Report of Asst. Surg. Charles Smart, U. S. Army, Medical Inspector Second Army Corps, of operations October 1-31.1
HEADQUARTERS SECOND ARMY CORPS,
November 16, 1864.
DOCTOR: The following report for the month of October, 1864, is respectfully submitted:
By referring to the close of the report for September it will be observed that at the end of that month the troops composing this corps were under arms in the trenches in front of Petersburg, Va., and in hourly expectation of orders calling them to a more active field of service. The division hospitals had been depleted of their sick, and were in readiness to move whenever called upon to do so by any movement of their respective divisions. One-half of the ambulances and one medicine and one army wagon to a brigade were harnessed and hitched in accordance with orders. The wagons, as is usual under such circumstances, were loaded with a few flys, kitchen arrangements, and battle supplies. Under cover of the night of September 30 the Third Division was removed from the trenches and bivouacked in the woods in rear, the First and Second Divisions stretching out on the left to occupy the vacated works. On the following morning the liberated troops proceeded by rail to Yellow Tavern, from which they marched along the Squirrel Level road, past Poplar Spring Church, to the Peebles house, then General Warren’s headquarters. General Warren, with the larger half of the Fifth and Ninth Corps, was at this time pushing toward the South Side road. After some little delay at the Peebles house our Third Division was placed in position on the left of the line and retiring somewhat, so as to prevent the enemy from executing successfully his usual flank attack. The weather during this movement was very unpropitious, the rain on the 1st and 2nd of October having been continuous and heavy, the nights chilly and raw, and the roads so muddy as to render marching very disagreeable as well as laborious. The hospital of the Third Division, as soon as the troops had started on the cars, followed the course of the corduroy road until it reached the Yellow House, where it went into park until future developments should indicate a suitable position for its establishment. In the afternoon it was located and put into working condition in the strip of woods about midway between Yellow Tavern and the Gurley house. This position was selected because it was in the immediate vicinity of Warren Station, from which it was intended to send by rail to City Point whatever wounded might be received. The distance between this point and the position held by the division was nearly three miles, a distance which, if the troops became only lightly engaged, would entail no discomfort upon those wounded, but which in the case of a serious engagement would prevent the wounded from being removed from the field with the requisite celerity. In selecting this place it was therefore distinctly understood that should an engagement of moment seem imminent the hospital would move forward to the vicinity of the field. The First and Second Divisions in the meantime were occupying the works in front of the city. The former stretched from the Appomattox to Fort Morton, the letter connected on the left with the colored division of the Ninth Army Corps. At the beginning of the month the hospital of the Second Division was situated at the Southall house, that of the First at the Birchett house, but on the afternoon of October 1, when the Third Division hospital vacated the woods in rear of Deserted House to follow the troops to the left, the
First Division hospital was removed to the unoccupied camp, as the Birchett house during the pending operations was considered to be insecure. No heavy engagement took place on the left. General Mott’s division (Third) participated only in some active skirmishing, which yielded the hospital about seventy wounded. These were speedily dressed and sent by rail to City Point. On the 6th the division returned to its old position in the works on the left of the corps front. The hospital again assumed its position in the wood in rear of the Deserted House, the First Division hospital, which had occupied this ground for a few days, moving out to a house near Meade Station, which had been its location during the heavy assaults of the 16th and 18th of June, 1864, the situation of the troops and hospital of the corps remaining as they now existed until the night of the 24th. The Second and Third Divisions were then relieved from the works and massed for action under cover of the woods. The First Division stretched out to hold the line hitherto defended by the corps as a whole. On the 25th, as it was necessary to put the hospital in marching condition, the sick were sent to the Point depot. About 450 cases were also sent away who, had no movement been on the tapis, would perhaps have never appeared on the hospital records. They were men slightly indisposed, who were looked upon by regimental and brigade medical officers as unable with propriety to accompany the troops on the move.
