Civil War and Bryce Hospital

Even though the building was still incomplete, on April 5, 1861 the first patient was admitted to the Alabama Insane Hospital, a forty-eight year old soldier from Fort Morgan on the order of General Duff Green. He was diagnosed by Dr. Bryce as “suffering from Mania A; alleged cause unknown; existing cause political excitement.” The hospital officially opened the following day.

There were no African American patients at the Alabama hospital during the Civil War. Insane slaves were kept at work on the farms and plantations. As long as individuals with mental conditions could be employed profitably, their owners probably saw no reason to institutionalize them. Extremely violent slaves were usually put in jails and prisons.

Only a portion of the large building was inhabitable. Northern workmen had left their jobs at the outbreak of the Civil War, much of the equipment and machinery for the hospital had not yet been shipped from Northern factories where it had been manufactured, and now there was not enough money available to purchase it. Because of this only portions of the west wing were occupied, the first and third floors by men and the second by women.

In 1862 after the Battle of Shiloh, the east wing was turned into a military hospital. In July of that year Dr. Bryce made his first report to the board of trustees. He told them that he had thirty-one insane patients present in the hospital, nineteen men and twelve women. At that time Alabama counties paid $3.00 per week per patient. However, payment was irregular at best and the hospital was often left to its own resources. Women did all the sewing for patients. The men raised vegetables, meat, poultry, and other farm products. They also fished in the Black Warrior River. Sugar cane was undoubtedly the most unusual crop ever grown on the hospital farm. Inflation made Confederate currency almost worthless and created problems at the hospital which was dependent on state support. To generate revenue in the last years of the war Dr. Bryce conceived the idea of making tax-free whiskey out of sugar cane. In anticipation of doing so, he had several stills erected upon hospital grounds. Ultimately, however, he was unable to get the necessary tax exemption and clearance to proceed. Despite the fact, the hospital benefited from the venture for sugar cane and sorghum sold for extremely high prices that year and sales provided much needed revenue.

On April 4, 1865 Dr. and Mrs. Bryce and the family of the president of the University of Alabama climbed to the dome of the hospital and watched the destruction of the adjacent university by Federal troops. Later that day a detachment of soldiers entered the hospital grounds to be met by Dr. Bryce. They did not search the hospital, but they did confiscate all the horses and mules, a serious loss that deprived the hospital of animals needed for plowing and other farm work. The state gave the hospital little financial support during the war, and the institution was forced to become virtually self sustaining.

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