The Field Hospitals

Charles W. Reed illustration, "Last Honors."  New York Public Library Digital Collections

Charles W. Reed Illustration, "Last Honors"

"There are many who speak lightly of war as a mere heroic sport.  They would hardly find it in their hearts to do so had they ever witnessed scenes [in a typical field hospital].  A war brought on without the most absolute necessity is the greatest and most unpardonable of crimes." - General Carl Schurz.

Table of Contents


This page is inspired by the work of the late author Gregory Coco, whose book, 'A Strange and Blighted Land, Gettysburg:  Aftermath of a Battle'  - I highly recommend.  The author compiled and relates great quantities of material regarding the suffering and horrors at Gettysburg following the battle.  I can only offer this somewhat 'sanitized' version on the subject.

The Philadelphia Inquirer which leads off this page conveys some of this atmosphere; if one pauses and contemplates the scenes described.  Sarah Broadhead's experiences are also liberally quoted to convey these sensations, and the resolve so many citizens needed to cope with the numbers of dead and wounded soldiers, as well as the rotting horse flesh prevalent on the battlefield.  It took months to clean up. The story of Miss Gilson, Gettysburg Nurse follows Sarah's journal entries and continues on the same theme.  With these pieces setting the tone the stories continue with a few brief entries from the 13th Mass.

Private John Shaw, Company A, writes a few letters home from Letterman Hospital, the large Medical Facility established to care for the wounded after the battle. Next, Melvin Walker of Company K describes some of his over-all hospital experiences during the war. This is followed by several newspaper clips from the Boston Transcript and the Chelsea Telegraph & Pioneer, reporting to the home-front the fatalities of the battle.  The page ends with an extended biography of Captain Moses P. Palmer of Company I.  He was an important figure in the regiment, and his wounding at Gettysburg ended his military career in the Volunteer service.  Dont' miss the short remembrance at the end of the page for a surprising narrow escape from death in a most unexpected manner!

PICTURE CREDITS:  All  images are from the Library of Congress with the following exceptions:  Seminary Building from Maine at Gettysburg, Lakeside Press, Portland Maine, 1898, photo by P.J. Severance.;  Confederate Dead from the Chrysler Museum of Art, digital collections, [];   Sepia illustrations accompanying the Inquirer article are from 'Boys of '61' by Charles Carleton Coffin, accessed digitally;  Surgeon Alexander from Maine State Archives;  Color Vignettes from the Gettysburg Cyclorama are from Wikimedia Commons;  Camp Letterman Hospital from 'Gettysburg Daily', November 18, 2008.  [];  Wounded soldiers illustration from  Harper's Weekly, accessed at  [];  Charles Reed's hospital sketches from New York Public Library Digital Collections,  [];  Portraits of Edwin Field and Charles Leland courtesy of Mr. Scott Hann;   Moses Palmer's personal artifacts courtesy of Mr. George Oldenburg; Moses Palmer's portrait from State of Massachusetts Archives [];  Henry Bacon illustration is from 'Deeds of Valor' accessed on-line;  Howard Pyle illustration from  'History and Romance, Works by Howard Pyle From the Brokaw Family Collection, Brandywine River Museum,1998.;  ALL IMAGES have been edited in PHOTOSHOP.

Return to Table of Contents

Description of the Battlefield

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, Wednesday, July 8, 1863.


Interesting Details by our Special Correspondent — The Killed and Wounded.
Special Correspondence of the Inquirer.


After three days of intense excitement, occasioned by our conflict of arms with the “Rebel hordes,” who deemed it policy to invade your loyal, peaceful State, and lay waste the pleasant homes there located, we are now settled down into comparative quiet. During the entire day and night, of yesterday our advance guard, who were thrown out as pickets, along the entire line, as well as those of the Rebels, were continually firing upon each other, and with such earnestness that hundreds of both parties were either killed or wounded.

The Battle-Field.

To-day have we made a tour of inspection over the three separate spots in this neighborhood where the desperate engagements of the first, second and third days of July were held; one to the west of Gettysburg, back of the Seminary; another south of the same place, near the Emmettsburg road, and a third upon the Cemetery Hill.

Confederate Dead on the Battle-field

 All exhibit the same evidence of the fearful struggle for supremacy there taken place.  Every variety of military acoutrements, every species of arms, dilapidated artillery, wagons, abandoned and worthless ammunition, as well as dead horses, are scattered about in profusion.

Upon the battle-field in rear of the Seminary we witnessed at least as many as five hundred Rebel dead bodies lying in every conceivable position, and emitting a perfume anything but agreeable.  All this, too, after the enemy themselves had been in possession of the premises for two days after the battle.

 Upon the site of what is known as the Cemetery Hill battle, where the First and Second Corps fought so gallantly, the Eleventh not doing so well, besides other evidences of the fearful conflict which had there been raging, we counted eighty-one horses lying dead, from the effect of the shot and shell which had there been so fearfully raining. 

Dead Horses near General Meade's Head-quarters

 Scarcely a house or barn in the immediate neighborhood of these battle-fields but are in some way injured, while many are totally destroyed, being set on fire by shells.  All along the many positions where our line of battle was formed, are evidences in the shape of hastily constructed breastworks, of the never failing ingenuity of the ready-handed Yankee.

 Our dead are all interred, while at the head of the grave of each some mark is placed, by which the body there buried can be recognized.


During the afternoon of Saturday the above named place was held jointly by our own and by the Rebel forces, but late in the evening the Rebels evacuated their portion, leaving us in quiet possession of the built-up section of the town.

 To-day we spent over an hour in roaming about the place and in conversing with the inhabitants, many of whom remained at their residences while the fearful struggle was in progress, and the possession of the town was in dispute.

 With the exception of but very few, all seemed glad that the “Yankees” had obtained the supremacy, while the many acts of kindness exhibited towards our well, as well as wounded troops, are worthy of the highest commendation and praise.

That portion of the town located nearest to the seminary, and where the road from Emmettsburg enters, exhibits some evidence of the fearful battles which had been fought. Yet nothing like the destruction and desolation anticipated is apparent.

 The large majority of the residents are in their houses, and to-day are attending to family matters the same as though nothing had happened.

The Eleventh Corps occupied the town until late last night, doing guard and provost duty.  Those of our wounded who could not bear the fatigue of a journey to your many northern hospitals, have been removed within the town, and by the inhabitants are being handsomely provided for.

 Generous Action.

caring for the wounded, illustration from Boys of '61

It gives us great pleasure to state a case worthy of record : -

Dr. Nordquist, the excellent and agreeable Medical Director of the Second Division of the First corps, tells us that one Dr. Huber  and his estimable lady, residents of Gettysburg, were exceedingly active in attending to the wants of all, and by their timely assistance much comfort was afforded the suffering.

 While many of the ladies were hid during the day, in the cellars of their houses, the wife of the excellent-hearted Doctor was running about from house to house, regardless of the danger, and exhorting the occupants of cellars to come out and help to collect the large amount of lint and bandages necessary to dress the wounds of our disabled troops.

 To her and her husband’s assistance not only are the surgeons, but the wounded men, under earnest and hearty obligations.

Vandalism and Robbery.

Many atrocious acts were committed by some of the troops belonging to the Rebel army, some of them of a character too indelicate to mention.  Among the many acts of vandalism prominent, was that of wantonly destroying with axes and hatchets in hands, houses and furniture, robbing stores, and otherwise committing acts worthy of the dark ages.

