Surgeon David Little, 13th New York Infantry, On the Battle and Retreat

17 11 2021

A Letter from the Battle-Field.

The following letter from our late townsman, Dr. Little, Surgeon of the 13 Regiment New York Volunteers, will be read with the deepest interest. It was hastily written, immediately after his return from the horrors and dangers it describes, and was intended for his family alone, but at the request of several of their friends, it is given to the public, as it is of great public interest. To our readers, who known the writer, noting could be more authentic and conclusive as to the facts stated, as to the courage and power of our soldiers on the battle field, and as to the uncivilized and savage character of the enemy. On our side we see our young surgeon attending to their wounded, and soothing them by kind words, and on their side our wounded, and even our surgeons bayonetted, and our hospitals fired.

The horrible picture this letter presents of carnage and death, can have only one effect on the outraged and indignant sentiment of our people, – it must tend to arouse all, as one man, against an enemy which has brought such woe and disgrace on our beloved country, We have had that – our day of humiliation, – other days like it may be impending but the fearful retribution must come. From such testimony as this letter, we realize that we are in bloody, barbarous war. We had hoped, we had believed, we had prayed, that this scourge might never visit our dear land, but it is on us. We cannot obey our impulse and instinct to shrink from it in disgust. – We are all of us called upon to take part in hellish war. The memory of the bloody rout of that Sunday must be washed out in blood. We must not shut our eyes to this dread necessity. The cup is forced to our lips. The maxims of peace, of humanity, of civilization, which we have so long cherished, are of no avail now. The even seem to be in our way and a hindrance to us. The cannon balls which shrieked around David Little’s head, as exhausted he slept during the battle, are now our only resort. We have but one duty now – that to our country, which has made us all we are. We can serve here only in one way – by helping on the war. Our women weep over these calamities; our men must help retrieve them. The sight of young David Little drinking ditch water, and fainting on the heroic retreat, appeal to all others to do their part likewise in these days of sorrow.

As we are permitted to give to the public this private letter in which the writer speaks of his exhaustion and fainting, but modestly forbears, even to his mother, to dwell on the hardships he endured, it is due to him that it should be accompanied by the statement of one fact well known to all his associated. Among the athletic young men of this town, he has a reputation for his great powers of endurance. He was a hunter. Wiry, hardy, and muscular, he has no superiors in a tramp, and some of the young friends who have heard this letter read, have remarked that if he fainted, it is no wonder so few of his regiment were left.


Ft. Bennett, near Washington,
July 24, 1861.

Dear Mother: – My mind is so confused with the scenes I have gone through the last week, that it is doubtful if I shall be able to write anything connectedly. I certainly can not give anything like a detailed account of what happened to me. The general account of our disaster you will have learned before this by the papers. One general observation I will hazard though, that is, that superior numbers, and fighting on their own ground from behind masked batteries, won the battle for the enemy. Their boasted superiority in pluck is all nosir. I saw with my own eyes, our 13th drive twice their number, like a flock of sheep before them. I saw the Ellsworth Fire Zouaves doing the same thing. – Afterwards, when reinforcements to the enemy came up, the retreat was inevitable, again and again were their cavalry repulsed by a handful of determined northerners. But then a panic came, and oh, such a scene. It defies description. Such a confused mass of men, horses, cannon, and vehicles of every description, jamming and crowding into each other in precipitate flight, and all the while grape and shells falling into its midst, while the chasing cavalry murdered all the stragglers, yes, and all wounded men! Oh, talk of Southern nobility. I shall never hear it named again without sickening disgust. Yes, they murdered our wounded – bayoneted our surgeons, and shelled and burned the hospital where our wounded were taken, while the hospital flag was flying in full view! They seemed to be filled with devilish hatred. – The fight waged from 7 o’clock in the morning until 5 ½ in the evening, when the flight commenced. The first part of the day, until reinforcements came up, was all against the enemy. For they were driven from one strong hold to another.

But I am filling up my sheet with what you have already from the papers. Now I am going to write my own little history just for your private pleasure and interest.

