By Trevor Steinbach
When the Southern states seceded from the Union, they faced an immediate dilemma. Their troops would need to be supplied with supplies for their hospitals. States’ rights came into play immediately. In the North the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission were formed on a national level to provide for the troops and supplemental supplies for the hospital system set up under the army. Each state in the South began worrying about their own soldiers. Virginia civilians were to worry about only Virginians etc. In the South, Georgia proved that it could develop one of the most efficient systems to serve its soldiers fighting in the war.
The GRHA (Georgia Relief & Hospital Association) was formed in December, 1861 legislative action in Milledgeville. The act consisted of five sections. This was a unique concept as the Georgia legislature was providing state funding to “aid” the private association in its efforts. The purpose of the GRHA was to “provide medical attendance, stores, and supplies, hospital rooms, accommodations and transportation for the sick and wounded soldiers of, and in the State of Georgia.” It was a very broad mandate indeed! The act included a “sum of two hundred thousand dollars” to be expended by the GRHA to accomplish its purposes. The fund was to be drawn from only in amounts needed as ordered by the GRHA Executive Committee. The Executive Committee consisted of twelve members. To account for these funds to the state, a monthly statement of expenditures and its details was to be provided on a monthly basis. If statements were not provided, the fund was to be frozen by the Governor of Georgia until statements were provided. The funds were to be distributed at “the different permanent and temporary Hospitals at the various military positions occupied by troops from this State, within the State of Virginia and elsewhere.” Agents were to be appointed to carry out the duties of the GRHA in places that the organization felt necessary. The agents were to be paid employees.
The GRHA was authorized to collect donated supplies besides purchasing the supplies from the allocated State funds. Donations were solicited by newspaper articles throughout the State. Local women’s groups collected or prepared their donations which were forwarded to the Association. Comforts, sheets, pillows, pillow cases, sox, drawers, towels and much more was requested. These supplies were then taken to army locations where Georgia troops were based or to Richmond to be warehoused for future use. This article in the Richmond Dispatch Newspaper of July, 1862, tells the story of service to Georgia men in the field.
“NOTICE TO GEORGIANS – Georgia soldiers, sick or wounded, who may be at private residents, unable to procure medical attendance, are requested to notify the agent of the Georgia Relief & Hospital Association office corner of 21st and Cary Streets, and they will be visited by the medical officer of the Association, recently from Augusta. Mr. Selkirk Gen’l Agent Ga. R and H Ass’n.”
In the 1861 report of the GRHA to the Georgia House of Representatives Committee on Military Affairs, Executive Committee member Rev. J. O. A. Clark reported the efforts of the Association. The report gives the reader insight into the workings of this State organization and its efforts. After 1st Manassas, the 7th & 8th Georgia had many wounded. The citizens of Georgia raised $4,000.00 to provide relief. The hospital that existed, in Richmond at the time for Georgia soldiers, was turned over to the GRHA. Overall, the GRHA had raised $30,000 in its first two months and expended $24,000 on Georgia soldiers. The group had been volunteers during that time but, found that the volunteer doctors, nurses, and agents needed to be paid to prevent personnel turnover. At this point the Georgia Legislature provided its first funding.
Like all new troops during the war, the GRHA provided care for those new soldiers that “will have to pass through the same ordeal of measles, mumps, &c., and other diseases in the camps.” They reported that additional clothing was needed in the winter of 1861-62 to meet the “rigors of the winter” and reduce the fever sickness in the Georgia units. In Richmond, the GRHA set up three hospitals with about 700 beds. The hospitals were set up with a Board of Managers of which Vice President Alexander Stevens was appointed President of the Board. The Confederate Government Inspector of Hospitals, after inspecting all 40 hospitals in Richmond, found that the Georgia Hospitals were “by far the best managed, the cleanest, and the most comfortable of all.” The expenses for all three hospital’s employees, clerks, stewards, servants, cooks, nurses, surgeons, rents and more was about $53,318.76 per year. With provisions required to serve the men the entire cost was estimated at $118,118.76. The actual cost per man was $18.22 per month. The Government paid $11.11 and the GRHA paid $7.11 per month per man. That is relatively inexpensive to house and care for a wounded soldier. Ten regiments were served by these hospitals including the 1st, 2nd, 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th, 15th, 20th, 17th, and 19th Georgia. While the GRHA did not appoint the surgeons to these hospitals, they indicated that they were very pleased with Surgeons Campbell, Ford, and Logan who had been assigned to the Richmond Georgia Hospitals.
In addition to these hospitals there were Virginia hospitals with the Army of the North-West. These hospitals were located at Lewisburg (by the Kanawha Valley), Huntersville/ Ederay/ Warm Springs/Bath Alum/Rockbridge Alum Springs, and Harrison-Staunton. To service these Valley regiments a depot was set up at Staunton in the upper valley. Army forced marches led to the burning of abandoned supplies, which was lamented by GRHA officials. The report ends with the call for further funding of the GRHA by the Georgia Government and private efforts as they estimate the yearly cost of $3,000.00 per regiment with 50 Georgia Regiments in the field.
In October, 1862, the GRHA made its second report. The Board of Superintendents consisting of 31 men was elected. The Executive Committee consisting of 12 men was appointed from the Board of Superintendents. Like the Sanitary Commission of the North, men ran the organization. The organization reported on its efforts using its two funds: the Relief Fund and State Fund. The Relief Fund was “derived from private contributions” and the State Fund was their State funded appropriation from Milledgeville.
The expenses from January 14, 1862, to October 20, 1862, reveal the efforts of the organization.
The expenditures show the support of Georgia Hospitals at Savannah (Bartow and Medical College of Georgia Hospitals), Augusta (General Hospital), now four Richmond Hospitals, and relief to individuals through their agents in the field in the states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida (to Pensacola)
What they purchased is also very revealing. In some of the data for the months of January – October, 1862, is: “303 striped shirts, 195 demin shirts, 38 cotton flannel shirts, 100 cotton flannel drawers, 1500 yards of cassimere, 3000 yards of denims, and 993 yards of Scotch plaids.” Medicine included 59 gallons of Brandy at $3.50 per gallon. Unusual items included 11 yards of mosquito netting, 5 bales of sheeting (4459 yards of material), a wall tent for the hospital in Corinth. MS, buttons, 102 yards of oil cloth, 4 dozen bottles of Ess. Of Ginger, 10 dozen straw hats, and three bed pans for the new hospital in Macon, GA.
Donated items from the public included: carpets, dressing gowns, lint, tallow, beeswax, tin cups, wooden buckets, dishes, plates, bowls, dried fruit, honey, jellies, preserves, catsup, mustard, vinegar, wine, brandy, cordials, and medicines.
They also established and supported Wayside Hospitals in Georgia at Kingsville and Augusta. Later more of these hospitals were established as deemed necessary. The wounded on trains were met at these locations. They were taken to the Wayside Hospital, “furnished with meals and lodging, and had their wounds attended, and change of raiment supplied.” As these hospitals sometimes treated non-Georgia men, the GRHA had to appeal for separate funds pay for the costs of these men. They could not use any State Funds from Georgia under their charter.
By October, 1862, the now four Georgia Hospitals had treated over 11,145 patients with a 7% death rate. 718 were furloughed home and 495 were discharged from service being unfit to serve.
W.H. Potter the Corresponding Secretary of the GRHA reported the following at their October, 1862 meeting:
“It was not so uncommon for us, as we put a soft bed under an emaciated form, or a good and clean clothes in the place of the tattered and dirty garments of the wounded and sick, to hear the remark, ‘who would not fight for such a State?’”