After being wounded on April 2, 1865, during the last week of the Civil War, David Whitney, along with other Union soldiers wounded at Petersburg, road via rail in a freight car to Washington, DC, and convalesced there in Campbell Hospital, one of the Army hospitals established in the nation's capital during the war.
Image from Library of Congress Collection
Campbell Hospital had been a cavalry barracks and was located at the northern outskirts of Washington, DC, on Boundary Street (today's Florida Avenue), between 5th and 7th St NW. Eleven wooden buildings that had made up the barracks were used as wards, containing a total of 600 beds, and ten tents with 50 beds each were added soon. One building served as the mess hall, and a small building housed the hospital's administrative headquarters. The Campbell Hospital grounds also had buildings for nurses' quarters, guard rooms, quarters for other employees, and, ominously, a mortuary
Image from Library of Congress Collection
Opened in September 1862, the hospital was used for military purposes through July 1865. Later that year, the War Department's Freedman's Hospital, which had been established in 1862 with the purpose of providing healthcare to the nation's newly freed slaves, was moved to Campbell Hospital and administratively placed under the Freedmen's Bureau. In 1869 the Freedmen's Hospital was made a part of nearby Howard University and ultimately incorporated into Howard University Hospital during the Civil Rights era of the 20th century.
Very near the site of today's Howard University Hospital is the African American Civil War Memorial, established to honor African-Americans who served in the Civil War, including all those in the United States Colored Troops. A wall of honor containing the names of men who served in the USCT includes inscriptions for David's brother, Captain Alonzo B. Whitney, and his brother-in-law, Major Alpheus H. Cheney, both USCT white officers.
When David left his Vermont comrades behind in Virginia, they were still busy with frontline war duty. The 10th Regiment was involved in one more battle, on April 6th at Sayler's Creek (also called 'Sailor's Creek') just off the Appamattox River due west of Petersburg. In this swan-song battle for the Confederates, the 10th Regiment was an instrumental part of forcing the surrender 0f 6,000 Confederates. Three days later the Confederate Command realized that their cause was lost and surrendered totally.
After the surrender, the 10th Vermont Regiment camped with the rest of the 6th Corps' 3rd Division at Burkeville, Virginia—not far from the site of the Sayler's Creek battle—until April 23. The division then joined the rest of the 6th Corps in a march to Danville, just short of the North Carolina border in southwestern Virginia.
During the war, Danville had been the site of a Confederate prison made up of six tobacco warehouses converted to storing Union prisoners. At this location disease and hunger ran rampant, claiming among its many victims the life of the great-grandfather of the wife of one of David Whitney's great-grandsons, a Union soldier from southeastern Ohio captured at the Battle at Chickamauga, Georgia, in September 1863.
On May 16, the 10th Regiment returned by rail to the Richmond area, camping at Manchester (formerly an independent city and original county seat of Chesterfield County across from Richmond on the south bank of the James River, famous as a port of entry for slave ships. but today a part of Richmond's Southside). On May 24, they set off on foot marching north to Washington and arrived on June 2 at Ball's Crossroads just across the Potomac River from Washington (located in present-day Ballston in northern Virginia). All Vermont units were then reviewed in a formal ceremony by their state's governor.
The men of the 10th Vermont Regiment were now in a holding position, marking time for a while at a camp near Georgetown in the District of Columbia, waiting for further orders and possible dismissal. On June 22 all 10th Regiment members whose contracted terms of service were due to expire before October 1 were mustered out and sent home the following day.
On a march through Washington on their way toward departure for Vermont, the 10th Regiment and another regiment from the 6th Corps' 3rd Division stopped and cheered at the home of the general who had led their division in their valiant effort stymying the Confederate penetration at Monocacy but who had been disabled by a wound at Cedar Creek, the last significant battle in the Shenandoah Valley.
After departing for home with an overnight stopover in New York City, the 10th Vermont reached Burlington, the capital of Vermont, at 2:00 in the morning of June 27th. Waiting for them at the train station in the dark of night and amidst rain were a gathering of ordinary citizens greeting them as well as an artillery salute marking their arrival. They were then taken to the Burlington city hall, where the State Governor welcomed them home, and were subsequently treated to a large meal pepared by local ladies.
The next morning the 10th regiment marched to the Burlington Military Hospital, where they were granted a six-day leave. When their leave was over, they reassembled for one last time, received the pay they were due, and went on home as civilians.
David Whitney, however, did not return home immediately. On June 22, the date that part of his regiment left for Vermont, David was transferred for administrative purposes to the 5th Vermont Regiment. There were two reasons why he could not yet end his military service. First, he had signed an agreement for a 3-year enlistment on December 26, 1863 and thus did not qualify for mustering out with the 10th Regiment. Second, David was still recovering from his combat wound and needed to be carried on some unit's roster in order to qualify for treatment in a military hospital.
On June 29, the 5th Regiment was mustered out, but David still hadn't received his walking papers. When he was deemed recovered, when he was actually discharged, and when he arrived home is not recorded. But it is highly unlikely that he experienced the robust civic welcome that his 10th Regiment comrades received on their return.
The Civil War with its cruel and bloody battles is one of the most unfortunate periods of American history. Men who shared a common heritage and might be friends outside the battlefield had to face off against each other and kill or be killed in the name of competing and contradictory causes. In his two terms of enlistment David Whitney not only survived to the bitter end, as his brother had not, but contributed greatly to the Union cause of not allowing the United States to be disassembled for highly factional purposes.
Since July 4, 1863, when West Virginia was admitted to the United States, after that portion of Virginia had separated itself from the state of Virginia, Union military units had flown the 35-star flag symbolizing the total union of states, including those that had seceded in an attempt to form a separate country. When David Whitney was finally discharged from military service, he could proudly say that that flag still symbolized his native country now reunited in its national totality.
Image in public domain at Wikimedia Commons
©2007 by Thomas Lee Eichman. All rights reserved.