Gildersleeve, John R. "History of Chimborazo
Hospital, Richmond, Va., and Its Medical Officers During 1861-1865 " Virginia
Medical Semi-Monthly, July 8, 1904, pp. 148-154.
PAGE 86 Southern Historical Society Papers.
From the News Leader, January 7, 1909.
HISTORY OF CHIMBORAZO HOSPITAL, C. S. A.
(Abstract from address of Dr. J. R. Gildersleeve, president of the Association of Medical
Officers of the Army and Navy of the Confederacy, at Nashville, Tenn., June 14, 1904.)
This is another very interesting paper in the series on local history which we have been
publishing. It is furnished the School Bulletin for the teachers and children of Richmond
and the public generally through he courtesy of the history committee of the Richmond
I have selected as the subject of this paper, the most noted and largest military hospital
in the annals of history, either ancient or modern, "Chimborazo Hospital," at
Richmond, Va., 1862 to 1865, and in connection therewith, the commandant and medical
director, Surgeon James B. McCaw, and his staff.
East of the city of Richmond, whilom capital of the Confederate States, and separated from
the city proper by the historic Bloody Run Creek, is an elevated plateau of nearly forty
acres, commanding from its height a grand view. On the south, the river, spanned by many
bridges, ships in harbor, Chesterfield and the town of Manchester; on the east, a long
stretch of country, cultivated fields, forests, hills and dales, and the tawny James on
its tortuous seaward way; and on the west, the city of Richmond, its churches and spires,
the capitol, public buildings, dwellings, and manufactories, the whirling, seething,
rushing falls of the river, and beautiful Hollywood, "the city of our dead."
On this high and picturesque point, so well adapted to hospital purposes, in the year
1862, when the Federal troops moved in force on Bull Run, and the real campaign began,
General Joseph E. Johnston reported that nine thousand men would
PAGE 87 History of Chimborazo Hospital.
have to be sent back to Richmond for admittance to hospitals before his army could
That grand old Roman and Chief, Surgeon-General S. P. Moore, at once went to see Dr. James
B. McCaw, of Richmond (who was not then in the medical service, having enlisted in a
cavalry company,) and as the result of conference held and at the suggestion of Dr. McCaw,
Chimborazo Hill was selected as the most favorable site, and early in 1862 the hospital
was opened and in one week two thousand soldiers were admitted, and in two weeks' time
there were in all four thousand.
The surgeon-general had only twenty-five hundred beds when General Johnston made his
report. Work was at once commenced, and one hundred and fifty well-constructed and
ventilated buildings were erected, each one hundred feet in length, thirty feet in width,
and one story high, though not all built at one time, but as needed to furnish comfortable
quarters for the sick and wounded. Five large hospitals or divisions were organized;
thirty wards to each division. These dimensions allowed of two rooms of cots on each side
of central aisle; the capacity of each ward from forty to sixty. The buildings were
separated from each other by wide alleys or streets, ample spaces for drives or walks, and
a wide street around entire camp or hospital. The hospitals presented the appearance of a
large town, imposing and attractive, with its alignment of buildings kept whitened with
lime, streets and alleys clean, and with its situation on such an elevated point it
commanded a grand, magnificent and pleasing view of the surrounding country for many
The divisions of this immense hospital were five, or five hospitals in one, and five
surgeons, each one of the five in charge of a division; also a number of assistants and
acting assistant surgeons (forty-five to fifty), each, in charge of several wards of
buildings, and subject to surgeons of divisions, and all subject to Surgeon James B.
McCaw, in charge of executive head.
With natural drainage, the best conceivable on the east, south and west; good water
supply; five large ice houses; Russian bath house; cleanliness and excellent system of
removal of wastes, the best treatment, comforts and result in a military hospital in times
of war were secured.
PAGE 88 Southern Historical Society Papers.
In 1861 there was on what is now known as Chimborazo Park or Hill one house, owned by a
Richard Laughton, and a small office building.
For the purpose of making the hospital an independent institution, the secretary of war
made Chimborazo hospital an army post, and Dr. McCaw was made commandant; an officer and
thirty men were stationed there, and everything conducted "selon de regles."
As the commandant, Surgeon McCaw was not in the regular army of the Confederacy, the
surgeon-general said: "I do not know what name to give the hospital or its
chief." Not wishing to call it a general hospital, at Dr. McCaw's suggestion it was
given a distinctive name and called Chimborazo, and Dr. James B. Mccaw was made commandant
and medical director in chief.
When possession was taken of the hill it was separated from Church Hill on the western
side by Bloody Run gully. (After the war a street was built across the ravine connecting
the two hills and completing the extension of Broad street.) A large house north of the
hospital was occupied as headquarters by the medical directors and chiefs of divisions,
with a clerical force.
These five hospitals, or divisions, were organized as far as possible on a State basis;
troops from the same State being thrown together and treated and cared for by officers and
attendants from their own States.
In addition to the one hundred and fifty buildings, there were one hundred "Sibley
tents," in which were put from eight to ten convalescent patients to a tent; these
tents were pitched upon the slopes of the hill, presenting a very imposing sight.
