Report of Surg. Jonathan
U.S. Army, Medical Director, Army of the Potomac.
O.R.--SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/1 [S# 43] -- Gettysburg Campaign
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
MEDICAL DIRECTOR'S OFFICE,
Camp near Culpeper Court-House, Va., October 3, 1863.
Brig. Gen. S. WILLIAMS,
A. A. G., Army of the Potomac
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following
report on the operations of the medical department of this army at the battle of
Gettysburg, July 1, 2, and 3:
As the subject of transportation has an important
bearing upon the manner in which the wounded are attended to after a battle, it
is necessary to make some allusion to the manner in which this department was
supplied. It is scarcely necessary to say that if-the transportation is not
sufficient to enable the officers of the department to conduct it properly, the
effect must fall upon the wounded.
In the autumn of 1862, I investigated the subject very
carefully, with the view to the adoption of some system instead of the irregular
method and want of system which prior to that time was in vogue, to limit the
amount necessary, and to have that amount always available. The transportation
was one wagon to each regiment and one to each brigade. This gave all that was
required, and it was not too much; and, it may be remarked, was a reduction of
nearly one-half of that which had been in use prior to that time. This system
worked well. At the battle of Chancellorsville, the department had upon the left
bank of the Rappahannock means sufficient, had it been allowed to use them, for
taking care of many more wounded than there came under its control.
On June 19, while the army was on the march, as it
were, from before Fredericksburg to some unknown point north of the Potomac
River, the headquarters being near Fairfax Court-House, Va., the transportation
of the department was cut down by Major-General Hooker on an average of two
wagons in a brigade, in opposition to my opinion, expressed verbally and in
writing. This reduction necessitated the turning in of a large portion of the
supplies, tents, &c., which were necessary for the proper care of the wounded in
the event of a battle. Three wagons were assigned to a brigade of 1,500 men,
doing away with regimental wagons. This method in its practical working is no
system at all, as it is liable to constant changes, and proved to be, what I
supposed at the time it would be, a failure to give the department the means
necessary to conduct its operations.
The headquarters left Fairfax Court-House on June 26
ultimo, for some point as yet unknown in Maryland or Pennsylvania.
On the 25th of that month, I directed Assistant Surgeon
[Jeremiah B.] Brinton, U.S. Army, to proceed to Washington, and obtain the
supplies I had ordered the medical purveyor to have put up, and there await
On the 26th, he was ordered to proceed with them to
Frederick. This step was taken to obviate the want of supplies consequent upon
the reduction of transportation. At this date it was not known that the army
would be near Frederick; still, the risk had to be run, and the event justified
the order, Dr. Brinton arriving at Frederick on June 28, the day after the
arrival of headquarters there, with twenty-five army wagon loads of such
supplies as would be most required in case of a battle. The train with these
supplies followed that of headquarters until we reached Taneytown.
On July 1, the trains were not permitted to go farther,
and, on the 2d, were ordered farther to the rear, near Westminster.
On the 1st, it was ordered that "corps commanders and
the commander of the Artillery Reserve will at once send to the rear all their
trains (excepting ammunition wagons and ambulances), parking them between Union
Mills and Westminster."
On the 2d, these trains were ordered still farther to
the rear, and parked near Westminster, nearly 25 miles distant from the
battlefield. The effect of this order was to deprive the department almost
wholly of the means for taking care of the wounded until the result of the
engagement of the 2d and 3d was fully known. I do not instance the effect of
this order, excepting to show the influence of it upon the department. The
expediency of the order I, of course, do not pretend to question, but its effect
was to deprive this department of the appliances necessary for the proper care
of the wounded, without which it is as impossible to have them properly attended
to as it is to fight a battle without ammunition. In most of the corps the
wagons exclusively used for medicines moved with the ambulances, so that the
medical officers had a sufficient supply of dressings, chloroform, and such
articles until the supplies came up, but the tents and other appliances, which
are as necessary, were not available until July 5.
The supply of Dr. Brinton reached the field on the
evening of July 4. This supply, together with the supplies ordered by me on July
5 and 6, gave more than was required. The reports of Dr. Brinton and Dr. [John
H.] Taylor show that I ordered more supplies than were used up to the 18th of
July, when the hospitals were taken from under my control. Surgeon Taylor,
medical inspector of this army, who was ordered on July 29 to Gettysburg, to
examine into the state of affairs there, reports to me that he made "the
question of supplies a subject of special inquiry among the medical officers who
had remained with the wounded during and for a month subsequent to the battle.
