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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

Battlefield Dispatches No. 260: Report on post hospital conditions

Friday, April 8, 2011

Some time ago, David Haimerl, who is a very good friend, fellow researcher and historian discovered the following 1862 description of the hospitals in Fort Scott at the end of the second year of the Civil War. One of the joys of studying the Civil War is that most folks who do this are happy to share the new "old" information they have discovered. Such is the case with the following report which would have remained buried in the pages of the Sept. 26, 1862 edition of the Leavenworth Conservative Newspaper if not for David's eagle eye and extraordinary patience in reviewing and reading microfilm.

"Report of the condition of the sick at the hospitals at Fort Scott"

To the ladies and Soldiers Aid Society of Leavenworth, Kan.:

As a delegate from your society and in compliance with the request of your officers, seconded by the Sanitary Commission of this department, I have the honor to lay before you a report of the condition of our sick and wounded as I saw them on my recent visit to Fort Scott.

In Field & Post hospital, we found nearly 500 sick and wounded; of the latter being in number, owing, I presume to the enemy being, "Like the circle, bounding earth and skies Allurea from far, yet as we follow flies."

Sunstroke, rheumatisms and fevers (typhoid and brain) were the prevailing diseases, mostly contracted on the Southern expedition. In one company, there was but one reported for duty. Their sufferings on the march were very severe. Without water and exposed to a scorching sun with the mercury at 120 degrees, no wonder that disease thinned their ranks and claimed a greater percentage of victims than has yet the battlefield.

At the Post Hospital, we found not far from 200 patients occupying three separate buildings. These were divided into wards, each containing from 20-25 patients, not including the upper halls which were also filled.

We were accompanied by the surgeon and head nurse. Both seemingly happy to answer all our inquiries, giving us many items of interest. I noticed many countenances brighten at the approach of "Aunty Sally's" happy face. It seemed to reflect sunshine wherever she turned. She called them "her boys" and said as duty hurried her from one to another, she sometimes found trembling hands grabbing hr skirts, striving to detain her and her heart ached that she could not do more.

How many women in our land are at the present time giving all their strength and energies to this noble work? This is indeed a holy mission -- one that angels may love to look down upon, God grant that they by their kind care may be raised from their beds of pain and languishing to again take up arms in defense of "Liberty and Union."

In conversing with them, they almost universally gave testimony to the good care and attention. To every 10 patients is detailed one male nurse. The wards were clean, and now with open doors and windows, well ventilated. But the thought arose in my mind that in winter, with the present arrangements, it would be impossible to have that free circulation of pure air which is so essential to health.

We accepted the invitation to go to supper with the nurses and convalescent. It consisted of tea, coffee, veal stew, bakeria bread, butter, apple and plum sauce and rice. There was an abundance well served with neatness, but I could not eat. The pale, wan faces of the sufferers above filled my mind. My heart was sad and not even for "appearance sake" could I do more than sip my coffee.

In the field hospitals, we found many living in open tents upon the ground, some with and some without palate of hay or straw. But in these field tents it is their choice to remain. They have a horror of the post hospital. They are separated from their companions and have many dark forebodings that if they enter its portals they can never come forth alive. Here are sent the most aggravated cases, therefore, a greater number of deaths and hence the impression filling the mind of the man weakened by disease.

In general hospital, they have more comforts than they possibly (did) under the most favorable circumstances receive in the field.

One great need I discovered in all hospitals -- pure water and ice. Who has not, when burning with fever been haunted with the thought of some favorable spring or "iron bound bucket" from which they drank in early childhood the cooling draught? Think of these poor men attempting to quench their thirst from a river so low that it stands in muddy pools and this without what we have learned to consider an indispensable luxury. Does it not in such emergency prove to your minds the propriety as far as in our power of providing substitutes? Domestic wines, pure brandies, syrups, jellies, canned and dried fruits are particularly needed. Also Farina, corn starch and sago.

The surgeon informed us that they were at present well supplied with clothes and bedding. But cold weather was approaching. In the coming month, there would be a huge horde of fever patients and the supplies would be exhausted. They would gladly look to the benevolent in our community for night wrappers, shirts, drawers, stockings, slippers, sheets, pillow cases, bed ticks and comforters. Old linen and half-worn sheets are especially needed.

Several of the men expressed a desire for reading material -- they long for news. Greater effort should be made to supply them with books and papers of the day, both circular and religious.

The canned fruits so generously donated by the ladies of our society to the Commissioner (Jr. Brown) were distributed by him and most eagerly and thankfully received. To all he seemed a welcome valter, particularly to the boys of the 2nd Ohio, with which he was personally acquainted.

Surgeons Woodward and Carpenter are laboring with an unceasing energy for the welfare of those in their charge and seem fully awake to the responsibility of the trust committed to them. Their tenderness and skill are so generously acknowledged that we may have entire confidence that our gifts will be faithfully dispensed to those for whom they are desired.

This brief and very imperfect report is submitted with the hope that it may encourage us to continue the good work, laboring for those who are sacrificing the comfort to the society of friends, health and often life and the glory of our common country.

Mrs. J.H.V.?

Eventually, the General U.S. Army Hospital at Fort Scott consisted of five buildings and when they were all filled to capacity with patients that included placing beds in the hallways of each building, additional wards were created in large tents that were pitched on Carroll Plaza. And, of course, the war went on!



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Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches