Ambulance outside Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s plan to transport thousands of wounded soldiers after the Battle of Gettysburg was a daunting task. He ordered General John Imboden to lead them to Cashtown before heading south to Williamsport, Maryland. When they reached Williamsport, they paused for a break. Once men and horses rested, they resumed their journey back to Virginia.
The ambulance wagon train stretched for 27 miles.
And 7,000 Confederate soldiers, wounded too severely to travel, were left behind in Gettysburg. Characters in my novel set during the Battle of Gettysburg, A Rebel in My House, had to deal with this issue.
Conservative estimates for Confederate wounded number around 13,000. Other sources report over 18,000. Either way, 27 miles of ambulances means a distressing number of injured soldiers traveled south, groaning in agony as rickety wheels jostled them over rutted dirt roads.
I wondered how many ambulance wagons might have been required and thought it might be fun to try to figure it out.
Ambulance outside of Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg.
Many models in use at the time were 10 feet long or 10 feet, four inches. The heavier wagons required 4 horses to pull them while lighter ones needed only 2.
Some carried 10 patients—4 prone and 6 seated. The driver and 2 patients sat on a closed chest holding medical supplies.
A lighter model carried 5—15 wounded, depending on how many needed to lie prone for the journey.
It seems almost certain—with the number of wounded requiring transportation to Southern hospitals—that folks squeezed onto wagons meant to hold fewer men.
I confess that I got lost trying to figure the length of an average horse—it seems the larger horses are about 6 feet long. An ambulance 10 feet in length with a two-horse team might require about 20 feet. A four-horse team and wagon might need 30 feet.
Allowing 30 feet for each wagon to estimate how many ambulances might have been in this ambulance train … a staggering 4,752 wagons. The actual count was probably less because some patients with minor injuries walked.
Some ambulances held only 5 patients. If folks had to travel in a laying down, less patients could ride with them.
7,000 were left in Gettysburg. Going with the highest estimate of 18,000+, some 11,000 wounded traveled south. That means 2-3 folks traveled in each wagon.
If we allow 50 feet of space for each wagon, there are about 2,851 or 3-4 patients per wagon. If this is true, then lots of soldiers were in bad shape along the way. Possibly greater numbers of slightly injured weren’t included in the total count.
Has anyone run across this in their research?
-Sandra Merville Hart
“Battle of Gettysburg,” Encyclopeadia Britannica, 2018/06/15 https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Gettysburg.
“Battle of Gettysburg,” HistoryNet, 2018/06/15 http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-gettysburg.
“Battle of Gettysburg Facts,” Stone Sentinels, 2018/06/15 http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/battle-of-gettysburg-facts/.
“Civil War Ambulance Wagons,” Civil War Home, 2018/06/17 http://www.civilwarhome.com/ambulancewagons.html.
Compiled by Editors of Combined Books. The Civil War Book of Lists, Da Capo Press, 1994.
Edited by Kennedy, Frances H. The Civil War Battlefield Guide, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990.
“Gallery: Field Medicine,” Trans-Mississippi Theater Virtual Museum, 2018/06/17, http://www.civilwarvirtualmuseum.org/medicine/field-medicine/ambulance.php.
Long, E.B and Long, Barbara. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861-1865, A Da Capo Paperback, 1971.
Sheldon, George. When the Smoke Cleared at Gettysburg: The Tragic Aftermath of the Bloodiest Battle of the Civil War, Cumberland House, 2003.