Part 5 out of 6
COST OF ORDER.
In making molds and rests for mangled limbs, I had large demands for
little cushions, and without economy could not get enough. When one just
fitted a place I wanted to keep it, and to do this, must have it aired,
perhaps washed. To avoid lint dressings, I hunted pieces of soft, table
linen, gave to patients pieces to suit, and as the supply was short they
would get nurses and surgeons to leave their pieces of linen, after
dressing their wounds until I should take charge, and have them cleansed
for next time. To do all this, I must use the grass-plats and railings
for airing and drying cushions and rags. These plats and railings were
for ornament, and there was soon a protest against putting them to "such
vile uses." I had gone into the hospital with the stupid notion that its
primary object was the care and comfort of the sick and wounded. It was
long after that I learned that a vast majority of all benevolent
institutions are gotten up to gratify the asthetic tastes of the public;
exhibit the wealth and generosity of the founders, and furnish places
for officers. The beneficiaries of the institutions are simply an
apology for their existence, and having furnished that apology, the less
said about them the better.
The surgeons of Campbell did really want its patients to be happy and
get well; but it was a model institution, with a reputation to sustain;
was part of a system under general laws, which might not be broken with
impunity. There was no law against a man dying for want of sleep from
pain caused by misplaced muscle; but the statutes against litter were
inexorable as those of the Medes and Persians. The Campbell surgeons
winked at my litter, until one regular inspection day, when my cushions
and rags, clean and unclean, those marked John Smith, and those labeled
Tom Brown, were all huddled up and stuffed _en masse_ into the pantry
I used to wonder if the Creator had invented a new variety of idiot, and
made a lot in order to supply the army with medical inspectors, or, if
by some cunning military device, the Surgeon-General had been able to
select all those conglomerations of official dignity and asinine
stupidity, from the open donkey-market of the world. Inspecting a
hospital was just like investigating an Indian fraud. The man whose work
was to be inspected or investigated, met the inspector or investigator
at the door, showed him all he wished him to see and examine witnesses
wholly in his power--when the inspected and inspector, the investigated
and investigator exchanged compliments, and the public were gratified to
learn that all was in a most gratifying condition of perfect order.
One day we had a particularly searching inspection, and next day nurse
told me of some four new cases which had been brought in a week before,
one of whom the inspectors said was past hope. I found his feet and
legs with, a crust on them like the shell of a snail; had a piece of
rubber cloth laid under them, and with tepid water, a good crash towel,
and plenty of rubbing, got down to the skin, which I rubbed well with
lard. Then with fresh towels and water at hand, I drew away the sheet in
which the patient had rolled his head, and while I washed his head and
arms and breast, I talked, and he tried to answer; but it was some time
before he could steady his tongue and lips so as to articulate, and when
he did, his first words were:
"Are you the woman that's been a-washin' my feet?"
"That is exactly what I have been doing, and much need they had of it.
Do you not think you are a pretty fellow to have me come all the way
from Minnesota to wash your feet?"
It was with much effort he could fix his dazed eyes on my face, and he
made several pitiful attempts before he succeeded in saying:
"I think ye'r the best woman that ever I saw!"
"Ah, that is because you never saw much, away out there in Venango
county, Pennsylvania, where you live. There are thousands of better
women than I, running around hunting work, in this part of the country."
"Yes, indeed; and nothing for them to do!"
"I never saw none uv 'em!"
"That is because you have had your head rolled up in that sheet. Just
keep your head uncovered, so you can breathe this nice, fresh air; open
your eyes every little while, and you will see a whole row of those
women, all hunting work!"
He seemed quite interested, and when I had done washing and given
directions to a nurse to cleanse the balance of his person, I asked if
there was anything more I could do for him, when he stammered:
"Not unless you could get me a cup of tea--a cup of good green tea,
'thout any milk or sugar in it. If you do, I'll pay you for it."
"Pay me for it, will you? and how much will you give me--three cents?"
"Oh, I'll give you twenty-five cents."
"Twenty-five cents for a cup of good green tea, without any milk or
sugar in it!"
I called the ward to witness the bargain, said I should grow rich at
that rate, and hurried off for the tea.
I had a little silver tray and tea-set, with two china cups. Mrs.
