Volunteer Prisoners at Chickamauga
A Medical Team's Recollections

     Two months after surgeons of the Army of the Cumberland remained behind upon the grounds at Chickamauga in the care taking of the wounded soldiers littering the field; the doctors of the 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, 13th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, and 18th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, met onboard the steamer USS New York to report their personal views as to their treatment by the Confederate authority when they volunteered to remain faithful to their medical duties as prisoners of war in hopes that the wounded soldiers stood the chance of recovering from their trauma.

     Forty eight surgeons and assistant surgeons voluntarily submitted to the status of a prisoner of war to provide medical care to more than two thousand five hundred wounded, most of which had been treated at two established receiving areas, the one at Crawfish Springs and the other at Cloud's Farm. The rail transportation which passed fairly close by had been disrupted by the meeting of the contestants, September 19th through the 20st 1863; making abundant medical supplies, and worse commissary supplies terribly diminished in the wake of the terrible battle.

     On Monday morning subsequent to hostilities, the commands of both Major General Benjamin Franklin Cheatham and Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest entered the Cloud Farm area. The surgeons, now almost completely devoid of a proper nursing staff, were reassured that every protection and any assistance would be provided them in the discharge of their duties. Major General Cheatham was approached and requested that he allow the doctors out onto the field itself so that the wounded still waiting to receive care could be brought in to the receiving areas. Unfortunately, the field had not been entirely secured for that and the medical staff would be delayed two or three days as a result. The candid statements left the surgeons the impression that all would be done which the dictates of humanity called for.

     A military guard had been left for their protection from the command of General Forrest but proved more burdensome than it had been worth. The soldiers detailed had no rations of their own and had to rely on the hospital themselves for food. All haversacks found upon the field had been stripped of their consumables, there had been looting reported, mostly by Confederate officers, and the collection of all oil and gum blankets had been ordered which resulted in an all out plunder of the camps. Clothing and blankets were taken from the wounded and after the sun set the temperatures dropped significantly where the standing water on the field had an eighth of an inch of ice upon it by morning.

     Ambulances and wagons had been requested, there was still wounded that lay on the field and scattered over ten square miles. Brigadier General William Preston had ordered that ambulances be taken from any train that may be found; however either his orders had not been binding or there simply was a complete disregard for them. Ambulances on the march could not be induced to stop when empty and pick up the wounded leaving them as they passed by. The shame was that no time would have been wasted had they done so.

     The doctors had written a statement to General Braxton Bragg, in command of the army in regards to the condition of things, and by special order seven hundred rations of corn meal, salt and hard bread, along with roughly one hundred pounds of salt pork were issued. Three yearling steers were then driven to the farm and used to feed those in the care of the hospitals.

     On the morning of September 26, 1863; Major General Joseph Wheeler arrived with his command around the hospitals at Crawfish Springs. He and his staff announced to the hospital staff that the doctors were prisoners of war and subject to the authority of his command. The whiskey rations, quite commonly used for the patients were squandered and the 11th Texas Cavalry came in with drawn pistols and ordered all the doctors to shed their overcoats, hats, gloves, sashes and side arms. What was left of the nurses and stewards were taken away by General Wheeler as prisoners.

     Unlike the Cloud Farm, no supplies had been furnished the hospital at Crawfish Springs until the wounded had been reduced to boiled wheat as the only article of nourishment, then only musty meal and putrid bacon had been provided.

     The wounded taken from the field had been slow to non existent. They lay having endured through the stench of decaying horses and comrades in arms that filled their nostrils and yet it seemed the sympathy of the rebels remained unmoved. It had been considered that their thirst for revenge prompted their actions so that the instances of brutality that occurred were unequaled in the history of civilized warfare.

     The prisoners themselves had been taken to Atlanta from the battlefield and those wounded yet not paroled were placed into open sheds along with those simply captured. These received little or no care for several days. Blankets, pocketknives, and everything of value were taken from them.

     The Confederate high command endeavored to work with the needs of the hospitals upon the field. As orders descended the chain of command to those directly involved in seeing it through; however, the care that was expected became hard pressed to be found at all. Whether it had been an oversight to provide staff officers to supervise the details assigned is left to be seen. It became obvious; however, that the wounded soldier's personal road to hell had certainly been paved with nothing more than good intentions.

Aldie Daniel Moran
© 2006

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwars.net