Gangrene and Glory: Medical Care during the American Civil War

By Frank R. Freemon | Go to book overview

8
Confederate Medicine Organizing

THE PENINSULA CAMPAIGN ALSO TESTED CONFEDerate medicine. As the Union forces gathered in Washington prior to their naval movement to the peninsula between the James and York Rivers, the Confederate commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, expected a direct attack across the Potomac on his army in northern Virginia. He notified Surgeon General Samuel P. Moore that he was clearing from his regiments all those who were ill; 9,000 sick soldiers required hospitalization in Richmond. Moore quickly surveyed the existing hospitals and found that only 2,500 beds were available. Barracks had been built on Chimborazo Hill to the east of Richmond for use as winter quarters for Johnston's army. Since that army was in northern Virginia, Moore was able to acquire these barracks for use as a hospital. He built additional small wooden buildings to create the gigantic Chimborazo Hospital. Tobacco factories in Richmond were empty because tobacco was no longer being shipped abroad. The tobacco factory workers provided much of the labor for the construction of the new hospital. Wood for the Chimborazo pavilion buildings came from unused tobacco crates.

The surgeon general appointed Dr. James Brown McCaw to direct this huge new hospital. Born in Richmond, McCaw graduated in 1844 from the medical faculty of the University of the City of New York. He had studied surgery by apprenticeship to the leading New York surgeon, Dr. Valentine Mott. McCaw practiced medicine and surgery in Richmond, where he edited the Virginia Medical and Surgical Journal until it ceased publication at the beginning of the War. In addition to being a practicing physician and an editor, McCaw had been professor of chemistry at the Medical College of Virginia.

Administratively, Chimborazo Hospital was a separate army post. McCaw was commandant of the post as well as surgeon-in-charge of the hospital. This meant that he supervised a line officer with thirty soldiers as guards; Dr. McCaw became thereby one of the few medical officers to command combat troops. Dr. McCaw had studied the utopian communities of the early nineteenth century as a hobby and based his administration of Chimborazo upon what he had learned. McCaw received no extra funds from the Confederacy, only the money that the patients would have required for their rations if they had been with their regiments. The hospital owned its own livestock, about two hundred cows and five hundred goats, and grazed them on nearby farmland donated by the landowner. A boat named the Chimborazo traveled up the James River as far as Lynchburg to obtain food for the patients.1

The hospital was divided into five sections. These divisions separated soldiers by states and were often called hospitals; for example, the Second Division was called the Georgia Hospital and was under the command of noted Georgia physician Henry F. Campbell. Each division consisted of about thirty wooden pavilions, referred to as wards. Each was one story, one hundred feet long by thirty feet wide, containing two rows of beds. At times, the capacity of the hospital was increased by the use of large tents. The view from the eleva

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