Oakwood cemetery, which up to that tine had been comparatively a small graveyard, was
created by the hospital. It was near, suitable, and accessible, and is sacred to the
memory of many brave soldiers who gave their lives for our cause. The loyal women of
Oakwood Memorial Association erected a beautiful shaft on a grassy mound, midst the graves
of the "boys that wore the gray," with the following inscription on the four
sides of the base:
PAGE 89 History of Chimborazo Hospital.
From Thirteen States.
Erected by the Ladies
Oakwood Memorial Association,
Organized May 10, 1866.
The Epitaph of
the Soldier who falls with his Country
is written in the Hearts of those
who love the right and
Honor the brave.
As soon as the hospital was opened, the large tobacco factories of the Grants, Mayos and
others were secured, their business being practically at an end for the period of the war,
and the boilers from these factories were utilized in making soup in the soup houses, and
the large supply of splendidly seasoned wood, used in making tobacco boxes, was fashioned
into beds and other furniture. The hands employed in factories were put to work in doing
manual labor, incident to building, etc., in our hospital construction. A guard house was
erected separate from other buildings for unruly convalescents, attendants, et als., and
PAGE 90 Southern Historical Society Papers.
sometimes in use. In addition the hospital built five soup houses, a bakery, a brewery,
and five ice houses.
Mr. Franklin Stearns lent the hospital his celebrated farm, "Tree Hill," for the
pasturage for from one hundred to two hundred cows, and from three to five hundred goats.
The latters proved to be the best subsistence we had in supplying the hospital with
"kid" meat, a most palatable and nutritious food for sick and convalescent
patients. Some idea of the dimensions of the bakery may be found from the fact that from
seven thousand to ten thousand loaves were issued per diem, a loaf permian and attendant
would not go around.
Soap was made out of grease taken from the soup houses; the lye was imported through the
An additional fact is that the hospital never drew fifty dollars from the Confederate
States government, but relied solely upon the money received from commutation of rations.
The medical departments and subsistence departments were organized all to themselves, and
the money from commuted rations was used to buy what was necessary.
The hospital trading canal boat, "Chimborazo," Lawrence Lottier in command,
plied between Richmond, Lynchburg and Lexington, bartering cotton, yarn, shoes, etc., for
provisions. This was only one of the hospital's many resources.
At the close of the war, the Confederate government owed the hospital three hundred
thousand dollars, which Mr. Memminger, secretary of Confederate States treasury, agreed to
pay in gold on the 29th of March, and on the 3rd of April the city of Richmond was
surrendered. Alas! it was not paid.
I now call your special attention to the fact that the total number of patients received
and treated at Chimborazo Hospital amounted to seventy-six thousand (out of this number
about 17,000 were wounded soldiers), and that it was the first military hospital in point
of size in this country and in the world, the next largest hospital in this country being
the "Lincoln," at Washington, D. C., which reported a total number of forty-six
thousand patients; and the next largest in the world at large was the Scutari hospital, in
the Crimea, which reported a total of thirty thousand to forty thousand patients. The
PAGE 91 History of Chimborazo Hospital.
deaths at Chimborazo was a fraction over nine per cent. Complete records were kept, and
are still in existence in the office of the surgeon-general at Washington, D. C., upon
which the name of every patient can be found when wanted, and the cause of his death.
The organization of Chimborazo hospital was as follows:
Surgeon James B. McCaw, commandant and medical director.
First Division, Virginia-surgeon P. F. Brown, of Accomac, Va.
Second Division, Georgia-Surgeon Habersham, of Atlanta, Ga.
Third Division, North Carolina---Surgeon E. Harvey Smith.
Fourth Division, Alabama---Surgeon S. N. Davis.
Fifth Division, South Carolina--- Surgeon E. M. Seabrook, Charleston, S. C.
The medical staff numbered, or averaged, about forty or forty-five in all.
There was also a medical examining board, composed of the surgeons of divisions, to pass
on questions of furloughs and discharges. The subjoined roster is not complete, but
includes some who are alive and still in active work:
First Division-Assistant Surgeon George Ross, of Richmond, Va., assistant medical director
A. P. Hill corps; vice-president National Association Railroad Surgeons, etc.; commanded
company of University students, April 1861, at Harper's Ferry. Assistant Surgeon James C.
Watson, of Richmond, Va., in charge first division at surrender; ex-surgeon of state
penitentiary, etc. Assistant Surgeons John G. Trevillian, of Richmond, Va.; J. Prosser
Harrison, of Richmond, Va.; George F. Alsop, W. H. Pugh, John G. Baylor, of Norfolk, Va.,
Board Woodson, of Virginia; Samuel Smith, of Farmville, Va.
Second Division-Assistant Surgeon H. Cabell Tabb, of Richmond, Va., medical L. I. Co., of
Virginia; ex-president Medical Director's Association of the United states, Canada, etc.
Assistant Surgeons Edward Adams, Amelia county, Va.; J. C. Vaiden, New Kent county, Va.;
Jack Harrison, Bremo Bluff, Va. Steward in charge dispensary, Joseph A. Gale, now chief
PAGE 92 Southern Historical Society Papers.
