Medicine: Stones River Medical Report

A Report from the West...

Murfreesborough, Tenn., January 25, 1863.

COLONEL: Herewith I have the honor to transmit a brief report of the transactions of the medical department of the Army of the Cumberland, together with the reports of the medical directors of the right, left, and center:

On the morning of December 26 last, pursuant to orders from the commanding general, the army moved forward from camp, near Nashville, toward Murfreesborough, the right on the Nolensville and the center on the Franklin pikes, while the left advanced direct on the Murfreesborough road.

Soon after Major-General McCook, in command of the right wing, left his camp on Mill Creek, he encountered the cavalry of the enemy and skirmished with them till he reached Nolensville. About a mile in advance off this place the enemy made a determined stand, with a battery in position, but was soon routed, with a loss of one of his guns and several prisoners. We had 3 men killed and 7 wounded in Davis' division. The heavy rain of the morning had subsided, and now the country was enveloped in a fog or mist.

The same day Major-general Thomas, in command of the center, moved across the country from the Franklin to the Nolensville pike; sent aid to General Davis, who, he learned, was engaged, and on the following day marched to Stewartsville, on the Murfreesborough pike We remained here till the morning of the 29th, when he advanced to the support of the left wing, which had preceded him, and was now near Murfreesborough.

On the 30th, General Negley's division, of this portion of the army, joined with Sheridan, who occupied the left of General McCook's command, which had moved up from Nolensville on the Wilkinson pike and now occupied a position nearly parallel with the enemy, the left resting on the Wilkinson pike and the right extending southwesterly in a line in a direction with the river. In this movement of the right from near Nolensville, General Stanley, in command of a division of cavalry in advance, encountered the enemy in considerable force, and drove him beyond Triune. The cavalry lost 1 killed and 5 wounded, and in another affair the much-lamented Major Rosengarten was killed and Major Ward mortally wounded. Of the Anderson Cavalry, 6 privates were also wounded. These were taken with the command in ambulances, and placed in hospital at the cross-roads.

Major-General Crittenden, in command of the left wing, while advancing along the Murfreesborough pike, met the enemy on the 27th at La Vergne and put him to flight. In this engagement we lost 2 killed and 32 wounded. These latter were left in hospital at La Vergne, in charge of medical officers, and were subsequently removed to Nashville.

On the 29th, this ground division of the army moved into position on the extreme left, with General Palmer on the right, resting on the Murfreesborough pike and joining Negley, of the center, and General Wood occupying the ground from Palmer to the river, General Van Cleve in reserve of this, and General Rousseau in rear of the center.

General Rosecrans, with his entire staff, advanced from Nashville on the Murfreesborough pike, and, having reached the head of the column, turned off to the right over a heavy mud road visited General McCook s command, and returned to his camp, in the rear of La Vergne, about 4 o'clock the following morning. Here he remained, contemplating the movements of the enemy, till the following day, when he moved on to Stewartsville. The next day (the 29th), late in the evening, he visited General Crittenden's headquarters, and remained in consultation all night with the chief officers of his command.

On the following morning, one of our batteries, in position a little to the left and in advance of the general, opened fire upon a battery of the enemy still more to the left and on elevated ground, which, replying, killed one of the escort, Private Dolan, of the Fourth U. S. Cavalry, and wounded the adjutant of the Fifty-seventh Indiana Volunteers in the shoulder. At the same time a private of an infantry regiment not engaged was killed. The general and his staff' now fell back 300 or 400 yards to the sloping ground on the left of the road, where he remained all day.

About 11 o'clock the heavy picket firing on our left ceased, and opened generally along our right, where General McCook was being engaged. The enemy was strongly intrenched behind earthworks, extending from the river on our extreme left across our front in almost a direct line; then, far along our right, but receding from the Wilkinson to the Franklin pike, through heavy timber.

The left wing lost to-day 3 killed and 18 wounded; the center 14 killed and 53 wounded, and the right wing 24 killed and 105 wounded.
Field hospitals were established for the left and center in houses and tents along the Nashville pike, and for the right wing in the same manner on the Wilkinson pike and neighborhood.

