Item #7817 [Manuscript diaries of a Chief Surgeon who managed West’s Building Hospital in Baltimore during the Civil War.]. Dr. Artemus Chapel.
[Manuscript diaries of a Chief Surgeon who managed West’s Building Hospital in Baltimore during the Civil War.]
[Manuscript diaries of a Chief Surgeon who managed West’s Building Hospital in Baltimore during the Civil War.]
[Manuscript diaries of a Chief Surgeon who managed West’s Building Hospital in Baltimore during the Civil War.]

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[Manuscript diaries of a Chief Surgeon who managed West’s Building Hospital in Baltimore during the Civil War.]

Baltimore, Maryland, Virginia, and other locales, 1864–1865. Two 24mo volumes (5.5” x 3.5”), flexible black leather covers. Vol. I: 381 pp. of manuscript; Vol. II: 379 pp. of manuscript. A handful of pages at the ends of both journals used as ledgers. Ownership inscription on ffep of vol I: “A. Chapel, Med. Dir. 3d Army Corps, A. P. January 1st 1864. Surgeon in charge of West’s Building Hospital, Apr. 9th 1864, Baltimore MD.” CONDITION: Overall good, lower cover detached from vol. I and upper cover detached from vol. II; the first few pages loose in vol. II; contents generally very good.

Two rich and important diaries kept by well-connected surgeon Dr. Artemus Chapel, recording extensive medical treatment and management of both Union soldiers and numerous rebel prisoners-of-war, including commentary on Baltimore during and immediately after the war. Chapel describes personal meetings with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, President Lincoln, and famed nurse Dorothea Dix (“Miss Dix”); attending Lincoln’s open-casket funeral in Baltimore; receiving famished Union soldiers from rebel prisons; debates on rationing wounded rebel prisoners in Union hospitals; numerous amputations; the response to the Fall of Richmond and the assassination of President Lincoln, and more.

Born in New York, Dr. Artemus Chapel (1824–1868) graduated from Columbia College in New York in 1847 and from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1851. After marrying Cornelia Maria White in Schenectady, New York, with whom he had several children, Chapel moved with his family to Illinois, and then to Omaha, Nebraska. Chapel volunteered and was accepted in the Union Army as a Surgeon on May 1st, 1862, serving with the 1st Division, 12th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He served as a field surgeon at the battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Chapel’s 1864 diary begins on January 1st while he is in Virginia working at a military camp as part of the Army of the Potomac—a period that sees him frequently on the move. In March, he is ordered to relieve Thomas Bache, who is in charge of the General Hospital, West’s Building in Baltimore, Maryland. Chapel assumes control of West’s Hospital on April 9th. By mid-May of 1865—amid the close of the war, and having spent two years operating West’s Hospital as Chief Surgeon—Chapel is signing discharge papers for soldiers. On May 25th, 1865, he is assigned to the hospital at Camp Bradford, just outside of Baltimore, and leaves West’s Hospital on May 31st. He is appointed Lt. Colonel shortly before being mustered out on October 1st, 1865. After the war, Chapel and his family moved to Chicago, where he died of Bright’s disease in 1868.

These diaries document Chapel’s intensive efforts and grave responsibilities relating to wounded and captured soldiers. The diaries record an extensive flow of Confederate prisoners in and out of West’s Hospital and multiple escapes that rebels make from the hospital, following which he sends out search parties. Chapel receives visits from Union relief women; conducts numerous amputations and describes them at length and in detail; dispatches rebel patients to Point Lookout, Maryland for exchange; receives rebel prisoners from the battlefields; transfers rebel prisoners to Fort McHenry prison in Maryland; confers with fellow doctors, surgeons, and medical officials; changes prescriptions of patients; looks over and inspects the hospital wards; visits other Baltimore hospitals; transfers healed Union patients; makes and submits reports, and more. He spends much of his leisure time with his wife and children and his extended family, and also rides horseback frequently and attends many operas and concerts (in one case, a minstrel performance).

Some of the most important content in these diaries relates to rebel prisoners of war and the intricate politics of rationing them (and their overall treatment) during a time of war. Chapel’s diaries reveal how these were contested and much-debated topics among medical professionals during the war. On 26 July 1864, he notes that “we only give them about two thirds as much as we are in the habit of furnishing our own men.” On 5 Sept. 1864, he records having

a long talk with Miss [Dorothea] Dix who called to see me about female nurses. She had just seen some of our prisoners from Richmond [VA] whose condition she described as most deplorable & who are all livid in their denunciations of the ill treatment they received while in rebel hands & at Richmond. She took down some of our rations to show the President [Abraham Lincoln] in contrast with some of the rebel rations on which our soldiers were fed in Richmond.

