War of the Rebellion: Serial 127 Page 0794 CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.

Search Civil War Official Records

plunder have been disappointed by the heroic resolve of our unconquerable brethren of South Carolina, who have with their own hands applied the torch to everything susceptible of conversion into booty for the solace of the marauders.

Fourth. I am happy to inform you of the very marked improvement in the condition of our troops and the decided decrease in the number of the sick. Nothing has given to the Department greater concern, nor engaged more anxious care, than the provision for the comfort of the sick soldier; and although much has been done, very much still remains to be done for the amelioration of his condition. It is a grave error, however, to suppose that any regulations on this subject, however wise, prudent, and humane, can avail without the aid and co-operation of the commanders in the field. If colonels forget that they bear a parental relation toward their regiments and neglect the most obvious sanitary precautions; if medical officers abandon the care of the sick without fear of check or reproof from regimental commanders; if generals deem the supervision of the hospital arrangements and treatment of the sick a task too irksome to be endured, and if the commanders of armies execute military movements with entire disregard of the effects to be produced, whether on the sick or the well, no effort of the Department can avail to prevent great suffering and sacrifice of life. I have endeavored, by specific regulations for the care and transportation of the sick from camps to hospitals, by providing special trains for their accommodation, and by relaxing the rigor of the former rules in regard to furlough and discharges on account of sickness, to diminish, as far as lay in my power, much of the suffering of our brave volunteers, and I append copies of these regulations for the information of Congress. Less, however, has been effected than I had hoped from the operation of the regulations. It seems almost impossible to obtain that regular, faithful, and systematic compliance with rules which can alone

maintain the discipline and preserve the efficiency of large bodies of men, and I have been disappointed in more than one instance, where reliance had confidently been placed on the disposition of commanding generals to co-operate with the Department, in reforms urgently needed in the treatment of the sick. If other measures fail, I shall not shrink from the responsibility of reporting to you the names of officers, however high in command, who may, by disregard of their duty in them. It is proper before passing from this subject to observe that happy effects have already resulted from the general examination by medical boards of the surgical staff of the Army. Quite a number who had been appointed on the recommendation of the men themselves have proven unequal to the duties of their station; others were found incompetent from carelessness and neglect, while in some instances there was gross ignorance of the very elements of the profession. The efficiency of the corps has been greatly increased by the purgation it has undergone, and I think we may venture to hope that we have passed through the most trying ordeal of the war as relates to camp diseases. In the Army of the Potomac alone, with a considerable increase in its forces, there has been within the last sixty days a diminution of at least one-half in the number of the sick.

Fifth. I have already, in a separate paper, commented on the system of raising troops for short periods, and endeavored to point out the disastrous effects of such a course of policy. Persuaded as I