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Cuthbert: Home of three Confederate hospitals

By July 1864, the numbers of wounded and dying swelled in the wake of Gen. Sherman’s attack on Georgia.

Karan B. Pittman (left) and Lela B. Phillips are co-authors of “Confederate Hospitals: Cuthbert, Georgia.” (Staff Photo)

Karan B. Pittman (left) and Lela B. Phillips are co-authors of “Confederate Hospitals: Cuthbert, Georgia.” (Staff Photo)

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Twelve marked Confederate graves can be found at Greenwood Cemetery in Cuthbert. To the right is the unmarked burial trench of Confederate soldiers. (Staff Photo)

ALBANY — In the summer of 1864, Union General William T. Sherman battled first Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and then General John B. Hood. The Union’s goal was to capture Atlanta and cut off Confederate supply lines. Atlanta finally surrendered that September and Sherman left behind a city mostly destroyed by fire.

Confederate soldiers in great numbers were in need of medical care and the only place to go was south. Initially, cities and towns in South Georgia were not keen on establishing hospitals for the wounded and dying. In an editorial in The Albany Patriot, dated July 7, 1864, J.W. Spears wrote, “Our towns and cities seem to be places selected by our Post Surgeons. This policy occurs to us to be entirely wrong. On the line of Macon and Western and Georgia railroads, which passes through the beautiful, well-wooded country, many places could be selected as railroad turnouts or depots, where large and comfortable hospitals could be erected in a short time, capacity sufficient to accommodate all the sick and wounded from Gen. Johnston’s army.

“In these country hospitals, the sick would convalesce more rapidly than in the crowded city hospitals for two reasons: the first is the air is purer and water better; and secondly, when the men get able to get out and walk about, they would not find so many wilted vegetables for food, and bad whiskey with which to gorge themselves …”

Spears went on to recommend Cuthbert, especially its college buildings.

Dr. W.L. Nichols came from Covington with the charge of setting up three hospitals in Cuthbert. Andrew Female College became Hood Hospital, and Baptist Female College became the Hospital on the Hill (or Hill Hospital). The third location, while a certainty based on records from the Civil War era, has yet to have its location confirmed. Referred to as Lumpkin Hospital, or at times, Templar Hospital, its location could well have been at the Cuthbert Masonic Lodge.

The task of performing triage as trainloads of wounded and sick arrived in Cuthbert went as follows: sick, stomach wound, limb wound, head wound and dead. The most critical soldiers were carried to Hood Hospital. At least some percentage of the dead was alive at the time they were loaded on the train but died en route, either from their wounds, disease or the heat.

All of this information, and much more, can be found in the 28 pages of the book “Confederate Hospitals: Cuthbert, Georgia” co-written by Karan B. Pittman and Lela B. Phillips. The duo came across references to the Confederate hospitals as they researched historical documents for another of their publications, “The History of Andrew College: 1854-2004,” and decided to compile a short book on that subject alone.

“So very little has been written about the hospitals in the South during the Civil War,” Phillips said.

Pittman is the historian for Randolph County and archivist for Andrew College. Phillips, former Humanities Division chair and professor of English at Andrew College, now devotes her time to collecting and organizing historical data for the county and the college.

When asked what the most fascinating discovery made was during the research, Pittman answered, “The most fascinating thing I discovered was how many people did survive, both horrific wounds and conditions. Truly, disease was the biggest enemy. Also, the sheer logistics of moving hospitals was striking, especially considering the state of war and government.”

In Cuthbert’s Greenwood Cemetery, the statue featured on the cover of “Confederate Hospitals” stands watch over 24 marked graves. Some have names, others do not. It was required that any person known to have expired from a contagious disease have a marked grave. Near the two dozen markers is an open space, covered only with grass. It is there that a burial trench awaited the dead, not far at all from the railroad tracks. So great were they in number that a mass grave proved a necessity, even for those who could be identified.

It is the goal of Pittman and Phillips to have the area marked in some way.

“It is only fitting to recognize the soldiers buried there. So many were young and their names not even known. We (the authors) estimate 500 plus are buried there,” Phillips said.

The authors enjoy speaking to civic groups and historical societies, a good number of which have donated to the cause of marking the mass burial site.

“Confederate Hospitals: Cuthbert, Georgia” is dedicated to Annette McDonald Suarez, a lifelong resident of Randolph County who dedicated her life to preserving the history of the county, including the Confederate hospitals. Suarez died in 1973.

Pittman can be reached at (229) 732-5944 and Phillips at (229) 364-0007. Copies of the book are available for $10 (which includes shipping) by writing to Karan Pittman, c/o Andrew College, Cuthbert, Ga. 39840. The book is also available at Amazon.com.