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Article Title: During the Bloody Civil War, Sloan Army Hospital a Place of Healing & Recovery

Edition: September 2000
Category: History
Author: Research and text by Walter Carpenter

The Vermont College campus at the top of the hill on East State Street is one of the most beautiful vistas that the city of Montpelier has to offer. Since 1868, three years after Appommatox, this common has been a beautiful and quiet place for learning to take place. Yet, the hill has not always been dedicated to education.

The first people to enjoy that community on the common were not students and professors but wounded men from the Civil War. They were men on crutches or in wheelchairs. They were men without an arm or a leg.

These men had been brought home to recuperate near their families and, if they lived, to either return to their regiments or enjoy the lives that were left to them. They had seen unimaginable horrors in such sanguinary places like Gettysburg, Mobile, the Plank Road in the Wilderness, Cedar Creek, and Vicksburg and had crippled or made corpses of thousands of other men dressed in butternut or gray.

The first institution on top of the hill at the end of East State Street was the Sloan United States Army General Hospital, which opened on June 18th 1864. It was named after U.S. Army surgeon William J. Sloan who was the medical director in the eastern theater of the Civil War.

During its sixteen months, 1,670 soldiers, the majority from Vermont, were hospitalized at Sloan. Nearly all survived and in a record for that war, where wounded men just as often as not died from their wounds, about seventy-five percent of them were actually able to return to their regiments.

Walter Rice Davenport wrote a history of the Montpelier Seminary (which graced the hill after the Civil War) entitled Montpelier Seminary and Its Students.

Davenport says, "859 sick soldiers and 811 suffering from wounds were admitted, 1,670 all told. Never will Vermont regret the money spent and the plant erected." (Davenport. Capital City Press, 1934, pages 108-110.)

The "Dead House" and a Verandah
In 1983 Walter A. Shepard published a short pamphlet on the history of the hospital called "The Hospital that Became a College: Sloan U.S. Army General Hospital, Montpelier, Vermont."

In his work, Shepard described the hospital's buildings. "Records list a total of twenty-five buildings which, in addition to the wards, included the detached buildings [these detached buildings were mandated by army regulations governing the construction of hospitals] of a 'dead house,' (morgue), an octagonal water tank, a chapel, a laundry, a barn, the Veterans Reserve Corps barracks, and one of the best ice houses in the state." (Shepard, pages 8-9). Davenport said that the hospital was "built in a series of wards radiating from a common center, like the spokes of a mammoth wheel. These wards were twenty-five in number, twenty-seven feet long and a story and a half in height. A wide veranda circled the wards at their hub, and the writer has seen crippled soldiers racing each other on crutches around this verandah." (Davenport, page 110). The hospital occupied about twenty-two acres.

Though the hospital succeeded in saving lives, there was little of the sanitary comforts or the dazzling technology common in hosptials today. Shepard wrote that Sloan "had no plumbing, running water, electricity, central heating, insulation or other amenities that are now considered essential." (Shepard, page 12).

The hospital also had nurses to attend to the men and change their dressings on a regular basis. These nurses were male (the records for Sloan show no female nurses worked there) and were recruited from the local area.

"The soldier's diet [at Sloan] generally consisted of 'fresh beef, salt beef, salt pork, bacon, flour, hard bread, beans, coffee, tea, sugar, and vinegar'”, Shepard wrote.

Montpelier's Native Sons, and the Hill Before the War
More than 300,000 federal soldiers perished in the Civil War. Montpelier sent 365 men, and 51 of them died: 21 were slain in battle, 11 died from wounds, 2 in southern prisons, and 17 from disease.

Before Confederate cannons blasted away at Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina in April 1861, the top of Seminary Hill was largely treeless and uninhabited. Davenport wrote, "one residence had been built on the plateau, and one end of that was occupied by Ed Gilman who had charge of a race track then located upon the site where the Montpelier Seminary Eleven [most likely the green at Vermont College] now wins its football games" (Davenport, page 108).

The hill was, Davenport wrote, "used for racing because it seemed absolutely level, and because it was so large and sightly. Sooner or later it was bound to be seized and occupied by some party or corporation for strategic purposes." (Davenport, page 109).

By 1863 that strategic purpose had arrived. Early on in the war, the Vermonters not only proved their prowess on the battlefield, but the state showed its mettle in caring for its men and built hospitals in Vermont, including Sloan.

Shepard quotes a report from Robert Corson, a military agent for Vermont in Philadelphia, who wrote that in other places the wounded were "lying in all stages of suffering, in barns, barn-yards, out-buildings, and field hospitals." (Shepard, page 3). Corson added that the men were "stowed away by hundreds in freight cars, and lay for days and hours upon hard floors unable to move, with their wounds unwashed, and but partly dressed, while jolting over rough roads added to their already keen suffering." (Shepard, page 3).

Costs, the Dead House, and a Paper
The cost for building the hospital was $13,900. Most of the soldiers hospitalized at Sloan came from Vermont and other New England states. Shepard said that in the "first detachment of 291 sent to the hospital, 117 were from Maine and Massachusetts with the remainder from Vermont." (Shepard, page 11). It is not clear which way up the hill the soldiers used to get to the hospital, but the soldiers arrived at the Vermont Railway Station and somehow got up there.

Although Sloan's "dead-house" seems to have been largely unused it was not completely idle. One soldier who died at Sloan was a private from Marshfield, Benjamin A. Shepard. Shepard succumbed from chronic diarrhea in September of 1864 at the age of 21 a month after he arrived at Sloan. His father buried him in Marshfield.

A newspaper, The Voice of the Soldier, was published by Sloan staff and patients. Only one copy survives. The paper cost $1.00 for a year’s subscription and five cents per copy.

One soldier, who signed his name only "S.F.K," wrote in it, poigniantly: "Vermont has done nobly for her sons during the late struggle, and we trust that the bright lustre of her records in the past, will not be dimmed in the future by injustice to the cripples now being discharged." Could S.F.K have been private Sumner F. Keyes, from Rockingham, of the 4th Infantry who died in 1890? Or Samuel F. Kilborn from Poultney, who was discharged on June 29th 1865?

After the hospital closed on October 18, 1865, its contents were inventoried and put up for sale. Dr. Henry Janes, who so ably ran the hospital at the end, returned to his private practice in Waterbury and died in 1913 at the age of 81.

The Newbury Seminary, a Methodist school that moved to Montpelier after the war purchased the buildings and land. The buildings were dismantled or turned into dormitories. Some buildings from the hospital were moved down what is now College Street, Emmons Street, East State Street, and other streets in the neighborhood. The water tower was knocked down and buried in 1872, and the building we know as College Hall was erected on the site.

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