When my ill ancestor Arthur Bull debarked at Davids Island, he temporarily traded his Union Army regiment for a 20-patient ward commanded by the Stewards, Wardmasters and Nurses at De Camp General Hospital.
He took up residence with fellow convalescents in one of De Camp’s long, four-ward patient pavilions on 18 June 1864. There he recuperated for the rest of the summer.
A shorter building between the pavilions housed attendants’ quarters, a dining room and a kitchen. No-nonsense female agents from the U.S. Sanitary Commission and the U.S. Christian Commission regularly inspected to assure that soldiers received quality care.
Ambulatory patients were allowed to walk around the 80-acre island, which had a spring-fed pond and a number of shade trees, some forming a grove at one end. In 1864 various orders — including regulations for De Camp patients — were compiled into a book governing daily life there.
I like to think my great, great grandfather, a family man, would have readily followed the rules he could physically handle — such as rising at reveille, washing face and hands, dressing, reporting to his bed for examination when “sick call” was sounded, and going to sleep after “taps.”
But I have to wonder about his ward-mates when I read rules like No. 114: “No one will be allowed to spit on the floors or walls of the hospital…” Or No. 115, “No patient or attendant will be allowed to lie in bed with his clothes on, or sit or lounge upon the beds…”
How was Arthur’s illness treated? Did he have visitors? And something my dad would want to know: What was on the menu at De Camp? New questions. More research. Stay tuned.
In June 1864, my ancestor Union Army Pvt. Arthur Bull was admitted to hospital in Washington, D.C. then transported north — through New York City to New Rochelle, N.Y., and finally by boat to De Camp General Hospital on Davids Island just offshore.
There on 18 June 1864 Arthur joined a new army of more than 2,100 ill and injured soldiers at what was then the U.S. Army’s largest general hospital — surely a welcome respite after the rigors of the battlefields.
Founded as a Union hospital, De Camp’s population rose and fell with the tides of the Civil War — with more than 2,500 Confederate prisoners temporarily treated there after the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg before being moved elsewhere.
Looking northeast from my home in Queens Co., N.Y., I am amazed that the sky I see is the sky Arthur saw during his summer of recovery — Davids Island is that close, about 20 miles away. I wondered: Would it be possible to go there? The answer: Alas, no.
De Camp’s pavilions and tents, echoing with the hustle bustle of treating wartime casualties, along with the steamships plying the waters back and forth to transport patients — those tangibles are all gone, cleared for development. But their traces live on in records, lithographs and histories of families like mine that were touched by them.
What was daily life at De Camp General Hospital like for Arthur 150 years ago? We will find out together as I research anew over the summer.
A “Casualty Sheet of Wounded” was filled out for my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull when he applied for his Civil War pension in 1885. It’s a small document, just one page front and back, that I had somehow missed in the bulging folder where I keep copies of his military and pension records.
Wondering where and for how long Arthur was in hospital, I finally sat down to take a good look and was surprised to read that he was “transferred to New York June 16th 1864” and “Arrived June 18, at De Camp Hospl.”
New York? I assumed injured Union soldiers were treated near the front. Now here was Arthur being transferred back to his home state from the Virginia battlefields.
I looked up De Camp General Hospital to see exactly where it was located and found descriptions and old lithographs of the facility as it once stood on Davids Island in Long Island Sound near New Rochelle, N.Y.
But wait, there’s more.
The casualty sheet named the Hospital Register of the New England Soldiers’ Relief Association as the source of information about Arthur’s transfer. I looked them up online. Founded in 1862 with offices on lower Broadway, the group’s mission was “to aid and care for all sick and wounded soldiers passing through the city of New York, on their way to or from the war.”
My ancestor passed through New York City? Where I live today? And the group’s headquarters was in lower Manhattan right near my job?
Wow, this casualty sheet was some document! What would I discover next about Arthur’s wartime years?