Report of the Conduct of the War, Volume 3, pp. 472 – 474
WASHINGTON, April 7, 1862.
Dr. WILLIAM F. SWALM sworn and examined.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Where is your residence?
Answer. No. 28 East Warren street, Brooklyn.
Question. What is your position in the army?
Answer. Assistant surgeon of the 14th regiment, New York State militia.
Question. Were you at the battle of Bull Run?
Answer. I was.
Question. Were you made prisoner there?
Answer. Yes, sir; at Sudley church.
Question. Will you state what you know in reference to the treatment of those of our soldiers who were taken prisoners?
Answer. I was there attending to the wounded when some cavalry rode up and took myself and eight or nine other surgeons prisoners. We remained there until Monday afternoon at 5 o’clock, when we were removed from the church and taken to Manassas. There were some 300 wounded men in the church and on the ground outside. When we got to Manassas we were told that it was unintentional the taking us there and keeping us from the wounded. On Tuesday morning we were ordered to be taken back. On the way back I was detailed to the old Lewis house, and I attended to the wounded there in conjunction with Dr. Norval, of the 79th New York. On Wednesday morning I was told by a captain, as I judged from the uniform he wore, there were two of our men alive, but wounded, still on the field. He pointed up towards the Henry house, and told me that I had better go and get them down. I asked him if I was allowed to do so. He said I was, and gave me a guard of two men. I went up there, and there I saw the most of our men buried. I was there surrounded by some civilians, who were very insulting, until a chaplain came to my rescue and told me that I must go to Manassas again. I was then placed behind a cavalry soldier and taken to Manassas, where I was taken before General Beauregard again. I arrived there at, perhaps, 12 o’clock on Wednesday. He kept me there until, perhaps, 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and then gave me a pass to go and attend to the wounded again. On my way back I was fortunate enough to get into a wagon. It turned off towards the other Lewis house, and I went in there, and saw Dr. Homiston. On Thursday Dr. Homiston was sent off with Colonel Wood, and I did not see him again until I saw him in Richmond. The rebels removed all their wounded, and left me alone entirely with several of our wounded—Captain Ricketts, Captain Withington, and others. The food we had was very scanty, consisting principally of hard crackers, and hardly enough of them to subsist upon. There was a Major Creecy there, who was a relative of Mrs. Ricketts or some of her family, and through him we got something for our wounded men. He was stationed behind the last house on the field. It was in that house that the operations on Prescott and others were performed. The time arrived for us to go to Manassas and from there to Richmond. We went on—Captain and Mrs. Ricketts, Dr. Lewis, and myself. Corporal Prescott, Colonel Wilcox, and others had gone on previously. Upon arriving at Manassas we remained there until evening, and then proceeded to Richmond—being twenty-four hours on the way. There was one death occurred on the way while in the cars from inattention, and was thrown from the cars while they were in motion. It is true they said they would see the body buried. We arrived in Richmond at ten o’clock at night, under charge of a second lieutenant, who took us before Adjutant General Cooper. General Cooper told us to go where we pleased, and to report ourselves to him on Monday at 9 o’clock. We left, and could not get into any of the hotels, they were so crowded. I found my way down to a tobacco warehouse at the foot of Main street. I went in there and made arrangements to remain there altogether, and attended to the wounded there on Sunday. On Monday morning, after some little trouble, I managed to get to see General Cooper, who told me to come again on Tuesday. I did not, however, go there again on Tuesday, but went to the prison and remained there. During my sojourn in the prison there, I was sitting one day leaning back with my feet upon the window sill, when the sentry outside called out to me to take them in; I got up and looked out of the window, and saw the sentry with his musket cocked and pointed towards me. Being cautioned by some one there to get out of the way lest I should be shot, I left the window. The commissary and quartermaster—one person, Mr. Warner, acting as both— who used to feed our men, did as well as he could; but the quality of the soup given their men and that given ours was very different. The soup was made of good enough meat, generally, but they put no vegetables in it. After from the first to the third week they stopped giving us coffee altogether. After some four or five days I was removed from the tobacco warehouse, by order of General Winder, to the general hospital, which was in charge of Dr. Gibson, surgeon general. The nurses there were sisters of charity. The left portion of the building, as you entered it, was set apart for our wounded, the right for theirs, and the main body of the building was used as as an operating room. I noticed that they used to bring in for their wounded nice biscuit, game, soft-boiled eggs, toast with eggs upon it, &c. This was done by the sisters of charity. I asked them to bring in some for our men, and was told that they had none. Of course, seeing what I did, I knew how much to believe of that. As to the way in which their operations were performed, I would mention the instance of Captain McQuade, of the 38th New York. He received a wound in the lower part of the left leg, which rendered amputation necessary. The operation was performed in Richmond, by a surgeon of the name of Peachy, I think. The flap was a very good one, but, in consequence of inattention, the inside flap entirely mortified, so that they had to cut it completely off, leaving the bone protruding from one and a half to two inches. Inflammation set in, and extended up the limb, and in this condition he was taken down to the tobacco warehouse at mid-day, his face exposed to the hot sun, and the result was, what might have been look for, his death.
Question. How long were you on the battle field after the battle?
Answer. I was at the Lewis house from fourteen to eighteen days. One afternoon Captain Withington and myself concluded we would take a walk over the battle field. This was some ten or twelve days after the battle. As we walked around I saw some of our men still unburied, and some of them entirely naked—shoes, stockings, everything they had had on stripped from them, and their bodies left exposed, naked, on the field. Yet I saw a great many women, ladies I suppose they would call themselves—walking about the field at that time, apparently entirely unmoved. I should judge that I saw ten or twelve of the 14th regiment unburied, many of the 71st regiment, and a number of others whose regiments I did not recognize.
Question. You spoke of going on the field at one time to get two wounded men of the 14th regiment; did you find them?
Answer. No, sir; as I have stated, I was surrounded by some civilians, and not allowed to go up there.
Question. Do you know anything of the manner in which they buried our dead?
Answer. At the time I went up for the two wounded men, on the Wednesday morning after the battle, I saw them digging some trenches, and saw some two or three buried. They paid no attention as to how they put them in, but put them in face downwards or in any other way, just as it happened. They buried a number in a ravine that had been washed out by the rains—throwing the bodies into the ravine, and covering them up with earth. In going over the battle field lately I noticed where some of the graves had been opened by pushing rails down under the bodies and prying them up. Many of the negroes said they had seen the soldiers doing that.
Question. What was their object?
Answer. As I was informed, it was to make drinking cups of the tops of the skulls and rings of the bones, sawing pieces off for that purpose.
Question. You sum it all up as very inhuman treatment.
Answer. Yes, sir; I do. I will tell you how Doctor Ferguson, of New York, was treated. He was taking his ambulance for the wounded when he was fired into. He took of his green sash, to show his calling, and his hankerchief, as a sort of flag of truce, and waved them. A party rode up to him, and asked him who he was. He told them that he was a surgeon of the New York State militia. They said they would take a parting shot at him, any way. They fired at him, and shot him in the leg. He was taken prisoner, and laid in the ambulance. He had his boots on, and his spurs on his boots; and as they drove along his spurs would catch in the tail-board, causing him such agony that he screamed out. One of their officers rode up to him, and placed his pistol at his head, and threatened if he screamed again he would shoot him.
By Mr. Gooch:
Question. When was this?
Answer. On Sunday, the day of the battle.