History of Chimborazo Hospital, CSA

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Gildersleeve, John R. "History of Chimborazo Hospital, Richmond, Va., and Its Medical Officers During 1861-1865 " Virginia Medical Semi-Monthly, July 8, 1904, pp. 148-154.

PAGE 86 Southern Historical Society Papers.

From the News Leader, January 7, 1909.


(Abstract from address of Dr. J. R. Gildersleeve, president of the Association of Medical Officers of the Army and Navy of the Confederacy, at Nashville, Tenn., June 14, 1904.)

This is another very interesting paper in the series on local history which we have been publishing. It is furnished the School Bulletin for the teachers and children of Richmond and the public generally through he courtesy of the history committee of the Richmond Education Association.-Ed.

I have selected as the subject of this paper, the most noted and largest military hospital in the annals of history, either ancient or modern, "Chimborazo Hospital," at Richmond, Va., 1862 to 1865, and in connection therewith, the commandant and medical director, Surgeon James B. McCaw, and his staff.

East of the city of Richmond, whilom capital of the Confederate States, and separated from the city proper by the historic Bloody Run Creek, is an elevated plateau of nearly forty acres, commanding from its height a grand view. On the south, the river, spanned by many bridges, ships in harbor, Chesterfield and the town of Manchester; on the east, a long stretch of country, cultivated fields, forests, hills and dales, and the tawny James on its tortuous seaward way; and on the west, the city of Richmond, its churches and spires, the capitol, public buildings, dwellings, and manufactories, the whirling, seething, rushing falls of the river, and beautiful Hollywood, "the city of our dead."

On this high and picturesque point, so well adapted to hospital purposes, in the year 1862, when the Federal troops moved in force on Bull Run, and the real campaign began, General Joseph E. Johnston reported that nine thousand men would

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have to be sent back to Richmond for admittance to hospitals before his army could proceed.

That grand old Roman and Chief, Surgeon-General S. P. Moore, at once went to see Dr. James B. McCaw, of Richmond (who was not then in the medical service, having enlisted in a cavalry company,) and as the result of conference held and at the suggestion of Dr. McCaw, Chimborazo Hill was selected as the most favorable site, and early in 1862 the hospital was opened and in one week two thousand soldiers were admitted, and in two weeks' time there were in all four thousand.

The surgeon-general had only twenty-five hundred beds when General Johnston made his report. Work was at once commenced, and one hundred and fifty well-constructed and ventilated buildings were erected, each one hundred feet in length, thirty feet in width, and one story high, though not all built at one time, but as needed to furnish comfortable quarters for the sick and wounded. Five large hospitals or divisions were organized; thirty wards to each division. These dimensions allowed of two rooms of cots on each side of central aisle; the capacity of each ward from forty to sixty. The buildings were separated from each other by wide alleys or streets, ample spaces for drives or walks, and a wide street around entire camp or hospital. The hospitals presented the appearance of a large town, imposing and attractive, with its alignment of buildings kept whitened with lime, streets and alleys clean, and with its situation on such an elevated point it commanded a grand, magnificent and pleasing view of the surrounding country for many miles.

The divisions of this immense hospital were five, or five hospitals in one, and five surgeons, each one of the five in charge of a division; also a number of assistants and acting assistant surgeons (forty-five to fifty), each, in charge of several wards of buildings, and subject to surgeons of divisions, and all subject to Surgeon James B. McCaw, in charge of executive head.

With natural drainage, the best conceivable on the east, south and west; good water supply; five large ice houses; Russian bath house; cleanliness and excellent system of removal of wastes, the best treatment, comforts and result in a military hospital in times of war were secured.

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In 1861 there was on what is now known as Chimborazo Park or Hill one house, owned by a Richard Laughton, and a small office building.

For the purpose of making the hospital an independent institution, the secretary of war made Chimborazo hospital an army post, and Dr. McCaw was made commandant; an officer and thirty men were stationed there, and everything conducted "selon de regles."

As the commandant, Surgeon McCaw was not in the regular army of the Confederacy, the surgeon-general said: "I do not know what name to give the hospital or its chief." Not wishing to call it a general hospital, at Dr. McCaw's suggestion it was given a distinctive name and called Chimborazo, and Dr. James B. Mccaw was made commandant and medical director in chief.

When possession was taken of the hill it was separated from Church Hill on the western side by Bloody Run gully. (After the war a street was built across the ravine connecting the two hills and completing the extension of Broad street.) A large house north of the hospital was occupied as headquarters by the medical directors and chiefs of divisions, with a clerical force.

These five hospitals, or divisions, were organized as far as possible on a State basis; troops from the same State being thrown together and treated and cared for by officers and attendants from their own States.

In addition to the one hundred and fifty buildings, there were one hundred "Sibley tents," in which were put from eight to ten convalescent patients to a tent; these tents were pitched upon the slopes of the hill, presenting a very imposing sight.

