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NP: July 19, 1864 Richmond Examiner: An Opinion on Hospitals from Pickett’s Division


July 16th, 1864


Prolifick as are correspondents from the army in their communications, it is astonishing that the hospital arrangements for the sick and wounded rarely receive even a passing notice.  Charges and repulses; expected movements and vague speculations; manufactured or confused rumours, scarcely more reliable; exaggerated accounts of “our division,” or “our brigade,” or “our General, Colonel or Captain” can be read in “army correspondence” with as little difficulty as pig tracks COULD have been found in the lanes of the Virginia Valley.  But how the sick soldier, whose physical energies have yielded to disease or exhaustion, is treated; where he is removed; what comforts or discomforts he is subjected to, or how the wounded are cared for, seems a sealed book, which no one feels sufficient interest in to inform the publick about.  I cannot help thinking that, even at this exciting time, when all thoughts are directed to Maryland, there are still among your readers numbers to whom information of this character will be more than acceptable.  I shall, therefore, send you the how and where of the operations in this division.

The Medical Department is under the charge of surgeons and assistant surgeons, with such subordinates as may be deemed necessary—the surgeon ranking as major and the assistant surgeon as captain, and receiving pay as such.  At present, when the enemy may attack at any moment, a division hospital has been established some three miles in rear of our lines, and houses rented or impressed, I know not which, for the accommodation of those requiring medical attention.  The surgeons are located here, while the assistant surgeons remain with their regiments, to whom those complaining report, and who either send them for treatment to the division hospital—where the case requires it—excuse them from duty, where the disease is slight—or report them back for duty where they think sickness feigned.  It is thus seen that considerable and discriminating responsibility rests upon the assistant surgeons.  Carelessness or incompetency on their part may keep a good soldier in the hot trenches until a long spell is fastened upon him, or, still more melancholy, he becomes too far gone for remedies.  I do not believe, however, that such cases are by any means common, but, on the contrary, look upon them as exceedingly rare and exceptional.  The arrangements at the division hospital are under charge of the seniour surgeon in the division, Dr. Lewis, and from what I have observed and heard, I regard as good as could have probably been made under the circumstances.  The surgeons under his control cordially co-operate with him in alleviating the sufferings of the inmates.  It is usual to abuse doctors all over the world.  It is perfectly natural that every sick or suffering man should rail against the doctor who cannot relieve him, or who does not relieve him within the time he thinks he ought to be relieved.  Complaints of hospital arrangements are consequently not unfrequently unreasonable, and ANATHEMAS upon surgeons upon insufficient grounds.  My experience is that, as a general thing, these denounced officials are attentive to their duties, and discharge them faithfully and with as much sympathy as familiarity with suffering is likely to leave either with surgeon or any member of an army, where death and sickness is disrobed of its natural appeals by reason of its daily occurrence and constant existence.

The wounded—to continue the course of proceeding—are almost invariably sent to Richmond, unless the wound is very slight, where, if their homes be accessible, they are expected to be furloughed.  I believe that at present, the same rule is applied to the sick, whose recovery is likely to be protracted.

The most important REAL impediment in our medical departments is found in the scarcity of certain medicines really essential—such as a good article of Opium, Blue Mass, Dover’s powders, Sulphur, & c.  There is also a great demand for surgical instruments, especially pocket cases, which I learn, cannot be procured at all.  The importance of these latter, in case of wounded, cannot be overrated.  The want of them has not only caused much unnecessary suffering, but worse still, caused the death of many as brave a patriot as any that fell at Thermopylae, or perished upon the scaffold.  This state of things subjects the Government and the head of the Medical Department to just censure for it can easily be remedied.  We boast, from President Davis down to the six-by-ten village editor, or Cross roads collector of tithes, that the blockade is ineffectual.  We do ACTUALLY import the costliest articles of luxury from Europe, and yet surgical instruments and medicines are, it seems, unprocurable.  The Government can get these necessaries.  The neglect to procure them is absolutely criminal, and the failure to do so is an offence in degree and character compared to which attachment to favourites or squeamish clemency in regard to retaliation becomes excusable.  It is impossible to develop in full the callous heartlessness and palpable heinousness of this singular neglect, without using language perhaps too strong.

We have no rumours except such as you will doubtless receive from other and better informed sources.  Pickett’s division is panting to be sent to the North.  The old members feel that beneath the soil of Gettysburg heights moulder the bones of many an olden comrade, whose shadowy forms beckon them back and call for revenge.  The lapse of a few days will lift the veil.  To wait developments in Maryland and orders here is all, however, we can do.                             A PRIVATE.1

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  1. “Hospital Arrangements.” Richmond Examiner. July 19, 1864, p. 1 col. 3-4
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