Civil War Camp Letterman: Caring for Gettyburg’s Wounded

Railroad cut, Gettysburg battle, July 1, 1863

Medical Director Jonathan Letterman shipped tents, supplies, and provisions to Adams County—where Gettysburg resides—on the evening of July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. He ordered that a general hospital be established there on July 5th. Confederate and Union wounded would be provided transportation to the hospital for treatment.

The army erected tents on George Wolf’s farm on York pike approximately one and a half miles east of Gettysburg. Railroad tracks adjacent to the property made it easy to deliver supplies and transport patients to Washington, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.

Surgeons, nurses, supply clerks, quartermasters, and cooks staffed the general hospital, known as Camp Letterman, when it was ready in mid-July. Infantry guarded Confederate patients and supplies.

Almost forty folding cots each with mattresses and linens fit in rows of tents. Camp Letterman held five hundred white tents with only ground as the floor. Trains brought supplies to warehouse tents set up near the railroad. A large cookhouse in the middle of camp gave cooks a place to prepare nutritious meals such as soup and bread.

Wounded from both sides arrived at camp in ambulances where they were assigned beds. The hospital camp was filled by late July. It housed over 1,600 wounded soldiers. Hundreds more continued to receive medical care in temporary hospitals in Gettysburg.

A morgue and cemetery near camp were established by the army. An army chaplain gave them a Christian burial.

Yet most of Camp Letterman’s patients survived. Surgeons worked around the clock while treating the seriously wounded. When patients recovered enough to travel to city hospitals, Sanitary Commission workers assisted the army in transporting them to the railroad depot. They waited a long time for the single Gettysburg railroad line.

-Sandra Merville Hart

Sources

Sheldon, George. When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg: The Tragic Aftermath of the Bloodiest Battle of the Civil War, Cumberland House, 2003.

 

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