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Private agencies of relief: the sanitary commission and other relief agencies

Holland Thompson

The doctor's gig on the Mississippi, 1864


Surgeons of the navy

No such losses in killed and wounded were experienced afloat as in the great battles ashore, yet the naval medical staff, especially on the Mississippi, the James, and the Potomac, were often called upon to cooperate with the army medical staff in caring for the wounded soldiers. There was a surgeon and sometimes an assistant surgeon on each ship. Hospital boats had medical staffs as large as the hospitals ashore. Beside the Red Rover there was the City of Memphis, which carried 11,024 sick and wounded in thirty-three trips up and down the Mississippi, and the D. A. January, in charge of Assistant Surgeon A. H. Hoff, which transported and cared for 23,738 patients during the last three years of the war. Other boats used as hospital transports were the Empress and the Imperial.

Douglas Bannon, M. D.

Surgeon Bertholet, flagship

Medical staff of the red rover

William F. McNutt, M. D.

George Hopkins, M. D.

Joseph Parker, M. D.


A ‘floating palace’—United States hospital steamer red rover on the Mississippi This steamer was a veritable floating palace for the days of 1861. It had bathrooms, a laundry, an elevator between decks, an amputating room, two kitchens, and the windows were covered with gauze to keep out flies and mosquitoes. When Island No.10 was captured on April 7, 1862, several Confederate boats were taken. Among them was this Red Rover, an old side-wheel steamer which had been purchased in New Orleans for $30,000 the previous November. A shell had gone through her decks and bottom, but she was repaired at Cairo, Ill., and fitted up as a hospital boat by Quartermaster George M. Wise. The Western Sanitary Commission gave $3,500 for the purpose. Dr. George H. Bixby of Cairo was appointed assistant surgeon and placed in charge. Strange to say, the first serious cases placed on board were those of the commander and men of the gunboat Mound City, who had been severely scalded when the boiler was pierced by a shot in the attack on some Confederate batteries. This was the gunboat that had taken possession of the Red Rover when she was abandoned at Island No.10, little more than two months previously. Before the Red Rover was placed in service, the army had chartered the City of Memphis as a hospital boat to take the wounded at Fort Henry to Paducah, St. Louis, and Mound City. There were several other hospital steamers, such as the Louisiana, the D. A. January, the Empress, and the Imperial, in service.


Hospital ships and Smallpox barges.

A United States general hospital was constructed at Mound City, on the Ohio, a few miles above its junction with the Mississippi, early in the war. On September 29, 1862, Secretary Welles authorized the construction of a marine hospital also. The place was so named because of the existence of a slightly elevated bit of ground covered with trees, though at the beginning of the war only a few houses made up the ‘city.’ Smallpox epidemics caused 12,236 admissions to the Union hospitals, with 4,717 deaths. The patients were quarantined in separate hospitals or on boats and barges along the rivers, and the utmost care was taken to prevent the spread of the disease which was the cause of such a frightful mortality. The courage and devotion of the medical men and hospital orderlies who risked their lives to combat it cannot be praised too highly.

Tin clad 59, and tug opposite the mound city hospital

A full length hospital ship red rover

A smallpox barge on the Mississippi


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