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Report of Thomas McParlin, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, 1864 (Section III)

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Report of Thomas McParlin, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, 1864 (Section III)


"Report of Thomas McParlin," OR. Vol. 36, Part 1, p. 238-241. Transcribed by John Hennessy.

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Movements to and operations on the North Anna River, May 21 to May 27, 1864.

All the seriously sick and wounded had been sent to Fredericksburg, and the field hospital trains were packed and in park near the Anderson house on the morning of the 21st, in readiness to move in the rear of the artillery of their respective corps. During the movement to the North Anna, on the 21st and 22nd, fifteen ambulances moved in the rear of each division for the purpose of picking up such men as might fall out of ranks on account of sickness or exhaustion, while the remaining ambulances, collecting into a corps train, moved with the hospital train, and carried the slightly sick and wounded, who were not judged to be fit cases to be sent to Fredericksburg. A special detail of medical officers and attendants, furnished with all necessary supplies, moved with the latter train.

The roads were in good condition, the surface of the country level, and the weather warm and dry. The number of stragglers, especially on the 22nd, was large, and all the ambulances were soon filled.

No engagement took place during the movement, with the exception of a slight cavalry skirmish near Milford, in which 15 men were wounded. These men were cared for in the hospital of the Second Corps, which was located on the right bank of the Mattapony, in anticipation of a battle near that point. No action occurred, however, and when the corps moved off, these wounded, with 135 sick, were placed in the houses at Milford, medical officers, rations, and supplies being left with them.

They remained at that point until the 25th, and were then sent to Port Royal. During the afternoon of the 23d, the crossing of the North Anna having been effected and the enemy met with, field hospitals were promptly established on the north bank of the river, those of the Fifth Corps in an open space near some excellent springs, one-half mile north of Jericho Ford, and those of the Second Corps on the Chesterfield Ford road, 1 mile south of Mount Carmel Church.

The banks of the river at Jericho Ford were very high and precipitous, and the road down either side was very rough, being partly new corduroy, and in part a series of rocky steps and shelves caused by the irregular wearing away of the road by a small stream which flowed down its center. All the more severely wounded were, therefore, carried across the river on stretchers, after having been brought from front to the south bank by the ambulances. As the Fifth Corps not only held its ground, but advanced some distance, all the wounded were speedily and easily collected, the total number being 225.

One hundred and thirty-one were received into the hospitals of the Second Corps.

The supplies in all the hospitals were complete; ice, lemons, and clothing were abundant. As the Sixth Corps had not crossed the river no hospitals were established for it. The ambulance and hospital train was kept in park near the Fifth Corps hospitals, ready for any emergency. No general engagement took place from this time until the 27th, but skirmishing and artillery duels were constantly going on, and wounded were brought into the hospitals every hour. In the mean time the following circular had been received:


May 22, 1864 - 9.15 a. m.

Instructions have been given to return all empty wagons now at Fredericksburg and Belle Plain Landing loaded, after which, so soon as the wounded are removed from Fredericksburg, that place and Belle Plain will be abandoned, and the depot will be established at Port Royal, on the Rappahannock.

By command of Major-General Meade:


Assistant Adjutant-General.

This circular was immediately sent to Dr. Dalton, with directions to have the purveyor's boats and barges transferred at once to Port Royal, and to send hospital tents and furniture as fast as they could be spared by the removal of wounded from Fredericksburg. On the 24th of May a train was organized for the purpose of conveying wounded from the field hospitals to Port Royal, Surg. A. J. Phelps, U. S. Volunteers, being placed in charge, with orders to proceed to Port Royal and superintendent the operations of the medical department at that place until Dr. Dalton should arrive. The number sent was as follows:

Corps. Sick. Wounded. Ambulances Wagons.

Second 157 286 2 53

Fifth 66 225 21 53

Sixth 68 10 19 2

Total 291 521 42 108

Including those left at Milford on the 22nd.

Army wagons were used to as great an extent as possible in this train, as a great battle seemed imminent, and it was desirable to keep every ambulance at the front. The wagons were bedded with boughs and blankets in the usual manner, and the customary detail of medical officers and nurses, with three days' rations and a supply of dressings and hospital stores were furnished. The train rendezvoused at Milford, near which point the main trains of the army were parked. A cavalry escort of 400 men accompanied it, and it reached Port Royal without molestation by dusk on the 25th. On the 26th of May an issue of rations was made to the troops, and the empty wagons thus obtained were used to remove sick and wounded to the rear, the field hospitals being thus emptied and ready for the movement to the Pamunkey on the 27th. The number sent was as follows:

Corps. Sick. Wounded. Ambulances Wagons.

