Gangrene and Glory: Medical Care during the American Civil War

By Frank R. Freemon | Go to book overview

19
Union Medical Support for the Decisive Campaigns of 1864

THE GRITTY, GROANING, GRINDING STRUGGLE OF 1864 involved separate campaigns across the entire sweep of the Confederacy. The South was reeling, but the Northern public was weary of the War. Could the Union put the final choke hold on the dying South, or would the South summon the last ounce of resistance that was needed to convince its enemies that their war aims were just not worth the misery? November 1864 was the great constitutional terminus of these campaigns. If the armies failed, the Northern populace would elect McClellan and the Confederacy would survive.

Four military and naval actions would decide the outcome of this fratricidal War. U.S. naval forces proposed to push into Mobile Bay, cutting off the city of Mobile. Grant's army was poised to march into northern Virginia and take Richmond. Sherman planned to enter Georgia and take Atlanta. Finally, much hope was placed upon the occupation of Arkansas and Louisiana. The medical services of the Union army and navy were ready to support these invasions.

The Battle of Mobile Bay challenged the medical system of the U.S. Navy. Admiral David G. Farragut was in his flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, as his fleet pushed past Fort Morgan, guarding the entrance to the bay. One of the ironclads, the U.S.S. Tecumseh, hit an underwater mine and capsized. Once inside Mobile Bay, the Union fleet was challenged by the C.S.S. Tennessee, supported by three small vessels. The Tennessee put up a vigorous resistance. It was raked by the fire of many ships and repeatedly rammed. The Federal flagship U.S.S. Hartford purposely collided with the Confederate ironclad, slid alongside it, and poured a broadside into the Confederate vessel at a distance, estimated by Admiral Farragut, at not more than twelve feet. The steering mechanism of the Tennessee was blown away, the ship lay helpless in the water. Faced with such a hopeless situation, the Confederate fleet commander, Admiral Franklin Buchanan, ordered the colors struck. Buchanan had suffered a compound fracture of the lower leg.1

Among the prisoners from the Tennessee were two doctors. Assistant Surgeon R. C. Bowles had been the vessel's physician. Since the Tennessee was the flagship of Admiral Buchanan, also on board was the fleet surgeon, Dr. Daniel B. Conrad. These surgeons examined Admiral Buchanan and determined that amputation of the leg was necessary.

In addition to those lost on the Tecumseh, the U.S. Navy had suffered a total of 22 killed and 170 wounded in the exchange of fire with the fort and with the Tennessee. Among the Union casualties were two medical personnel killed and two injured. Nurse George Stillwell was killed by a shell while serving aboard the flagship Hartford. The medical officer of the Tecumseh, Acting Assistant Surgeon H. A. Danker, was drowned when his vessel capsized.2 Surgeon's steward Oliver Crommelin was severely scalded when a boiler exploded aboard the U.S.S. Oneida. Surgeon's steward Holbert Lane suffered splinters in his scalp

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