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Sickly sergeant's diary records dislike of 1862 hospital care

Jeff Himler
| Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Westmoreland County contributed two companies -- and Youngstown native Sgt. Patrick J. Hanlin Jr. -- to the 11th Pennsylvania Reserves, one of 15 volunteer regiments formed in 1861 to fight in the Civil War.

Hanlin's diary describing everyday camp life during the early months of the war was handed down to his great-great-niece Joy Cramer.

It has been published by the Derry Area Historical Society and is available for purchase.

Hanlin was spared from the battle at Gaines' Mill, Va., while he convalesced from illness at a military hospital on the outskirts of the nation's capital, then called Washington City.

According to Hanlin, the only real action his unit had seen before May 22, 1862, was some Confederate shelling that caused no injuries. Then he was sent to Carver Hospital.

Hanlin marched with his company to the vicinity of Fredericksburg, Va., when he fell ill.

On May 11, he recorded that Union forces had captured Norfolk, prompting the Confederates to blow up their ironclad vessel, the C.S.S. Virginia.

"Yell after yell went up here, there and everywhere, until the very air seemed filled with myriads of shrieking fiends," Hanlin wrote of the celebration in camp.

On May 22, he was one of more than a dozen from the regiment sent to the hospital, transferred from ambulance to rail car to boat.

Hanlin expressed little confidence in the care patients were receiving in the Union hospital.

The staple fare, he reported, included soups, pieces of beef or chicken, bread and coffee "made from seeds, burned in the browning, without cream, but sweetened."

"Since my arrival, the sheets on my bed have not been changed!" he wrote. He said the attending doctor, after two brief visits each day, "hurries away as though he fears some infection."

By July 27, Hanlin was transferred to another overcrowded hospital, where he indicated the food was even worse. He suffered from stomach cramps and a toothache, and he was informed by surgeons "that my left lung was diseased and I would be discharged."

In his last diary entry on Aug. 14, 1862, he noted that he instead was being sent back to his regiment.

"I will endeavor to do my duty under the circumstance. The disappointment is a sad one. Pray for me," he concluded.

On Aug. 30, he was killed in the Second Battle of Bull Run in Prince William County, Va.

The 11th Pennsylvania went on to see action at Antietam and Gettysburg before being mustered out on July 14, 1864.

"They were to be held in reserve until needed," noted John Matviya of New Alexandria, archivist for the Derry Area Historical Society. "The joke was that they were reserved for the heaviest fighting."

Suffering the heaviest loss of any regiment in the Pennsylvania Reserves, the 11th saw 681 of its 1,179 men killed or wounded, with 22 dying in Confederate prisons.

Copies of Hanlin's diary are available for purchase from the Derry Area Historical Society. For more information, visit www.derryhistory.org .

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