Mansion House Hospital: First Person Accounts

Mansion House hospital is mentioned in first person accounts by a nurse, soldier/patient and surgeon. A patient card and fragment of a letter were found during restoration of the Carlyle House.

Page updated on Mar 8, 2020 at 1:29 PM

Mansion House Hospital

Mary Phinney von Olnhausen, Nurse 

Mary Phinney von Olnhausen arrived in Alexandria in August 1862, just after the Battle of Cedar Mountain and was assigned to the Mansion House General Hospital, the city's largest military hospital. She was a widow of a Prussian nobleman and living in Lexington, MA, when she came to nurse.

After the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, she wrote:

The whole street (Fairfax Street) was full of ambulances and the sick lay outside on the sidewalks from nine in the morning till five in the evening. Of course places were found for some; but already the house was full; so most had to be packed back again and taken off to Fairfax Seminary, two miles out. I have been so indignant all day. - not a thing done for them, not a wound dressed...They reached town last evening, lay in the cars all night without blankets or food, were chucked into ambulances, lay about here all day, and to-night were put back into ambulances and carted off again. I think every man who comes a soldiering is a fool! 

Surgeon in charge Dr. Summers did not support female nurses and was known to make life miserable for them, but Dorothea Dix placed them there anyway. Von Olnhausen wrote:

The surgeon told me he had no room for me, and a nurse told me he said he would make the house so hot for me, I would not stay long. When I told Miss Dix I could not remain without a room to sleep in, she, knowing the plan of driving me out, said "My child (I was nearly as old as herself), you will stay where I have placed you." 

  • Source: Adventures of an Army Nurse in Two Wars, Mary Phinney Baroness von Olnhausen, Little Brown and Company. Boston, 1904. Online courtesy  University of California Library.

Judson, patient/soldier

From a letter from a patient/soldier named Judson, at Mansion House, to Sarah Stillman, Rochester, NY, Aug. 23, 1862:

My health at present is quite good with the exception of now and then a day. I am not [now?] taking care of the wounded, dressing and treating their wounds and doing such things as need to be done.

J.B. Porter, Surgeon

Surgeon J.B. Porter felt he was falsely accused by patients at the hospital. He requested a hearing before a Court of Inquiry, as reported in the New York Times on March 22, 1862:

General Orders No. 85 – ….The Court find that certain inmates of Mansion House Hospital at Alexandria, Va., furnished by Col. J.H. Mansfield, agent of the State of Wisconsin, and Aide-de-Camp to the Governor of said State, certain letters alleging certain matters against Surgeon J.B. PORTER, USA….The Court took these letters as the basis of their inquiry and, on the evidence, under oath of the complainants themselves, the evidence has failed to substantiate the statements set forth in these letters, except in a few instances outside of the control of the hospital department common to the Army on the Virginia side of the Potomac: for a short period in the month of December, 1861, the flour furnished to the Alexandria bakery was of inferior quality.

No witness has testified to Dr. PORTER’s striking patients, or otherwise punishing them….The Court finds that the conduct of Dr. John B. PORTER towards the patients has been distinguished by kindness and consideration for the wants of the sick….

  • Source: “The Mansion Hospital at Alexandria; Vindication of Dr. J.B. Porter.” The New York Times, March 22, 1862. 

Fragment of letter from a patient

Found during restoration of the Carlyle House

Mansion House Hospital
Alexandria, Va May 1864

Dear Suse,
I have [illegible] yours. No letters of any kind. I don't know when I will
leave here. My time is out on the 28 of September. We expect to be [illegible]
here some more [illegible] I Get it [illegible] No more is possible


Official card for patient S.D. Newcomb

Found during restoration of the Carlyle House

A small piece of cardstock which may be either a hospital admission ticket or a bed label. The piece is in poor condition, with most of the writing faded. 

Bed Number: 133
Name: S D Newcomb
Company: 1st Bat, 93 [illegible]
Regiment: 93 [illegible]
Disease or Injury: [illegible] used wound right ankle
Date of Admission: May 28th, 1864
Date of Discharge:
Where Sent and by what Authority: