U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History
Skip Navigation, go to content







AMEDD MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENTS External Link, Opens in New Window






Chapter XXXIV





On July 13, 1917 , the Surgeon General recommended to the Secretary of War that steps be taken to secure the Southern Branch of the Soldiers' Home at Hampton , Va. , for use as a general hospital.1 This place was delightfully situated, fronting on Hampton Roads, and comprised a group of permanent buildings, most of them brick, scattered over an area of 85 acres. The grounds were very attractive and the buildings, in the main, quite suitable for hospital purposes. There were barracks for approximately 2,500 persons, 11 of brick and 5 of frame. There were heating, lighting, and refrigerating plants, and a laundry and bakery. The home hospital had 250 beds, and there was available space for 100 attendants. The grounds afforded ample space for potential expansion. In addition to all these desirable qualities its most valuable asset lay in its close proximity to the Port of Embarkation, Newport News.2

A bill to transfer the home to the War Department for the period of the war was introduced in Congress August 10, 1917.3 This was followed by a protest by the then governor of the home, which was filed against the enactment of the necessary legislation by the Congressman who had introduced the bill. When the Surgeon General learned of this he asked that the bill be withdrawn, and the whole matter dropped.3 The old soldiers, however, at a mass meeting called for another purpose, overwhelmingly voted for the transfer.3  

Time went on and the surgeon of the Port of Embarkation, Newport News, was relying mainly for his debarkation hospital facilities upon the embarkation hospital at Camp Stewart. This hospital, therefore, in the summer of 1918 was serving not only as the hospital for the large number of sick from this embarkation camp, but was receiving the overseas sick returning to Newport News.

The bill transferring the Soldiers' Home to the jurisdiction and control of the War Department for the period of the war passed the Senate on October 24, 1918,4 and at once occupation of the empty buildings began under the direction of the port surgeon. The bill was not approved until November 7, 1918, but in the meantime all arrangements had been made. Due to the prompt action on the part of the port authorities, the earnest cooperation of the Soldiers' Home officials, and the willingness of the old soldiers themselves, this institution had been completely turned over by November 8, 1918,6 and on the 23d of that month it was designated Debarkation Hospital No. 51 and placed under the jurisdiction of the commanding general, Port of Embarkation, Newport News.7

In order to increase the efficiency of the institution, to enlarge its capacity, and to provide facilities for the handling of large numbers of sick being trans?




ferred from the port to various general hospitals in the United States, it was necessary to do considerable alteration and construction work. The largest and most important items were construction of a spur track and unloading and loading shed, the installation of fire equipment, considerable alteration to fit the institution to give modern treatment to the insane, the equipment of a laboratory, and considerable work on the heating system of old buildings.8 The total cost of this work was approximately $250,000.

On April 22, 1919, the hospital being no longer required by the port of embarkation, recommendation was made that it be designated a general hospital on May 1 and put under the direct control of the War Department.9 At this time it was deemed advisable to concentrate facilities for the treatment of various classes of the insane, and it was believed that this institution was more suitable for that work. The recommendation was approved on May 1.10 The hospital then began to operate for the first time as a general hospital-General Hospital No. 43-with a capacity of 2,000 beds and 700 sick under treatment.11 The capacity was promptly cut to 1,000 beds.11 In two weeks the number of sick had been reduced to 250,11 due to the elimination of sick recently returned from France and destined for the general hospitals of the interior. With the beginning of the treatment of the insane the number of sick rose, and by the close of May, 1,150 were constantly under treatment.11 By July, 1,350 (the maximum) were being cared for.11 A decline now began and continued. By January, 1920, the number had fallen to 360,11 and on the 8th of that month the Surgeon General recommended the abandonment of the general hospital and its return to the board of governors, to be effective on February 15.12 This recommendation was not approved until February 20,13 but pending its approval all arrangements were made, and when the approval was received the work of discharging and transferring actually began. Most of the 275 insane remaining on February 1 were discharged to the Bureau of War Risk Insurance and transferred to the various State institutions designated by that bureau for their reception. The remaining cases, relatively few in number, not eligible to discharge to the Bureau of War Risk Insurance were sent to General Hospitals Nos. 6, and 28, the Walter Reed General Hospital, and the Letterman General Hospital. On March 31 all buildings had been evacuated and the property entirely returned to the board of governors of the Soldiers' Home.14


Statistical data, United States Army Debarkation Hospital No. 51, Hampton, Va., from November, 1918, to December, 1919, inclusive



Debarkation Hospital No. 52 was located in the buildings of Richmond College, on the James River, 9 miles west of the city of Richmond.