Gangewer, of the Ohio Aid Society, had sent me a tin tea-kettle and
spirit-lamp; folks at a distance had sent plenty of the best tea; and
that little tea-tray had become a prominent feature of Campbell long
before this poor fellow specified his want. I made the tray unusually
attractive that day, and fed him his tea from a spoon, while he admired
the tiny pot, out of which, with the aid of the kettle, I could furnish
twenty cups of good tea. When I had served all in that ward who wanted
tea, the first one took a second cup, and while taking it his skin grew
moist, and I knew he was saved from that death of misplaced matter
vulgarly called "dirt," to which well-paid medical inspectors had
consigned him, while giving their invaluable scientific attention to
floor-scrubbing and bed-making, to whitewashing and laundry-work.
I doubt if there were a Medical Inspector in the army who was not a
first rate judge of the art of folding and ironing a sheet or
pillow-slip; of the particular tuck which brought out the outlines of
the corners of a mattress, as seen through a counterpane; and of the art
and mystery of cleaning a floor. It did seem as if they had all reached
office through their great proficiency as cabin-boys.
Next day I went to that ward with my tea-tray; and after learning that
that man had been washed once more, asked him if he wanted another cup
"I'd like to have one," he stammered; "but I didn't pay you for the last
one, and I can't find my wallet!"
I saw the debt troubled him, and took this as one more evidence that
somewhere there were people who sold hospital stores to sick soldiers.
So I took pains to explain that he owed me nothing; that the tea was
his--ladies had sent it to me to give to him--and all the pay they
wanted was for him to get well, and go home to his mother.
The idea that some one was thinking for him seemed to do him almost as
much good as the tea.
I left Campbell next day, but on my first visit found him convalescing,
and on the second visit he ran down the ward holding his sides and
laughing, and I saw or heard of him no more.
LEARN TO CONTROL PIEMIA.
About ten days after I went to Campbell, I was called at midnight to a
death-bed. It was a case of flesh-wound in the thigh, and the whole limb
was swollen almost to bursting, so cold as to startle by the touch, and
almost as transparent as glass. I knew this was piemia and that for it
medical science had no cure; but I wanted to warm that cold limb, to
call circulation back to that inert mass. The first thought was warm,
wet compresses, hot bricks, hot flannel; but the kitchen was locked, and
it was little I could do without fire, except to receive and write down
his dying messages to parents, and the girl who was waiting to be his
When the surgeon's morning hour came he still lived; and at my
suggestion the warm compresses were applied. He said, "they feel so
good," and was quite comforted by them, but died about ten o'clock. I
was greatly grieved to think he had suffered from cold the last night of
life, but how avoid any number of similar occurrences? There was no
artificial heat in any of the wards. A basin of warm water was only to
be obtained by special favor of the cooks; but they had been very
courteous. The third day of my appearance among them, one looked up over
the edge of the tub over which he bent, washing potatoes, and said, as I
stood waiting for hot water,
"Do you know what you look like going around here among us fellows?"
"No! but nothing dreadful I hope."
"You just look like an angel, and that's what we all think; we're ever
so much better since you came."
The memory of this speech gave me courage to go and lay my trouble
before the cooks, who gathered to hear me tell the story of that death,
the messages left for the friends who should see him no more, and of my
sorrow that I could not drive away the cold on that last, sad night.
They all wiped their eyes on their aprons; head cook went to a cupboard,
brought a key and handed it to me, saying:
"There, mother, is a key of this kitchen; come in here whenever you
please. We will always find room on the ranges for your bricks, and I'll
have something nice in the cupboard every night for you and the nurses."
This proved to be the key to the situation, and after I received that
bit of metal from cook, there was not one death from piemia in any ward
where I was free to work, although I have had as many, I think, as sixty
men struck with the premonitary chill, in one night. I concluded that
"piemia" was French for neglect, and that the antidote was warmth,
nourishing food, stimulants, friction, fresh air and cheerfulness, and
did not hesitate to say that if death wanted to get a man out of my
hands, he must send some other agent than piemia. I do not believe in
the medical theory concerning it; do not believe pus ever gets into the
veins, or that there is any poison about it, except that of ignorance
and indifference on the part of doctors and nurses.
FIRST CASE OF GROWING A NEW BONE.