On Saturday last, word came from headquarters to our camp, that we must be ready to march at 2 o’clock Sunday morning. – This we did, thought the command was not given to march until 3 o’clock. Then we started with the purpose of out-flanking and taking two masked batteries. I mounted and rode “Kittie,” who, by-the-way, behaved splendidly under fire. Then when the battle began, we Doctors took a place in the rear of the column. For a long while the fighting was limited to unimportant skirmishing, and all that time I lay in the woods (it was a beautiful day) asleep and dreaming on you all at home. Waking, I heard close to me the barking of a squirrel. That seemed like a friend, and with the dream, made me for a time just the least bit home-sick. – The increasing fire, and the whirling of balls, soon cured me though, by making me forget my disease. After this, ie. 10 o’clock a. m., I was busy every moment, until the flight, dressing wounds. Then when the flight came, I looked from my ambulances and horse – they were all gone! Then I was indeed in a fix. The ambulances in which our wounded were to be carried, in which lay my blankets, bedding, dress uniform, surgical appliances and sword, my horse, “Kittie,” whose back I had come to think belonged exclusively to me, with my little other luggage and haversack of provisions, all gone, and poor, tired, hungry, thirsty me, left to walk in a hot sun a distance of thirty miles. It was hard, and I was inclined to be a good deal angry, but remembering that this would do no good, and thinking how much better off than many other poor fellow I was, I got into better spirits and started off with the remaining of our little regiment, some of whom were killed, some wounded, and many scattered, so that a mere handful remained together as we left the field. Our regiment, by-the-by, was the last to leave the field, and was the only one that could be made to rally to the support and protection of the retreating column. Once in particular, I remember, when a little band, we stood out in a field to resist cavalry, and saw all out own troops leaving us behind, while the enemy was hurrying upon us, and I thought it was wicked to keep us there. Again orders came for us to march on, and as you may imagine, we did so, in double quick-time too. How hungry and thirsty I was. Puddles in the road were eagerly swallowed. I drank water that 10,000 men and horses must have marched through, and so muddy that it was fairly thick. No sooner was it down than my dry throat craved more. We marched this eight miles, and just began to think we were at length out of the enemies’ reach, when crash came a bomb-shell in our midst. They had out-marched is and posted a battery just where they could rake us to great advantage. I think I came nearest to being killed just there. It was by a bridge on “Cub Run.” The bridge was blocked over with overturned vehicles and we had to wade waist-deep across the stream; just as I was ascending the hill on this sire, I heard a bomb come screaming through the air. I had just time to drop flat on the ground, when it passed over me, and struck about four feet in advance and bursted, instantly killing two poor fellows who were farther from it than I was, but who neglected the precaution of throwing themselves down. All the harm I received was being almost buried in dirt, Three miles from there we rested, about half an hour, when it was decided to hasten back Arlington, as it was learned that the enemy were endeavoring to head us off and take us prisoners – this was about 10 ½ o’clock in the evening – 21 miles to walk for us who had been at work since 3 o’clock in the morning. I started, and carried a wounded man’s gun. How the steps did drag, and how hunger knawed – finally, about 6 miles back, I fell down, fainting. The next thing I remember was swallowing some milk that a woman brought me. The enjoyment of drinking that milk exceeded anything I ever experienced before in the eating line. They put me into a lumber wagon and sent me here – and now after two days rest, I feel pretty well, excepting a little soarness left.

I should have telegraphed you at once, but not an officer or soldier was allowed to cross the river to Washington. I learn, however, that Henry Benjamin sent a dispatch to Rochester, to the effect that no officer was injured, and hope you may have seen it. – Our regiment is in a pitiable condition, and almost to a man those who are here are sick from fatigue and exposure. The disaster to Government is fearful, and it must take a long time to repair it. It must and will be done though, and terrible will be the retributions to the South. But I have said enough. Prospects are better again for me to see you this summer. * * I dressed many a poor fallen Southerner’s wounds, and found them to be generally grateful, and they seemed fairly astonished when I told them the North had no hatred towards the South – that it was a war to protect the Government and not of depredations on the South. We have a Lieutenant prisoner. He told me that the Washington artillery were there. – I can give them credit for one thing, that is, they are all splendid marksmen. Their balls had terrible effect. The prisoner said, one of our regiments, with their rifles, were a terror to them – that whenever they raised to fire they knew many must fall. This he told to our Brigadier General. * * * *

Affectionately yours,

Cherry Valley (NY) Gazette, 7/31/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy

David Little at Ancestry

David Little at Fold3

David Little at FindAGrave

Roster of 13th New York Infantry

Dr. Hunter McGuire on Brig. Gen. T. J. Jackson’s Wound

1 05 2016

A Reminiscence of Stonewall Jackson – His Wound at the Battle of Manassas

In the February number of the Richmond Medical Journal, we find an able paper on “gunshot wounds of joints,” from the pen of Dr. Hunter McGuire, Professor of Surgery in the Virginia Medical College, and, during the war, chief surgeon on the staff of General Stonewall Jackson. In the course of his remarks, speaking of gunshot wounds of the hands, the Doctor cites the case of the wound received by his renowned Chief at the first battle of Manassas. The Doctor writes:

When he made the celebrated charge with his brigade, which turned the fortune of the day, he raised his left hand above his head to encourage the troops, and, while in this position, the middle finger of the hand was struck just below the articulation between the first and second phalanges. The ball struck the finger a little to one side, broke it, and carried of a small piece of the bone. He remained upon the field, wounded as he was, till the fight was over, and then wanted to take part in the pursuit, but was peremptorily ordered back to the hospital by the General commanding. On his way to the rear, the wound pained him so much that he stopped at the first hospital he came to, and the surgeon there proposed to cut the finger off; but while the Doctor looked for his instruments, and for a moment turned his back, the General silently mounted his horse, rode off, and soon afterwards found me. I was busily engaged with the wounded, but when I saw him coming, I left them, and asked him if he was seriously hurt. “No,” he answered, “not half as badly as many here, and I will wait.” And he forthwith sat down on the bank of a little stream near by, and positively declined any assistance until “his turn came!” We compromised, however, and he agreed to let me attend to him after I had finished the case I was dressing when he arrived. I determined to save the finger, if possible, and placed a splint along the palmar surface to support the fragments, retained it in position by a strip or two of adhesive plaster, covered the sound with lint, and told him to keep it wet with cold water. He carefully followed this advice. I think he had a fancy for this type of hydropathick treatment, and I have frequently seen him occupied for several hours pouring cup after cup of water over his hand, with that patience and perseverance for which he was so remarkable. Passive motion was instituted about the twentieth day, and carefully continued. The motion of the joint improved for months after the wound had healed, and, in the end, the deformity was very trifling.