During the night of the 1st two of their solders were detected in the act of maltreating a middle-aged lady. A Captain in their service, who was near by at the time, and who, hearing the screams, at once rushed to ascertain the cause of them, shot dead the offenders.  We would, with pleasure, mention the name of this Captain, did we know it.

In direct contrast with this, another Captain was noticed at the head of a gang of men, making forcible entries into stores and houses, and such valuable as could not be transported were destroyed.

Surgeon Charles Alexander, 16th Maine, wounded July 1

Downright Murder.

On the afternoon of the 1st, as the Rebels charged through the town, the pistols carried by them, and with which they were abundantly supplied, were fired promiscuously at all who might be in the street, looking out of windows or standing in the doorways.  A squadron of this charging party rode directly up to the front of the hospital before spoken of, and deliberately discharged their pistols at those who were standing upon the steps and upon the walk in front.

This firing instantly robbed our service of one of its most pious, excellent and beloved Chaplains, the Rev. Dr. Howell, of the Ninetieth Pennsylvania Regiment.  The same discharge of fire-arms put an end to two privates of the Ninth New York Militia, who were there doing guard duty, as well as severely wounding Dr. Parker, of the Thirteenth Massachusetts, and Dr. Alexander, of the Sixteenth Maine.  Those committing these downright, deliberate murders, seemingly exulted over the crimes.  [Pictured left, is Surgeon Charles Alexander, 16th Maine.]

 Our Losses,

At the present writing, for the reason that such constant moving of our troops has been in progress, and from the frequent changes in the location of our hospitals, it is utterly impossible to make a statement, anywhere near correct, of our loss in killed and wounded. It cannot be less than fifteen thousand, and may, possibly, reach twenty thousand.  It is impossible for us at present to obtain a correct list of the names, even of those who are now confined in the hospitals.

Perhaps the worst feature of our disaster is that so many of our most skilled and efficient general officers are either killed or incapacitated, by reason of serious wounds, from immediate duty.  Among our other losses, and one of a serious matter in our present position, where rapid and frequent marches are to be made, is the unusual number of horses that have been slain.  Some battalions are minus their entire supply, while others have all more or less suffered.  Still, in spite of all this, we are up and after them, and with every prospect, to use a familiar phrase, “of gobbling them up.”

The Losses of the Enemy

Cannot be positively stated.  Still, when considering that they were the attacking party, and we, for once, were enabled to choose our position, it is no exaggeration of the truth to say that their losses are double the number of ours.  Even as late as Sunday, and along the front of our entire line, their dead lay thick, no effort, apparently, being made to bury them.

Illustration of Citizens delivering wagon load of supplies

Of their General officers, Longstreet, Armistead, Barksdale, Ricketts and Garnett are wounded.  The second named is dead and buried within our lines. The prisoners taken are but a trifle less in number than 8000.  Many of them say boldly and openly that they are tired of the war, and neither care to be paroled nor exchanged.

 Generous Citizens.

On Sunday morning, and long before daylight, light buggies, double carriages and market wagons began to make their appearance, and were driven into the points where our hospitals are located. These vehicles were all loaded with substantials and delicacies for the sick, brought and distributed by the fair hands of the ladies of York and adjoining counties, many of which ladies are now doing duty as volunteer nurses.

Return to Table of Contents

Sarah Broadhead's Hospital Experiences

The following passages are from, "Diary of a Lady of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania from June 15 to July 15, 1863"  By Sarah M. Broadhead.  Sarah, a 30 year old resident of the town, relates her personal experiences caring for the wounded after the battle.  (I have added paragraph breaks for easier reading).

July 5. — What a beautiful morning !  It seems as though Nature was smiling on thousands suffering.  One might think, if they saw only the sky, and earth, and trees, that every one must be happy; but just look around and behold the misery made in so short time by man.  Lutheran Seminary Gettysburg, Used as a HospitalEarly this morning I went out to the Seminary, just outside of town, and which, until the retreat, was in the hands of the enemy.  What horrible sights present themselves on every side, the roads being strewn with dead horses and the bodies of some men, though the dead have nearly all been buried, and every step of the way giving evidence of the dreadful contest.  Shall we — for I was not alone — enter the building or return home?  Can we endure the spectacle of hundreds of men wounded in every conceivable manner, some in the head and limbs, here an arm off and there a leg, and just inside a poor fellow with both legs shot away?  It is dreadful to behold, and, to add to the misery, no food has been served for several days.  The little we have will not go far with so many.  What can we do? is the only question, and the little we brought was distributed.  It is heart-sickening to think of these noble fellows sacrificing everything for us, and saving us, and it out of our power to render any assistance of consequence.  I turned away and cried.  

We returned to town to gather up more food if possible, and to get soft material to place under their wounded limbs, to help make them more comfortable. As we returned, our cavalry was moving out to follow the Rebels, and the street was all in an uproar.  When I reached home, I found my husband’s brother, who had passed through the battle unhurt and had come to see us.  I rejoiced at seeing him, for we feared he had fallen, and at once set to work to prepare a meal to appease his hunger. Illustration of a soldier talking with civilian coupleAs I was baking cakes for him, a poor prisoner came to the door and asked me to give him some, for he had had nothing to eat for the past two or three days.  Afterward more joined him, and made the same statement and request.  I was kept baking cakes until nearly noon, and, in consequence, did not returned to the Seminary.  The poor fellows in my house were so hungry that they could hardly wait until the cakes were baked.

July 7. — This morning we started out to see the wounded, with as much food as we could scrape together, and some old quilts and pillows.  It was very little, but yet better than nothing.  We found on reaching the hospital that a wagon-load of bread and fifty pounds of butter had arrived, having been sent in from the country, and a supply of what the soldiers call “hard tack,” had been distributed.  All got some to eat, but not as much as they desired. Government meat is promised for to-morrow, and a full supply of provisions.  I assisted in feeding some of the severely wounded, when I perceived that they were suffering on account of not having their wounds dressed. I did not know whether I could render any assistance in that way, but I thought I would try. 

I procured a basin and water, and went to a room where there were seven or eight, some shot in the arms, others in the legs, and one in his back, and another in the shoulder.  I asked if any one would like to have his wounds dressed?  Some one replied, “There is a man on the floor who cannot help himself, you would better see to him.”  

Stooping over him, I asked for his wound, and he pointed to his leg.  Such a horrible sight I had never seen and hope never to see again.  His leg was all covered with worms.  I inquired, Was there no doctor in the building?  If there was, I must see him. One was brought, and I asked, How the men ever came to be in such a condition?  He said, Enough men had not been detailed to care for the wounded, and that that man had been wounded in the first day’s fight, and held by the Rebels until the day previous, and that they (the surgeons) had not yet had time to attend to all, and, at any rate, there were not enough surgeons, and what few there were could do but little, for the Rebels had stolen their instruments.”  He declared further, that many would die from sheer lack of timely attendance.  We fixed the man as comfortably as we could, and when the doctor told me he could not live, I asked him for his home, and if he had a family.  He said I should send for his wife, and when I came home I wrote to her, as he told me, but I fear she may never see him alive, as he is very weak, and sinking rapidly.* 

I did not return to the hospital to-day, being very much fatigued and worn out, and having done what I never expected to do, or thought I could.  I am becoming more used to sights of misery.  We do not know until tried what we are capable of.

