The True Story of a Confederate Soldier at the Union 2nd Corps Hospital at Gettysburg

The Union 2nd Corps Hospital, Rock Creek, Battle of Gettysburg. Image Source: Civil War Talk.

During the Civil War, field hospitals routinely treated soldiers for battle wounds, including enemy soldiers. Throughout the war, advancements were made in caring for the wounded but there were very few hospitals. It was common for homes, churches, and other buildings to be used as hospitals. In fact, the hospital for the Union 2nd Corps at the Battle of Gettysburg was located at the Granite School House, until it needed more beds and was moved to Rock Creek.

A Dying Confederate Soldier at the 2nd Corps Hospital

This short story about Civil War Hospitals is from The Civil War in Song and Story: 1860–1865 by Frank Moore, which was published in 1889. It tells the story of a dying Confederate soldier who was waiting for care in the field hospital for the Union 2nd Corps, which was commanded by General Winfield Scott Hancock.

Winfield Scott Hancock, Civil War General
General Winfield Scott Hanock (USA). Image Source: Library of Congress.

A surgeon of the Virginia army relates the following incident: 

As I was pushing my way through a crowd of idle spectators, at the Second Corps hospital, Gettysburg, one of our wounded, from a North Carolina regiment, called to me in a feeble voice. 

I went to him, and he said: “You are a Confederate surgeon — are you not?”

I answered him, “Yes; what can I do for you?”

He caught me nervously by the arm; and in a manner very striking and very eloquent, he uttered “What do you think, doctor? I am wounded and dying in defense of my country, and these people are trying to persuade me to take the oath of allegiance to theirs!”

The crowd around him scattered as if a bomb had fallen into their midst, whilst I, overcome by the fervent eloquence of his words, could only bow in silence over the gallant fellow, upon whose brow the damp shadow of death was already gathering.

Learn More: The Union Commanders at Gettysburg.

What were hospitals like in the Civil War?

This video from the American Battlefield Trust discusses the state of the medical field and hospitals during the Civil War.

Facts About Civil War Hospitals

  • The American Civil War witnessed a high number of casualties, prompting the need for extensive healthcare services.
  • Prior to the war, the United States had limited medical advancements, few hospitals, and inadequate medical education.
  • Makeshift hospitals in existing buildings were used to treat wounded soldiers, leading to poor patient outcomes.
  • Inspired by reports from the Crimean War and Florence Nightingale’s research, the US Sanitary Commission recommended the establishment of pavilion-style hospitals that were well-lit, ventilated, and could accommodate numerous patients.
  • Reforms introduced by Union Surgeon General William Hammond included the creation of a national military hospital system with trained physicians, hygiene standards, medical research, and training, ultimately saving many lives. These advancements, coupled with the acceptance of germ theory and technological progress after the war, significantly impacted American medicine.

Union 2nd Corps Field Hospital at Gettysburg Historical Marker

This historical marker was erected in 1914 by the Gettysburg National Military Park Commission.

Battle of Gettysburg, Union 2nd Corps Hospital, Rock Creek, Marker
The marker for the 2nd Corps Field Hospital. Image Source: The Historical Marker Database.

The marker text is:

Army of the Potomac
Medical Department
Field Hospitals
Second Corps

The Division Hospitals of the Second Corps were located July 2nd at the Granite School House but were soon removed to near Rock Creek west of the creek and six hundred yards southeast of the Bushman House. They remained there until closed August 7th, 1863. These Hospitals cared for 2200 Union and 952 Confederate wounded.

Medical Director 2nd Corps Surgeon A.N. Dougherty U.S. Volunteers
1st Division Surgeon R.C. Stiles U.S. Volunteers
2nd Division Surgeon J.F. Dyer 10th Massachusetts Infantry
3rd Division Surgeon Isaac Scott 7th West Va. Infantry
Medical Officer in charge of the Corps Hospitals Surgeon Justin Dwinelle 106th Pennsylvania.