Official Records of the Rebellion

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

The Document

[179] March 29 the headquarters were transferred to the steamer Commodore, at Alexandria. While still at the wharf, the Sanitary Commission made application for three representatives of that association to be permitted to accompany the army and for facilities for transporting such supplies as they might think proper to send. The matter being referred to me, I agreed to the proposal upon certain conditions, which were accepted, and which I afterwards indorsed upon their official communication as follows: “The proposal of the Sanitary Commission has my concurrence, provided their agents shall consult with me before making issues to the troops, and that their reports shall be submitted to my inspection before they are transmitted for publication.” These terms were agreed to, but not observed. It is proper I should now give my reasons for imposing them.

The Sanitary Commission, through the courtesy of Dr. Wood, Acting [180] Surgeon-General, had been placed in a semi-official position by the Secretary of War, and had been active in soliciting and obtaining many comforts for the inmates of our military hospitals, which they were engaged in distributing very liberally wherever an opportunity offered. While the army was encamped at Washington I had no control over these issues. By urgent appeals to the patriotism of the people their store-houses were kept well filled. So long as we remained at Washington there could be no difficulty about transportation, and there was but little ground for apprehension that the supply would fail. When we moved to the Peninsula the case was altered. Holding the relation that body did to the public and to the army, we had a right to look to them for such supplies as our wounded might need, and which could be obtained from no other source. Moreover, I knew that every pound of transportation was an object in the field. I determined, therefore, to economize their resources, that they should not be unnecessarily squandered in the camps, but should be kept in reserve, when they could be commanded in any emergency, such as a battle or the fitting up a hospital or a hospital ship. I considered further that it was not honest to solicit these contributions from the public upon the plea of urgent necessity and then wasting where there was no necessity. The rich gave money. It was not proposed to distribute that, and it could not have been used upon the Peninsula if it had been. The poor gave the labor of their hands in making up articles of clothing and the like for the sick and wounded. They had a right to be assured that their contributions should be carefully and judiciously used. I had reason to believe that in many instances they had not been so used, and I desired to arrest this abuse if it really did exist, as well as to prevent it if attempted.

At the earliest solicitation of Mr. Olmstead I was afterwards induced to withdraw this stipulation, he assuring me that the contributions of the public were so large that they could not find store-room for them unless they were allowed to dispense them ad libitum, and that he would pledge himself to have at my command 15,000 sets of clothing and dressings at any time a battle should come off. At that time I was expecting about 6,000 casualties at Yorktown.

April 1 the headquarters left Alexandria and arrived at Fort Monroe on the 2d at 6 p. m. The next day 1 had an interview with Dr. Cuyler, and arranged with him for the reception of1,000 wounded in the hospitals under his charge. I had been in hopes of getting more room, but was convinced it could not be safely relied upon. On the 4th we marched to Great Bethel, and on the 5th, through a heavy rail, to a cluster of huts some 5 miles from Yorktown. On the 6th I visited Heintzelman’s position in front of Yorktown, inspected his hospital department, and found that his medical director, Milhau, had made excellent arrangements for his field hospitals in case of a battle. Some of the depots, however, proved afterwards to be within range of the enemy’s guns, and we were obliged to abandon them.

On the 7th I went to Ship Point and inspected the rebel huts there. We had then three large clusters of huts, most of them nearly new and in good condition—one at Ship Point, one about 4 miles from there on the road to Yorktown, and the third at our own camp, near the road to Fort Monroe. These, with a few small dilapidated meeting-houses and private dwellings, scattered from Young’s Mill to Cheeseman’s Creek, were afterwards used as hospitals. The accommodations afforded by these buildings, it was evident, would not be adequate to our wants, even with the 1,000 provided for at Fort [181] Monroe, in case of a severe action at Yorktown. The country, also, from Warwick Court-House to York River at our position was but a succession of swamps, that in warm weather would be too prolific of malarial poison to admit of our establishing military hospitals there. I therefore determined to arrange, if possible, with the department at Washington for the reception of all the wounded in excess of the 1,000 at some of the hospitals North. Colonel Ingalls agreed promptly to transport my men from any point on York River to such hospitals as I might indicate. With this understanding I telegraphed and wrote to the Acting Surgeon-General on the 14th of April. (See appendix O)

April 20 I received a reply from Dr. Wood, acceding to my proposal, and making certain suggestions as to sending certain classes of wounds to particular points. That seemed to me to be difficult of execution, if not impracticable. I had at that time made arrangements to keep a hospital steamer constantly at Cheeseman’s Landing for the reception of wounded only. It was necessary that this hospital should receive all the wounded indiscriminately.

On the 13th six eminent surgeons, deputed by the Governor of Massachusetts by authority of the Secretary of War, arrived in camp and offered their services. They were particularly charged to look after the Massachusetts Volunteers, but with a zeal as creditable as it was rare, and a patriotism as conspicuous as it was disinterested, they expressed their readiness and their desire to render their services wherever they could be most useful. The party consisted of Drs. Cabot, Hodges, Gay, Parks, Hartwell, and Homans. A part of these gentlemen were assigned to the Massachusetts troops in Sumner’s corps; the others fitted up a portion of the huts on the Ship Point road as a field hospital for the regulars. They had precisely the same means as every other surgeon had. With these means they were soon at the head of a model establishment for the field. After the evacuation of Yorktown and the battle of Williamsburg they repaired promptly to the town, and there rendered most important services to the wounded.

On the 19th Prof. Henry H. Smith, Surgeon-General of Pennsylvania, arrived with the steamer Wm. Whildin, completely fitted up with bedding, stores, instruments, a corps of surgeons and dressers, and a full complement of Sisters of Charity for nurses. He brought with him also the means of embalming the bodies of the dead. This kind office he cheerfully performed for numbers of men from other States. Surgeon-General Smith, upon being informed of my plans, entered into them with hearty good-will, and seconded them with an earnest zeal and a refreshing intelligence that showed he had not acquired his knowledge of hospital administration in Laputa. Soon after his arrival the steamer Commodore was assigned to me by the Quartermaster’s Department. Dr. Smith took charge of her equipment, and in a short time had her ready to receive 900 wounded. This vessel and the Wm. Whildin then became our receiving ships, one of which was to be constantly in position to receive the wounded.

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How to cite this article

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.179-181

web page Rickard, J (25 October 2006),

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