At West’s Hospital, Chapel receives a number of starved Union soldiers who come directly from rebel prisons and learns of the inhumane treatment of Union soldiers at these camps. Chapel’s testimonies on the topic of the cruelties of rebel authorities are featured in a number of published articles and official government documents. Prisoners that came from Belle Island prison in Virginia—an infamous rebel prison before Andersonville became widely known to the public—were evaluated by both Chapel and Dorothea Dix. Dix reported that “some were reduced to idiocy,” while Chapel stated that several prisoners “were in a state of semi-insanity, and all seemed, and acted, and talked like children, in their desires for food, &c.” (Kutzler). In another recorded case, Chapel received paroled Union prisoners of war from Richmond, VA. After examining the prisoners who were in boats in Baltimore harbor, he “found at least forty cases that should not have been sent” and “no medical officer, hospital steward, or nurse…with the worst cases.” Chapel concurred that the “condition of these men…evinces criminal neglect and inhumanity on the part of the medical officers in making the selection of men to be transferred” (Littell’s Living Age).

In April of 1865, Chapel records the response to the fall of Richmond (“[Baltimore] was in a blaze of excitement…crowds sprang up at once everywhere, flags were hung out, business suspended, & one general jubilee began”), and the assassination of President Lincoln: “this terrible & startling news was flying all over the country. I could not believe it possible… The city is draped in deep mourning in all parts the manifestation are almost universal…our general gloom pervades the city.”


Volume I

1 Jan. 1864 “At Brandy Station, VA. Superintended the completion of the distribution of articles purchased with the Hospital Fund for the benefit of the sick of the corps.”

3 Jan. “I went over to B. Station…to see one Lt. Painter who has been making some complaint about the treatment of wounded. He disclaimed any intention of censuring anyone. Thought what occurred was avoidable.”

9 Jan. “Had a long talk with Gen. French. He showed me a note received from Gen. [George] Meade denying that he [?] authorized the statement made by one R[?] Hall, published in the Daily Tribune of the 7th Inst. reflecting upon the character of Gen. French. Wrote a counter statement of the matter to the Tribune.”

16 Jan. “Wrote several circulars, distributed vaccine views to the Dir. Surgeons & gave directions about its use.”

20 Jan. “Called upon the new medical director of the army Dr. McParlin, had a very pleasant call, talked of various matters in reference to the army.”

10 Mar. “Heard that Lt General U.S. Grant had come down to Army HQs[?] just at dark was invited by General French to accompany him to call on General Grant. Rode over with the Gen. in his carriage saw and shook hands with General Grant in Gen. Ingalls’ Quarters. He is not an imposing man in appearance but has a fine compact head, is unassuming in manners & looks as though he means to do the best he can & don’t care what people say.”

22 Mar. “Got Helen and with her and my wife went to the President’s. Here[?] shook hands with the venerable President, walked around through the reception.”

18 May “We received 358 patients last evening all slightly wounded…the majority of them must have been wounded themselves…most of them say they were wounded in the Wilderness Battle.”

27 May “A letter from the assistant Surgeon General stat[es] that the number of wounded in the recent battles under Gen. Grant would reach the number of 27,000.”

1 June “Found an order to receive Col. Dutton, who had been severely wounded. He was brought in very faint from loss of blood, during the day hemorrhage recurred.”

5 June “The Col. died this morning…Senator Foster from Conn. called to see me. He is a relation of the Col.”

8 June “Went…to the convention and gained admittance…It was really an exciting time. I was there when President Lincoln was nominated and saw all the enthusiasm which was immense. Was there also when Andrew Johnson of Tennessee was nominated for Vice President. Stayed until the convention adjourned then went and [?] write the Nebraska Delegation.”

19 June “Rec’d 4 volumes of the report of the committee on the conduct of the war, from Senator Wade of Ohio.”

26 June “A Lt. Col. of a Delaware Regt. was brought to the hospital this morning to rest for the day and have his wounds dressed. He was wounded before Petersburgh through the face and nose.”

10 July “This morning the city was aroused…by the ringing of all the bells, in alarm at the approach of the rebels, all the loyal men were called out for the defense of the city.”

