The hot breeze of late summer weather blew through the camp. The first beating of the drum and rousing notes of the fife carried through the camp. Tent after tent rose from the earth until a small canvas community emerged. Men and women strolling through camp in clothing that went out of style 150 years ago. It was the first event of our season, and the Georgia Volunteer Battalion was coming to life.
Gathered at the quaint and lovely Hurricane Shoals Park in Maysville, GA, we walked in the woods and among the historic buildings set up as a village on the grounds. The land surrounding the buildings would be transformed into a battlefield hours later. Men and women are seen all through camp finishing their morning coffee in battered tin cups, shaking out bedding from the night, pulling on uniforms, and tying the black mourning band around the left sleeve in memory of our artillery commander who just passed on. Officers are preparing the plans for the day; NCOs are checking their men. The two surgeons are preparing their operating table and medical supplies. Ladies dress children, straighten bonnets, and then adjust their own skirts, or hurriedly put food before their family. Some companies have started drilling early, making sure the new soldiers who have fallen in are prepared.
Suddenly the lively tune of fife and drum call the command that it’s time to go to parade. Troops line up for inspection, announcements are given, and then school of the soldier begins as the troops become more adept at the skills they will later need on the battlefield.
Later that morning, the field hospital is up and running. Two surgeons and several nurses prepare for the casualties battle will bring. Educating the public there to watch, they discuss how the field hospital is chosen and set up, how anesthesia was administered, the use herbal medicine, the type of ammunition that was had and the types of wounds inflicted from them, and more.
Wounded began rolling in. The first one treated was a Lieutenant with a shattered arm from a Minié ball. All blood flow and nerve function was destroyed by the bullet thus requiring his arm to be amputated. He was given chloroform and once inert, the skin, muscle, and blood vessels were dissected and pulled back. The bone was then sawn in two, and the raw end filed smooth. Using a tenaculum to capture and pull out the arteries, each one was successfully ligated and released. After releasing the tourniquet to ensure there was no further bleeding, the tissues were pulled back down, end of the stump was packed with lint, and a Maltese cross stump bandage placed. The Lieutenant was awakened, ordered to take deep breaths, and then removed from the table. The amputation took less than 12 minutes.
Then, a Corporal came limping into the hospital using his musket as a crutch before tumbling into the dirt with a shout. He was shot in the posterior hip and losing the use of his leg due to the pain. The bullet was successfully removed and stitched closed, the private already planning on how to pay it back to the Yankees.
Wounded began pouring in after that, a private with powder burns to the face and eyes was placed on the table, the wounded pouring in all around. One surgeon treated the powder burns while the other saw to the private shot in the eye, reducing another private’s dislocated shoulder, and removing the bullet from a private’s upper arm.
As the soldier with the powder burns was being helped from the table, another soldier was brought in, carried in by his brother, barely able to walk. As the surgeon rushed up to them, the young private pointed to his chest and the hole in it. He was placed on the operating table and it was discovered the Minié ball had gone straight through his chest, collapsing his lung and breaking several ribs. Chloroform would have killed him, so a dose of opium was given instead. The brother stayed by his side, holding his hand and talking to him, allowing his brother to pull on him against the pain, while partially restraining him. The wound was examined, blood vessels tied off, and ribs lifted back into place. Once all debris and rib fragments were removed, the soldier was rolled to his side, exposing his blood covered back. The surgeon rushed to tie off the blood vessels from the exit wound and remove the debris. Re-placing the broken rib beside the exit wound, pressure was applied until all bleeding had stopped. Then the wound was dressed, and the patient put on strict bed rest on his back and under close observation until it was determined whether his lung would seal and re-inflate or he would succumb and perish. (The treatment for this wound was pulled from the 1860s surgeon’s handbook.)
Later in the afternoon as a large crowd gathered, soldiers in gray and butternut lined up in the town, reports of Union forces in the woods mobilizing them. Suddenly a shot rang out. The Union forces had been spotted and were heading in their direction. Confederate forces rushed to repel them from the town as the towns people rushed for cover and sanctuary in the church, hoping the Yankees would honor the house of the Lord, despite reports to the contrary.
Cavalry clashed as the fire exchanged between the sides became hot and rapid. Gun smoke hung thick in the air as artillery blasts shook the ground beneath their feet. A company of Union forces hurried out of the woods, causing the Confederate right wing to quickly turn and repel them. Confederate front and rear rank alternating volleys that became fire at will. Wounded began to fall as the medical staff started treating those who were not mortally wounded. The fighting stayed hot as the Union forces slowly pushed their way into the town. Inch by inch the Confederates stepped back in order to not lose their forces. The Confederate colors were removed and protected by the Confederates as they pulled back and the Union took over the town. The next day, after regrouping and resupplying their ammunition, though troop numbers were smaller, the Confederates began fighting their way back into town, slowly, but assuredly regaining the town, freeing the people from Yankee control, and running the Second National back up the flag pole, proudly flying in the wind. Our annual Hurricane Shoals reenactment was a success!
Though our numbers were a fraction of what they usually are due to the hurricane coming through and many being in the danger and evacuation areas, we still had a wonderful event. The reenactors there were involved and joyfully educating the public. The audience loved learning in the living history areas where they could see a historic schoolhouse, artisans at work weaving, knitting, blacksmithing and more. There was a lot of interaction and questions at the field hospital and our “patients” were very believable, garnering such responses from the audience as laughter, nausea, or “That must be horrible!” The battle was the hottest and most intense of any I have attended in the recent past, and it made me proud to be on that field and see our troops fighting so hard. Saturday night there was a ball for the reenactors, during which Victorian dances were taught and performed including the ever loved Virginia Reel, Patty cake Polka, Quadreel, and more. The evening finished with the joint singing of “Dixie.”
Hurricane Shoals is always one of our great events of the year. If you are in the region, please make an effort to come out and see us, or come participate with us. Next year the event will be September 21-22nd. Point of contact is Chaplain Joey Young @ 678-978-7213.
Lt. Rachel Holland
Assistant Surgeon, Phillips Legion/53rd GA Co. K