Numbers 125. Report of Capt. William F. Drum, Second U. S. Infantry, Chief Ambulance Officer, of operations August 18-21.1
HEADQUARTERS FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
Weldon Railroad, September 1, 1864.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following, report of operations of the ambulance corps, Fifth Army Corps, during the recent occupation of the Weldon railroad:
At 4 a. m. August 18 the corps commenced its movement toward the railroad, which it was to occupy and hold. Eighty ambulances (one-half of the whole train) and one medicine wagon to each division were ordered to accompany the command, following in its rear. The remainder of the ambulances, with the heavy portion of the hospital and ambulance train, were left at the old ambulance park near army headquarters, under charge of a commissioned officer. Twenty-five hospital-tent flies were carried in the ambulances to be used as shelter for the wounded. The command reached the railroad about 10 a. m., after driving in and capturing a few of the enemy’s cavalry pickets, and immediately commenced destroying the track. The point occupied by the corps is about five miles south of Petersburg, four north of Reams’ Station, and six southwest from the Avery house. The enemy soon commenced making demonstrations from the direction of Petersburg, and later in the day made an attack in force. On the march to this point quite a number of men were so much affected by the heat as to be unfit for duty, and before the action commenced they were sent to the rear in ambulances. Orders were at the same time given to re-establish the hospitals on the old ground (the old hospitals having been packed up on the night of the 17th), and for the remainder of the ambulances to come to the front. During the action in the afternoon a few of the ambulances at a time were taken to a convenient point, as near the line of battle as possible, to which point the wounded were carried on stretchers. They were then conveyed in ambulances a half or three-fourths of a mile to the various depots for wounded established by the surgeons. After the action was over, and as soon as the wounded were dressed, they were sent to the rear to the hospitals. There not being a sufficient number of ambulances at the front to convey all the wounded, a few were left at the field depots under the tent flies till the next morning. Owing to the long distance back to the hospital and ambulance park, the ambulances sent back with sick and those ordered up did not reach the front till early on the morning of the 19th. Those sent with wounded the evening of the 18th also returned during the morning. Owing to the length of time it required to go to the hospitals and return, in consequence of the distance and soft state of the roads, the medical director of the corps ordered the hospitals to be moved up to a point on the plank road between the Jones house and the Williams house. The wounded left the day before were then sent back to the hospital.
At 3 p. m. on the 19th the enemy made an attack in strong force. The wounded of this day were carried on stretchers to the ambulances, as the day before. Our communication with the hospitals not being for a time safe, the ambulances with the wounded were parked till it was ascertained that road was safe, when they were sent back under charge of commissioned and non-commissioned officers. The last wounded brought in were started for the hospitals by midnight. Having had much rain the roads became almost impassable, even to ambulances, so
that it was with great difficulty that a train of wounded could be taken through. During the morning of the 20th all of the ambulances returned to the front, and were in readiness for action. The day, however, passed quietly. New roads were looked up to be used in case of necessity. On the morning of the 21st the enemy again made a determined assault on our lines, and were severely repulsed, leaving many of their wounded in our hands. The wounded men were carried back, as usual, on the stretchers, and after having their wounds dressed were placed in ambulances, and sent to the hospitals. The ambulances were this day under a severe artillery fire from the enemy.
During the three days’ fighting the ambulances conveyed from the field of battle to the hospitals of the corps, 773 of our own wounded, 30 of other corps (Ninth), and 153 of the enemy, besides about 300 sick sent to hospital on the 18th and 19th. Owing to the condition of the roads and the distance, it was considered impracticable to send any of the Fifth Corps ambulances to City Point. Our sick and wounded were, therefore, by direction of the medical director of the army, taken from the Fifth Corps hospitals to City Point by the ambulance train of the Sixth Corps, which duty was performed promptly and cheerfully. The large number of casualties is good evidence that the men of the ambulance corps did their duty well under fire. Great credit is, however, due the officers and men of this department for the untiring energy with which they worked day and night, in the rain and mud, in order to transport the wounded back to the hospitals as quickly as possible. It might be proper for me to state that it was not possible for the hospitals to be any nearer, it not being considered safe, and the roads being in such condition that it would have been almost impossible to have gotten the heavy hospital trains through them.
During the three day’s engagement 2 sergeants were killed, 1 sergeant and 5 stretcher-men wounded, and 19 stretcher-men missing, making the total number of casualties in the ambulance corps, 27. Eight horses were also killed, and shells passed through two of the ambulances.
I have the honor to submit, with this report, a list of casualties.*
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. F. DRUM,
Captain and Chief Ambulance Officer, Fifth Army Corps.
Surg. J. J. MILHAU, U. S. Army,
Medical Director, Fifth Army Corps.
*Nominal list (omitted) shows 2 killed, 6 wounded, and 19 missing.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLII, Part 1 (Serial Number 87), pages 455-456 ↩