*NOTE -On July 10 Sarah returned and the man had died.  A woman who had sat with him cut a lock of his hair and gave it to Sarah.  The soldier's wife arrived July 12.  Her husband was dead.  All she could do was recover the body.

Ladies of the Christian Commission at Gettysburg Camp

Ladies of the Christian Commission in camp at Gettysburg.

July 8 — Again at the hospital early this morning.  Several physicians and lady nurses had come on from Washington the previous evening, and under their care things already began to look better.  The work of extracting the balls, and of amputating shattered limbs, had begun, and an effort at regular cooking.  I aided a lady to dress wounds, until soup was made, and then I went to distribute it. I found that I had only seen the lighter cases, and worse horrors met my eyes on descending to the basement of the building.  Men, wounded in three and four places, not able to help themselves the least bit, lay almost swimming in water.  I hunted up the lady whom I had been helping and told her to come and see how they were situated  When we came down she reverently exclaimed, “My God!”  they must be gotten out of this or they will drown.”  I gladly, in answer to her request, consented to assist her.  She called some nurses to help, and getting some stretchers the work was begun. There were somewhere near one hundred to be removed to the fourth story of the building.  

The way they happened to be in such a miserable place was this.  On the first day, during the battle, they had been taken into the building for shelter. On Thursday and Friday the Rebels planted a battery just behind this hospital, which annoyed our troops not a little, who, in endeavoring to silence it, could not avoid throwing some shells into the building.  Some entered several of the rooms, and injured one of the end walls, and the basement became the only safe place to which our wounded could betake themselves, and the heavy rains, following the engagement, flooded the floor.  I did not think all could be removed to-day, but the lady said it must be done, and by hard work she had it accomplished.  We had the satisfaction of seeing them more comfortably fixed, though they lay on the bare floor with only their gum blanket under them, but dry and very thankful for so little, I fed one poor fellow who had had both legs and one arm taken off, and, though he is very weak and surely cannot live, he seems in right good spirits. Some weeks since I would have fainted had I seen as much blood as I have to-day, but I am proof now, only caring to relieve suffering.  I now begin to feel fatigued, but I hope rest may restore me.

In the Hands of the Enemy by Thos. Hovenden July 9. — Rain began to fall early this morning, and so violently that it produced quite a flood, which prevented me from getting to the hospital.  I visited, with what supplies I had, some of those in town.  I found the wounded in them much better situated, some attention having been paid to them, by the citizens near, during the battle.  All had plenty to eat, though very few had beds to lie on and rest their wounded bodies.

Nearly every house is a hospital, besides the churches and warehouses, and there are many field hospitals scattered over the country near the scene of the battle.  A man called to-day and requested me to take into our house three wounded men from one of the field hospitals. I agreed to take them, for I can attend to them and not be compelled to leave my family so long every day as I have done.

I am quite anxious to learn the condition of that man at the Seminary whose wife I sent for.  I was thinking of her when the cars, for the first time since the destruction of the Rock Creek bridge, came into town, the road having been repaired.  The Government can now forward supplies in abundance, and the poor fellows can be better provided for in every way.

I talked with some wounded Rebels at one of the hospitals, and they are very saucy and brag largely. They are very kindly treated, and, supplied, in all respects, as our men are. The spirit manifested by those I met was so vindictive that I believe they would, if they could, requite all the kindness shown them by murdering our citizens.

Sanitary Commission Camp, Gettysburg

Pictured are members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Gettysburg.

 The merciful work of the Sanitary and Christian Commissions, aided by private contributions, was to be seen at every hospital.  Without the relief they furnished, thousand must have perished miserably, and thousands more have suffered from want of the delicacies, food and clothing their agents distributed, before the Government even could bring assistance.  They are God’s blessed agencies for providing the needy soldier.  No one knows the good she has done, in making bandages and clothing, and in contributing dainties and provisions, until she sees the operations of these agencies in distributing her gifts to the wounded and sick soldiers.  Whoever aids them is engaged in the noblest work on earth, and will be amply rewarded even here, to make no mention of hereafter.

Dead Rebel soldier On July 11 - - This day has been spent in caring for our  men.  We procured clean clothes from the Sanitary Commission, and having fixed them up, they both look and feel better, though their wounds are very painful.  Our town, too, begins to look more settled, and more like its former self. The atmosphere is loaded with the horrid smell of decaying horses and the remains of slaughtered animals, and, it is said, from the bodies of men imperfectly buried.  I fear we shall be visited with pestilence, for every breath we draw is made ugly by the stench.

The proper officers are sending off the wounded Rebels, left in our hands with only a few surgeons by their inhuman commanders, as fast as their condition will admit of the journey.  All day ambulances filled with them have been passing our door on their way to the depot.  Though they are enemies and saucy, pity them.

Return to Top of Page

Gettysburg Nurse Helen Gilson

The following news article continues on the same theme of Sarah Broadhead's memoirs.  It appeared on the now defunct website, 'Letters of the Civil War,' which was maintained by Mr. Tom Hayes.

MARCH 5, 1864


A Recollection of Gettysburg.

    A few days after the dreadful battle of Gettysburg, when more than twenty thousand badly wounded men filled the inns, the private homes, the farm houses, the barns, the sheds, the extemporized canvas hospitals, which made that fair region a spectacle of boundless misery,  I went out to the field-hospitals of the third corps, four miles from town, where twenty-four hundred men lay in their tents, a vast camp of mutilated humanity. Who can ever describe, or would ever attempt[?] to describe if he could, the various and horrible forms of injury represented in the persons of the victims of that glorious and decisive fight!  But amid all their sufferings, an air of triumph animated the pale faces of those ranks of heroes, even of their dying beds. No murmurs mingled with the sighs of their exhaustion or the groans of their anguish.

    One woman, young and fair, but grave and earnest, clothed in purity and mercy, — the only woman in the whole vast camp — moved in and out of the hospital tents, speaking some tender word, giving some cordial, holding the hand of a dying boy, or receiving the last words of a husband for his widowed wife. I can never forget how, amid scenes which, under ordinary circumstances, no woman could have appeared in without gross indecorum, he who pity and purity of this angel of mercy made her presence seem as fit as though she had indeed dropped out of heaven. The men themselves sick or well, all seemed awed and purified by such a resident among them.

    Separated from the main camp by a shallow stream, running through a deep ravine, was a hospital where, with perhaps fifty of our own men, more than two hundred wounded rebels had been placed. Under sudden and violent rains, this shallow stream had in a few hours swollen to such a torrent as actually to sweep away, beyond recovery, several wounded men who lay, thoughtless of any new peril, sleeping on its banks. For three days the flood kept at an unfordable height, and the wretched hospital of the rebels were cut off from medicine and supplies by the impossibility of reaching it. A brave young lieutenant repeatedly swam the torrent with a bag of medicines and small comforts, the only communication that was had meanwhile.

    Accompanied by the young woman above named, I found my way, at the earliest moment possible, to this unwillingly neglected scene. The Place was a barn and stable. Every foot of it was occupied by a wretched sufferer, clad in ragged gray of the rebel uniform. Those above in the barn might also be said to be in heaven, as compared to those below in the stable, who might with equal truth be said to be in hell. For upon heaps of dung, reeking with rain, and tormented with vermin, the wounds still undressed, and many longing for amputation, as the happy long for food or drink, lay fair and noble youth, with evidences of gentle breathing in their fine-cat features, and hunger, despair, and death in their bright and hallow eyes. Field Hospital from the Gettysburg CycloramaThe surgeon had at length got to work among them, and limbs just cut off (one I recollect, with the heavy shoe and stocking still upon it,) lay in dreadful carelessness, in full view, about the place.

