“Worth Crossing the Atlantic to See” –The Windmill Point Hospital


From John Hennessy:

It was the largest single hospital the Fredericksburg area has ever seen–more than 400 tents and 4,000 patients perched on a windy flat on what we know today as Marlborough Point in Stafford County.  The Union army in 1863 called it Windmill Point Hospital.  Work on the hospital started three weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg, but the purpose of the place was not to care for the wounded. Rather, the hospital became the destination for the sick of the Army of the Potomac–all of them emerging from the vast encampment in southern Stafford and western King George counties.  “The tents are in elevated ground,” wrote one hospital worker, “and it looks like an immense camp meeting; but, unhappily, it is composed of sick soldiers, and there is more crying than singing.” [Letter of O.P.  Case, Hartford Daily Courant, February 1, 1863.]

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A sketch that likely shows one of the division hospitals within the Windmill Point complex, from May 1863.

Wrote another, “It was such an hospital as never before nor since was seen in the Army of the Potomac. On a broad level plain, not long since a cultivated field, was a city of tents, regularly laid out in immense diamond-shaped inclosures. Eight army corps, each with its three divisions, were represented here.” [United States Christian Commission for the Army and Navy:  Work and Incidents, Second Annual Report.  1864. p. 35.]

Harriet Eaton, a relief worker from Maine, found the place objectionable in its early weeks of existence.  To reach the hospital, she and everyone else had to take the train to Aquia Landing, then a ferry three miles down the Potomac to the hospital landing.  When she departed the ferry, she first had to negotiate her way through 2,000 head of cattle, awaiting slaughter.  In the hospital, she found conditions shocking: “Nothing but hard tack and salt pork for 4,000 poor sick men! …No kettles to cook with, not even wash basins for washing, nothing, nothing, nothing, but indifference.”  She saw tragic significance in the neglect: “When a man is sick, no longer effective as a soldier, what does the government care for him!”  [Jane Schultz, ed., The Birthplace of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Journal of Harriet Eaton, p. 110, entry for January 24].

One man wrote that in the first weeks of its operation, the hospital “was the worst place I ever witnessed.  Sick men landing there by thousands—placed in tents—in those terrible cold nights, with no wood for days. Many had their feet frozen, all suffered intensely; 23 men were laid in their shallow graves in a single day.”

Union camps and review sites 1863.jpgWith the ascension of Hooker to army command and the hand of Jonathan Letterman in control of all things medical in the army, the chaos of those cold January weeks soon yielded to order and efficiency.  Windmill Point Hospital would in its six months of existence provide care for thousands of sick soldiers (and after Chancellorsville, many wounded ones).  A Connecticut officer who visited the hospital in late February found it a marvel.

“The Hospital at Aquia Landing [Windmill Point] is worth crossing the Atlantic to see. It has been started and completed within four week, and is the place where now the sick of the Army of the Potomac are sent. A “hospital tent’ is a tent like an officers’ or wall tent, only more than three times as large. The space within it is equal to a good sized drawing room. More than [400] of these tents, white as the driven snow, pitched in long streets of more than a quarter of a mile, and supplied with every convenience and comfort, compose this hospital. From the hill which I was descending to reach it, it presented in the evening twilight one of the most beautiful of sights. You will form some estimate of its size, when I tell you that between nine and ten thousand people occupy it.  It lies on the table land of a promontory, called Windmill Point, jutting out into the Potomac, where there is a fine view of a beach of the river, and is bounded behind and on the sides by high wooded hills. As I went along through the streets…one gets lost quicker than in an unfamiliar city from the perfect sameness of everything…  Everything was in perfect order—stables in tents for the horses, out-houses in tents, kitchens, store rooms, parlors and surgeries in tents—and it seemed like a huge camp of Bedouins.  For the first time in a long time, I saw ladies flitting about, nurses belonging to the sanitary commission, who come and go as occasion requires.”  [Hartford Daily Courant, March 3, 1863.]

The hospital remained in operation until the army evacuated the Fredericksburg area in early June 1863.

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The precise location of the hospital is certain based on maps and images.  All land in the area of the hospital is privately owned.