The college reservation consisted of a 291-acre tract in the center of which was a lake of about 10 acres in extent. Only one-half of the land was cleared.

The buildings which were acquired and used comprised those of the Westhampton College (for girls) and the Richmond College (for boys). The Westhampton College was a large fireproof building of brick construction, situated on the west of the lake. It was a combination dormitory and school building and contained a kitchen and dining hall. Its hospital bed capacity was 350. The remaining buildings were scattered. The college administration building, on the east side of the lake, was about 1,800 feet from Westhampton College. Its bed capacity was 200. Across a ravine from the administration building, and about 900 feet distant, there were scattered groups of three buildings, two of which had been used as dormitories and one as a kitchen and dining room. One of the dormitories had a bed capacity of 100, and the other, 200. All buildings mentioned were of fireproof construction. About 200 feet west of the administration building, and on the edge of the lake, there was a frame building which had been used as a dance hall. South of the lake there was a two-story, frame building sufficiently large to accommodate 200 enlisted men and a kitchen and mess hall for them.

The terrain is rolling and affords good natural drainage. The soil is a mixture of clay and sand, the clay predominating, readily pulverizing in dry weather, producing an easily carried dust, and becoming a sticky mud after rains. At the time when the place was taken over for use as a hospital the surface was very little denuded, and so there was subsequently not much discomfort caused by either dust or mud.

On June 10, 1918, the commanding officer of the hospital was assigned, and on June 22, 1918, the personnel of General Hospital No. 13, with equipment for a 500-bed hospital, arrived from Dansville, N. Y., which, it will be recalled, was abandoned at that time.

The buildings of the college were used in the following manner: The Westhampton College was fitted up to accommodate 350 patients and to permit the operation of the operating room, the X-ray, eye, ear, nose, and throat departments, the laboratory and the pharmacy. The college administration building was converted into a ward building for 200 patients. One of the dormitories across the ravine from the administration building was made into a nurses' quarters for 100 nurses; and the other was made a combination ward and barracks for 75 patients and 130 enlisted men. The third building was used as a kitchen and mess hall for nurses and patients in this group. The dance hall was converted into a two-story ward with a bed capacity of 100. The building south of the lake was made into a barracks for the enlisted force. 

The officers were quartered in two buildings which had formerly been occupied by some of the teaching staff of the college.

aThe statements of fact appearing herein are based on the "History, Debarkation Hospital No. 52, Richmond College, Va.," by Maj. Arthur B. Crosbie, M. C., U. S. A., while on duty as a member of the staff of that hospital. The material used by him in the compilation of the history comprised official reports from the various divisions of the hospital. The history is on file in the Historical Division, Surgeon General's Office, Washington, D. C.-Ed.
bAfter General Hospital No. 22 ( Richmond College ) was converted into Debarkation Hospital No. 52, the former number was used for the general hospital at Philadelphia (see p. 557).


Four messes were operated. One was in Westhampton, which provided for all the patients and the enlisted personnel assigned to Westhampton; a second was at the east side of the lake, which was for nurses and patients located there; the third mess was in the enlisted men's barracks; and the fourth was conducted by the officers in one of their sets of quarters.

The basement of the Westhampton College was used as a storage place for Quartermaster supplies, and the basement of the administration building was utilized for the storage of Medical Department supplies. In addition to these places a large one-story building, located near the heating plant, was used as a storage place for both Quartermaster and Medical Department supplies. This was a ramshackle structure, however, the floor of which was subjected to flooding in the springtime, and could not be depended upon.

Mention has been made of the fact that, when General Hospital No. 13 was moved from Dansville, N. Y., to Richmond College, equipment for 500 beds was transferred with the personnel. This equipment was later augmented so as to be adequate for 1,000 beds.

The water of the hospital was that of the city of Richmond. Its source was the James River, and to make it potable it was coagulated and sedimented, then filtered through sand beds. Examination made of it at the hospital showed it to be consistently of excellent quality.

The group of buildings was connected with a sewerage system which had been installed by the college authorities. There was a sewage disposal plant, the effluent of which was chlorinated.

For heating the buildings there were three boilers. The system was hot water, and the pipes to the buildings were laid beneath the surface. It operated satisfactorily.

The lighting of the hospital was accomplished by the use of electricity, which was supplied by a power and lighting company of Richmond.

The American Red Cross provided two buildings at the hospital, namely, a convalescent house for the patients, and a recreation house for the nurses. These two buildings provided a center for all the social activities at the hospital.