    Having exhausted the little store with comforts we had brought with us, one of the sufferers said to Miss G., “Ma'am, can't you sing us a little hymn.”  “O yes, I'll sing you a song that will do for either side;” and there, in the midst of that band of neglected sufferers, she stood, and with a look of heavenly pity and earnestness, her eyes raised to God, sung,— “When this cruel war is over,” in a clear, pleading voice, that made me remove my hat, and long to cast myself upon my knees! Sighs and groans ceased; and while the song went on pain seemed charmed away. The moment it stopped one poor fellow, who had lost his right arm, raised his left and said, “O ma'am, I wish I had my other arm back, if it was only to clap my hands for your song.”

    In that barn a noble matron from Philadelphia was doing her utmost for those two hundred wounded prisoners. She had been with them all this time, using such scanty means as she could muster to alleviate their misery. I returned to Gettysburg and sent out to those poor wretches that night a heavy wagon load of supplies, food, medicines and clothing. —  Rev. Dr. Bellows.

(Chelsea Telegraph and Pioneer March 5, 1864.)

Nurse Helen Gilson

Nurse Helen Gilson

Information on Nurse Helen Gilson is from the Rutgers University Special Collections.

Helen Gilson (1836 – 1868) of Boston joined the war effort as a nurse in the spring of 1862. Formerly a school teacher and governess, Gilson was passionate about the war and wanted to support the troops directly in the field. She applied for her nursing diploma in 1861 but was turned down by Dorethea Dix, superintendent of army nurses, because she was too young. Undeterred, Gilson volunteered under her uncle, Francis B. Fay, who primarily cared for the Army of the Potomac. During her time in the war, Gilson was instrumental in renovating the dilapidated hospital for the “colored troops” of the Army of the Potomac at City Point in Petersburg, Virginia. Gilson cared for all soldiers, no matter their race, and as a result was known as an “angel of mercy.” As Robert McAllister wrote in a letter home, [Nurse Gilson’s] whole time and thoughts are devoted to the sick and wounded soldiers…She is truly a benevolent lady.

Letter of Nurse Gilson for Colonel Robert McAllister

Hospital 3rd Corps, near Gettysburg – Pa.   

 [1863 July]

Mrs. Mc-Allister: -

Dear Madam:-
                              I write for yr. dear husband Col. McAllister who lies wounded in this Hospital.  He has two wounds, - one in the thigh, - one in the foot.  They are both flesh wounds neither the bone or artery were injured =.  Dr Welling says there is no immediate danger – He has sent a telegram to you asking you to come to Eutaw House Baltimore.  If you arrive there please telegraph Col. to that effect, directing to 3rd Corps Hospital near Gettysburgh Pa.  The cars are about two hours coming to Westminster.  This hospital is 24 miles from Westminster.  If the Col cannot go to Baltimore, he would like to have you come to him – He is very comfortable and cheerful and says he is going to come home to Mrs. McAllister’s hospital –

Very truly Yrs.
                                          Helen L. Gilson

Gilson contracted malaria during the war and never fully recovered.  She died on April 2, 1868, in childbirth due to her weakened state.  Gilson was photographed on January 18, 1865, in the Boston studio of James Wallace Black and John G. Case, the largest in the city at that time.  KF (Robert McAllister Papers. Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives.)

Return to Top of Page

Two Letters of Private John H. Shaw, Company A.

The following letters were shared with me by a neighbor of Private John Shaw's descendants.  The family has proudly preserved John's letters home.  I hope someday, I can acquire some more copies of his letters.

Private John Shaw's Gettysburg wound would earn him an honorable discharge from the service.  The roster states he mustered out of the '13th Mass,' October 10, 1863.  He later re-enlisted in the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery.

 Written by John Shaw From Hospital Tent after Battle, July 1 - 4

Dear Mom
      As my leg feels finely easy this morning I thought I would write a few lines to let you know how I get along.   My Leg pains me most of the time, but this morning it feels a little easier.  Our Regiment made out to get cut up pretty bad in these last Battles.  In the three days Battles my Brigade lost in Killed, Wounded and taken Prisoners over Two Hundred Men.  I was Wounded in the first days fight.  My Regiment numbers now only about Fifty Men, and only Four Men remain in our Company.  We shall be removed to Baltimore in a few days.  The day I was Wounded my Corps was the only one Engaged with the exception of the 11th Corps, But as soon as they had Fired Two Rounds they Ran and the Rebels seeing they ran, Began to Flank Us and they made out to Capture most of us that was Wounded, But Our Men Stood Up.  Still most of them were Wounded or Killed.  We had in our Regiment in Killed and Wounded over Eighty out of about Two Hundred Men.

We Fought Against Great Odds The Rebels numbered about Fifteen Thousand men while ours wasn't about Seven Thousand.  The Rebels made out to drive our men about a mile beyond the town where the Hospitals were and of course, we were Prisoners.  The next morning Fighting was continued and it lasted all through the Day.  HEAVILY WE WAS IN THE HANDS OF THE REBELS.  Three Days and then our Army Retook the Town.  I can't write anymore now as my leg begins to pain me.  I don't sit up but a little while at a time as it makes it ache.

Camp Letterman Hospital, Gettysburg

Camp Letterman Hospital, September,1863; Tyson Bros. Photo; from the website 'Gettysburg Daily,' a post dated Nov. 18, 2008.

Letter 2, July 11, 1863

July 11th 1863

Dear Mother
       I  am stopping at Gettysburg yet, but expect to be moved any day to Philadelphia or New York. A party of our men went yesterday, but as? I wasn't able to walk to the car I didn't go, I go out into the Field once and a while to get some air, but have to go on crutches.  My wound is getting along nicely and it minds well.  It comes rather hard for me to lay on my back, but I have to stand it.  Men are Dying everyday from their Wounds.  There is all of a Thousand Men here that have lost either an Arm or Leg and some of them have lost both Legs.  The Hospital I was in when a prisoner was used as an Amputation Department and the days I was there men were having their Limbs taken off.  Their wasn't five minutes past, but someone on the bench.  If they send me to New York I shall probably get a furlow and as soon as I get to a place where I can send my things home I shall do it, for there is no use for me to have them here.  Now you needn't write me I shan't probably be here.   The place that I am going to stop at, I will let you know.

Your Son

Return to Table of Contents


By Melvin Walker

From Circular # 33, September 1920, —one of the last reminiscences to be published in the 13th Regiment Association Circulars.

The article by President Walker will probably recall to some of our comrades yet living many scenes of experience in army hospitals. It was my lot after being wounded, to be sent with hundreds of others from the Bull Run battle-field, first to Washington, where I spent a couple of days at the Carver hospital, and then to Philadelphia.  When we arrived at the latter city we were conveyed to the different hospitals in ambulances belonging to the Fire Department which in those days were very handsome being painted in an elaborate manner.

