With the massive number of casualties, Civil War medicine became a critical part of the entire conflict. At the start of the conflict, the United States Army medical staff consisted of only eighty-seven men. Northern officials decided to enlist the help of female nurses to serve the medical needs caused by the war. 

By the end of the war, over eleven thousand doctors had served in the army. A vital component in the North to assist in caring for sick and wounded soldiers was the U.S. Sanitary Commission. This nonmilitary organization was formed in 1861 by civilians to assist the government’s efforts to care for the men. Over the course of the war, this organization raised more than $7 million and distributed more than $15 million worth of supplies.

The most famous nurse serving the Union Western army in association with the Sanitary Commission was a widow named Mary Ann Bickerdyke. The soldiers fondly referred to her as Mother Bickerdyke and she cared for the troops through nineteen battles.

Mary Ann Bickerdyke

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

Mary Bickerdyke gave the sick and wounded soldiers top priority and would not tolerate others failing to provide adequate care. On one occasion, a drunken assistant surgeon failed to care for the wounded men though it was his responsibility. Mother Bickerdyke responded to the surgeon, “Matter enough you miserable scoundrel! Here these men, any one of them is worth a thousand of you, are suffered to starve and die, because you want to be off upon a drunk! . . . you shall not stay in the army a week longer.” Within three days, the surgeon had been dismissed and he went to headquarters to ask for reinstatement. General Sherman listened to the man and asked who had caused the discharge; to which the surgeon said, “I suppose it was that woman, that Mrs. Bickerdyke.” General Sherman replied, “Oh, well, if it was her, I can do nothing for you. She [out]ranks me.”

July 13, 1861 – Union forces under General George B. McClellan defeat General Robert S. Garnett’s Confederate troops in a battle at Carrickford, Virginia. This victory provides the Union Army with a base of operations to embark on more raids in Virginia.

July 11, 1862 – General Henry Halleck is appointed by President Lincoln to be general-in-chief of the Union Army.

General Henry Halleck

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

July 13, 1863 – New York City is overcome by riots as a result of resentment and anger caused by the enforcement of the first draft. Over 50,000 people set fires, loot businesses, and attack and kill other civilians (mostly African-Americans). These riots continue for 4 days until Union troops from Gettysburg are called in to subdue the violent mobs.

(Credit: Library of Congress)

July 9, 1864 – Confederate forces under General Jubal Early continue their progression toward Washington D.C. Tension rises in the capital as the enemy forces draw closer.

 

The Civil War was the first major conflict in which photography was extensively used. Photography was a relatively new invention, only in existence approximately thirty years before the Civil War began.

One of the most famous photographers of the war was Mathew Brady. Mathew Brady’s New York City and Washington D.C. studios, which he began in the 1840s, soon became very well-known. It did not take long for Brady’s name to become synonymous with the growing popularity of photography.

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Mathew Brady

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

By the time of the Civil War, Brady had nearly lost his sight. Many of the photographs attributed to him were actually taken by his assistants. Some of the most well-known photographs from the Civil War were taken by Mathew Brady and two of his assistants, Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan.

The power of photography was fully realized after the Battle of Antietam. Mathew Brady and his assistants took vivid photographs of the battlefield and Confederate dead. One month later, Brady opened an exhibition in New York City showing the horrors of war through his images.
A viewer of the exhibit wrote, “If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards, he has done something very like it.”

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

After the war, Mathew Brady was suffering financial hardship, so he sold his collection to the U.S. Government. This decision was key in ensuring the preservation of the photographs for future generations. Civil War photography has had two major impacts. The first great impact is that the Civil War was the beginning of battlefield photography. In every major conflict involving America since the Civil War, photography has been used. Battlefield photography has caused history to be documented and preserved in a unique way. The second impact is that photography thoroughly documented the people and places involved in the most crucial period of American history. The work of pioneering photographer Mathew Brady is one of the main reasons for the development and scope of wartime photography today.

July 5, 1861 – Union troops commanded by Colonel Franz Sigel attack Confederate troops led by Governor Claiborne Jackson in Carthage, Missouri. Although Confederate casualties were greater than Union casualties, the battle is viewed as a Confederate victory.

July 4, 1862 – In Washington, D.C., citizens celebrate the 86th Independence Day with much excitement and fanfare.