Before leaving Nashville I had approved of full and complete requisitions, at the suggestion of Surgeon Murray, U.S. Army, my predecessor, for the three grand divisions of the army. I had also, in reserve, tents, bedding, &c., for a field hospital for more than 2,500 men, which I ordered up from the rear on the 29th, as soon as I learned the enemy had made a stand near Murfreesborough. At the same time I ordered forward 20 ambulances--all that we had on hand at Nashville. Surgeons were detailed to perform operations, when decided on after consultation, for dressing, and such other duties as the reception and disposition of the wounded and circumstances required.

Early on the morning of the 31st, the enemy, during the night having massed a heavy force on our right, fiercely attacked Johnson's and Davis' divisions, which he forced back; and Sheridan's, being heavily pressed, was obliged to recede. The hospitals, wounded, and nearly all the medical supplies of this wing of the army thus fell into the hands of the enemy. We were also called on to lament in sadness the loss of General Sill, and many noble and brave officers and men.

About 9 o'clock the commanding general, with his staff, dashed boldly forward to the front of the left wing, and in person directed the movements of troops and placed batteries in position. His daring presence so near the enemy's line brought down upon him an angry and spiteful fire of musketry, round shot, and shell, almost at point-blank range. But utterly disregarding this metallic storm, our brave commander moved calmly on from left to right, cheering and inspiring our faltering troops; and throughout the day, wherever the tide of battle most fiercely raged, General Rosecrans bore his charmed life and ubiquitous presence. The noble Garesche was killed by his side, and his aides, Lieutenant Kirby severely, and Lieutenant Porter slightly, wounded. Sergeant Richmond and 4 privates of his escort were also killed or wounded, the former mortally.

Much the heaviest loss sustained to-day fell upon our regular battalions, brigaded under command of Lieut. Col. O. L. Shepherd, in holding the cedar brake, on the right of the center, against the columns of the enemy sweeping down upon them, after having forced back our entire right wing. This loss amounted to 561 killed and wounded, more than one-third of their numbers; in fact, I might probably better say nearly one-half.

Our casualties in killed and wounded did not fall short of 4,000 men,, including about 1,500 of the right wing, 1,200 of whom, wounded, fell into the hands of the enemy.

The ambulance corps, though temporarily organized, worked admirably. As soon as the fire of the enemy slacked at any point along our lines and became only desultory, the ambulances dashed in at a brisk trot, and snatched our wounded from their picket lines. In justice, I should add, the enemy did not fire on these brave men when they knew their humane mission, friend and foe, no longer combatants, being equally the objects of their care.

In the early part of the day, Dr. Weeds, assistant medical director, went to the rear to take charge of the property pertaining to the field hospitals, and placed it in proper position. About 10 o'clock Surgeon McDermont, medical director of the right wing, reported to me that his hospitals and wounded, hospital supplies and medical officers, had fallen into the hands of the enemy, and asked for instructions. I directed him to a cedar brake on the left of the road, half a mile to the rear, where I instructed him to make a temporary field hospital, constructing the shed, roof, and beds for the wounded from cedar boughs, to make his requisition on Dr. Weeds for supplies, and report to me when he could receive the wounded. Visiting his place an hour later, I found it untenable, or, at least, unsafe, on account of round shot and shell from the enemy occasionally falling upon it. I then directed Surgeon McDermont to find suitable buildings on the pike to the rear.

It became necessary, in order to accommodate so many wounded, to make use of tents, and my field hospitals having arrived, I was enabled to afford comfortable shelter for all. In the meantime my attention was drawn to a large number of wagons, ambulances, caissons, &c., moving from different points to the river, more to the left. I soon learned they had come in disorder from the right, and were looking for safety, over an uneven rocky ford, on the opposite river bank. This Babel-like confusion was somewhat augmented by the approach of the enemy, who now charged upon this flank. They were, however, driven back before much property had been destroyed. I had succeeded in drawing out many of the ambulances before crossing the ford. Three were reported to me as having been taken by the enemy and burned. The remainder subsequently did good service.