I had searched for Minnesota men in Campbell, found none, and had been
there a week, when Mrs. Kelsey told me there was one in ward ten,
credited to a Wisconsin regiment; and from him I learned that he was a
friend and neighbor of my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Bancroft, of
Mantorville, and my conscience reproached me for not sooner finding him;
but the second day Mrs. Gaylord came, as a messenger from the surgeons,
to tell me I need not spend time and strength on him, as he could not be
His was a thigh wound. They had thought to amputate, but found the bone
shattered from joint to joint--had, with a chain saw, cut it off above
the knee, and picked out the bone in pieces. There was a splinter
attached to the upper joint, but that was all the bone left in the
thigh, and the injury was one from which recovery was impossible. His
father, a doctor, was visiting him, and knew he must die.
I went to the patient, who said:
"Dr. True, the ward surgeon has just been here, and tells me I must
I sat by him fitting the measure I had been taking for two days to this
new aspect of the case, and talking of death, and the preparation for
it, until I thought I understood the case, when I said:
"Be ready for death, as every one of any sense should always be; but I
do not intend to let you die."
"I guess you cannot help it! All the surgeons and father agree that
there is no hope for me."
"But they are all liable to be mistaken, and none of them have taken
into the account your courage and recuperative force; your good life and
good conscience; your muscle, like a pine log; your pure breath; your
clear skin and good blood. I do not care what they say, you will live; I
will not let you die!"
I found Dr. Baxter, and said:
"I want you to save Corporal Kendall!"
"Corporal Kendall! who is he?"
"The man out of whose thigh you took the bone last week."
His face grew sad, but he said:
"Oh, we mean to save them all if we can."
"Doctor, that is no answer. I am interested in this man, know his
friends and want to understand his case. If I can keep his stomach in
good working order and well supplied with blood-making food, keep away
chills and keep down pain, so that he can sleep, will he not get well?"
He laughed and replied:
"Well, I really never heard of a man dying under such circumstances."
"I can do that, doctor."
"If you can you will save him, of course, and we will give him to you."
"But, doctor, you must do all the surgery. I must not give him pain;
cannot see that wound."
"Oh, certainly, we will do everything in our power; but he is yours, for
we have no hope of saving him."
"Another thing, doctor; you will have him brought to Ward Four."
He gave the order at once, adding: "Put him to the right of Howard"--a
young Philadelphian with a thigh stump, who was likely to die of
hemorrhage, and whose jerking nerves I could soothe and quiet better
than any one else.
By this arrangement the man minus a thigh bone was placed in the center
of my field of labor, and under the care of Dr. Kelly; but full ten days
after this arrangement was made, he came with a rueful face and said:
"We have consulted the Surgeon-General, Medical Inspector, and a dozen
other surgeons outside the hospital, and they all agree that there is no
hope for Kendall. The surgeons here have commissioned me to tell you,
for we think you ought to know. We all appreciate what you are doing,
and think you will save all your other men if you live, but you cannot
stand this strain long. You do not know it; but there is a limit to your
powers of endurance, and you are breaking. You certainly will die if you
keep on as you have been going, and it is not worth your while to kill
yourself for Kendall, for you cannot save him."
"What is the reason he cannot be saved?"
"Well, there are several reasons. First, I performed the operation, and
did not do it as thoroughly as I wished. He was coming out from under
the influence of the chloroform, and they hurried me. The case was
hopeless, and no use to give him pain, so there are several pieces of
bone which I failed to find. These are driven into the flesh, and nature
in trying to get rid of them will get up such excessive suppuration that
he must die of exhaustion. Then there is the thigh without a bone, and
there is nothing in the books to warrant a hope that it could heal in
that condition. We could not, in any case, hope for the formation of a
new bone. There are re-sections of two inches, but this is the longest
new formation of which we know anything, and in this case there can be
no hope, because the periosteum is destroyed."
"Periosteum, doctor. What is that, again?"
"It is the bone-feeder; the strong membrane which incloses the bone, and
through which it is made. In this case it is absolutely destroyed,
removed, torn to shreds--gone. So there are several reasons why he
cannot be saved."
"Doctor Kelly, do you intend to let him lie there and die?"
"Oh no! oh no! I will do all in my power for him. I am paid for that; it
is my duty; but it is not your duty to sacrifice your own life in a vain
effort to save another."
"Doctor Kelly, he _shall_ not die; I will not let him. I know nothing
about your books and bones; but he can live with one bone wanting, and I
tell you he shall not die, and I will not die either."
