Scott Mingus photo of a diorama of the York U.S. Army General Hospital
“The name of York will long be remembered by me…”
During the Civil War, more than 14,000 wounded or ill Union soldiers received treatment at the sprawling U. S. Army General Hospital in Penn Common (now Penn Park). Less than 200 of them died, a remarkable survival rate of 98% compared with the national average of 92% at other similar army facilities. Much credit can be given to the excellent medical staff, headed from 1862-1864 by Dr. Henry Palmer and then for the rest of the war by Dr. St. John Mintzer, and to the standards of cleanliness and hygiene.
Credit can also be given to the women of York. Many of them gave countless hours of cooking, baking, cleaning, washing, reading, singing, writing letters, and other forms of positive support for the convalescents.
After their recovery and discharge from the hospital, several soldiers took the time to write formal letters of thanks.
Here’s one such example from an Ohio soldier which the York Gazette published in its September 2, 1862, issue.
“Ladies of York, feeling myself indebted to you for the kindness shown to the sick and wounded of this Hospital, I feel it to be my duty as one who has received the kindest attention, to return to you my sincere thanks for your kindness to me. — The name of York will long be remembered by me. This is one of the most lovely places that I have seen since I bid farewell to my native home, in Ohio.
“Here we have everything that we need to make us comfortable, and there has been nothing left undone by the Medical Board of this Hospital that pertains to our welfare; all seems to harmonize together for the welfare of their country; long may you live, and may the God of Heavens bless you for the interest you have taken in the welfare of the sick in York. Some of us may never be permitted to see you again after leaving here, but if we are spared to return to our homes how many will say how kind we were treated by the citizens of York. I know I will think of you often, you have been as mothers and sisters to us in place of strangers.
“Our Country has called for help, and we had bid farewell to our families and gone to defend that glorious old flag that floats above this once happy country. Some of us have no doubt said good-bye to our friends, never to see them again, it is a solemn thought, but we must submit to it, we are no better than the old patriots that bled and died to gain our Liberty; we must sustain that flag that floated over this happy Country July the 4th, 1776 over the free and the brave; give us Liberty or Death.
“Yours truly, William L. Rannells, Co. G, 60th Ohio.”
William Linley Rannells, a widower, enlisted in Gallipolis, Ohio, on May 25, 1861, for a one-year term. According to his post-war pension record, while serving in the summer of 1862 in Winchester, Virginia, a piece of falling timber struck him on the small of his back. The regimental surgeon of the 60th Ohio Volunteer Infantry treated him for three or four days but Rannells did not recover. He was taken to the army hospital in Winchester where Surgeon Degrau ministered to him. Unfit for duty, Rannells was moved to another hospital in Baltimore before being taken on the Northern Central Railway north to York. There, he was assigned a bed in the Sixth Ward. Finally well enough to go home, he received a medical discharge from the army on October 20, 1862, in Baltimore. Rannells subsequently married a Gallipolis girl, moved to Calusa County, California, and became a minister of the gospel. He suffered from severe diabetes and the resultant loss of an eye which he claimed stemmed from his wartime injury. He received $12 a month as a pension.
His final years were a mixed bag. On March 15, 1881, the Sacramento Record-Union reported, “W. L. Rannells, a Campbellite preacher, has become a raving maniac at Red Bluff.” He was confined to the county jail until an examination could be conducted to determine the reason for his loss of reason. Rannells recovered and was well enough to lead singing and preach at various events over the next few years. For a brief time, he flirted with converting to Mormonism. On a hunting trip in 1886, Rannells and his friend G. H. Stout killed two mountain lions, each five-and-half-feet in length, near the headwaters of Tomes Creek in the Sacramento Valley.
According to his Findagrave profile, the Reverend W. L. Rannells died on August 4, 1902. Hopefully, the positive image of the ladies of York, Pennsylvania, stayed strong his entire life and he remained grateful.
For more information, see the excellent Pennsylvania in the Civil War blog.