Bucklin’s Hospital & Camp: “The Familiar Sound of Cannonading” (Part 15)

In Hospital and Camp, A Woman’s Record of Thrilling Incidents Among the Wounded in the Late War by Sophronia E. Bucklin

It’s Week 15 of our read-along with extra historical notes and images. If you want to catch up on the chapter notes, just click here for the collection in the archive. This week we are looking at chapters 29 and 30.

Chapter 29

Perhaps the underlying theme of these two chapters is the strain of bad leadership. We usually think of poor leadership in the military setting in Civil War studies, but these accounts highlight the problems with medical care when incompetent doctors who were poor managers were in control. The trouble began when Dr. Hammond (the good guy) was removed, and “The return of Dr. Burmeister was the beginning of a series of trials for me, as there. were nurses among us who were ever ready to harrass those who tried to do their whole duty.”

For one hopeful moment, the reader thinks that Nurse Bucklin will get help when Miss Dix arrives and starts asking questions about the situation and the accusations that other nurses were bringing against Bucklin. However, “Miss Dix could get no speci?c accusation against me, and she left me to the mercy of my tormentors, apparently in the full conviction that I was strong enough to take care of myself.”

Once again the “battle” centered around the kitchen. With the return of Dr. Burmeister, food supply and rations for the sick and wounded went back to spoiled food in limited quantities. Bucklin had been trying to supplement with what food she could get from the Sanitary or Christian Commissions and prepare on her own stove. Well, the doctor didn’t like that and seized the stove. Undeterred, Buckline when to the Christian Commission and got another stove.

Mrs. Spencer (photograph from Women’s Work in the Civil War)

In the midst of this conflict, Bucklin became friends with Mrs. Spencer who had volunteers as a nurse for several years while her husband served as a Federal officer. In Woman’s Work in the Civil War, published in 1867, her trips to the front are also highlighted: “Her equestrian skill now often came in use. Often a ride of from twenty to forty miles in the day would enable her to visit some outlying regiment or picket station, or even to reach the Rifle Pits that honeycombed plain and hill-side all about Petersburg and Richmond, and return the same day. On these occasions she was warmly and enthusiastically welcomed by the soldiers, not only for what she brought, but for the comfort and solace of her presence.”

At the end of this chapter, Bucklin accompanies Spencer on a trip to the front and sees the conditions of the camps and trenches around Petersburg in autumn 1864.

Chapter 30

Still battling for her own cookstove, Bucklin wanted to go to Washington to get supplies, but she didn’t want to appeal to Dr. Burmeister for the travel pass. Instead, she went directly to General U.S. Grant’s headquarters and quickly obtained the paperwork.

Bucklin wrote about Grant: “I had often seen him sitting under a ?y, in our hospital, smoking at his cigar; at times going amongst the wounded men, talking cheerily of the prospects of speedy peace; shaking hands with dirty, ragged fellows as heartily as though they were the highest dignitaries in the land….”

On her trip north, Bucklin spent an evening at Camp Stoneman’s hospital, visiting with her friends who were still there. In Washington, she ordered a stove which would be delivered to City Point and purchased winter clothes. Returning to City Point, “the familiar sound of cannonading” greeted her, a solemn reminder that the casualties would continue arriving at the hospitals.

Point of Rocks Hospital, Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ppmsca-33640)

A couple of nurses journeyed to City Point with Bucklin, but they discovered that the doctors said they had no need of nurses. The places were filled and there were too many female nurses seeking to serve. At the same time—in a move driven by the continued conflict—Bucklin discovered that she had been relieved from the City Point hospital and told to report to Washington.

Since some laundry difficulties delayed her departure from City Point, Bucklin accepted Mrs. Spencer’s offer to accompany her on a visit to Point of Rocks. There, they found a friendlier doctor who needed nurses at his hospital. On October 20, 1864, Bucklin moved from City Point to Point of Rocks.

As a satisfactory ending for the chapter, the difficult doctors who had caused so much trouble for Bucklin at the City Point hospital were relieved of command shortly after she left.

To be continued next weekend…

3 Responses to Bucklin’s Hospital & Camp: “The Familiar Sound of Cannonading” (Part 15)

  1. One often asks, “how many lives would have been saved under good medical direction?”

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