All wars have their battlefield tales of glory, valor and gallantry. All also have stories from behind those battle lines — sad chronicles of injury, disease and death.
Dalton’s role, for many months of the Civil War, was played behind the battle lines, administering to the wounded, healing the sick, comforting the dying and burying the dead. For many weary, wounded soldiers, Union and Confederate alike, often alone and miles from home, Dalton offered their last chance for compassion, care and consolation.
Battle wounds in the Civil War were horrific. The Minié ball was particularly deadly, tearing an enormous wound on impact. Shattered limbs often had to be amputated. If available, anesthesia was used, chloroform the most common, ether next, then a combination of the two.
Twice as many soldiers, however, died from disease as from battle wounds. Most prevalent were typhoid fever, dysentery and pneumonia, though malaria, measles, chickenpox, mumps and whooping cough were widespread.
Little was known as to cause, prevention or cure. Neither antisepsis nor germ theory was understood, the importance of sterilization was not yet recognized, and vitamins and antibiotics were unknown. Most doctors had no formal training, and received their education through apprenticeship or firsthand experience.
In Dalton, at one time or another, most public buildings, churches, schools, hotels, warehouses and even private homes were converted into hospitals. One of these, a lovely two-story clapboard on six partially-wooded acres on Thornton Avenue, was the home of one of Dalton’s prominent pioneer citizens, Ainsworth Emery Blunt.
Dalton became a hospital center early in the war. In the spring of 1862 the Medical Department of the Confederate Army of Tennessee was reorganized under Surgeon General Samuel H. Stout. His goal was to establish a hospital system in towns along railroads, easily accessible to sick and wounded soldiers. With its additional advantages of abundant springs and available firewood, Dalton was quickly chosen, and several hospitals were established in 1862-1863.
In September 1863 the Battle of Chickamauga was fought a few miles northwest of Dalton, so close that battle artillery could be heard from town. With 34,000 casualties, it would be the bloodiest two days of the war, and by far the bloodiest west of the Appalachians. Eventually thousands of wounded were carried by wagon or rail to nearby towns, including Dalton.
Confederate victory at Chickamauga in September was followed by defeat in Chattanooga in November, and Gen. Braxton Bragg withdrew his Army of Tennessee into north Georgia. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston replaced Bragg in December, and his 43,000-soldier Confederate army settled into winter quarters in and around Dalton.
In May 1864, as Union Gen. William T. Sherman began his Atlanta Campaign, Johnston’s Confederates evacuated Dalton and the town was occupied by Union troops. Until this time, the Blunt family had remained in their home, but they now took refuge with relatives in Chicago.
Many buildings in town, including their home, were confiscated for use as hospitals. With four rooms, a brick-walled cellar, a separate rear kitchen and several outbuildings, the Blunt House would make a fine Union Post Hospital.
On Christmas Day 1864, Assistant Surgeon-in-Charge George W. Fay reported 29 patients at the Blunt House, 77 additional patients in quarters. Ten had measles, and the balance were “unfit for duty,” likely due, he explained, to “too many men occupying one small tent” and “uncleanliness [sic] of some of the men.”
Many structures in Dalton were destroyed during the Union occupation, and the landscape ravaged. A Boston war correspondent wrote in 1865, “Whoever wishes to have a vivid description of devastation wrought by war can obtain it by a visit to Dalton ... I thought it had the most desolate look of any place I had ever seen.”
When the Blunt family returned after the war they found their home, though heavily damaged, had been spared. Ainsworth Blunt’s daughter Lillie recalled, “When the Union Army came the house and grounds were raided for food, fuel and stock; the fences were torn away and several trees and shrubs were cut down ... Upon our return in 1865 we found the house had been used as a hospital by the Federals and the yard filled with brush arbors erected as temporary shelter for the wounded soldiers. Fortunately the house was left intact but it took many months and much work to bring back the beauty of the grounds.”
In 1871 Congress enacted legislation providing reimbursement for losses sustained by the Union Army. The family received $1,815 for use of their house and for horses, food and fuel taken during the Union occupation.
Members of the Blunt family would live in the home for another hundred years. After the last residing family member passed away in 1978, the home and its contents were given to the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. Today, the Blunt House is a beautifully preserved historic family home, and is open to the public 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Friday, or upon request.
The home serves as a memorial to the service and sacrifice of Civil War soldiers — those who were nursed to health under its protection and those who received their last days of shelter and solace under its roof. For many, it offered their last best hope in a long and cruel war.
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the home’s use as a hospital, a replica of a typical brush arbor is featured on the front lawn of the Blunt House, including table, blankets, pillows, coffee pot and hand-made pot holders characteristic of the period. The exhibit will continue throughout the summer of 2014.
This article is part of a series of stories about Dalton and life in Dalton during the Civil War. The stories run on Sunday and are provided by the Dalton 150th Civil War Commission. To find out more about the committee, go to dalton150th.com. If you have material that you would like to contribute for a future article contact Robert Jenkins at (706) 259-4626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.