Saving Lives at the Cloud Springs Hospital after Chickamauga
In September 1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland faced off against the Confederate Army of Tennessee for control of the city of Chattanooga – a vital rail hub situated along the banks of the Tennessee River. The first major clash of the campaign came just a few miles south of the city, along the banks of the West Chickamauga Creek on September 18-20. During the Battle of Chickamauga, many wounded soldiers found themselves in a sprawling hospital complex near Cloud Springs, along the LaFayette Road, to the left and rear of the Union army’s initial position. Like most field hospitals, the surgeons, stewards, and nurses, treated friend and foe alike.
Hospital Steward Solon Hyde of the 17th Ohio Infantry described the selection and site of the field hospital at Cloud Springs. “It seemed as if nature was extending her hands to us in the hour of our extremity, in presenting this twofold blessing – ample shade and an abundance of cool, pure water.”
Throughout September 19th the site was a scene of horrors. Hyde described it:
The groans of the wounded and dying around us, friend or foe, – for our ambulances brought in Confederate wounded when they chanced to find any; the horridly repulsive nature of some of the wounds; the stiffened corpses whose distorted features showed the extreme agony under which they had died; the wild cries and maledictions of those who had become crazed by their sufferings, – combined to fill up a memory picture that can never be forgotten.
Complicating matters was that for much of the first day and a half of fighting, battle lines were fluid or non-existent. Shells routinely flew over the hospital, and the rattle of musketry drew so close at times that Solon Hyde later recalled that it drowned out the cries of the wounded.
On September 20, the final day of battle, the Confederates launched a series of assaults all along the Union line. The shifting of the lines placed Hyde, along with the rest of the patients and staff of the Cloud Springs hospital, almost in rear of the Confederate force. That afternoon, Confederate artillery opened fire on the hospital, mistaking it for a headquarters. Shortly thereafter, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s troopers temporarily captured the hospital, which, according to Hyde, was surrendered by waving a bloody sheet from the amputation table as a white flag. However, their captivity did not last long. Union General Gordon Granger and the Reserve Corps soon passed by en route to the relief of General George Thomas and the Union soldiers making a stand along Horseshoe Ridge. This had the effect of drawing off the Confederates, and thus liberated Hyde and the rest of the hospital. They continued their work throughout the night of the 20th and into the 21st. But their new found freedom was temporary.
Soon after sunrise next morning (Monday), two horsemen emerged from the underbrush in our front and rode leisurely across the open space to our quarters, as leisurely dismounted, tied their horses, and came to our mess, saying they thought they would come and have breakfast with us. They proved to be Generals Forrest and Cheatam, of Confederate fame. This confirmed our fears that we were prisoners.
The wounded Confederates in the hospital were now “free,” and Hyde, along with most of the Union hospital staff, and all the patients were now prisoners of war. Unbeknownst to most of them, the prisoner exchange cartel had begun to break down that summer over the issue of captured black soldiers, and they were bound for long-term captivity. Solon Hyde would spend almost all of the rest of the war in a number of Confederate prison camps – including Andersonville, where he accepted a parole to work in the prison hospital.
Chickamauga Battlefield is arguably one of the best preserved and marked battlefields anywhere in the world. In 1890, Congress established Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park “”for the purpose of preserving and suitably marking for historical and professional military study the fields of some of the most remarkable maneuvers and most brilliant fighting in the war of the rebellion.” In the park’s enabling legislation, the proposed park boundary would have included the site of the Cloud Springs Hospital. However, economic turmoil gripped the nation with the Panic of 1893, and the funds necessary to procure the hospital site were no longer available. As a result, the present-day park boundary falls about a mile south of the hospital site.
Present day site of Cloud Springs Hospital (above in the interactive map).
Although the hospital site is not preserved within the park, the legacy of Cloud Springs Hospital lives on in the 21st century, and visitors can even still save a life there. Blood Assurance, a local blood bank sits on the old hospital site today. Each year, thousands of people save a life at Chickamauga by donating blood at the very place where Solon Hyde and the Union Army’s medical corps frantically worked to save the lives of wounded soldiers. And that, perhaps, is the greatest act of memorialization on Chickamauga Battlefield.
You can read Solon Hyde’s memoir, A Captive of War, online here. Learn more about blood donations in the Chattanooga area by visiting the Blood Assurance website. And be sure to visit Chickamauaga and Chattanooga National Military Park’s website and Facebook page to learn more about the park and its upcoming events.
About the Author
Chris Barr is a park ranger at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Prior to joining the interpretive staff at Chickamauga, he worked at Andersonville National Historic Site, and was a high school history teacher.Tags: Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Civil War, Civil War Medicine, Cloud Springs Hospital, Solon Hyde, The Battle of Chickamauga Posted in: Uncategorized