DR. LETTERMAN’S PRIMITIVE MASH UNIT

SOMETHING ABOUT DR. LETTERMAN

Dr. Jonathan Letterman’s 1862 reorganization of field medical practices for the Army of the Potomac has influenced military medicine ever since. While Mobile Army Surgical Hospital units didn’t formally appear until the Korean War, Letterman developed concepts that inspired them after the Battle of Antietam. A prime example of his revolutionary field operations was the general hospital established in the wake of the Battle of Gettysburg. More than 4,000 men were too wounded to leave Gettysburg–so medical care came to them at Camp Letterman

Fighting had barely begun when the first makeshift field hospitals sprouted In Gettysburg homes, churches and barns. When the armies left, more than 20,000 wounded soldiers remained in some 60 different hospitals under the command of Vermont surgeon Henry Janes. Letterman ordered 105 other army surgeons to stay behind to care for wounded of both sides. Most wounded were evacuated by July 26, but about 4,217 were too severely injured to leave.

They were transferred to the general hospital established July 20 in a shady spot about a mile east of town. « Camp Letterman » was soon a model of medical efficiency for its time–the first such facility on a battlefield. For four months, medical personnel, volunteer nurses and locals fed and nursed Yankee and Rebel alike. More than 400 tents, holding up to 10 patients each, were « laid off in streets or avenues which give it the appearance of a city, » wrote Pennsylvania militia guard Frank Stoke.

SECESH LADIES

About 40 women came from various locations to serve as nurses–including some « secesh ladies » from Baltimore who were permitted to tend to Confederate patients. A few were later accused of helping these Southerners escape. « Whole wards were filled with rebels, who were attended by rebel nurses, » remembered Sophronia Bucklin, a U.S. Sanitary Commission nurse. « A sharp contest often arose when the attendants met at the cook-house to draw food for their respective patients.

Our men were often knocked down in the struggle, and the triumphant rebels appropriated all and everything upon which they could lay their hands. » Despite the care rendered at Camp Letterman, many died. « A great number of bodies are embalmed here and sent to their friends, » Stoke wrote. Others were buried, at least temporarily, on site. Of 1,200 graves in the camp cemetery, more than two-thirds were Confederates, nurse Bucklin remembered–including many who had been in her own care.

Camp Letterman closed November 20, just after President Lincoln came to town and delivered his famous address. « The record was closed, and the meadow, like the great field around it, left to the hallowing influences of time, never to be forgotten, » said the U.S. Christian Commission’s annual report.

THE CONVERSATION

« Last week, on my birthday, Ryan gave me a tiny bottle of Scotch and the condom with a note that said, « Have a great year! »

« Ryan? » I asked blankly.

« Yup. » Chris grinned. « This is pretty funny, isn’t it Mom? »

« I guess so. »

Chris came over and gripped me in a bear hug. « Oh, you are such a funny little mom, » he said, patting me on the back with his huge bear-like paws. Each pat made a whapping sound and knocked the air out of me.

« But … but … I thought … » I sputtered.

« You’re cool Mom. » He hugged me some more.

« Okay, okay Chris. » I pushed him away and gasped for air.

« Mom? »

« Yes, Chris? »

« Can I please call Ryan and tell him? His mother always takes his condoms away when she finds them. »

« Sure. » I blushed. « And Chris? »

« Yes, Mom? »

« The first box is free. After that, you are on your own. »

He gave me a thumbs-up sign then picked up the phone.

« Hey Ryan, you know that condom you gave me? My mom found it and you know what she did? She bought me a whole big box of condoms! »

He laughed, and I returned to chopping vegetables.

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