Number 92. Siege of Petersburg Report of Surg. T. Rush Spencer, U. S. Army, Medical Director, of operations February 5-April 30

   

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No. 92. Report of Surg. T. Rush Spencer, U. S. Army, Medical Director, of operations February 5-April 30.1

HEADQUARTERS FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
MEDICAL DIRECTOR’S OFFICE,
April 30, 1865.

COLONEL: *

On the 5th of February we were again ordered to move with our flying hospital, leaving the balance of the hospital train, &c., behind. On reaching Rowanty Creek the enemy made a sharp and determined resistance to our crossing. We had some fifteen wounded. These were immediately sent back to our hospital, left at Parke’s Station. Effecting a crossing, building bridges, &c., consumed some hours. Evening found us at the Quaker road, down which we marched during the night (to reach Hatcher’s Run early in the morning), after a day and a night without rest of officers and men.

The cold was the most intense encountered in any movement during the winter. The men had hardly time to prepare a hasty dish of coffee when they were ordered forward to attack the enemy, with varying fortune. Night left much of the field of battle of the 6th in possession of the enemy. So promptly and so thoroughly had the wounded been removed from the field that when recovered next morning very few were found to have been left unsecured or in the hands of the enemy. The hospitals of the corps were promptly established at the Cumming’s house, a mile to the rear of the run. Here every attention was rendered, the medical officers never resting until every man was fed, dressed, or operated on, as the case required, and loaded into the ambulances. They were at once conveyed to the railroad at Patrick’s Station, numbering 502.

The battle of the 7th, a brief one, resulted favorably to our arms. Promptly the wounded were aging placed in the hands of the untiring surgeons; again and again the field and woods were gleaned by the faithful stretcher-bearers, until all were cared for.

Another night and morning of unremitting labor, and 184 wounded were on their way to the depot hospital.

The corps went into camp in the immediate vicinity, on a high, dry, and rolling surface, with good water and plenty of wood. The benefit of the improved site of our camps was immediately visible in the prompt disappearance of intermittent and kindred diseases.

The hospital were all removed from Parke’s Station and each placed in the more immediate vicinity of its own division. They soon vied with each other in increased comforts for their sick and in external ornamentation. Again a period of rest, under favorable sanitary conditions, prepared the troops for that short, sharp, and decisive campaign which was in fact to finish, not only the great, but the greatest rebellion. During this period of rest all reports were brought up, property unfit for further use, or in excess, turned in, and all deficiencies supplied. The ambulance and hospital train was also put in complete order for the spring campaign. After the maximum of supplies had been laid in, an order reducing the transportation left no alternative to the overburdened wagons, in our hurried marches over the worst of roads, but to abandon more or less of the supplies deemed necessary

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*For portion of this report here omitted, see Vol. XLII, Part I, p. 451.

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to the emergencies of a campaign. Fortunately the reserve supplies of the medical department came so promptly to supply all deficiencies that never for a day was there any lack.

The field hospitals were once more cleared, the flying hospitals separated, the ambulance boxes filled with their battle supplies, when, on the morning of March 29, we once more took up our line of march. One-half the ambulances and the flying hospitals accompanied the troops, the balance remaining back with the heavy train. Crossing Rowanty Creek along the stage road to Quaker road, thence passing along the Quaker road, we nearly reached the Boydton plank road to find the enemy, about 4 o’clock, in position. Immediately a very sharp engagement ensued, resulting in driving the enemy back into his works.

As rapidly as possible a hospital was established at a house (name never certainly known, but said to be called Spain house) near the Quaker Church on Quaker road. Fort he first and only time the battle supplies of the ambulance boxes came into requisition. Soon the wounded began to reach the hospitals, operating tables were extemporized, and regimental supplies of dressings were seized upon, until the restriction against bringing any wagons across Gravelly Run was removed by the success at the front. The engagement was sharp, the wounded numerous; but all were promptly dressed and comfortably provided for in the several hospitals. By 7 a.m. the wounded were on their way to the railroad at Humphreys’ Station, over roads rendered almost impassable by rain and travel. The following day was occupied in advancing our lines and constructing defenses, slight skirmishing only taking place.