Graphic Engraving of wounded men on crutches

I happened to be taken to a hospital at the corner of Fifth and Buttonwood Streets, a large six-story building formerly Dunlap's carriage factory. This hospital accommodated some four hundred patients and was filled to the maximum. Each ward had from sixty to seventy single cots so near together that one could reach out on either side and touch his neighbor's cot.  The nurses were all men and while they were not always over careful in handling wounded patients, still they took fairly good care of them. As I had the use of my legs and was in good health I spent very little time in the hospital excepting nights. I would get a pass each day after having my wound dressed, which allowed me to be out until 8 o'clock p. m.  As I was only a kid of eighteen years (?) and very boyish looking, with my right arm in a sling, I seemed to attract a great deal of attention from the many kind ladies whom I would meet on the streets and I was flooded with invitations every day to visit their homes. I therefore made many delightful acquaintances and spent many happy hours with some of the best families in that city.  My Yankee manner of talking always seemed to please them, and likewise some of their peculiar accents and expressions in conversation were very pleasing to me.  I received my discharge on the 24th of November, 1862, and reached my home in Dorchester, Mass., on a Thanksgiving morning.  In March. 1864, I again enlisted as a recruit in the Eleventh Mass. Battery, but was rejected at the Long Island rendezvous in Boston Harbor on account of my former wound.  Perhaps it was all for the best as I might have got it worse a second time, though I was mightily disappointed when rejected.



Some years since an article appeared in one of our circulars which seemed to me to give an erroneous impression of work done in our military hospitals during the civil war. There were two classes of these hospitals in use, one under the immediate administration of the United States Medical Service, and the other known as Contract Hospitals, in which everything needed for the care of the sick and wounded was provided at a price per week for each inmate agreed upon.

All hospitals were of course under the inspection and supervision of the medical department. It was my fortune to have an experience in each class of these hospitals. In the late summer of 1862  I became an inmate of a hospital of the first class, situated in a large church on the corner of C and 3rd streets, Washington, D.C., which was crowded with sick and wounded men from the armies then under General Pope. The surgeon in charge who had been driven from his home in Texas because of his loyalty to the Union was a skilful, devoted and kindly man and an efficient manager. This hospital was considered among the best and everything possible was done for the comfort and welfare of the sick and wounded patients.

Charles Reed Illustration; Hospital

Hospital Illustration by Charles W. Reed

The nurses were all that could be desired, and in addition to the food provided, many delicacies were contributed by the loyal ladies of the city.  The food was abundant and excellent in quality and variety.  For the more serious cases a daily dietary was prescribed by the surgeon and for the convalescents tables were spread in the basement where each one helped himself.  As a result of all this, notwithstanding the serious reverses of that year, the boys generally were not only comfortable but cheerfull as well.

At York, Penn., a large one-story building had been erected for a contract hospital and in the early days of July, 1863, it was filled to repletion with the wounded from the battle field of Gettysburg.  Having been wounded on the first day of the battle I became an inmate of this hospital on July 5, 1863.

There had been much criticism of contract hospitals and I therefore felt much regret at being sent there but must confess that I was happily disappointed. While the building was a rough board structure furnished with cot beds and little else, the beds proved comfortable, the surgeons were skillful and untiring, the nurses, all men detailed for this work, were kind and helpful but not in the same class as women nurses at Washington, yet fairly satisfactory and quite as good as could be expected in an emergency. The supply of food was ample and reasonably good, but we missed the delicacies so much enjoyed at Washington. The place was neatly kept and the general tone cheerful owing in part no doubt to the then recent victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg which made certain the final triumph of the Union cause.

Nothing in hospital life is more interesting than to watch the influence of pluck and determination in the hastening of recovery from illness or wounds. A striking case occurred at the York hospital: A boy of sixteen years belonging to a good family in Philadelphia ran away from home and joined a Pennsylvania regiment and was wounded in the first day's fight at Gettysburg. A minie ball had passed through his body and  perforated the liver. When brought into the hospital he seemed almost at the point of death but in a faint whisper said he had no idea of dying. The surgeon said he could not live the day out, but the next morning found him still alive and determined to live, and so he went on from day to day wasting away almost to a shadow.  A sister came on to help care for him and after many weeks he began to improve and finally he fully recovered and returned to his regiment for active service.Winslow Homer sketch of woman writing letter for wounded soldier The surgeon stated that had the boy given up for one moment he certainly would have died. This was only an extreme case among many recoveries all through the war. Of course it was equally true that many died that might have recovered but for lack of hope and courage.

Homesickness, without doubt, had much to do in causing fatal results. I feel very confident from my own experience and from the testimony of others that as a rule hospitals were well managed and all that could reasonably be expected was done for the comfort and welfare of the inmates. The only serious oversight that I recall was the lack of reading matter in the hospitals.  What little we had, if any, we had to secure ourselves.

Return to Table of Contents

Newspaper Reports of Casualties

The excerpts from the Boston Evening Transcript that follow, show how the names of the killed and wounded soldiers were reported to the home front.  Unlike the New York Papers quoted above, this paper did not contain any soldiers' letters with long lists of casualties for the Massachusetts Regiments.  Perhaps other Boston papers did so.  These reports were often full of inaccuracies later corrected as new information surfaced.  The Chelsea Telegraph & Pioneer transcripts are from the now defunct site 'Letters of the Civil War,' maintained by Tom Hayes.

 July 3, 1863.


Massachusetts Officers Killed and Wounded.

New York, 3d.   The Philadelphia Inquirer gives the following casualties:

The 12th Mass lost two officers and three privates killed; Col. Bates, the Adjutant of the regiment, four officers and 28 privates wounded, and 49 privates missing.

Thirteenth Massachusetts.  Col. Leonard, Capt. Palmer and Lieut. Alley, wounded.  Lieuts. Wilson, [Whiston] Carey and Tower, missing.

16th Maine – Capts. Atwood, Bennett, Weldon and Lowell, Lieut. Learatt, Lieut. Plumer, wounded.  Colonel Tilden, Capt. Blucher, Lieut. Wadsworth, Lieut. Bisbee, Lieut. Bisbee number 2, Lieut. Deering, Lieut. Thompson, Lieut. Childs and Lieut. Lone, missing.


Latest by Telegraph.


New York,  3d.  The Philadelphia Inquirer adds the following to the list of casualties in New England regiments:

Capt. Whitesides, 16th Maine, killed.  Among the other prominent officers killed is found the name of Gen. Paul.  Gen. Wadsworth severely wounded.  Gen. Robinson for the third time had a horse shot under him, while among the names of officers of less rank who are more or less wounded, are found the names of Col. Bates, 12th Mass.; Col. Leonard, 13th Mass.; Col. Fairchild, 2d Wisconsin; Col. Root, 94th New York; Capt. Robert Williams, Co. D, 12th Mass.; Lieut. Thomas, Aide to Gen. Baxter; and Capt. Charles Hovey, 12th Mass.*, a valuable and efficient Aide to Gen. Robinson, occupying upon the Staff the position of Inspector General.  Adjutant Weaver, Lieut. of the 69th regiment of your city.  Col. Bates is wounded badly, but retains command of his regiment.

*Capt. Hovey was in the 13th Mass.

(digital transcription by Brad Forbush).

Private Edwin Field, & Charles E. Leland, Company B

Edwin Field, Company B Charles E. Leland, Company B

July 11, 1863.


MORTALLY WOUNDED.-Private Edwin Field, Co. B, Mass. 13th Regt. Volunteers, (son of Mr. Charles E. Field, of this city) was mortally wounded in the battle at Gettysburg.

 Private Charles E. Leland, in the same Co., formerly of this city, and a graduate of the Chelsea Grammar School, is also reported to be mortally wounded.

