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The Hospital Corps

Union hospital corps at work
Union hospital corps at work

It may surprise you that in a war where armies were organized into corps, regiments, companies and the like, those who were assigned to aid in taking wounded soldiers to nearby hospitals was a highly disorganized hodgepodge. Often those duties were taken on by men who were not thought of as being good enough soldiers to fight, and often were just as bad at their next assignment too. Both armies had pretty much the same problems

The Union Army didn’t even have an official Hospital Corps until General Order #147 on August 2, 1862. The newly formed corps was put under the jurisdiction of medical director, Dr. Jonathan Letterman.

Prior to that those needing aid had been removed from the battlefield by persons carrying hand litters and transporting patients one at a time. The newly formed and organized Hospital Corps provided for one transport cart, one four-horse ambulance and one two-horse ambulance per each regiment. Each ambulance had two men and a driver assigned to it. The decree even stipulated the kind of soldiers who should be assigned to the hospital detail, calling for “no man to be selected for this detail except those known to be active and efficient.”

The Hospital Corps was taxed to the limit a month later on its first major assignment, at Sharpsburg, MD on September 17, 1862 at the Battle of Antietam.

Even with the improved organization, commanders in the field were slow to give up the control of the ambulances which had been under the control of the Quartermaster Corps. Congress was also reluctant to accept the new orders and waited until March of 1864 to implement them for the entire Union army.

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