This letter was written by Washington G. Nugent (1822-1877) who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in the spring of 1843. He began the practice of medicine in Norristown, New Jersey, where he met and married Sarah Thomas — the youngest daughter of Dr. George W. Thomas. In 1855, Dr. Nugent removed to Pittston, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. When Dr. Nugent wrote this letter, he was serving as surgeon in the 126th Pennsylvania Infantry. Later in the war, he served as post surgeon at Fort Delaware.
Nugent wrote the letter to his commanding officer, Lt. Col. David Watson Rowe who took command of the regiment on 13 December 1862 after Col. James G. Elder was wounded in the thigh during the Battle of Fredericksburg. Rowe was wounded in the face (cheek) during the Battle of Chancellorsville the following May, 1863.
In his letter, Dr. Nugent defends himself against defamatory charges made to the Secretary of War by a Joseph Snively, otherwise unidentified. Snively was probably a relative to one or more of the soldiers by that surname who served in the 126th Pennsylvania.
Reference: Nugent, Washington G. My Darling Wife: The Letters of Washington George Nugent, Surgeon, Army of the Potomac. Maria Randall Allen, ed. Cheshire, CT: Ye Olde Book Bindery, 1994.
Camp of 126 Regt. Pennsylvania Volunteers
December 23rd 1862
Lieut. Col. [David Watson] Rowe
Commanding 126th Regt. P. V.
It was with amusement, sadness, and sorrow that I read a communication from a Mr. Joseph Snively to the Sec. of War in which he makes grave and serious charges against the medical officers of this regiment. Charge 1st — “That the food sent by the friends of said regiment to the sick in hospital has been diverted from the proper channel and used by the sergeant, cooks &c of the sergeant.” When I joined the regiment I found the Asst. Surgeons were both boarding at the hospital and I was requested to do likewise. I engaged boarding there and the price agreed upon with the hospital steward was three dollars per week for my own board. The other surgeons had arranged previously in regard to their boarding. The sum thus collected was to constitute an hospital fund for the purchase of articles that might be wanted for the sick in the shape of luxuries &c and this agreement has been rigidly adhered to.
I have eaten at the hospital since last October. In regards to to the articles sent for the sick, they have invariably been distributed to the several regiments in the brigade in equal shares in almost every instance in the presence of the persons who brought them, and in every case receipted for. Mr. Snively often brought articles to the men in hospital and frequently conversed with me in relation to the sick of our regiment, and had many opportunities of seeing them at meal time. At no time did he find any fault with the management of the hospital.
I have never known a single instance of complaint at the hands of the sick that their food was used by others, but they have in many cases confessed that they [were] comfortably provided for and well fed and were always reluctant to leave this hospital. The cooks and other attendants were from the same county with the sick and had many presents themselves from home of delicacies, and did not use the food sent to the sick.
In charge 2d, he declares that he learned from someone that on the 20th of October, three surgeons of this brigade rode into camp notoriously drunk. This charge is to me exceedingly painful. I can truly declare the whole charge false. You have had ample opportunity of observing the conduct of several medical officers belonging to the regiment and I beg as an especial favor that you will report such conduct if you are or have been aware of it. You may possibly remember one occasion soon after my connection with the regiment. I was returning from the Office of the Medical Director and in passing through our camp, my horse became somewhat restive, starting forward. I lost my hat in trying to recover which together with the shying of the animal I was thrown. I was at this time alone — neither Dr. Grube ¹ or any other person was with me. I have never seen nor have I ever heard of any such disgraceful conduct as mentioned by Mr. Snively on the part of Dr. Grube or any other medical officer connected with our division, and although I feel deeply pained that such a charge has been brought against myself, I nevertheless feel proud in the consciousness of the untruth.
What motives may have prompted Mr. Snively in bringing so serious a charge I am at a loss to conjecture but if you have any knowledge or belief in its truthfulness, I sincerely hope you will at once fully speak of it.
Very respectfully and sincerely yours, — W. G. Nugent, Surgeon, 126th Regt. P.V.
¹ Dr. Frank Grube served as Assistant Surgeon to Nugent on the staff of the 126th Pennsylvania. He later transferred to the 6th Army Corps.