Friday, December 06, 2019

Searching for the Hospital Support Staff


   On a few occasions, I’ve blogged about African-Americans in the Confederate army. It is a subject that needs much more objective exploration. My current book project, “Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia,” will contribute some to that discussion, exploring the roles of both the enslaved and the free people of color who worked for the Confederate army. Lately, I’ve been researching and writing about the rolls of African-Americans in the Confederate hospital system in Virginia. I’m not really aware of anyone who has looked at just how many were employed by the hospital system overall, but it must have been in the thousands. Men, mostly, served as nurses, cooks, kitchen assistants, helpers for the baker, boatmen, carpenters, hospital farmers, laundry workers, and staff for the icehouses. 

   Thanks to an excellent book by Carol C. Green, we have some good material on the African-Americans who worked at Chimborazo hospital in Richmond. As was customary in the South, every January, the enslaved were hired out to various employers. The hospital system hired quite a few. The average pay in 1863 was $240 year. This was increased to $300 a year in 1864 (plus rations and in some cases, clothing). A few even earned $400 a year. The majority were employed as nurses, with cooks coming in as the second leading occupation. In 1863, slave owners were paid $60,000 for the services of their chattel. Slaves who worked through the Christmas season received extra pay.


   Hospital administrator James B. McCaw ran into some difficulty with the owners of the slaves laboring at Chimborazo in May 1862. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was within sight of the Confederate capital. McCaw wrote to Surgeon General Samuel Moore: “I have at this time only two hundred & fifty-six cooks & nurses in my Hospital, to take care of nearly four thousand sick soldiers and the owners of these slaves are threatening to remove them to the interior of the country to avoid losing them. I am confident a large number will be moved in a few days unless measures are taken to prevent it.”

   Moore responded, telling McCaw “If these negroes are permitted to leave, the hospitals will be abandoned & the sick left destitute.” (47)

   James Brewer, in his book, The Confederate Negro: Virginia’s Craftsmen and Military Laborers, 1861-1865, writes that the members of the Confederate Medical Corps readily trained both enslaved and free people of color to be nurses. (95) Besides duties in the farms, fields, and boats, the nurses were responsible for bathing all patients as they arrived, daily “sponge baths,” distribution of rations in the wards, changing the straw in the bed sacks monthly, scouring the wards, and the movement of patients who were not ambulatory.

   As already mentioned, a small number were free people of color. Most of them, like their enslaved counterparts, are now just names. “Candis” was hired in 1862 to work as a cook in Division #2, Chimborazo Hospitals. She was paid $240 for the year, the same pay as the male cooks. Later, she became a nurse, and in 1864, her pay was raised to $300 a year. For her services, she was paid more than twice what the Confederate soldier in the ranks received.   

  There is a “paucity of facts [that] hampers the study” of African-Americans in the Confederate army, to paraphrase Brewer (103). Many of the Confederate medical records were destroyed on the night that Richmond burned. I, for one, would love to know more about the life of Candis. How old was she? Did she have a family? What did she do before or after the war? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have her story…

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Confederate Leadership in Flux


   The soldiers called it the Virginia Quick Step or the Tennessee Trots. It would be unlikely to find some Confederate soldier who did not suffer some complaint of dysentery or diarrhea throughout the war. At Chimbarazo Hospital in Richmond, there were 10,503 cases treated there throughout the war, or, one sixth of all admissions. For one out of ten, it was deadly.[i] What is the difference between dysentery and diarrhea?  Margaret Humphreys writes “Dysentery was diagnosed in cases with fever, bloody stools, and tenesmus, colonic and rectal cramping that caused a continuous urge to defecate. Absent the blood and cramping the case was categorized as diarrhea…”[ii]

What happens when the same maladies hit the ranks of the high command? How incapacitated were some of these generals? Finding detailed information about some of these generals is a hard task. Unless they wrote home of their conditions or were bad enough off to be relieved of command, we really don’t know. But there are a few cases. Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch wrote home of suffering from dysentery from June through at least early August 1862. During the days leading up to the battle of Cedar Mountain, Branch was being hauled around in an ambulance. Only as his brigade was called upon to go and stabilize Jackson’s left did Branch drag himself out to take command. Bull Paxton, commanding the old Stonewall brigade, wrote home in January 1863 that he was unwell, and had been since August the proceeding year.[iii] E. Porter Alexander suffered through the summer and fall, and doctored himself with a mixture of chloroform, brandy peppermint, and laudanum. [iv]
Bull Paxton                                   L.O. Branch

Probably the two most interesting cases concern Robert E. Lee and Richard Ewell. Of course, these two men are not your average, run-of-the-mill soldiers. From June 1862 until the end of the war, Lee commanded the principal Confederate army in the east, while Ewell was one of his top lieutenants, taking over Jackson’s corps after the death of the latter in May 1863.