During the day the enemy's cavalry made a descent upon our hospitals, on the Nashville pike; but, beyond some confusion and embarrassment, they did little harm. Our own cavalry, commanded by Captain Otis, speedily drove them away, and recaptured all we had lost.

During the night I visited the hospitals within our lines along the pike and off of it, to the rear, and was gratified to find the wounded well provided and attended. At daylight, surgeons, nurses, and attendants were busily engaged in the labor they had begun the morning before.

As the fighting on January I was confined to brisk skirmishing, and but few casualties resulted therefrom, we were able to complete our organization, and finish the heavy work so suddenly thrown upon our hands the day before. Many of the slightly wounded, and those who were able to ride in empty wagons and walk, I ordered to Nashville, 25 miles to the rear.

After a brisk engagement the following morning, without any marked results, the day passed much as the preceding, till 5 o'clock, when the enemy came down with an overwhelming force upon our left flank, driving, for a while, everything before him; but, emerging from the heavy timber upon the open ground, he was met by terrific volleys of grape, round shot, and shell from fifty-two pieces of artillery, placed in position by Captain Mendenhall, on the opposite river bank. The enemy faltered, then fell back, and soon this living mass was in full retreat. Our loss, not exceeding 500 men, was comparatively small, his being estimated at nearly three times that number.

Then, as on other occasions, the ambulance corps behaved well. It was dark when the battle ceased, but while occasionally only shot fell from the baffled foe, our wounded were on the road, and less than an hour later they were all comfortably provided for in the rear. Lieutenant --------- ,who had charge of this branch of the medical service, deserves favorable mention for his zeal and industry; for though he could not share, from indisposition, the more bold and daring occupation of his brave comrades, he contributed much to the comfort of the wounded.

Saturday morning found our army bivouacked in mud, drenched with rain, without shelter, and almost without food, but still hopeful and cheerful. None were sick--few complaining. Our heavy lines of pickets on all sides were all day engaged, and at night General Rousseau's division stormed their rifle-pits in front, carried and held them. Our loss in this affair and throughout the day was not large. This proved to be our last encounter with the enemy.

On the following day we were engaged in the mournful task of burying our lamented dead. I visited the hospitals on the Wilkinson pike and neighborhood, now again within our lines, and found the wounded generally well cared for. Surgeon Marks and other medical officers, as also the attendants, left in these hospitals by direction of Surgeon McDermot, medical director of the right wing, I am happy to state, with but few exceptions, did their duty faithfully and well. Their labors were great and harassing, and not unattended with danger.

On the 31st, when the ground was fiercely contested, and only yielded to an overwhelming force, some buildings were pierced by round shot and musketry, wounding attendants in the earnest discharge of their duty.

During the battle of Wednesday a portion of Negley's division, of the center, fell into the hands of the enemy. These have been reported to me as having received the same care and attention as their own wounded by the medical officers of their army. In fact, they have said to me they had been "well treated, and had no reason to complain."

Surgeons Bogue, Johnson, Brelsford, and Wright are highly commended for their gallantry in maintaining their position with their wounded comrades when the hospitals of this portion of the army came within the enemy's lines. In strong contrast with these, and many other brave, devoted, and self-sacrificing men, it becomes my painful duty to say that V. D. Miller, assistant surgeon, Seventy-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, is reported to me by the medical director of his corps as having "basely deserted his post."

Surgeon Phelps, medical director of the left wing, is entitled to the highest praise for his zeal and untiring industry in the establishment of the largest field hospital in the rear; for professional skill and devoted attention to the wants of the wounded. Surgeon Blair also deserves credit for the comfortable provision made for those entrusted to his care, in tents, and shelters made of tent-flys. The wounded here, as elsewhere under canvas, did well, and most clearly established, in the opinion of all, the advantages derived from free ventilation thus afforded over hospitals in ordinary dwellings of wood or brick, notwithstanding a liberal provision of windows and doors.

I am gratified to say my conservative views were generally adopted, and that amputations were seldom performed without consultation. Many exceptions were made, which am doing well, and some cases were treated as compound fractures with marked success.

