Hammond Hospital and an Old Beaufort Cemetery

A significant part of the Beaufort waterfront in the mid 19th century was the Atlantic Hotel, often referred to as the Atlantic House. Gray’s New Map of Beaufort, shows the hotel as the only structure on the waterfront between Pollock and Marsh Streets. Today that block includes the Beaufort Post Office (Beaufort Town Hall) along with the Duncan, Jones and Wheatley Houses.

Gray's 1882 Map
In April 1862, Josiah Pender's Atlantic House Hotel became Hammond General Hospital.

In her 1991 book The Atlantic Hotel, Virginia Pou Doughton wrote, "When the hotel was taken over by the Federal troops, according to Doughton, the War Department requested seven Sisters of Mercy chosen from St. Catherine’s Convent in New York. They were ordered to proceed to Beaufort and were accompanied by physician Dr. John Upham. At the time of their arrival there were many sick and wounded soldiers in the hotel. “The conditions were deplorable; blood and filth covered the whole structure.” The Sisters were soon put in charge, getting rid of the barefoot overseer whose “hair was matted and his scraggly beard stained with tobacco juice….constantly sitting in a wheelbarrow near the door…with a huge bunch of keys dangling from his belt.” The Sisters “performed miracles in cleaning up this filthy, foul-smelling, vermin-ridden building into the clean and sanitary Hammond Hospital. The hospital closed in the fall of 1862."

Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America by John Fialka

"On a balmy May evening in 1862, a heavy rain beat a tattoo on the roof of the Hammond General Hospital in Beaufort, North Carolina, as nine women, all dressed in black, arrived in a small boat. Stark figures silhouetted against the muddy sky, they walked single file down a long wharf to the hospital, a rambling, three-story structure built on pilings over the Atlantic.

"Just three months earlier it had been the Atlantic Hotel, a swank, new summer resort catering to the families of rich Southern planters. Now, as the women neared the beach, they saw signs of its current distress. Debris from what had been a grand piano, bits of shattered chandeliers, pieces of broken furniture and shards of what had been the hotel's elegant dinnerware lay underneath the dock, rolling lazily back and forth in the surf.

"It had been one helluva party. A few weeks previously, the hotel was sacked in a midnight raid by the Union Army. A few days after the wine cellar had been drunk and the furniture had been thrown from the rooms and the tiers of porches that hung over the sea, the boats began to arrive with their sad cargo. Two hundred men in blood-cakes uniforms—Union casualties from multiple battles raging on the nearby Virginia peninsula—were carried in to mark the final stage of the transformation from a pleasure palace to a ruin filled with pain.

"Until the women arrived, it had been one of the Civil War's many horrible medical innovations—a do-it-yourself hospital with no nurses, no soap, no candles, no lamps and a few sticks of furniture. Placed in charge of all this was a "steward," a suspicious, illiterate, barefoot man, a woodcutter from Maine named "Kit" Condon. He tended to rule the place from his perch on a wheelbarrow near the kitchen door.

"Who were these women? some of the soldiers wondered. Widows, others concluded, more wives from the north seeking the remains of their husbands. The medical consequences of the war were now reaching a level of butchery that had not been seen in land warfare outside the Orient. By the time the shooting stopped, there would be 1,094,453 casualties, including 634,026 dead. At the outset of the war the carnage from mechanized weapons and more accurate artillery completely overwhelmed the slender medical capabilities of both the Union and the Confederacy.

“The army had renamed the Atlantic Hotel after Dr. George A. Hammond, a hardworking, innovative Baltimore doctor who was Lincoln’s new surgeon general. He was struggling to reorganize the Army’s medical bureau. This was the day that Kit and his scruffy crew—who were busy making bread on the dirty marble top of a broken billiard table they had dragged into the kitchen—discovered that their daily drill was about to change. One of Dr. Hammond’s prescriptions was the introduction of Catholic nuns as nurses.

“These were no widows. They were Sister of Mercy from New York City, Irish women led by Mother Augustine MacKenna, who was educated in a hedge school and had run an infirmary and a home for homeless girls. An unusually tall, handsome woman, she would explain to people, “I am the daughter of an Irish giant.” After surveying the filth in the hospital, she told Kit she was taking over and presented the Army with her list of demand, which included brooms, tubs, kitchen utensils, castile soap, cologne, dressing gowns, towels, sponges, starch, lamps, kerosene and better food.

“Neither Mr. Kit nor the Army liked the idea of being ordered around by these strange women, but an order from Washington soon followed, putting the sisters in charge of everything but the medical department. Then a steamer arrived from New York laden with the goods they demanded. Clearly, the Atlantic Hotel had now been taken in a surprise raid by the Sisters of Mercy.

