Wm. A. Curtis Memoir

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Memoir of William A. Curtis, 2nd N. C. Cavalry. Civil War Collection, Tennessee State Library & Archives, Box C27, Folder #5, pp. 125-131. Reprinted with permission.

The company F men who was able to get about soon built a large fire out of a rail fence near, and cleared away the snow and put down a layer of sails, and took some hay from the ambulances, and all our blankets and made us a comfortable bed by the fire and helped McGuire and me out and we were soon warmed up comfortably. He then prepared us a comfortable bed in one of the ambulances, giving us his blankets, and lying by the fire himself without any covering. We had no supper. Thus we spent the night. About daylight next morning the two drivers returned and fed their horses. Our Co. F man went to a house about a quarter of a mile away and begged a little milk and bread for our breakfast. Soon we were on our way for Bowling Green station where we arrived an hour or two before the ambulance train for Richmond came on. With the help of the drivers I got out and went into a room of the Depot, heated by a stove and lay down upon my baggage until the train arrived. I was helpful into the train and took a bunk not far from a stove, and we arrived in Richmond late in the evening, and was taken to the “General Hospital.”

I shall never forget the “General Hospital.” We had had no dinner. The “G. H.” was in an old tobacco factory building and cold and cheerless as could well be imagined. Supper consisted of a piece of hard, dry, stale, light bread, and something called coffee; but which, from the taste, must have been not nearer akin to coffee than 42d cousin. I did not care much about that time whether I lived or died.

Next morning the breakfast was about like the supper, and after that was over we were put into an ambulance, and carried through street after street for a considerable time, with a cold, keen, north wind blowing. I thought Richmond must be a large place from the “General Hospital,” to Howard Hospital No. 22, to which I was assigned. That hospital was on main street in the eastern part of the city on the north side of the street, and near where the street makes a turn southward, towards the navy-yard. Arriving at the Howard, 22, I was compelled to sit in a cold room on the ground floor a considerable time before the fancy clerks could wait upon me and register my name and assign me to the ward they wished. After registering, I was invited to climb two flights of stairs to the third floor, which I was unable to do without help. At dinner time the Irish ward master came to me and ordered me to go down to the dining room on the ground floor to dinner, informing me that I could not get dinner unless I did so. I was unable to go and got no dinner. At supper the same orders were given. No physician examined me until 9 o’clock at night the surgeon in charge came around. I reported to him how the ward master was treating me, and having examined me he knew I was unable to climb up and down two flights of stairs for my meals. I had had little to eat in three days, and was beginning to feel like a little of something was needed. The surgeon stashed(?) that Irish ward master after my supper, and had something brought up that I could eat too. I came to the conclusion that evening that I had to do one of two things: either submit and die, or determine to get well without much aid from the hospital authorities. I determined upon the latter, and got up out of my bunk and sat up a considerable time by the stove that night.

From that time on I sat up all the time I could, well, and began to mend, although the doctors gave me but little medicine. In a few days I was able to go down to the dining room for my meals. I remained at Howard, 22, about two weeks and was then regarded as a convalescent. The convalescents were removed to Camp Winder at the west end of Richmond. It was a convalescent camp and contained about four thousand convalescents on an average.

Camp Winder Hospital occupied some old fields west of Richmond, and was laid out in five divisions, for the reception of convalescent soldiers from the different States. In each division were a number of framed buildings about 60 x 30 feet, one story, with three doors in each side. These buildings were numbered or lettered and called wards. They were warmed by stoves, one to each ward. A number were used for public offices, store-rooms, kitchens &c. I made a map of the Hospital which is herein given, and which will give a definite idea of the place. I was assigned to the Third Division, Ward 54. I remained at Camp Winder about a month before I was permitted to return to my command.

The accompanying Map of Camp Winder [not found] is made looking South. The entrance to the camp, from Richmond, was on the north side, and the first buildings encountered were the offices of the General Department, designated as A, B, C, D, and E, as shown on the map. The First Division was situated on a hill in the south-western portion of the camp, and was occupied by Georgia. The wards were lettered by the letters of the alphabet. In a depression west of the Third Division, and east of the First, there was a little branch, and near it a Bath House for the use of the soldiers. The Second Division – Mississippi – lay north of the first, and east of the Second, was located the Fifth Division for Kentucky and Tennessee. South of the Fifth, lay the Third Division for North Carolina, and east of the Third, was located the Fourth for Louisiana. South of the Fourth Division was the Bakery where bread was baked to supply the hospital. East of the Bakery, was the Reservoir of the Richmond water-works, from which water was obtained for the camp. In the middle of the streets were erected a number of water closets with barrels underneath. These barrels were carted off to the city daily and the contents used in the manufacture of saltpeter, which was used in the manufacture of gunpowder. There were usually about four or five thousand convalescent, and detailed men confined at Camp Winder. The whole was under the command of General Winder, who had a system of thorough organization in all the departments of the camp.

[End of page 128. Pages 129-130 were on an unrelated matter, and were not copied. The narrative continues on page 131.]

Each Division had its Dining room, and at meal-time a ticket-man would enter the middle door of each ward & call out “Tickets!”, and passing out at the other middle door, halted and all the occupants of the ward would follow him to the outside of the door and get a ticket and off they would start to the dining room, and entering on one side, they handed their tickets to a sentinel at the door and taking seats at long tables found plates before them with the regular allowance on them, all alike in quantity and kind, for all appetites, and all conditions of convalescence. The allowance disposed of nothing more could be expected, and the next thing was to pass out at the opposite side of the room and return to your ward, unless your appetite demanded more, and you had succeeded by strategem or trade to be the fortunate possessor of another ticket, when you had only to walk around the dining room to the entrance door and go through the same process. The persons with whom the convalescents sought the least acquaintance were the “ticket-man,” and the dining-room sentinel. The “ticket-man,” not knowing you, you were frequently enabled to swindle him out of an extra ticket, by strategem, and the sentinel at the door not knowing you could be easily duped into receiving from you an extra ticket. I played this game frequently, but never was known by the “ticket-man” nor sentinel. No matter how unwell a soldier was, he always received his ticket, and if he did not feel like eating(?) it out himself he would either sell it for a trifle, or give it to some companion with a better appetite.

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