It was a week or more after this conversation I found my patient, one
morning, with blue lips and a pinched nose, and said to him:
"What is this?"
"Well, I had a chill last night."
"A chill and did not send for me?"
"You were here until after midnight, and must have some rest."
"Corporal Kendall, how _dare_ you talk to me in that manner? You
promised to send for me if there were any change for the worse; and
after this I cannot trust you. Now I must stay here. Do you think I am
going to lose my investment in you? Do you suppose I would work over you
as I have been doing, and then drop you for fear of a little more work?"
As I passed to the kitchen I found that blue lips and pinched noses had
suddenly come into fashion; that there were more of them than I had time
to count; but did not, for a moment, dream of letting a man get into the
graveyard by that gate.
The merry, young Irishman who had volunteered as my orderly, had a
period of active service; and no more willing pair of hands and feet
ever were interposed between men and death. Hot bricks, hot blankets,
bottles of hot water, hot whisky punch and green tea were the order of
the forenoon, and of a good many hours of night and day after it; for
that victory was won by a long struggle. For ten nights I never lay down
in my room; but slept, all I did sleep, lying on a cot about the center
of Ward Four, and two cots from the man minus a bone. I could drop
asleep in an instant, and sleep during ordinary movements; but a change
in a voice brought me to my post in a moment. I could command anything
in the dispensary or store-rooms at any hour of the day or night, and
carried many a man through the crisis of a night attack, when if he had
been left until discovered in the morning, there would have been little
hope for him; and when a surgeon could have done nothing without a key
to the kitchen which none of them had.
I kept no secrets from any of them: told each one just what I had done
in his ward; thankfully received his approval and directions, asked
about things I did not understand, and was careful that my nursing was
in harmony with his surgery.
During that trial-time there was one night that death seemed to be
gaining the victory in Corporal Kendall's case. Pain defied my utmost
efforts and held the citadel. Sleep fled; the circulation grew sluggish,
and both he and I knew that the result hung on the hour. It was two
o'clock A.M., and from midnight I had been trying to bring rest. The
injured limb was suspended in a zinc trough. I had raised, lowered it by
imperceptible motions; cut bandage where it seemed to bind, tucked in
bits of cotton or oakum, kept the toes in motion, irritated the surface
wherever I could get the point of a finger in through the bandages; kept
up the heat of the body, and the hope of the soul; and sat down to hold
his hands and try mesmeric passes and sounds, when he turned his head on
the pillow, and said:
"Even if I should get well, I'll never be fit for infantry service
"No, you never will."
"I might walk with that machine you talk of; but never could march and
carry a knapsack! But I have been thinking. I am a pretty good
engineer. You know Secretary Stanton? You might get me transferred to
the Navy, and I could run an engine on a gunboat."
"That is it, exactly! You will get over this! I will have you
transferred to a gunboat, and next time you will go into the Rebellion
prow foremost. You ought to be at work, in time to help take
I continued to talk, in a sing-song croone, to stroke his
head, and hold his hand, until he slept, which was but a few moments
after settling that transfer, and the last time I saw him, which was in
'79, he got over the ground and up and down stairs, as fast as most
people, his new bone being quite as good as any of the old ones, except
being a little short and decidedly crooked, although the crook did not
effect its usefulness or general appearance.
A HEROIC MOTHER.
James Bride, who drew me to Campbell, by asking for "something to quench
thirst," was one of the thousands who died of flesh-wounds, for want of
surgical trap doors, through which nature might throw out her chips. His
wound was in the hip, and no opening ever was made to the center of the
injury, except that made by the bullet which had gone in and staid
His mother came three days before he died, and being minus hoops and
finery, the ward surgeon was anxious she should remain with her son, and
we arranged that she should sleep in my room. There was just space
between the cot and wall for the breadth of a mattress, and when the
door was shut, that space was long enough, for me to lie between the
door and the stand. I have never entertained a guest more cheerfully, or
one by whose presence I felt more honored; yet the traveling costume was
a short calico dress, strong leather shoes and blue woolen stockings,
visible below the dress, a gingham sunbonnet and double-bordered cap
tied under her chin.
