The Union Hotel and Unconditional Release

By the summer of 1861, as secession and the anticipation of war overtook the town of Winchester, the communal divide deepened over the name of one of its most prominent guesthouses. Located in the northeast corner of Market (Cameron) Street and Fairfax Lane, the “Union Hotel” had come under scrutiny. “Many residents, who had been unsure about secession, became caught up in wartime enthusiasm.” The Union Hotel’s crest was seen by most as an embarrassment. The town’s citizens determined that the name had to be revised. Soon the sign on the front of the building “was modified removing the U and the N, making it the ION Hotel.”

Following the 1st Battle of Kernstown, several of Winchester’s prominent structures were designated as hospitals and were soon teeming with wounded from both sides. It was soon apparent, however, that the town’s temporary medical facilities were being overwhelmed. They were simply unable to handle the volume of injured soldiers. The women of Winchester soon found themselves being drawn to these facilities to assist with critical care.

Noted “demon diarist” and resident of Winchester, Laura Lee, soon discovered the magnitude of this medical crisis. Laura had stated before the war that she “thought nothing would induce us to enter the hospitals, but we have never thought of having our own troops and their wounded and dying together.” Accompanied by Mary Greenhow Lee, the two women visited the Union (ION) Hotel on the afternoon of March 24, 1862, and “found everything there in utter confusion. The Yankees had taken over the facility shortly after midnight and converted it into a hospital. It was said the “shrieks & groans had been awful.” Mary located a close friend, George Washington, who had just had his leg amputated. Mary admitted there “was little hope of his recovery.”

On March 25, just two days after the battle, Mary Greenhow Lee, a woman who had repeatedly acknowledged she could barely stomach the sight of Yankees, went to the Union Hotel to take care of injured Southern soldiers. “The dead, the dying, the raving Maniac, & agonizing suffering, in its revolting forms, were before us; our men and the Yankees, all mixed together. She found herself “down on the floor, by the Yankees, feeding them. Mary discovered her humanity in this facility. She found she “could not give to one sufferer, and pass another by in silence.”

Mrs. Lee would return to the hotel the following day. She observed: “The poor men are neglected as the doctors are overwhelmed with the numbers of patients they have to contend with.” “The surgeons do not dress their wounds, even once a day, and there is no one to hand them a cup of water, after the ladies leave; they promise things will be better tomorrow;” but they never are.

Mary soon avowed that it “made no difference between Yankees and Rebels, when both were wounded and helpless.” “The dreadful scenes of the day, are before me so vividly, that I fear they will haunt me again to-night.” These visions would certainly preoccupy her mind that evening, and for many evenings to come.

Care for the wounded would continue, seemingly without end. A week after the battle Laura Lee was still making daily trips to the Union Hotel. At one point she overheard the surgeons saying “the army has been more demoralized by the kindness which have been shown the wounded than by the battle. They say they are sorry they allowed the women to enter the hospitals.” “When are these horrors to end?”

The horrors would not conclude any time soon. Mary Greenhow Lee would assert she was “so tired of the Yankees. They are more unendurable every day & then I so much dread the battle that will have to be fought before they are driven from the valley.” Unknown to Mary there were many more battles, and unnamed skirmishes, the residents of Winchester would have to endure. The town, itself, would prove to be one of the most contested in the Confederacy. It would change hands more than seventy times during the course of the war.

Following the 1st Battle of Winchester, on May 25, 1862, the town fell, once again, into Confederate hands. This time the senior Confederate surgeon was Doctor Hunter McGuire. McGuire was a native of Winchester, having been born there on October 11, 1835. He had spent a great deal of his youth accompanying his dad, who was one of the town’s foremost practicing physicians and educators, on many of his medical errands. After graduating from high school, Hunter decided to study medicine at the Winchester Medical College.

When war visited the Shenandoah Valley, however, McGuire returned to Winchester from Tulane University in New Orleans, where he had been schooling future surgeons. Here he joined the Winchester Rifles as a private, prepared to fight for the confederacy. The unit would later become Company F of the 2nd Virginia Infantry.

It was soon obvious that Hunter McGuire’s services were more valuable as a surgeon and he was soon ordered to report to General Thomas Jackson in that capacity at Harper’s Ferry. Far more skillful than his age would have signaled, within a year he was promoted to chief surgeon in Jackson’s Valley Army.

