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Chimborazo Hospital

January 14, 2012
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

When several million men took up arms and went to war in 1860, they fell sick in unprecedented numbers and died from wounds by the hundreds of thousands. The sudden burden of caring for so many men hit the opposite governments a staggering blow. Hundreds of hospitals sprung up around, but no medical facility anywhere on the continent during the Civil War equaled the fame and notoriety of Chimborazo Hospital. Early in the war it quickly emerged as one of the largest, most sophisticated hospitals in the Confederacy. It took its name from the hill on which it sat, Chimborazo Hill on the eastern edge of the city of Richmond. The hill was named after Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, an inactive volcano of 21,000 feet.

When the war started, volunteer soldiers from around the Confederacy converged on Richmond for organization and drill. Several regiments camped on and around Chimborazo Hill. They built extensive wooden barracks for shelter. Soon the soldiers were forced to abandon their quarters and marched to the front lines, leaving behind 100 nearly new buildings on Chimborazo Hill. The Surgeon General of the Confederate States of America, Dr. Samuel Moore, commandeered the buildings for his department and in October 1861 established the Chimborazo Hospital. Assuming control of the new hospital was Dr. James McCaw, one of the south's leading physicians. He proceeded to forge the complex as to suit his ideas about how a large military post hospital should function and in due course Chimborazo operated like a small city. A staff of between 20-30 surgeons watched over an enormous amount of patients. The corps of men who performed the daily nursing consisted of disabled soldiers and many slaves hired from their owners. A few women assisted by feeding the soldiers, writing letters for them, administered medicines and generally tried to be a constant friend to the sick soldiers.

On some occasions the number of patients approached 4,000. For the most part the soldiers receiving treatment were sick rather than wounded, as Chimborazo was not a field hospital, but rather a convalescent hospital.

Because Richmond never endured a direct hit during the Civil War, Chimborazo operated safely until the end of the war in April 1861. Approximately 75,000 patients passed through its doors and although the number of deaths is estimated at between 5,000 and 7,000.

When the war was over, Chimborazo's wooden buildings became useless and most disappeared very quickly, as the local residents were desperate for firewood. Since the 1870's, the City of Richmond has operated the site of Chimborazo Hospital as a park, part of the larger Richmond National Battlefield Park.



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