The testimony in every instance was conclusive that at no time had there been
any deficiency, but, on the contrary, that the supply furnished by the medical
purveyor had been and still continued to be abundant." This is, perhaps,
sufficient to show that not only were supplies ordered in advance, but that they
were on hand when required, notwithstanding the difficulty in consequence of the
inability of the railroad to meet the requirements made upon it, until after
General Haupt took charge of it on July 9. I have not deemed it necessary to
present any tables showing the amounts ordered and issued, considering what I
have just given as ample enough to show the action of this department. The chief
want was tents and other appliances for the better care of the wounded. I had an
interview with the commanding general on the evening of July 3, after the battle
was over, to obtain permission to order up the wagons containing the tents, &c.
This request he did not think expedient to grant but in part, allowing one-half
the wagons to come to the front; the remainder were brought up as soon as it was
considered by him proper to permit it. To show the result of the system adopted
upon my recommendation regarding transportation, and the effect of the system of
field hospitals, I may here instance the hospital of the
Twelfth Corps, in
which the transportation was not reduced nor the wagons sent to the rear at
Surgeon [John] McNulty, medical director of that
corps, reports that "it is
with extreme satisfaction that I can assure you that it enabled me to remove the
wounded from the field, shelter, feed them, and dress their wounds within six
hours after the battle ended, and to have every capital operation performed
within twenty-four hours after the injury was received. I can, I think, safely
say that such would have been the result in other corps had the same facilities
been allowed--a result not to have been surpassed, if equaled, in any battle of
magnitude that has ever taken place.
A great difficulty always exists in having food for the
wounded. By the exertions of Colonel [Henry F.] Clarke, chief commissary, 30,000
rations were brought up on July 4 and distributed to the hospitals. Some of the
hospitals were supplied by the commissaries of the corps to which they belonged.
Arrangements were made by him to have supplies in abundance brought to
Gettysburg for the wounded; he ordered them, and if the railroad could have
transported them they would have been on hand.
Over 650 medical officers are reported as present for
duty at that battle. These officers were engaged assiduously, day and night,
with little rest, until the 6th, and in the Second Corps until July 7, in
attendance upon the wounded. The labor performed by these officers was immense.
Some of them fainted from exhaustion, induced by over-exertion, and others
became ill from the same cause. The skill and devotion shown by the medical
officers of this army were worthy of all commendation; they could not be
surpassed. Their conduct as officers and as professional men was admirable.
Thirteen of them were wounded, one of whom (Asst. Surg. W. S. Moore, Sixty-first
Ohio Volunteers, Eleventh Corps) died on July 6 from the effects of his wounds,
received on the 3d. The idea, very prevalent, that medical officers are not
exposed to fire, is thus shown to be wholly erroneous. The greater portion of
the surgical labor was performed before the army left. The time for primary
operations had passed, and what remained to be done was to attend to making the
men comfortable, dress their wounds, and perform such secondary operations as
from time to time might be necessary. One hundred and six medical officers were
left behind when the army left; no more could be left, as it was expected that
another battle would within three or four days take place, and in all
probability as many wounded thrown upon our hands as at the battle of the 2d and
3d, which had just occurred. No reliance can be placed on surgeons from civil
life during or after a battle. They cannot or will not submit to the privations
and discomforts which are necessary, an-d the great majority think more of their
own personal comfort than they do of the wounded. Little more can be said of
those officers who have for a long period been in hospitals. I regret to make
such a statement, but it is a fact and often a practical one. Dr. [Henry] Janes,
who was left in charge of the hospitals at Gettysburg, reports that quite a
number of surgeons came and volunteered their services, but "they were of little
use." This fact is so well known in this army that medical officers prefer to do
the work rather than have them present, and the wounded men, too, are much
better satisfied to be attended by their own surgeons. I, however, asked the
Surgeon-General, July 7, to send 20 medical officers to report to Dr. Janes,
hoping they might prove of some benefit, under the direction of the medical
officers of this army who had been left behind. I cannot learn that they were
Dr. Janes was left in general charge of the hospitals, and, to provide against
contingencies, was directed, if he could not communicate with me, to do so
directly with the Surgeon-General, so that he had full power to call directly
upon the Surgeon-General to supply any want that might arise.
