Army of Tennessee Field Hospital

During 2020, I only had four reenactments/living histories in which my group could participate. Our normal schedule is somewhere between 14-18 events.

During December, I started to think about this next spring and when the season would return to the “good old days” of 2019.

In anticipation of returning to some normalcy, it looks like by July-September, many of the reenactments that existed will return.

In the Midwest, some events are moving to August-October, thinking that there will be enough vaccinated people in the US that Health Departments will feel comfortable in allowing larger groups to participate and attend reenactments. Many of those that I respect in the hobby are anxious to “get started.”

With that in mind, Surgeons and other medical reenactors need to dust off their materials and start thinking about what type of activities they will conduct for the public. Here are some suggestions for your unit to consider.

Troop Inspection: This is a three stage process for the Surgeons. The first step is to select 3-5 people from the audience. The second step is to introduce the exercise. Starting with troop selection in 1861 is the easiest. At that time, the Col. of the regiment wanted to fill the regiment and encouraged the doctors to approve everyone.

Napoleon said it best when he stated to the Legislature of France, “Shame on you! I demanded 300,000 men, but I must have grown men! Boys serve only to fill the hospitals.” The third step is to do the inspection. You will need three surgeons. Surgeon #1 will inspect their hearing, vision, and ensure they have two hands and two feet.

You can snap your fingers to check the hearing. If they can hear in either ear, they pass. Checking the vision is easy.

The person holds their head still and you move your finger in front of their eyes. If their eyes follow the finger, they pass. Surgeon #2 checks that they have a trigger finger and that it moves. Remember to check the right hand as everyone fires the musket with their right hand in 1861-1865. The next thing that they check is for four front teeth. First you explain to the public how a soldier rips open their cartridge with their teeth.

They must have four fronts. Many times if they do not, you can always tell that “recruit” that they can be drafted to take care of the mules as a driver if you don’t have the proper teeth.

The final Surgeon #3 checks for critters. Usually you have a pencil or stick in one hand and some wild rice in the other. Have the “recruit” put their head down so you can inspect their hair. Approve one or two and then “distribute” some lice (rice) in a soldier’s hair. Declare that they have critters.

Find two soldiers out of the five with critters. Tell them you will take them anyway since they can share their critters together in the same two-man tent.

In New York City, there was a medical inspector of troops that “passed” 250 men daily. This took about 8 hours to accomplish. Doing the math, that meant that he looks at a new recruit every two minutes. At 15 cents per approved soldier, he was making $37.50 per day (or $1,500.00 in today’s money). Not bad pay for 1861.

Sick Call: At first the Surgeon’s medical care was chiefly hygienic. They looked at the food that the troops were cooking, the water supply (was it sufficient?), had the troops been vaccinated, and were their clothes good fitting and adequate for warmth or cooling?

Once the troops had been in camp a while, real medicine started. At the “special hour,” usually before 7:00 am, the sick call was help for the troops.

This would determine which soldiers went to the hospital, had light duty in camp, or serve required duty. Many soldiers preferred to not drill, serve picket duty, or dig ditches. This is again, a simple process as a Surgeon with the public.

You create a series of “sick call cards.” Ask for 3-5 volunteers; troops that magically appear at your tent fly or recruit people from a crowd. Have 2-5 symptoms on the card that the person could read. An example would be the following “symptoms”: I HURT DOC, MY KNEES HURT, MY BACK HURTS, MY LIVER HURTS, MY LUNGS HURT…..I THINK I GOT CANINE MADNESS. CAN I GO HOME FOR 2 WEEKS? This is a typical shirker that appeared to the Surgeon to get out of work. By having the “patient” read the symptoms, you can them “prescribe” the proper medicine or action for a “cure.” I’VE BEEN COUGHING FOR 10 DAYS SOMETIMES BLOOD COMES UP. IT HURTS REALLY BAD WHEN I COUGH. YESTERDAY I FAINTED WHEN I COUGHED. I COULD NOT CATCH MY BREATH. MY PARD SAYS I KEEP HIM UP AT NIGHT. This soldier has a TB cough and should be released immediately as there is no cure in 1861.

The Surgeon would not like the person to spread the disease in the regiment. Somewhere between 10-15 cards should be created to allow you to make different choices every time you repeat the exercise during the weekend. My all-time favorite is the loose bowels card.

Surgery: After the battle, then comes surgery. Usually we do 2-3 demonstrations. The average public will only stand and watch for about 15 minutes.

The “hard core” surgery public will last about 20. French Surgeon Ambrose Pare, upon being complimented stated the following, “I dress the wounds; God heals them!” This is the perfect time to talk about the word triage (from the French to sort cabbages).

The slightly wounded are sent to the regimental hospital, the severely wounded are sent on, and those with severe hemorrhaging are treated immediately to stop the bleeding and save a life. Discussing the triage process brings the surgery to life.

Having a patient with a gut wound allows the nurse to take down a last letter to be sent home. At one reenactment, one of our “dead” patients was partially buried by his pards after he died. His resurrection was not until the crowd left, adding to the realism of the surgical scene.

Medicines: Stimulants and anodynes should be provided to the soldiers after operations. Laudanum, a dusting of opium or morphine on the wound, or a shot of whiskey as a stimulant can all be used to indicate items used in pain management to the public.

My favorite is to pick my finger, put it in the morphine sulfate bottle and then rub the drug into the wound before bandaging. This allows the explanation and allows the Surgeon to discuss the same process being used in WW2 with “dusting” wounds.

This allows the Surgeon to discuss the medical pannier with the 54 medicines that it contained.

It also allows the Confederate Surgeon to show Southern labeled drugs, plant based Southern drugs that were used, and “captured”

Yankee drugs with US Medical Department labels that appeared on the Confederate’s table.

Depending on your location, a Surgeon could claim that Gen. Jackson in the Valley Campaign captured it and Surgeon General Moore redistributed it to our division or corps.

It is time to start planning. COVID will end sometime soon and we will return to educating the public as medical professionals wearing both the Blue and the Grey. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing my pards outside of Zoom. The smell of the campfire is coming. Have you and your fellow surgeons prepared? I hope that you have or will in the near future.