On 31st our whole corps again took the advance. The Second and Third Division, driven back, being supported by the First Division, soon forced the enemy to retreat with considerable loss. During the night the corps was massed near the Boydton plank road, and its Second Division sent to the support of General Sheridan toward Dinwiddie Court-House. The other divisions, marching by another road converging, brought all the divisions into the engagement of the Five Forks, where, in conjunction with General Sheridan’s cavalry, under whose orders we had been placed, a most decisive battle was won, resulting in the capture of many guns and several thousand prisoners. Our wounded, though considerable, by no means equaled in number the loss in the fight of the Quaker road.

A hospital was promptly established at the Methodist Church on the White Oak road. From here some patients were sent to Humphreys’ Station, some to Quaker Church hospital. Both hospitals were promptly broken up. All that were not disposed of when the pursuit of Lee began on the 2nd, were brought forward to Sutherland’s Station, on the South Side Railroad. Here they were left in fourteen hospital tents, with a surgeon and all necessary supplies, the balance of the hospital train, and the ambulances hastening after the troops.

Owing to the rapidity of the march, the condition of the roads, and the cutting of the trains by troops, much anxiety was felt left the delays should be detrimental; but on the 5th, at Jetersville, our trains all reached us and remained with us.

By marches, varying from twenty to thirty miles between and 2nd and 9th, we reached the vicinity of Appomattox Court-House to find the enemy driving General Sheridan’s cavalry, with the intention, as we afterward learned, of breaking through and continuing their retreat. Right promptly General Sheridan put our Second Division into line on our extreme left, nearest the Twenty-fourth Corps, while in person he

superintended the advance of the First Division and the artillery. As the skirmishers advanced they rapidly encountered those of the enemy, but were promptly followed by the line of battle. As they rose the crest of the hill, overlooking Appomattox Court-House, the already demoralized rebel army and their despairing general gave up all hope and fell back into the valley, his last ditch, and speedily sued for terms of surrender. By 3 o’clock the troops were in camp, and we had gained a bloodless victory. The great joy of the men seemed to save them from the ill effects naturally to be expected from such unprecedented marching.

From the 9th to the 15th we remained at Appomattox Court-House, receiving the surrendered property of the rebels, viz, 157 pieces of artillery, 71 battle-flags, 17,000 stand of arms, and 26,115 prisoners. On the 15th we started for Nottoway Court-House, which we reached on the 20th, relieving the Ninth Army Corps in the duty of guarding the railroad from Burkeville to Sutherland’s Station. For the remainder of the month the corps continued at this point; the usual amount of sickness, presenting no peculiar feature, attended our stay.

Inclosed herewith please find reports of surgeons-in-chief of divisions and artillery brigade, as well as of the medical inspector of the corps. To these, in addition to the daily, weekly, and monthly reports, I beg leave to refer for the detail of operations.

I cannot close this report without expressing in warm terms my appreciation of the great fidelity and ability with which those several officers have performed their respective duties. In addition to these should be mentioned with especial commendation the surgeons in charge of the several division hospitals, viz, Joseph Thomas, surgeon One hundred and eighteenth Pennsylvania Volunteers, in charge of First Division hospital; H. C. Dean, One hundred and fortieth New York, in charge of Second Division hospital; H. Strauss, One hundred and fiftieth Pennsylvania Volunteers, in charge of Third Division hospital.

With rare exceptions the medical service has been well and faithfully performed.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

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

Bvt. Lieutenant Colonel THOMAS A. McPARLIN,
Surg. U. S. Army, Colonel and Med. Director, Army of the Potomac.

Source:

  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLVI, Part 1 (Serial Number 95), pages 263-265

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