I thought I was going to be the one offering a helping hand when Jim Fielden of Cleveland emailed me in July 2018.
I had completed and submitted my book “Too Much for Human Endurance” on the George Spangler farm in Gettysburg when Jim heard me on the WITF-Harrisburg “Smart Talk” radio program. He told me in his email that his great-grandfather Pvt. Roland E. Perry of the 75th Ohio was wounded on July 1, 1863, and was treated at a “field hospital” and asked if we could talk.
We got together soon after that at the George Spangler Farm Civil War Field Hospital Site and I gave Jim what little information I had on Pvt. Perry and said there was a strong likelihood that he was treated at the XI Corps hospital there. And then the truth came out. I don’t think Jim needed much of my help at all. He was just being nice. Because that’s when Jim told me that he found a register at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., that contained the names of some wounded from what he thought was the XI Corps hospital in Gettysburg. Could I look?
At that point, thanks to Jim, my book and my life changed. Historians have been searching the Archives without success for decades for the lost records of the XI Corps hospital at Gettysburg. I tried to find them and failed, too. The sad answer that came back after I filled out a request form was “Not located in the stacks; missing.” Jim didn’t find the actual lost hospital register filled out by the surgeons who were there, but he found the next best thing. He found a brittle, dirty register that was handwritten in cursive in 1884 and listed the names of 7,000 of the 20,000 wounded men left behind after the battle.
I told the good folks at Savas Beatie about the discovery, and they kindly put production of the book on hold until I could scour this register for XI Corps hospital names.
Jim had found something obscure from the surgeon general’s office called PA Register 554, which is about the thickness and size of today’s coffee-table books, only its beauty comes not from pretty pictures but from its detailed information and 1884 genesis. After telling me how to find it at the Archives, Jim then taught me how to use volunteer carded medical records there, which I used to check the register’s information.
“Too Much for Human Endurance” had the names of about 300 wounded men at Spangler when I first submitted it in the first half of 2018. After I spent about three weeks at the Archives going over PA Register 554 line by line and through dozens of boxes of regimental volunteer carded medical records, it now has 1,400 names for its June 2019 publication. That’s not everybody. It’s not complete. But it’s most names. And best yet, in addition to the soldier’s name it has his regiment, rank, wound and treatment. It even says if he was run over by a horse or if he was ill instead of wounded. Some of the listings say when the soldier was transferred from Spangler to another hospital or if he died.
Now, with this newly found and verified information, family members of these 1,400 men no longer have to wonder. Now, they know that their ancestor was definitely treated at Spangler and for what wound or illness and how. Jim unlocked this hidden history.
As for Jim’s great-grandfather – Pvt. Roland E. Perry of the 75th Ohio – now we know that he had a compound fracture of a finger and had the finger amputated at the XI Corps hospital.
As for Jim, the Spangler farm and its connection with his family means so much to him that he is going to regularly drive more than five hours from Cleveland to Gettysburg this summer to volunteer as a guide there. Jim is going to be a great benefit for the farm and its visitors, just like he was for me and my book.
- Guest blog post by Ron Kirkwood
From the staff at Savas Beatie, order your copy of Too Much for Human Endurance. It's a much needed book to add to your summer reading.