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Camp Let­terman Field Hos­pital treated sol­diers from both the Union and the Con­fed­eracy in the months fol­lowing the battle of Get­tysburg.
(Photo: Wiki­media Commons)

 

When the Michigan Fourth Infantry sus­tained heavy casu­alties after the battle of Get­tysburg, the nearby Camp Let­terman became this largely Hillsdale-based regiment’s field hos­pital. For several months after the Civil War’s north­ernmost battle, Let­terman treated wounded sol­diers from both the Union and the Con­fed­eracy. Now, it’s the site of a new struggle.

The Penn­syl­vania-based housing devel­opment company S&A Homes has pur­chased the remains of Camp Let­terman. The company plans to build a sub­di­vision on the his­torical site in the next few years. But in an effort to maintain the his­toric ground, the Get­tysburg Bat­tle­field Preser­vation Asso­ci­ation has asked S&A to spare 17 acres for preser­vation of the area where the Camp Let­terman Field Hos­pital once stood. The GBPA has already pre­served eight acres of the site.

“People have been talking about saving Camp Let­terman since the 1880s. We orig­i­nally wanted to make it the entrance of the National Mil­itary Park,” GBPA rep­re­sen­tative Glen Hayes said. “But for a number of reasons it never hap­pened. This is pretty much our last chance to save the site.”

Hayes said the GBPA has received wide­spread support for its efforts, which resulted in a petition with 2,000 sig­na­tures aimed at per­suading S&A to reserve some of the land.

“We even have a reen­actment group in Italy signing a petition,” he said.

The part of Camp Let­terman about which the GBPA is con­cerned once served as a field hos­pital, where doctors and nurses treated over 4,000 wounded sol­diers from both the Union and the Con­fed­eracy in the months fol­lowing the battle of Get­tysburg in July of 1863.

Gary Gal­lagher, John L. Nau III Pro­fessor in the History of the American Civil War at the Uni­versity of Vir­ginia, said because of its involvement in the battle of Get­tysburg, the area where the Camp Let­terman field hos­pital stood is worth pre­serving.

“Camp Let­terman does have con­sid­erable his­torical impor­tance and potential as a place to interpret for modern audi­ences the ways in which both sides dealt with the vast number of wounded sol­diers after major battles,” he said in an email.

Among these wounded was Cpl. David Laird of the 4th Michigan Brigade from Hudson, Michigan, who was trans­ferred to Let­terman after the battle. He lay there for two months before dying of his wounds on Sept. 24.

In her memoir, “In Hos­pital and Camp: A Woman’s Record Of Thrilling Inci­dents Among The Wounded In The Late War,” the field nurse Sophronia Bucklin serving at Let­terman recorded the massive influx of sol­diers like Laird trans­ferred to Let­terman after the battle.

“A line of stretchers a mile and a half in length, each bearing a hero, who had fought nigh to death, told us where lay our work and we com­menced it at once,” she wrote.

Bucklin took note of the gory con­di­tions and suf­fering many of the sol­diers endured while being treated for their wounds.

“One soldier, in the presence of his wife, was striving to endure with calmness the pain of a frac­tured thigh and ampu­tated arm. No hands but hers smoothed his pillow, no other could give him nour­ishment to support life, no fingers were as tender as hers over the throbbing wounds, where worms were feeding upon the living human flesh,” she wrote of an unnamed soldier who even­tually recovered of his wounds.

Private Franklin Stokes, a Penn­syl­vania mili­tiaman assigned to guard Pris­oners of War being treated at Let­terman also wrote about the camp in his diary.

“It is heart ren­dering to pass through the streets and hear the cries of agony that burden the air. I have heard them when I was away from the hos­pital a half-mile,” he said.

Today however, most of Let­terman is either developed land — or soon to be developed land — casting doubt upon whether its his­toric value will be pre­served for future gen­er­a­tions.