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At Ease: Saving Lives After the Battle

Saving Lives

The battles at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House felled thousands of soldiers—most with wounds. Field hospitals emerged in the towns or at farmsteads as doctors and other medical staff fought a new fight to save lives. Innovations in battlefield evacuations, surgery, and care of the injured helped to increase a wounded soldier's chances of survival. But an experience in a Civil War-era hospital still had its moments of pain and terror. Today, we'll take a closer look at some of the experiences and life-saving changes used on the Central Virginia battlefields and there's a new video featuring some of Walt Whitman's poetry after his volunteer medical service.


Survey Results

Check out the survey results from last week and the answers to the question: what Civil War medical site or account in Central Virginia do you find most important?

  • Guinea Station/Stonewall Jackson Death Site (2 votes)

  • Chatham Manor (2 votes)

  • Brompton/Marye House

  • Fredericksburg hospitals in 1864

  • Hospital at 28th and Main Streets in Richmond, Virginia - My Dad worked at American Furniture and Fixture, 28th and Main, Richmond, VA which served as a hospital during the war. He worked on the upper floor and you could still see blood on the floor. They have since renovated the building from a woodworking company to apartments.

Chatham Manor, Historic sketch of a field dressing station, Chandler Office Build (Jackson Death Site)


"A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and The Road Unknown"

This week's new video features a piece of poetry by Walt Whitman—who worked at a volunteer nurse at Chatham for a short time. It's a vivid description of a field hospital, possibly somewhere in Central Virginia.


"Has the bullet been extracted?"

Bringing in the wounded from Fredericksburg

Private William McCarter of the 116th Pennsylvania (Irish Brigade) was badly wounded during the Battle of Fredericksburg. He survived the cold night and was evacuated to the town where a surgeon finally treated him. (McCarter survived his injuries.)

"One of the surgeons, a tall, fine looking man, approached me as I laid upon the floor. He inquired where I was wounded. I told him severely in the right shoulder by a musket ball. "Has the bullet been extracted?" he said.

I replied, "No, sir. I wish to God you would take it out for I am in agony."

"Well, I will see what I can do for you, my man. Get up and let me examine you..."

...Then he opened his instrument box, from which he brought out two or three curious looking tools, laid them down on the table by my side and rolled up his coat sleeves. The operation, which gave me no small relief, was soon performed, causing little pain. The surgeon, after cutting out the ball, washed it in a bucket of water, and then handed it to me, saying, "I suppose you would like to preserve this relic of war."

I replied, "Yes," and dropped it into my pocket.

I then asked him his name, with the object of sending him a note of thanks at some future time, if spared, for his kind attention and services. He replied that his name was Doctor Hart of the Eight Illinois Cavalry. The doctor also said, "I make no distinction in doing what I can for the relief of the wounded of any regiment, as well as my own."

He then took my name, company, regiment, brigade and division, down in a little book, shook me by the hand, wished me safe over the river and left the room."



Earlier in the war, surgeons on both sides came to the understanding that wounded in the field hospitals would receive care no matter what color the uniform. Dr. Harvey Black who served in the Confederate Second Corps wrote after the Battle of Chancellorsville: "I was in several of the Hospitals where the wounded Yankees wee and had about 28 under my care. I saw no one that I recognized. Should I meet with Lewis as a prisoner or wounded, I will for your sake and common humanity give him all the attention that I can..."

Sketch of a field hospital at Chancellorsville.


An Ambulance Route During The Overland Campaign

It’s about 8 miles from Brock Road to Marye’s Heights. Today, Route 208 runs the distance, eventually turning into Lafayette Blvd at Four Mile Fork in Fredericksburg. In 1864, the road was not paved and simply called Fredericksburg Road which became Telegraph Road much closer to town. Why does this matter? Well, it’s a route that the Union Army of the Potomac used for supplies and medical evacuations during the two-week-long Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. In American military medicine, the Civil War brought significant new innovations, including a quicker system of battlefield evacuation for the injured. In 1862, Dr. Jonathan Letterman introduced a new organization for first aid, field hospitals, and quick transportation to larger hospitals, ensuring a better chance for treatment and survival.

Ambulances near Fredericksburg, 1864


Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.

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