The Army Hospitals, Surgeons, and Nurses, 1861
NO general hospitals existed in the army before the war. There were post hospitals; the largest, at Fort Leavenworth, held forty beds. The start of hostilities created problems of expansion, which the Medical Bureau seemed powerless to meet adequately. The quartermaster corps hesitated to build the structures it would have to furnish with a variety of expensive but essential appliances. Men needed guns, not beds, reasoned the quartermasters, who left little to that field where doctors were proper authorities. Threat of catastrophe might force the Medical Bureau to call for many new hospitals; but would the quartermasters sense this danger with the same conviction?
In June of 1861 Olmsted reported a diversity of opinions regarding the location of convalescent hospitals. Cameron wanted to use the Naval Academy at Annapolis; New York was too far from the war zone to permit sending patients to an institution there. Colonel Cullum, Major Shiras, and Dr. Wood preferred the Northern city; Olmsted himself thought there was good reason to send away the sick rather than the wounded. He advocated a series of hospitals; the convalescent might move from one to another, depending on his stage of recovery.
Old buildings--menaces to life and property in the opinion of the Sanitary Commission--served as general hospitals in the Washington area. The commission found them over-