Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Post image for Journal of Surgeon Alfred L. Castleman.

Journal of Surgeon Alfred L. Castleman.

June 23, 2012

Journal of Surgeon Alfred L Castleman.

(This month was the one in which commenced the retreat, or “change of base,”) from before Richmond. The constant call on my time, from the last date to the 25th, prevented my keeping a full journal of events, and I therefore state, generally, that after having been compelled, for three weeks, to witness an amount of unnecessary suffering, which I cannot now contemplate without a shudder, I at last succeeded, by the efficient and cordial aid of my Assistant Surgeons, Dickinson, Tuttle, Freeman and Brett, (the last two named coming in at a late date) and by my ” insufferably insolent demands” on my superior officers, in getting the hospital well supplied with provisions, stores, bedding, &c. The Assistant Surgeons named above, have my acknowledgements and my grateful thanks for their ever willing and well-timed support of me in my efforts to relieve the sufferings of brave men under our care. I wish, too, to make my acknowledgement to Medical Director Brown, for his courteous and cordial support of my efforts. Nor can I pass here without bearing testimony to the ever-ready and humane efforts of the Sanitary Commission to aid, by every means in its power, in the proper distribution of comforts for the sick and wounded. On arriving at Washington, shortly after entering the service of the United States, I became much prejudiced by statements made to me against this organization, but it required but a short time to satisfy me that my prejudices were groundless. I have uniformly found the members both courteous and humane, and am satisfied that the privations of the soldiers would have been incomparably greater but for the aid received through them. From this Commission we received, about the 15th June, amongst other things, a generous supply of bed sacks. These, by the aid of the convalescents in hospital, were filled with the fine boughs of the cedar, pine and other evergreens, which made very comfortable beds, and in a few days after this every man was comfortably bedded and between clean, white sheets.[1] About the time of this change in the condition of the hospital, patients unable to be moved to the rear began to be sent in here from other hospitals. The removing of convalescents to the rear, and the breaking up numbers of hospitals and massing their very sick in one general field hospital, always indicates some active army operations. ‘Twas so in this case. But the condition of the patients sent in was shocking in the extreme, and a disgrace to the officers by whom such things are permitted. Poor fellows, wounded in battle, had been neglected till their wounded limbs or bodies had become a living mass of maggots. Legs were dropping off from rottenness, and yet these poor men were alive. Yet if the Surgeons had have protested against these things, perhaps they would have been threatened, as I was, with dismissal, and have been told that it was ” bad enough that this should be, without having it told to discourage the army.” There is no necessity for it, and the Surgeon who will submit to being made the instrument of such imposition on the soldiers, without a protest, deserves dismissal and dishonor. I must be permitted to insert here my most solemn protest against the action of any Governor, in promoting, at the request of (7×9) party politicians, (and in defiance of the remonstrance of those acquainted with the facts,) officers, and particularly surgeons, whose only notoriety consists in their ability to stand up under the greatest amount of whisky; and also against their re-appointing surgeons under the same influence who, after examination, have been mustered out of the service for incompetency. Under such appointments humanity is shocked, and a true and zealous army of patriots dwindle rapidly into a mass of mal-contents.

[1] A little incident here. Amongst the loads of hospital supplies furnished by the U. S. Sanitary Commission, were many articles of clothing and bedding marked with the names of the persons by whom they were donated. After the new beds were all made and severally assigned to those who were to occupy them, I was supporting a poor, feeble Pennsylvanian to his bed. As he was in the act of getting in he started back with a shriek and a shudder, accompanied by convulsive sobs so heart-rending that there was scarcely a dry eye in the ward. He stood fixed, staring and pointing at the bed, as if some monster was there concealed. As soon as he became sufficiently calm to speak, I asked what was the matter? With a half-maniacal screech he exclaimed—his finger still pointing—” My mother!” Her name was marked upon the sheet. Three days after the poor fellow died with that name firmly grasped in his hand. The sheet was rolled around him, the name still grasped, and this loved testimonial of the mother’s affection was committed with him to his last resting place. This circumstance was published at the time, in a letter from myself and I have seen it also stated in several papers, extracted from letters written to friends by soldiers in the hospital.

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