During the treatment, the hand was kept elevated and confined in a sling, and when the use of this was discontinued, and the hand permitted to hang down, there was, of course, gravitation of blood towards it. Under the circumstances you would expect this. In consequence of it, however, the hand was sometimes swollen and painful, and, to remedy this, he often held it above his head for some moments. He did this so frequently that it became at length a habit, and was continued, especially when he was abstracted, after all necessity for it had ceased. I have seen it stated somewhere that whenever, during a battle, his had was thus raised, he was engaged in prayer; but I think the explanation I have given is the correct one. I believe he was the truest and most consistent Christian I have ever known, but I don’t believe he prayed much while he was fighting.

Richmond Examiner, 1/31/1866

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Contributed by John Hennessy

New Bull Run Article in Civil War Times

5 04 2016

3John Hennessy, featured guide for Bull Runnings’ upcoming tour of the battlefield of First Bull Run, has an article on medical care at the battle in the new issue of Civil War Times.

That Sunday evening…the battlefield heaved and twitched under the weight of carnage. Hundreds of wounded men lay on the field, some of them struggling to breathe or signaling for help. Around them lay hundreds more, frozen in death. The nearly 900 dead men on the Matthews, Henry, Robinson and Chinn farms shocked observers by their sheer number. July 21, 1861, had been the deadliest day in America’s short history.

Check it out.

Dr. Luther V. Bell, Surgeon, 11th Massachusetts Infantry, On the Battle

7 01 2014

At Our Former Camp, Near Alexandria,

Wednesday, July 24, 1861.

[To Dr. William J. Dale]

My Dear Doctor, — Knowing that you would feel an interest in my movements and fate during the past eventful week, I seize the earliest moment, after our regaining this place of safety, after the most terrible defeat of modem times, to give you a brief and crude narration of what concerns me personally; aware that you must already know vastly more of the general events than I have the means of doing. I will begin with last Tuesday week. After resting a day or two at this beautiful spot, whence I wrote you at a late hour before we left, the order came for us to march at two o’clock, P.M.

With four or five regiments more, we set out in fine spirits for unknown regions, as not a whisper ever passes from those at the head as to the route or destination. Soon the column began to move at a snail’s pace; and, after many hours, in this way we reached Aquatink Creek, where the bridges were burned, and the whole division had to pass over a single plank, which explained the strange delay. The creek was at the bottom of the deepest ravine, and then the hill on the other side was to be surmounted over the most horrible obstructions. At half-past three, a.m., we lay on the ground for an hour. Recommencing, we dragged along all day, under a burning sun, and through paths cut in the forest, so as to avoid the trees cut down and masked batteries. At night, we bivouacked near what is called Sangster’s Station. That afternoon, we again marched forward to Centreville. On entering this at nine or ten, p.m., the light of a thousand camp-fires shed their glow over a vast ravine, in which it was plain that the great division of the army was encamped, — forty or fifty thousand men, with batteries of artillery, baggage-wagons, &c. Here we bivouacked two nights. Dr. Josiah Curtis joined our camp here, and Mr. Henry Wilson was with us a night. At two o’clock, Sunday morning, the order to march was obeyed; and, as the mighty mass moved forward, it was manifest that the hour for the great action was near. At nine or ten, we saw, away at the south-west, clouds of smoke and dust, with plain sounds of cannon, and volleys of musketry. We hurried on, and about noon turned down into a field, where there was a creek, to rest and drink. In about two minutes, the order came to form into line, and push forward, as we were wanted. At half-past one, we were at the verge of the battle-field. As I passed, I noted a pretty large, rough-stone church, — large for Virginia, — which I decided would be one of the depots for the wounded. Curtis and I went up to the field, and there were abundant proofs of the awful work going on, — hundreds of dead men, horses dead and half killed, wounded men, in all directions. I notified all the officers of the regiment where their wounded should be carried; tried to aid some wounded, for whom I had carried my pocket full of tourniquets ; but found that there was no hemorrhage. The ambulances then came up, and were heaped with wounded: no attempt could be made to separate regiments, or even friends and enemies. Getting back to the church, I found work enough; for, in an hour, the entire floor and gallery (pews torn up) were covered with wounded to the number of seventy-five or eighty. The wounds were awfully ghastly; being made much with shell, Minie-balls, and rifled canon. We turned to with all our might (i.e., Dr. Foye, my- self, and Dr. Curtis, — to whose noble, fearless, volunteer devotion, too much honor cannot be given), and, until late in the afternoon, cut right hand and left hand. There were three or four other surgeons at the church; and I recollect seeing Dr. Magruder, U.S.A., who was said to have some directing power; although we all did as we saw fit.