July 3, 1863 – The Battle of Gettysburg stretches on for one final day, ending in defeat for the Confederate army. On Independence Day, Lee’s troops retreat from the battlefield.

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

July 4, 1863 – The Union army celebrates victories at both Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and Vicksburg, Mississippi. These double losses devastate the Confederacy and mark the turning point of the war.

July 6, 1864 – Confederate General Jubal Early’s troops capture Hagerstown, Maryland and demanded $20,000 from the citizens in repayment for the devastation caused by General David Hunter’s raid on the Shenandoah Valley.

July 8, 1864 – Union General William T. Sherman rapidly gathers supplies and troops in preparation for his raid on Atlanta, Georgia.

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

With the massive number of casualties, Civil War medicine became a critical part of the entire conflict. At the start of the conflict, the United States Army medical staff consisted of only eighty-seven men. By the end of the war, over eleven thousand doctors had served in the army.  Northern officials decided to enlist the help of female nurses in order to more effectively serve the medical needs caused by the war. President Lincoln appointed Dorothea Dix to serve as superintendent of women nurses in June 1861. 

Before the war, Dix had been an activist on behalf of mentally ill individuals. It was largely because of her efforts that the first mental hospitals were established. When Lincoln appointed her as the superintendent of nurses, she proved to be hard working and solely dedicated to the great tasks before her. Dix served in position throughout the war without accepting any pay. During her years of service, she managed a staff of over two thousand.

Dorothea Dix

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

Dix’s standards and rules for nurses were strict and unbending. She required her nurses to be at least thirty years old and plain in appearance. The dresses of the nurses had to be plain and drab looking. No brightly colored ribbons could be worn and nurses were forbidden to associate socially with the surgeons or patients. One eager volunteer wrote to Ms. Dix, “I am plain-looking enough to suit you, and old enough, I never had a husband and am not looking for one – will you take me?”

Though many found Dix’s methods unnecessarily strict, she was ultimately respected for her tireless work in overseeing the care of wounded soldiers. After the war, she was recognized for her service.

June 29, 1861 – In Washington D.C., President Lincoln meets with his cabinet and military leaders to determine future strategies for the Union army. They also discuss the importance of retaining public support for the war efforts.

June 25-July 1, 1862 – The Seven Days Campaign (also known as the Peninsula Campaign) takes place in Virginia. The Confederate army commanded by General Robert E. Lee and the Union army commanded by General George McClellan clash in a series of six battles. The Confederates are victorious, but suffered heavy casualties.

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

July 1, 1863 – This is the first day of the biggest and bloodiest battle of the Civil War. General Lee’s troops face off against the Union army, now commanded by General George Meade, in and around a little Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.

June 30, 1864 – Confederate General Jubal Early begins an attempt to invade the North by leading his army to New Market, Virginia.

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

Main Statistics:

  • The Place: Petersburg, Virginia
  • The Time: The entire Petersburg Campaign took place over the course of 10 months. On June 15, 1864, the first battle took place and the siege that eventually ensued lasted until April 2, 1865.
  • The Generals: General Ulysses S. Grant commanded the Union forces and General Robert E. Lee commanded the Confederate troops
  • The Soldiers: On the Union side, there were between 65,000 and 125,000 soldiers engaged. The number of Confederate soldiers is difficult to determine, but it is estimated that there were around 52,000.
  • Casualties: The Union army suffered around 42,000 casualties, while the Confederates sustained about 28,000 casualties.

petersburg

During the Campaign:

  • General Grant launched 9 separate attacks at Petersburg during the campaign.
  • An infantry regiment from Pennsylvania set off tons of explosives under the Confederate line of battle on July 30, 1864. The massive explosion created an enormous crater.
  • The nearby port of City Point consistently provided the Union army with supplies, which assured an eventual Union victory.
  • In August of 1864, spies for the Confederate army tried to interfere with operations at City Point by placing a bomb on a munitions ship.
  • The siege at Petersburg was one of the first instances of trench warfare in history.

Petersburg Today:

  • The Civil War Trust (one of the most influential organizations in the preservation of battlefields) has saved the most land around Petersburg, numbering more than 4,000 acres.
  • Petersburg National Battlefield receives around 200,000 visitors every year.
  • Visit Petersburg: https://www.nps.gov/pete/index.htm