Beyond The Hospital Woods
“BEYOND THE HOSPITAL WOODS”
The Camp Letterman Field Hospital Site
“The conduct of the medical officers was admirable. Their labors not only began with the beginning of the battle, but lasted long after the battle had ended. When other officers had time to rest, they were busily at work-and not merely at work, but working earnestly and devotedly.”
Dr. Jonathan Letterman.
Medical director, U.S. Army
The Battle of Gettysburg left over 20,000 wounded soldiers littered across the battlefield. Over 14,000 of these men were Union casualties and over 6,000 were Confederate. They were being cared for in dozens of makeshift field hospitals hastily set up in houses, barns and fields across the battle area. By the end of July, 11,000 wounded men had been transported by rail or wagon to more permanent hospitals in larger cities such as New York, Baltimore, Harrisburg and York, PA. Approximately 3500 wounded men remained near Gettysburg on July 25. These were the most severely wounded who because of their wounds were unable to be transported safely to a major hospital. Dr. Jonathan Letterman, the Medical Director for the Army of the Potomac, was ordered by Assistant Adjutant-General Williams to “establish a general hospital at Gettysburg for the wounded that cannot be moved with the army.” Dr. Letterman appointed Dr. Henry Janes and his staff to find a site to set up and organize a large field hospital. This was done to facilitate and care for the large number of remaining wounded and to consolidate the many smaller hospitals. A suitable location was found near the rail line just outside of town.
“Up to the 25, (July) 15,875 of the wounded had been sent away, and since that time 250 more have been forwarded, amounting in all to 16,125, leaving still at Gettysburg about 3,500, 3,000 of whom, it is believed, are not in a condition to be moved at present. Those who are obliged to remain will be quartered in a large field hospital established at a suitable place near the town, where I hope they will have all the comfort and receive all the attention and kindness to which they are so justly entitled.”
John M. Cuyler,
Medical Inspector, U.S. Army
This new hospital was named Camp Letterman after Dr. Letterman. The hospital was situated on the Wolf Farm on the South side of the York Pike about 1 Mile east of town. It was set up in a clearing between two wood lots, a larger lot on the northeast side and a smaller lot on the southwest. Over 500 tents were pitched in neat, orderly rows. The wounded from all of the surrounding field hospitals were eventually moved to the tents of Camp Letterman. Here they were treated and cared for by members of the Army Medical Department as well as the Christian Commission and the Sanitary Commission.
“The hospital lay in the rear of a deep wood, in a large open field, a mile and a half from Gettysburg, and overlooking it, the single line of rail which connected the battletown with the outer world, sweeping it to one side and winding through the woods.
The hospital tents were set in rows, five hundred of them, seeming like great fluttering pairs of white wings, brooding peacefully over those up between the rows, in order that they might dry quickly after summer rains. The ground, now sodded, soon to be hardened by many feet, was the only floor in the wards or in our quarters. The latter, with those of the surgeons, were set at the edge of the woods.”
“This receptacle of the wounded soldiers, near town, has been arranged in the very best manner and everything connected with it is in the most perfect order and cleanliness- exciting the admiration of all who have been its visitors. Everything is being done to relieve and soothe the sufferers that attention and kind human hands can do. Deaths do daily occur, but from the severity of many wounds, this cannot be prevented. All that skill and careful nursing can do, however is being done. There are over 1,600 wounded
there, making a population in camp, including surgeon, nurses, other attendants and guards of over 2,000 persons.”
Adams Sentinel, Gettysburg, August 17, 1863
A banquet was planned by Surgeon Janes for the pleasure of the patients in the camp. It was held on September 23, 1863 and all the tents and avenues were gaily decorated with arches and wreaths.
The camp was beautifully decorated, the avenues arched with evergreens and the tents hung with wreaths, the whole producing a fine effect and winning expressions of admiration from the large number of persons present. The affair was gotten up by the surgeons and their ladies, assisted by the ladies of town.