Lee’s first recorded bout with dysentery came at Gettysburg. Two different officers, including W. W. Blackford of Stuart’s staff, noted that Lee was ill. Combine this with whatever heart ailment Lee had during the campaign, and we have a very sick commander. The second round was worse. On May 23, 1864, during the Overland Campaign, Lee was ill once again with “bilious dysentery.” Charles Venable, writing in 1873, lamented the opportunity that slipped away: “in the midst of these operations on the North Anna, General Lee was taken sick and confined to his tent. As he lay prostrated by his sickness, he would often repeat: ‘We must strike them a blow—we must never let them pass us again—we must strike them a blow’”.[v] We know that Lee, prostate in tent, missed a grand opportunity to wreck a portion of Grant’s army.

Richard Ewell’s case actually cost him his command, sort of. By the time of the Overland Campaign, Ewell was not performing the way Lee wished. Ewell was reported sick on May 26, and while he reported personally to General Lee at the end of the month, Lee refused to reinstate Ewell to command. The Second Corps was now under Jubal Early. Ewell protested, even meeting with Jefferson Davis, but to no avail. Ewell never regained active field command.

There are probably many other cases of dysentery or diarrhea and Confederate generals. Mild cases were something seldom mentioned in letters or official reports. Given how one case in particular changed the course of the war, maybe the “bloody flux” should be given more consideration.    


[i] Wiley, Life of Johnny Reb, 252.
[ii] Humphrey, Marrow of Tragedy, 99.
[iii] Paxton, Letters, 72.
[iv] Welsh, Medical Histories of Confederate Generals, 4
[v] Venable, “The Campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg,” 535.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Stonewall Jackson’s Lemons



   Have you ever been to Stonewall Jackson’s grave in Lexington, Virginia? Ever noticed all of the lemons near his headstone? Henry Kyd Douglas, an officer on Jackson’s staff, told us that lemons were Jackson’s favorite fruit, and could be seen during the battle of Gaines Mill sucking on one throughout the day. “Immediately a small piece was bitten out of it and slowly and unsparingly he began to extract its flavor and its juice. From that moment until darkness ended the battle, that lemon scarcely left his lips except to be used as a baton to emphasize an order..." Douglas wrote. (Douglas, I Rode with Stonewall, 103)  The Virginia Military Institute’s web page on Jackson states that there are two other accounts of Stonewall having a lemon on this day. That’s really not a lot to go on. Where did he get lemons from?
   There are few accounts, beyond Douglas, of Jackson enjoying lemons. Probably the best way to secure them was to capture them from the enemy. A. J. Emerson wrote an article that appeared in Confederate Veteran in 1912 about Jackson sucking on lemons during the Shenandoah Valley campaign in March-April 1862. When someone asked about how Jackson acquired lemons, the answer was “from his commissary.” “Our commissary hasn’t any lemons” was the response. “Old Jack got ‘em from his other commissary.” “What other commissary?” “Banks. Yes, Old Jack draws all our rations from Banks.” Of course, “Banks” is Federal General Nathaniel Banks. The writer believed that Jackson captured Banks’ commissary wagons every couple of days, supplying himself, and his men, with provisions. (58)
   Richard Taylor provides another post-war account in his Destruction and Reconstruction. Taylor, in 1862 near New Market, had his men in camp, and sought out Jackson. He found the general sitting on the top rail of a fence. “Just then my creoles started their band and a waltz. After a contemplative suck at a lemon, ‘Thoughtless fellows for serious work’ came forth [from Jackson]. I expressed a hope that the work would not be less well done because of the gayety. A return to the lemon gave me the opportunity to retire. Where Jackson got his lemons ‘no fellow could find out,’ but he was rarely without one.” (50)
   In 1906, an old Veteran wrote to Harper’s Weekly “I remember a little incident that occurred at Harper’s Ferry when Stonewall captured the place. He was receiving a report upon the number of prisoners taken, when a soldier pushed forward, a crate filled with lemons in his arms, and presented them to the General. Jackson’s face beamed. “My man,” he said, smilingly, if you only joined yesterday, and if you don’t do another thing hereafter, you’ve rendered mighty good service in this war.” (1690)
      Of course, lemons were brought through the blockade throughout the war. On January 1, a store in Raleigh, North Carolina, advertised having 50 cases of lemons for sale. (Raleigh Register January 1, 1862). The Confectionary Store in Staunton advertised lemons for sale in March of that year. (Staunton Spectator March 11, 1862) Even as late as December 1865, the stores in Wilmington, North Carolina, advertised lemons for sale (The Wilmington herald December 30, 1865)
   Getting lemons from the enemy was obviously a way to supply Jackson with the fruit. Heros von Borke wrote of Stuart’s capturing the smoldering ruins of the Federal depot at White Hall. Among the debris were cases of lemons. The Virginia Military Institute, on their Q&A page about Jackson, lists two other accounts, one from Colonel Raleigh Colston, and another from a cavalry trooper, maybe the trooper who even delivered the lemons from White Hall.
   When it comes time to separate fact from fiction, we really only have one war-time account of Jackson and his lemons. That would be during the battle of Gaines Mill. Maybe in time some other war-time accounts will surface.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Building a Civil War Medical Library