Second 88 232 2 56

Fifth 24 114 2 44

Sixth 49 --- 6 4

Ninth 101 131 30 8

Total 262 477 40 112

This train was loaded by daybreak on the 27th, and moved directly to Port Royal, arriving at that place without hinderance before dark.

On the 25th [24th] of May an order was issued by Lieutenant-General Grant, adding the Ninth Corps to the Army of the Potomac, and Surg. J. E. MacDonald, U. S. Volunteers, the medical director of the corps, reported to this office for instructions. An inspection of the medical department of this corps by Asst. Surg. J. S. Billings, U. S. Army, revealed the following facts: This corps had moved from Annapolis on the last of April, 1864, before any organization had been effected; had marched and fought almost constantly since that time. New troops had been joining it almost daily, and it was very difficult to ascertain even the number of men in the command. The means of transportation possessed by the corps was entirely too small even to furnish the rations and ammunition required, and of course none could or would be spared for the medical department.

The greater number of the regimental surgeons had drawn a full three months' regimental supply at Annapolis, which had to be left behind, and the only medical supplies with the corps were contained in the hospital knapsacks, in a few medicine chests, and panniers which were carried by sufferance in the wagons appropriated to officers' baggage, which were almost always inaccessible and useless, and in twelve Dunton medicine wagons. The organization of the ambulance corps had been commenced, but was still very imperfect. The number of ambulances required by law had been obtained in Washington, but many of them were broken and badly in need of repair, the greater part of the stretchers were missing, very few had water-kegs, and no hospital stores were carried in the ambulance boxes. Citizens had been hired as drivers for the ambulances, but the majority of them had deserted at Fredericksburg, and their places filled by the stretcher-bearers. The details of stretcher-bearers were very incomplete, and many of them already detailed seemed to have been selected on account of their worthlessness in other situations. The stretcher-bearers did not follow the regiments into battle, but remained with the ambulances, the evil results of which can readily be appreciated. Means of transportation being wanting, no hospital tents, stores, or supplies could be carried; a few tents had been borrowed, and the Dunton wagons furnished all their supplies. The medical staff of the field division hospitals had been arranged on the same basis as that of the rest of the army. All other medical officers were ordered to remain within 300 yards of the line of battle at all times.

It was not possible to supply means of transportation at this time, and consequently useless to furnish tents or stores, but requisitions were ordered to be prepared that they might be furnished as soon as a more permanent base of supplies should be reached. The proper organization of the ambulance corps was also urged forward as fast as possible, but much delay occurred in procuring the necessary details, and nearly a month passed away before they were complete.

The first train of wounded, of which Dr. Phelps was in charge, reached Port Royal, as has been before stated, on the evening of the 25th. The steamer Hugh Jenkins, loaded with hospital supplies, under charge of Assistant Surgeon Jaquett, U. S. Army, had reached that point a few hours before, as had also a large load of stores belonging to the Sanitary Commission. Colonel Cuyler had also arrived, bringing with him a number of medical officers, who were immediately employed in dressing the wounded. No buildings had been prepared for their reception, and as it was raining heavily it was thought best to leave them in the wagons and ambulances during the night, hot coffee, soup, & c., being served to them. On the 26th, they were removed from the wagons into houses, and made as comfortable as possible. No transports arrived during the day, the steamer Western Metropolis, which had been destined for that purpose, being unable to come farther up the river than Tappahannock. All the wounded were dressed and well fed during the day.

Early in the morning of the 27th, 700 slightly sick and wounded were placed on board the quartermaster's transport City of Alton, and started for Washington. About noon the hospital transport Connecticut arrived, and all the more serious cases were at once placed on board of her. She took 1,000 wounded to Washington. The second train of wounded arrived in the evening, and they were at once placed on the Connecticut and State of Maine, which had arrived during the afternoon, the latter vessel carrying 400 patients. The total number of patients sent from Port Royal was, therefore, 2,100; the number reported by corps inspectors, as sent from field hospitals, was 1,551; the number straggling was, therefore, 549. After the departure of the State of Maine all the hospital stores were loaded on the barges, and when Dr. Dalton arrived, on the 28th, he found orders waiting for him directing him to proceed to White House.



"Report of Thomas McParlin, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, 1864 (Section III)," in Fredericksburg: City of Hospitals, Item #41, https://projects.umwhistory.org/cwh/items/show/41 (accessed October 23, 2021).

Added by tbrann