Civil War Ambulances

Recently, we took some time to rehab the ambulance on our diorama of Gen. Meade’s headquarters at Gettysburg. We made it at least thirteen years ago, and it has weathered the time and kids quite well, considering that it is mere cardboard and wire, but it certainly needed some attention and tender loving care. Now, after an afternoon well-spent with a glue bottle, it is back on display, looking all spruced up and much more…upright than it was! So, today we are Mewsing on ambulances.

When we think of a Civil War ambulance, we probably picture the four-wheeled variety, such as the one on the diorama. But there was also a two-wheeled version. While numerous, it was less popular with the wounded. The four-wheeled type was steadier and therefore more comfortable, relatively speaking.

Looking inside, you can see the seats for the wounded. The seats could unfold and convert into a second level. This way, wounded men who could not sit up could be put above and below, maximizing the space.

On the outside, you can see rolled up stretchers stored on the sides of the wagon bed.

By the time of Gettysburg, wounded soldiers would be treated initially at the regimental aid station, which was set up a safe distance behind the firing line. They might have a tourniquet put on a limb or be given some whiskey or opium for the pain, and then an ambulance would take them to the field hospital a few miles to the rear. There they would await their turn with a surgeon.

Ambulances served in other capacities as well. On the march into Pennsylvania, Confederate Gen. Richard Garnett needed to travel in an ambulance since he had been kicked in the lower leg or ankle by a horse and could not ride or even sit up for long periods of time. On July 1, Union staff officers transported the body of Gen. John Reynolds from Gettysburg in an ambulance. When Gen. George Meade learned that Reynolds was either badly wounded or killed, he sent Gen. Winfield S. Hancock ahead to take control of whatever situation he found on the field. Hancock started off in an ambulance so that he could spend the travel time in reviewing maps in order to get the best possible grasp of the situation and arrive prepared. But, Hancock’s chief of staff Lt. Col. Charles Morgan recalled, the ambulance could “not keep pace with the General’s anxiety,” and so finally they switched to their horses so they could travel faster.

Our ambulance portrays one mentioned by newspaper correspondent Sam Wilkeson. In describing the cannonade which preceded Pickett’s Charge, he wrote:

Through the midst of the storm of screaming and exploding shells, an ambulance, driven by its frenzied conductor at full speed, presented to all of us the marvelous spectacle of a horse going rapidly on three legs.  A hinder one had been shot off at the hock. 

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