One Man’s Opinion

Dick Nicholas

Volume 6, Number 10
October 1998

Having spent a great deal of my life in the petroleum exploration business, one of my favorite maxims has always been—serendipity happens to the prepared mind. Or, to put it another way, its like the proverbial dog while sniffing along the trail of some pleasant scent stumbles upon an even more delectable discovery. Such was my experience recently while rummaging through the stacks at Alderman Library.

First, a little history. In 1914 the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a granite monument in a small Confederate cemetery in the town of Scottsville. The monument is inscribed on three sides: (1) Erected by the Scottsville Chapter U.D.C. 1914, (2) In Memory of Col. Henry Gantt, Maj. James C. Hill and the Officers and Men of Southern Albemarle Who Fought Under the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy, and (3) Our Confederate Dead Who Died in the Hospitals of Scottsville 1861–1865.

The monument is surrounded by 40 unidentified headstones with only the letters C.V. (Confederate Veteran) engraved on each stone. Colonel Henry Gantt, commander of the 19th Virginia, and Major James C. Hill, the leader of Company E of the 46th Virginia, were both well-known local residents, but the names of the 40 men who are presumably buried in the cemetery have remained a mystery over the years.

The local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy has maintained the cemetery since 1908, but all their efforts to identify the men buried there have proved fruitless. It was assumed that either the records were lost, or possibly the identities of the men were never known. Never-the-less, the ladies of the Scottsville Chapter never gave up hope of finding out who those men were, and persisted through the years in their search.

With the encouragement of the U.D.C., a search was begun to try to learn more about the cemetery and the men believed to be buried there. Sparse records of the local Confederate Veterans’ organization indicated that the neglected cemetery had existed since the end of the Civil War. In addition, the inscription on the monument about the men “. . . Who Died in the Hospitals of Scottsville . . .” suggested a connection to the local Confederate General Hospital which was known to have existed during the war. With this clue, the Confederate Hospital seemed to be the best place to start the search for names. Unfortunately, the only information about the hospital was limited to the mention of the Baptist Church being used as a hospital in several publications, and to local folklore.

To get started, the always-helpful Bob Krick, Chief Historian at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, suggested a name to call at the National Archives for information. Eureka! This resulted in the discovery of 10 monthly hospital reports from the General Hospital at Scottsville for the 15-month period from July of 1862 through September of 1863. These reports identify a total of 41 deaths in the hospital during those 10 months, as well as four other men who were wounded, and who were later discharged from the army. The names of the men on the hospital records have also been cross-checked with the Compiled Service Records of the soldiers.

My ecstasy in the discovery of the hospital records at the National Archives was tempered by the fact that I still knew nothing about the hospital facility itself. But, a few weeks later while perusing through several shelves of books at the library looking for Civil War medical information, I accidentally discovered a small volume containing letters to and from the Confederate Medical Director’s Office. Included was a letter written by a medical inspector to the Medical Director in Richmond concerning conditions at the Scottsville hospital. Another eureka! It was embarrassing, however, to learn that the letters had all been transcribed from the original files at the National Archives, and that I had neglected to find them on my first visit.

From these two primary sources, our knowledge of the Confederate Cemetery and the Scottsville hospital has been greatly expanded. The hospital was apparently in operation from June of 1862 through September of 1863. During the 10 months for which records are available, 746 men were admitted, and a total of 2,236 were treated at the hospital. A total of 41 men died from various diseases: typhoid fever and typhoid pneumonia accounted for 18 deaths; vulnus sclopeticum (gunshot wounds)—8; phthisis pulmonalis (tuberculosis)—7; erysipelas (a streptococcal infection)—4; variola confluent (smallpox)—2; dysentery—1; and haemoptysis (coughing up of blood, or a disease of the respiratory system)—1.

The 41 dead men came from seven states of the Confederacy; Georgia—13; North Carolina and Virginia—7 each; Alabama—6; South Carolina—5; Mississippi—2; and Texas—1. At least 12 of the men were wounded in battle. A total of five were injured in the battles east of Richmond in the early summer of 1862, and seven men were wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862.

The medical inspector’s letter also informs us that the Scottsville hospital was housed in four buildings, not just the Baptist Church, but also included a factory, a hotel, and an unidentified small building used exclusively for smallpox patients. The four buildings apparently had a total capacity of as many as 400 beds. The Baptist Church, and the factory, were impressed by the government for use as medical facilities, and when the General Hospital was closed, both buildings were returned to the respective owners. Although the church building still stands today, the other buildings have not been positively identified.

The General Hospital is believed to have closed at the end of September, 1863. Two factors apparently brought about the closure: first, the Confederate Medical Department by 1863 had started to upgrade the entire hospital system by closing the smaller isolated facilities and consolidating them in the larger cities or along railroads; second, the medical inspector’s report, written in July of 1863, condemned the substandard and deplorable conditions and facilities at the hospital. It is difficult in 1998 to appreciate the crude and rudimentary medical conditions, which were common during the Civil War. But, we must remember that Louis Pasteur did not develop the germ theory of disease until the 1850s, and Joseph Lister did not introduce antiseptic surgery until after the war was over. The doctors of the Civil War did their best based on what they knew, and with what they had.

Who are the men represented by the 40 headstones in the cemetery? The inscription on the monument clearly shows that the founders of the site intended to memorialize and honor the men who died in the Scottsville hospitals. But, what about the discrepancy between the 40 headstones in the cemetery and the total of 41 deaths which were recorded in the local hospitals during 10 months of 1862–1863? We will probably never resolve the question, but the coincidence between the two numbers is compelling, and my guess is that somewhere along the line there was an error, or a simple miscount in numbers. I think it reasonable to conclude that the 40 headstones were originally intended to represent the 41 men who actually died in the Scottsville hospitals during the 10 months of 1862–1863 for which records are available.

Remaining to be resolved is the question of the hospital records which are missing for five months during the fall of 1862 and the spring of 1863. It is highly unlikely that there were no deaths during those “missing” months, and surely all, or most, of those men were also buried in the cemetery.

I guess this old dog will just keep sniffing on the trail.