Captured Union Surgeon: “I have never been treated better by strangers anywhere.”

From time to time, I come across examples of consideration and fellow feeling shown between combatants from opposite sides during the American Civil War.

On 7 January 1863, Union Surgeon William T. Mendenhall, of the 57th Indiana, wrote a letter home to his father. Surgeon Mendenhall was captured while attending wounded soldiers during the Battle of Stones River (or Murfreesboro), fought in Middle Tennessee, 31 December 1862 to 2 January 1863. Here’s an excerpt from the letter, which appeared in the Richmond (Indiana) Palladium of 16 January 1863, written from Murfreesboro, Tenn.:

“On the second day of the battle, (Dec. 31st), I was ordered to the hospital in the rear of the left wing, where our wounded were being sent, where myself and three other Surgeons, with near a hundred wounded were surrounded by Rebel Cavalry and taken to Murfreesboro as prisoners. We have been here ever since, working day and night with the wounded. We have had five or six hundred wounded to attend to. They do not pretend to hold Medical officers as prisoners; but kept us to attend to wounded prisoners. I have always had a desire to talk with rebel officers, where they dared to express their feelings, and have very unexpectedly had an opportunity, and must say that although they are rebels they are human beings; in fact I have never been treated better by strangers anywhere, especially the C.S.A. Surgeons, who were willing to divide their supplies with us — loan us instruments, and assist us in every way in their power.”

Union field hospital, Savage Station, Virginia, June 1862.
A Union field hospital, Savage Station, Virginia, June 1862. By James F. Gibson. Source: Library of Congress.

ARB — 30 Nov. 2020

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