The ambulance corps throughout the army acted in the
most commendable manner during those days of severe labor. Notwithstanding the
great number of wounded, amounting to 14,193, I have it from the most reliable
authority and from my own observation that not one wounded man of all that
number was left on the field within our lines early on the morning of July 4. A
few were found after daylight beyond our farthest pickets, and these were
brought in, although the ambulance men were fired upon when engaged in this duty
by the enemy, who were within easy range. In addition to this duty, the line of
battle was of such a character, resembling somewhat that of a horseshoe, that it
became necessary to remove most of the hospitals farther to the rear as the
enemy's fire drew nearer.
This corps did not escape unhurt; 1 officer and 4
privates were killed and 17 wounded while in the discharge of their duties. A
number of horses were killed and wounded, and some ambulances injured. These
facts will show the commendable and efficient manner in which the duties
devolving upon this corps were performed, and great credit is deservedly due to
the officers and men for their praiseworthy conduct. I know of no battle-field
from which wounded men have been so speedily and so carefully removed, and I
have every reason to feel satisfied that their duties could not have been
performed better or more fearlessly.
Before the army left Gettysburg, and knowing that the wounded had been brought
in from the field, six ambulances and four wagons were ordered to be left from
each corps, to convey the wounded from their hospitals to the railroad depot,
for transportation to the other hospitals. From the Cavalry Corps but four
ambulances were ordered, as this corps had a number captured by the enemy at or
near Hanover a few days previous. I was informed by General Ingalls that the
railroad to Gettysburg would be in operation on the 6th, and upon this based my
action. Had such been the case, this number would have been sufficient. As it
proved that this was not in good running order for some time after that date, it
would have been better to have left more ambulances. I acted on the best
information that could be obtained.
The number of our wounded, from the most reliable
information at my command, amounted to 14,193. The number of Confederate wounded
who fell into our hands was 6,802, making the total number of wounded thrown by
that battle upon this department 20,995. The wounded of July 1 fell into the
hands of the enemy, and came under our control on the 4th of that month.
Instruments and medical supplies belonging to the First and Eleventh Corps were
in some m-stances taken from the medical officers of those corps by the enemy.
Previous to leaving Gettysburg, I, on July 5 and 6, ordered supplies to be sent
to Frederick from Washington and Philadelphia, to meet the wants of the
department in the event of another battle, which there was every reason to
suppose would occur shortly after the army left Gettysburg. While at the latter
place, I asked the Surgeon-General to have 50 medical officers ready to meet me
at such a point as I should thereafter indicate.
On July 7, I desired them to be sent to Frederick. Late
in the night of July 9, 47 reported. These officers were designed to make up, as
far as possible, the deficiency of medical officers existing in consequence of
the large detail from this army left at Gettysburg.
Tents were ordered by my request, and the corps
supplied as far as their transportation would permit, and the remainder kept in
reserve. It is not necessary to enter into a detailed list of the articles
ordered and on hand ready for the anticipated battle. I have the orders in my
office, and it is with pleasure I can state for the information of the
commanding general that, notwithstanding the short time in which I had to make
the necessary preparations, this department was, when near Boonsborough, fully
prepared to take care of the wounded of another battle of as great magnitude as
that which this army heat just passed through at Gettysburg.
It is unnecessary to do more than make an allusion to
the difficulties which surrounded this department at the engagement at
Gettysburg. The inadequate amount of transportation; the impossibility of having
that allowed brought to the front; the cutting off our communication with
Baltimore, first by way of Frederick and then by way of Westminster; the
uncertainty, even as late as the morning of July 1, as to a battle taking place
at all, and, if it did, at what point it would occur; the total inadequacy of
the railroad to Gettysburg to meet the demands made upon it after the battle was
over; the excessive rains which fell at that time-- all conspired to render the
management of the department one of exceeding difficulty, and yet abundance of
medical supplies were on hand at all times; rations were provided, shelter
obtained, as soon as the wagons were allowed to come to the front, although not
as abundant as necessary on account of the reduced transportation. Medical
officers, attendants, ambulances, and wagons left when the army started for
Maryland, and the wounded were well taken care of, and especially so when we
consider the circumstances under which the battle was fought and the length and
severity of the engagement.
The conduct of the medical officers was admirable.
Their labors not only began with the beginning of the battle, but lasted long
after the battle had ended. When other officers had time to rest, they were
busily at work--and not merely at work, but working earnestly and devotedly.
I have not considered it necessary to give in this
report other than a very general outline of the operations of this department at
that time. To enter into a detailed account of them would, I presume, be more
than the commanding general would desire.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient
JON A. LETTERMAN,
[Source: "Official Records of the War of the
Rebellion" with special thanks to