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Posted May 3, 2013 | Leave a comment
Patrick Farris: Dr. Blackford and Front Royal Hospital's heyday
By Patrick Farris
At the height of its half-year in Front Royal, the hospital and its staff were described as accommodating the following: 500 patients in two new buildings, 200 patients in the courthouse, and additional numbers in the Baptist church, Episcopal church and the Academy (Simpson's place).
Dr. Benjamin Blackford certainly did not find these conditions upon arrival in September of 1861. Having enlisted as an assistant surgeon on April 26 earlier the same year, Blackford joined up with other volunteering units from the Lynchburg area. These units rode by rail in April from Lynchburg to Richmond, where Jubal Early - hailing from the same region of Virginia as these volunteers - swore the units into service with the Confederate Army.
On May 6, Robert E. Lee orders the 11th Virginia, as the Lynchburg Area units are by this point collectively grouped, to Manassas Gap Junction, and it is from there in the following month that the 11th receives its baptism of fire at First Manassas. Three months later, Blackford is ordered to Front Royal to take command of the hospital to be constructed there, partly out of the impending and expected need of such a facility, and partly as a result of the many camp casualties already building in number as poor living conditions gave rise to communicable diseases.
Front Royal is a logical location for a hospital in the autumn of 1861, as it is not perceived at the time that the Federals can or will push this far south in the Shenandoah Valley, and the railroad to Front Royal comes directly from Manassas and other northern Virginia front line locations certain to generate future casualties.
We are fortunate in that Blackford kept a record of his correspondence with the medical headquarters in Manassas, and it is from that source that most of the following information about the Front Royal Hospital was gleaned. The following tidbits from his journal show the hospital's interaction with the local population:
Interested in local history? Come visit the Warren Heritage Society in Front Royal. Refer to warrenheritagesociety.org for contact information, hours and location. Patrick Farris is executive director of the Warren Heritage Society.
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