Oakwood cemetery, which up to that tine had been comparatively a small graveyard, was created by the hospital. It was near, suitable, and accessible, and is sacred to the memory of many brave soldiers who gave their lives for our cause. The loyal women of Oakwood Memorial Association erected a beautiful shaft on a grassy mound, midst the graves of the "boys that wore the gray," with the following inscription on the four sides of the base:

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In Memory
Sixteen Thousand
Confederate Soldiers
From Thirteen States.

Erected by the Ladies
Oakwood Memorial Association,
Organized May 10, 1866.

North Carolina,
South Carolina,

The Epitaph of
the Soldier who falls with his Country
is written in the Hearts of those
who love the right and
Honor the brave.


As soon as the hospital was opened, the large tobacco factories of the Grants, Mayos and others were secured, their business being practically at an end for the period of the war, and the boilers from these factories were utilized in making soup in the soup houses, and the large supply of splendidly seasoned wood, used in making tobacco boxes, was fashioned into beds and other furniture. The hands employed in factories were put to work in doing manual labor, incident to building, etc., in our hospital construction. A guard house was erected separate from other buildings for unruly convalescents, attendants, et als., and

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sometimes in use. In addition the hospital built five soup houses, a bakery, a brewery, and five ice houses.

Mr. Franklin Stearns lent the hospital his celebrated farm, "Tree Hill," for the pasturage for from one hundred to two hundred cows, and from three to five hundred goats. The latters proved to be the best subsistence we had in supplying the hospital with "kid" meat, a most palatable and nutritious food for sick and convalescent patients. Some idea of the dimensions of the bakery may be found from the fact that from seven thousand to ten thousand loaves were issued per diem, a loaf permian and attendant would not go around.

Soap was made out of grease taken from the soup houses; the lye was imported through the blockade.

An additional fact is that the hospital never drew fifty dollars from the Confederate States government, but relied solely upon the money received from commutation of rations. The medical departments and subsistence departments were organized all to themselves, and the money from commuted rations was used to buy what was necessary.

The hospital trading canal boat, "Chimborazo," Lawrence Lottier in command, plied between Richmond, Lynchburg and Lexington, bartering cotton, yarn, shoes, etc., for provisions. This was only one of the hospital's many resources.

At the close of the war, the Confederate government owed the hospital three hundred thousand dollars, which Mr. Memminger, secretary of Confederate States treasury, agreed to pay in gold on the 29th of March, and on the 3rd of April the city of Richmond was surrendered. Alas! it was not paid.

I now call your special attention to the fact that the total number of patients received and treated at Chimborazo Hospital amounted to seventy-six thousand (out of this number about 17,000 were wounded soldiers), and that it was the first military hospital in point of size in this country and in the world, the next largest hospital in this country being the "Lincoln," at Washington, D. C., which reported a total number of forty-six thousand patients; and the next largest in the world at large was the Scutari hospital, in the Crimea, which reported a total of thirty thousand to forty thousand patients. The percentage of

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deaths at Chimborazo was a fraction over nine per cent. Complete records were kept, and are still in existence in the office of the surgeon-general at Washington, D. C., upon which the name of every patient can be found when wanted, and the cause of his death.

The organization of Chimborazo hospital was as follows:

Surgeon James B. McCaw, commandant and medical director.
First Division, Virginia-surgeon P. F. Brown, of Accomac, Va.
Second Division, Georgia-Surgeon Habersham, of Atlanta, Ga.
Third Division, North Carolina---Surgeon E. Harvey Smith.
Fourth Division, Alabama---Surgeon S. N. Davis.
Fifth Division, South Carolina--- Surgeon E. M. Seabrook, Charleston, S. C.

The medical staff numbered, or averaged, about forty or forty-five in all.

There was also a medical examining board, composed of the surgeons of divisions, to pass on questions of furloughs and discharges. The subjoined roster is not complete, but includes some who are alive and still in active work:
First Division-Assistant Surgeon George Ross, of Richmond, Va., assistant medical director A. P. Hill corps; vice-president National Association Railroad Surgeons, etc.; commanded company of University students, April 1861, at Harper's Ferry. Assistant Surgeon James C. Watson, of Richmond, Va., in charge first division at surrender; ex-surgeon of state penitentiary, etc. Assistant Surgeons John G. Trevillian, of Richmond, Va.; J. Prosser Harrison, of Richmond, Va.; George F. Alsop, W. H. Pugh, John G. Baylor, of Norfolk, Va., Board Woodson, of Virginia; Samuel Smith, of Farmville, Va.

Second Division-Assistant Surgeon H. Cabell Tabb, of Richmond, Va., medical L. I. Co., of Virginia; ex-president Medical Director's Association of the United states, Canada, etc. Assistant Surgeons Edward Adams, Amelia county, Va.; J. C. Vaiden, New Kent county, Va.; Jack Harrison, Bremo Bluff, Va. Steward in charge dispensary, Joseph A. Gale, now chief surgeon

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Norfolk and Western railroad, and president Medical Society of Virginia, 1903-1904.

