The Conditions at Camp Wikoff

Contributed by Joe Petritsch

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General:

The following account describes the deplorable conditions at Camp Wikoff which was located on Long Island's Montauk Point.

The Account:

After serving actively in the field, Dr. William Wallace Walker was reassigned to General Bates' staff. General Bates then ordered him to accompany the 164 sick and wounded men of the First Illinois Infantry Regiment on board the troopship S.S. BERLIN on its return trip to Camp Wikoff at Montauk Point on Long Island, New York.

Dr. Walker reached Montauk Point on August 31 and was placed in charge of the officers' ward in the general hospital at Camp Wikoff by order of Major General Joseph Wheeler. General "Fighting Joe" Wheeler was one of the most famous ex-Confederates to serve in the Spanish-American War. The General's daughter, Annie Wheeler, was head nurse at the officers' ward. For the three weeks that Dr. Walker was in charge of the ward only one patient died.

Major General Wheeler, Commander of Camp Wikoff, said: "In the space of less than three weeks, twenty thousand soldiers, fully half of whom were suffering from diseases contracted in Cuba, were landed upon the barren fields of Montauk Point." During its operation one hundred twenty-six men died at Camp Wikoff. Needless to say, the conditions at the camp and the resulting deaths caused a national scandal. Dr. Walker was at Camp Wikoff when he wrote a letter to the editor of the Schulenburg Sticker (September 8, 1898 edition) stating that: "This is a terrible place and time, it makes my heart bleed to see so many of my countrymen and comrades dying for wan't [sic] of proper medicine and treatment and the gross negligence and heartlessness of the medical staff. Right here in 100 miles of New York I cannot get medicines for typhoid fever, or chlorinated soda to wash out the bowels in typhoid fever and dysentery [cases], the two principal diseases killing our boys. . . . There is gross mismanagement somewhere and it is costing many lives. Too many politicians and rich menís sons are appointed to office. It is 10 a.m. and some of the doctors have not yet visited their wards to prescribe for the sick. I was at work at 5:30 a.m. I can't tolerate this kind of work."

Dr. Walker became so disheartened at what he saw that he wrote in the same letter, "I reported my arrival to General Sternberg for orders and asked him to send me to my Reg. I could do 100 times more good here but I am disgusted at mismanagement and wan't [sic] of care and common humanity exhibited by the medical staff. I am heartily ashamed of my profession." He then received special orders dated September 19, 1898, relieving him from duty with the Medical Department and returning him to his regiment in San Antonio.



Bibliography:

Callahan, Martin L.,  "From Shiloh to Santiago," Fort Sam Houston Texas Museum, Military Images Magazine., March-April 1998.


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