OUR WOUNDED IN THE FIELD.
Admirable Arrangements of the Medical Department.
A medical officer in the Ninth Army Corps [IX/AotP], writing to a friend in this city, adverts to certain statements that had found their way into some of our papers, which appeared to accuse the Surgeons of the Army of the Army of the Potomac with neglect or incompetency. In order to do justice to the intelligence, the humanity and the zeal of the arm of the service to which he belongs he notices these insinuations as follows, and we are satisfied that his description is as applicable to the Medical Departments of the other corps of the army as it is honorable to his own:–
“I observe by papers reaching us a disposition to assert that the wounded have been neglected or not properly cared for in the present campaign. The papers referred to state that ‘wounded men arrive’ at various places ‘with black bandages and bloody, dirty, clothing,’ &c., and that many ‘men never have their wounds dressed,’ or that they ‘have a very offensive smell.’
If the papers complaining knew anything at all about wounds, they would know the folly of their remarks; and by making direct application to patients themselves, they would find that but very few indeed were uncared for, while many thousands have passed through the hands of our medical officers. Besides this, a marked difference exists between hospitals in cities and those in the field. In the former all is quiet, cleanly and comfortable, and many luxuries abound. In the latter supplies are necessarily limited to such stores as are absolutely required, and instead of the calm and peaceful and abundant surroundings of home, we are in the midst of all the horrors and changes of the battle-field. I will give you a sketch of the organization of a Division Hospital, and you may judge for yourself as to its completeness. Take as an example the Hospital of the Second Division of the Ninth Corps.
This division contains thirteen regiments, comprising twelve thousand men. The medical staff consists of1 a Surgeon-in-Chief of Division, Dr. [WILLIAM G.] WEBSTER, Ninth New Hampshire. There are two brigades in the division, under Dr. [THEODORE S.] CHRIST, Forty-fifth Pennsylvania, and Dr. [JONATHAN S.] ROSS, Eleventh Hew Hampshire. All the regiments send their wounded and sick to the Division Hospital. Since the 5th ult. [May 5, 1864, the start of Grant’s Overland Campaign] the organization has been as follows:–With each regiment in the field one Assistant Surgeon is stationed, and the other medical officers of the regiment are at the Division Hospital. Two operating tables are established in the hospital, and the sick are under the charge of Assistant Surgeon [FRANCIS N.] GIBSON, Ninth New Hampshire. At one table, as operators, are stationed Dr. [JAMES] HARRIS, Seventh Rhode Island, Dr. [LYMAN W.] BLISS, Fifty-first New York, and Dr. TRAFTON2, Thirty-second Maine. The operators at the second table are Dr. [SHERMAN] COOPER, Sixth New Hampshire; Dr. [WILLIAM R. D.] BLACKWOOD, Forty-eighth Pennsylvania, and Dr. [P. O’MEARA] EDSON, Seventeenth Vermont. All the important operations are performed by the above-named surgeons, and they also attend to as many minor cases as their time will permit.
One Assistant Surgeon, Dr. [ELIHU P.] PIERCE, Sixth New Hampshire, is R[eceiver?] and he has a Steward to aid him. Chaplain DOVE3, Sixth New Hampshire, with an assistant, has charge of the Commissary Department; and to Chaplain [EDWARD T.] LYFERT4, Eleventh New Hampshire, is intrusted the duty of interring the dead. Those Assistant Surgeons who attend their respective regiments in the field are stationed about three hundred yards, or less, in rear of the line; and all the other Surgeons and their assistants are on duty at the Hospital. A corps of thirty-nine nurses is provided, all of them good and tried men; and in addition to this, there is a Pioneer and Construction Corps. These men have packs, shovels and axes, and they prepare good roads to the Hospital, bridging over streams, and making paths over swamps, or low places, for the easy carriage of the wounded. The situation of the Hospital is always chosen with reference to shade, good water and dry ground; and when no road runs to the place selected, the Pioneer Corps speedily prepares one, even to the clearing away of under-brush in woods, where this may be necessary.
On the arrival of the wounded, each man’s name is entered in the register, and a white piece of bandage is tied in the patient’s button-hole, to show that his name, rank, company, regiment and injury have all been recorded. Should an operation be required, it is performed immediately, if possible; but when several hundred are on hand, the worst cases are, of course, taken first. The medical officers who are not on the operating staff act as dressers, and the wounded are always attended to every morning, after breakfast. After severe engagements, as in the Wilderness, at Spottsylvania, and the Ny River, one, and sometimes both, the operating tables will be in use all night. A medical officer is on duty, with his nurses, at night, from 9 P. M. till midnight, when he is relieved by another, who attends till 3 A. M., and he in turn is followed by another who remains on duty till 6 A. M., when the whole department commences their duties for the day.
Such is an imperfect description of the hospital of this division, and as to its efficiency, General BURNSIDE remarked a few days ago that “he had never known the wounded to be attended so well before.” When opportunity offers, men are removed to Washington by the usual means of transit.
The reason why dressings get black, is this—All wounds discharge pus. Adhesive plaster contains oxide of lead. The [sulphetted?] hydrogen evolved from the pus of a wound unite with the oxide of lead, and forms the sulphuret of lead, which is black, but not at all injurious. It is easily washed off by water. All dressings will get hard, bloody and dirty by transportation over dusty roads, and in such hot weather as has lately prevailed. Now, as the other divisions have their hospitals arranged in a similar manner, and the duties connected with them are equally well discharged, what just ground for complaint could truly exist? Some slightly wounded men, no doubt, make their way to Washington, who may expect that in a few days they would be returned to their regiments if they remained. Such men, of course, do not present a good appearance, but who is to blame?
I find that I have not adverted to the ambulance train of the Division, which consists of forty-two two-horse ambulances, under the charge of three lieutenants. Each ambulance has a lantern, beef, tea in cans, bed ticks, cups, spoons, and plates for six men so that in case of detention the men cannot suffer. Two “medical wagons” are also provided. They open at the ends and sides, and contain every needed medicine and appliances in drawers, boxes and [slides?], so neatly fitted that there is no breakage. Two wagons additional are expected, and others to transport medicines in bulk for use in long marches during the campaign.
The foregoing is a simple narrative of facts, and the relatives and friends of our brave heroes may rely with confidence on the skill, the diligence and the humanity of the devoted band of medical officers who are enduring hardships in the field for their sales. The medical records of our army, when contrasted with those of the French, the British or other European forces, show incontestably how vastly superior in skill and attention to duty our surgeons have shown themselves, while the benevolent and Christian agencies that have come to their aid have never had a parallel in any age or any land.5
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: I found a nice reference work entitled Roster of All Regimental Surgeons and Assistant Surgeons in the in the Late War, With Their Service, And Last-Known Postal-Address by N. A. Strait, which was used by the United States Pension Office. The Christian names and middle names added to this article were taken from this book. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This gentleman was not listed in the book I mentioned earlier. I also could not find a satisfactory hit using online searches. If you can identify this man, please Contact Us. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I could not find a Chaplain Dove in the roster of the 6th New Hampshire. If you can identify this man, please Contact Us. ↩
- SOPO Editors Note: I found Lyfert’s name in a postwar regimental history of the 11th New Hampshire. ↩
- “Our Wounded in the Field.” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA). June 25, 1864, p. 3 col. 2-3 ↩