The Young Men's Christian Association, though hampered by the lack of a building, did much to promote and develop the social and moral tone. Frequent entertainments were provided, athletic equipment was furnished the patients, and a real spirit of service was shown by the Young Men's Christian Association secretary in charge.

When the hospital was organized on June 22, 1918 , it was known as General Hospital No. 22, and as such functioned directly under the War Department.

On December 8, 1918, it having become apparent that this hospital could be operated to better advantage as a debarkation hospital than as a general hospital, its designation was changed to Debarkation Hospital No. 52, and thereafter it functioned under the control of the commanding general, Port of Embarkation, Newport News, Va.

The buildings in general were much better fitted for school purposes than for use as a hospital; much space was wasted in the dormitories which had to be used for wards; the sanitary arrangements were wholly inadequate, necessitating the installation of many additional lavatories and baths; no suitable


building was provided for surgery, and the mess halls and kitchens were at too great a distance from the wards. In fact, the widely scattered distribution of the buildings presented many almost insurmountable difficulties in the way of administrative control of the hospital. Of course, all these difficulties could have been overcome by the provision of new construction, as there was ample space on the hospital grounds for any requisite number of buildings. With the acquisition of the Soldiers' Home at Hampton, the need of beds at the Port of Embarkation, Newport News, for the debarking sick was not so pressing; consequently, no new buildings were provided at Debarkation Hospital No. 52.

The character of its buildings, as well as the fact that there could not be maintained there a pool of Medical Department personnel to send on trains distributing seriously sick and wounded to interior hospitals, limited the use of Debarkation Hospital No. 52 to ambulant patients.

On May 31, 1919, the buildings were formally evacuated and returned to the custody of the board of trustees of Richmond College.

Statistical data, United States Army Debarkation Hospital No. 52, Richmond College, Virginia, from July, 1918, to April, 1919, inclusive



(1) Letter from the Surgeon General to the Secretary of War, July 13, 1917. Subject: Use of National Branch, National Soldiers' Home, Virginia, for military hospital. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 190487 A (Old Files).

(2) Letter from Maj. W. L. Little, M. C., to the Surgeon General; July 9, 1917. Subject: Hospital site, Hampton, Va. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 190487 (Old Files).

(3) Letter from the Surgeon General to the Secretary of War, May 28, 1918. Subject: Transfer of Southern Branch of National Home for Disabled Soldiers to the Medical Department. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., .002 (Hampton, Va., Southern Branch) (F).

(4) Telegram from the Acting Surgeon General to the surgeon, Port of Embarkation, Newport News, Va., October 26, 1918. Subject: Bill passed Senate October 24, 1918. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., .002 (Hampton, Va.) F.

(5) Act of Congress approved November 7, 1918, Public Act No. 239, Sixty-fifth Congress (H. R. 13,036), approved November 7, 1918.

(6) Letter from the surgeon, Port of Embarkation, to the Surgeon General, November 9, 1918. Subject: Transfer of Soldiers' Home, Hampton, Va. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 601 (Soldiers' Home, Hampton, Va.) S.

(7) Second indorsement, War Department, A. G. O. to the Surgeon General, November 23, 1918. Subject: Authorizing designation of debarkation hospital. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 322.3 (Debark. Hosp. No. 51) I.

(8) Letter from commanding general, Port of Embarkation, Newport News, Va., to Chief of Construction Division, December 8, 1918. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 632 (Debarkation Hosp. No. 51) I. Also: Annual Report of the Surgeon General of the United States Army, 1919. Vol. II, 1150.

(9) Letter from the Surgeon General to The Adjutant General, April 22, 1919. Subject: Request designation of general hospital. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 680.1 (Deb. Hosp. No. 51) I.

(10) Letter from The Adjutant General of the Army to the Surgeon General, May l, 1919. Subject: Designation general hospital. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 680.1 (Deb. Hosp. No. 51) I.

(11) Shown on weekly bed reports. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 632 (U).

(12) Letter from the Surgeon General to The Adjutant General, January 8, 1920. Subject: Discontinuance of General Hospital No. 43. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 323.72-3 (G. H. No. 43) K.

(13) Letter from The Adjutant General of the Army to the Surgeon General, February 20, 1920. Subject: Discontinuance of General Hospital No. 43. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 323.72-3 (G. H. No. 43) K.

(14) Letter from the commanding officer to the Surgeon General, April 1, 1920. Subject: Discontinuance of General Hospital No. 43. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 323.72-3 (G. H. No. 43) K.