Tallahassee Hotels and Homes Became Hospitals During the Civil War

Capital Angels

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The alarm cannon sounded throughout Quincy before dawn on March 5, 1865. Dr. Charles Hentz, a local physician, paid no mind to it at first. He had heard the alarms before and nothing had ever happened. But this time, it would be different. Before too long he was on a train bound for Tallahassee, and then on to the front lines of war, where his surgical skill would be put to good use tending to the wounded and dying in the aftermath of the Battle of Natural Bridge.

The Ladies Soldiers Friend Sewing Society existed during the Civil War, and shortly afterward existed under the title Tallahassee Memorial Association. In 1898 the memorial association organized themselves as Anna Jackson Chapter 224 of the U.D.C.

State archives of florida, Florida Memory

Small towns, even most capital cities, were unprepared for the carnage of the Civil War. During the three-day fight at Gettysburg alone, more than 46,000 men were either killed or wounded. Modern research suggests that upwards of 700,000 men died during the four-year war. One-third of the soldiers died in combat, while the rest died from wounds or disease. Both Confederate and Union capitals became hospital cities; a hospital was set up in the U.S. Capitol’s rotunda, and in Richmond, Va., church pews were used as hospital beds.

In Florida, the “smallest tadpole in the Confederacy,” Tallahassee’s men and women did whatever they could to find beds and provide care for the sick and wounded. This was a time when the health care landscape was quite different from what it is today. Today, we have a vast array of doctors’ offices, clinics and specialists to choose from, not to mention two very fine modern hospitals.

It was quite a different story in antebellum Tallahassee. Perhaps the only purpose-built “hospital” at the beginning of the war was a federal marine hospital in
St. Marks, and it wasn’t even being used for the purpose it was intended. It was designed originally to care for sailors sick with yellow fever. But it fell into Florida’s hands when the state seceded and became a barracks for Confederate troops stationed at nearby Fort Ward. The two-story structure was built in the late 1850s from materials scavenged from the ruins of the ancient Spanish masonry fort San Marcos de Apalache.

Hentz recalled in his autobiography that on a duck-hunting trip to St. Marks in January 1865, he visited the artillery unit billeted inside the old hospital. In his autobiography, he lamented the dismantling of the historic old Spanish fort and remarked that a great number of human bones had been dug up when parts of the fort were torn up for building material. These old remains offered proof of untold suffering from decades past: “Some of them with shackles on them — and some bearing the marks of wounds; there was an oaken coffin also — I took home a number of the bones,” he wrote.


Compassion and Patriotism

Early in the war years, it became apparent that the families of Tallahassee had to step up and do their part to help the sick and wounded soldiers coming into their town from far-flung battlefields. In the spring of 1862, the Florida Sentinel in Tallahassee asked residents to donate whatever food they could spare to aid the recuperating soldiers.

“There are now some twenty … patients in the Hospital in this city, who are being cared for and attended to by the ladies and also have good medical attendance. We learn that they are unable to procure some articles of diet, which are very necessary to the sick, such as young chickens, eggs, butter, honey, … .” the editorial states. “We appeal to persons in the country, who have such things to bring them in for sick soldiers. Donations of small amounts of these things would hardly be felt by the giver, while they would be an incalculable value. When it is recollected that at least every third family (of) this county have dear relations in the camps who are liable at any time to be prostrated on beds of sickness by some one or other of the diseases incident to camp life, it should induce every one to lend his or her aid to this most noble, self-sacrificing and patriotic efforts of the ladies of our city. Let them come to the aid of the ladies, who are untiring in their efforts for the comfort of the sick.”

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