NEW ALBANY — When one reads or hears about the American Civil War, there are many things that might come to mind.
Some might think of a nation divided during time of tumult and pivotal change. Others might rattle off the names of particular battle sites or who among their ancestors fought in the war. Though the Civil War affected the entire nation, local stories offer more personal insight into the lives of soldiers, and those who treated them, during that time.
New Albany is a city rich in history, and there is no shortage of it when it comes to the Civil War. Not only are there many stories pertaining to the Union soldiers who went to battle, but there is also a wealth of information about the hospitals that treated those who were injured.
On Tuesday at the Floyd County Public Library, the Floyd County Historical Society hosted a program featuring guest speaker and former New Albany resident, Kraig McNutt. McNutt joined the meeting from the Fort Worth/Dallas area of Texas via Zoom. During his presentation, he showed slides containing information and statistics about the military hospitals that were functioning in New Albany during the Civil War.
McNutt has collaborated with David Barksdale, the leader of the historical society, and Pamela Peters, who assisted him with his research. McNutt gathered all the data for his research by reading every single issue of The New Albany Daily Ledger, the city’s wartime newspaper. There were 11 official hospital sites in New Albany, including the current site of hospital number nine, Woodward Hall, which is still standing and a popular site today. Barksdale said there are at least three other locations where the buildings are still standing.
Because New Albany was one of a handful of secondary sites of the upper half of the central nervous system for the Western Theater, there was a great need for facilities across the city. Those sites also received lots of support from the surrounding communities, and overall, the hospitals were considered a model system.
The first three were in public schools, which put a bit of strain on the educational system.
“Mothers wanted their children to go back to school…No one knew when the war would be over,” McNutt said regarding the uncertainties brought by the war.
Thousands of soldiers were transferred from Nashville, Tennessee, so there was a demand for more healing and convalescent facilities. That led to organizations such as The Western Sanitary Commission suppling steamboats that served as floating hospitals. One of the most notorious of the vessels was the Nashville, which was always short on supplies. Though the boat was built to accommodate 1,000 patients, it was ill-equipped to care for the 500 who were on board. That led to the steamer eventually being condemned.
Thousands of soldiers received hospital treatment in New Albany, including African American soldiers, who were sent to two separate hospitals. They also treated Confederate prisoners of war. While that was met with a certain amount of controversy at the time, it is still an important part of New Albany’s history.
McNutt provided some slides that showed the rising and falling numbers of patients at each facility. He also included a graph containing the number of soldiers from the New Albany Hospital Aggregate ranging from mid-October 1862 through early January 1865. The largest spike increase was between the Battle of Perryville and the Battle of Stones River with the accumulation of 600 more patients. In addition, there were also significant shifts in the number of soldiers, including a sharp decrease to just a little over 600 patients during mid-September in 1863. The New Albany hospital system peaked at 1,605 soldiers for its busiest month and treated a total of over 10,000 soldiers from 1862 to 1865.
“Those are the actual numbers,” McNutt said of all the statistics he had gathered.
As with any war or conflict, some of the most touching stories come from the extra care that soldiers receive from doctors, nurses and civilians alike. McNutt told one moving account that took place during a hot July summer. Some women in New Albany provided free ice cream for wounded soldiers. Shortly after the ice cream was served, a nurse noticed a lone man in bed with the covers up to his neck. When she asked him why he wasn’t eating his ice cream, he told her to remove the blankets.
“When she lifted the blankets and discovered he lost both his arms, she fed him the ice cream,” McNutt said.
Even though New Albany is not known primarily for its Civil War history, that did not stop enthusiastic researchers like McNutt, Barksdale, and Peters from gathering and compiling research about one of the most significant wars in American history. It is because of people like them that local history is known and carried on for future generations to discover. McNutt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.