The Gettysburg Compiler, September 28, 1863
The severity of the wounds of most of the men treated at the hospital caused many of the patients to “depart to the silent land”. They were buried in a cemetery at the site. Most of them were ultimately re-interred at the National Cemetery or taken to their hometown by family members. Historians feel that there are probably many bodies unaccounted for, that still lie “known but to God” beneath the fields of the Wolf farm.
By the end of November of 1863 the hospital had outlived it usefulness. Any remaining patients were removed from the camp. The tents were struck and the staff were sent to minister their aid on other fields of death, as the war continued for two more long years.
“The hospital tents were removed- each bare and dust-trampled space, marking where corpses had lain after the death agony was passed, and where the wounded had groaned in pain. Tears filled my eyes when I looked on that great field, so checked with ditches that had drained it dry. So many of them I had seen depart to the silent land; so many I had learned to respect”.
A Monument was erected on the site in 1914. Reverent visitors place American and Confederate flags and funerary wreaths and floral arrangements at the base of the monument. This is reminiscent of the decorations adorning the camp during the banquet and its last few months of operations. These touching tributes remember and honor the soldiers who died there and the men and women who fought so unselfishly to save their lives. It is my wish for “Beyond The Hospital Woods” to do the same.
“Our wounded, with some few exceptions, were sheltered within a day or two after the battle, and made as comfortable as circumstances would permit. …. As far as my observation extends, the medical officers of the army, and citizen surgeons who were employed during the emergency, discharged their arduous duties with fidelity and ability. I never saw men work harder and complain less of the difficulties that surrounded them.
I cannot close this brief report without acknowledging the immense aid afforded by the Sanitary and Christian Commissions. The promptness, energy, and great kindness uniformly exhibited by these benevolent associations doubtless helped to save the lives of many, and gladdened the hearts of thousands, who, with their friends scattered throughout our land, will hold their good and noble deeds in grateful remembrance.”
John M. Cuyler, Medical Inspector, U.S. Army
Fortunately many period photographs exist of Camp Letterman. “Beyond The Hospital Woods” was inspired by several photographs and the wistful remembrances felt out at the hospital site. Two specific photographs were used as a primary reference for the drawing. Careful examination of the photos and several site visits led me to believe that the woods in the background of both photos were the smaller stand of woods on the southwest edge of the hospital. It was also my determination that the photographer was facing southwest, shooting into those woods. A consultation with Mr. William Frasanitto; the foremost authority on early photography at Gettysburg; confirmed my speculation on the woods’ location and the apparent camera direction.
The final drawing was orientated toward the southwest, using the existing monument as a focal point and directional guide. The image represents a late September afternoon with the sun low in the southwest sky. The sunlight passing through the trees creates an unusual atmospheric disturbance. The light bends and refracts through the foliage, altering the shapes and form of the long autumn shadows and transforming them into a hazy vision of partially transparent hospital tents. A 34 star American flag suspended by a rope between two trees, waves gently upon an autumn breeze. Eerily visible in front of one tent are the images of several members of the Sanitary Commission. Transcending space and time, they are standing perfectly still, awaiting the exposure of the glass plate negative that will permanently capture their ghostly image. Stretching the limits of imagination, these angels of mercy appear again beside the monument to Camp Letterman. There they silently wait, and gently touch our consciousness, even if ever so briefly, just “beyond the hospital woods”.
“The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”
Revelation 21:3, 4.
© 2001 Paul R. Martin III, Silent Sentinel Studio, PO Box 551, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598 914-245-8903 www.paulmartinart.com firstname.lastname@example.org
 O.R. Series I. Vol.27. Part I. p.199
 The GBPA, Camp Letterman, The Lost Legacy of Gettysburg’s “Hospital Woods”. Gettysburg, PA: the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, 1997.p. 4
 O.R. Series I. Vol.27. Part I. p.25
 The GBPA, Camp Letterman p. 6
 The GBPA, Camp Letterman, The Lost Legacy of Gettysburg’s “Hospital Woods”. Gettysburg, PA: the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, 1997.p. 8
 Ibid. p. 9
 Ibid. p. 10
 Harrison, Kathy George. The Location of the Monuments, Markers and Tablets on Gettysburg Battlefield, Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1993
 O.R. Series I. Vol.27. Part I. p.25