Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sheridan's First Richmond Raid - A Doctor's Perspective

During the summer of 1864, the Reserve Brigade accompanied the rest of the 1st Division of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac on both of Sheridan's "Richmond Raids." I recently came across the reports of the corps surgeon for each of the two raids, and thought the perspectives of these surgeons were interesting. The assistant surgeon Rogers mentioned was the regimental surgeon for the 6th U.S. Cavalry, who were serving as Sheridan's escort during the raid. Assistant Surgeon George McGill of the U.S. Army was the acting corps surgeon on the first raid, and his report follows:

“On the 9th day of May, Surgeon Pease being too sick for mounted duty, I was made acting medical director by Major General Sheridan. The corps was, at that time, upon the march, and numbered about nine thousand mounted men. There was one ambulance at the headquarters of the corps, and the batteries of the artillery had each an ambulance, in which, however, the mess things of the artillery officers and their bedding were carried; the ambulance boxes contained the usual supply of beef stock, etc. Thirty-one ammunition wagons were with the command, all heavily laden, but not the less adapted to ambulance service, for, as was afterwards shown, an engagement used up ammunition enough to make it possible to carry such of the wounded men as were cases to bring along, and yet unable to ride their horses. Each medical officer had a field companion, and each regiment was provided with the field register. During the five days in which we had no communication, the medicines and dressings on hand were used up, but a supply of dressings were obtained by a foraging party. The wounded were abundantly fed by foraging. As the corps headquarters was the most stable position in the command, it was ordered that all the wounded who were able to ride their horses should be sent thither. Acting Assistant Surgeon Rogers was placed in charge of these men, and Acting Assistant Surgeon McGuigan ordered to report to him. After a capture of three rebel wagons and three ambulances, made upon the night of the 9th of May, a corps ambulance train was organized, and the same officer put in charge. As the number of our wounded increased, the battery ambulances, with such spring wagons as could be appropriated in the corps or taken from inhabitants of the country, were added to the train, which finally assumed formidable proportions, and presented a remarkable appearance from the variety of vehicles embraced in it. The first engagement was on the telegraph road approaching Childsburg; an affair of the rear guard, in which, however, we lost heavily. Many of the wounded were captured by the enemy, but nineteen were saved and transported in ammunition wagons. On the night of the 9th and morning of the 10th, we had twenty men and officers wounded in skirmishing. During the afternoon of the 11th, the battle of Yellow Tavern was fought, an engagement in which the whole corps was concerned. Our corps hospital was established half a mile in the rear of the centre; it was under fire part of the time, but there was no situation within our lines that was not. It was thoroughly organized with a surgeon in charge, operators, dressers and recorders. The night and day following this battle was extremely trying for the wounded, as the corps moved during the night to near Meadow bridge, within the outer defences of Richmond, and fought all the day. On the 12th, the corps was engaged on three sides. On the left, facing Richmond, the 3d division was engaged with one of the rebel fortifications. On the right, the 2d division contended against a heavy force of infantry, while the 1st division built a bridge over the Chickahominy, and forced a passage in the face of the cavalry force defeated by the corps the day before. The wounded from these points were sent to the corps train after being carefully dressed. Most of the cases saved were brought off on horseback, as all our ambulances were already overloaded. Our loss was comparatively light, forty men in all being wounded in the 2d and 3d divisions. On the afternoon and evening of the same day, the corps fought at Mechanicsville, and, during the two days following, marched to Haxall’s landing, which was reached on the afternoon of the 14th. During these days, surgeons were detailed night and morning to dress and attend to the wounded. As soon as Medical Director McCormick heard of our arrival, he sent a transport well fitted up for the wounded. While lying at Haxall’s, nearly three hundred men were sent to general hospital, two hundred ten of whom were wounded. Much needed medical supplies were here obtained for the corps. From Haxall’s, we moved to White House, where fifty-seven sick and wounded were sent to general hospital. On the 18th, while lying at Baltimore stores, an expedition was made by Brigadier General Custer, who cut the Richmond and Fredericksburg railroad near Hanover Court-house. In this expedition, two men were wounded, one of whom was lost. Crossing the Pamunkey river, the corps next marched to Dunkirk, on the Mattapony, thence to our wagon train, near Milford Station. In all there were about three hundred and eighty men wounded during the expedition, of whom about two hundred and eighty-five were secured.

Source: Barnes, Joseph K. The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 1. Washington, Government Printing Office: 1870. Pages 179-180.

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