A series of posts last month looked at the burial and possible re-burial of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson’s arm (found here, here and here). This post is intended to discuss available information about the Confederate Second Corps hospital established at Wilderness Tavern during the Battle of Chancellorsville, including the location where Jackson’s arm was amputated.
In the wake of Jackson’s May 2, 1863 attack on the Union right at Chancellorsville, medical facilities were immediately secured for the wounded. Places such as Melzi Chancellor’s “Dowdall’s Tavern,” James Talley’s farm, and Wilderness Church became field hospitals for both Confederate and captured Union casualties. The location chosen for the Confederate Second Corps hospital, under charge of Dr. Harvey Black, was at Wilderness Tavern. Wilderness Tavern was a few miles to the rear (west) of the battlefield. It was situated a short distance east of the important road intersection formed by the Orange Turnpike and Germanna Plank Road, and was located across Wilderness Run from the J. Horace Lacy plantation “Ellwood.”
The tavern was a property owned in 1863 by William M. Simms. It consisted of a collection of structures, including a store, house, tavern and several outbuildings.
In a claim for damages filed by Simms following the battle, the use of the “dwelling house kitchen – two stables, granary store house and two shops” is listed. While it cannot be confirmed, this does suggest that perhaps the Confederates commandeered space within Mr. Simms’s buildings for use by the hospital.
The hospital must have been a sprawling complex. Dr. Thomas F. Wood of the 3rd North Carolina Infantry found the hospital “to consist of a few small houses and a number of hospital tents.” A few hundred yards west of Wilderness Tavern, along Germanna Plank Road, the “Stonewall” Brigade hospital, under charge of Dr. John A. Straith, was located. Hospital Steward John S. Apperson wrote in his diary for May 4th
“This evening Dr. B. & myself walked over to 1st Brigade Hospital, at Woodville Mines farm. There I found many of my old associates and friends mutilated and torn – Horrible War.”
While it would be impossible to determine exactly how many men received care at the Second Corps hospital complex, the number would certainly be in the thousands. Dr. Lafayette Guild, Chief Surgeon and Medical Director of the Army of Northern Virginia, reported that the three divisions of the Second Corps engaged at Chancellorsville lost 1,069 killed and 5,714 wounded. Dr. Robert T. Coleman, Chief Surgeon of Trimble’s Division (Brig. Gen. Raleigh E. Colston, commanding), stated in his endorsement of Simms’s damage claim that at one point 3,000 men were treated at the Wilderness Tavern hospital.
Many of those who arrived for treatment at the hospital ultimately died there. Simms’s damaged claim listed 4,000 feet of wood planking that was confiscated for the use of coffins. One who was buried at the tavern was Lieutenant Colonel Samuel T. Walker of the 10th Virginia Infantry.
Walker had been killed in the fighting on May 3. His body was carried to the hospital, where he was temporarily buried. In a letter dated May 14, Captain Samuel M. Sommers wrote a friend:
“I have just received your letter of the 9th, and thank you for the kind feeling manner in which you condole with the friends of Col. Walker. I ordered from Richmond a metallic burial case and visited his grave Monday and removed his body & forwarded it to his friends in New Market. The remains went to Staunton Wednesday and I suppose has before this reached its destination. I found the body in an excellent state of preservation and quite decently buried in a smooth Pine box in Mrs. Sims garden about five miles from Chancellorsville before which place he fell. He was shot over the left breast with a solid cannon ball which killed him instantly.” – Letter, dated May 14, 1863, Captain Samuel M. Sommers to “Dear Judge,” Lewis Leigh Collection, USAMHI, Carlisle Barracks, Penn.
Of course, the most famous patient was the corps commander himself, which is discussed in a follow-up post here.
Eric J. Mink