    We learn that both these young soldiers have since died of their wounds. They were intimate friends, enlisted at the same time, have done good service in the cause of their country, and together sealed their devotion to its interest with their young and precious lives. Loving tongues bear testimony to the sterling worth of their characters, to their gentle and loving dispositions, as well as to the noble patriotism which prompt them to the sacrifice. All honor to the memory of the young heroes, who in life were united by the ties of the warmest friendship and who now sleep side by side in the same bed of glory. 

[Chelsea Telegraph and Pioneer; July 11, 1863; pg. 2, col. 2]

July 29, 1863.


Col. Leonard, of the 13th regiment, received a letter this morning, announcing that private George S. Wise of Co. D, died July 14, and George E. Sprague and F. A. Gould, Co. K, July 15, from wounds received at Gettysburg.

(digital transcription by Brad Forbush).

August 15, 1863

THE SURGEON GENERAL has received from Mr. Tufts, State Agent, the names of 39 Mass. soldiers who died at Gettysburg between July 14th and Aug. 7th, also the names of 82 members of the 1st Mass. Cavalry, who have arrived at Camp Parole, Annapolis, from Richmond.

The list of the dead at Gettysburg is as follows:

1st Regiment – Ed. S. Gould, Co. I.
2d – Wm. Blunt, Co. D; Henry S. Ball, Co. A; S.C. Alton, Co. B, D. P. Brown, Co. I. Rufus A. Parker, Co. D; D. B. Sanderson, CO. H. S.S. Prouty, Co. A; Corp. T. S. Butters,[?] Co. I. John Briggs, Co. A.
11th – Michael Murphy, Co. C; Collins Shaw, Co. F; J. A. Monell, Co. K.
13th – Corp. Dunton, Co. H; F.A. Gould, Co. K; Geo. S. Wise, Co. D.
15th – G.O. Raymond, Co. C.
16th – Serg Chas. L. Noun, Co. H.
19th – B. H. Atkins, Jr. and J. G. Wells, Co. K.
20th – James M. Lane* [John McLean ??] Co. F.
22d- George E. Lambert, Co. F.
28th – John Caswell Co. D.
32d – H. I. Wade, Co. F., Corp. Wm. L. Gilman, Co. K, Wm. F. Baldwin, Co. B.
33d- C. R. Pierce, Co. F.
37th – Elthu Cowall, Co. F; Jas. Crampton, Co. K.

(digital transcription by Brad Forbush).

The following Clip is from the now defunct website, "LETTERS OF THE CIVIL WAR."

October 17, 1863


FUNERAL OF A SOLDIER.-The funeral services over the remains of John S. Fiske, Co. C, 13th Reg't. Mass. Vols., who was killed at the battle of Gettysburg, July 1st, was held at the house of John F. Fenno, Esq., at North Chelsea, on Tuesday forenoon last. He was the first volunteer from North Chelsea, and Serg't. Cody of his Reg't., in writing the particulars of his death, said, “Our much beloved and esteemed friend, and brave comrade, was wounded in a glorious cause, and died nobly defending the stars and stripes, and doing his part to restore this once glorious Union.”

(Chelsea Telegraph and Pioneer; October 17, 1863; pg. 2, col. 3.)

One last news clipping dated many years after the battle follows.

September 12, 1899


It is hard for a man not a soldier to appreciate with what feelings of interest the veterans of the Grand Army return to the scenes of their battles.  S. W. Lufkin a veteran of the 13th Massachusetts was wounded during the battle and taken to the College Church which was then used as a hospital.  Last Wednesday evening Mr. Lufkin attended the prayer meeting held in the lecture room where he lay for several days until his wounds were sufficiently healed to allow him to be moved.  In conversation with a reporter of this paper, Mr. Lufkin recalled the gruesome sights witnessed in the operating room, now the infant school room of the Sunday school, where piles of legs and arms lay in one corner, but why dwell on unpleasant sights.  ‘War is hell’  but the war showed to the nation its wealth of heroes.

Return To Top of Page

 Captain Moses Palmer

Captain Moses Poore Palmer was an important personality in the 13th Mass. Vols.  His wounding at Gettysburg  ended his military career, and so a brief look at his life and service is called for here.  

Button of 1st Lt Moses Palmer

He was one of the original organizers of Company I, from Marlboro, and was elected the company's captain.  The Federal Government had other ideas however, and Palmer was forced to step down in rank to First Lieutenant in order to accommodate a "foreign officer” with supposed "military experience” in the Crimean War. This experiment in grafting foreign fruit onto native soil proved a failure, and after about a year of service, Captain Palmer was restored to the rank of Captain.  

He received his first serious wound at the battle of 2nd Bull Run;  in the jaw,— which gave him trouble swallowing for the rest of his life.  It was also at this battle a wagon load of rifles was lost, which for the want of an account, the Government never stopped pestering him, and threatened to give him a dishonorable discharge.  Captain Palmer received his second serious wound at Gettysburg in the knee.  It took him many months to recover, some of which is noted in the sporadic diary entries he kept during his service.

Photos of Moses' artifacts courtesy of Mr. George Oldenburg of California.

Captain Moses Poore Palmer

The men of the 13th Mass entered the battle of Gettysburg so quickly they hardly had time to think about it.  The enemy fired upon them from a distant stand of trees as they advanced north of the Chambersburg road and along Oak Ridge to extend the existing Union lines.  The firing immediately became heavy.  Captain Moses P. Palmer was leading Company I into the fray.   During a charge upon the enemy several men fell dead or wounded, as a deadly volley slashed through the line just south of the Mummasburg Road, where their monument now stands.   Sometime during the fray Captain Palmer was wounded. The sudden sting of the bullet, and the burning sensation that followed, produced a numbing pain in his right leg.  It probably knocked him to the ground.  The men of his Company would have to continue their battle without his leadership and encouragement.  Captain Palmer was through for the day.

   Somehow he made it to town and a surgeon removed the musket ball from his knee. Moses kept it as a souvenir. His wound was a bad one.  Room to convalesce was made for him at the McCreary home where Colonel Leonard and other wounded officers from the brigade, had found shelter.

Moses Palmer's Presentation Sword, 1862

 In the late afternoon Rebel soldiers pushed the Federal army from the fields and ridges north and east of the town and occupied Gettysburg. The public buildings and private houses designated as makeshift hospitals, crowded with Federal wounded, were surrounded by the enemy and the inmates were made prisoners of war.  Confederate soldiers made the rounds searching for prisoners. They demanded captured Union officers surrender their swords.  Captain Palmer’s descendants claim that when these Rebel trophy hunters entered the building where Moses lay, he hid his sword underneath his body to prevent its capture, probably saying it was lost on the field.  The ruse worked and Captain Palmer kept his sword.  He remained at the McCreary house for the next several weeks.  [Moses Palmer's Presentation Sword, September, 1862, pictured].

Young Jennie McCreary mentioned him in a letter she wrote to her sister a few days after the battle.

“We retired about 11 o’clock.  All were in bed but myself when there was a rap at the door. Papa got up and went to the door.  There were two rebels.  They said the rebel General Trimble and three of his aides wanted supper and lodging.  Well, all we could do was to get what we had for super and made a place for them to sleep, although our house was full already.  After we had fixed everything his aides came to say the General had concluded to stay where he was.  They, however (his aides) took supper and then went away.

“That night [July 2] the rebels tried to break in the house but Captain Palmer, the one who is still here, called them and told them it was a hospital and they went away.”

