David's Island Off the Coast of Pelham Manor During the Civil War
On May 8, 1862, a brief item appeared in The New York Times that read: "A hospital for sick and wounded Union soldiers, will be established on David's Island, 25 miles up the East River. Suitable buildings are now in the course of erection under the superintendence of the United States Quartermaster's Department." The Army And Navy, N.Y. Times, May 8, 1862, p. 7. David's Island near Davenport's Neck, New Rochelle, was among the islands that formed part of the lands acquired by Thomas Pell from local Native Americans on June 27, 1654. Today's Blog posting will provide a little background regarding the island's service as the site of a military hospital during the American Civil War.
On April 13, 1862, only three weeks before The New York Times announcement quoted above, Simeon Leland leased the island for five years to the United States Government for $2,000 a year with a purchase option that could be excerised for $38,500. See Westchester County Records of Land Conveyances, Liber 495, Folio 380. The government immediately began building the planned military hospital.
Once the hospital facilities had been constructed, the hospital treated both Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners of War. Additionally, by the end of the War, the United States Government constructed a prison camp that housed 3,000 Confederate prisoners.
On August 13, 1862, a newspaper account noted the following:
"There are now about 900 sick and wounded soldiers at the hospitals on David's Island. Since their conveyance there a large number have died, but the great majority are doing well, and fast recovering. The air is cool and bracing, the ladies near-by-resident are kind and thoughtful, and the nursing is of the very best kind. The weekly reports from the Island are unsurpassed -- desirably."
The Sick and Wounded on David's Island, N.Y. Times, Aug. 13, 1862, p. 3.
There are many contemporary accounts of the hospitals on the island. See, e.g., Government Hospital on David's Island. The Patients and Their Nurses, N.Y. Times, Aug. 31, 1862, p. 3. One such account shows how quickly the hospital facilities at the island grew and how overwhelming the numbers of sick and wounded soon became. The account, in its entirety, reads as follows:
"The Soldier's Hospital on David's Isle.
ITS LOCATION, DIMENSIONS, AND GENERAL MANAGEMENT -- PERFECT HARMONY BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENTAL AND VOLUNTEER DEPARTMENT -- ACCOMMODATIONS PRESENT AND PROSPECTIVE -- WHAT IT HAS, AND WHAT IT NEEDS -- EXPRESS ACCOMMODATIONS, ETC., ETC.
The Government Hospital for sick and wounded soldiers, established during the past season on David's Island, is getting to be an institution of such magnitude and importance as to deserve a more extended notice than it has yet received from the public Press. Already the largest in the United States, its accommodations are rapidly increasing, and its location, sanitary advantages, and general management, and such as to justly entitle it to the distinction of being in every respect a model institution of its kind.
David's Island (named after its owner, Mr. David,) is located in Long Island Sound, opposite the village of Flushing, and about twenty-five miles from New-York. It contains, at high tide, about eighty-five acres, and previous to being leased to the Government, was used as a pasture ground, and had upon it only one dwelling -- a spacious country mansion, now occupied by the military commandant, surgeons and doctors. It has a rocky foundation, affording abundance of pure water, its air is salubrious, and the surrounding country is unsurpassed in beauty.
In April last the Island was leased to the Government for five years, at an annual rent of $2,000, and on the 23d of May preparations were completed for the reception of soldiers, at which date 200 invalids were removed thither. From that time to the present the accommodations have been rapidly increased, until there are now some 2,500 soldiers on the Island, and preparations are nearly completed to receive 1,100 more. The Government has spent about $200,000 in the erection of buildings, draining, digging wells &c.; and a careful inspection of the numerous structures, and the large amount of work performed, would satisfy the most testy grumbler that the money had been economically expended. The buildings arranged in rows, with ample streets between, and are all painted white, with green blinds, presenting a neat, comfortable and tidy appearance. There are 20 hospitals, or pavilions, as they are called, and 10 mess-rooms -- the latter standing at intervals between the pavilions. The pavilions are 250 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 20 feet high, with ample venilation at the top. The mess rooms are 85 feet long, and of the same width and height as the pavilions. At one end of each mess room is a kitchen capable of cooking for 160 persons, and in addition to these is a general kitchen, capable of cooking for 2,000 persons, and a bakery which can turn out 3,000 loaves of bread per day. Besides these, are three other kitchens for the volunteer associations, of which more anon. A large centre building is also being erected, and nearly completed, for the accommodation of the officers in charge of the Island, surgeons, apothecaries, clerks, &c. In addition to these buildings, which are as well built substantial structures, are 250 hospital tents with board floors, each accommodating 10 patients.
The military commandant of the Island is Capt. P. C. Morgan, of the regular army, and the hospitals are under the charge of Dr. J. Simons, also of the regular army, who is Surgeon-in-Chief, and Dr. E. Lee Jones, of the volunteer service. Each hospital or pavilion also has its separate doctor, and the entire medical corps is composed of men skilled in their profession, and constant and faithful in their attendance.