About six o’clock, we were informed that the mighty stampede of our panic-stricken columns, flying for life, approached its end. Curtis coolly asked me if I meant to risk assassination or capture. I replied, ” that in no civilized country could a surgeon be injured with his badge in sight, his hospital-flag set, and about his duty of mercy. This is our post of duty: let us stand by it.” Curtis and Foye both replied, ” Doctor, we shall do just as you do.” “We went to work again in full activity, though I was almost exhausted with fatigue. No water could be had: our dressings, chloroform, &c., were exhausted. A half-hour after, Curtis said, “Doctor, if you should decide to change your design, you have but a moment to do it in. The enemy are just upon us. In hot blood, it is not likely they will spare us.” I had a young man from New Hampshire on the board laid over the chancel-rail, just having applied a tourniquet ; and was about making my first incision to amputate the leg. I thought an hour in a moment. I felt I had no right to sacrifice men who thus relied upon me. I said, “Let us go ! ” seized my coat and sash, and we rushed out. I had my valuable horse and equipments at hand; but there was no time to save them. I lost all, — sword and belt, every surgical instrument, and some family tokens which I valued much, such as my son Samuel’s (you recollect the boy) shawl and my brother James’s revolver.

We rushed through a creek, and took to the woods, making a few units of that vast, dilapidated, panic-stricken mass, crowding the road for five or eight miles, every now and then alarmed by the out-cry that the enemy was after us, when we would all rush out one side into the woods. A kindly cook, to whom I had shown some trifling kindness, and who had seized a horse, discovered me, and insisted on my riding, while he went on foot by my side, hurrying up my horse. After a while, we saw a Charlestown lieutenant (Sweet) much exhausted and sick, and got him up behind me.

After riding so (and all the horses carried double ; a great many of them had been cut away from the cannons) for some six or eight miles, we approached a narrow, high bridge, over “Cub Run.” In an instant, the bridge was a mass of artillery, wagons, cavalry, infantry, and ambulances, crushed together. The water-way at the side was equally jammed. At this instant, the incarnate fiends fired repeated charges of their rifled canon (doubtless planted by day-light for that range) into the mass, killing many. I was a few rods from the bridge; but, on hearing the awful sounds of those missiles, I drove straight into the woods, then forward, hoping to cross the creek below. A second discharge struck the trees as if lightning had crushed them. I told Sweet we must abandon the horse. He thought so too, and slipped off, and made for the creek. At this moment, my faithful cook cried to me not to leave the horse; for that the only crossing-place possible was at the bridge. He rushed back, seized the animal, forced him over a stone wall and into the water. Here the animal insisted on stopping to drink. Cook laid over him a naked sword, which he had picked up ; and one of our regiment urged him ahead with a bayonet. Just at this moment, a young negro was forced up into the deep water next the bridge, and was drowning ; when cook seized him, and pitched him up upon the bank. Cook then compelled my horse to rise the almost perpendicular bank ; and on we went. At the top of the hill, by a strange Providence, we again encountered Sweet, and took him on. In this way we reached Centreville, whence we had set out in such brilliant array. My cook asked me if I could ride to Washington that night. I replied, that I could do so better than the next day. We started on, I riding and he walking, Sweet left behind, until we reached Fairfax Court House. Here I spied a wretched old lager-beer wagon bound to Arlington. I deputed cook (who said he could ride the horse, beat out as he seemed to me) to hire a ride at any price, as I happened to have some money left. He agreed for ten dollars; and about eight, a.m., I reached the fortification at “Columbian Springs,” opposite Washington. Here I was compelled to stay the livelong day, useless, in the rain and mud, because I could not get a pass into the city. Towards night, I persuaded the colonel in command to give me one, and reached Willard’s. Here I found my servant Prentiss, whom I had directed, by a sergeant flying to our old camps here, to bring up my baggage. I was soon dressed in clean and dry clothes, and soon encountered an old Charles- town friend (Captain Taylor, U.S.A.) there on ordnance duty. He took me to his boarding-house; and I think I must have amazed him by the way I ate, for I had seen nothing but wretched hard bread and poor coffee since we left this place. He then gave me a beautiful bed ; and, having had six nights with nothing but earth and sky below and above me, I enjoyed it. Next morning, had a splendid breakfast, and bore away for Mr. William Appleton. Found him quite ill, but glad to see me, as it had been currently reported that I was among the slain. I told him some of my story, and said I wanted money. I had started with enough: but our staff and officers are very poor, as a general thing; and, having received no pay as yet, I was obliged to share with them. Of course, he put me at my ease cheerfully, and I left him happy. Got a ten-dollar gold-piece changed into quarters ; and, before I got to the Surgeon-General’s office to report the loss of all instruments, I met enough of our un-breakfasted stragglers to use it up. The next day (i.e., yesterday), we came back here in the baggage-wagons, and are again comfortably fixed in the old Virginia mansion of which I wrote you in a former letter. To-day, our pioneers have been cutting down the large trees of the pleasure-grounds, to allow a sweep for the big guns of Fort Ellsworth. Last night, we had an alarm that the enemy was upon us. I, with some half-dozen regiments encamped round about, turned out to arms. It was, of course, a false alarm. . . . Thus, doctor, I have given my share in those awful scenes. How much of life has been compressed in less than a month! I have seen more gun-shot wounds, performed more operations, and had a harder experience, I fancy, than most army surgeons in a lifetime.