Several richly dressed ladies came from Eastern cities to see dying
relatives, but to none of them were the surgeons so thoroughly
respectful, as to this plain, strong, clean, high-souled country-woman,
who staid with her son, and was hailed with joy by all the men in his
ward, to every one of whom she was sympathetic and helpful.
Her case was hard. She and her husband, who was old and feeble, had just
three sons, two strong and vigorous, one a cripple. Their two vigorous
sons enlisted together, and fell in the charge on Marie's Hill, within
ten feet and ten minutes of each other. William was buried on the
battle-field, and she had come to see James die in hospital.
When all was over and her boy was carried to the dead house, they
brought her to me, and I have never heard such pathetic, eloquent
expressions of grief as those she poured forth in that little, rough,
"Oh, William! William!" she sobbed, "You are lying, to-night, in your
bloody grave, and your mother will never know where it is! and you,
James! you were my first-born, but I cannot go to you now, where you lie
in the darkness among the dead! Oh, but it is a sad story I must carry
to your old father, to bring his gray hairs in sorrow to the grave. Who
can we lean upon, in our old age? Who will take care of Johnny when we
are gone? Oh, it is a hard, hard lot."
She wrung her hands, bowed over her knees, in a paroxysm of tears, then
raised herself, threw back her head, and exclaimed. "But oh! boys dear,
wouldn't I rather you were where you are this night, than that you had
thrown down your guns and run!"
TWO KINDS OF APPRECIATION.
Looking down the long vista of memory, to the many faces turned to me
from beds of pain, I find few to which I can attach a name, and one I
seem never to have looked upon but once. It is a long, sallow face,
surmounted by bushy, yellow hair; it has a clear, oval outline, and
straight nose, brown eyes and a down of young manhood on the wasted,
trembling lips; I knew it then, as the face of a fever patient, but not
one to whom I had rendered any special service, and felt surprised when
the trembling lips said, in a pitiful, pleading way.
"We boys has been a talkin' about you!"
"Have you, my dear--and what have you boys been saying about me?"
"We've jist been a sayin' that good many ladies has been kind to us, but
none uv 'em ever loved us but you!"
"Well, my dear, I do not know how it is with the other ladies, but I am
sure I do love you very, very dearly! You do not know half how much I
"Oh, yes, we do! yes, we do! we know 'at you don't take care uv us
'cause it's your juty! you jist do it 'cause you love to!"
"That is it exactly--just because I love to, and because I want you to
get well and go to your mothers."
"Yes! but the boys says you don't care about 'em when they get well."
"They do not need to have me care for them when they are well."
"Oh, yes, they do! yes, they do! an' if that's the way you're a goin' to
serve me, I'll stay sick a long time."
When hospital stores came to me so fast that there was great trouble in
getting them wisely distributed, Campbell lent me an ambulance to go
around, see where they were needed, and supply as many as I could. I had
a letter from an old Pittsburg neighbor, asking me to see his brother in
Douglas Hospital, and went in an ambulance well supplied with jellies
Douglas Hospital was an institution of which the city was proud. It had
much finer buildings than any other in the city, occupied the finest
residence block in the city, and had a wide reputation for grandeur and
beauty and superb management. I found the halls and rooms quite as
elegant as I had any reason to expect, but was surprised to find that
elegance undisturbed by the presence of sick or wounded men. In one back
room a wounded officer looked lonely, and they said there were other
rooms used for sick soldiers, but all I saw were parlors, reception
rooms, offices and sleeping apartments for surgeons, and the Lady
Abbess, with her attendant Sisters of Mercy or Charity.
After we had strolled through several sumptuous apartments, we were
taken out into the adjoining square, where there were large barracks as
white as lime and brushes could make them, and making a pretty picture
among the trees. Inside, the walls were white as on the outside, and the
pictures already up, as well as those just being put up, were bright as
bright could be. Indeed. I do not know how pictures could have been
greener or bluer or yellower or redder, and when the show-off man called
my attention to them, as calculated to make the place cheerful; I
recognized their merit, but suggested that some paper blinds might be
desirable to keep the sun from shining into the faces of the men who lay
on the cots.
The roof or walls did not seem well calculated to keep out wind or rain,
but paper blinds would ward off sunshine. From the condition of the
floor, it was evident that the demon of the scrubbing brush, which has
possession of all model institutions, had full sway in Douglas barracks.
