Report of the Conduct of the War, Volume 3, pp. 468 – 472
WASHINGTON, April 7, 1862.
Dr. J. M. HOMISTON sworn and examined.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Where is your residence?
Answer. No. 83 Sands street, Brooklyn.
Question. What is your position in the army?
Question. What position did you occupy at the battle of Bull Run?
Answer. I was the surgeon of the 14th New York (Brooklyn) regiment.
Question. Were you present during that engagement?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. Were you taken prisoner there?
Answer. I was.
Question. We have been directed to inquire into the treatment our wounded and dead received from the enemy there after the battle. Will you, in your own way, give us a statement of what you observed there?
Answer. The place where we first commenced attending to our wounded, whether through accident or some other cause, was fired into and became such a dangerous place that we had to stop bringing the wounded there. I believe there have been some reports about the hospitals being fired into. I have never been able to satisfy myself whether that was done intentionally or hot. I was made prisoner on the field, and immediately taken inside the enemy’s lines. I told them that my wish was to attend to the wounded men, there were so many of them wounded and crippled; that I had remained voluntarily with them for that purpose; I asked as a privilege that I should be permitted to attend to them. Two of the surgeons there permitted me to go to wash and attend to the wounded; I did so until just at dark, when a guard came up and said that I must accompany them. I told them that it was my wish to remain on the field; that I desired to remain all night with the wounded men, as there were so many who needed attention, and some of them in a very helpless and painful condition and suffering for water. I protested against being sent away from the field at that time. They became very rude and talked in a very ugly way, and insisted on my going with them. They marched me with a party of prisoners, mostly privates, to Manassas; they did not offer us even water, let alone anything in the shape of food; we stood in the streets of Manassas about an hour with a guard around us; a crowd collected about us, hooting and threatening in a very boisterous way what they would do with us. We were finally put into an old building and left to sleep on the floor there without anything in the shape of food being given to us. In the morning those of us who were surgeons were brought up before the medical director, as he was called, who took our names and then sent us back to the battle-field; there were three of us in that party; we told them we were already faint and exhausted, having been without food for twenty-four hours. They gave us some cold bacon and sent us back to the battle-field. When we reached the battlefield they took us to the Lewis house, as it is called; they had commenced bringing the wounded in there, mostly their own. They finally allowed us to have an ambulance, and we commenced picking up our wounded and bringing them in ourselves, a guard all the while accompanying us; we were then ordered to report ourselves to a secession surgeon, a Dr. Darby, of South Carolina. He said he had been sent there by General Beauregard to take charge of the wounded. He would not allow us to perform operations upon our own men, but had them performed by his assistants, young men, some of them with no more knowledge of what they attempted to do than an apothecary’s clerk. They performed the operations upon our men in a most horrible manner; some of them were absolutely frightful. I asked Dr. Darby to allow me to amputate the leg of Corporal Prescott, of our regiment. I told him the man must die if it was not done. He told me that it should be done, and that I should be allowed to do it. I told him that there were some things I would like to have; that I had not the proper instruments to perform the operation. He said he would furnish me with the instruments, and told me to sit down and wait a few moments; while I was sitting there, with another of our surgeons, one of their men came through and said, “They are operating on one of the Yankee’s legs up stairs.” I turned to the doctor, who was sitting there with me, and said, “I am sure that is Prescott they are operating upon.” I went up stairs and found that they had cut off Prescott’s leg, and the assistants were pulling on the flesh on each side, trying to get flap enough to cover the bone. They had sawed off the bone without leaving any of the flesh to form the flaps to cover it. With all the force they could use they could not get flap enough to cover the bone. They were obliged to saw off about an inch more of the bone, and even then, when they came to put in the sutures, the stitches, they could not approximate the edges within less than an inch and a half of each other; of course as soon as there was any swelling the stitches tore out and the bone stuck through again. Dr. Swalm tried afterwards to remedy it by performing another operation; but Prescott had become so debilitated that he did not survive.
Question. What kind of a man was Prescott? What was his character and standing?
Answer. He was a very fine young man, and had received a very liberal education. It was almost impossible for us to get anything for our wounded men there to eat; they paid no attention to us whatever. We suffered very much on account of the want of any kind of food for our men. They would not even bring water to us. On the Monday night after the battle all the wounded in that old house were lying there on the floor. They kept bringing in the wounded until they were lying upon the floor as thickly as they could be laid. There was not a particle of light of any kind in the house to enable us to move about among the wounded. They were suffering very much for water; but with all the persuasion I could use they would not bring us any water, and the guard stationed about the house prevented us from going after any. Fortunately, I might say, it rained that night, and through the open windows the rain beat in and run down the floor among the wounded, wetting and chilling them; still I was enabled, by setting some cups under the eaves, to catch a little water for our poor soldiers to drink, and in that way I spent all the night, catching water from the eaves of the house and carrying it to our wounded to drink. As there was no light in the house, being perfectly dark, I was obliged to crawl on my hands and knees to avoid stepping on their wounded limbs. It is not a matter of wonder that the next morning we found that several had died there during the night. They seemed to be perfectly indifferent to the sufferings of our men – entirely so. There was occasionally a man here and there, who seemed to have no connexion with the army at all, who appeared desirous to extend some kindly assistance to our wounded; but those connected in any way with their army seemed to try to do everything to show their perfect indifference.
