This Day (In Hospital Edition)

Published:May 17, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day 150 years ago, Dr. James Brown McCaw, head surgeon at Richmond‘s Chimborazo Hospital, reported to his superior, Dr. Samuel Preston Moore, that he had literally thousands of patients and not nearly enough slave labor to deal with them.

I have at this time only two hundred and fifty-six cooks & nurses in my Hospitals, to take care of nearly four thousand sick soldiers and the owners of these slaves are threatening to remove them to the interior of the country to avoid losing them. I am confident a large number will be removed in a few days unless measures are taken to prevent it. I therefore respectfully ask that these servants, with as many others as may be needed be immediately impressed [into military service], as it will be entirely impossible to continue the hospital without them.

p.s. This subject requires immediate action.

And immediate action it received. Moore responded that same day, referring the matter to General John H. Winder, and then writing, “If these negroes are permitted to leave, the hospitals will be abandoned & the sick left destitute of nurses.” As such, they were not permitted to leave.

All of which is to say, the painting above, made by the Virginia-born Confederate veteran William Ludwell Sheppard*—he also did this and this—doesn’t fully capture the complex labor situation in hospitals!

* Sheppard served in the Richmond Howitzers.

FOR MORE: In addition to our entry, I recommend Chimborazo Hospital: A Description and Evaluation of the Confederacy’s Largest Hospital (1999), pages 134 and following. It’s a dissertation by Carol Cranmer Green.

IMAGE: Detail from In the Hospital, 1861, by William Ludwell Sheppard (The Museum of the Confederacy)