Official Records of the Rebellion

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports

The Document

Split 1: Introduction

No. 10.

Report of Surgeon Charles S. Tripler, U. S. Army, Medical Director, Army of the Potomac, of operations from March 17 to July 3.

DETROIT, MICH., February 7, 1863.

GENERAL: In compliance with your instructions I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the medical department of the Army of the Potomac during the time I was connected with it as medical director:

This time naturally divides itself into two periods: The first (Part I appears in Series I, Vol. V, pp. 76—113) embracing the time from the beginning of the organization of that army to that of its taking the field; the second from the latter time to the completion of the change of base to Harrison’s Landing, on the James River.

* * * * * * *


The army being about to take the field, certain measures preparatory to the movement suggested themselves.

I may mention here that a great deal of presumptuous intermeddling with the medical department of this army occurred from time to time. [178] Sensation preachers, village doctors, and strong-minded women, suddenly smitten with a more intimate knowledge and thorough perception of the duties and administration of the medical department of an army than I had been able to acquire in more than thirty years’ experience and study, obtruded their crude suggestions, and marring when they could not make, and paralyzing when they attempted to quicken, succeeded by their uninformed zeal, innocently enough, perhaps, but not the less unfortunately on that account, in defeating measures I had much at heart, had carefully contemplated, and intended to carry into effect at the proper time.

There were a number of medical officers of the army on duty in the hospitals in Washington who in my opinion ought to have taken the field when the army moved, and it had always been my intention to put them there at that time; but while the hospital system was being organized their services were required in instructing others without military experience in the method of administering those establishments, that they might be made capable of carrying them on when the public service should require the regular medical officers in the field. In the middle of January some members of the Sanitary Commission undertook to regulate this matter for me, by urging that citizens should be employed in the hospitals and the army surgeons sent into the field, at the same time asserting that citizens were as capable of performing the hospital duties as the officers—a matter about which they knew nothing, and as to which they were not called upon to express nor competent to form an opinion. In the end I was defeated in this very matter. I might, perhaps, have accomplished it if I had been let alone.

Early in March the sick were removed from the field to the general hospitals. Convalescents were left in the camps, that they might the more readily be returned to duty when well, arid that they might form a part of the garrison of the works when the army was put in motion. Instructions for the government of the medical officers in battle were prepared, in which minute directions were given as to the manner of forming field depots for the wounded, the organization of the parties of medical officers to serve at each, the methods of preparing for the refreshment and professional care of the wounded when brought in, the distribution and employment of the Ambulance Corps, &c. I succeeded in getting a small supply of portable soup from the subsistence department, which was distributed to the regimental surgeons, and its use strictly limited to times of battle.

The different regiments being all supplied with medicines, stores, hospital tents, &e., and a wagon each to transport their supplies, and the sick requiring it having been removed from the camps to the hospitals, the army, so far as my department was concerned, was ready to move. On the 11th day of March it was put in motion for Fairfax Court-House. The enemy having disappeared from our front a return to Alexandria was ordered, and after an interview with yourself, in which I received instructions to govern me for further arrangements, I left Fairfax Court-House for Washington at night-fall of the 14th of March.

In the mean time orders had been issued in Washington limiting your command to the Army of the Potomac in the field and organizing that army into corps. The latter order so changed the organization as to make it necessary and expedient to assign an experienced medical officer to each corps as a medical director, the idea of a corps d’armée being that it should be a complete army in itself. Here I intended to bring in the senior medical officers of the army in the hospitals in [179] Washington as medical directors. I intended so to distribute them; to break up the Washington arrangements; to send purveyor as well as hospital surgeon into the field—in short, to transfer everything in Washingtonto Fort Monroe, whither you informed me we were to proceed. On my arrival in Washington the Surgeon-General informed me that he had resumed the control of hospitals and purveyor; that I must use my inspectors for medical directors, and appoint another purveyor, as the one in Washington could not be spared. I was further informed that I could not strip Washington of supplies; that I could take part of what was there, and that the remainder of what I wanted would be ordered from New York to meet me at Fort Monroe. I was obliged to acquiesce. I then addressed to the Surgeon-General the letter in the appendix marked M.

A medical purveyor was appointed and ordered to report to me from Baltimore. This officer promptly obeyed, but was in too feeble health to undertake the duty. I then substituted Asst. Surg. R. H. Alexander, of the Army, who entered upon and continued to discharge the duty up to the time I was relieved at Harrison’s Bar. The medical directors were assigned to corps as follows: Keeney to Sumner’s, Brown to Keyes’, Milhau to Heintzelman’s, and Magruder to McDowell’s. Keeney and Milhau had been my inspectors, and had acquired valuable experience as such during the tour months they had been employed on that duty. I had left Keeney in Washington to attend to the business of my office during my absence at Fairfax Court-House. Sumner’s corps, to which he was assigned, having been left for a time in the vicinity of Manassas, Keeney remained behind when I joined at Fairfax Seminary. Without consultation with the headquarters of the army to which he belonged, he was relieved and J. F. Hammond substituted. This officer joined General Sumner promptly and conducted the business of his department well, but I cannot help complaining of the act itself as inexpedient and unjust. I remonstrated against it at the time upon principle, but without avail.

The medical directors having been finally arranged to the corps, I prepared for their use the instructions in the appendix marked N.

On the 17th March I saw General Van Vliet in Washington in reference to ambulances. He told me that 36 four-wheeled were then en. route from Perryville for Fort Monroe; that he would send 86 more from Washington, and 140 two-wheeled in addition to those then in possession of the regiments. This was the best that could be done. Those from Perryville reached Fort Monroe in good season, and were distributed by Captain Sawtelle, and the others did not arrive until from April 9 to May 1.

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How to cite this article

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.177-179

web page Rickard, J (25 October 2006),

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