Civil War Hospital Towns of Virginia
In order to understand the logistics of the period you must understand the growth of the railroads before and during the Civil War. Richmond, the capital of Virginia and the Confederacy, was a major rail hub and one of the largest industrial centers of the South. Across the Piedmont towns like Warrenton, Culpepper, Orange, Gordonsville and Charlottesville grew up along main rail lines. Gordonsville and Charlottesville were also rail hubs but on a smaller scale.
The primary railroads of central Virginia were the Virginia Central, the Orange & Alexandria, the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and the Manassas Gap Railroad. The Virginia Central originally connected Richmond with Gordonsville but the line was extended west through Charlottesville and into the Shenandoah Valley. The Orange & Alexandria ran from Alexandria in the north to Gordonsville at its southern terminus. A section that was completed in 1860 ran from Charlottesville to Lynchburg. The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad connected the railroads to the north through Washington and down to Richmond. The Manassas Gap Railroad was built during the 1850s from Manassas Junction to Mount Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley.
As the fighting in the early years of the war was concentrated in northern Virginia and then around Richmond accomodations were needed for the care and treatment of the battle casualties.
From the northern Virginia battlefields troops were sent to towns like Warrenton in Faquier County. Warrenton was a market town that had grown at the crossroads of two main roads. It was also typical of a town that would serve as a hospital town during the Civil War. In 1850 the Orange & Alexandria Railroad connected the town north and south. By 1860 Warrenton had a population of 640. The area around Warrenton saw a great deal of fighting and local authorities claim that the town changed hand at least 70 times. They also assert that doctors from both armies treated wounded soldiers without discrimination without interference.
Further down the line was Culpeper, another town that changed hands on a number of occasions as the battle lines moved back and forth. The boyhood home of A.P. Hill saw a fair amount of fighting in the area, including the famous cavalry battle at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863 and the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862. Casualties from these and other battles in the area were treated in Culpeper. Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, performed as a field nurse for the first time in Culpeper after the Battle of Cedar Mountain.
South of Culpeper is the town of Orange, a strategically important location during the Civil War. The Rapidan River is just north of Orange. This was effectively the northern boundary of the Confederacy from March 1862 until May 1864. The town was the location of Robert E. Lee’s headquarters during most of that time. Wounded were transported to Orange after the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of the Wilderness. Not only did General Lee worship at St. Thomas Episcopal Church but this was where the wounded were treated.
The rail hub of Gordonsville was one of the busier “hospital” towns. It is believed that by the war’s end over 70,000 men were treated at the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital, which until March 1862 was known as the Exchange Hotel. The hotel was built in 1860 right next to the Virginia Central Railroad. It is a large three story structure with a classic Southern second floor entry. The hotel has a wide covered front porch to shelter visiting travelers.
Further west along the Virginia Central was Charlottesville, another small rail hub town. The home of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville was also the home of Charlottesville General Hospital. The hospital was housed in many public and private buildings that were owned by the university. The hospital opened in July 1861 and during the course of the war cared for 22,700 patients. At its peak the hospital had 500 beds. It was also the workplace of Dr. Orianna Moon, one of only 38 woman physicians in the United States.
The Commonwealth of Virginia was the main battleground of the Civil War and it also produced the most casualties. The local towns and cities performed remarkable feats of care for the wounded and sick of both sides.