An 1862 editorial on the need for an Ambulance Corps in the US Army
“…the necessity for the organization of a special army ambulance department”
This editorial appeared in the influential New York Herald in the weeks after the Second Battle of Bull Run. In that engagement, the US Army lacked an organized, effective ambulance service on the battlefield during and after the fight. This left thousands of wounded men on the field of battle without proper medical attention. The Herald drew attention to this fact and the need for organization in regards to the evacuation of the wounded. Meanwhile, as fighting took place in Maryland, Major Jonathan Letterman’s reorganized Medical Department in the Army of the Potomac was putting the first effort at organizing battlefield evacuation and medical care to the test. This system would later become known as “The Letterman Plan.” – Jake Wynn, Director of Interpretation
From the New York Daily Herald, September 15, 1862
Our Wounded Soldiers in Battle –
We have frequently drawn attention to the necessity for the organization of a special army ambulance department, by means of which our gallant soldiers wounded on the field of battle might be safely and expeditiously removed to places of safety and security. The recent battles of the Rappahannock afford new evidence of this necessity.
When the news reached Washington that immense numbers of our soldiers were wounded and lying on the field, exposed to dreadful suffering, there was no alternative left the War Department but to take all the cabs and public conveyances that could be found and despatch [sic] them to the field of battle to remove the sufferers. Of the vehicles so sent but few returned. The majority of them were rendered worse than useless, the rebels having seized and carried off the horses. The wounded, therefore, had to remain on the field, and it is said that up to Monday last there were still twelve hundred there within the lines of the enemy.
Now, with a well trained and properly systematized ambulance department in connection with the army, such painful occurrences would be unknown, or, at all events, the evil would be greatly ameliorated. The care of the wounded in battle is of the very highest importance. It affects the morale of the army in a high degree if proper precautions are not taken to protect the soldier who falls wounded in the fight. It is stated that the rebels are greatly in advance of us in this respect, as they have trained bodies of unarmed men accompanying their army, whose only duty it is to carry off the wounded from the field. We are glad to see that McClellan has paid proper attention to this matter in his march into Maryland.
The question is one which forces itself upon the attention of the government; and if General Meiggs, of the Quartermaster General’s Department, in whose province we presume it is to arrange such matters, could see to the immediate formation and discipline of regular ambulance army corps, it would be one of the greatest practical benefits yet conferred upon our noble army.
The soldier, when he goes into battle, naturally expects to be wounded; and when he knows that aid and succor are always at hand when he falls he will enter the contest with a more earnest and determined spirit. This and other reasons show that the matter ought to be attended to at once; for there is no duty more imperative on the government than the care and protection of its wounded heroes.