Friday, July 9, 2010


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I. Civil War Military Hospitals

When the Civil War broke out, there were no official United States military hospitals. Each Army regiment had its own hospital, which was staffed with a surgeon, and two assistant surgeons. Equipment consisted of medical supplies, at least one ambulance, and a number of tents. If a regiment found itself with more sick and wounded men than it had beds for, nearby civilian buildings were temporarily used for that purpose.

It quickly became apparent that larger, more permanent hospitals would be necessary. They were called general hospitals because they could admit men from any regiment in its service region.

II. Hospitals in the North

Once the war began in earnest, both sides had to quickly acquire or build hospitals for the sick and wounded. By 1863, there were 151 general hospitals for soldiers in the North; by 1865 there were 204, which provided beds for 137,000 sick and wounded soldiers. The largest capacity Northern military hospital was Satterlee Hospital in Philadelphia, with a 3,519 bed capacity. Following close on its heels was the hospital at Fort Monroe, Virginia, which had a 3,497 bed capacity.

III. Hospitals in the South

The South also had to rapidly acquire places to put its sick and wounded men. By 1865, the South had 150 general hospitals for soldiers in operation. The largest by far was Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Virginia (so-called because of its location on Chimborazo Heights). This sprawling hospital complex had an 8,000 bed capacity, making it the largest military hospital by far in the North or the South.

IV. Hospital Acquisition

The need for more hospital beds was filled in one of four ways:

1. Use of army barracks as hospitals (layout and poor ventilation made most of them unsuitable for long-term use as hospitals).
2. Conversion of existing buildings in the civilian sector into hospitals (layout and poor ventilation also made many of these unsuitable for long-term medical use).
3. Tents could be pitched around hospitals to provide additional temporary bed space.
4. Construction of new buildings designed specifically as military hospitals

Tom Pearson, Reference Librarian
Special Collections Department
St. Louis Public Library
1301 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO 63103

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