View Full Version : question about old pics

02-10-2009, 11:47 PM
in some old phots of medical camps i keep seeing a rope design of some leaves or evergreen type material over the peaks of the tents usually in a circle with a star in the center what was the snigifance was it pest control? or a sort of air freshner ?? what ???
Looks like what we would use today for a christmas decor

02-11-2009, 07:11 AM

Do you think you could post a couple of photos to what you reference? I have not seen this in many photos of hospital tents. Are you sure you've identified the pictures correctly?


02-11-2009, 08:07 AM

Try here:


All I see are a bunch of brush arbors. I do recall a Camp Letterman photo where the tents are decorated with pine boughs.

If that link doesn't work, use this one, go to the search feature and us the word "hospital."




If that doesn't work, use "Selected Civil War Photographs" or, "Libriary of Congress, Civil War Photo" as google searches. Should get you there.

There is this one:
http://img15.imageshack.us/img15/4364/boughsathospitaltenthy8.jpg (http://imageshack.us)

Make the place look nicer for the wounded maybe? Or, were they just for the camera?

02-11-2009, 05:44 PM

In embalming and funeral service, there are two schools of thought regarding the use of pine garlands and wreaths. In one, we believe that the pine and cypress had been an ancient symbol appropriate for use to represent loss and memorialization because they are evergreens and available regardless of the season. Another school of thought is that their purpose was to attract insects to the pine rather than to humans (living or dead) and animals in the immediate area. This latter "school" also includes all floral material in the explanation.

It is interesting to note that the Camp Letterman photo depicts a tent that was used by Doctors Chamberlain and Lyford to demonstrate embalming of the dead and is also seen in at least two other other images that show the demonstration of surgical procedures. Other photos of the Camp Letterman tents appear in William Frassanito's "Early Photographs of Gettysburg".

02-11-2009, 08:52 PM
I would have to really look through my stuff but in general that is the look I have seen in in a hospitol setting as well as hospitol tenting areas
I assumed it was the same for insects

02-13-2009, 09:18 AM
So the general reasoning is the pictures were lettered incorectly? They were mortitions and not surgeons? And were supposedly used to curb insects.

02-13-2009, 05:28 PM
Not exactly. The signs in the photos aren't labelled incorrectly. Instead, the same backdrop was used for both photographs of the embalming surgeons and the medical surgeons. I believe that I've seen two different photos of embalming surgeons at Camp Letterman and at least two "amputation" photos with military medical personnel. My as yet undocumented hunch is that the use of the pine garlands may have served the dual purpose of attacting insects as well as providing an appropriate form of decoration for "camp" life.

02-14-2009, 02:37 AM
I wonder if sprigs of the eucalyptus melliodora was used as well perhaps more as a general air freshner and insect chaser

03-03-2009, 06:26 PM

I have also researched this topic as it is of interest for our group's field hospital impression. I respect and admire Jon's expertise and opinion but disagree on the use of garland and wreaths on CW field hospitals. The following is just my 2 cents worth.

I believe the garlands and wreaths seen in many of the hospital tent photos are primarily composed of cedar foliage, a known insect repellent plant- partic. useful to repel moths attracted to candle lighting. Some period photos do show makeshift canopies of pine, etc. but they appear to be designed more for protection from the sun and rain in the field during the summer months. (I'm guessing the US Sanitary Commission's elaborate use of garlands seen in some of the pics was also utilized primarily for insect repellent instead of decoration)

Other herbs with known insecticide properties include wormwood,, lemon balm, perilla, various mints, feverfew, lavender, garlic, eucalyptus and pennyroyal. Some of the B&W photos which appear to contain floral/herbal elements and may include some of these as well.

Although the wine industry has a long tradition of using willow hoops on their barrels to attract boring insects away from the hardwood barrels, it doesn't seem reasonable that a pine (or other wood) bough would attract significant quantities of insects away from tent furnishings and inhabitants, nor would this issue and remedy be limited to a hospital.

Bgent raises the issue of wreaths with a star in the center- I believe the star seen in one of the the pics (perhaps at Camp Letterman) indicated the 12th? Corp badge and rep. one of the 12th Corps divisions' field hospitals and not part of the wreath per se. My information suggests period wreaths were made on willow (barrel) hoop frames- wreaths being easier to construct than evergreen roping and conseq. more common. They may well have provided a dual function of corps/division identification.

Research on period memorial symbols indicate that garland signified "victory in death" while the wreath often symbolized "victory" The wreath and festoon/garland together, "memory. Further, dead leaves can symbolize sadness or melancholy. Broken flowers, "a life terminated, mortality". None of these symbols seem fitting for a field hospital.

As a final note, the funerary trade of the day may well have utilized the evergreen as a symbol of eternal life, etc. but, I guess their primary use in the field was to repel insects as well- no doubt the bane of period embalmers!


Rick McNutt
Hospital Steward