I have enjoyed, from first to last, excellent health and spirits. I never, even when those cursed missiles were sent into my rear, felt one sentiment of regret at the step I had taken, or the slightest thought of receding. . . .

George Edward Ellis, Memoir of Luther V. Bell. pp. 57-61.

Luther V. Bell Wikipedia

Transcription courtesy of John Hennessy

Pvt. John E. Donovan, Co. B, 2nd Wisconsin, On His Wounding In the Battle

31 01 2012

A Man Wounded Six Times In One Battle.


Statement of John E. Donovan, Company B, Second Wisconsin Regiment.


Went into an engagement at Bull Run, Sunday, July 21, 1861, at 10 o’clock, A.M., or thereabouts. Marched up the hill after getting over a fence, and on reaching nearly to the brow I was struck by a rifle ball in the calf of my right leg, outside, passing through to the skin on the other side. In the cars on the way to Richmond the next evening, a young man, looking among the wounded prisoners, wanted me to let him take it out and keep the ball, to which I consented, and he cut it out.

After being hit as above I stepped back to the fence, sat down and bound up my leg to keep it from bleeding. I then got up and loaded and fired from where I stood. After firing three times, another ball hit me in the left heel, glancing up along near my ankle joint. This ball remained in about eight weeks, when my leg, being badly festered, the prison hospital surgeon lanced it one evening, and in the night the ball worked down, so I got it out the next morning.

After being hit the second time I still kept loading and firing as fast as I could. In about ten minutes, as near as I can judge, a third ball struck me in the right side, which still remains somewhere within me. This disabled me somewhat for a short time, but I again loaded and fired two or three times as well as I could, when I was struck in the right arm (while in the act of firing) about midway between my elbow and shoulder joints, the ball running up towards my neck. The ball was taken out about nine weeks afterwards by the hospital surgeon at Richmond, about half way from my shoulder joint to my neck bone. I fired my musket but once after this, as the recoil of it hurt my shoulder so, I was unable to bear it.

I then left the fence to get behind a tree standing some two hundred and fifty yards off, and picked up a revolver which lay on the ground, just after I left the fence, at which time a bullet struck on my right wrist glancing off from the bone. I went a little further towards the tree, when some twelve or fifteen Confederate soldiers came out of the woods directly towards me.

I fired the revolver at them three times, and just as I fired the third barrel, a bullet fired by one of this company struck me just below my left eye, going into my head. I knew nothing more until about noon the next day (Monday). When I came to I found myself lying right where I fell the day before. I tried to get up, but could not. After this I made several ineffectual attempts to crawl away to the shade of a tree, the sun shining very hot. About four p.m., a couple of soldiers came along, picked me up, and carried me to the cars, and I was sent to Richmond, afterwards sent to Alabama, and finally released on parole. The bullet still remains in my head; the hospital surgeon says it lies somewhere near my right ear (the sense of hearing being entirely lost in that ear), the drum, or tympanum having been injured by it. The slightest touch on my chin, or near it, causes a severe pain in my right temple and over the ear. I cannot see at all with my left eye. I cannot bear to be out in the sun; it makes me dizzy and my head pains me severely; so also does more than ordinary exercise. Ordinarily, when sitting quiet, my head only occasionally troubles me – a little dizziness and heaviness is about all – except when out in the sun or heated, as before stated; and also when I attempt to lift anything, it puts me in severe pain in my head, and my eyes pain me exceedingly, as well then as when heated or out in the sun. I am obliged to keep out of the sun as much as possible on account of this excruciating pain in my head and eyes, and when I read my eyes fill with water, and I have to rest. I cannot write a letter of ordinary length. I have to stop several times for this and from dizziness. There is occasionally a dimness comes over my right eye even when quiet, but not very often. The surgeon said the bone around my left temple was shattered, and that pieces thereof would work out; none has to my knowledge. The bullet which entered my right side has not yet given me any great trouble.

New York Irish-American, 9/6/1862

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Contributed by John Hennessy

Surgeon Frank Hamilton, 31st NY, to The American Medical Times

27 08 2009

The American Medical Times

Volume III, July-December 1861, pp. 77-79

Surgeon Frank H. Hamilton, 31st NYVI



Camp Pratt, near Alexandria, Va.

July 26, 1861.

[Special Correspondence of the American Medical Times]

I have had no time to write to you before, and I have scarcely the time now, but I have seized a few moments of leisure to give you a brief account of one day’s experience upon the field of battle.

At half past two, Sunday morning, I was in my saddle, with my assistants by my side, and my ambulance was ready for the march. The column began to move at this early hour, but our Division, under General Miles, did not leave the encampment until after six o’clock A. M. We then followed the long train which had preceded us, and after a march of about three miles took up our position where the battle of the preceding Thursday was fought, upon the brow of a hill commanding a view of the whole valley in which lay the forces of the enemy. The 32d and the 16th New York Volunteers were ordered to support Lieut. Pratt’s battery, Col. Pratt, of the 31st, acting as Brigadier- Gen, or commanding officer, while Lieut.-Col. Brown took charge of our own regiment, the 31st; subsequently Col. Pratt took charge of his own regiment and was ordered to support Major Hunt’s battery.

