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With three other doctors from nearby towns and fifteen civilians unfamiliar with nursing, Rob J. boarded the City of Louisiana mailboat around noon as it pounded through the fog over the Ohio River. At five in the afternoon they reached Paducah near Kentucky Lake and entered the Tennessee River. In the dark of night they passed Fort Henry unseen, which Ulysses S. Grant had taken a month earlier. All of the next day they chugged past towns, full storage sheds, and flooded fields. It was almost dark when they reached Pittsburg Landing at five o’clock. When Rob J. arrived there were twenty-four steamships – including two gunboats.
When the medical troop got out, they found that the river bank had been turned into a mud desert by a Union retreat on Sunday: they sank almost to their knees. Rob J. was assigned to continue on the War Hawk, a ship that carried four hundred and six wounded soldiers. Almost everyone was already on board when he got on and they left without delay. The first officer told Rob J. grimly that the huge number of wounded after the battle had overcrowded hospitals across Tennessee. The War Hawk has to take its passengers on the Tennessee River many hundreds of miles up the river to the Ohio River and on this to Cincinnati.
Wounded were everywhere: down in the officers and passenger cabins, but also close together on the deck in the still pouring rain. Rob J. and a medical officer named Jim Sprague were the only doctors. All the treatment materials had been stowed in a cabin, and the journey had been less than two hours when Rob J. discovered that the medicinal brandy was finding thieving lovers. The ship’s military commander was a young lieutenant named Crittendon, whose eyes were still clouded from the battle.
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