Beginning in June 2017, the “Under the Microscope” series looks deeper into the details of Civil War medicine-related images. Click here to view all other posts in this series.
In the middle of the Federal army’s advance through the Virginia Peninsula to capture Richmond in the summer of 1862, photographer James F. Gibson approached a Union field hospital near Savage’s Station in Henrico County, Virginia. At that time, the Army of the Potomac under the command of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan was in the process of changing bases in response to two major defeats at Savage’s Station and Gaines’ Mill during the infamous Seven Days Battles. Here, at this field hospital, depicts an unromantic, unposed realist version of the war. This photograph is unedited, with many subjects in the background and foreground still moving, continuing to do their duties. Yet, even in this moment of rest, the next day would bring chaos as Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would overrun Savage’s Station, including this hospital. Nearly all these wounded troops ended up as prisoners-of-war, in confinement in Richmond prisons. In this post of “Under the Microscope,” we will be taking a look at the details of this special photograph.
Original photograph by James Gibson, entitled “Savage Station, Va. Field hospital after the battle of June 27.” Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
A member of the 16th New York Infantry Regiment suffering from a wound to the upper left arm near the shoulder. This wounded soldier from Albany, New York is wearing the famous strawhat of the regiment. At the Battle of Gaines’ Mill on June 27, 1862, the 16th New York suffered over 200 casualties.
The most powerful scene captured in Gibson’s photograph is a Union sergeant comforting one of his men who was agonizing in grief and pain.
A Federal first lieutenant from the 16th New York Infantry takes a look at a fellow soldier’s injured leg. The wounded soldier’s trousers had been ripped, either from the wound itself or from a surgeon needing to examine the wound.
Though a little tricky to see, a Federal infantryman takes a moment to write a letter home or read a book while leaning against the fence. He sits by (possibly his) a rifle-musket, canteen, haversack, and cartridge box.
The most common scene depicted in the photograph, groups of exhausted and wounded Federal troops take a moment to get sleep.
More soldiers catching up on sleep. The soldier in the center uses his forage cap to cover his eyes from the sun. On the left, a soldier with a head wound rests on a makeshift pillow.