The development of the hospital system used during the Civil War was one of the key organizational developments that occurred in the field of medicine. In short, the hospital system of the Union army had three tiers: care stations, the field hospital, and the general hospital.
The first line of healing consisted of care stations close to the line of fire established by the regimental surgeon. These stations would be located in a sheltered position that was easily accessible from both the front and the rear of the army. The wounded would come to these stations, have their wounds dressed, and be sent to the field hospital if they were able to go under their own power. Ambulance carts and carriers came as soon as it was safe and transported the incapacitated wounded.6
The field hospital was the next stage of recovery for soldiers. It was established about one-half of a mile or one mile to the rear of the line of battle, just out of the range of artillery fire.6 Field hospitals were typically constructed out of boards and were small, open, and airy. Larger treatments, such as emergency surgery and amputations, would be performed here.
The final step in regaining health was the general hospital. General hospitals were not located near the battlefield, but in a nearby city or town. Men were sent to the general hospitals by ambulance, rail, or by boat. These hospitals were under the complete military control of a surgeon who typically lived next to or very near the hospital. General hospitals were often overcrowded and had poor ventilation and bad conditions. Wounded men were sometimes turned away from these hospitals if their papers were out of order or there was no room. Neither surgeons nor wounded men were particularly fond of these hospitals.
The final and most unique form of hospital came in the form of steamboats. These “floating hospitals” were often more comfortable than general hospitals, and were frequently manned by naval surgeons. These boats carried wounded from the field hospital to the general hospitals.
The Confederate hospital system was not initially as organized as the Union system. At the beginning of the war, they utilized private hospitals run by women who wanted to help their cause. As the war progressed, the South also developed a system of field hospitals and general hospitals.