Field hospital re-enactment shows gruesome reality of Civil War

The Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association and living historians from across the country are partnering this week to re-create a field hospital

June 30, 2013|By JENNIFER FITCH |

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Gettysburg resident Daniel Lady left his farm July 1, 1863, and found a gruesome scene when he returned a few days later.

The property on modern-day Hanover Road had become the only Confederate field hospital north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Surgeons threw body parts out Lady’s parlor windows, and wounded men continued to seek shelter in his barn after the troops left.

“They found dead soldiers that he and his 11-year-old son had to bury,” said Barb Mowery, president of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, which took ownership of the farm in 1999.

The Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association and living historians from across the country are partnering this week to re-create the field hospital on the farm. They welcomed visitors this weekend and will continue to do so from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today through Thursday.


Greencastle, Pa., resident Joe Goodrich learned about the event on the Internet and brought his 13-year-old daughter, Lorrie, to it Sunday afternoon.

“It’s neat,” Goodrich said. “This is wonderful.”

Lorrie said she has learned about Civil War battles and medicines at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School.

One scheduled demonstration of techniques particularly piqued her interest.

“I’m really excited to see the brain surgery,” she said.

Robert Sonntag of Orlando, Fla., worked in surgery before becoming a hospital administrator and consultant. On Sunday, he coordinated re-enactors portraying a medical corps of surgeons, orderlies, nurses, purveyors and chaplains through the Florida Regiment Medical Department.

“Most of our folks have medical backgrounds,” he said.

Guests are asking about anesthesia and amputations, according to Sonntag, who portrays Florida surgeon Thomas Palmer.

Sonntag said Civil War doctors used chloroform or ether as anesthesia the vast majority of the time. Later in the war, when supplies were running low, they’d occasionally substitute a shot of whiskey.

Brian Butcher showed guests the materials used for minor surgery, including horse hair used for sutures.

“A lot of the instruments are essentially the same (as today), just made out of different materials,” said Butcher, who lives on the eastern shore of Maryland.

The tools, like scalpels, are shaped the same, but their handles are now made out of materials that can be sanitized, Butcher said.

Visitor Jennifer Bell of York, Pa., spotted many similarities to the instruments she uses in her work as a nurse.

“We’ve improved on it, ... (but) it’s not much different,” she said.

“I’m here to provide education and awareness of Civil War medicine so that people don’t forget what happened 150 years ago,” Sonntag said.

“Anybody interested in Civil War medicine, obviously this is the place to come to learn about how things were done,” Butcher said.

Michael and Jeanne Cassidy work with Boy Scouts of America Venture Crew 1861. Their members do Civil War re-enacting as a fife and drum corps, and on Sunday, about a dozen youths picked up instruments to play at the field hospital.

The wounded and sick soldiers reported being soothed by music, according to Mowery.

“We’ve been practicing Confederate songs for several months to play here because this is a Confederate hospital,” Michael Cassidy said, saying the group typically portrays a Union regiment from the Pennsylvania Reserves.

Mowery was glad to see the event highlight what happened on the Lady property, which she called “the best-kept secret in Gettysburg.” The patients at the farm were eventually taken to Camp Letterman, which served both sides and launched triage practices.

“Not a lot of people realize the role the Lady farm played in the Battle of Gettysburg,” Mowery said.

For more information about the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association or to schedule a tour of the Lady house, visit

For a schedule of events, go to

The Herald-Mail Articles