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Report of Edward B. Dalton, Chief Medial Officer of Depot Field Hospital, 1864

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  • Report of Edward B. Dalton, Chief Medial Officer of Depot Field Hospital, 1864

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Report of Edward B. Dalton, Chief Medial Officer of Depot Field Hospital, 1864


"Report of Edward B. Dalton," OR Vol. 36, Pt. 1, p. 269-271. Transcribed by John Hennessy.

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City Point, Va., December [31], 1864.

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report upon the origin and development of the depot field hospital of the Army of the Potomac, from May to October of the present year:

On the 7th of May, 1864, it was ordered from the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac that all the wounded from the battle-fields of the Wilderness should be taken across the Rapidan River, via Ely's Ford, to Rappahannock Station, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and thence sent by rail to Washington, and I was ordered to take general charge of their transportation. Owing to the constant and heavy demand for ambulances at the immediate front, a large number of army wagons were furnished by the quartermaster's department to assist in the execution of this order. The amount of transportation, however, was still quite insufficient, and a large number of wounded were left at the various field depots under the care of a few medical officers and attendants provided with such shelter, supplies, and rations as the emergency allowed. The train was at once gotten in readiness, loaded with wounded, and furnished with the requisite amount of rations and medical supplies. A few medical officers were detailed from each corps for the care of the wounded during the trip. The train was fairly under way when the enemy's cavalry was reported in the vicinity of Ely's Ford. An order was received to proceed no farther in that direction, but to turn back and follow in the rear of the army. This order was at once carried into effect, and the train followed the line of march during the night.

The following day, May 8, I received an order to conduct the train to Fredericksburg, Va., and there place the wounded in temporary hospital accommodations until they could be removed to Washington. A suitable escort was provided and the train proceeded as ordered, entering Fredericksburg about 1 o'clock on the morning of the 9th. The churches, public buildings, warehouses, mills, and the more commodious of the private dwellings were at once taken possession of for hospital purposes, and a large number of wounded officers and men were billeted upon such a families as still remained in town. Over 7,000 wounded, the whole number brought on the train, were thus placed under shelter. The number of medical officers and attendants was, of necessity, disproportionaly small. Some 30 medical officers were present. These worked most faithfully and steadily, day and night. The immediate necessities of the wounded were attended to with very little delay, and the less pressing demands met with all possible dispatch. The absolute impossibility of preparing accurate records under these circumstances makes it impossible now to furnish more than a report of the general conduct of affairs. Every effort was made to systematize as rapidly as possible. The organization adopted was by corps, corresponding to the organization of the army. Certain buildings with the adjacent district of the town were assigned to each corps hospital, and the men belonging to the same collected, so far as practicable, within the limits of this district. From the medical officers present of each corps one was selected as surgeon in charge, and the remainder were assigned to duty as assistants. This same organization, with some modifications in the details, has continued up to the present time.

The day after the occupation of the city, and for several days subsequently, trains of ambulances containing supplies were sent with flag of truce under charge of a medical officer to the Wilderness for the purpose of completing the removal of the wounded. All, save a few taken by the enemy, were thus brought into town. Owing to the fact that this occupation of Fredericksburg as a hospital was entirely unexpected, a day or two intervened between the arrival of the wounded and the establishment of communication with Washington, during which time the supply of medical and hospital stores, surgical appliances, &c., was quite limited. Ships ladened with everything necessary reached Belle Plain on the 10th of May, and wagon trains at once brought an abundance to the city. At the same time a number of surgeons from civil life arrived and reported for duty in accordance with orders from the Surgeon-General's Office. many of these rendered most valuable assistance. Immediately upon the establishment of communication with Washington measures were taken to transport to that city all such men as were disabled for more than thirty days. All the available transportation was used for the more severe cases, while many wounded only in the upper extremity were sent in squads on foot to Belle Plain under charge of a medical officer and there placed on board transports.

Mean time the battles of Spotsylvania sent in daily accessions to the number in the city. In some instances the ambulance and wagon trains containing these were unloaded at once, while in others they were halted for a sufficient length of time to allow of provision for the immediate wants of those on board, and were then sent on at once to Belle Plain. On the 20th, 300 hospital tents arrived. These were distributed to the different corps hospitals, and were at once pitched outside the town. So many of the wounded as could thus be accommodated were transferred from the buildings without delay.

On the 22nd, the repairs of the Falmouth and Aquia Creek Railway were completed, and this additional means constantly made use of for the removal of the wounded to Aquia Landing, to which point the depots previously at Belle Plain had been transferred.

Simultaneously with the opening of the railroad, light-draught steamers reached the city by the Rappahannock River. These were hastily furnished with supplies, straw, &c., and used for the transportation of wounded to Tappahannock and other points lower down the river, where hospital transports were ready to receive and convey them to Washington. The army had now moved so far that Fredericksburg was no longer eligible as a hospital depot, and every effort was made to evacuate the town as promptly as possible. By the morning of Saturday, the 28th of May, the wounded were all removed, and all public property placed on board steamers and barges in tow. These dropped down the river under convoy of a gun-boat, while the ambulances and army wagons moved overland under escort of the troops which had been garrisoning the city during its occupation. By night both reached Port Royal, which had already been occupied as a depot, but was about to be abandoned in consequence of the onward march of the army toward the Peninsula. Some thousand wounded had been brought here from the front by Surg. A. J. Phelps, U. S. Volunteers, and by him sent thence to Washington. No more were expected, and White House, on the Pamunkey River, had been designated as the next base. The necessary arrangements for transportation to said point were made without delay, and the medical officers, with their hospital attendants and property, sailed on the afternoon of the following day. Surg. W. L. Faxon, Thirty-second Massachusetts Volunteers, in charge of the Fifth Corps hospital, remained in charge at Port Royal until the departure of the last boat to see that nothing appertaining to the department should be neglected. After thoroughly performing this duty, he accompanied the troops and train across land to the new base.



"Report of Edward B. Dalton, Chief Medial Officer of Depot Field Hospital, 1864," in Fredericksburg: City of Hospitals, Item #42, https://projects.umwhistory.org/cwh/items/show/42 (accessed October 23, 2021).

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