Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

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Private William McCarter was badly wounded during the Irish Brigade’s disastrous attack on the stone wall during the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia. He lay bleeding on the field for hours before nightfall made possible his still-dangerous escape to the rear.1

The Northern army had a medical corps consisting of doctors and assistants, but most of the wounded were brought off the field by members of their own regiments who went back to try to collect friends. These Union soldiers would often pass by other wounded men, reserving their aid for men of their own units alone. McCarter was helped by two Irish Brigade comrades who recognized him in the dark. They put him on a horse-drawn ambulance. The ambulance was overloaded with twelve men when it took off to try to find medical care. The men were offered no first aid and two of them died before the vehicle reached the city of Fredericksburg, a short ways away.2

ambulance-thumb

Private McCarter says his ambulance carried twelve wounded men.

When McCarter got to Fredericksburg, Union soldiers were wandering about aimlessly in the streets. Some broke into houses and looted them. A number were getting drunk on whiskey they had stolen. McCarter was dropped off at a house that served as a make-shift hospital. More than fifty “mangled victims” of the fighting were in the one room. The men did not see a doctor until the next morning. By then, a wounded man lying near McCarter had died.3

A severely overworked doctor was finally able to see McCarter. He dug the bullet out of the soldier’s shoulder, but first he had to cut away much of McCarter’s uniform to get at his wound. When McCarter had to evacuate north by foot the next day, he did so with his wounded arm naked and exposed to December’s cold. He and thousands of other wounded men walked to a rail depot where they waited hours without shelter for a train to take them north. “[T]he wounded men crouched and huddled together and…some of them died from the exposure,” he recalled.4

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Field hospital at Savage’s Station in 1862.

McCarter next went to a makeshift hospital made up of a collection of tents. There was so much blood and so many severed body parts that he later described it as looking like a “village of butcher shops.”  The surgical tent left a lasting impression:

Lying around were cases of ugly looking surgical tools, including the saw and the knife. In the back end of each tent a hole was made. Through it amputated arms or legs were thrown out upon the ground outside.5

When trains finally arrived, the wounded rushed to get on. There was no order to the loading and the healthier men shoved aside the severely wounded. “It was simply every man for himself,” McCarter wrote, “I saw three men killed by falling under the car wheels as a locomotive began to move.” When McCarter was finally evacuated he was taken by a four hour train ride to Aquia Creek. Along the way, nine of McCarter’s wounded comrades died.6

McCarter and hundreds of other wounded men on the train were taken off and hauled onto a steamship that was to take them to Washington. Few comforts were provided the suffering men and McCarter was forced to rest on the cold floor of the ship, when an unexpected source of comfort came to him. A woman, a Catholic nun, a Sister of Mercy comforted him, fed him and found him a warm place to sleep. This was McCarter’s first experience with these women, many of whom were immigrants like himself.7

As he soon found out, the Sisters of Mercy had volunteered to take over the care of the men on the ship. McCarter remembered that during the trip they did “everything in their power to alleviate the terrible sufferings of the cargo of our wounded, sick and dying soldiers.” Over the coming weeks he would be cared for by many Sisters of Mercy. Their ministrations would be offered to native-born and immigrant soldiers alike of all religious backgrounds.  In coming articles, we’ll look at how these immigrant religious women helped create the nursing profession in the United States and changed attitudes about women in medicine.8

Video: Civil War Medicine

Sources

1. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996) Kindle Location 1971; The Irish Brigade and Its Campaigns by David Power Conygham published by Fordham University Press (1994); Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1 Vol. 21; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1 Vol. 19 pts. 1-2; The Antietam and Fredericksburg by Francis W. Palfrey (1882); The Fredericksburg Campaign: Decision on the Rappahannock edited by Gary Gallegher published by the University of North Carolina Press (1995); Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! by George C. Rable published by the University of North Carolina Press (2002); The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg by Jay Luvis and Harold W. Nelson (1988); The Battle of Frederickburg by James Longstreet in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Vol. III; The Confederate Left at Fredericksburg by Lafayette McClaws in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Vol. III; Sumner’s Right Grand Division by Darius Couch in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Vol. III; The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock by Francis Augustin O’Reilly pub. by LSU Press (2006).
2. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996) Kindle Location 2720.
3. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996) Kindle Location 2730-2770
4. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996) Kindle Location 2872.
5. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996) Kindle Location 2901-2909.
6. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996) Kindle Location 2904.
7. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996) Kindle Location 2948.
8. My Life in the Irish Brigade: The Civil War Memoirs of Private William McCarter, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry edited by Kevin E. O’Brien published by De Kapo Press (1996) Kindle Location 2940; Say Little, Do Much: Nursing, Nuns, and Hospitals in the 19th Century by Sioban Nelson published University of Pennsylvania Press (2001).

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat

66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White

67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan

68. General Grant Expells the Jews

69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.

70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade

71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863

72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

 

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is Director of Legal Services at CARECEN and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra University. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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