“This was a novelty to the soldiers, who had been nursing each other, sort of. Some were Harvard men, members of the 45th Massachusetts Volunteers. They had made a dashing entrance with their crisp new blue uniforms, landing accompanied by one of the best bands in the Army. Then the Confederate artillery had dashed them into the mud. One of the hospital’s patients, a sixteen-year-old private named Hiram Hubbard, was found screaming because his wool shirt had become encrusted into a festering back wound. His mates were trying to scrub it free using a rough towel soaked in cold water. Suddenly he felt a gentle hand take over, applying warm water and soap with a soft sponge. The shirt came off the wound. Private Hubbard stopped screaming, but his face was still pressed hard into the pillow of his bed.

“'Who is doing that?' came his muffled voice.
“'A Sister of Mercy,' she said as she dressed his back in soft, old linen.
“'What are you!' exclaimed the boy, turning, astonished to see a woman dressed in black with her fact framed by a stiff white collar. She was Sister Mary Gertrude Ledwith. She had seen her fill of frightened, shattered young men while serving as a nurse in the Crimean War, but she patiently explained to him that a Mercy’s job was to help those who suffer. The opposite poles of the emerging America stared at each other: the Harvard man, the immigrant Irish nun. Private Hubbard finally settled back on his bed, his pain eased. 'I don’t care what you are,' he sighed, 'you are a mother to me.'

“More supplies appeared. Accumulating layers of filth were scrubbed from the walls and floors. A new doctor arrived. The food improved and meals were served on time. The Hammond had a number of black women, freed slaves, who had come to work at the hospital. To them this was an amazing phenomenon: women in strange uniforms ordering around the conquering Union soldiers! At night, when everyone else was asleep, the blacks held impromptu skits in the kitchen, mimicking the authority and the Irish accents of the Hammond’s new masters as they issued cryptic commands to imaginary officers. They called them the North Ladies.

“Dr. Hammond sustained some political wounds from his bold effort to recruit more nuns for the hospitals. Army surgeons, who had often worked with them in hospitals before the war, seemed to prefer sisters. They were disciplined, organized and would calmly volunteer for the dirtiest, most difficult tasks.”


In March 1862, James Rumley, clerk of court in Beaufort, Carteret County, wrote in his DIARY,

"All communication between Beaufort and Fort Macon is cut off. The first act of the professed Union savers, upon their entrance into the town, was the seizure of a vacant private dwelling house belonging to a widow residing in the town, a barrack for their soldiers. Without ascertaining from the owner whether they could get the keys or not, they broke open the door, took possession of the premises, and hoisted the United States flag over the roof of the house.....

"The next act of outrage upon private rights, was the seizure of the Atlantic Hotel in Beaufort, the property of Capt. Pender. In this building was a great deal of valuable furniture. Capt. Pender was absent on private business. Mrs. Pender had lately died. The building was occupied by a lady who remained there in charge of three of Mrs. Pender's children, infants of tender years. The building was entered by officers, soldiers and negroes and robbed of all its most valuable furniture which was carried off....."

In May 1864, Rumley again wrote of the U.S. hospital, "A frightful mortality prevails among the unfortunate women and children who fled to this place on the evacuation of Washington [NC]. Every morning, for a fortnight past, from four to six corpses could be seen in the dead house at the U.S. Hospital (formerly the Pender Hotel) where three or four hundred of these unhappy exiles have been crowded together. Grave diggers and coffin makers are constantly at work. Measles and pneumonia are the chief diseases."  Review
of The Southern Mind under Union Rule: The Diary of James Rumley, Beaufort, North Carolina, 1862-1865
Edited by Judkin Browning
Order book.

In Beaufort's African-American History and Architecture, historic preservation consultant Peter B. Sandbeck wrote, “Beaufort’s importance as a center for former slaves grew and by 1865 the town was home to 3,245 refugees, making it North Carolina’s second largest center behind New Bern. The refugee camp seems to have been known as “Union Town,” a name which continued to be used to describe the town’s black section until at least the late nineteenth century. Several elderly residents still relate the tradition that there is a Union burying ground located in the heart of the “Union Town” neighborhood, at the southeast corner of Pine and Marsh streets, used as a cemetery for the soldiers who died at Hammond Hospital located in the old Front Street House hotel on Front Street.”

In Beaufort by the Sea, Memories of a Lifetime, Neal Willis (1917-2004) wrote, “There was a cemetery on the corner of Pine and Marsh Streets. It was a corner lot, grown up with tall weeds and small scrub oak trees. There was an old wooden fence around it and we could see headstones inside. Most were wood. I passed there many times when I was growing up. We all thought it was an old burying ground for colored people. It was news to me when I read in the newspaper that it was used for burial of Confederate soldiers.” Any signs of this cemetery have nearly disappeared.