Armory Square Hospital

Armory Square Hospital, built in 1862, was located on the National Mall where the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum stands today. The hospital was one of many medical facilities located in downtown Washington, D.C. Armory Square Hospital had twelve pavilions plus overflow tents with one thousand hospital beds that were filled with wounded from the battlefields of Virginia.

Nurses assigned to Armory Square Hospital worked under Army regulations. Nurse Amanda Akin Stearns likened the hospital to a solar system where all wards revolved around the surgeon in charge, and each ward turned on its own axis, with its own surgeon and female nurse, an orderly for both, ward master, cadet surgeon to dress wounds, three attendants, and two night watchers.

Stearns recorded the daily routine in her memoirs. After reveille sounded at 6 a.m., the nurses dressed, tidied their rooms, and dispensed medications. They then served breakfast to their patients before eating their own. Constant supervision of the patients was the order of the day in addition to reading and writing letters for soldiers. More medicines were dispensed before noon followed by lunch. The afternoons were set aside for relaxation, resting, and outdoor walks. By 5 p.m., nurses gave their patients another round of medicine. Evenings were spent trying to entertain the men. The night watchers arrived at 8:45 p.m., and nurses gave them final directions before retiring for the night.

President Abraham Lincoln often visited the hospital and took a special interest in it, even suggesting that flower beds be made between the wards using plants from the government gardens. Stearns remembered that Lincoln's eyes had a sad, far-away look as he shook hands with each soldier. She noted that he paused before those suffering the most to offer a warm "God bless you."

Poet Walt Whitman frequented the wards of Armory Square Hospital where the most severely wounded received treatment. Whitman became interested in helping sick and wounded soldiers after visiting his brother George in a hospital after the Battle of Fredericksburg. Working as an unpaid delegate of the Christian Commission in early 1863, he visited hospitals around Washington, D.C., and raised money to buy extra food and supplies for the soldiers.

Armory Square Hospital closed at the end the war. The building was used for storage purposes, then as offices for the U.S. Fish Commission until the building was demolished in January 1964.


Click Center Image for Full Size Picture