Pine boards could not well have been made whiter. No laundry man need
have feared to own to the doing up of the bed linen and counterpanes,
and science had not discovered any mode of making a bed look more like a
packing box, than those in that model hospital.
What an impertinence a sick or wounded man was, in one of those nice,
square beds. He was almost certain to muss and toss it, and this must
have been a crowning calamity.
After the showman had shown all he cared to have me see. I sat talking
with the man I had come to visit, and he said, in a whisper:
"Are there lice in all the hospitals?"
"Lice? Why, certainly not." "Well, there are plenty of them here, and
they tell us they cannot be helped--that they have them in all the
hospitals. Look here!"
He turned down the nice counterpane, and there, in the blanket, the
disgusting creatures swarmed. I was shocked, and half rose, in the
impulse to make an outcry, but he warned me not to let any one know he
had told me, or it would be bad for him. I asked why he did not tell the
"He knows all about them, and says they cannot be helped."
"You have Sisters of Charity here; tell them."
"Oh, they never do anything in the ward but walk around and talk nice,
and pray with men who are going to die. They must know about them."
I walked around alone, and the show-man did not seem to like it, but I
talked with the men in the cots, put my hand under the cover, found feet
encrusted with the exudations of fever, until they were hard and dry as
a bit of kindling wood; hair full of dust from the battle-field, and not
one man who had been washed since being carried away from it; while
there were vermin in every bed.
The ward-master objected to my leaving a jar of jelly with my friend. It
would spoil the good order of the ward, and all delicacies were to be
given into the care of the Sisters. I found one of them who was quite
willing to take charge of anything I wished to leave, but was powerless
in the matter of vermin. It was the ward master's business to attend to
that. It was the business of the Sisters to look after the clothing when
it came from the laundry, put it in order, and give it out when wanted.
My failure to get a bed for the man in the fort by applying to those in
authority, made me feel that it would be useless to try that plan about
the vermin; and, in my perplexity, I turned to my old friend and
confidant, the public. To reach it, I wrote to the _New York Tribune_,
giving a very mild statement of the case.
Two days after Surgeon Baxter came, with a copy of that letter, and told
me he had been ordered to discharge me on account of it. I spoke of the
men who must die if I left, and he was sorry but had no option. Then he
bethought him that maybe I might get the Surgeon-General to permit me to
remain, at least until the cases of my special patients were settled;
otherwise I must leave the hospital that day. He was sorry I had dated
the letter from Campbell, had it not been for this, he could use his
influence to sustain me; but professional etiquette forbade him to
harbor or countenance one who spoke unfavorably of a brother-surgeon. In
other words, by living in a hospital I became one of a ring, bound to
keep hospital secrets, and use only words of commendation in speaking or
writing of anything I saw.
I took a street car and proceeded to the office of the
Surgeon-General--saw the man who held the lives of my patients in his
hands, ate the only piece of humble pie that over crossed my lips, by
apologizing for telling the truth, and got permission to go back to the
men who looked to me for life.
I have felt that I made a great mistake--felt that if I had then and
there made war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt, against the
whole system of fraud and cruelty embodied in the hospital service, I
should have saved many more lives in the end. Even while I talked to the
head of that nest of corruption, and listened to his inane platitudes
about my duty as an inmate of a hospital to report abuses to him, and
"the regular way of proceeding," I did want to hurl the gauntlet of an
irregular defiance into his plausible face, but the pleading eyes in
Campbell held me; I could not let those men die, and die they must if I
must leave them.
Nobody denied the truth of my statements about Douglas Hospital, and I
never learned that any one objected to the facts or their continuance.
It was only their exposure which gave offense.
This letter made me an object of dread. Folks never knew what I might
see or say next; and there soon arose another trouble about my living in
Campbell; for Miss Dix objected, claimed that it was an infringement on
her authority. Then again, there were others who could not see why there
should be but one female nurse in Campbell. Dr. Baxter, by admitting me,
had abandoned his ground, acknowledged that men alone could not manage a
first-class hospital; and having discovered his mistake, was bound to
rectify it by admitting a corps of lady nurses. He was bombarded by Miss
Dix's official power, pestered by the persistant appeals of volunteers;
sneered and scoffed at and worried, until he fell back on his old
position, and promptly dismissed me so soon as my patients were out of
danger. He was always courteous to me as a visiter, and has my lasting
gratitude and respect for breaking his rules and bearing the persecution
he did, that I might do the work I did, and could not have done without
his effective and generous co-operation.