11 July “The rebel cavalry…have burned Gov. [Augustus] Bradford’s house & committed other outrages around the city but have not dared to try to venture within it.”

13 July “There was a report of heavy fighting near [Washington D.C.]. I think the rebel raiders have left the vicinity of Baltimore.”

14 July “Rec’d several patients from the defenses about Baltimore and one rebel patient, the one that Ishmael Day shot for pulling down the U.S. flag in front of his door. He lodged over 200 fine bird shot in his body. The excitement about the rebel raid is about over.”

25 July “About 11 O.C. received notice that I must prepare to receive 130 rebel prisoners of war. Vacated 4 of my upper wards for them… 4 O.C. It was a queer crowd of men & boys in all sorts of costumes numbering 139. Some officers were among them but hardly distinguishable from the rest. They don’t look as though they belonged to the same race with the U.S. soldiers. Saw them comfortably placed in the hosp. & given their supper.”

26 July “The mixture of rebs, some of the latter are very badly wounded. I went around among them and talked with them about their wounds. They all seem very cheerful and contented and speak of their treatment as being better than they have expected. Some of them have expressed their great gratification at being fed so well. We only give them about two thirds as much as we are in the habit of furnishing our own men.”

27 July “Was notified early this morning that all my Union soldiers were to be transferred, and rebel wounded [soldiers] brought in, in their stead. I regret this very much.”

28 July “Got an order to send away to Annapolis junction all the Union soldiers who would not be fit for duty in a few days. Sent 8 only.”

30 July “Invited Dr. Butler to accompany wife Helen and I to hear the minstrels. We all went down about 8 O.C. & saw George Christy in all his glory, was tolerably well entertained though I do not enjoy snide entertainment very much generally. I like something that is more food for the mind and heart.”

31 July “An officer came to the hosp. With an order to take the three surgeons and chaplain who came to the hosp. yesterday from Frederick [Maryland] and escort them to Fortress Monroe. They were the best looking and most intelligent rebel surgeons I have ever seen… All shook hands with me and expressed themselves very highly gratified at the treatment they had received.”

5 Aug. “Forwarded 12 applications of rebel prisoners to take the oath.”

6 Aug. “About five O.C. was sent for in consequence of a hemorrhage from the arm of one of the rebel patients, went down and amputated the right arm above the elbow after a consultation with two other surgeons. The wound involved the elbow joint and the arteries at that point.”

9 Aug. “Put a man in the Guard House for stealing another man’s discharge papers.”

12 Aug. “Yesterday had a call from Ishmael Day. The venerable old man who shot a rebel for hauling down his flag. I liked the old gentleman well. He came to inquire something about the man he had shot, who died here, soon after.”

15 Aug. “There are some bad cases of gangrene among the rebel wounded, which I have had all moved into a separate ward & given directions that all shall have 5 grains of quinine in addition to the usual doses of iron & stimulants in some cases directed to be given by injection where the stomach is irritable.”

17 Aug. “Received an order from the Commissary General of Prisoners not to allow any supplies to be delivered to the rebel prisoners by their friends and sympathizers in town.”

25 Aug. “All the patients affected with gangrene are doing well under the influence of citric acid for the destruction of the gangrenous parts.”

26 Aug. “Had quite a talk with Dr. Butler about certain parties whom we believe to be seccession agents in this city.”

30 Aug. “Sent off 56 rebel prisoners to Fort McHenry. They do not fancy going there very much.”

31 Aug. “Mustered all for pay, of our own soldiers and attendants and female attendants & washwomen.”

4 Sept. “All the patients except a rebel Major H[?] are improving. He has pneumonia from inflammation in a gun shot wound.”

5 Sept. “Had a long talk with Miss [Dorothea] Dix who called to see me about female nurses. She had just seen some of our prisoners from Richmond whose condition she described as most deplorable & who are all livid in their denunciations of the ill treatment they received while in rebel hands & at Richmond. She took down some of our rations to show the President [Abraham Lincoln] in contrast with some of the rebel rations on which our soldiers were fed in Richmond.”

7 Sept. “Last night a prisoner named Robison escaped from the guard house. … Can get no trace of his whereabouts.”

9 Sept. “Got orders…to receive the white Union soldiers from the steamer Matilda into my hospital and send the colored ones to McKinnis Hospital. Rec’d 160 & sent 43 to McK. … Many of the cases taken in today are badly wounded and some are very ill, all requiring a great deal of care & attention.”

