October 29, 1862
J.E. Mills was a minister in Vassalboro who was worried about his two sons.
In October of 1862, Allen, 19, and a member of the 3rd Maine Infantry Regiment, was in a hospital bed in Point Lookout, Maryland.
Albion, 18, a private in the 16th Maine Infantry, was in a hospital in Yorktown, Virginia. Both soldiers were sick.
The Rev. Mills writes to newly elected Maine Governor Abner Coburn and asks about the quality of care being provided.
Gov. Coburn cannot respond knowledgeably to Mills’ questions, so he asks U.S. Surgeon General William Hammond, who assures Gov. Coburn that, "I know, from personal observation, that the patients, at the Point Lookout Hospital, are well cared for…"
Hammond's answer does not satisfy Mills, who travels South to see his sons.
Mills had at first asked for a furlough for his son, Allen. Informed that furloughs were no longer being granted, and seeing that his son is worse instead of better, Mills asks that Allen be discharged.
In February, he writes to Gov. Coburn again.
"…after infinite delays and vexations I succeeded in procuring his discharge and left for home which I reach’d with my sick son the 25th of Dec. He surviv’d just 2 weeks and dropped into the grave. Could he have enjoyed the comforts of home and the care of friends a few weeks earlier, he might have lived. But it was too late!"
The Rev. Mills informs Gov. Coburn that Albion’s health remains fragile. "While remaining quiet he improves and seems to gain upon the disease. But the least fatigue occasions a relapse that entirely prostrates him."
Mills shares his fear with the Governor. "His fate is inevitably seal’d unless he can be allowed to come home."
Albion receives no furlough and is not discharged. Four months later, he is wounded at the battle of Gettysburg and never recovers. He dies in October without returning home or to his regiment.
Allen is one of more than 400,000 soldiers who died of disease during the Civil War.
Albion is one of more than 200,000 who were killed or mortally wounded in battle.
- Has disease been a leading cause of death in other wars?
- The Surgeon General reported that conditions at Port Lookout were excellent, while Reverend Mills believed otherwise. Who do you believe and why?
- Why do official reports sometimes differ from "unofficial" reports?