Among the Shiloh Wounded at Paducah

     In the days following the Battle of Shiloh, the facilities at Pittsburg Landing proved woefully inadequate to deal with the thousands of wounded men, so it was decided to send many of the sick and wounded to permanent hospitals located in the North. The patients were shipped north along the Tennessee River to hospitals located along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, some of them being sent as far away as Cincinnati and St. Louis.

The scenes aboard the hospital vessels beggar description. “As each victim, borne on a stretcher, crossed the gangplank, he was divested of his mud-bespattered blood-stained clothing, carefully washed and wiped, given a clean shirt and drawers, then was tenderly laid on his cot. The next sufferer took the next cot and so the work progressed until every cot on the boat had its suffering occupant,” remembered Dr. Charles Cochran. “The whole number of patients on our boat was divided into wards with from 15 to 20 in each. Each ward was placed in charge of one surgeon and two or more nurses.”

Two unidentified Federal soldiers posed for this image with a cannonball placed between them, the implication being that the cannonball did the work that cost the soldier on the right his right leg.

“Early in the morning our patients were to be washed and their persons made as neat as possible; after which their breakfast was served which was usually beef or chicken broth, served from the kitchen in pails. Each soldier had his pint cup and spoon and he was abundantly supplied with bread. Sometimes instead of soup, he is served coffee and sandwiches made of bread and dried beef or concentrated chicken. After breakfast the wounds are dressed, the sick prescribed for, and medicines dispensed, which takes up the greater part of the forenoon. Dinner is served about 1 o’clock and is very much like breakfast, only perhaps a little more substantive in its character. The afternoon is spent much like the morning by the surgeons and nurses for there is seldom at any time any long interval in which they are not called upon to relieve some pain, change some dressing, slightly alter a patient’s position, or do something to contribute to his comfort. There comes every fifteen minutes or so a shrill shriek uttered by some brave fellow caused by the awkward attempt of the attendant to move a wounded limb,” he concluded.

The first stop for those traveling along the Tennessee River was Paducah, Kentucky, located at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers. It was a chance for the steamer to take on wood, but also a chance for doctors to move their worst cases off the boat and into the local army general hospital. One Federal surgeon at Paducah left the following account of his experiences treating the hundreds of wounded that came off the boats.

 

Paducah, Kentucky in 1862 showing the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers. Hundreds of wounded soldiers from Shiloh left the boats to be treated in the hospitals at Paducah.

Paducah, Kentucky

April 17, 1862

          Do not upbraid me for the very hard work I have done, for how is it possible for a man of my temperament to do other than work when you enter a room where a hundred or two of our brave boys lie in pain, in agony, and in mutilation, and hear them cry out in the most piteous and beseeching tones ‘Dear doctor, do for heaven’s sake help me next.’ Others will say ‘I know you will do all you can, but if I die, my poor wife and little children. What will become of them? Do, for God’s sake, fix me next.’         

          Then again to look into the anxious, beseeching eyes, to put your hand upon the feeble pulse, or on the fevered cheek, or on the cold and already clammy brow, I ask you, where is the man who has a single particle of love for his race or his country and countrymen who will not be nerved up to work, tired, and weary as he may be?

 

 "I cut off 41 limbs in one night. At first, I felt really nervous, at last I really liked it. So the feelings of poor human nature can become blunted.”

 

          The variety of wounds have is almost as numerous as the wounded themselves. First look at the head. A cannon ball or portion of shell has carried away all the skin and scalp from the whole side of the head and face; a Mine ball has entered the back part of the head, coming out through the nose or cheek bone, carrying away all the bony and fleshy substance of the face and leaving the most horrid mutilation you can imagine. Another is shot through the temples, one of both are torn out and lying on the cheek; another with the lower jaw all shot away and the poor, dry, and fevered tongue swelled as large as a man’s arm. Again, turn down the coarse but bloody woolen blanket from the poor man’s breast; a bullet has gone through the chest; the bloody serum and bubbles of air press or ooze out of each wound at every labored breath; his lips are blue, his skin is cold, sweat oozes from every pore; he, too, with the utmost difficulty breathes out ‘do help me.’ But all we can say or do is to assure the poor sufferer that his only relief is in a dose of morphine, and his only rest the grave.

          Another has a shoulder or arm pierced or carried away. If the shoulder is carried away, wash and dress, cover up, assuage the pain, and await the fatal moment. If the arm be only badly shattered, the knife and the saw soon do their work; the poor fellow is maimed for life, whether it be short or long. He is laid away as best he can be to run his chance. Another is shot through the back, and an entire paralysis of the whole lower part of his body has ensued. He breathes a few hours or days at most. Another is shot through the hips, leaving the bones perfectly bare. He, too, soon goes to his long home, his final and resting place. Then again, the variety of wounds and mutilation are met with in the legs, and the number and variety of operations which are needed and performed would take volumes and not letters to describe. It is out of my power to give a graphic view of what has come under my notice and care.

I have yet been in no battle but have seen a great deal of its horrors. Paducah is at the junction of the Tennessee with the Ohio rivers. It is the first point of any kind of size that is reached from the field of battle and is the first point where a general hospital is located. All the boats first stop here, and all the worst cases are taken off, hence the great number and variety of our operations. I cut off 41 limbs in one night. At first, I felt really nervous, at last I really liked it. So the feelings of poor human nature can become blunted.

    

The war is over for this Federal artilleryman who lost most of his left arm in action. Wounds of this magnitude usually led to a prompt discharge from the army for enlisted men, while a surprising number of officers returned to the field after undergoing an amputation. Generals Oliver O. Howard and John Bell Hood are prime examples of severely wounded officers who returned to fight again. 

Sources:

Letter from Dr. Charles Cochran, Daily Toledo Blade, April 21, 1862, pg. 2

“Hospital Experiences: The Wounded of Paducah,” Weekly Pioneer & Democrat (Minnesota), May 16, 1862, pg. 7

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