Confederate Second Corps Hospital at Wilderness Tavern: Jackson’s Amputation

From Mink:

The first part of this discussion can be found here.

Following his accidental wounding on the night of May 2, Jackson was transported to the Second Corps hospital at Wilderness Tavern. Dr. Hunter H. McGuire, the Medical Director for the Second Corps, oversaw Jackson’s treatment. McGuire first reached the general on the Orange Turnpike just inside the Confederate lines. He sent a courier to Dr. Black at Wilderness Tavern, informing him that Jackson would soon be arriving. According to McGuire, Black “had a large tent prepared with a bed in it (blankets over the bed) and a stove with fire.” Amidst the sprawling hospital complex, the exact site of this tent cannot be pinpointed, but its general location can be determined.

James Power Smith, Jackson’s aide-de-camp and a postwar resident of the Fredericksburg area, later wrote about arriving at the hospital that night:

“Through the night, back over the battle-field of the afternoon, we reached the Wilderness store, and in a field on the north the field-hospital of our corps under Dr. Harvey Black. Here we found a tent prepared…” – James Power Smith,”With Stonewall Jackson,” Southern Historical Society Papers, New Series No. V, Whole Number XLIII, p. 53

David Kyle, who acted as the guide for Jackson during his ill-fated reconnaissance, also described the location of Jackson’s tent:

“…drove on up the pike to the Wilderness Old Tavern, where Mr. W.M. Simms lived at the time. They drove out on the right of the pike in the field to a hospital tent, where they took General Jackson out of the ambulance and carried him into the tent, which was the last I ever saw of him.” – David Kyle, “Jackson’s Guide When Shot,” in Confederate Veteran, Vol. IV, No 9 (September 1896), p. 309

From these two accounts, it’s safe to say that Jackson’s tent, and the site of the amputation of his arm, was on the north side of the Orange Turnpike. Can the location be narrowed down anymore?

In 1936, NPS Historian Ralph Happel looked into the site of Jackson’s amputation. Happel interviewed local residents about their knowledge of the tavern and the Second Corps hospital. Happel made contact with Miss. Anna E. Dempsey, who was born around 1861 and whose brother owned the land north of Wilderness Tavern. Miss Dempsey informed Happel that:

“Jackson’s arm was amputated in the Second Corps field hospital, north of the road and some 175 yards east of the tavern site…This fact I got from Mr. James Power Smith, who often talked of the field location in my presence.” – Ralph Happel, “Report on the Locations of the Old Wilderness Tavern and the Spot Where Jackson’s Arm was Amputated During the Chancellorsville Campaign” (1935, revised 1936). Copy in the CRM Office, FRSP.

According to Miss Dempsey’s information, it would appear that Jackson’s tent was located in the fields north and a couple hundred yards east of Wilderness Tavern.

The red shaded area is the general area where Jackson’s tent was located.

Dr. McGuire amputated Jackson’s left arm early on the morning of May 3. The following day, the general was transported to Guinea Station, where he died six days later.

On May 8, Dr. Black received orders to break down the hospital at Wilderness Tavern. All of the wounded that could be transported were moved off to the railroad at Hamilton’s Crossing, south of Fredericksburg, while the hospital moved to Guinea Station. Hospital Steward Apperson noted:

“Nearly a hundred wagons reported to carry the wounded to Hamilton’s. I distributed the wagons to the different Hospitals.”

The removal of wounded and personnel began on May 9. Not all of the wounded were safe to move. Dr. Black, in a letter to his wife, written on May 11:

“All the wounded have been sent off but about 250 who have been left under charge of Dr. Graham at Major Lacy’s house, a beautiful place, fine house and an ice house well filled.” – Letter, dated May 11, 1863, Dr. Harvey Black to “Dear Wife,” in A Surgeon with Stonewall Jackson: The Civil War Letters of Dr. Harvey Black (1995), p. 49

J. Horace Lacy’s Ellwood plantation became the home for those unable to travel and Dr. John A. Graham of the 5th Virginia Infantry was in charge. Dr. Black says that 250 were left behind, while Dr. Lafayette Guild. Medical Director of the Army of Northern Virginia reported to Richmond that 132 officers and men too badly wounded to be moved were left at Ellwood. Most were cases of compound fractures or amputations.

J. Horace Lacy’s “Ellwood”

“They were comfortably provided for with bedding, bunks, changes of clothing, medical supplies & dressings, Surgeons & nurses & such provision as could be obtained…” – Letter, dated May 22, 1863, Dr. Lafayette Guild to Surgeon General Guild Samuel P. Moore, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

By May 22, the number had been reduced to 90 from deaths or removals. Some of those patients remained at Ellwood into August, as suggested in a claim filed by Lacy. The hospital requisitioned from his plantation 192 gallons of milk and 5 pounds of lamb, for which he was reimbursed $220.

Typescript of Lacy’s invoice.

As late as November 11, 1863 a Confederate artilleryman remembered seeing a hospital flag flying from the roof of Ellwood. It seems hard to believe that any wounded from the May battle were still being quartered there six months later.

This busy little area is now quickly bypassed by motorists. The twentieth century has greatly altered the landscape around Wilderness Tavern. In the first quarter of the century, the road network was changed. The connection between the Orange Turnpike and Germanna Plank Road (now State Routes 3 and 20) was straightened out, thereby shifting the modern intersection slightly to the north and west of its historic location. State Route 3, as it passes the Wilderness Tavern site, was widened in the 1970s. The westbound lanes were added and thus cut through the field where Jackson’s hospital was located. Whether the location of Jackson’s hospital tent is under asphalt, in the median strip or still in the open fields is difficult to say.

Looking northwest across the westbound lanes of State Route 3. The site of Jackson’s hospital tent may very well be somewhere in the photo.

All of the buildings associated with Wilderness Tavern are now gone. The last standing structure, a two-story dependency, burned in 1978. The site is owned by the NPS and is an interpretive tour stop.

Wilderness Tavern dependency on fire – May 1978. All that remains on the site is the chimney stack.

Efforts to protect what remains of the landscape made a significant gain with the recent purchase of 93 acres by the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT). This property sits to the rear (south) of the tavern site and was part of William Simms’s Wilderness Tavern property.

Eric J. Mink

3 thoughts on “Confederate Second Corps Hospital at Wilderness Tavern: Jackson’s Amputation

  1. W M Simms who lived at the tavern at the time when Jackson was taken there was my Grear Great Grandfather. I have info. on that and how my Great Great Grand mother Mrs. Simms talked to Gen. Jackson. Who can I talk to who might have interest in that?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s