“It’s too damned hot here” – A medical history of the 45th Pennsylvania’s first battle
A common theme in Civil War history is examining how soldiers described their first experience in combat. Many referred to this with the period phrase “seeing the elephant.” After experiencing their first combat, however, those who survived lost that naïve excitement they first carried into combat.
The same also applies to the medical teams that accompanied their regiments into their first battle. For the 45th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the first blood came at the Battle of South Mountain in September 1862. The regiment had spent almost its entire first year of the war in coastal South Carolina, and lost many more men to disease than it had to Confederate bullets or shells. The men spent their days drilling, building fortifications, and performing other hard labor as necessary.
In the regimental history for the unit, published in 1912, Hospital Steward James A. Myers described the first time the 45th Pennsylvania’s medical personnel went into action and the chaotic first taste of combat:
“Our regiment on reaching Washington, September 6th, 1862, became a part of the Army of the Potomac and as such participated in the Battle of South Mountain, September 14, 1862.
In going into this fight the surgeon and both assistants were with the regiment. This seemed to be considered the proper place for them. However, when the musketry fire opened and the air was full of uncomfortable sounds, Dr. Christ soon realized that – to use his own words – ‘It is too damned hot here;’ turning to the assistant surgeons, he ordered them to attend to the temporary dressings of the many wounded, sending them a little way down the mountain to a little log house where he established our field hospital. This was not entirely out of range, but on the whole better suited to the work that was in hand, and work it was, for our boys were hard hit. The loss in our regiment alone being about 140 killed and wounded.
The scenes in and about that little log house I cannot describe, but there is one impression gained there and on many subsequent fields that remains with me, and that is with what uncomplaining fortitude the boys bore their sufferings.
Patiently they awaited the attention that was so necessary, and patiently and without murmur they met the advance of death.”
The cost of the 45th Pennsylvania’s first engagement at South Mountain was high. It was far from the last time that the surgeons and stewards of the 45th Pennsylvania were to be tested on the battlefields of the Civil War.
The regimental history of the 45th Pennsylvania can be found online and Hospital Steward Myer’s medical history can be found starting on page 317.
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About the Author
Jake Wynn is the Director of Interpretation at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. He also writes independently at the Wynning History blog.Tags: 45th PA, Antietam, Jake Wynn, James Meyers, South Mountain Posted in: Battlefield Medicine