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Surgeon Sanger Runs Afoul Transcript
St. James Hospital
To His Excellency
Dear Sir –
Received your letter and thank you for its many expressions of kindness & interest for the Maine troops.
Since I received your letter scenes of carnage & destruction have visited this command and the glorious battle of Baton Rouge has been fought & won imperishable glory to our troops. The 14th Maine behaved well. Colonel Nickerson was sick yet he managed to get about on the field, although he took no part in the fight. The sick, wounded and dying were ordered to New Orleans and in the short space of 48 hours 1300 Godforsaken specimens of humanity were turned upon three of us surgeons to provide for. I had nearly 100 to operate on.
The scenes upon those Mississippi transports beggars description. To show how things are managed here sick, wounded & dying were crowded into a few small boats, many without medicines or even provisions and with a scanty supply of nurses. A sweeping order came from Head Quarters for all the sick & wounded and all who could not fight to skedaddle. The result was the boats were crowded with the frightened as well as disabled. When I went aboard a more horrid scene could not have been witnessed. The groans of the wounded, the throes of those in the last agonies of death, the husky and half-suppressed voices of the pale & cadaveric mortals with swamp fever contracted about Vicksburg & the stench of dead bodies, exceeds anything I have ever read. I counted 7 dead bodies on two boats.
According to my estimate, we have lost from 800 to 1000 since April last.
Our command has been spread over territory very much like a pitch plaster until its scattered condition has become a weakness. As Gen’l Grant wisely remarked, ‘How far does the Department of the Gulf extend?’
Our wounded are doing well although, very many are minus arms, legs, or some small portion of the human form divine. Our men are improving from the horrid fevers contracted at Vicksburg & I am in hopes soon to see a fine condition prevailing. New Orleans is healthy and the most of the Command is here and at Carrollton, one of the environs that is comparatively healthy. Those doing garrison duty only at the forts may expect some sickness.
I have one favor to ask of you – you have done me many little acts of kindness all of which I appreciate – and like Oliver Twist I ask for more.
I have at last met with the disapprobation of the Gen’l commanding & true to his instincts he has banished me. All know his vindictiveness and all know his unrelenting nature. Because of a document dent to the Medical Bureau and endorsed by the Medical Director of this Department which happened to come to his knowledge he immediately deprived me of my command without hearing or trial & orders me to Fort Philip to try its pestilential atmosphere during the trying month of September.
I shall really have nothing of consequence to do there. The place has always been filled by a contract physician or an assistant & yet for the most trivial offense he has sent his third ranking officer. I can hope for nothing better after this from him, I want to be transferred to another Department. I can’t ask it myself or he would not forward it & would persecute me. I can’t resign because he would advertise me, but any friend of mine at court could ask to have me transferred.
After organizing the Medical Care Department & furnishing all the medicines from Ship Island to Vicksburg, and after assisting in organizing the Hospital Department & conducting the only General Hospital for nearly 3 month attending to both of these departments personally & doing the operating &c. all to the satisfaction of the old Medical Director, who has recently been ordered to Washington as Inspector; it is hard for the most trivial thing to be disgraced & banished to the fort.
I came out with superior rank and now I do not even occupy as good a position as I did when I left the State 14 months ago. I have not lost a day in that time and worked like a dog. I hope that you will write to the Surgeon General at Washington asking that I may be transferred to the Department of the Potomac or West – I care not if I get out of this. I entered the service to be useful, not to be made the victim of an ambitious, selfish, cunning & arbitrary Commander.
I have had a long hospital experience & for the United States a long military experience & believe I can use my experience to better advantage than looking after two or three companies where there is to be neither fighting or anything requiring more medical than they have or can easily be procured.
Please interest yourself. A letter from you to the Department of from Vice President would transfer me & officers are constantly being transferred. My complaints must not be must not come back here – if they did I should suffer.
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