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Welcome to Kev’s introductory blog on the first steps taken towards researching and writing his dissertation.

The research topic looks at the hospital ships used in the Western Theater of operations during the Civil War. Specifically, the hospital ships owned by the Western Sanitary Commission (WSC), such as, the hospital ship D. A. January. The scope of the work is to evaluate their effectiveness in evacuating and caring for the wounded and sick during and after the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, also known as the Battle of Shiloh, April 6 – 7, 1862. The WSC operated its ships on the Mississippi, Tennessee Rivers, and their associated tributaries.

Research Question,

Did the WSC hospital ships provide better health care, i.e., survivability rates, than battlefield medicine at the Battle of Pittsburg Landing / Shiloh?

How the research topic was arrived at:

Previously Kev wrote on the medical problems at the First Battle of Manassas (July 21, 1862) in his published paper First Battle of Manassas: Unwarranted Deaths of Savable Men.

While researching First Manassas he stumbled across the United State Sanitary Commission (USSC) and their use of hospital ships, such as the Daniel Webster, in the Eastern Theater during the Peninsula Campaign (March through July 1862). This research led to The Western Sanitary Commission (WSC), and their hospitals ships. A question arose, how effective were the hospital ships in treating the wounded? This dissertation is the avenue to explore that question.

Initial Research

Digital research revealed much had been written on the United States Sanitary Commission and its hospitals ships. It also found much scholarship on the United States Navy’s first hospital ship the Red Rover. In comparison, only cursory information has been found on WSC and its hospital ships. There is a gap in scholarship on the WSC and the use of its hospital ships.


In the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, (1861-65) Vol. II, Part III, you can find information on the Hospital ship D. A. January and others. It stated D.A. January was a side paddle-wheeled steamship built in Cincinnati in 1857 and bought April 1st, 1862.

Additionally, it remarked, in caring for the wounded at Pittsburg Landing she made 6 trips, April 11 – June 19th, between Pittsburg Landing and hospitals in Saint Louis, Keokuk, New Albany, Cincinnati, Jefferson Barracks, and Paducah.

Note, the battle was fought April 6 – 7, yet, two months later they were still removing the wounded and sick by hospital ships.[1] This raises the question, what kind of medical care did they have during that waiting period? Obviously not enough to support the amount of wounded the battles provided.

To find further information on the WSC and its hospital ships I emailed and called the research departments of several organization: The National Museum Of Civil War Medicine, Saint Louis Research Center, Boston Athenaeum Archives, Cambridge Historical Society, and the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

The Saint Louis Research Center was very helpful and quickly emailed me a list of potential sources on the WSC. They indicated they have information on the WSC within the William Clark Breckenridge Papers and the Lenoir-Nifong Family Papers. Furthermore, they suggested to look at the Lamb Family Papers from the Boston Athenaeum Archives. They also recommended to look at the Bee Records at the Cambridge Historical Society, as well as information from Missouri Historical Society, and indicated information on the WSC could be found at the website ArchiveGrid.

While waiting for their replies, a digital search was conducted on the key words; Western Sanitary Commission, Pittsburg Landing, hospital ships, and Shiloh, on, HathiTrust Digital Library, Internet Library, and Google Books. All these sources provided returns with primary source material. and HathiTrust give the most promising results.

Another valuable primary research source is the complete Harpers Weekly Civil War collection 1861-1865, and Leslie’s Illustrated. Harpers Weekly, April 26, 1862, has several write ups on the Battle at Pittsburg Landing, complete with a topographical map of the area and an illustration of a battle. provided many articles from the Daily Missouri Republican (St. Louis, Missouri). In its April 14, 1862, page 3. edition, it described the actions of the D.A. January at Pittsburg Landing. Moreover, it indicated a large group of people lined the docks in St. Louis while awaiting the arrival of the D.A. January with its cargo of sick and wounded. It also indicated sixteen men on the D.A. January died during the trip from Pittsburg Landing. The article also mentioned two other hospital steamers were heading to Mound City and Evansville Indiana.[2]

Parallel to First Manassas, many Union troops arrived at Pittsburg Landing with limited or no medical supplies or ambulances. Furthermore, the little medical supplies the regiment brought would not be enough to tend to the massive numbers of wounded. But, unlike the soldiers at Manassas, the wounded at Pittsburg Landing had hospitals ships to go to. These ships were stocked with medical staff, supplies, medicines, good food, clean water, ice, and personal attention. Furthermore, many of the wounded were evacuated from the area of conflict and not treated in the combat zone. But like Manassas, to get medical aid, some of the wounded had to wait till after the fighting ceased, and sometimes this took a few days, many savable men died waiting.

To further complicate matters on the second day of the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, the Union army was repelled and fled in a rout. When they retreated, they lost ground. They also forfeited much of their medical supplies, as well as guns, ammunition, food, etc.[3]

Newspapers can give eyewitness accounts of battles. Many articles will give details on the wounded; the number of them, their names, dates, locations. Most hospital ships kept a patient log, which could include the type of wound and what hospital the soldiers or soldier were taken to.

Many secondary sources include the Battle of Pittsburg Landing within the actions at the Battle of Shiloh. Most secondary sources on Shiloh barely mention medical care, and even less is mentioned on tents, ambulances, or hospital ships. It seems, based on this scantiness, that most war scholars have regarded medical care as secondary importance to the battle.

The digital world makes searching digital books an important tool for the researcher. This allows for a quick analysis of books. Moreover, you can search for keywords within a text, such as hospitals, tents, ships, hospital ships, medical, medicine, etc.

There will be many mistakes made during this dissertation’s research and the pathway will become murky, change, reverse, and change again, before it gets to its final draft.

Please check back for bi-monthly update on this perilous adventure!


Editor. “Wounded Soldiers of Pittsburg, Arrival Of The Steamer D. A. January Names Of The Wounded Soldiers On Board.” Daily Missouri Republican (St. Louis, Missouri), Apr 14, 1862: 3.

—. “The Great Battle Highly Interesting Account of the Pittsburg Landing.” Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan), Apr 18, 1862: 1.

U. S. Surgeon-General’s Office, and Barnes, Joseph K.,… The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. 1861-1865. Vol. II, Part III. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1883.

Cover Photo: Matthews, A. E. 31st Regt O.V. Pittsburg Landing. May 1862. (accessed 04 01, 2022).


  1. U. S. Surgeon-General’s Office, and Barnes, Joseph K.,… The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. 1861-1865. Vol. II, Part III. (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1883). 977,979
  2. Editor. Wounded Soldiers of Pittsburg, Arrival Of The Steamer D. A. January Names Of The Wounded Soldiers On Board . Daily Missouri Republican (St. Louis, Missouri), Apr 14, 1982: 3
  3. Editor. The Great Battle Highly Interesting Account of the Pittsburg Landing.” Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan), Apr 18, 1862: 1.