17 Sept. “A man who was a substitute who was shot near the hospital while trying to escape was brought to my hospital dead.”

18 Sept. “Rec’d 42 rebel soldiers from Johnnson’s Island…in transit to Fort Monroe [Virginia] for exchange. Gen. Grant went down on the Fort Monroe boat this evening. Some 2000 persons gathered at the wharf to see him and cheered him most enthusiastically.”

21 Sept. “Last night a rebel Lt. by the name of Barron escaped from the hospital.”

27 Sept. “Went to see about a suit of clothes for a rebel prisoner.”

13 Oct. “Rec’d 65 at 4 this morning, 143 about noon and 66 about dark. All rebels. 6 of the last no. were dead. The 66 came from Elmira [Prison in Elmira, New York], the others from the Shenandoah valley. All either very ill or very filthy.”

15 Oct. “Sent up a list to be transferred to Point Lookout of 135 prisoners of war. Rec’d two medical officers C.SA. for transfer to Ft. Monroe… Quite a number of those rec’d from Elmira [Prison] have died mostly with chronic diarrhea, Typhoid Fever, and Pneumonia.”

24 Oct. “Rec’d 128 rebel patients today which made 615 in hospital. Had to put up extra beds to accommodate them… Many of the recent cases are from the battlefield at Cedar Creek, Shenandoah Valley and are badly wounded.”

25 Oct. “The hospital has been in considerable confusion for the last few days in consequence of the frequent arrivals and departures.”

2 Nov. “Went out and purchased a coat for a rebel prisoner.”

15 Nov. “Had a call from a Mr. Gray who had an order from the President for a Mr. Tyler[?] who is a prisoner in my hands… While I was gone the hospital was visited by Maj. Gen. [Ambrose] Burnside who expressed himself as highly gratified with the arrangements & appearance of the hospital.”

20 Nov. “Assisted in performing a surgical operation which consisted in replacing a wounded testical and covering it with the integument from the scrotum.”

24 Nov. “Superintended a Thanksgiving dinner for the rebel prisoners, they are all highly delighted.”

10 Dec. “I took up the investigation of a matter which I heard of some days since that one of the ironing women had brought some clothing into the hospital for a rebel prisoner. … For her bad example I discharged her from the hospital.”

Volume II

3 Jan. 1865 “Had a long talk with Maj. Kyle of the rebel service. He thanked me for the kind attention he had rec’d while here, and really seemed grateful which is a rather uncommon manifestation among the prisoners I have seen.”

5 Jan. “Rec’d an order to send away some prisoners to Fort McHenry. Sent 64 under guard.”

3 Feb. “Went with wife to see the celebrated painting called consolation by Constant Mayer. It is a wonderfully faithful picture of a dying soldier, administered to, by a sister of charity…I bought a proof lithograph for 8.00 with frame.”

20 Feb. “About noon was sent to go up to the medical director, found he wished to see me about a recent order in reference to rations from the Com’y Gen. of Pris., had a long & pleasant talk with him, went back to the hosp. Got some dinner. Wrote a letter in protest against the application of the said order.”

21 Feb. “Went to see Bierstadt’s great painting of the Rocky Mountains. It is a magnificent picture well worth the visit & the cost.”

23 Feb. “Have now but very few patients, but what I have are bad ones…little chance for recovery, mostly cases of chronic diarrhea. Have been changing rations this week, to a prison basis, & it does not work at all well, I cannot feed the patients from it as the cases I have in charge require.”

24 Feb. “Was sent to the Medical Director’s and had a long talk about the ration. He fully coincides with me in my opinion that it is not sufficient for the cases I have under charge & he has written a strong protest against it, to the Commissary Gen’l of Prisoners.”

25 Feb. “Heard that one of my Stewards was to be transferred to the Surgeon General for permission to visit Washington on Saturday next, to attend the Inauguration of President Lincoln.”

27 Feb. “Got notice to receive 750 Union patients at 5 O’Clock. Only 190 came.”

28 Feb. “Rec’d 187 Union patients paroled prisoners, in tolerably good condition, all to be furloughed for thirty days.”

7 Mar. “Rec’d 39 men into hospital from Annapolis all upon stretchers, all paroled, starved prisoners from the South.”

8 Mar. “New patients from Annapolis all paroled prisoners except some men from an Illinois Regt., & all show the effects of bad treatment & want of food.”

