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Excerpted from
History of the Medical Department
U.S. Army

Following the great earthquake and fire which nearly destroyed the city of San Francisco, April 18, 1906, and the days following, most admirable sanitary and emergency work was done by the officers and men of the medical department under the able direction of Lieut. Col. G.H. Torney, who was at the time acting chief surgeon of the Department of California, and his successor in that office, Colonel C. L. Heizmenn.

Captain James M. Kennedy, assistant surgeon, was placed in command of the general hospital and Lieut. Col. Torney, upon request of the mayor and the president of the health commission of San Francisco, was placed at the head of a joint committee of the city, state and federal authorities to control the sanitation of the city in addition to his duties as chief surgeon of the department.

General Funston's order placing Colonel Torney in charge was as follows:

Headquarters Pacific Division
San Francisco, Cal., April 20, 1906

NO. 37

2. Lieut. Col. George H. Torney, medical department, U.S. Army, is hereby placed in charge of the sanitary arrangements for the city of San Francisco. All his orders must be strictly obeyed by all parties whomsoever.

By command of Brigadier General Funston:

Military Secretary.

The unrestricted power granted by this order enabled the medical department of the army to act promptly and effectively in meeting the emergency problems of sanitation which presented themselves. All possible assistance was rendered to the sick and injured in the city as well as for the refugee camps. Company B, Hospital Corps, was sent from the Presidio with the troops and, under the command of Captain Albert E. Truby, assistant surgeon, rendered valuable assistance during the days of the fire. All supplies from the medical supply depot were issued on the approval of the chief surgeon, including those sent to relief societies and to the city authorities. Every effort was made to reduce the issue of supplies to a minimum consistent with the needs of the situation and the limited personnel available.

The medical supply depot, which had been destroyed with all its supplies, was at first located under the general hospital, the space under the wards being used for this purpose; but, owing to the danger from fire and the limited amount of space, the location was changed to the plain just to the left of the hospital grounds, where tents were erected as storage and issue rooms. A large circus tent was afterwards secured by Lieut. Col. Louis Brechemin, deputy surgeon general, in charge of the depot, which was used as an issue tent. All requisitions from camps and hospitals in the city were, after approval by the chief surgeon or the chief sanitary officer, sent to the supply depot and immediately issued, most of the persons needing the supplies bringing transportation with them and returning with the articles without delay. Where no transportation was brought it was furnished from the depot.

On April 19th orders were given the medical supply officer at St. Louis to pack and prepare for shipment medical supplies equivalent to the supply table allowance for a population of 60,000 for four months, and on the 21st the first shipment of 5 carloads went forward by express under charge of a medical officer and detachment of the hospital corps, who had instructions not to leave the supplies until they were delivered to the medical supply officer in San Francisco.

April 26th the entire shipment of 19 carloads had been forwarded by special trains. These shipments made the schedule time of passenger trains and were delivered without serious delay. The amount of the heavier non-expendable articles was somewhat reduced from the allowance above mentioned and a complete field hospital and three regimental hospitals added. A medical officer and detachment of the hospital corps accompanied the second regiment.

Medical officers and members of the hospital corps casually in the city en route to or from the Philippines Division were, by authority of the War Department, held for duty under the emergency.

Food, bedding and clothing were issued from the general hospital to such persons as were in need prior to the establishment of regular relief stations, and the division headquarters, medical supply depot, and the chief surgeon's office were furnished with office furniture and stationery.

Until the establishment of the various city hospitals all civilian patients were admitted without charge. May 3, 1906, the laundry at the general hospital was burned, greatly hampering the efficiency of that institution.

Company A, Hospital Corps, was sent from Washington Barracks, D.C., and established a field hospital at Golden Gate Park, which was of the greatest assistance in caring for the sick. One ward was devoted to maternity cases and one to contagious diseases. A contagious disease hospital was also established at Harbor View Park and placed under the charge of Dr. McKenzie, of Portland, Oregon. Valuable assistance was rendered to the general hospital and refugee camps by the physicians of the city whose offices were destroyed in the fire.

During the gradual withdrawal of the troops from the refugee camps and the substitution of civilian control, the sanitation of the camps remained under the supervision of members of the medical corps of the army. These officers and enlisted men serving with them conducted their work with the utmost skill in the trying position of dealing with a semi-military command, being hampered by lack of knowledge of sanitation and discipline on the part f the majority of the people in the camps as well as lack of authority to carry out such measures as they considered proper.

Return to the 1906 Earthquake Exhibit.

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