    When I wrote the chapter on brigade medical care for General Lee’s Immortals, I relied upon five  books (secondary sources) to provide the background for that chapter. Those five were Cunningham’s Doctors in Gray (1958); Humphrey’s Marrow of Tragedy (2013): Schroeder-Lein’s The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine (2008); Calcutt’s Richmond’s Wartime Hospitals (2005); and, Green’s Chimborazo: The Confederacy’s Largest Hospital (2004). That’s not to say there are not other texts that I have that were influential. There are others, like biographies on Kate Cummings, Dr. Mary Walker, and Doctors in Blue. But those five, along with the primary sources gleaned from the writings of members of the Branch-Lane brigade, allowed me to craft a really good chapter that has gotten some attention.

   In the upcoming Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia project, I set out to have a chapter on foodstuff connected to the hospitals that served Robert E. Lee’s army. As I did with the chapter on brigade medical care in General Lee’s Immortals, I want to push our understanding of this aspect of Confederate military history. So it is time to grow my library once again, both with primary sources and secondary literature.

   I started with Frank Freemon’s Microbes and Minie Balls: An Annotated Bibliography of Civil War Medicine (1993). This book is divided into two sections. The first covers articles and books written by people (mostly) connected to the medical department. Of course, since I write primarily Confederate history, I took note of several Confederate texts that bear further exploration. At the same time, there were several secondary texts that I would also like to examine. These include: Alfred Bollet “Scurvy, Spruce, and Starvation: Major Nutritional Deficiency Syndromes During the Civil War” Medical Times (November 1989); Frank Freemon  “Administration of the Medical Department of the Confederate States Army, 1861 to 1865.” Southern Medical Journal (1987); Harris Riley, Jr., “General Robert E. Lee: His Medical Profile.” Virginia Medical Monthly (1987); and John Stevens “Hostages to Hunger: Nutritional Night Blindness in Confederate Armies.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly (1989).

   Three other books I have recently added to my ever-growing library include Frank Freemon’s Gangrene and Glory: Medical Care during the American Civil War (1998); Ira Rutkow’s Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War Surgery and the Evolution of American Medicine (2005); and Shauna Devine’s Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science (2014). I’m not sure any of these will lead to information on my narrow topic, but, overall, I hope to gain an even greater understanding of medical practices during the war.

   Coming next, we’ll look at primary sources dealing with the Army of Northern Virginia and Confederate hospitals.

   Do you have a favorite medical resource? Care to share?

(PS. I also have Confederate Hospitals on the Move, Two Confederate Hospitals and Their Patients: Atlanta to Opelika, and Civil War Pharmacy.)

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Generals and their Farmyard Animals


   I sometimes wonder how many Confederate generals kept livestock close by during the war. We know that there were horses and mules, used by officers, artillery, and to pull wagons, but actual livestock?

