With the war under way, the 1,000-bed Armory Square Hospital was erected on the National Mall to treat Washington’s influx of wounded soldiers. (Library of Congress)
After a second victory at Bull Run in 1862, General Lee invaded Maryland, where his troops clashed with Union forces at Antietam on September 17. The Battle of Antietam would prove the single bloodiest day of the war, leaving more than 17,000 injured and almost 4,000 dead.
In Massachusetts, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. received a telegram informing him that one of his sons, future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., had been shot through the neck. The next day, he headed south to try to find his son.
In “My Hunt After the Captain,” Holmes chronicled his desperate search, which took him by train and horse-drawn wagon through towns strewn with the dead and wounded, and propelled him from makeshift hospital to makeshift hospital. He helped however he could (he was a physician as well as a writer), asking everywhere for his son. Eventually he would find Oliver Jr. alive and well, but not before he had traipsed from Pennsylvania to Maryland and back.—Sage Stossel
In the dead of the night which closed upon the bloody field of Antietam, my household was startled from its slumbers by the loud summons of a telegraphic messenger. The air had been heavy all day with rumors of battle, and thousands and tens of thousands had walked the streets with throbbing hearts, in dread anticipation of the tidings any hour might bring.
We rose hastily, and presently the messenger was admitted. I took the envelope from his hand, opened it, and read:—
Capt H wounded shot through the neck thought not mortal at Keedysville
WILLIAM G LEDUC
Through the neck,—no bullet left in wound. Windpipe, food-pipe, carotid, jugular, half a dozen smaller, but still formidable, vessels, a great braid of nerves, each as big as a lamp-wick, spinal cord,—ought to kill at once, if at all. Thought not mortal, or not thought mortal,—which was it? The first; that is better than the second would be.—“Keedysville, a post-office, Washington Co., Maryland.” Leduc? Leduc? Don’t remember that name.—The boy is waiting for his money. A dollar and thirteen cents. Has nobody got thirteen cents? Don’t keep that boy waiting,—how do we know what messages he has got to carry?