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Confederate Hospitals in Lynchburg, Virginia

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Confederate Hospitals

A Lynchburg Confederate Hospital (has since been torn down)

Lynchburg unexpectedly became a major “hospital city” during the Civil War due to it’s railroads, availability of “rooms” and it’s remoteness.  In fact, in terms of numbers of Confederate Hospitals no other city had more hospitals except for Richmond, Virginia.

Three rail lines terminated in Lynchburg, the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad (from the southwest), the Orange & Alexandria Railroad (from the north) and the Southside Railroad (from Richmond).

Before the war Lynchburg had 39 tobacco manufacturers and another 41 businesses that were manipulators and shippers of the plant.  These warehouses were converted to hospitals, along with hotels, a college (Lynchburg College), meeting halls, stables  and individual people’s homes.  College Hospital admitted more than 20,000 Confederate casualties during the four years of the Civil War.

Lynchburg was considered remote since it was far removed from the eastern part of the state where much of the fighting took place.  Warfare took place mostly on flat land, which Lynchburg is certainly not.  The James River borders the city on one side, much like a moat.

The five hotels in Lynchburg were all used as hospitals at some point during the war.  The Warwick House, located at 1003 Main Street, was the first permanent hospital.  The Union “City Hotel” became known as the Ladies’ Relief Hospital.  Five hundred women formed the Ladies’ Relief Society, similar to our American Red Cross today.  These untrained women were married to wealthy entrepreneurs but they willingly learned medical techniques of putting on tourniquets, cleaning lacerations and ministering to the terminally ill.  The Ladies’ relief Hospital death rate in the four years of the war dropped from 93 deaths during the first two years of the war to 36 deaths during the last two years of the war, with roughly the same number of admissions.

The “Tobacco” Hospitals served a great need  as the smaller hospitals were occupied to beyond capacity.  The hospital names reflected the names of the tobacconist owners who sacrificed their commercial buildings for the sake of the war effort.  These building were the antithesis of what we consider a modern day hospital-dingy, poorly lit, cramped and filled with strange odors.  Two permanent tobacco hospitals were located on Dunbar Street near Twelfth Street.  Both buildings were four to five story rectangular red brick structures, timber framed with stone underpinning, stepped parapet walls and gable roofs.

Prior to the Civil War the wounded in battle were treated on the battlefield or in tent hospitals.  The hospitals cared for thousands, but often the patients died not from their wounds but from the treatment or rampant epidemic diseases that spread throughout the close quarters of the hospital buildings.  Smallpox, measles, malaria, typhoid fever, dysentery and acute diarrhea killed many. Cleanliness and good hygiene would have prevented many of these diseases from spreading or spreading so rapidly.   It is estimated that over 245,513 soldiers, from both armies, died from infection.

The last remaining Confederate Hospital (background) with above pictured hospital in ruins.

Two confederate hospitals. The one pictured above is in ruins in the foreground and the last surviving on is in the background.

The City of Lynchburg in the four years of the Civil War became a living hospital laboratory, testing the efficiency of an overwhelmed, untrained medical system to see if the hospital concept could progress from its reputation as a place where people went to die to a place where people went to recover and return home.  Thankfully we have the hospital system today that works efficiently and to the patients benefit.

Interested in the Civil War?  When visiting our Lynchburg Bed and Breakfast, The Carriage House Inn Bed and Breakfast we can point you to many Civil War sites.  For reservations call us at 434-846-1388 or book on-line.