Shortly after the victorious Rebel throng entered Winchester, Private John Worsham, a member of Company F, 21st Virginia Infantry, noted: “Gen. Jackson captured vast stores: several hundred beef cattle, several hundred wagons with their teams, eleven thousand new muskets in boxes that had never been opened, a large amount of ammunition, and over three thousand prisoners.”

Hunter Mcguire

Doctor Hunter McGuire

In addition to all of the supplies mentioned by Private Worsham, a huge store of medical provisions had also been captured by the Confederate Army. Jackson’s medical director, Hunter McGuire, was suddenly in receipt of more medicinal provisions than he “had seen in one place since the beginning of the war, maybe even in his entire lifetime.” Additionally, seven Union doctors, all of whom had been treating the sick and wounded at the Union Hotel, also found themselves captives of the Confederate Army.

Doctor McGuire soon began to ponder the issue of how captured doctors should be treated when prisoners of war. McGuire felt that the skills these individuals possessed should require them to be handled differently from detained combatants. He began to think the situation “presented an opportunity to help define how captured military doctors and nurses should be treated, ensuring more consistent care for the sick and injured.”

Dr. McGuire decided the plight of these individuals needed to be resolved. He connected with General Jackson, and Dr. Daniel S. Conrad of the Stonewall Brigade, to settle the issue. In the course of their deliberations the three men decided they would attempt to set a precedent which they hoped would be adopted by the U.S government as well. Together they authored a document outlining the conviction that “doctors should be regarded as noncombatants, and ought to be released as soon as possible that they might continue saving lives.”

The seven captured doctors agreed to Doctor McGuire’s proposal and signed the document. A copy of the agreement is presented below.


WINCHESTER, Va., May 31, 1682.

We, Surgeons and Assistant Surgeons United States Army, now prisoners of war in this place, do give our parole of honor, on being unconditionally released, to report in person, singly or collectively, to the Secretary of War in Washington City, as such; and that we will use our best efforts that the same number of medical officers of the Confederate States Army, now prisoners or who may hereafter be taken, be released on the same terms.

And, furthermore, we will, on our honor, use our best efforts to have this principle established, viz.: The unconditional release of all medical officers taken prisoners of war hereafter.

  1. BURD. PEALE, Surgeon, First Brigade, BLENKER’s Division.

T.E. MITCHELL, Surgeon, First Maryland Regiment.

J.J. JOHNSON, Surgeon, Twenty-seventh Regiment, Indiana Volunteers, Gen. WILLIAMS’ Division.

FRANCIS LELAND, Surgeon, Second Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers.

PHILIP ADOLPHUS, Assistant Surgeon, U.S.A., in charge of Fourth Artillery.

LINOT B. STONE, Assistant Surgeon, Second Massachusetts Volunteers.

JOSIAH F. DALY, Jr., Assistant Surgeon, Tenth M.E. Regiment Volunteers.

EVELYN L. BISSELL, Assistant Surgeon, Fifth Connecticut Volunteers.


Medical Director, Army Valley, Va., C.S.


WINCHESTER, Va., May 31, 1862.

This is to certify that I, BURD PEALE, Surgeon First Brigade, BLENKER’s Division, T.E. MITCHELL, Surgeon First Indiana Regiment, J.J. JOHNSON, Surgeon Twenty-seventh Indiana Regiment, FRANCIS LELLAND, Surgeon Second Massachusetts Regiment, PHILIP ADOLPHUS, Assistant Surgeon U.S.A., L.R. STONE, Assistant Surgeon Second Massachusetts Regiment, J.F. DAY, Jr., Assistant Surgeon Tenth Maine Regiment, and E.L. BISSELL, Assistant Surgeon Firm Connecticut Regiment, having given their parole of honor to report themselves to the Secretary of War, in Washington, as prisoners of war, and to use their best endeavors to effect an exchange for a like number of surgeons and Assistant-Surgeons now held by the United States, are permitted to go at large. It is further understood that the above-named surgeons and assistant-surgeons are to endeavor to make this a principle for exchange of medical officers in the future.


Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding Post.


The agreement was successfully transferred to the U. S. Government and the results were almost immediate. On June 6, 1862, U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued Special Orders No. 60 which “immediately and unconditionally” freed all Confederate doctors held prisoner. “Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan communicated officially, regarding the release of captured doctors during the Peninsula Campaign. This proposal would become the rule regarding prisoner doctors, assistants, and nurses throughout the remainder of the Civil War.” Some elements of this agreement can even be found in the current version of the Geneva Convention’s agreement on the Treatment of Prisoners.

