Hospital Camp, Jeffersonville, Indiana

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Hospital Camp in Jeffersonville, Indiana
c. 1864-1866
Photograph, carte-de-visite
2½ x 4 in.
Chicago History Museum

This early photograph shows a hospital camp named Jefferson General near Jeffersonville, Indiana. This type of photograph is called a carte-de-visite (visiting card) and would have most likely been purchased by a soldier to send home as a sort of early post-card or to keep as a reminder of his service in the war. Moreover, it is made of two separate photos put together to form a panorama—an overall view of the entire facility. Unfortunately, many soldiers did not survive their hospital stays to write home.

There was an immense need for hospitals, doctors, and nurses during the Civil War. Jefferson General was known as one of the Union’s best hospitals. Do you see how the hallways, or wards, of the hospital are fanned out from the center, like spokes on a bicycle wheel? Each of these wards could hold up to sixty patients, making the hospital the third largest in the country. In the three years that the hospital was in service it received more than 16,000 patients!

Note that someone has written, “Hospital Camp Joe Holt Jefferson Ind” on the photograph. Camp Joe Holt and Jefferson General Hospital were actually two separate facilities. Jefferson General was built to replace the hospital at Camp Joe Holt, located a few miles east. Given how close they were to each other, it may have been easy to confuse the two. It is also possible that people used the old name out of habit.

1. Civil War soldiers risked their lives on and off the battlefield. Even the flu or a bad cut could be deadly. Despite this, almost three million soldiers fought in the war. What do you think inspired people to fight for a cause that most likely would cost them their lives?

2. This hospital was built very near the Ohio River so boats could easily bring the wounded. What other kinds of things would you have to think about when building a field hospital?  

3. When writing appears near a photograph, how does it affect our understanding of the image? How do you know when it was written?  

Further reading:
Baird, Lewis C. Baird’s History of Clark County, Indiana. Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphic, 1972.

Indiana Historical Society. "Camp Joe Holt and Jefferson General Hospital Photographs, ca. 1865, Collection #P0300." Indiana Historical Society.

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