As soon as the troops were fairly in position the batteries opened upon the enemy with shell, solid shot, grape, and canister. Their fire was very effective, but it was not answered until late in the afternoon. In the meantime my assistants aided me in selecting a place along the wood, in our rear, where a pretty deep cut or gorge, leading a little off from the main road, would enable us to dress the wounded without exposure. We all went to work with a will, with the help of the drummer boys, and had soon cleared the gorge of stones and bushes. Here we proposed to have the wounded brought on stretchers by the drummers and a few volunteer aids, who together composed my ambulance corps. We then placed our ambulance above and beyond the gorge, in the direction towards a log-house, which was situated one-quarter of a mile further off in the rear. We took down the fences to let the ambulance pass, and planted our red flags at the temporary depot, and at the log-house. We were all ready when we received notice of an expected charge of cavalry upon that road, and were requested to select a building on the opposite side of the road, as the enemy’s batteries would range across the old log-house. Accordingly we hastened to make the change, and in a few minutes we had everything as well arranged in a snug wooden house, occupied by negroes, as if we were in Bellevue. The operating table was ready, the bed arranged, and the instruments, sponges, bandages, cordials, &c., in order.

I now rode back to the field, and found we had had one slight skirmish, in which one man of the 16th had been wounded in the head, which Dr. Crandell, of the 16th, had already dressed. It was past mid-day and we were all tired, hungry, and thirsty. Exploring a garden in front and to the right of the batteries I found cabbages, beets, parsley, onions, sage, and potatoes; near by were chickens, and smoked hams in a deserted lodge. Water we found one-quarter of a mile to the left on the borders of the woods, within which lay the enemy, but the drummers brought water, and with the help of Mr. Nourse, Dr. Marvin, and my son, we soon made about four gallons of the best soup I have ever eaten. We had salt and pepper to season it, and good appetites to welcome it. We made also a large coffee-pot full of coffee, and found sugar to sweeten it. This we carried to the rear and fed out first to the Col. and his staff, and then to the line officers and men, as far as it would go, not forgetting ourselves and the drummer boy.

After this precious repast we carried whiskey to those soldiers who had been skirmishing, or who seemed especially to need it; for they were without shelter, under a sky of brass. To those who called for it also we sent or carried water in pails—such water as we could get.  The men never left their lines, except when ordered to act as skirmishers, and must have perished except for some such refreshments.

At about four or five p. m. a message was sent to us that the enemy were retreating, and that the day was ours, and I immediately returned to my hospital to order, of the black inmates of the South, supper for the Colonel’s staff and my own. I was standing at the door, looking out towards the road, when I saw the regiments approaching in order, but rather rapidly; at the same moment came an order from Dr. Woodward, the intelligent and faithful medical director of our division, for me to fall back with my hospital to Centreville, about one mile further back, as the enemy were making an attempt to flank us on the left, in the direction of our division. I immediately had every thing replaced in the ambulance, and having paid Maria, the black woman, whose dinner we did not eat, we started for Centreville. We went along the same road with the troops, who were moving in good order, and without any appearance of alarm. At Centreville I took out my amputating case, general operating case, and medicine chest, and finding a large number of wounded already here, proceeded at once to dress their wounds, extract the bullets, etc. We were occupied for an hour or more in an old tavern. My assistants here were Dr. Lucien Damainville (first Assistant), Dr. — Brown, Mr. Marvine, medical student, Mr. Nourse, and my son Frank, who had been acting most of the day as the Colonel’s aid. I think Dr. Arnt, of one of the Michigan regiments, was with us at this time. We had no bandages, no lint, no sponges, no cerate, and but very little water, and I think only one basin. Our first attention was directed to those already in the house. Stooping down as they lay crowded upon the floor, we inquired, “Where is your wound, my poor fellow ?” for they seldom called us until we came to their relief, nor did many of them utter a moan. There they lay silent, waiting their turn. Most of the wounds were made by spherical balls—some had gone through entirely, without breaking a bone or severing an artery—and to them we said, ” Bravo, my boy, a noble wound, but no harm done. Mr. Nourse, apply a cloth, wet with cool water.” Not a few, encouraged and strengthened by these words, got up, and came on foot to Alexandria and Washington. I saw several at Fort Runyon, from whom I had extracted balls from the neck, arms, and legs, the next morning when I arrived there, and they had walked the whole distance. Three or four had balls through their bodies, and had walked two or three miles to the village ; one was brought up with a wound in his thigh, who had lain on the field since the Thursday preceding. He will recover, I think.

From this building we went to a private house, which was also full, and then to the old stone church. Here I met Dr. Taylor, of the 1st New Jersey Regiment, who was laboring most industriously, and Dr. _____ , a private, a very intelligent man, belonging, I think, to the 2d Michigan, and who, for his- extraordinary zeal and attention, deserves great credit.