Surgeon Muscroft, medical director of General Rousseau's division, established a hospital in the rear, and accommodated comfortably a large number of wounded. Many of the serious cases are in an advanced state of recovery. His zeal, skill, and industry are common (l-able; also Surgeons James, medical director of the cavalry division, and Comfort, of the Anderson Troop, did faithful service. Assistant Surgeon Failer has been assiduous in his attentions to sick and wounded.

Lieutenant-Colonel Northcott unable longer to bear the fatigue and exposure incident to duty in the lines, on account of ill-health, aided me greatly in organizing parties of stragglers, with whom he policed camps, and procured wood, water, and straw.

Captain Munger, with his company, was detailed to guard property and enforce discipline in and about the field hospitals, and Captain Stackpole, to provide and issue subsistence stores as required. These gentlemen did their duties well, and gave universal satisfaction. The duties of these officers, like those of the medical department, though not of the brilliant nature of their more fortunate comrades in front, were essential to the comfort of the brave wounded, and deserve well of their commanding general and country.

I must crave your indulgence for again mentioning the ambulance corps and Lieutenant --------.

The service performed was highly creditable. The drivers and assist-ants--among the former of whom I desire to mention F. M. Figett, private, Company M, Twenty-first Kentucky Volunteers---were kind, prompt, and zealous in the discharge of their duty. This service was often necessarily continued into the night and near the enemy's lines; yet these brave men, unarmed, untiring, and unflinching, in the face of danger, gathered their bleeding comrades from under the guns of the enemy and bore them to the rear.

My orderly, Private Barrett, Fourth U.S. Cavalry, deserves creditable mention for his unceasing devotion to duty, and the prompt manner, in which he conveyed my directions on the field. My clerk, William Domer, private in the Anderson Troop, who, I am gratified to know, has been highly recommended for a commission, also served faithfully and assiduously at the hospitals in the rear.

The commissary and quartermaster's departments are entitled to our thanks for timely and efficient aid in furnishing supplies and transportation, and in the preparation of hospitals for the reception of sick and wounded here and at Nashville. My thanks are also due to my assistants, Dr. Weeds and Surgeon Phelps, whom I have previously mentioned, for their prompt and efficient co-operation, and for valuable suggestions conducive to the comfort and best treatment of the wounded; to Surgeon Thurston, assistant medical director at Nashville, also, for his zeal, energy, and rare professional abilities displayed in providing for the wounded sent him from the battle-field. Surgeons McDermot and Beebe were untiring in their labors, and afforded me valuable aid. Their observations on treatment of wounded, &c., as shown in their reports, herewith appended, should receive attention.
From the difficulty of individualizing, where so many are distinguished, I have mentioned but few officers as deserving of commendation for faithful and conscientious attention to duty. I am sorry to say, however, that there are those whose conduct has been bad, whose names at an early day will be forwarded to the commanding general for his action. Among these are two officers, who left the field to look for hospitals beyond Stewart's Creek, and did not soon return, reported to me by Colonel Burke, Tenth Ohio Volunteers.

Under the present standard of professional ability among subordinate medical officers, too much stress cannot, in my opinion, be laid upon the importance of securing supervisory talent of the highest order. The rank now common to corps medical directors is most inadequate to the responsibility, extent of authority, and respect attaching to such a position, while the pay and emoluments pertaining thereto are a poor inducement to skillful practitioners to abandon a lucrative practice at home for the drudgery, exposure, and, at best, brief honors of service with troops in the field. While the medical officers now acting in this capacity are comparatively the best fitted therefor among those open to selection, I am of opinion that the standard of professional administrative capacity of such officers should be elevated, and that increase of rank (it may be local), of pay and emoluments to medical directors will insure the availability to the department of a much higher order of talent than is at present accessible.

It appears to me that the liberality of the Government and the people, which grants such liberal donations of money and supplies for sanitary purposes, might be most advantageously applied to securing more valuable personal attentions to the objects of these laudable efforts.

I append hereto a complete return of the killed and wounded of the various subdivisions of the army, with a tabular statement of the location and nature of the wounds.

Very respectfully,
U. S. Army, Medical Director,
Department of the Cumberland

USCivilWar.Net wants to thank Jenny Goellnitz for compiling this information.