Charles Barney Dennis at Stones River Part IV: Gresham House Field Hospital December 31, 1862-January 1, 1863
The doctor looked at my wound and said an ambulance would be after me before long, but have patience he said, there’s a lot of you fellows scattered over this field, your ambulances are gone and ours are limited. He was right and when an ambulance came along it was what they used to call a prairie schooner, the bottom of the box filled with straw. The little doctor that I had been talking with said that while my wound was not serious, it would probably keep me from walking for a few days. I was thrown into the wagon on the straw; not exactly thrown in but lifted about as if I had been a sack of meal. Others were put in with me, including my little artillery friend, and we were driven to what had been the general field hospital of our army for the benefit of the right wing. [Gresham House]
Arriving at the hospital we were delighted to find our own surgeons still in charge. An assistant surgeon of our regiment Dr. [Walter] Caswell was still there and it was to him that I went for relief. He probed the wound and I believe caused the only real pain it ever gave me. He located the bullet and identified the type. In the front line of the Rebel battle line were a lot of sharpshooters armed with what is called down South a ‘deer rifle’ and it was doubtless a ball from one of these that hit me. It was a half-ounce ball but I have never felt like complaining that it was not a larger one.
About this time I began to realize that I was not only wounded but that I was in a hospital that, although established by the Union forces and in charge of Union surgeons, was inside the Rebel lines. That became evident when in compliance with Dr. Caswell’s advice to keep on my feet all that I could, notwithstanding that for two days the wound bled pretty freely, I started to go out into a grove to the north of the hospital building to gather some hickory nuts. The hospital building was a large plantation house surrounded by groves of maple, hickory, oak, and black walnut. The grove was inside the hospital guard line and immediately I reached the edge of the grove I was halted by a big, burly Irishman dressed in Rebel uniform. He was he was guarding the beat and that I couldn’t go out into the grove.
So I turned back and commenced a conversation with him. He didn’t seem at all loathe to talk, so I asked him where he was from. He said he had enlisted at Savannah and that his regiment, the 3rd Confederate Infantry, was made up in Savannah and Charleston. I asked him how he liked the service. He said oh pretty well, but whether he liked it or not he had to go sooner or later, so he gave up the job as policeman and went sooner. I told him finally that I was going after the nuts because I was hungry and told him how I happened to come to that hospital without anything to eat, and also that rations in the hospital were very scarce and had to be held for those that were helpless. At that he handed me a big piece of corn bread and a chunk of fresh boiled beef. It was not bad just at that time.
I asked this Irishman if his regiment had not been given powder and whiskey the night before the battle. He said it had, that it was to give them pluck to stand up to the fight without getting scared. I told him that one of his regiment had given me a drink of it when I lay on the field and that in exchange for the beastly drink he had taken my gun and cartridge box. ‘Beastly did you say?’ he replied. I said yes, I wanted a drink of water and when I got that rotten dope I felt like killing the fellow that gave it to me. All right, he says, I was about to offer you a drink of the same stuff, but since you have such a high regard for it, I’ll keep it. He was not a bad fellow, only he had the blustering, bullying way that a good many Irish policemen have.
The scene within the hospital grounds was anything but cheerful, although the best possible care had been given the wounded, there was much that could have been done for their comfort, and many a poor chap died from lack of proper nursing. The ground outside were covered with badly wounded men, some of them mangled horribly, waiting for room to be made in the operating rooms. Before they reached there many of them died. In a place screened off by brush, there was a row of more than a hundred dead that had died after being brought to the hospital. I concluded that I would ask the surgeon in charge (Dr. Blount) if he could not give me some light work that I could do- anything that would distract my attention from the gruesome sights of the hospital and grounds, and incidentally get me a little nearer the culinary department. I began to feel the need of substantial food.
The surgeon put me writing tags that were pinned to every dead man; the tag was his record so far as it could be obtained. Passing around the grounds the next day [January 1, 1863] I found the body of a man and raised the blanket to see his face. It was our own Lieutenant Colonel Moses Wooster. He had died the night before and had been laid out there in his uniform, a card pinned to him but the name on it was as far from Wooster as Wooster was from life. I got another card, wrote his name on it together with his rank and home address of Norwalk, Ohio. His remains were sent there later on for burial. [The Norwalk Reflector reported that Wooster’s remains were brought home from Nashville by his brother. ‘We are told that Colonel Wooster’s overcoat was pierced by seven balls during the fight in which he was killed. The wounds which caused his death were received in the lower limbs.’]
During the day a flashy little Confederate French major appeared on the grounds and asked to see the surgeon in charge. He was shown in while I was still in Dr. Blount’s room. He was very courteous and begged the doctors effusively, saying that it was his painful duty to ask that all the men in and about the hospital who could walk be ordered into line and that he would march them into Murfreesboro where they would take trains for the various Southern prison camps. The doctor told him that he had a number of men who could walk but that their services in the hospital were absolutely indispensable. The major offered no objection to his retaining those that were needed but said that every man so retained must take the oath of parole, an oath that binds him not to take up arms against the Confederate States until rightfully exchanged. I took this oath but broke it within two days.
The little French major was the only thing we had seen to laugh at since we came to the hospital, and he sure was funny, twisting his head to one side and shrugging his shoulders, talking with his hands, and flying about like a hen with its head off. During his antics one of our batteries, way off to the northwest a mile and a half opened up on some object which brought the hospital directly in the line of the shots. The little major was furious, stormed about calling Dr. Blount’s attention to this woeful disregard of the civilized rules of warfare and finally wound by saying that if the doctor did not find a way to stop that battery, every dead and wounded man in the hospital would be killed! A very large yellow flag was put up higher than it had been, and after a little the shooting stopped, but whether on account of the flag or because the major took exception we never knew.
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