No. 8. Report of Surg. Edward B. Dalton, U. S. Army, Chief Medical Officer of Depot Field Hospital, including operations June 14-December 31, 1864.1
DEPOT FIELD HOSPITAL, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
City Point, Va., December , 1864.
On the morning of the 14th [June] a large proportion of the medical officers, the commissary, and the quartermaster, together with the purveying department and most of the hospital property, started down the Pamunkey en route from Jamestown Island, in the James River, which had been designated in your letter of the 12th as the probable rendezvous until further orders. A temporary delay was occasioned at Yorktown by the great reluctance of the captains of the purveying steamers Planter, Farmer, and Hugh Jenkins to proceed. Their objections were, however, overruled and we reached Jamestown Island on the afternoon of the 15th. Here orders were received through you to proceed to City Point and there establish the hospital depot.
On the 16th, upon reaching the pontoon bridge near Fort Powhatan, we were delayed, succeeded in getting above the bridge by means of a small boat and thence by tug to City Point on the 18th, just as a train of ambulances arrived, loaded with wounded from the assault upon Petersburg. These were at once attended to, and transportation to Washington procured for them, hospital transports being loaded for the purpose by Surgeon McCormick, U. S. Army, medical director of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina. The hospital property was at once unloaded and conveyed to the site selected and there put in readiness as rapidly as possible for the reception of wounded, who still continued to come in large numbers. This site, which is the one still occupied, is located to the south of the James River, one mile from City Point toward Petersburg. It is situated upon a broad plain extending from the Petersburg pike to the high bluffs overlooking the basin of the Appomattox, just at the junction of the latter river with the James. The plan of the encampment, which still remains essentially unaltered, was mainly devised by Doctor Phelps. Some irregularities occurred in its execution, in consequence of the embarrassment of laying out the camp and erecting tents at the same time that the presence of wounded called constantly for professional labor. By means of pontoons two temporary wharves were soon constructed at a convenient point a short distance up the Appomattox. These were for the exclusive use of the hospital, and were used respectively for the landing and issuing of supplies and for transferring wounded to the hospital transports. The services of the transports were immediately, and for a time, constantly in demand. Two of these, the Connecticut and State of Maine, were of sufficiently light draught to be able to come alongside the wharf. The De Molay could reach the mouth of the Appomattox and was there loaded by means of lighters. The Atlantic, Baltic, and Western Metropolis came no farther than Fort Monroe or Newport News and were there loaded by transfer from the Connecticut and State
*For portion of report (here omitted) covering operations from May 7 to June 13, 1864, see Vol. XXXVI, Part I, p.269.
of Maine. All rendered most efficient service, especially the Connecticut, which has been throughout the campaign remarkable for the promptness and energy displayed in her management.
The purveying department met all necessary demands with promptness and liberality. Nothing really essential to the care of the wounded was wanting. Bedsacks and blankets were supplied without stint, althout for a time bedsteads were dispensed with, excepting in the severer cases, a large proportion of the patients being placed upon sacks amply filled with straw and arranged upon the ground beneath the tents. None were without shelter. Drugs and dressings in abundance, hospital stores, ice, and even delicacies were constantly issued; cooking stoves, caldrons, and portable ovens were on hand in sufficient quantity for any emergency. Requisitions received prompt and full attention at all times. But a short time elapsed before the arrival of an abundant supply of bedsteads, when sheets and pillow-cases were at once made use of in all cases where they could essentially add to the comfort of the patient. The capacity of the hospital was rapidly increased until it became capable of accommodating 10,000 patients. At first these were mainly wounded, but as the season advanced and the prolonged duty in the trenches told upon the men, the proportion of sick became greater. Each successive engagement would fill the beds with wounded, but these, especially the severely hurt, were sent north as rapidly as possible, while the sick, as a general rule, were removed only when the character of the case rendered a change of climate essential to recovery.
The entire encampment now covers an area of some 200 acres and is composed of 1,200 hospital tents. The latter were originally pitched in groups composed of two tents and an intervening fly, and placed end to end. These groups are arranged in rows, side by side, divided by lateral interspace of fifteen feet in width between the individual groups. The ends of the groups abut upon streets sixty feet wide, running parallel with the river and meeting at right angles a main avenue 180 feet in width, which extends from the verge of the bluff directly through the center of the camp to the Petersburg pike. Since the approach of cool weather an entire tent has been substituted for the intervening fly in each group.