Thus much for the Government provisions for the welfare of the sick and wounded soldier; but there is another feature in the hospital none the less comforting to the poor invalid, and for which he is even more grateful -- a feature which redounds to the credit of our common humanity, while it reflects the highest honor upon the noble army of sympathetic and kind hearted women who originated and still carry it forward. This is the volunteer department of the hospital, and its labor is a labor of love. As before stated, there are three volunteer kitchens from which delicacies are furnished to the patients, such as no Government, however generous it may be, has ever yet put down in the soldiers' bill of fare. One of these kitchens is occupied by an association of ladies from Yonkers, another by the ladies of New-Rochelle and Glen Cove, and the third by the ladies of Pelham, Brooklyn and New-York. Soon after the hospital was established, and before accommodations had been completed for the convenient working of volunteer associations, there was some clashing between the Government employes and the volunteers, but now each have their appropriate quarters assigned to them, as well as their appropriate sphere of operations, and the utmost harmony prevails. Both of the surgeons in command, as well as the doctors, freely express their obligations to the ladies who conduct the volunteer department, and the happy smiles and cheerful looks which light up the countenances of the poor soldiers as these ministering angels pass through the hospital wards, show plainly enough how fully and how gratefully they appreciate their services.
The articles from the volunteer kitchens are dispensed only on the written orders of the surgeons and doctors, so that there can be no complaint of interference with the physician's regimen, or that the patient was killed by too much 'stuffing.'
To show what drafters the doctors find it convenient to make upon the ladies' larder, we give below a list of dishes dispensed from the Yonkers Kitchen on Sunday last:
Toast, 400 plates; jelly, 18 plates; baked apples, 100; roast beef, 35 plates; roast chicken, 40 plates; beef tea, 30 bowls; chicken broth, 18 bowls; tea many cups; bread pudding, 70 plates; rice pudding 18 plates; custard, 10 plates; corn bread and mush, 14 plates, gruel, 14 bowls; scalded milk, 8 bowls; crackers, 12 plates; biscuit, 120; hash, 36 plates; squash, 10 plates; corn-starch, 29 plates; peaches, 29; oranges, 25; lemons, 12; pears, 10; stewed do, 39; clam broth, 8 bowls; bread and milk, 8 bowls; potatoes, 10; milk punch, 200 tumblers; pickles, 12.
The above is only one of the volunteer kitchens for one day, and is exclusive of the large number of articles of clothing that are distributed daily.
The amount of good accomplished by these volunteer associations, acting systematically and under proper regulations, and harmoniously cooperating with the Government officers in charge, as they now do at this hospital, is incalculable. Much might be said, and deservedly, of the self-sacrificing labors of the noble women who spend their days and nights, for weeks together, in superintending their several departments and administering to the wants of the poor soldiers; but, to such as they, deeds of charity bring their own reward and need no trumpeting. Suffice it to say that they are ladies who move in the best society of their respective locales, and who cheerfully leave homes of comfort and ease to carry gladness and joy to the feverish couch of their country's defenders. From the prayers of the dying soldier in their behalf, and from the blessings of the living, they receive their reward.
It need hardly be said that those volunteer associations require large and constant supplies in the way of contributions, and that they appeal in the strongest language to the public for aid. The women are doing their part, and more; and it is for the benevolent male public to see that they do not lack for material. Arrangements are about being made by which all contributions for either of the associations can be left at the offices of Westcott's City Express, whence they will be dispatched to the island. The Government boat, the Washington Irving, leaves the Battery from the north side of Castle Garden every morning at 9 1/2 o'clock, and, when it is convenient, articles may be sent to the boat by the donor from 8 1/2 o'clock to the hour of starting.
Yesterday, the patriotic fruit dealers of Washington Market sent up fifteen or twenty baskets of peaches, which were distributed among the soldiers by Rev. Mr. J. S. Holmes, of the Pierrepont Baptist Church, Brooklyn, who has spent his entire Summer vacation on the island, administering to the wants of the soldiers, and to whom the citizens of Brooklyn can apply for full information as to the character of the volunteer department of the hospital, and the kind of contributions being faithfully and economically dispensed.
There is one thing greatly needed at the island, and the want of which, if it is suffered to continue, may yet result in terrible disaster. There is no fire-engine of any description on the island, and the buildings being entirely of wood, there is imminent danger of a conflagration, which, if it should take place, must inevitably result in great loss of life. It is the duty of the Government to supply this want, and we were glad to hear yesterday that steps were to be taken immediately to procure a steam fire-engine.
Another thing lacking on the island is music. The soldiers frequently express a desire to hear some of the patriotic airs which they were accustomed to hear in the field. If some of our City bands would make an occasional excursion to the island, and give the poor fellows a serenade, they would find an audience of eager and grateful listeners, to whom they would render a patriotic service."
Source: The Soldier's Hospital on David's Isle, N.Y. Times, Sep. 11, 1862, p. 2.