04 Apr 2016


Lost Capitol Hill: The 1st Michigan Cavalry’s Hospital

tnA few months ago, I wrote about Carroll’s Spring and was thus surprised to find a connection to it during the Civil War – as a camping place for the 1st Michigan Cavalry.

Washington D.C. spent most of its time during the Civil War as an armed camp – and as a hospital. Given the prevalence of infectious diseases among the troops of that war, it is hardly surprising that multiple hospitals were necessary. The good folks at civilwardc.org have done a great job documenting some of these hospitals; but as it turns out, they missed some. For instance, the one used by the 1st Michigan Cavalry.

Formed in late August and early September, 1861, the 1st Michigan Cavalry consisted of young men from Detroit. Formally mustered into the Army on September 13, they left for D.C. some two weeks later, under the command of Colonel Thornton Brodhead (pic). Once in the Capital, they found land near Carroll’s Spring where to set up their bivouac. While they were not involved in any fighting, nonetheless six of their number were to be found at the hospital at Columbian College on October 4. What illness had them there is unrecorded, but one of them, Private Israel Gower, died on October 14th.

The Kalorama Hospital in 1865, shortly after a destructive fire struck (LOC)

The Kalorama Hospital in 1865, shortly after a destructive fire struck (LOC)

Over the next few weeks, other members of the regiment were treated at the Kalorama Hospital for Eruptive Diseases, as well as at the Indiana Hospital, located in the Patent Office.

However, even these hospitals were not enough to treat all the sick of the regiment: A few days after having left the city, George K. Johnson, the chief surgeon of the regiment, wrote a letter to the Washington Evening Star, in which he expressed his thanks to the hospitality of the city in general – and some people in particular:

The East Washington Library Association, Donald McCathran, chairman, in conjunction with a committee of the blacksmiths employed in the Navy Yard, procured a commodious building for a hospital, fitted it up, furnished it with thirty-six beds and bedding, a cooking stove and utensils, chairs, tables, and everything, indeed, requisite for hospital purposes. All these were gratuitously tendered for the use of our sick. Nor did their generosity stop there. They have since continued, in various ways, and in the most openhanded manner, to minister their comfort.

There was also thanks to various other committees of Navy Yard employees who had given money to the regiment, as well as money raised to pay, “private families the additional sum of $65, for the receiving and taking care of some of our sick.”

After leaving the District, the 1st Michigan Cavalry spent the next three years mainly in northern Virginia, including fighting in the Second Battle of Bull Run, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor and the Battle of the Wilderness. After being at Appomattox Courthouse, the regiment took part in the Grand Review in D.C., and was then sent out west. It was not mustered out until March, 1866. In this time, it lost some 414 men, with some 60% succumbing to disease.

Where, exactly, the hospital that the EWLA had fitted out for them was located is, unfortunately, lost to history. Like many other small hospitals of the time, no record remains today.

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