Thursday, January 7, 2021

Hospitals in Nashville During the American Civil War

By Michelle Shocklee

Like most of us, when I think of a hospital, I think of a building specifically created for the care of the sick and injured. I picture clean sheets, sterile instruments, surgical areas, and plenty of beds for all who need them. And while those images may describe some hospitals that existed in the 1860s, most "hospitals" used during the Civil War looked very different. 

Nashville newspaper article, 1863
My novel Under the Tulip Tree takes place in Nashville and includes scenes from the Battle of Nashville that took place December 15-16, 1864. While researching the book, I was surprised to discover that most of the hospitals that sprang up after this battle, as well as the Battle of Franklin (November 30, 1864), were not hospitals at all. The vast majority of injured soldiers were carried to private homes, businesses, hotels, schools, and churches where doctors, nurses, and an army of volunteers--both white and black--did their utmost to care for the gravely and mortally wounded men from both sides. 

Nashville was a Confederate-held city until Federal troops took control of it in February 1862. In March 1863, a list of Union hospitals was published in the local newspaper. Wounded or ill soldiers would have been brought to one of these reinvented businesses, depending on the soldiers' rank, color, and the level of nursing skill required to meet their particular needs. 

For more than a century, it has been estimated that about 620,000 Americans died in the conflict, with more than half of those dying off the battlefield from disease or festering wounds. That enormous number means that thousands upon thousands of men needed a hospital at some point during the years between 1861 and 1865. 

At least two Nashville hospitals were housed in former Confederate gun factories. Others took over schools where learning came to an abrupt halt and students were replaced with men suffering from dysentery, venereal diseases, infections, and fevers. If a patient was diagnosed with small pox, they were immediately taken to a hospital for that specific disease in order to prevent spreading. Separate hopsitals were also created for prisoners of war as well as black patients.  

If an officer was wounded or fell ill, he was taken to the Planter's Hotel to recuperate. The neighborhood was quiet and the hotel offered lovely grounds where the men could get some fresh air and exercise. The same was true of hospitals located in Howard high school, Hume high school, and Hynes high school. All provided excellent grounds and even views of the city. 

Hospital Number 19, Nashville, TN, 1863

But in December 1864, these hospitals would overflow with gravely injured and dying men after the Battle of Nashville. In fact, despite the seemingly large number of hospitals set up in the years prior to the battle, the number of wounded far exceeded the preparations. Approximately 10,000 casualties resulted from the two-day battle. Every bed was occupied with wounded men. Blood-soaked floors were lined with bodies. Men even had to wait outside in the bitter cold before room could be found inside, usually because another poor soul had died. 

Today, most of the buildings that once housed these makeshift hospitals are gone or have been transformed into businesses and condominiums. Several private homes that were used as hospitals remain intact, including Carnton Plantation in Franklin. I've had the privilege of spending time in an 1840s private home outside of Nashville where wounded Union soldiers were taken after the battle. As I walk the halls and climb the stairs, I can't help but wonder what sights and sounds those old brick walls witnessed.  

Hospitals aren't my favorite place to go--either as a patient or a visitor--but I'm truly thankful for the modern medical facilities available to us these days. If we've learned anything during the pandemic of 2020, it's how incredibly vital fully staffed and fully equipped hospitals are!  

Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at


Sixteen-year-old Lorena Leland’s dreams of a rich and fulfilling life as a writer are dashed when the stock market crashes in 1929. Seven years into the Great Depression, Rena’s banker father has retreated into the bottle, her sister is married to a lazy charlatan and gambler, and Rena is an unemployed newspaper reporter. Eager for any writing job, Rena accepts a position interviewing former slaves for the Federal Writers’ Project. There, she meets Frankie Washington, a 101-year-old woman whose honest yet tragic past captivates Rena.

As Frankie recounts her life as a slave, Rena is horrified to learn of all the older woman has endured—especially because Rena’s ancestors owned slaves. While Frankie’s story challenges Rena’s preconceptions about slavery, it also connects the two women whose lives are otherwise separated by age, race, and circumstances. But will this bond of respect, admiration, and friendship be broken by a revelation neither woman sees coming?


  1. Thanks for the post. We have come a long way in the health field since those days, and need to continue to ensure that quality practices are of utmost priority.

    1. Connie, I agree completely! Thanks for your comment.

  2. Hospitals aren't something we like to think about, but they are crucial. I can't imagine what the medical staff had to deal with in the aftermath of the battle. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Linda, you're welcome! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. this is interesting facts about the hospitals. thank you for sharing. we really have come a long way since then, and im sure we have a long way to go yet

    1. Lori, I'm glad you found the topic interesting. Yes, thankfully, we HAVE come a long way!

    159 years ago today (11-25-1863) my Great Grandfather, George C Burch, was shot. He was a soldier in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He joined the Confederate Army on March 28, 1861 in Madison, Fl and was assigned to the 1st Florida Infantry Battalion. He participated in many battles. On November 24th and 25th of 1863, he participated in the battle of Missionary Ridge right outside of Chattanooga, Tn.
    At this Battle Major General U. S. Grant commanded a Federal force of 56,359 in the Military Division of the Mississippi. General Braxton Bragg commanded the Army of Tennessee that numbered 44,010. The Federal victory produced 5,428 casualties that included 753 killed in action, another 4,722 wounded and 349 missing. The Confederate losses included 361 killed in action, another 2,160 wounded and an incredible 4,146 missing! Corporal George Burch was among the casualties with a gunshot wound to his left leg just above the ankle that, according to his later pension application, severed a ligament rendering him unable to walk.. Captured on the battlefield, he was treated at the General Field Hospital in Bridgeport, Alabama. On December 10, 1863 he was discharged and transported to General Hospital #3 in Nashville, Tennessee for recuperation where he arrived December 12, 1863 After a recovery period he was sent to prison camp at Ft Delaware located on an island in the Delaware River. He was released from Prison at the close of the war in June 1865 and returned to Perry, Fl.
    Note: Acknowledgement of and special thanks to Odeen Tyre for providing the military facts. He currently has a book available with many ancestors of Southeast Georgia.