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Letter of Surgeon Melvin John Hyde, 2nd Vermont

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Letter of Surgeon Melvin John Hyde, 2nd Vermont


Chittick, Geraldine Frances, ed. In the Field: Doctor Melvin John Hyde, Surgeon, 2nd Vermont Volunteers. Newport, Vermont: Civil War Enterprises, 1999. Transcribed by John Hennessy.

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Dear Alice:

I received yours of May 2nd this evening also your mother's of April 26th. I made my clerk write you the other day. I was so busy that I had no time myself. O Alice we have had one of the most bloody battles this world ever saw lasting several days.

We left camp on the morning I told you we should in my last letter. It was on the 4th and 5th we had a terrible battle. Our Col. Stone of my regiment was shot dead and our Lt.Col, Tyler was shot through the thigh, and nearly all the captains and lieutenants of our regiment were killed, mortally wounded or very seriously wounded. The officers of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Vermont were also many of them severely wounded and some killed. The soldiers were cut down by hundreds. Our Brigade numbering 4000 men when it left camp, now numbers about 700! Our Regiment alone numbered nearly 1000 when it went into the fight and now it numbers 140! We had to fight them in the woods the first day. I went with my regiment till it made the charge with the rest of the Brigade, and then was ordered back to the field division hospital where I had to operate all that day and nearly all night. We put up 30 large hospital tents, which were crowded with the wounded while 1500 men lay on the ground around suffering the most heart-rending cries of agony. We numbered but 5 or 6 surgeons and it took us about 3 days to attend them and then many had to be moved in army wagons and ambulances without having their wounds dressed at all! All this time the ambulances continued to bring in the wounded of our Division and the cannonading and musketry was almost deafening. O, it was terrible to hear the poor fellows cry for water or in piteous tones cry out to any surgeon that chanced to pass near him for help. The third night we left this place and moved on about 9 miles and established our hospital on the "Old Chancellorsville" battleground, called Cherry Grove, 3 miles from Chancellorsville. We stayed here one day and a night with about 200 wounded on our hands and Dr. Allen, the Division Director, detailed me to furnish food and shelter for the wounded of the whole division - besides having to perform operations. In the night all our wounded but 300 were sent on to Fredericksburg and all the surgeons were sent on with them but I refused to go, declaring that I would never leave 300 wounded men behind without food or medical aid, to perish, for there were many Vermonters among them. I accordingly remained and rode all night around the field to keep straggling horsemen from trampling on the wounded who lay all over the field without shelter or even a blanket. In the morning I cooked them some coffee which had been left with me for the them and passed it around with some hard tack. I then detailed some of the stragglers to carry 33 of them on stretchers to a house about a quarter of a mile off, as the poor fellows lay with the hot sun streaming into their faces, many of them half naked, their clothes having been torn off to dress their wounds which were now covered with matter and smelled horribly. At this moment about noon some army wagons were sent back for them but could not carry all, about 40 still remaining, including 13 Vermonters. With these I resolved to stay and starve if necessary. Just then General Grant of our Brigade passed in the rear of the 6th Corps and I begged a beef of him which I butchered and kept the men alive 4 days on beef tea. The first day that I was here I sent my man on to Spotsylvania with my two horses. At the same time, the 6th Corps passed, which was the rear of our army. They had not been gone four hours when [Confederate] Gen. Stewar's [ J.E.B. Stuart(?)] Cavalry came along and took me and my wounded prisoners. They did not disturb my hospital - on the contrary they acted like gentleman. They surrounded my hospital and the woods about 50 rods off was full of them. They took many stragglers near my hospital prisoners - pointed revolvers at their heads and robbed them of everything. After I had been a prisoner four days Gen. Stewart [Stuart?] said he would parole me and all my wounded, but fortunately before he could do it, during the night the army [US] Director came for us with a flag of truce and a strong cavalry escort. The rebs happened to be out of sight searching for plunder at this time so we got off all right with our ambulances to Fredericksburg. The Director made a great spread about it.



"Letter of Surgeon Melvin John Hyde, 2nd Vermont," in Fredericksburg: City of Hospitals, Item #49, https://projects.umwhistory.org/cwh/items/show/49 (accessed October 23, 2021).

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