Third and Fourth Divisions-Assistant Surgeons John Malby, South Carolina; Shirley Carter, Virginia; Field; Holderby; Chapman; Wall, Florida, Edward Wiley; Thomas E. Stratton, Richmond, Va.

Fifth Division-Assistant Surgeon W. B. Gray of Richmond, Va., ex-vice-president Medical Society of Virginia, Richmond Academy of Medicine, Richmond Microscopic Society, etc. Assistant Surgeons Charles Lee Dunkly, William A. Hardee, C. Jerome Chrry, of Portsmouth, Va.; Moss; White, of Portsmouth, Va.; Acting Assistant Surgeon J. R. Gildersleeve, of Richmond, Va.; Apothecaries Jett. T. West and Sursdorff, of North Carolina.

Among the staff were the following named gentlemen: John H. Claiborne, commissary; Colonel A. S. Buford, quartermaster; Paine and Kent, our commission merchants, and many others. Every man did his whole duty, and everything went on without a hitch. The total staff was one hundred and twenty.

Mrs. Dr. Minge was chief matron. There were many interesting characters among the matrons, and one in particular was Miss Mary Pettigrew, who was chief of the Virginia division. She was a sister of General Pettigrew, of North Carolina, and was about twenty years of age. Also a Mrs. Pender, Mrs. Baylor, Miss Gordon, et als-forty-five in all. Rev. Mr. Patterson, a Greek by birth, was chaplain; he came to this country when a grown man, and was a very valuable officer.

The city of Richmond was surrendered Monday, April 3, 1865; General Weitzel's brigade in the van of the advancing Federal army. The general rode up the hill, and when he came through the post was received by the corps of officers in full uniform. Dr. McCaw asked General Weitzel for a general permit for him and his officers; this was promptly granted. General Godfrey Weitzel gave to a free pass to the commandant and his entire medical corps, took them under his protection, and issued a verbal order that all Confederate soldiers there should be taken care of under all circumstances. Furthermore, he offered to put the commandant in the general service of the

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United states, so that he might issue requisitions, etc., and have the same filled as any other medical director in the United States army. As General Lee had not then surrendered, Dr. McCaw respectfully declined the proffered appointment, but voluntarily continued to perform all the duties incident to the position he held, and never solicited anything at all from them other than the passes in and out of the lines.

When we consider the size of this great military hospital, the number of soldiers admitted, treated, furloughed, discharged and buried; its successful work for nearly four years; the perfect discipline, order and harmony that existed from its establishment to its close; the immense amount of work done; the difficulties always attending the securing of supplies for such a large body of invalids, especially towards the closing days of the Confederacy, and also the generous rivalry between other posts or hospitals located in Richmond; and lastly, the comparatively low mortality, we cannot but accord to Dr. James B. McCaw, medical director of the five Chimborazo hospitals, and its efficient commandant, the highest praise, and concede that he was in fact and in deed "primus inter pares." It is my greatest pleasure to offer this tribute to my chief, and to one of the grandest men in our profession, "Clarum et venerabile nomen." Towering physically and mentally above his associates, and quoting from one of his admirers, he was 'princely Dr. James B. McCaw, sweet, gentle, tender, and true," and I shall add, "brave, generous, and loyal; just, honorable, and upright, an exemplar worthy of emulation;" teacher, philosopher, scientist, editor, and physician, over sixty years devoted to the acquisition of knowledge and presenting the truth as acquired to his beloved pupils in class and lecture-rooms; a magnificent physique, graceful and polished in manner, with a great amount of personal magnetism; in speech, clear, happy in illustration, chaste, humorous, and pathetic, sometimes epigrammatic, a boone comrade around the social board,an ardent admirer of the beautiful, together with high, cultivated, artistic taste. His masterly handling as editor of advances in all branches of medicine, editorials, reviews, and original articles, the midnight research and investigations in new scientific fields, his active professional life for six decades as surgeon, ob-

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stetrician, and in general practice of medicine in a large, wealthy and exacting private practice, is in itself a proof of the high estimation in which he was held. Such a grand, noble, and self-sacrificing nature, so optimistic, sunshiny, and happy is seldom seen blended in one man. A beautiful loving cup was presented to him in 1901 at a banquet given by the Academy of Medicine of Richmond and friends on his retirement after fifty-seven years from the active practice of medicine, in honor of this nestor of the profession. In responding to toast from Dr. George Ben Johnston, of the Medical College of Virginia, said: "This event has a greater significance to me than the gathering of a multitude to welcome a victorious general; Dr. McCaw has always been my example." Dr. J. Allison Hodges, of North Carolina, said: "The grandest sight I have ever witnessed is the sight of a noble and beautiful life, wrapping itself around the destinies of the sick and suffering children of men, and finding its blessed reward in the benediction of everlasting love and peace; and such a sight I have witnessed displayed in the long and honorable life of my friend, Dr. McCaw."


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