Question. Did these young men—these assistants you speak of—perform any operations upon their wounded?
Answer. I think not much; there were other surgeons there attending to their wounded; in fact, a great many of their wounded were taken away from there, those who could be moved with safety, so that we had not the chance of knowing so much what their treatment was. Dr. Swalm could tell you more of what their treatment was while he was in their general hospital in Richmond. Many of our men were left lying upon the field until Tuesday night and Wednesday.
Question. Our wounded men?
Answer. Yes, sir; some of them lay there upon the field until the Wednesday after the battle. Men were brought in Tuesday night and Wednesday morning with their wounds completely alive with larvae deposited there by flies. They had lain out there through all the rain-storm of Monday, and the hot, sultry sunshine of Tuesday, and their wounds were completely alive with larvae when they were brought in on Tuesday night and Wednesday. Our dead lay upon the field unburied, to my own knowledge, for five days, and I understood that many of them were left there much longer. But I can speak knowingly up to the time I left, that our dead were left unburied for five days. I was sent away with Colonel Wood to Charlottesville, Virginia, by permission of General Beauregard.
By Mr. Covode:
Question. You mean that some of the dead were not buried for that length of time?
Answer. Yes, sir; our men.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. You mean your own regiment?
Answer. Yes, sir; the 14th regiment. I do not think any of them were buried at the end of five days after the battle.
Question. Were any other of our dead of other regiments left unburied?
Answer. Yes, sir; a great many were not buried at the end of that time. There were some that died Monday night in the Lewis house that were taken out and buried on the premises there the next morning.
Question. Do you know anything about the manner in which they were buried?
Answer. I could see from the house how they buried two or three of them; they dug a hole and put them in just as they had died and were carried out of the house, and then covered them up as they were.
By Mr. Covode:
Question. How deep did they bury them?
Answer. Those who were buried about the house were buried in holes not dug over three feet deep. They buried those because their own safety required it.
By Mr. Odell:
Question. Did they bury their own dead at once after the battle?
Answer. Some were buried down about Manassas, generally; if there were any friends there, their dead were taken away from the field and buried elsewhere.
By Mr. Gooch:
Question. Were they destitute themselves of medical supplies that they refused to assist you?
Answer. They could not have been destitute, for they took all our supplies. Even if they had had none of their own they could not have been destitute. They even took our instruments away from us at last. They allowed us to keep them for the time being, but gave us to understand that they belonged to them. There were many individual instances of kindness extended to our wounded. I know of one instance where one of our officers made himself known to one of their officers as a free-mason, and that officer interested himself in procuring permission from General Beauregard to send this officer to a private house, with one of our surgeons detailed to attend to him. I was not a mason then, but I have become one since I returned. As an instance of the manner in which the surgeons of our army were treated there, I will state that though I was left on the field with only the clothes I had on, I received none of the attentions from those of the profession on their side which I should have deemed it my duty to have shown them had our positions been reversed. I had but one shirt (the one I had on when I was taken prisoner) for a month; and I used to wash that in the morning and go without it during the day that I might have something clean to sleep in at night. The one pair of socks I had on when I was captured I would wash myself until they were completely worn out, when I wore my boots without socks, my feet and ancles becoming so chafed that it was exceedingly painful for me to walk. Yet not one of their surgeons ever offered me any article of clothing to enable me to keep myself clean and decent, though I had to go this way for a month. It was not until some time after I got to Charlottesville that I had the opportunity of purchasing some of these articles with my own money, and while purchasing them a crowd collected about the store, making threats against ” the damned Yankee,” though I had a parole from Beauregard himself. And when I came out I should probably have been killed, for one ruffian there attacked me with a large bowie knife, when I had forced my way nearly through the crowd, and I had but the bundle in my hand to ward off his blows, when an officer seeing my situation came to my aid and drove him off after he had made several passes at me, and enabled me to reach my room in safety. For the first three days after the battle we suffered the most for the want of food. Even Captain Ricketts and Colonel Wilcox, who were in the house, had not enough to eat; and had it not been for Mr. Lewis, who owned the house, we should have suffered more than we did. On several occasions he rode six or seven miles from where he was living to this house and brought us food, which was about all we had to eat.