Battlefields and Supermarkets: The Importance of Battlefield Preservation and the Case of Camp Letterman

By Savannah Labbe ‘19

Gettysburg National Military Park is an immense park, encompassing and preserving a large section of the battlefield. What many don’t realize, however, is that the battlefield was not confined only to the areas that have been preserved, but also to a much larger section of the greater Gettysburg area. Where now stands the Giant supermarket was once home to land that the Confederates retreated over and also, more importantly, to a large battlefield hospital, Camp Letterman.

Tents at Camp Letterman
Tents at Camp Letterman in August, 1863. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, most of the wounded and the medical staff moved on with the army. However, some wounded couldn’t be moved due to the severity of their injuries. All these men were consolidated into the general hospital that became known as Camp Letterman, which housed around 21,000 badly wounded Union and Confederate soldiers. It was the largest field hospital of the Civil War with 500 tents and the capacity to house 21,000 wounded. About 1,200 soldiers died there, but that number could have been much higher if not for Major John Letterman’s advanced triage system. His system became the gold standard of medical practice during that time period. Since Camp Letterman treated both Union and Confederate soldiers, they were able to interact and help begin to heal the divide that was crippling the nation. For example, there was a picnic at Camp Letterman in which both Union and Confederate soldiers ate and played games together. Camp Letterman was also involved in the First World War, providing housing for soldiers in the wake of the Spanish flu epidemic. Continue reading “Battlefields and Supermarkets: The Importance of Battlefield Preservation and the Case of Camp Letterman”

A Taste of the Civil War: Barbara Sanders’ Lecture on Civil War Era Food

By Savannah Labbe ‘19

There are few ways to better immerse oneself in the past than through food. It is relatively easy to follow a recipe from the Civil War era and enjoy the same cuisine as Union and Confederate soldiers. In this way, one can experience the past in a most interactive way. Experiencing the past was accomplished in the lecture “Hearth, Hardtack, and Hospital: A Close Look (and Taste) of Civil War Era Food,” given by Gettysburg National Military Park education specialist Barbara J. Sanders. The lecture focused on the topic of the interaction between history and food, specifically in the Civil War.

FryingHardtack1887
Many soldiers would fry their hardtack to make it more appetizing. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Sanders’s lecture, while directed at an older audience, was just as interactive as one she might give to a younger audience. She provided samples of food from the Civil War era for the audience to try and showed the audience how rations were issued, having an officer stand with his back to the rations, randomly reading off names of the soldiers to make sure that no soldier was purposefully getting a larger ration than another. She also ground up some coffee beans with a bayonet, as the soldiers would have done. All of these activities helped the audience better experience and imagine what a soldier’s diet and food preparation habits would have been. Continue reading “A Taste of the Civil War: Barbara Sanders’ Lecture on Civil War Era Food”

Sexual Healing: Nurses, Gender, and Victorian Era Intimacy

By Annika Jensen ’18

In the first episode of the new PBS series Mercy Street, nurse Anne Hastings is seen applying a plaster cast to a wounded soldier’s bare legs before a captivated audience of surgeons and hospital workers. This action seems trivial today, even unquestionable, but as the show progressed and more scenes portrayed this seemingly insignificant concept of touch, of intimacy between a female nurse and her male patients, its true magnitude became apparent.

Sex was not a popular topic of discussion in Civil War Era America; Victorian society shunned intimacy between men and women and regarded intercourse solely as a means of reproducing and building families, a convention that led to the establishment of separate spheres. Women were expected to remain pure and chaste, while men were responsible for fighting off their intrinsic sexual instincts (both of these standards are sexist, of course, but that’s a story for another blog post), and interactions between the genders were meant to be courteous and, frankly, prudish. The publication of The Scarlet Letter in 1850 did not help this case as women became more apprehensive and fearful of the reactions they might receive; no woman wanted to be the subject of public scorn. Continue reading “Sexual Healing: Nurses, Gender, and Victorian Era Intimacy”

PBS’s Mercy Street Shows No Mercy to Traditionalists

By Jen Simone ‘18

Spoilers ahead. 

Warning: This show is probably not enjoyable for those with hemophobia. Also, if you like to view the war as a clear-cut conflict between two distinct ideologies, this show is not for you either. 

I don’t know if it’s just me being cynical about public disinterest in history, but I was shocked to read that the premiere episode of PBS’ Mercy Street, titled “The New Nurse,” got 3.3 million viewers. Are there really that many people interested in Civil War Era history? There is a great chance that many people unintentionally left PBS on after Downton Abbey, but it wouldn’t shock me if they find themselves intentionally keeping it on again next week. The show was compelling and includes everything a drama should—intensity, romance, and controversy. Most importantly, though, I believe this show has the potential to significantly increase public interest in the Civil War and reveal to the public the true nature of the war.

Mercy
Hannah James as “Emma Green” in Mercy Street. Image Courtesy of Antony Platt/PBS.

The show is about a Civil War hospital operating in a mansion in Union-occupied Alexandria, Virginia. The producers certainly did not make this show to answer common questions about the Civil War, but rather to make people start thinking. No character’s belief in the show was left uncontested and many myths were broken. The topic of the show itself is daring, for it is not about the military history of the war, but rather the medical history mixed with civilian life. Continue reading “PBS’s Mercy Street Shows No Mercy to Traditionalists”

The Story of Lewis Payne by Allie Ward

Lewis Payne His story started like that of many young men in the South. Lewis Thornton Powell was the youngest son of nine children born to the Baptist minister and plantation owner George Calder Powell. The Powell family was forced to sell their …

By Allie Ward ’14

Free_photo_lewis_payne_standing_in_an_overcoat_and_hat
Lewis Payne

His story started like that of many young men in the South. Lewis Thornton Powell was the youngest son of nine children born to the Baptist minister and plantation owner George Calder Powell. The Powell family was forced to sell their Alabama plantation due to financial difficulties when Lewis was young and moved to Live Oak, Florida, to start anew on a family farm. When news came that the Confederacy was in need of volunteers, Lewis and his two older brothers joined their ranks on May 30, 1861.  Private Powell and the 2nd Florida Infantry first marched into battle during the siege of Yorktown in April 1862. After this the 2nd was attached to Jubal Early’s Brigade and participated in numerous battles including Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Gains Mill, Second Manassas, Harpers Ferry, Sharpsburg, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.

Continue reading “The Story of Lewis Payne by Allie Ward”