Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Healing the Sick and Wounded" -- The North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial

Added to our recent "Healing the Sick and Wounded; The Medical Profession During the War" webpage are excerpts from Brenda McKean's superb account of North Carolina civilians during the war.  This two-volume set should be on the bookshelf of every North Carolinian desiring an in-depth study of the home front in wartime North Carolina.  Read more at:

"The State had two so-called hospitals before the war, but not for ordinary people. A small marine hospital for seamen was found in Wilmington and Portsmouth. The Moravians had established a sick house in Salem in the eighteenth century for their members.

Dr. Charles E. Johnson opened the first military hospital in Raleigh in May 1861 know as the Fair Grounds Hospital.  Large buildings were revamped for hospital use to hold from two hundred to four hundred patients. The Guion Hotel in the capital city [was] converted to hospital.  Pettigrew Hospital in Raleigh, built in 1864, was the only new building constructed in Raleigh as a hospital [and it] would hold up to 588 beds.  Hospital [Number] 4 in   Wilmington, previously known as Seamen's Hospital . . . was considered the largest and best equipped in the State. The convalescent hospital in [Little] Washington admitted its patients in 1863.

Women began making and storing hospital supplies such as bandages and clothing before hospitals were established for the soldiers . . . [and] Newspapers encouraged those at home to economize so that troops in the field could be supplied.

At the beginning of the war, convalescing soldiers became the nurses if they were able to stand to rigors of medical work. Apparently, they were not attune[d] to sanitary conditions because the people visiting the areas commented on the filthy conditions present in these buildings. Everyone knew a woman's touch would clean up the place, and their tender care would enhance the surroundings.

Medical department authorities developed several medical facilities known as general hospitals throughout the State. These were given numbers instead of names. By the end of the war, fourteen general military hospitals and seven wayside hospitals were identified.  Every general hospital had a surgeon in charge and one medical officer or a contract surgeon to care for seventy to eighty ill soldiers.  Usually, the ratio was greater.

Wayside hospitals were located next to the railroad depots (or in the depots) for convenience in towns such as Tarboro, Greensboro, Salisbury, Charlotte, Kittrell, Fayetteville, High Point, Wilson, Weldon and Goldsboro. These wayside hospitals were equipped with refreshments and clean bandages/bedding, etc.  These small wayside institutions served an important role and were invaluable for saving lives.

There were instances when the sick and wounded soldier could not tolerate the lengthy trip home or transfer to another hospital.  Women would meet these trains and remove the patient to the nearby temporary hospital or to their homes.  Schools, colleges, hotels, churches, warehouses, barns, sheds and private homes caught the overflow of the wounded, especially after battles.  All the vacant hospitals in [Little] Washington were used as hospitals to house sick soldiers early in the conflict.

The above-mentioned hospitals were different from a field hospital, which was located about one mile behind the battlefront. Dr. Thomas F. Wood [of Wilmington] described in a letter home to his folks a division hospital that was also made up of tents:

"June 10, 1864, Rode's Division Hospital, Cold Harbor

Our hospital is an apple orchard . . . Each Brigade has a hospital wagon and each [Division] one for transporting stoves, cooking utensils, tents, etc. Each tent is marked as that of the Brigade . . . One large tent fly is located centrally as a tent for operations . . . the wounded are placed in these tents, and are operated on in such order that suit the case of the patient."  

(Blood and War at My Doorstep, Brenda Chambers McKean, Xlibris, 2011, excerpts, pp. 113-115)