Shortly after the establishment of the hospital at this point, works were constructed by the quartermaster for supplying the encampment with water. Two steam-engines of four horse-power each were placed at the foot of the bluff at the edge of the river, whence they force water into a tank capable of containing 6,000 gallons, which is raised thirty feet above the level of the bluff and supported upon a strong wooden trestle-work. From this tank a conducting pipe of two inches diameter descends to the ground and is then conducted at a depth of eighteen inches below the surface along the main avenue. At right angles to this main pine smaller ones diverge at intervals and enter the various divisions of the hospital, where at the extremity of each pipe is a hydrant. These works, which were completed on the 6th of July, have proved entirely satisfactory. An abundance of river water was thus supplied for laundry, bathing, and other coarser purposes. Wells were dug in various parts of the hospital, and these, with numerous springs in the vicinity, afforded a plentiful supply for drinking and cooking.
For several weeks subsequent to the arrival at City Point no rain fell and the accumulation of dust became a source of the greatest discomfort. Bodies of troops and wagons were constantly passing along the main road, and the dust thus disturbed was borne in dense clouds
over and thought the camp, filling the tents and penetrating even the bedclothes. This matter was represented at the Surgeon-General’s Office and sprinkling carts applied for. Eight of these were promptly sent down from Washington and were immediately and constantly made use of. They afforded great relief not only in subduing the dust but also in moderating the intense heat of the atmosphere. As an additional means high, broad bowers were built continuously along the ends of the tents on each side the streets. For purpose of drainage each group of tents was surrounded by a trench eight inches in depth. From these trenches the water is conducted into ditches which run parallel to and to each side of the streets, and terminate by means of still large ones in various irregular ravines with which the ground is broken and which descends rapidly to the river. This system has proved entirely effectual.
It is impossible, by merely quoting the register, to convey an accurate idea of the number of sick and wounded who have received attention in this hospital. At Fredericksburg, at White House, and still later at City Point,hundreds passed through under circumstances which rendered it impracticable to register their names or even to accurately estimate their number. These instances occurred during or immediately subsequent to an engagement, when the accumulation of wounded and the constant calls for professional labor sometimes made it necessary to transfer at once from the ambulances to the hospital transports. In fact, as I have already stated, so unremitting were the professional duties of the medical officers during the first fortnight at Fredericksburg, that it was impossible even to prepare morning reports, and it was not until the 16th of May that even a numerical report was attempted. From that date to the present daily reports have been forwarded, and they show that from the 16th of May, 1864, to October 31, 1864, there have been received into this hospital and retained here under treatment for at least forty-eight hours, 68,540 sick and wounded officers and men. Of these 51,313 have been transferred to the various U. S. general hospitals at the North, and 11,706 have been returned direct from this hospital to duty with their commands. One thousand five hundred and sixteen have died. A large potation or other capital operations at the immediately front, while in a great many other cases similar interference was still necessary. The experience here has given the most convincing evidence in favor of primary operations in gunshot wounds.
The majority of the sick received during the summer have suffered from dysentery, diarrhea, and malarial fevers. A small proportion of cases of typhoid fever have occurred and a very few, comparatively, of pneumonia and milder diseases of the chest. The manifestations of malarial influences have, as a general rule, been of a mild character, and evidently owing in great measure to the prolonged exposure and hard service to which the men have been subjected in the trenches. In fact, very many of these do not properly come under the head of either of the recognized classes of malarious fever, but were rather cases of a depressed condition not ineptly expressed by the term malarial malaise. A large proportion of these recovered rapidly and entirely under the influence of rest, cleanliness, and good nourishment, together with moderate administration of quinine and iron. A number of cases have arisen within the limits of the encampment, but not in sufficient number or of sufficient severity to impair the efficiency of the hospital or to throw any doubt upon the propriety of its establishment
and continuance. On the contrary, the numbers who have recovered and been returned to duty within a few weeks after their admission, and without their removal to a distance from the seat of war, have proved this site a most eligible one.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
ED. B. DALTON,
Surgeon, U. S. Volunteers, Chief Medical Officer.
Bvt. Lieutenant Colonel T. A. McPARLIN,
U. S. Army, Medical Director, Army of the Potomac.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XL, Part 1 (Serial Number 80), pages 269-272 ↩