Official Records of the Rebellion

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

The Document

[186] This being the new base of operations, it was necessary to establish a general hospital there. There were no buildings at all fit for the purpose, so to meet present necessities I resorted to the use of tents. A detail was ordered to pitch them. It was sluggishly furnished and most inefficient when it reported. Under the superintendence of Brigade-Surgeon Baxter, one of the best officers in the service, with 150 men we succeeded in two days work in getting but 34 tents pitched. At the end of four days 100 were ready—all we could command. Cooking caldrons were got in readiness, subsistence procured, bed-sacks filled, &c., without delay.

The army being again in motion, more sick and a multitude of stragglers rushed in upon us. Our store-ship and the hospital transports being up, I detailed the Daniel Webster No. 1 to convey a party of the worst cases to Boston. These men were ordered to be selected with great care from those in the hospital tents. Two hundred and sixty was the number to be received. Before one-half this number was sent from the hospital the ship was reported filled. Stragglers had rushed on board without authority and taken possession. I sent a brigade surgeon to expel them, but without avail. I then determined to send no more men from the Peninsula on account of sickness if there were any means of avoiding it. Orders in relation to the selection of cases were useless. I am sure that hundreds of malingerers succeeded in deserting their colors on the hospital transports in spite of every effort of mine to prevent it. The regimental officers might have prevented it. I could not.

After the 260 had left on the Daniel Webster I found 1,020 in the hospital tents, and of these 900 were reported to me by the medical officers in charge as men with such trifling ailments that they should never have been permitted to fall to the rear. A letter to the medical director of Keyes’ corps (appendix S4) will show how I endeavored to prevent such abuses. Another, marked S5, shows the capacity and organization of the general hospitals at White House and Yorktown.

Much censure and abuse having been indulged in toward you as well as myself for not having appropriated the dwelling at White House to the general hospital, I append a copy of a special report made to you on that subject. (See appendix T.) While still at White House, I received a telegram from the front that scurvy had appeared in two brigades of the army, one of these being the regulars. I could scarcely credit the accuracy of the information. I knew that that brigade had obeyed orders issued in relation to the use of vegetables and the manner of cooking their rations. Still I did not think it prudent to disregard the report, and accordingly I telegraphed to Washington for lemons and potash. I procured a few boxes of lemons from the stores [187] of the Sanitary Commission at once, and carried them with me to the front. Having set the hospital at White House in motion, Brigade Surgeon Baxter in charge, I loaded three wagons with hospital supplies, and on the 21st May started once more in pursuit of the army. I found headquarters at Tunstall’s Station. The next day they were advanced to Cold Harbor. Here I investigated the report with regard to scurvy, and found it to be erroneous. I, however, requested the Adjutant-General to compel the men to use desiccated vegetables, and to make and use soup daily unless that were rendered impossible by reason of being actually on the march; the use of fried fresh meat to be absolutely forbidden; boiled or roasted beef to be substituted.

On the 23d I returned to White House, and the next day proceeded to Yorktown to inspect the hospitals there. I found them in want of some articles of clothing and bedding, but generally in good order and well arranged. One of them, in the Nelson House, with Miss Dix for housekeeper, was very neat. On my return I inspected the hospital ships, made arrangements for completing their equipments, and directed the Sanitary Commission to send 1,000 shirts, 300 wrappers, 300 pairs of slippers, and 1,000 sheets to the Yorktown hospital. I then inspected the hospital at White House, made contracts with nineteen physicians from Massachusetts (sent promptly by the Surgeon-General of that State in answer to a telegram from me), placed eight of them on duty at White House, and sent the remainder to Yorktown to relieve as many regimental medical officers, who were forthwith ordered to their regiments. I found stragglers still coming into the hospitals—some really sick, who said they had been sent by their surgeons. On my return to headquarters I met 125 just coming into Dispatch Station to take the train—sent down in ambulances in direct violation of the standing orders of the army. I inspected these men on the spot, and sent a number back to their regiments. When I reached my tent I again brought this matter to the notice of time headquarters, feeling convinced we should soon have no army unless this practice was arrested. (See appendix U.)

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How to cite this article

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.186-187

web page Rickard, J (25 October 2006),

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