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….
“….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….
“…..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…..
“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…..
“….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….
“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.