It took Captain Palmer a long, slow, discouraging time to recover.  A brief biography [with liberties taken] written by Massachusetts Historian and statesman, Samuel A. Green, from the book, “History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts,” by D. Hamilton Hurd, 1890, follows.

Moses Palmer was born at Derry, New Hampshire on May 1, 1830 to Moses Harriman Palmer and Mary Harriman (Hale) Palmer who were cousins.   The family moved to Groveland Massachusetts in 1832 where their son Moses attended school at Merrimack Academy in that village.  During the summer he worked on his father’s farm.  In the winter he worked on a shoemaker’s bench which was the custom of young men at that time.  He learned the trade of shoe-cutting at Marlborough and in 1854 came to Groton to superintend a shoe factory organized by Messrs. Bigelow and Randall. The building burned in December 1855, and the business was transferred to another in town at the corner of Main and West Streets.  Here young Palmer remained until 1858, when in partnership with his brother, they set up their own shoe manufacturing business at Marlborough.  Moses continued there until the war broke out.

In the Spring of 1861, Moses helped organize a rifle company in the town of Marlborough, and was commissioned captain of the company on May 6.  In the meantime the quota of men asked for by President Lincoln was filled, so the company was not at once accepted.  It was ordered to report to Fort Independence for garrison duty on June 25, and attached to the 4th Battalion of Rifles which became the nucleus of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers.  Amidst all this Moses got married.  He wed Martha Green of Groton on July 7, 1861.  He affectionately called her Mattie.  The following letter from Martha to Moses is dated Saturday, August 20th and probably written in 1859. (courtesy of Mr. Richard Humphrey).

Groton Saturday Evening Aug 20

My dear Moses

I was much pleased last evening to receive a few lines from you and now I am going to assure you that I have not “forgotten how to write” – though you may have been convinced of the fact by the reception of some of my scribbling which was probably on the road to Groveland. When your letter was sent – Well dearest how are you this even’ ‘tis Saturday night –

Another week has nearly passed away ! How swiftly time flies !

I must tell you how & where I have spent a portion of this week –

I will commence with the first of the week. – Sunday went to church all day. Mr Buckley preached. Monday went into the wash tub. Tuesday morning started with Andrew & Mary Jane for Boston. We went with a horse & chaise arrived at Charlestown Tuesday noon. Had a splendid ride. The day was cool. We stopped in Charlestown Tuesday night. Wednesday morning went over to Boston and went shopping & made some calls. Then went to South Boston and dined at Uncle Wm. Eatons. In the afternoon we went to Nahunt in the Steam Boat “Nelly Baker”. Cousin Lissie Eaton went with us  & George Francis Bancroft, Mary Jane and cousin and a lot of stranger passengers – We had a beautiful  time though cousin Lissie was seasick but not much for the passage was not long enough to effect any one much. I felt a little sick but I enjoyed the sail very much. It was delightful to have the cool sea breeze and to be rocked in the “cradle of the deep”.

The scenery about the shore at Nahunt in some places is wild and grand. I never saw such huge rocks – and the waves would dash against them with such fury. It was perfectly enchanting to me.

 I wanted to stay a longer time but we had to leave in time to take the boat. There are some Indians there. They were making baskets when we called. We left Nahunt at about half past six o’clock and arrived in Boston at half past seven. Had a fine sail up, the sea was very calm and the sun was going down making a beautiful reflection upon the water. I wished that you had been with us – I stopped with cousin Lissie Wednesday night – Mary Jane stopped at Mr. Bancrofts in Boston.

 Thursday morning Andrew and I started for home, left Mary Jane to visit  at Mr. Bancrofts until today. So A & I rode home alone. We had a warm & dusty ride. The roads are very dry. -  So we arrived safely feeling somewhat weary after our ride.  Now I spent the most of this week very pleasantly. What have you done are you hay making yet?

 How inquisitive I am. Cousin  Lissie Jane is in town. She called to see us last evening, she intends to visit us week.

 Helen & Charly M have gone to Bristol N. H.

I am really too tired to write decently, please excuse this and I will retire.

                                         Good night Moses,
                                                           Yours affectionately

[Digital Transcription by Richard Humphrey.]

The brief honeymoon of Martha and Moses was suddenly interrupted when the regiment was mustered into Federal Service and ordered to the front nine days after their marriage.  In the Fall of '61, his  newlywed bride was able to visit her husband in camp at Williamsport, Md.  Martha stayed at a neighboring farm house where Moses would visit.  Following one of these visits he nearly fell into an abandoned well on his way back to camp.  The short article from Bivouac Magazine, (below)  recalls this incident.

When the regiment was mustered into service on July 16, Captain Palmer had to step down to the rank of First Lieutenant, in order to accommodate the appointment of Captain R.C. Shriber to Company I. Much has been written about Capt. Shriber, on this website, who proved to be a fraud and was eventually dismissed from the service. Moses officially regained his captain’s commission on August 16, 1862,  although he commanded his company almost all the time since leaving Boston. Capt. Shriber had left camp soon after arriving in Maryland, to seek out greater fortunes at Brigade headquarters.

Moses Palmer was in command of his company during the arduous Summer campaigns of 1862 and was badly wounded on August 30th at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Colonel Leonard described Captain Palmer’s wound in this way:

“He was wounded as follows, very Severely by a Musket Ball Entering the left Side of the neck, under the Ear, and coming out on the right Side of the Chin, fracturing the lower jaw bone, from the effect of which wound the Said Moses P. Palmer is Still at the time of his discharge Suffering as follows, pain and inconvenience in Eating food.  At Same Battle of Bull Run Va, He was also wounded in the left hand near Knuckle joint of forefinger by a piece of Shell, affecting the joint at time of his discharge.”

Austin Stearns recalled running into Captain Palmer during this engagement.

Post war image of Captain Moses P. Palmer

“When I found that I was mixed with another regiment I started to find my own.  I had gone but a few steps when I met Cap’t Palmer of Co. I wounded; he asked me if I would give him my help and assist him off the field.  I locked in arms with him and we started for the rear; just then a solid shot came over and struck the ground but a few feet from us and the dirt was thrown upon us, the shot ricocheting far away in the direction we were going.  Cap’t Palmer said “I can’t stand this,” and bounded away like a deer, leaving me far in the rear.”

Moses own diary entries for the engagement state:

“Saturday, Aug. 30, 1862: (and Sunday, Aug. 31) Marched to front at 6 ?, changed position at noon to rear of woods, changed again to left of battle line, ordered to front at about 5 p.m.  Hard fight, wounded in throat and hand.  Fell back to one mile of Centerville.  Slept on ground.  Left for Alexandria in the morning.  Arrived about midnight and slept on the floor of the Mansion House Hospital.  Feel bad.

“Friday, Sept. 5, 1862: Fine day.  Pieces of bone came out of my chin.  Hope it will feel better.  Don’t like to stay here.”

By September 10, Captain Palmer was recuperating at the home of Martha's grandfather in Groton, Massachusetts.  He wrote, “Shall get well home for I get much good care taken of me.”

His biography says he was back with the regiment for the Battle of Fredericksburg, and that he was slightly wounded in that engagement.  After the engagement the regiment camped at Bell Plain Landing in Stafford County, Virginia.  Excerpts from Captain Palmer’s diaries follow.

“Tuesday, March 17, 1863:  Fine day, seems like spring.  Wish we could end this horrid war, but will fight to the death before giving up.

