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Christian Commission General Field Agent John A. Cole Reports on Fredericksburg, 1864

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  • Christian Commission General Field Agent John A. Cole Reports on Fredericksburg, 1864

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Christian Commission General Field Agent John A. Cole Reports on Fredericksburg, 1864

Source

United States Christian Commission, for the Army and Navy: Work and Incidents. Third Annual Report. Philadelphia, 1865, pp. 71-73. Transcribed by Taylor Brann.

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On the 8th of May, immediately after the battle of the Wilderness, the wounded were placed in long trains of ambulances and army wagons, and taken to the city of Fredericksburg, on their way north.

Two sections of the Commission—the "Sixth" and "Ninth"—attended them on the march, and remained with them until relief came by way of Bell Plain.

In the course of the day, the army of wounded men, variously estimated at from ten to fifteen thousand, was poured in upon the rebel city. Every church and hall, court-house and theatre, with whole blocks and streets of stores and dwelling-houses, were taken for hospitals.

With only a small corps of surgeons—almost entirely destitute of food and medical supplies—having but few competent to act as nurses and attendants, their condition was pitiable and wretched in the extreme, and must so remain until stores and nurses were sent from the North to their relief. The agents and delegates who were with these men, found every thing which they had in their heavily loaded wagons, precious beyond estimate.

Barrels of crackers, sugar, coffee, boxes of milk, brandy, rags and bandages, soap, chloroform, plaster, every thing so carefully selected, was needed to save the very lives of men. Literally, thousands of suffers received from these stores, for two or three days, nearly all the sustenance they had.

A fine large mansion, furnished throughout, but deserted by its owners, and occupied only by slaves, was taken to be used as headquarters of the Christian Commission, in anticipation of the corps of "minute-men" expected.

They were soon on the ground--a noble army of surgeons, clergymen, lawyers, and merchants, coming equipped for work, to the number of over two hundred men. The agent in charge of the supply section had succeeded in his duties, and was the first to land stores and men at Belle Plain, the new base, and was able to minister to a thousand wounded men, who had reached the shore, before any other relief organization was on the ground. He brought besides tents and cooking utensils, an additional number of wagons and horses, and a large stock of supplies—so that very soon the Commission had most efficient stations, both a Fredericksburg and at Belle Plain.

The corps of delegates at Fredericksburg were organized in such a way as to insure the careful visitation of every hospital in the city and suburbs. A store-room was opened, and the supplies received at Belle Plain were carefully issued, the delegates in nearly every case superintending their distribution to the needy men. Committees were appointed to watch for the trains of ambulances from the front, ready to give nourishment to the wounded, or assist in their removal to their rude hospital, to see that the hospitals were supplied with ice and straw, and to search the streets and houses for any men who might have been overlooked in the great throng.

The delegates, under the direction of the "Corps Captains," spent the day in assisting the surgeons and nurses, in writing letters for the men, and holding prayers--in some cases night and morning, in other hospitals but once a day—in every ward. Many of the delegates being surgeons of known ability, were put in charge of hospitals by the Medical Director, and others were made ward masters, having oversight of the army nurses.

In many ways, for two long weeks, the delegates worked night and day among the wounded.

Loads of straw were "foraged," and brought to the city for bedding; loads of ice, found in ice-houses of the vicinity, were distributed; many tons of clothing, fruit, and hospital stores, were brought from Belle Plain, and hundreds of meeting and funerals attended.

For several days the wounded were sent as fast as transportation could be obtained over the mountain roads to Belle Plain; but the roads became so bad, that the lives of men were endangered. The Government soon rebuilt the railroad from Acquia Creek to Falmouth, and the men were then transported very comfortably and safely to boats.

When the order to evacuate the city came, a tent of Commission was pitched at Falmouth, near the railroad, where the wounded were being loaded upon cars, and kettles of farina, coffee and lemonade prepared and given to the poor sufferers. Many who were near death were brought there, and left upon the ground in the cold rain throughout the night. Some died there; and doubtless many more would have died, had it not been for the constant care bestowed upon them by the delegates of the Commission, and the food and stimulants given. A constant stream of men, halt, lame and blind, in ambulances, on crutches, on stretchers, poured for days out from the streets of Fredericksburg, across the long pontoon, up to the railroad station. Soon all had gone, and on the 28th of May the "dolorous city" was given up to its inhabitants.

Touching a few hours at Port Royal, the supply station next established was at White-House, where, for two weeks, was a scene of remarkable activity.

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Citation

"Christian Commission General Field Agent John A. Cole Reports on Fredericksburg, 1864," in Fredericksburg: City of Hospitals, Item #18, http://projects.umwhistory.org/cwh/items/show/18 (accessed November 24, 2017).

Added by tbrann