 

 

Crassness Unsurpassed


I came across this rather stunning ad from the Steuben Courier (Bath, NY), January 7, 1863.

The Union army butchered at Fredericksburg?  No problem. Shop at Perines!

The administration and war effort under siege by critics?  Well, at least Perines has the “cheapest stock of goods!”

Beset by the nation’s “vale of tears?”  No problem.  Rush to Perines!

Perine was the preeminent retailer in Bath, NY, through the second half of the 19th century.

If you are looking for a case study in Yankee crassness (I say as a Yankee), this is the mother of all of them.

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Rationalizing Destruction, December 1862


From John Hennessy:        I have been working through sources related to the bombardment and looting of Fredericksburg. It’s been an interesting journey that’s carried me to some surprising conclusions (none flattering to anyone). I have come across many accounts that offer explanations or justifications for the looting of the town, and I wanted to share one of the most vivid of those. For those who think the Civil War was a war devoid of bitterness, read this. And imagine too the reaction of Southern civilians to such destruction.
* * * * * * * *
This letter is from Chaplain John Morris of the 8th Connecticut. Most importantly, it was written on December 12, 1862, as the looters did their work.
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The scene at the intersection of Caroline and William Streets.

“Just retribution has really been meted out to Fredericksburg. The property of notorious and pernicious rebels has really been destroyed or used up for the advantage of the Union. Rebel houses from which white flags have been displayed one week and the next have been freely thrown open to shelter rebels for the murder of pickets, have really been demolished and burned….I do not regret that the rebels lose, but that value so immense has been wasted….I trust that this punishment will prove salutary to [the] people of Fredericksburg and of many other places where equal duplicity, treachery and barbarity have been displayed—so salutary that it will not need to be repeated.”
* * * * * * *
Chaplain Morris’s outstanding letter appeared in the December 20, 1862 issue of the New Haven Palladium. If  you are interested in reading the whole thing, you can find it here.

The Battle Reverberates


From John Hennessy:

Th1863 1-3 Portland Advertiser 16th Maine Dying letter.jpge news of death at Fredericksburg sped across the land, challenging the will of the sorrowful who received it. The long lists of dead and wounded usually appeared on page two or three of four-page local news sheets. Editors took care to arrange the names so they might be easily found—by regiment and company, the killed first, the wounded second, usually listed alphabetically, without comment. Nearby were often short pieces on
notable members of the community who had fallen, or stories that told of those—former classmates and present sons, friends, fathers, brothers, and husbands—who died dramatic
ally or pathetically.  The Portland Advertiser of January 3, 1863, published the last letter of George Parsons to his father in Gardiner, Maine, written as George lay dying in a field just south of Fredericksburg.  “Much love tall,” Parsons wrote.  “Farewell.”  The editor noted for his readers that the handwriting indicated George’s fingers trembled as he wrote. The paper he etched upon was “slightly tinged with blood.”[1]

In 83-words of type on page 2 of the December 22 issue, New Jersey’s Camden Democrat 1862 12-20 Camden Democrat 15th NJ death of a father.png
announced the death of Sgt. Major John Fowler of the 15th regiment, “struck in the leg by a rifle ball, and bled to death in less than five minutes.” The

Fowler Grave.jpg

Courtesy Find-A-Grave

editor remembered Sgt. Fowler as a “large, powerful man, brave and generous to a fault.”  His death “leaves a widow and nine children to mourn his loss.”[2]

A few columns to the left of the lists, or perhaps on page 1 (but never on page 4), appeared the commentary and letters describing and interpreting the battle itself.  By the end of 1862, the news of battle and the long, sorrowful lists that accompanied it had become not routine, but at least rhythmic, consumed by the public with an increasing equilibrium—with a growing recognition that the news from any individual battlefield would not mark the end of national nightmare (though many still hoped it might).

[1] Letter of George Parsons, December 12 or 13, 1862, in the Portland Advertiser, January 3, 1863. He was in the 16th Maine.

[2] Camden Democrat, December 20, 1862.