In the old stone church the men were “lying upon every seat, between all the seats, and on every foot of the floor; a few on stretchers, perhaps three or four; a dozen or more on blankets—occasionally upon a litter, hay or straw, but mostly on the boards.

The scene here was a little different; it was dark; we had but two or three tallow-candles. The men had been waiting longer, and were in general more severely wounded; and, although now and then a man asked us to pass him, and to look first after some one lying near who was suffering more, yet from all sides we were constantly begged and implored to do something for them. After a little we concluded to take them in order as they lay, since to do otherwise rendered it necessary to consume time in going backwards and forwards, and we were constantly in danger of treading upon the wounded; indeed, it was impossible to avoid doing so. By this time we had found a hospital knapsack, and were pretty well supplied with bandages; but the time did not allow us to do much more at first, than to extract the bullets, and apply cool water dressings, with lint.

Only two amputations were made by myself; one below the knee, and one above the elbow-joint. Both of them, I confess, were done very badly, but I could, at the time, and under the circumstances, do no better. My back seemed broken, and my hands were stiff with blood. We still had no sponges, and scarcely more water than was necessary to quench the thirst of the wounded men. My assistants were equally worn out—Dr. Taylor alone seemed vigorous and ready for more toil.

At half-past twelve, or about that time, we went out to get a candle, to enable Dr. Taylor to amputate a man’s arm at the shoulder-joint. Just then a regiment came up, and the Colonel was challenged by the picket. This reminded me that if we were to stay all night, as we had mutually agreed to do, we should need the countersign; but although we told him we were medical men, in charge of the wounded, and intended to stay, this was refused to us. The colonel told us that his was the last regiment covering the retreat.

We obtained a candle and went to the house where lay Dr. Taylor’s patient, with his arm terribly shattered with a cannon ball or fragment of a shell. It was nearly torn off near the shoulder-joint, but the haemorrhage was trivial, he was dying of the shock. We gave him whiskey, the only stimulant we had, with water, dressed the wound slightly, and left him to his fate.

Dr. Damainville and I now lay down upon our backs upon the floor beside the wounded—we could do no more—our last candle was burning. Some of us had seen all the wounded, probably 250 in number, and done for them all that lay in our power. I had drunk some buttermilk and eaten a sandwich that Adjutant Washburn had held to my mouth once in the evening, but none of us had had any other food. I had sent Adjutant Washburn to overtake Gen. McDowell early in the evening, and to represent our condition, but he could not find him, and returned without help. The two bottles of whiskey taken by my son from the ambulance when we first came were already nearly distributed to the wounded. They had not a morsel to eat, the ambulances were all gone and had been for several hours. As we went into the street again, we found it was silent as the grave—the pickets even were gone, and except a few men so soundly asleep under the trees that we could not awaken them, there was no one left in the road. After a second consultation we determined to go also. My assistants and myself soon found our horses, but the servant was gone, and with him the bridles, nor could we after much search and loud and long shouting find him. I went back to the old stone church, and found one soldier just brought in, whose wounds I dressed, and then said aloud to the poor fellows within: ” Thank God, my boys, none of you are very seriously injured; you will probably all get well.” To which I heard one or two feeble responses: ” Thank you, Doctor, thank you.” I could not tell them I was about to leave them, and I trust in leaving them so I did them no wrong. I could be of no more service to them until morning, and then I presumed they would be in the hands of a civilized and humane enemy who would care for them better than we could. As I passed along out of the village I requested one gentleman who lived there to look after them, and also a family composed of a man and wife with two daughters. They all promised to do what they could.

Our instruments we could not take. There were five of us and two horses, and my son had sprained his ankle and could scarcely walk, so we went on towards Fairfax Court-House, and in half an hour we began to overtake the rear regiments, and soon I saw Dr. Woodward’s cheerful face begrimed with dirt like our own. I told him how we had left the wounded. There was no remedy, said he. They must be left. We hurried on and at Fairfax Court-House overtook Gen. McDowell, to whom I at once reported the condition and number of the wounded, and requested to be sent back if he thought it best. He replied, ” You have done right, keep on to Washington.” As I was leaving the gate he sent a messenger to call me back, and to ask me if I were walking. I replied that I was. “Gen. McDowell has here ten or twelve ambulances,” said he, “for the wounded, which he obtained by a dispatch to Washington. He wishes you to ride.” From Fairfax I rode until our ambulance broke down, filled with wounded. The wounded were transferred to another ambulance, and I again took to my feet and occasionally to my horse. I reached Fort Runyon, opposite Washington, at about 10 A.m., and here washed my bloody hands and arms, for here I found the first water.

The wounded were scattered the whole distance from Centreville to Washington, not in large numbers, but here and there one could be seen walking by the aid of one or two associates. In reference to the ambulances, the occasion of their absence from Centreville was simply, that the drivers became frightened, and to turn them back would have been impossible. Nor do I think it would have been possible for Gen. McDowell to have sent one vehicle back beyond Fairfax at the time I saw him.

It is remarkable that most of the wounds seen by me were not of a character which would be likely to prove fatal. Perhaps the men most severely wounded were left upon the field, or were dressed by those noble surgeons who were near them, and some of whom lost their lives, while others gave themselves up as prisoners.

