When the Indiana Zouaves arrived in Cumberland in June 1861, they attracted a lot of attention from the residents and understandably so. Hundreds of the soldiers arrived at one time wearing brightly colored uniforms.
Another group of soldiers began arriving around the same time. These men didn’t march down Baltimore Street in groups to display themselves. They arrived by train and wagon, even canal boat, at all hours of the day and were carried into hotels and warehouse out of public view.
The pageantry of the Civil War had quickly given way to the reality of soldiers who needed treatment. Because of Cumberland’s location at the nexus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and National Road, it became an ideal location to concentrate medical services. The wounded could be taken from the battlefronts by wagon and driven to Cumberland or loaded onto rail car that would speed them on their way there.
Once in Cumberland, military doctors, local physicians, Catholic sisters and volunteers took care of their needs.
With soldiers facing a much longer recovery time than they do nowadays, the beds in the dozens of temporary hospitals throughout Cumberland filled quickly. More wounded were coming into the city than were being released from the hospitals or buried in the graveyards. Supplies to treat all of them began dwindling.
In March 1862, the Wheeling Daily Press published a letter from a Cumberland surgeon thanking the U.S. Sanitary Commission in Wheeling for the supplies that had been sent to Cumberland. The surgeon wrote, in part, “We need them badly and they are doing our soldiers much good. We have about 1200 sick. In consequence of our increasing numbers we have not yet a sufficient supply of bed ticks, comfortable pillows, pillow cases, etc.”
Besides needing supplies, Surgeon-in-Charge George Suckley wanted to get the wounded out of the drafty warehouses, engine houses and other buildings that were not intended to house people. He began searching for a location where the wounded could be brought that wasn’t strung out among two dozen locations throughout Cumberland.
The answer came from an unlikely source.
Mary Townsend came from Frostburg one day to visit her husband who was a local doctor helping care for the wounded soldiers. She sat in Dr. Suckley’s office listening to the doctor and her husband discuss the condition of the soldiers as she recounted decades later.
“Can’t you think of some place near here where these convalescent men, who are not improving in this dreadful heat, could be transferred?” Dr. Suckley asked Dr. Townsend.
Mrs. Townsend didn’t even wait for husband to reply. She said that she knew of a place that was 8.5 miles from Cumberland in a “delightful valley I came through this afternoon with the finest spring water, a large tavern, several houses and three large barns not used for years.”
Her description appealed to Dr. Suckley who drove out to Clarysville to see it for himself. “The next day the barns were cleaned and fresh hay put on the floor, then the men were taken up with their blankets and laid on the flood. Many said they had never slept so well, it proved an ideal spot and hundreds of men were saved by the easy transfer,” Mrs. Townsend wrote.
Records show that Dr. Suckley, Dr. Townsend and the assistant quartermaster visited Clarysville on March 4, 1862. They liked what they saw and agreed with Mrs. Townsend that the site would make a fine hospital.
Brigade Surgeon John Carpenter wrote later that hospital buildings were “admirably located at a point sufficiently near for comfortable transportation, and sufficiently distant to enjoy all the advantages of a pure atmosphere. The seclusion of the position is such as to allow the convalescent abundant liberty for suitable exercise in the open air, and its purity produces the most admirable tonic effect upon the enfeebled sick. The supply of water is abundant and its quality excellent.”
Suckley made arrangements with Rebecca Clary, who owned the property, and Mrs. George Clise, who was renting the property, for the U.S. Government to use it. On March 6, 1862, 100 soldiers helped Mrs. Clise move into a nearby vacant house and the transformation of the inn into a hospital began.
The Clarysville Inn had been built in 1805 and became a popular stop along the National Road. However, it was obvious from the start that the two-story brick inn would not offer sufficient space to bring all of the wounded from Cumberland to Clarysville.
Construction soon began on additional facilities. Within a short time, six wards (150 feet long), three wards (130 feet long), a 100-foot-long ward, a 90-foot-long dining room, a70-foot-long kitchen, a 38-foot-long storehouse, a 50-foot-long guard quarters, a 44-foot-long bake house and eight waters closets (10 feet long) were built, according to a report written by Capt. George Harrison, assistant quartermaster in 1865.
“These buildings, though well adapted for use in warm weather, do not afford sufficient protection from the cold of winter for sick and wounded men. the declivity of the ground causes them to stand high, the sides are of rough upright boards with crevices not battened to their full height, and the ridge ventilators having no sash to close, the cold wind and snow penetrate to an extant unbearable by the patients,” Dr. George Oliver, the surgeon in charge following Dr. Suckley, wrote.
Each ward had two rows of iron cots with an aisle down the center, according to Robert Bruce in The National Road.
The influx of wounded continued, though, and even overflowed the capacity of the Clarysville Hospital and filled 15 temporary hospitals in Cumberland and one site in Mount Savage.
The hospital continued serving soldiers until August 1865 when its designation was changed from a General Hospital to Post Hospital. The structure and contents were sold and the government returned the inn to the owners.
The Clarysville Inn remained an operating inn until it burned down on March 10, 1999.
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