22 Mar. “Some [Union soldier patients] are past recovery from starvation and exposure in Southern prisons, and diseases consequent there are many of them presenting a pitiable sight. But more of them will recover than on first sight would have been thought possible.”

25 Mar. “Had a call from Profr. Henry of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. to see a nephew of his, a Union soldier who is ill in my hospital. I showed him all around the hospital both thro’ the wards and the kitchens and dining rooms.”

3 Apr. “Heard of the news of the capture of Richmond [Virginia], the most glorious news since the war commenced, the town was in a blaze of excitement…crowds sprang up at once everywhere, flags were hung out, business suspended, & one general jubilee began, secessionists & copperheads are scarce, or hang their heads & keep out of the way.”

6 Apr. “The city was illuminated this evening in honor of the capture of Richmond. It was one grand blaze of light.”

10 Apr. “About midnight last night the bells in the city commenced ringing furiously…the news had reached the city, that Gen. Lee had surrendered to Gen. Grant… It was almost too good news to be believed.”

15 Apr. “Was wakened by one of my hospital attendants about 4 O.C. and told that the awful news had been rec’d here that our beloved President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated about 10 O.C. PM last night & that this terrible & startling news was flying all over the country. I could not believe it possible, but woke my wife & told her. It seemed to me that it must not be so that Providence could not have permitted such a deed to be accomplished, but the morning news confirmed it as too true, & that the assassin had escaped.”

17 Apr. “The city is draped in deep mourning in all parts the manifestation are almost universal, flags trimmed with black & at half mast are flying from almost every building, & many houses are almost covered with table[?] vestments, scarcely a smile is to be seen, our general gloom pervades the city.”

19 Apr. “Attended Rev. Mr. Nares[?] church and heard an excellent sermon on the death of our excellent and much lamented President Abraham Lincoln. The whole city is in deep sadness and gloom, except perhaps a few bitter & demented and dehumanized rebels.”

20 Apr. “Rec’d an invitation to join the procession tomorrow in honor of the President’s remains which are to pass through here but I had loaned my horse & equipment & could not very well do so, but shall be out to show by my presence where I belong on the side of Union justice & right.”

21 Apr. “Went out to see the procession in honor of the President. It was the most imposing spectacle I ever witnessed, and also the saddest. One would scarcely dream from such a sight that Baltimore had any traitors in it, but I am sorry to say it has… Did not try to see the body, as I prefer to remember him as I saw him last, in full health.”

27 Apr. “This morning heard of the capture and killing of J. Wilkes Booth the murderer of President Lincoln. He was taken near Port Royal on the Rappahannock in Virginia. It was a death too honorable for such a deep dyed traitor… He ought to have been tortured in some way.”

9 May “Rec’d an order to have my hospital closed by the 31st inst.”

13 May “Ordered a lithograph of West Building Hospital framed.”

18 May “Rec’d orders to send the remainder of my patients all to travel to York, PA tomorrow.”

20 May “Was busy nearly all day. The Board of Survey to determine the responsibility of 50 hair mattresses met but did not transact any business, the mattresses were I think transferred from the hospital with badly wounded patients of the Battle of Gettysburg while Dr. Rex was in charge.”

24 May “Went to Washington [D.C.] to see the Grand Review of Sherman’s Army. Saw President Johnson for the first time. The review was one of the grandest sights I ever saw & the Western Army was one of the finest armies I ever saw. It was a grand sight to see these old veterans welcomed home.”

25 May “Rec’d a note from Dr. Greenleaf to call in reference to my reassignment, was told that I was assigned to Camp Bradford about 2 miles out of town.”

28 May “Had to work today in order to vacate the building by the 31st inst.”

An extraordinary account of a Chief Surgeon’s experience managing a Baltimore hospital during the Civil War, rich in medical and other content and ripe for research.

REFERENCES: Kutzler, Evan A. The Sensory Environments of Civil War Prisons, Ph.D. Diss., University of South Carolina (2015), p. 214, at Scholar Commons online; Littell’s Living Age, Vol. 83 (Boston: Littell, Son, & Co., 1864), p. 388; The United States Service Magazine, Vol. 1 (New York: Charles Richardson, 1864), p. 544; “Field Hospitals - Twelfth Corps Medical Department—Army of the Potomac” at The Historical Marker Database online.

Item #7817


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