Gettysburg: "The Whole Ground for Miles Around is Covered with the Wounded"

This is a close-up image of a Confederate States of America bill.

Lieutenant John Dooley fought in the 1st Virginia Infantry Regiment and took part in "Pickett's Charge" at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. He was badly wounded in that attack and became a Union prisoner. In his diary, Dooley described his experience in an overcrowded and overwhelmed field hospital, trying to care for comrades and waiting for medical help from surgeons or male nurses. (Dooley did survive his wounds and prisoner of war experiences.)


Shot through both thighs, I fall about 30 yards from the guns. By my side lies Lt. Kehoe, shot through the knee. Here we lie, he in excessive pain, I fearing to bleed to death, the dead and dying all around, while the division sweeps over the Yankee guns. Oh, how I long to know the result, the end of this fearful charge! We seem to have victory in our hands; but what can our poor remnant of a shattered division do if they meet beyond the guns an obstinate resistance.

There—listen—we hear a new shout, and cheer after cheer rends the air. Are those fresh troops advancing to our support? No! no! That huzza never broke from southern lips. Oh God! Virginia's bravest, noblest sons have perished here today and perished all in vain! . . . . 

July 4th.

I have slept a little despite a steady but light fall of rain which has undoubtedly proved extremely refreshing and grateful to thousands of fevered brains and burning wounds. This morning I am unable to walk a step and have myself carried about ten yards off the road to where Col. Williams lies mortally wounded. . . . His spinal bone is broken, the shot, I think, striking the neck join and running down the spinal column. He suffers continual and intense agony. No position in which he may be placed affords any relief and he constantly seeks some change in the disposition of his head. There is a Yankee Col. close by who is doing all he can to alleviate the suffering of those around him, and he most cheerfully offers to assist our Col. whenever he appears to suffer most. But Williams shows a dislike to be thus waited on, and frequently he asks me to give a more comfortable position to his head, which on account of the stiffness of my own wound, I am unable to do without giving him additional pain. I make several of the officials who have direction of the ambulances promise me to have Col. removed to the field hospital where medical attendance may be had; and towards the middle of the day I have the satisfaction of knowing he had been removed. . . .

A few hours afterwards, I am also removed and placed in an ambulance along side a wounded Yankee. Poor fellow, he is wounded in many places and appears to suffer very much. He is a coarse bloated looking Irishman and is whining and groaning continually except when the vehicle jolts over a stone or gully, and then he gives a loose to horrid oaths and imprecations. I long to get rid of my loathsome companion and hail with delight the approach to the field hospital. . . . 

The rain is pouring down as we reach the field hospital, which differs from the battle field only in this respect, that we have some kind of medical attendance and rations of crackers and substitute-coffee. But the accommodations are the same, viz., the wet muddy hillside, sans tents, sans blankets, sans fires, sans water, sans every thing relating to exterior comfort.

The first man who attracted my attention upon being assigned to my position on this dreary hillside was one of the members of my company, John Scammel. Poor Scammel! He is standing up in his usual inert way, and wringing water from a blanket which he has been fortunate enough to preserve. There appears nothing very grievous in his condition, but he opens his shirt and quietly points to a piece of shell which is half buried in hollow between his breasts. He tells me in a low complaining voice that he feels his time has come and that no one will by proper care give him a chance, if there be any chance, to recover from his wound. I bade him lie down and keep as quiet as possible and if I should meet with a surgeon I would get him some attention.

The whole ground for miles around is covered with the wounded, the dying and the dead. Confederate and Yankee are often...thrown together, although the officials separate us generally as much as is convenient. The Yankees are nearly all comfortably quartered, having tents and blankets and many little comforts which they have of course received from their comrades. This is only natural and none of our boys expect to receive attentions in preference to the enemy's wounded.

A young surgeon is near me now, and after examining my wounds and asking a great many foolish and ignorant questions, I urge him to look at the wound in my man's (Scammel's) breast. He assures me positively that he will do so as soon as he has taken a bite of something to eat. Oh humanity! A human life or a cup of coffee!

This is a horrid night, cold and wet and rainy. Groans and shrieks and maniacal ravings; bitter sobs, and heavy sights, piteous cries; horrid oaths; despair; the death rattle; darkness; death. The Yankees near me (nurses, they are called) instead of alleviating to some degree the fearful sufferings around us, are indulging in curses, the most ignorant curiosity, and obscene tales.

All night long I lie awake shivering with cold save when my wearied eyelids droop for a moment, again to be opened by a convulsive start as the wheels of the ambulance all but run over my feet. And the infuriated drivers cruse and whip their refractory horses, or some yell or shriek louder than the rest tells how near the horses' hoofs have approached some helpless wounded wretch. All night long these ambulances move among us, still bringing more and more from that field of blood.

July 5th. 

Morning dawns at last. Though raining still the chill of the small hours before day break no longer makes me shiver, and soon the carriers come around with their vessels of coffee, and this does much towards comforting the inner part of man. An officer (Yankee) is enquiring if any one here is acquainted with John Scammel. I tell him that he belongs to my company. "Here then," he said, "are some little things I took from his pocket; he died a few minutes ago just a few yards off." These little effects consist of a five dollar Confederate bill stained with his blood, and a paper showing the date, etc. of his enrollment. Poor fellow, he might have lived if proper care had been shown him. But our poor fellows are dying all around us and but little surgical attention might save them.

Here is a poor wounded Confederate who is walking up and down, wandering anywhere his cracked brain directs him. Just on top of his head and penetrating to his brain is large opening made by a shell. . . . He walks about as if nothing was the matter, and pays no attention to any advice given him.

About two yards from me on the other side of the road is Virginia Lieut., 24th Va. His leg is torn and mangled fearfully; it is now amputated between the thigh and knee. There he reclines with his back against a stump and his wounded stump of a leg dragging heavily on the ground, clumsily bound up and portions of the flesh exposed and bedraggled in the mud. I have watched this officer pretty closely and although I have seen much pain and agony in his expression, I haven't heard a single word of complaint or impatient exclamation break from his lips. . . . My poor friend appeared to suffer so much that after a selfish contest with my better impulses I sent him over my oil-cloth, that being doubled up and placed under his amputated member it might free him from much pain and distress. This gave him much relief and he appeared quite grateful; and now we were both equal in regard to exposure to the weather, for neither of us had any covering except our clothes.

I begin now to suffer from thirst, for the only water they bring us is from a neighboring run [creek] which is warm and muddy and has the additional properties belonging to human blood and dead bodies. I have therefore determined to refrain from this nauseating and unhealthy draught as long as I possibly can. . . 

Ah, these days go slowly by, and yet new scenes are daily being enacted around us and serve to excite, tho' far from pleasing. The nights are far more monotonous than the day. Then the groans and shrieks and ravings of the wounded are much more impressive, and the wearied sleepers enjoy but fitful slumbers.



John Dooley, edited by Joseph T. Durkin, John Dooley, Confederate Soldier: His War Journal (Norte Dame: University of Norte Dame Press, 1963).

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