Official Records of the Rebellion

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

The Document

[189] At this time I found it necessary to ask that so much of General Orders, 102, March 19, 1862, as authorized commanders of corps to grant leaves of absence for fifteen days to medical officers should be rescinded. Fifteen days would take them home, but it was a rare thing to find them at their posts at the expiration of it. Notwithstanding we had under contract nearly a hundred citizen physicians, the regiments were scarcely much better provided than when we began to fill vacancies in this way. Several of the contract physicians themselves soon repented of their bargains and begged to be relieved. As their contracts could be determined at their own pleasure, I could only refuse to terminate them myself, but could not prevent their doing so. To obviate this inconvenience for a reasonable time, at least, I wrote to the Surgeon- General, to request him for the future to stipulate with these gentlemen that they should not terminate their contracts in less than three months. My suggestion was adopted, and we were thus enabled to retain several who would otherwise have left us. Desirous of leaving nothing undone to promote and preserve the health of the army at this critical period, I resolved to call upon the whole body of the medical officers for their opinions and advice. For this purpose I addressed to the medical directors a circular, under date of June 18, which will be found in the appendix X. I received before the final conflicts reports from several of these, and all agreed that nothing of any consequence had been left undone that the medical department could do. Better shelter for the men, less work, and in a few instances new clothing, were all that seemed to be wanting.

June 12 the headquarters were removed to the right bank of the Chickahominy, near Dr. Trent’s house. Some firing and shelling took place from day to day, but without any damage to us. On the 13th the enemy made a raid to our rear, doing but little harm. Our railway communications were not interrupted. On the 15th, the roads then for the first time admitting of it, I succeeded in transferring the remainder of the Hanover wounded to the floating hospitals at White House.

June 16 I took measures for providing a receiving hospital for the wounded at Savage Station, the headquarters of General Heintzelman. Dr. Swinburne, of Albany, N. Y., a surgeon known to me by reputation, and one who had rendered some service at White house and Fair Oaks, having reported to me under contract, I directed him to prepare this depot under the supervision of Surgeon Milhau, medical director of Heintzelman’s corps. Every facility was given Dr. Swinburne for this purpose, large details of men, all the tents we could command, abundance of subsistence, &c. There were several out- houses at the Station that were directed to be vacated; some sick in them belonging to Keyes’ corps were transferred to White House. An ice-house near Savage’s house was filled with ice. In twelve days, with a detail of 100 men, or as many of them as chose to report to Dr. Swinburne, succeeded in getting the buildings cleaned, 25 tents pitched, two or three caldlrons for making soup in position, water-casks prepared [190] and filled with water, hospital stores and dressings, and was prepared to receive the wounded.

June 17, 600 sick were ordered from White House to Yorktown, to make room for wounded I expected soon to be called upon to provide for. The same day the medical officers were ordered again to provide themselves with portable soup. Tents were also ordered to be pitched near the railway terminus at White House, for the reception of wounded upon the arrival of the cars.

On the 20th I visited White House again and inspected the arrangements. I met there Mr. Brunot, of Pittsburgh, Pa., who had come on with a party of well-qualified nurses to offer their services. No more devoted band, none perhaps so much so, had ever presented themselves. I quartered them temporarily upon the hospital steamer Louisiana. At the right time they repaired to Savage Station, performed ever-memorable service, and crowned their self-sacrifice by cheerfully volunteering to remain with the wounded we were obliged to leave in the hands of the enemy when we retired to James River.

Returning to headquarters on the 21st, I sent Dr. D. L. Rogers, of New York (who had rejoined me some days before, the hospital at Williamsburg having been broken up), to the left bank of the Chickahominy, to evacuate upon White House all the field hospitals upon that side. This duty was zealously performed, and all that could be removed were removed.

From this time events hurried on with great rapidity. I sent an order to the purveyor at White House to throw a large quantity of supplies upon Savage Station. By telegraph I received the reply that all was packed up and the boat ordered to fall back to West Point. This was exceedingly vexatious. We were tolerably well supplied, and I had, as before reported, a reserve of three wagon loads in my own camp; nevertheless this contretemps was a great disappointment and caused me much anxiety. In a few days the boat returned. As soon as I heard of it I repeated my order (June 27) and telegraphed also to the Sanitary Commission to send up supplies. The effort was made, but too late. On the 28th our communications were cut off. I received nothing from below but some hospital tents, and they came just in time to be burned or to fall into the hands of the enemy.

On the 25th we had a smart skirmish on our left. The wounded, who were very few, were sent to White House. On the 26th General McCall fought at Mechanicsville. This division had joined on the 18th, and I could not succeed in getting a report from it of any sort. The sick were sent into the camp at headquarters without notice, without a report, a nurse, or a crust of bread. I was obliged to send them to Savage Station, to occupy room I wanted for wounded men.

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How to cite this article

Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.189-190

web page Rickard, J (25 October 2006),

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