Union Medical Care at its Best
"I think this is a very good place with the exception of too many lice."
- Stephen P. Chase, 86th New York Volunteers.
Lice may have been the only problem the staff of the Depot Field Hospital could not handle. The largest of seven hospitals built at City Point during the Siege of Petersburg, the facility put to use all the Union army had learned since the beginning of the Civil War. While severely wounded soldiers were sent to the North, those who remained in the field received the best medical care available. Running water, pumped from the Appomattox River, helped keep this 200-acre complex "as neat as a pin," according to one observer.
African American women worked in the hospital laundry, ensuring that each soldier received fresh linen. Other women, black and white, toiled in the kitchens. Not only did these women provide meals and clean bedding, they also bolstered soldier morale, reminding the men of the comforts of home. One wounded Pennsylvanian informed his family that "I suppose I eat a heartier dinner than I would of on account that it was a lady that prepared it for me. She was so kind it made me almost feel that I was at home."
President Abraham Lincoln spent the last day of his two week stay at City Point touring the Depot Field Hospital, where he visited more than 6,000 patients, including Confederate Col. Henry L. Benbow. At first, Benbow hesitated to shake the President's hand, saying, "Mr. President, do you know to whom you offer your hand?" Lincoln replied that he did not. When Benbow reminded Lincoln that he was a Confederate officer who had fought the Union as hard as he could for four years, Lincoln answered, "I hope a Confederate colonel will not refuse me his hand." Benbow responded by extending both hands to clasp the President's proffered arms.