Norfolk and Western railroad, and president Medical Society of Virginia, 1903-1904.
Third and Fourth Divisions-Assistant Surgeons John Malby, South Carolina; Shirley Carter,
Virginia; Field; Holderby; Chapman; Wall, Florida, Edward Wiley; Thomas E. Stratton,
Fifth Division-Assistant Surgeon W. B. Gray of Richmond, Va., ex-vice-president Medical
Society of Virginia, Richmond Academy of Medicine, Richmond Microscopic Society, etc.
Assistant Surgeons Charles Lee Dunkly, William A. Hardee, C. Jerome Chrry, of Portsmouth,
Va.; Moss; White, of Portsmouth, Va.; Acting Assistant Surgeon J. R. Gildersleeve, of
Richmond, Va.; Apothecaries Jett. T. West and Sursdorff, of North Carolina.
Among the staff were the following named gentlemen: John H. Claiborne, commissary; Colonel
A. S. Buford, quartermaster; Paine and Kent, our commission merchants, and many others.
Every man did his whole duty, and everything went on without a hitch. The total staff was
one hundred and twenty.
Mrs. Dr. Minge was chief matron. There were many interesting characters among the matrons,
and one in particular was Miss Mary Pettigrew, who was chief of the Virginia division. She
was a sister of General Pettigrew, of North Carolina, and was about twenty years of age.
Also a Mrs. Pender, Mrs. Baylor, Miss Gordon, et als-forty-five in all. Rev. Mr.
Patterson, a Greek by birth, was chaplain; he came to this country when a grown man, and
was a very valuable officer.
The city of Richmond was surrendered Monday, April 3, 1865; General Weitzel's brigade in
the van of the advancing Federal army. The general rode up the hill, and when he came
through the post was received by the corps of officers in full uniform. Dr. McCaw asked
General Weitzel for a general permit for him and his officers; this was promptly granted.
General Godfrey Weitzel gave to a free pass to the commandant and his entire medical
corps, took them under his protection, and issued a verbal order that all Confederate
soldiers there should be taken care of under all circumstances. Furthermore, he offered to
put the commandant in the general service of the
PAGE 93 History of Chimborazo Hospital.
United states, so that he might issue requisitions, etc., and have the same filled
as any other medical director in the United States army. As General Lee had not then
surrendered, Dr. McCaw respectfully declined the proffered appointment, but voluntarily
continued to perform all the duties incident to the position he held, and never solicited
anything at all from them other than the passes in and out of the lines.
When we consider the size of this great military hospital, the number of soldiers
admitted, treated, furloughed, discharged and buried; its successful work for nearly four
years; the perfect discipline, order and harmony that existed from its establishment to
its close; the immense amount of work done; the difficulties always attending the securing
of supplies for such a large body of invalids, especially towards the closing days of the
Confederacy, and also the generous rivalry between other posts or hospitals located in
Richmond; and lastly, the comparatively low mortality, we cannot but accord to Dr. James
B. McCaw, medical director of the five Chimborazo hospitals, and its efficient commandant,
the highest praise, and concede that he was in fact and in deed "primus inter
pares." It is my greatest pleasure to offer this tribute to my chief, and to one of
the grandest men in our profession, "Clarum et venerabile nomen." Towering
physically and mentally above his associates, and quoting from one of his admirers, he was
'princely Dr. James B. McCaw, sweet, gentle, tender, and true," and I shall add,
"brave, generous, and loyal; just, honorable, and upright, an exemplar worthy of
emulation;" teacher, philosopher, scientist, editor, and physician, over sixty years
devoted to the acquisition of knowledge and presenting the truth as acquired to his
beloved pupils in class and lecture-rooms; a magnificent physique, graceful and polished
in manner, with a great amount of personal magnetism; in speech, clear, happy in
illustration, chaste, humorous, and pathetic, sometimes epigrammatic, a boone comrade
around the social board,an ardent admirer of the beautiful, together with high,
cultivated, artistic taste. His masterly handling as editor of advances in all branches of
medicine, editorials, reviews, and original articles, the midnight research and
investigations in new scientific fields, his active professional life for six decades as
PAGE 94 Southern Historical Society Papers.
stetrician, and in general practice of medicine in a large, wealthy and exacting
private practice, is in itself a proof of the high estimation in which he was held. Such a
grand, noble, and self-sacrificing nature, so optimistic, sunshiny, and happy is seldom
seen blended in one man. A beautiful loving cup was presented to him in 1901 at a banquet
given by the Academy of Medicine of Richmond and friends on his retirement after
fifty-seven years from the active practice of medicine, in honor of this nestor of the
profession. In responding to toast from Dr. George Ben Johnston, of the Medical College of
Virginia, said: "This event has a greater significance to me than the gathering of a
multitude to welcome a victorious general; Dr. McCaw has always been my example." Dr.
J. Allison Hodges, of North Carolina, said: "The grandest sight I have ever witnessed
is the sight of a noble and beautiful life, wrapping itself around the destinies of the
sick and suffering children of men, and finding its blessed reward in the benediction of
everlasting love and peace; and such a sight I have witnessed displayed in the long and
honorable life of my friend, Dr. McCaw."