Experiences of Asst. Surgeon Robert Pooler Myers

During the civil war, 40 surgeons and assistant surgeons were killed and 73 were wounded while attending to their duties on the battlefield. Medical officers seldom took an active part in battle, but surgeons and assistant surgeons of both sides were still exposed to a variety of dangers. Regimental surgeons were required to be on the field in order to render timely aid. When the regiment was assigned to picket duty, the regimental surgeon went along. The brigade surgeon was usually waiting nearby at some farm house or barn that had been temporarily converted to a field hospital. When the lines of battle moved, as they often did, the field hospitals and the surgeons therein were exposed to serious dangers including flying bullets, exploding shells, and capture.

Below are a few accounts from Assistant Surgeon Robert P Myers of the 16th Georgia Infantry detailing some of his interesting experiences. (All entries are transcribed as written, including abbreviations and misspelled words.)

About keeping a diary….

June 15, 1863 Culpeper Court House
“….and then again they may be lost, or I get tired & discontinue my notes, or I may be captured for such a thing is possible as I have heard of several Asst Surgeons being taken prisoners in this war – and it fact some being wounded & killed – but as I am very careful of my dear self I have hardly any such fear, and put a good deal of trust in kind Providence….”

Bands play Yankee Doodle & Dixie….

October 5, 1863 Chattanooga
“…..About 1 oc’ am our batteries open’d fire 20 Yds from where we are, we have nine (9) Howetzers upon skids firing slowly. Commanding along the whole line, Maj Porter Alexander commanding all the Artillery – no Infantry engaged – a few were wounded. relieved from the front by 51st Ga. Col Ball of Bryan’s Brig’d, a few shells were thrown at night – while on the advance picket line I heard plainly both the “Yankee” & our Bands playing one ‘Dixie’ the other ‘Yankee Doodle‘”

Wounded as he slept…..

July 10, 1864 near Petersburg
“Last night while sleeping under my blanket I woke with a curious sensation all over me. I felt as if I had been beat over the head. Just then my friend Jas H F who was on my right exclaimed – Dr I am shot! In a few moments I recovered myself & examined his wound then attempted to rise, but fell back quite sick & not until then knew I was shot also.A minie ball having passed through Field’s thigh, about the middle [&] inflicting a severe contused wound of the [knee] joint on myself.

Suffering on the march…..

October 1, 1864 Mt. Sidney Va.
“….we did not start until 8 am just as we moved out it commenced to rain & it pour’d all day until we bivouaced for the night about 3 miles from Mt Sidney – wh[ich]: village we passed thro at 3pm – The river and creeks were much swollen from the heavy rains – the men waided them – there being no foot logs or bridges – I was drenched by the time I got into Camp overcoat wet through – boots filled with water – not a dry stitch on me -“

Encamped near the lines….

March 10, 1865 Fort Gilmer near Richmond
“About the 4th recd orders to move to the right and occupy breastworks at and around Fort Gilmer- the distance between our pickets and the Yankees is about 200 yards they are quite friendly- conversing and exchanging papers – deserters are coming and going almost daily- both sides desert- My hut is so near the lines I can easily hear the pickets talking at night-

Source: Diary of Asst. Surgeon Robert Pooler Myers, Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library, The Museum of the Confederacy.

Erwin J Eldridge Asst Surgeon 16th Georgia and Brigade Surgeon

Edwin J Eldridge

Erwin J. Eldridge, b 1833 in Cecil County, Maryland. Received his medical degree from Jefferson Medical school in Philadelphia and then traveled to Vienna to complete his studies. While there, the Crimean War broke out. Eldridge served as a surgeon there and was decorated for his service. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted at Americus GA as an Assistant Surgeon in 16th Georgia Infantry, Cobb’s Brigade on July 19, 1861. He was approved and promoted to Surgeon effective July 22, 1862. He served as Brigade Surgeon for Cobb’s/Wofford’s Brigade (Crampton’s Gap -South Mt, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, and Fort Sanders – Knoxville) until Jan 24, 1964. On Oct 10, 1864 he was granted a leave of absence with permission to visit Nassau – possibly to obtain medical supplies.

Excerpt from a letter from Assistant Surgeon Erwin J. Eldridge of Cobb’s Brigade, to his wife on the aftermath of the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run):

“….I visited the battle ground yesterday & have some relics that I shall send home…, The slaughter on the enemy site was terrible. We buried our dead (about three hundred) on the day after the battle. We expected of course the enemy would send men under flag of truce, to bury their dead. The inhuman witches have done no such thing. We buried as many of them as we could amid the confusion, but there are many, many still lying in the field…We have taken not less than two thousand prisoners… We took large quantities of ammunition, wagons, thirty or forty canons and all kinds of small arms, enough they say to arm twenty thousand men…Among the captured articles were twenty thousand handcuffs which they intended for our accommodation, & I suppose their intention was to march us handcuffed through Washington City.”

Excerpt from a letter from Surgeon Erwin J. Eldridge of Wofford’s Brigade, Longstreet’s Corps in camp near Chancellorsville, to his wife at Flat Pond, Georgia on the aftermath of the Battle of Chancellorsville:

“Camp May 12, 1863

….The loss in our Brigade was quite heavy, about five hundred & fifty killed & wounded, so you may imagine I was pretty busy. After getting entirely through with our wounded, some of us went to a church filled with Yankee wounded and as they had but one surgeon and he a fool, we took charge and operated on several of them…..“