The proportion of thigh stumps saved, was the test of a hospital's
success; and the summer I was in Campbell, we saved nineteen out of
twenty; next summer Chaplain Gaylord told me they lost nineteen in
twenty, and added: "Piemia has literally swept our wards."
LIFE AND DEATH.
When released from the hospital, I had neither money nor clothes, and
this is all the account I can render to the generous people who sent me
hospital stores. I could not answer their letters. Some of them I never
read. I could only give up my life to distributing their bounty, and
knew that neither their money nor my own had remained in my hands when
it was necessary for me to borrow two dollars to get a dress. My cloth
traveling suit was no longer fit for use, and my platform suit too good.
These were all I had brought to Washington; but the best men never
refused me audience because I wore a shaker bonnet, a black lawn skirt
and gray linen sack. Some thought I dressed in that way to be odd, but
it was all I could afford.
The Quarter-Master-General had canceled my appointment, because I had
not reported for duty, but Secretary Stanton reinstated me, and I went
to work on the largest salary I had ever received--fifty dollars a
month. After some time it was raised to sixty, and I was more than
independent; but my health was so broken that half a dozen doctors
commanded me to lie on my back for a month, and I spent every moment I
could in that position.
I had grown hysterical, and twice while at work in the office, broke out
into passionate weeping, while thinking of something in my hospital
experience, something I had borne, when it occurred, without a tear, or
even without feeling a desire to weep.
In September I had twenty days' leave of absence to go to St. Cloud,
settle my business and bring my household gods. There were still no
railroads in Minnesota, and I was six days going, must have six to
return, and one to visit friends at Pittsburg, yet in the time left,
sold _The Democrat_, closed my home, and met Gen. Lowrie for the first
and last time.
He called and we spent an hour talking, principally of the war, which he
thought would result in two separate governments. His reason seemed to
be entirely restored; but his prestige, power, wealth and health were
gone. I tried to avoid all personal matters, as well as reference to our
quarrel, but he broke into the conversation to say:
"I am the only person who ever understood you. People now think you go
into hospitals from a sense of duty; from benevolence, like those good
people who expect to get to heaven by doing disagreeable things on
earth; but I know you go because you must; go for your own pleasure; you
do not care for heaven or anything else, but yourself." He stopped,
looked down, traced the pattern of the carpet with the point of his
cane, then raised his head and continued: "You take care of the sick and
wounded, go into all those dreadful places just as I used to drink
brandy--for sake of the exhilaration it brings you."
We shook hands on parting, and from our inmost hearts, I am sure, wished
each other well. I was more than ever impressed by the genuine greatness
of the man, who had been degraded by the use of irresponsible power.
We reached Washington in good time, and I soon realized the great
advantage of rest. Six hours of office work came so near nothing to do,
that had I been in usual health I should probably have raised some
disturbance from sheer idleness; but I learned by and by that the close
attention demanded to avoid mistakes, could not well have been continued
Several ladies continued distributing hospital stores for me all that
fall and winter, and next spring I still had some to send out. When able
I went myself, and in Carver found a man who had been wounded in a
cavalry charge, said to have been as desperate as that of "the Light
Brigade;" and who refused to take anything from me, because he had "seen
enough of these people who go around hospitals pretending to take care
of wounded soldiers."
I convinced him it was his duty to take the jelly in order to prevent my
stealing it. Also, that it was for my interest to save his life, that I
might not have to pay my share of the cost of burying him and getting a
man in his place. Nay, that it was my duty to get him back into the
saddle as fast as possible, that my government need not pay him for
lying abed. He liked this view of the case, and not only took what I
offered him, but next time I went asked for Jefferson-tie shoes to
support his foot, and when I brought them said he would be ready for
duty in a week.
In Judiciary Square, a surgeon asked me to give a jar of currant jelly
to a man in Ward Six, who was fatally wounded.
I found the man, those in the neighboring cots and the nurse, all very
sad, talked to him a few moments, and said:
"You think you are going to die!"
"That is what they all say I must do!"
"Well, I say you are not going to do anything of the kind!"
"Oh! I guess I am!"
"Not unless you have made up your mind to it, and are quite determined.