In no case did a wound seen by me require the use of a tourniquet, although some soldiers had their limbs tightly girded so as to have already occasioned great swelling and pain.

Most of the balls extracted were spherical; and of those which I removed, the majority were removed through counter openings, the balls lying close against the skin.

Nearly all the soldiers that I have seen since the battle, in Washington and Alexandria, are doing well.

I must not omit to state that after I had left, and when I supposed our whole party were in front of me, Mr. Nourse, acting assistant apothecary in our regiment, went back with three horses, and placing three wounded officers upon them, sent them off, for which he would accept of no compensation. He then walked himself the whole distance to Alexandria. This, with many other signal instances of this young man’s courage, endurance, and humanity, deserves an especial notice.

My own regiment having, under its excellent commander, Col. Calvin E. Pratt, of Brooklyn, N. Y., covered the retreat of most of the forces, and especially of Hunt’s Battery, which took up a new position near Centreville early in the evening, left the ground at 11 P.m, and returned in perfect order to its old encampment near Alexandria. Before they left they received five successive volleys from the enemy s infantry, but not allowing their own fire to be drawn they saved themselves and their battery from being overwhelmed and taken. I must regard the coolness and discretion of Col. Pratt under these circumstances, as the highest evidence of his capacity as a military commander.

Frank H. Hamilton. Surgeon 31st, Regiment, N. Y. St. V.

Transcribed by Contributor Jim Schmidt (see here)

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Private Lewis Francis, 14th Brooklyn

21 09 2008

Medical/Surgical History – Part III, Volume II, p.154

Chapter X – Wounds And Injuries Of The Lower Extremities

Section II – Wounds And Injuries Of The Hip Joint

Amputations At The Hip Joint

The next case is exceptional inasmuch as the amputation and reamputation followed a bayonet stab in the knee instead of shot injury.


Photo – Photographic Atlas of Civil War Injuries

FIG 113 – Cicatrix sixteen months after a reamputation at the right hip, succeeding amputation for a bayonet stab through the knee.

CASE 331.–Private Lewis Francis, Co. I, 14th New York Militia, aged 42 years, was wounded July 21, 1861, at the first battle of Bull Run, by a bayonet thrust, which opened the right knee joint. He received not less than fourteen other stabs in different parts of the body, none of them implicating the great cavities. He was taken prisoner, and conveyed to Richmond and placed in hospital. One of his wounds involved the left testis, which was removed on July 24th. On October 28, 1861, his right thigh was amputated at the middle, on account of disease of the knee with abscesses in the thigh. The double-flap method was employed. The stump became inflamed and the femur protruded. An inch of the bone was resected and the flaps were again brought together. In the spring of 1862 the patient was exchanged and sent to Fort Monroe. Thence he was transferred to a Washington hospital, and thence, in March, 1862, to his home in Brooklyn. There was necrosis of the femur, and in May, 1862, its extremity was again resected by a civil surgeon. On October 28, 1863, Francis was admitted to the Ladies’ Home Hospital, New York. Necrosis had apparently involved the remaining portion of the femur. On May 21, 1864, Surgeon A. B. Mott, U. S. V., laid open the flaps and exarticulated the bone. The patient recovered rapidly and had a sound stump. He was discharged August 12, 1864. On October 1, 1865, a photograph, from which the accompanying wood-cut (FIG. 113) was taken, was forwarded by Surgeon A. B. Mott to the Army Medical Museum. Dr. Mott reported that the pathological specimen of the exarticulated femur was stolen from his hospital. For some months after his discharge Francis enjoyed good health; but then the cicatrix became unhealthy, pus was discharged through several sinuses, and there was bleeding from the slightest irritation. In March, 1867, a messenger was sent to his residence, 54 Hamilton Street, Brooklyn, and found him in very poor health. He had been unable to leave the house since November, 1866. On April 12, 1867, he was visited by Dr. E. D. Hudson, who reported him as then confined to his bed. There was a large ulcer at the upper outer angle of the cicatrix, which communicated with extensive sinuses; there was a fistula-in-ano also. The pus from the different fistulous orifices was thin, oily, and ichorous. There could be little doubt that there was disease of some portion of the innomi-natum. The patient was much emaciated, and had a cough with muco-purulent expectoration. His pulse, however, was not frequent, and he had a good appetite. In May, 1867, it was reported that his general condition had somewhat improved. In March, 1868, Pension Examiner J. C. Burdick, of Brooklyn, reported that this pensioner was “permanently helpless and required the constant aid of a nurse.” On May 30, 1874 (Decoration Day), and the day prior, at a preparatory parade of the veterans of his regiment, he was particularly active. The day after this unusual exercise, May 31, 1874, he died suddenly while at table.(2) This statement from the Brooklyn Union, June 1, 1874, is corroborated by the records of the Pension Bureau.

(2) Circular No. 6, S. G. O., 1865, p. 49. Circular No. 7, S. G. O., 1867, pp. 52, 65. HAMILTON (F. H.), Treatise on Military Surgery, 1865, p. 629.