Battle of Chickamauga I – Muskets and Medicine

 In her memoir Little Doctor on the Black Horse, Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton does not describe the Battle of Chickamauga, because David Benedict did not mention the battle in any of the letters he wrote to his wife. Instead, she added a few pages at the end of the memoir, as if it were an afterthought. In the right order, this, and the two posts that follow should be read after Little Doctor on the Black Horse, Post #4: A Prisoner of War on this website.

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Battle of Chickamauga – Part I

by Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton

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There is no account of the Battle of Chickamauga in D. D. B.’s letters, but years later the steward, Solon Hyde wrote a book, A Captive of War [1] in which he told his war experiences. The following is from that book (condensed).

On September 19, 1863, the rising sun was gilding the crests of the north Georgia hills as the 17th O.V.I., Col. Connell commanding, completed a frosty night’s march from the right flank of Rosecrans’ army to the extreme left, and deployed just to the west of the hills that bordered the Chattanooga Road. The blue clad line, tense and quiet as yet, extended some six miles along the front. Then, the boom of cannon; a shell fell nearby. The battle had begun.

 The medics had had the luck to find an excellent hospital site at the foot of a wooded hill, in a grove surrounding a gushing spring whose clear waters were carried in a wooden trough to a log spring house. The supply wagons rushed straw from an old barn, while the doctors, steward and “special duty” soldiers who served as nurses unpacked and arranged instruments and supplies. The red hospital flag was run up and some twenty tents erected. The flood of casualties began. The tents soon filed. Many more lay on heaps of straw throughout the grove, with less severely wounded propped against trees. The overworked ambulances could not keep up with their removal. Throughout the day, the doctors and nurses worked at top speed, bandaging, stitching, administering sedatives (asedetida, valerian, opiates and whiskey) while the bloody heap of amputated arms, feet and legs grew higher.

 

Union Field Hospital

Union Hospital at Savage Station, Virginia – 1862

 

 The surgery of a century ago now sounds fantastically inadequate. Anesthetics were crude, antiseptics still beyond the horizon. No penicillin, no sulfa, no blood bank, no sterilization. Instruments were washed, when and if, in any available water. Chas. Johnson in Muskets and Medicine, says: The frightful handicap of Civil War surgery was a lack of knowledge of asepsis and antiseptics. The surgeon was making use of the very best lights of his day, dangerous as some of them were. [2]

With the dawn (Sunday) the battle resumed. The Rebel line had advanced so far that the Cloud’s Spring hospital site [3] was now to its right and rear, too far behind the fighting to receive so many casualties. But soon the Confederate sharpshooters spied the red flag amidst the trees, and their rifle fire was followed by artillery shells which soon sent doctors and nurses scurrying behind trees or over the hill. David and Hyde took refuge in the spring house.

Wham! A shell struck the ground beyond the hut. The loose straw blazed, the flames spreading toward a tent. Solon grabbed a bucket of water and started for the fire, but a ball close to his head sent him scrambling back to shelter. The lone patient in the tent, whose ankle had been almost severed in the battle, managed to crawl out, his useless foot dangling, and was carried to safety.

Suddenly, from beyond the road sounded the blood-curdling Rebel yell, and a group of horsemen burst from the woods. Hyde seized the sheet from the amputating table and waved a bloody flag of truce. The 17th’s hospital had been captured by Col. Scott’s troops of Forrest’s Cavalry! The colonel, upon learning that he had taken a hospital of wounded, both Blue and Gray, at once detailed men to guard and assist, and also took over the Cloud’s home on the hilltop, for additional shelter.

Later a small Union force swooped in, recapturing the site, only to be, themselves, hemmed in and cut to pieces. The doctors went on with their work, too busy to worry about the changes.

Next: Chickamauga II – Nathan Bedford Forrest Comes to Breakfast

 

Editor Footnotes

A Captive of War[1] A Captive of War is a memoir of the Civil War experiences of Solon Hyde of the 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In addition to his descriptions of the Battle of Chickamauga (which includes how Doctor Benedict and he stayed behind with the wounded as the other medical personnel “skedaddled”), Solon tells of his harrowing experiences as a prisoner of war, to include his time at Andersonville. After the war, he assisted Clara Barton in her work to identify the dead at that notorious prison camp. The book was published in 1900 by McClure, Phillips & Company. That version is now available online at Google Books. In 1996, Solon’s great-grandson Neil Thompson republished the book. It is available on Amazon. As an account of what Union prisoners of war experienced during the Civil War, this book cannot be beat. I highly recommend it.

Muskets and Medicine[2] Harriet did not include this gruesome passage that proceeds her quote from Muskets and Medicine :  “. . . Captain William Colby . . . was in a comatose state from a bullet that had penetrated his brain through the upper portion of the occipital bone. The first thing our surgeon did was to run his index finger its full length into the wound; and this without even ordinary washing.”

Like Solon Hyde, Charles Johnson was a Hospital Steward during the Civil War, serving in the 130th Illinois Volunteers. After the war, he became a medical doctor, and in 1917 published Muskets and Medicine, an account of his experiences in the war. As with Solon’s Captive of War, it is available online at Google Books. This is a highly readable account of daily life in the Civil War, with a great account of medical practices of the day (pages 123-134). I also recommend it for anyone looking for personal accounts of the war.

 

Chickamauga Hospital Locations

[3] The Cloud House Hospital was located at the far left flank of the Union lines. I found online at “Medical Support at the Battle of Chickamauga,” Chapter 5 of a thesis by someone named Rubenstein (if you know anything about this thesis, please let me know in the comments). A sketch on page 76 (at left) shows the location of Cloud House (top center), and descriptions of the fate of the hospital are on pages 77 and 84-85. An endnote on pages 93-94 also provide a discussion of varying accounts by participants. For those interested in the Battle of Chickamauga, the endnotes provide good sources for further research.

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harriott-wickham-1915-20-2About the Author: Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton   (1890-1981) was born in Norwalk, Ohio to Frank and Agnes Wickham. Her father was the youngest of twelve children of Frederick and Lucy Wickham, early settlers of the Firelands, and her mother was the great-great granddaughter of Platt and Sarah Benedict, who founded the city of Norwalk. Educated at Norwalk High School and Wooster College, she became a teacher. She marched as a suffragette and worked for the Labor Department during World War I. After the war, she went west to teach school, and became one of the last homesteaders, proving up a property near Wheatland, Wyoming. She married Angus Barton in 1924 and they raised four children on the homestead through the Dust Bowl and World War II. In the late 1940s, she and her Angus moved to Ohio, where they spent the rest of their lives. During the 1950s and ‘60s, she wrote “Little Doctor on the Black Horse,” poetry, and short stories, some which were published in various journals and magazines.

Next: Chickamauga II – Nathan Bedford Forrest Comes to Breakfast.

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2 Responses

  1. Dave lost your email would like to have a few articles reprinted for the Norwalk Bicentennial, in the Huron co ogs newsletters. Please contact me back for your permission or response. Jodie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Jodie. I’d be happy to give permission to use my articles in your newsletter. By the way, your last message to me prompted me to join HCOGS. I was pleased to see that you included my article about Daniel Benedict in your last issue of the Kinologist. My email is firelands1816@gmail.com.
    Dave

    Like

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