Initially, the military hospital system was neither well-organized nor efficiently developed, and both Union and Confederate medical officers were ill-prepared for the enormous numbers of battlefield casualties and victims of rampant camp diseases. The lack of nutritious food and a clean hospital environment would have grave consequences on patient recovery.
In August 1864, Union POW, Melker M. Jefferys, 15th West Virginia Volunteers, had recuperated sufficiently from an amputation to send word home about the care and food he had received as a patient in a Confederate military hospital in Lynchburg, Virginia. The tenor of his letter was largely reassuring to his parents with respect to his hospital stay and to his sparse rations as a POW. A collection of Jeffery’s letters, post-war journals, and newspaper clippings, housed in the archives of Historic Sandusky, persistently convey a stoic, matter-of-fact attitude in respect to the dreadful events of June 18, 1864.
Union soldier Melker Jefferys was injured June 18, 1864 during General David Hunter’s unsuccessful attempt to capture Lynchburg, an important Confederate transportation and hospital center. By May 1864, 10,000 patients had already overwhelmed Lynchburg’s hospitals and taxed its nearly depleted supplies. Monthly supply requisitions revealed an urgent need to replenish dwindling stocks of medicines like morphine and whiskey for pain relief, as well as bandages and splints.
Back of envelope inscribed in ink with, “Letter sent by Flag of Truce”
Pasted to the envelope and written in pencil at a latter date, “I sent this letter by flag of Truce while a prisoner of war at Lynchburg Va in August 1864. M. M. Jefferys Nov 6th 1897″
Undated post-war photograph of Melker Jefferys. Note that he is posed to conceal the disfigurement of his right arm which was amputated below the elbow. This image is in the reverse, likely because it was not produced from a negative. (Donated by Sally Thayer).
Confederate Colonel J. Risque Hutter’s struggles typified the hardships endured by soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Hutter, Virginia Military Institute cadet and son of Sandusky owner, retired Major George C. Hutter, endured a lengthy bout with typhoid fever as well as a battle wound and capture at Gettysburg. In addition to the risk of suffering battlefield injury, many soldiers, away from rural homes for the first time, fell victim to diseases like typhoid, smallpox, dysentery, measles, mumps, and “nostalgia,” a psychosomatic illness. Before the advent of modern aseptic surgical treatments and bacteriology, treatments could be more wretched than the ailments from which they suffered and possibly more threatening to a patient’s health and well being. In fact, military surgeons regularly treated dysentery and other odious diseases with toxic substances like mercury and strychnine. Hospital records in the Historic Sandusky collection indicate these drugs were regularly requisitioned.