Hospital Stewards "Temperate, Honest And Reliable"
The lowest ranking member of the Union and Confederate Medical Departments during the Civil War were usually hospital stewards- noncommissioned officers who received the pay and allowance of a sergeant major. Each regiment was authorized to have one hospital steward, who was often chosen by the regimental surgeon from the enlisted men in the unit. Hospital stewards were also assigned to permanent military hospitals.
Army regulations specified that men selected as hospital stewards had to be of good character: "temperate, honest, and in every way reliable, as well as sufficiently intelligent, and skilled in pharmacy." Temperance was an important quality since one responsibility of the hospital steward was controlling and dispensing medicinal whiskey. As he was responsible for keeping many medical records, the steward also needed to be literate and intelligent.
His other duties included assisting the field surgeon in operations, supervising hospital cooks and nurses, and even prescribing drugs and performing minor operations during emergencies. Army doctors relied heavily on hospital stewards for the day-to-day management of their department.
Regulations called for Union hospital stewards to wear the red-trimmed uniform of artillerymen. Their uniform insignia consisted of an emerald green, yellow-edged, half-chevron that bore a two-inch-long yellow caduceus (staff with two entwined snakes and two wings at the top). Hospital stewards of volunteer regiments, however, were known to wear a variety of different uniforms and insignia. Confederate hospital stewards' uniforms and insignias were not officially regulated, but one surgeon recalled that on the uniform many wore, "the chevrons on the coat sleeves and the stripe down the trousers... were similar to those worn by an orderly or first sergeant, but were black in color."
Fascinating Fact: George E. Waller, hospital steward of the 24th Virginia, was so competent and reliable that he was placed in charge of a filed hospital during the winter of 1863-64.
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