Scavenging: tents into clothes, and food for bullets


From John Hennessy

I came across these two accounts recently, calculated to make relic hunters weep and remind us all just how difficult things were in this part of the world by 1864.

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From the Richmond Daily Dispatch, July 25, 1864

“We noticed at the Central Depot on Saturday six cars loaded with arms, knapsacks, cartridge boxes, sabres, &c., together with a large lot of pig lead, the spoils of the battle-fields of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania. The balls are collected on the battle-field by the people living in the vicinity, brought to an established depot, and melted into pigs. In this way they are forwarded to the laboratory here. As lead is at this time in demand, it will be very acceptable. In this lot there is not less than 16,000 pounds; and about 8000 or 9000 stand of arms, which, with slight repairs, will be very serviceable. Lieut. Louis Zimmer, Assistant to Chief of Ordnance, has charge of that department. In return for lead and arms, he issues to the people corn meal and flour. There are many poor families in this neighborhood who have been despoiled by the Yankees of all they had, and this is of great assistance to them, as provisions are more important to them than money.”

From Nannie Brown Doherty, “Recollections of the Civil War—King George County,” Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine, December 1978, pp.3178-3190

“Many of our under-clothes were made from the duck tents which were gotten from the Yankee camps when they moved.  They always left a great deal behind, and the people found supplies of every kind….The best ladies of the land formed parties to invade the deserted camps and supply their very impoverished homes.  Sometimes old horses were left behind and became very useful as farm horses.”

Self-inflicted wounds and the surgeons’ revenge–1864


From John Hennessy:

Few things speak to the intensity and horror of the Overland Campaign than this candid admission from a man of the 2d US Sharpshooters, written on May 9, during in a lull in the campaign.

Monday, May 9 Perfectly still. Don’t know what it can mean. I’m afraid the army has moved, and I can’t tell which way. Still in the rear, and wish I was at home. I would give a hundred dollars for a discharge. Almost made up my mind to wound myself; & then concluded that I would not.*

The temptation to wound oneself was not an uncommon sentiment during the Overland Campaign, and more than a few men did.

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William McParlin, surgeon general of the army, estimated that more than 100 men wounded themselves on May 8, 1864 alone.

Assistant Surgeon John Billings recorded that a “very large number of wounds of the palm of the hand and fingers have been observed” and that often the skin around the wound was “blackened with powder,” suggesting a wound self-inflicted.

Billings also wrote of the surgeons’ revenge for what they perceived to be self-inflicted wounds:

“Amputation of the injured fingers, in such cases, has been usually performed without the use of anesthetic.”**

 

*Merton Coulter, ed., “From Spotsylvania Courthouse to Andersonville: A Diary of Darius Starr,” Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. XLI, June 1957, No. 2, p. 179.

**Billings quote from Medical and Surgical History, Part 1, Vol. 1, p. 202.

A cemeterial conundrum: the case of Charles Fuchs (and others like him)


From John Hennessy:  We repost this (originally from 2010) in advance of our walk through the National Cemetery tonight, for History at Sunset.  It is a vivid example of the conundrums we often face.

The annual illumination of the National Cemetery–one candle for each of the 15,000 men buried there.

On September 30, 1865, a private of the 11th Connecticut Infantry died in Fredericksburg. The man and his regiment were in town as part of the post-war occupation force. He died not from violence, but apparently from illness. His body was, it seems, buried in the yard of the Mary Washington House on Charles Street. Some sort of marker must have been put over the grave, for when Union soldiers arrived a year or more later to collect the remains of Union dead from the town and battlefield, they recorded finding the body of Charles Fox, Company H, 11th Connecticut.

The Mary Washington House on Charles Street, where Charles Fuchs was apparently initially buried.

The body, like more than 15,000 others, was removed to the new National Cemetery on Willis Hill.  At first a temporary wooden maker was put over the grave. We do not know how that marker was inscribed, but at least by the time a permanent marker was put in place (if not when the wooden marker was put in), someone realized that the man buried there was not named Fox. Perhaps it was an error in transcription somewhere along the line; perhaps it was an error by a careless engraver. In any event, the permanent stone over the grave records not the name Charles Fox, but rather this: Continue reading