjoyed the advantage of fair drainage, and, by means of wells, passably good water. The hospitals, it is perhaps unnecessary to remark, are organized by divisions, three

in number and one for the Artillery Brigade, each division hospital being an aggregation of regimental hospitals, which latter are entirely dispensed with. Each division hospital remains with its division, or all the hospitals are aggregated together, as rendered necessary or expeditious by the position of the troops, whether in camp or in battle. The hospitals were all well organized with their surgeons-in-charge, recorders, ward surgeons, commissaries, stewards, attendants, police parties, &c. The capacities of each hospital varied with the necessities of the case, though the average number of sick to be retained was expected to be limited to about 100. When exceeding that number, or cases of a protracted nature presented themselves, they were promptly sent to the depot field hospital at City Point. Whenever active operations were about to take place all sick were sent to the rear. So perfect were the arrangements that a few hours less time than it would take to ration the troops sufficed to clear the wards and have everything on wheels ready for a move. Hospital and medical supplies of all kinds were always promptly supplied upon requisition upon the medical purveyor, Army of the Potomac, in this respect affording a most agreeable contrast with the vexations of medical officers and the sufferings of the sick during the earlier campaigns of the war, where sometimes days and even weeks elapsed without even the most necessary articles being supplied.

The ambulance department, with all its invaluable aids in the care of the sick and wounded, was thoroughly organized and in excellent condition. During the winter the animals of the train were protected by excellent stables, which they continued to occupy until the movement began in March.

The building of tents for the men commenced early in the fall, and ere cold weather set in they were well sheltered. The command continued stationary until December 6, when, leaving its comfortable quarters, the corps started upon its mission of destruction to the Weldon railroad south as far as Belfield. Half the quota of ambulances, having the usual battle supplies, hospital stores, &c., and a hospital tent-fly in each, accompanied the troops. The weather upon this march varied from a gentle, sifting, warm rain on the first day to cold rain with sleet and high winds, ending in bitter, biting cold. The first day’s march was long and through mud, but so mild that many threw away blankets and overcoats and many were left behind. The marches were long and the labor of tearing up the road quite severe, and upon the setting in of those bitter nights of sleet, frost, and winds, the troops suffered extremely for want of shelter, blankets, and over-coats. The ambulances were all filled with the sick and foot-sore. No action of the infantry of the expedition having occurred, there were no wounded. Returning on the 12th, the corps went into camp between the Jerusalem plank road and Halifax road, in reserve. The hospital and ambulance department rejoined those portions left behind. Considerable increase of sickness, especially involving the chest, followed the exposure of this movement and the delay in retreating. Two of the divisions were on their return encamped upon low, marshy ground, which at every effort at its drainage seemed only to increase diseases of a malarious type by disturbing the decaying vegetable mold of the timber in which they were encamped. The medical department, by inspections, reports, and recommendations, made every effort to correct these evils. They were only remedied, however, by a complete change of camp, following the battle of Hatcher’s Run, the first week in February. During the period from December 12 until February a number

of cases occurred, presenting in their rapidly fatal course, as well as in the autopsic condition of the nervous centers, the usual phenomena of cerebro-spinal meningitis. The cases, however, were too few to more than attract attention by their novelty. They were observed to occur as a general rule in recent recruits. In other respects there was little to note during this period.*

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T. RUSH SPENCER,

Surg., U. S. Vols., Lieutenant Colonel and Med. Director, Fifth Army Corps.

THOMAS A. McPARLIN,

Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel and Surgeon, U. S. Army,

Colonel and Medical Director, Army of the Potomac.

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*For continuation of report, see XLVI, Part I.

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Source:

  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLII, Part 1 (Serial Number 87), pages 451-453

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