As a result, the Union, or Ion Hotel, in Winchester would prove to be a major contributor to the conduct of civilized warfare. The facility itself would, over the next two years, be constantly utilized as both a Union and Confederate hospital. As mentioned before, soldiers from both sides would even be treated simultaneously in this facility.

Unfortunately, in spite of its historical significance, the Union Hotel’s days were numbered. Between the eighth and thirteenth of December, 1864, more than a foot of snow had fallen in Winchester. Temperatures had tumbled well below freezing as well. On the 16th “the impact of snow building up upon a dilapidated building’s roof” came to the forefront.” Mary Greenhow Lee chronicled: “There has been a fall this evening which has been disastrous to the Yankees; the poor old Union Hotel fell down and seven Yankees were crushed in the ruins. It is said 25 are suffering a righteous retribution.” The facility was never rebuilt.

McGuire would continue his services as a physician throughout the course of the war. As chief medical surgeon in Jackson’s 2nd Corps, it fell upon Dr. McGuire to treat General Stonewall Jackson following his wounding at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863. It was he who amputated Jackson’s left arm in an attempt to save his life. The endeavor was in vain, though, as Stonewall would soon succumb to pneumonia. Dr. McGuire would be by his side when he expired, though, and would record Jackson’s famous last words: “Let us cross over the river and sit beneath the shade of the trees.” McGuire was a pallbearer at the General’s funeral.

As for Dr. Hunter McGuire, his proposal on the treatment of surgeons as non-combatants would serve him well in the final days of the war. Having been captured at the Battle of Waynesboro in March of 1865, Doctor McGuire was taken to General Philip Sheridan’s headquarters. Here McGuire found that his reputation had preceded him. Sheridan treated him courteously and offered him an immediate release and a two-week parole. The doctor accepted the offer and spent his two weeks of liberation in Staunton. Some say he spent the time courting his future wife. Regardless, he rejoined the Confederate army just in time for its surrender at Appomattox Court House.

The legacy of Doctor McGuire was very much venerated following the war. Most viewed McGuire as “the foremost leader of medical progress in Virginia and in the nation.” Late in his life Hunter McGuire founded St. Luke’s Hospital in Richmond. It would become one of the leading schools for instructing nurses in the nation. McGuire would also help found the Medical Society of Virginia.

St Lukes Hospital

St. Luke’s Hospital in Richmond

When President Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address in March of 1865, “he the laid the cornerstone of what would become the largest healthcare organization in the country; a system solely dedicated to serving Veterans.” Following World War II, the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center was built and dedicated in Richmond, Virginia. As such, it is committed to the healing of men and women who have served their nation in the military. Naming the facility after Doctor McGuire perfectly acknowledges and celebrates the values he had championed during his life.

McGuire VA Hospital

Hunter Homes McGuire V. A. Medical Facility in Richmond, Va.

If you look around Richmond you will find even more evidence of McGuire’s contributions to medicine and humanity. American sculptor William Couper “immortalized Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire with a statue, placed on the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol in 1904, two blocks from his beloved hospital.” The inscription upon the monument proclaims: “Hunter Holmes McGuire, M.D., L.L.D. President of the American Medical and of the American Surgical Associations; Founder of the University College of Medicine, Medical Director, Jackson’s Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, An Eminent Civil and Military Surgeon and Beloved Physician. An Able Teacher and Vigorous Writer; A Useful Citizen and Broad Humanitarian, Gifted in Mind and Generous in Heart, This Monument is Erected by his Many Friends.”

Hunter McGuire’s dedication to humankind and its welfare continues to service the lives of the public and those dedicated to the protection of our country. Certainly, his, was a life well lived. Like his close friend, Thomas Jackson, Hunter Holmes McGuire would die from pneumonia. McGuire passed on September 19, 1900, on the 36th anniversary of the 3rd Battle of Winchester.

McGuires Statue

Hunter McGuire’s Statue at the State Capitol in Richmond.


Mahon, Michael. Winchester Divided: The Civil War Letters of Julia Chase & Laura Lee. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, Pa. 2002.

Bonnell Jr., John C. Sabres in the Shenandoah. The 21st New York Cavalry, 1863-1865. Burd Street Press. Shippensburg, Pa. 1996.

Straader, Eloise C. The Civil War Journal of Mary Greenhow Lee. Winchester County Historical Society. Winchester, Va. 2011.


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