Wednesday, April 1, 1863:  Fine day.  All fools day.  Some had little jokes played on them.  We are all more or less foolish.

Tuesday, April 14, 1863: Orders to have five days’ rations in the knapsacks and three days’ in haversack… big load for a soldier.

At the Battle of Chancellorseville he wrote:

Friday, May 1, 1863:My birthday. Lay in the road all day and night. Not any shelling. Rebels getting into position. Expect hotwork.”

Henry Bacon illustration "I used my rifle as a crutch"

At Gettysburg July 1, 1863, Captain Palmer was shot in the right knee and crippled for life.

The paperwork of Surgeon Robert Horner, the attending physician, described Moses’ wound and treatment as of July 21st.

“Wounded at Gettysburg July 1st 1863 — in head of right Tibia by Musket ball — The ball was cut out of the bone the same day.  Tibia not broken.  Violent inflammatory disease followed involving the Knee Joint.  Matter buried around the joint rupturing several openings- the inflammation has all gone — Anslytosis  [Anisocytosis is excessive variation in size of blood cells] of the Joint –

Treatment, (with the right leg suspended) included doses of quinine 3 times daily, with doses of Morphine at night as needed.”

Moses' diary entries document his slow recovery.

“Wednesday, July 1, 1863:  Cloudy in morning.  Marched towards Gettysburg seven miles, arrived and formed in line of battle.  Went to the front, hard fight, shot in the knee, got back to town… had the ball taken out of my knee.. bad wound.

“Friday, July 3, 1863:  Hard fighting all day and part of the evening, shelling from the town, the rebels getting the worst of it.  I hope we lick them this time.

“Thursday, July 16, 1863: Brother Charles and Mattie arrived.

“Sunday, July 19, 1863: Charles went for Mother.

“Thursday, July 23, 1863: Charles and Mother arrived.

“Saturday, Aug. 1, 1863:  I think I never shall be any better.

“Sunday, Aug. 2, 1863:  What a pain… leg all rotten.

“Friday, Aug 7, 1863: Leg a little easier.  Charles and Mother left for home. Mother sick.

Howard Pyle illustration, "The Convalescent"

“Thursday, Aug. 20, 1863:  Think I am gaining slowly.

“Thursday, Oct. 15, 1863:  Left for Baltimore.

“Wednesday, Oct. 21, 1863:  Arrived in New York 6 o’clock morning.  Left for home on 8 o’clock train.  Arrived at Father Eatons’s… glad enough.”

Though Captain Palmer recovered at home, he lost the entire use of his knee and was compelled to walk on crutches.  On March 9, 1864, he was honorably discharged from the army.  In April, Colonel Leonard filled out an affidavit in support of Captain Palmer’s application for an invalid pension.

“Moses Palmer was faithful in his duties as an officer until Wounded as aforesaid.  That his wound was a very Severe one affecting him as follows.  Causing great pain and Suffering and confinement to his Bed in Hospital for many months, at time of his discharge,  etc  Motion of the Knee joint, wound open., unable to walk without crutches, and in poor health. - S.H. Leonard, Col.”

On May 10, 1866, Moses P. Palmer was brevetted Major of Volunteers for gallant and meritorious services in the field.

After the war, Moses and Mattie purchased a farm in Groton about a mile from the village.  He held many town offices including selectman, assessor, and Overseer of the Poor.  He was Commander of the E.S. Clark Post, No. 115, Grand Army of the Republic for 7 years; Master of the local Grange of which he was a charter member; officer of the Groton Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Club; and an active member of the Middlesex North Agricultural Society at Lowell, having been for many years one of its Vice Presidents and Trustees.  He was a Justice of the Piece and treasurer of the New England Milk Producer’s Union.  He also served as a member of the House of Representatives in 1884 and a member of the Senate from 1888-1890.

The Palmer's had three children; one son and two daughters.

 In Groton, he frequently rode with other Civil War Veterans in the annual Memorial Day Parades.  His granddaughter, Elizabeth Bedell, still possessed the two bullets Moses kept as a souvenir of his military career.  One is the ball that killed John L. Spencer of Company I, in 1861, the first man of the regiment to die by enemy fire. The other was the mis-shaped ball that ended his military career.  

Moses Palmer was an active member of the 13th Regiment Association.  He was president of the association in 1889 and attended the reunion dinner that year and in 1890, 1892, 1894, 1895, 1901, 1902, 1905, 1910, 1912, and 1915.  On years he could not attend he sent letters, and money to support association activities.

His last published letter to the Association was in Circular #33.

Groton, Mass., Sept. 9, 1919.

Dear Comrade Swan:  Your notice of the annual meeting of our regiment received.  I should be very glad to meet the dear old boys once more if I felt able to stand the trip, but I fear the cars.  I ride about town almost every day with my horse but I fear getting on and off the cars as I am getting too old for them.  I shall be ninety years old if I live a few months longer.  Perhaps I may feel able to try it next year.  Please give my best wishes and regards to all the boys hoping that you will have a good old time.

I am sincerely yours,

M.P. Palmer, Capt., Co. I.

Moses died at his home on  Sept. 23, 1920 at the venerable age of 90. His obituary was printed in the 13th Regiment Association Circulars, #34 Sept 1, 1920.


The Following article about Moses Palmer, appeared in the magazine Bivouac, Volume I, 1885, p. 252-253.

The perils of army life were not confined to those originating from the combustion of “villainous saltpeter.”  The Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, encamped during the Winter of 1861-2 at Williamsport, Md., were in a community comparatively free from “War’s alarm”  -- any disturbance of the peace came from over the river, and a vigilant picket was maintained along the towpath of the canal, with occasional raids and reconoissances into the enemy’s territory.  Furloughs not having come into fashion so early in the war, advantage was taken of the lull in the hostilities by families of friends to visit the camp for brief periods. 

illustration, "good-bye"

Our junior captain, proud of the additional bar but recently added to his shoulder-straps, renewed the honey-moon interrupted by an early departure for Washington, and was happy in the presence of his wife, who boarded for a few weeks at a pleasant farmhouse adjacent to the camp.  The latter was situated about a quarter of a mile from the road behind a curtain of woods, the pathway from which was rather imperfectly marked by the wheels of the wagons that brought the supplies. 

At a late hour on a very dark night, our captain after leaving the camp, found that he had lost the path.  Struggling along, hoping that he would quickly recover the direction, he soon became entangled in the remnants of a decaying rail-fence, matted with blackberry-vines.  Suddenly the ground seemed to collapse beneath his feet, but with an effort he caught by his elbows amid the brush, while his feet hung dangling in the cavity below.  

Somewhat alarmed by the extraordinary change in the condition of the ground, he crawled out and groped his way into the open field, and finally reached the regular road, speedily ending his disagreeable journey.  Reconnoitering the place by daylight, and making inquiries in regard to it, he found that he had barely escaped entombment in a disused well over forty feet deep, the mouth of which was hidden by decaying sticks and briers, remote from the camp.  If he had not escaped by his own endeavors, the probabilities would have been that he would have been buried alive with little possibility of discovery.  

Several times wounded in subsequent engagement, he yet accounts this as his very narrow escape.

Next Page:  "Official Reports"

Return to Top of Page | Continue Reading

Page Updated February 27, 2017.

13th logo
"All honor to the memory of the young heroes, who in life were united by the ties of the warmest friendship and who now sleep side by side in the same bed of glory."