Robert E. Lee
   The most famous of these stories would undoubtedly be Robert E. Lee and his chicken. This story first appears in A, K, Long’s Memoirs of Robert E. Lee (1886). Long served on Lee’s staff. According to Long, the headquarters staff (or maybe just Lee), had received a mess of chickens. Lee’s cook, Bryan lynch, “Discovered that she daily contributed an egg, spared her life.” The chicken :selected the general’s tent to make her daily deposit… Every day she would walk to and fro in front of his tent, and when all was quiet, find a place under his bed, and deposit her egg; then walk out with a gratified cackle.” The hen went with Lee all the way to Gettysburg and back. During the winter months of 1864, Lee “had a distinguished visitor to dine with him” and Bryan, Lee’s cook, “finding it extremely difficult to procure material for a dinner, very inhumanly killed the hen, unknown to any of the staff. At the dinner the general was very much surprised to see so fine a fowl; all enjoyed it, not dreaming of the great sacrifice made upon the altar of hospitality. When she was missed and inquiry made, Bryan had to acknowledge that he had killed her in order to provide something for the gentlemen’s dinner.” (241-242)

William N. Pendleton
      But there other stories as well of generals keeping livestock close at hand. Brig. Gen. William N. Pendleton was sent to inspect the artillery of the Army of Tennessee, near Dalton, Georgia, in the late winters months of 1864. He noted in a letter home that he had stayed at Johnston’s headquarters cottage. One morning, “After washing, etc., we shared breakfast with the general’s mess. Very good; real coffee, and butter made from the general’s own cow, toast, corn-bread, etc.” (315) Not only was there someone milking the cow, but for Johnston, churning butter as well.

   Probably the most famous, or interesting accounts of Generals and livestock come from Maj. Gen. William Mahone. According to Westwood A. Todd, of the 12th Virginia Infantry, Mahone kept a flock of turkeys. “General Mahone, who throughout the war was not unmindful of creature comforts, had about Christmas time provided himself with several turkeys, which he was fattening in a pen just outside of his tent. Rash man that he was to leave those turkeys so exposed. When he stepped out of his tent Christmas morning with a view of selecting his roaster, his turkeys were all gone. Who stole Mahone's turkeys? was a favorite 'conundrum' in the Division the balance of the war."

William Mahone
   Moxley Sorrel, a member of Longstreet’s staff until the last few months of the war, recalled the Mahone “A cow was always by his quarters and laying hens cackled loud, besides many luxuries.” (277)

   So I wonder if other Confederate generals kept livestock penned near their personal quarters, and how that livestone was tended to while on campaign? Maybe time will tell.

Monday, August 12, 2019

He almost got away: Holcombe Legion and the night after South Mountain.


    Sometimes you just find accounts that make a person laugh out loud. As I was reading through an account by a member of Holcombe Legion (SC), I stumbled across one such account. William P. Dubose was adjutant of the infantry portion of Holcombe's Legion (he later served as chaplain). In September 1862, he had been ordered to take a small group of his soldiers and scout towards the battle field of the previous day at South Mountain, trying to ascertain if Federal troops are still around. Dubose has moved his men forward, and then leaves then while he scouts on ahead. He actually flanks a Federal line, coming up in their rear.
Private Jackon A. Davis of Co. E, Holcombe Legion (LOC)

   In the darkness, Dubose has not seen anything, when all of a sudden, he hears "Halt!"

   I stopped immediately, wondering whether it was the voice of the enemy or one of my own men in search of me. I could see one or two figures not more than twenty steps in front of me, but I could not distinguish the uniform. Robert Rutledge's cloak [which Dubose had borrowed] as a civilian's, with a c cape falling over the arms with slits in the side of the body for armholes. My arms were within the slits, holding the pistol [also borrowed]. I quietly cocked it and slowly moved over to the figures before me, which were between me and my own men. They made no movement as I approached and I hoped very strongly still that they were my men. As I approached to within a very few feet my immediate antagonist and myself, simultaneously recognized each other as enemies. He thought I was one of his own men. As he jerked up his gun, I was near enough to ward it off with one hand and with the other attempt to draw my pistol from without the cloak. In the necessary scuffle, the pistol being cocked, discharged itself prematurely. At once, thinking himself shot, with a load yell, the man dropped his gun and precipitated himself upon me. Instantly the woods were alive. My effort then was simply to get away. In the scuffle that ensued, I several times nearly did so, but my antagonist was a much larger and stronger man that I was, and I finally had to surrender to numbers."