At 2 p. m. of the 26th the Second and Third Divisions, accompanied by their hospital trains (the usual allowance of one-half of the ambulances and one medicine and one army wagon to each brigade), moved off toward the left. That part of the trains not permitted to follow the troops were sent within the defenses of City Point, there to remain until called for, or until the return of the troops. The line of march stretched through the woods by the Smith, Williams, and Gurley houses to Fort Dushane, outside of which the men bivouacked at night-fall. While here it was arranged, in order that the march might be more rapidly effected in the morning, that all trains permitted to accompany the divisions should remain at the Gurley house in park until their presence should be required at the front. To this order no exception was made of the wagons carrying medical supplies, so that when the line of march was again taken up the ambulances only accompanied the troops. Reveille was sounded about 3 a. m. of the 27th, and shortly afterward the march was resumed, the Second Division in advance. Leaving Fort Dushane the column moved along the Halifax road for about two miles and a half, when it struck off to the right along a narrow wood road leading to a crossing over Hatcher’s Run, a short distance below Armstrong’s Mill. An hour after daybreak the head of our column struck the enemy’s pickets, about a quarter of a mile from the crossing. They were immediately driven in and the works defending the passage of the run assaulted and captured. This success was achieved with loss of about fifty wounded, sufficient to load up al the ambulances present with the Second Division, fifteen in number. The medical director made application for permission to send these loaded wagons back to the Gurley house, so that they might be relieved of the wounded they carried, and to have them return immediately to the front, where their service might possibly be required. This was disapproved, on the ground that straggling parties of the enemy’s cavalry were now in our rear and might chance to interfere with the safe conduct of the train unless well guarded. Application for an armed escort was also refused. The wounded had, therefore, to be carried along with the troops toward the Boydton
plank road, which was struck early in the day near the Burgess house, where the run and the road intersect. The enemy was found in force at this point and disputed our farther advance. In an open field on the east side of and about half a mile from the Burgess house, was a small frame building, with outhouses attached, called Rainey’s. This seemed the most suitable position obtainable at which to establish a depot for wounded. The ambulances were instructed to unload here, and here the medical offices connected with the field division hospitals were ordered to report to dress the wounded and perform the necessary operations. This house was out of range of those guns brought by the enemy to bear upon the right and center of the line, but later in the day, as the medical officers were extemporizing operating tables for some cases that demanded operative interference, an attack was made by the enemy upon our left, where General Gregg’s cavalry were dismounted.
During this attack the house unfortunately was directly in the line of fire, and so near this part of the front that musketry reached it. A shell passed through the building, luckily without injuring any of the inmates. It became necessary to discontinue the preparations being made for operating. It became necessary even to have the wounded removed from this dangerous locality. The ambulances were accordingly loaded well, and were moved to a grove of a pine trees on the east side of the open space, where the exposure to the fire then existing was materially lessened; the stretcher carriers in the meantime, acting upon orders received earlier in the day, continued to bring in the wounded to this house, where the medical offices still remained to yield them what little assistance lay in their power. At one time during the attack on the left if seemed possible that the enemy might succeed in driving us back so far as to obtain possession of the house. In view of this possibility Surg. Fred. A. Dudley, Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers; Asst. Surg. W. T. Hicks, Seventh Virginia Volunteers, and Asst. Surg. W. J. Darby, Fifty-ninth New York Volunteers, volunteered to remain with the wounded collected there. Darkness shortly afterward set in and fighting ceased for the day. A couple of hours were passed in uncertainty, and then it became known that the struggle would not be resumed on the morrow. Preparations were made to have the troops withdrawn from the enemy’s front. The ambulances started first on the return toward the fortifications. They were escorted by a regiment of infantry, and were ordered to report at the Gurley house, where the medicine wagons were parked. The surgeons accompanying were instructed to form hospitals there, and to lose no time in performing the necessary operations, so that the wounded might be sent to the point by rail without delay. On account of the deficiency of ambulances all the wounded collected at the Rainey house had to be left there to fall next morning into the hands of the enemy. The medical officers who during the course of the afternoon had gallantly volunteered to remain with the wounded were, by order from the medical director, empowered to do so. The supplies left at their disposal amounted only to the contents of two or three of Chapin’s field companions, for on the field there was no other source from which to draw. The number of wounded left at the house and on the field amounted to perhaps 250. No communications on this subject have as yet been received form any of the medical officers left at Rainey’s. They are supposed to be still in the hands of the enemy. At 10 p. m. the troops commenced to move off, the Third Division in advance. The night was very disagreeable; it was intensely dark and rainy. The darkness and the state of the narrow road through the woods rendered the march
fatiguingly slow. They bivouacked on the banks of Hatcher’s Run near the mills, and early next morning, all the stragglers having come up with the main body, the march was resumed. Fort Dushane was reached, and after some delay the troops went into camp in rear of the fortifications, held during their absence by the First Division. At an early hour of this morning the wounded reached the Gurley house, where those requiring such proceedings were operated on. About 3 p. m. a train of cars left Warren Station with the majority of them. The few then remaining were sent to the depot at the Point by a second train, which started late in the evening. One hundred and seventy-five cases were sent away. The temporary hospital formed at the Gurley house was then broken up, and its constituent parts, Second and Third Divisions, followed in the track of the troops to their old locations, Second to Southall house and Third to the rear of the Deserted House. In this Boydton road engagement 1 medical officer was wounded, Asst. Surg. P. B. Rose, Fifth Michigan Volunteers, in the knee, a flesh wound; in the ambulance train 2 sergeants and 2 stretchermen were wounded; 2 of the latter were also captured; indeed, at one time all the stretcher-carriers attached to the Second Brigade, Second Division, were in the hands of the enemy, but with the exception of 2 they all effected their escape while captors were engaged with the First Maine Heavy Artillery. Three horses were shot. No property belonging to the medical (ambulance, of course, included) department of the corps fell into the hands of the enemy other than the two or three field companies left at the Rainey house. During the time spent by these two divisions at the Boydton road, the First Division (Miles’) was noisily engaged with the enemy in front of Petersburg. A few words concerning it are necessary:
On the morning of the 26th, the day on which the movement was inaugurated, the First Division hospital, then situated near Meade Station, was broken up. In view of the extreme caution displayed in having all trains belonging to the army removed to the fortifications at City Point, we considered this house too far to the rear–too much exposed, if not to the enemy in force, at least to straggling guerrilla parties. It was the intention, therefore, to move this hospital nearer the front to make it hug the breast-works as a protection from the implied danger in the rear, but a peremptory order from the major-general commanding the corps to have all the wagons and ambulances, save five of the latter belonging to this hospital, removed at once to City Point, prevented its formation anew. It was then decided upon to establish brigade hospitals in the bomb-proofs in and around the forts if an action with the enemy should call for their existence. To this end battle supplies in what the surgeon-in-chief considered to be sufficient quantity were taken out of the wagons and transported to the front. Medical officers were ordered in case of an engagement to rendezvous at certain fixed points, and the five ambulances at their disposal were informed of the localities. The division hospital train then moved off toward the Point with a steward in charge of the property, all the medical officers connected with the institution having for the nonce been ordered to the front. On the 27th some miniature assaults were made upon the enemy’s line. The few wounded resulting (twenty-five) were very satisfactorily treated in the brigade hospital. A lack of ambulances was the only drawback. Not that the number present was insufficient for the amount of work to be performed, but the uncertainty at first existing concerning the amount of casualties, in connection with the very small number of ambulances (five), created for some time a good deal of uneasiness.
Next day the wounded were sent to the Point depot, the division train was brought up, and the hospital re-established on its previous site. On the evening of the 29th the Third Division assumed the position it had vacated the commence the Boydton move. After dark on the 31st the First Division was relieved from the trenches by General Gibbon’s (Second) division. The First thus became a reserve to the others. It had orders to encamp in the neighborhood of the Southall house. This compelled the Second Division hospital to move, even had no change been rendered necessary by the position on the right taken up by the troops of its own command. It was moved accordingly to the house near Meade Station, which had in the meantime been vacated by the First Division hospital. To be within a reasonable distance of its command, the First Division, hospital had settled in an open space about half a mile in rear of the Deserted House. The position selected was good, an elevated sandy soil affording excellent natural drainage. During the interval elapsing between the termination of the movement by General Warren at the beginning of the month and the commencement of that on the 25th instant, which culminated in the affair at the Boydton plank, the troops were in comparatively comfortable quarters in the fortifications in front of Petersburg. Police duties were everywhere well attended to. The bomb-proofs were commodious and clean, most of them being furnished with raised bed places and with one or more brick chimneys, which latter acted as efficient ventilators. The men were well furnished with underclothing and blankets, a lack of which during the previous month had been the cause of much discomfort and not a few cases of sickness. A comparison of this month’s sick reports with those of September shows a decided decrease in the amount of sickness.
Corps sick rate for September (computed from regimental monthly reports of sick) … 52.42
Corps sick rate for October … 39.00
Number of sick sent from field to depot hospital, September … 1,564
Number of sick sent from field to depot hospital, October … 991
And this, although over 400 of those sent away during this month were only slight cases, such as could not with propriety accompany the troops on the march, and although at the same time the average strength of the command was increased by 3,000. This improvement, however, seems only to have affected the Second and Third Divisions, the First Division presenting as heavy a sick rate as during September.
The greater sickness prevailing in the First Division is attributed to the large re-enforcements of new men which the command has received within the past two months. During the month the cases of serious
sickness have been of typho-malarial fever. Cases of pure typhoid fever have not been seen, and unmodified intermittent have been equally rare. A very few cases of pneumonia have occurred, less than during the preceding month, probably owing to the full supplies of clothing and blankets drawn by the men after their experience of the raw weather of September. The great mass of the sick in the corps have been affected with diarrhea, which is looked upon in the majority of cases as owing origin to malaria.
There has been purchased during the month out of the First
Division hospital fund supplies to the value of ……… $1,106.00
Credit due hospital October 31 …………………….. 1,968.14
Purchased out of Second Division hospital fund ………. 233.16
The credit due this hospital on October 31 cannot be specified, as the books of the commissary still remain in some confusion, owing to the would inflicted upon Captain Denniston, commissary of subsistence, as mentioned upon report for last month.
Purchased out of Third Division hospital fund ………
Credit due Third Division hospital fund …………… $938.00
Purchased by Artillery, Brigade hospital …………..
Credit remaining Artillery Brigade hospital ……….. 80.01 2/5
Medical inspector’s report of the field hospitals of the Second Corps for the month of October, 1864.
Asst. Surg., U. S. Army, Medical Inspector Second Army Corps.
Surg. THOMAS A. McPARLIN, U. S. Army,
Medical Director Army of the Potomac.