Field Hospitals in Walk by Faith
Image: Gettysburg, 1863. Adams County Historical Society
While working on Walk by Faith, I learned a great deal about army field hospitals and hospitals in homes and public buildings. It was a fascinating journey, and I was able to reference several of the actual hospitals in my novel.
The Common School on High Street and St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in Gettysburg were two of the public buildings appearing in Walk by Faith that were used as hospitals during the battle. The information about the real makeshift “hospitals” and how the town’s people struggled to care for the soldiers’ wounds and keep them fed was behind the fictional environment of the old Smith house in my novel.
Outside the town of Gettysburg, the Spangler Farm and the field hospital near the Trostle farm served as field hospitals for the Second Division of the Eleventh Union Army Corps and the Sixth Corps respectively. These two battlefield hospitals make an appearance in Walk by Faith. Other farms served to house and care for the wounded, as well. Of course, other farms did not. In my novel, the fictional Beate Schultz farm, home of Gus Schultz’s aunt, does not house wounded soldiers. But Frankie, who is sojourning there for the duration of the battle, hears that they need help at the Spangler farm and goes to work there. She doesn't know that her stepfather, Eli Smith, and his fellow reporter Chester Carson are located at the Trostle farm. They are helping the Sixth Corps medical staff find identification on the soldiers who have died while in the field hospital.
After the battle, the authorities quickly recognized that the massive number of wounded soldiers required more treatment than they could receive in individual homes, public buildings, and army field hospitals. In Walk by Faith, Patrick McCoy, Frankie's beau, observes that injured soldiers probably would be sent to a general hospital. An order was given on 5 July 1863, only two days after the battle, to establish Camp Letterman General Hospital at Gettysburg. By the middle of July, a hospital of tents was ready for operation. In my novel, Captain Philip Frost enters Maggie's house on West Street to make an inventory of the injured men there and to decide who could be released and who would go to Letterman.
For the scenes in Virginia, I followed Sedgewick’s Sixth Corps (of which the New Jersey Fifteenth Volunteers were part). The Sixth Corps were involved in the Chancellorsville Campaign. I learned that Salem Church had been used as a hospital for both Confederate and Union troops after the Sixth Corps had been driven by CSA troops back across the Rappahannock River. In the Salem Church field hospital captured Union surgeons worked side by side with Confederate surgeons. The scene I describe of the church's interior and the misery it contained is about as accurate as I could make it. Although, I could not discover if an embalmer surgeon had set up a tent by the church, I decided for my story’s purposes that the embalmer was not there. Where all the war dead were buried is up for debate, too, as the area around Salem Church has been urbanized and it is likely that burial sites have been paved over. Sadly, history often gets buried under urban and suburban growth. But, since I am writing historical fiction, I had Edgar Lape laid to rest at Salem Church, as we know that some men were interred there. I also have a scene where Eli Smith buries amputated limbs near the church. Furthermore, history tells us that after the war some bodies were still visible at Salem Church because their graves were shallow and hastily dug. This deplorable situation led to the establishment of the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
The massive numbers of wounded and dead suffered during the Civil War were the result of war technology outstripping military tactics. Medical knowledge and and equipment simply could not keep pace with the number and types of wounds brought on by artillery fire and other weaponry.
“Chancellorsville Battle.” http://www.nps.gov/frsp/chanville.htm.
Goellnitz, Jenny. “Field Hospitals of the Army of the Potomac.”
http://www.drawthesword.goellnitz.org/2009/02/11th-corps-hospital/. 22 February 2009.
“The Battle of Chancellorsville.” http://www.nps.gov/frsp/chist.htm.
Wilber, C. Keith, M.D. Civil War Medicine, 1861-1865. Old Saybrook, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1998.
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