Dubose was captured, and spent the next several weeks at Fort Delaware as a prisoner of war. This account was found in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Surprisingly, there appears to be no history of Holcombe Legion.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Purging the Army of Northern Virginia


   A couple of weeks ago, while filming a short interview with Chris Mackowski of Emerging Civil War (we were at the American Battlefield Trust's Teacher's Institute), I made a comment about the purging of officers from the Army of Northern Virginia after Robert E. Lee was assigned command in June 1862. I had never really counted until today, but fifteen men who were brigade or division commanders during the Seven Days battles were not with the Army of Northern Virginia when it surrendered at Appomattox Court House in April 1865 (this excludes those who died or were killed in action). Did Lee have these officers transferred on purpose? A good question.

Here are the fifteen and what became of them:

John B. Magruder - sent to Trans-Mississippi Department after the Seven Days.

William H. C. Whiting - reassigned to the Military District of Wilmington. Died as a prisoner of war in New York on March 10, 1865.

Richard Taylor - transferred to the Trans-Mississippi Department July 1862.

Bradley Johnson - with the Army of Northern Virginia until 1864, when consolidation removed him from command. Finished the war as commander at Salisbury Prison.

D. H. Hill - shuffled back to North Carolina in February 1863. Commanded a corps in the Army of Tennessee during the Chickamauga-Chattanooga Campaign. Had further run-ins with high command, but finished the war commanding a corps at Bentonville.

Boswell Ripley - bounced around between South Carolina and the Army of Northern Virginia. Commanded a division in the Army of Tennessee during the battle of Bentonville.

Robert Toombs - resigned March 4, 1863, after not getting the promotion he thought he deserved. Later served in the Georgia militia.

Howell Cobb - in November 1862, transferred in November 1862 to the District of Middle Florida. Later in the Georgia Militia.

Stephen D. Lee - November-December of 1862 transferred to Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana. In mid-1864 was a corps commander in the Army of Tennessee.

Roger Pryor - brigade was broken apart in the spring of 1863 and Pryor resigned.

William S. Featherston - transferred to Vicksburg in early 1863, and later commanded a brigade in the Army of Tennessee

Ambrose R. Wright - wounded in 1864, and transferred to Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

John G. Walker - transferred to the Trans-Mississippi department after the Maryland campaign.

Benjamin Hunger - relieved of field duty July 12, 1862, and spent most of the war as an inspector of artillery in the Trans-Mississippi department.

Theophilus Holmes - transferred to Trans-Mississippi department July 30, 1862.

Did Lee have some of these men transferred to get them out of his hair? All four most senior major generals in the army when Lee took command were soon elsewhere. While Margruder did an outstanding job fooling McClellan at Yorktown, there were numerous complaints leveled at him following the Seven Days battles, mostly for being drunk. He was very quickly assigned to the Trans-Mississippi Department, but on returning to Richmond to answer the rumors against him, he leveled charges against Lt. Col. R.H. Chilton of Robert E. Lee's staff. That surely did not help his cause.

William Whiting's feud was with Jefferson Davis They had butted heads in late 1861, declining command of a Mississippi brigade. Whiting was gone on sick leave, and when he returned, found his division under the command of John B. Hood.

Benjamin Huger feuded with Joseph E. Johnston over the Seven Pines battle. Johnston claimed that Huger was not ready to attack when ordered. Huger wanted charges preferred. Richard Taylor wrote that "Magruder is charged with incompetency and loss of head, and much blame attached to both his and Huger's slowness." (Davis, The Confederate General, vol. 3, 129)

Lee might have been trying to get rid of Theophilus Holmes prior to the Seven Days battles. There is a letter from Lee to the Secretary of War, dated June 19, 1862, stating that Lee "recommended General Huger's orders to be issued from the Adjutant and Inspector General's Office." (OR 1, vol. 11, pt. 3, 609.)

Lee, of course, was remaking the Army of Northern Virginia. He wanted younger,  more aggressive commanders to take charge of his divisions.