Those hip wounds kill a great many men, because folks do not know how to
manage them, and because the men are easy to kill; but it takes a good
deal to kill a young man with a good conscience, who has never drank
liquor or used tobacco; who has muscle like yours, a red beard and blue
I summoned both his day and night nurse, told all three together of the
surgical trap-door that old Mother Nature wanted made and kept open,
clear up to the center of that wound. The surgeon would always make one
if the patient wanted it. I told them about the warmth and nourishment
and care needed, and left him and them full of hope and resolution.
Next time I was in Judiciary, a young man on crutches accosted me,
"Were not you in Ward Six, about six weeks ago?"
"Do you remember a man there, that every one said was going to die, and
you said he wouldn't?"
"Well, I'm the fellow."
I looked at him inquiringly, and said:
"Well, did you die?"
He burst into uproarious laughter, and replied:
"No, but I'm blamed if I wouldn't, if you hadn't come along."
I passed on, left him leaning against the wall finishing his laugh, and
saw or heard of him no more.
It was but a few days after he passed out of my knowledge that news came
of the death of Gen. Lowrie. It was the old story, "the great man down,"
for he died in poverty and neglect, but with his better self in the
ascendent. His body lies in an unmarked grave, in that land where once
his word was law.
Pondering on his death, I thought of that country boy going to his
father's house, with the life restored by one he knew not, even by name,
and the going home of that mature man, who thought he knew my inmost
soul, and with whose political death I was charged. Only the wisdom of
eternity can determine which, if either, I served or injured. To the
one, life may lack blessing, to the other, death be all gain.
MEET MISS DIX AND GO TO FREDERICKSBURG.
I sat down stairs, for the first time after a two weeks' illness, when
Georgie Willets, of Jersey City, came in, saying:
"Here is a pass for you and one for me, to go to Fredericksburg! A boat
leaves in two hours, and we must hurry!"
For several days the air had shuddered with accounts of the terrible
suffering of our men, wounded in the battle of the Wilderness; and a
pall of uncertainty and gloom hung over the city.
I made a tuck in a queen's-cloth dress, donned it, selected a light
satchel, put into one side a bottle of whiskey and one of sherry, half a
pound of green tea, two rolls of bandage and as much old table-linen as
packed them close; put some clothing for myself in the other side, and a
cake of black castile soap, for cleansing wounds; took a pair of good
scissors, with one sharp point, and a small rubber syringe, as surgical
instruments; put these in my pocket, with strings attaching them to my
belt; got on my Shaker bonnet, and with a large blanket shawl and tin
cup, was on board with Georgie, an hour before the boat left.
It had brought a load of wounded from Belle Plain; some were still on
board, and suffering intensely from thirst, and hard, dry dressings. It
was a hot day, and we both went to work giving drinks of water, wetting
wounds, and bathing hot heads and hands. As Georgie passed the foot of
the cabin stairs, Miss Dix was coming down, and called to her, saying:
"What are you doing here?"
She made no reply, but passed on to her work, when the irate lady turned
to where I was drawing water from a cooler, and asked, in a tone of high
"Who is that young girl?"
"Miss Georgie Willets, of Jersey City," I replied.
"And where is she going?"
"By whose authority?" she demanded.
"By authority of the Surgeon-General," I replied.
"The Surgeon-General has no authority to send a young girl down there
"She is not going alone."
"Who is going with her?" she asked, tartly.
"Who are you?"
I told her, and she ceased to be insulting long enough to expostulate on
the great impropriety of the proceeding, as well as to explain the total
lack of any need of help in Fredericksburg. She had just returned from
that city, where she had arranged everything in the most satisfactory
manner. Hospitals had been established, with surgeons and nurses. There
was therefore not the slightest occasion for our going further; but she
was about to organize relief for the men while waiting at the Washington
wharf to be taken to hospitals. Here I might be useful, and here she
would be glad to have me work; but as for that handsome young girl, she
wondered at me for bringing her into such a place.
Georgie was not merely handsome. She was grand, queenly; and I told Miss
Dix that I differed with her about the kind of women who should go into
such places. We wanted young, vigorous women--women whose self-respect
and social position would command the respect of those to whom they
ministered. She grew angry again, and said:
"She shall not go to Fredericksburg; I will have her arrested!"
I was kneeling beside a man whose wounds I was bathing; for I had not
suspended my work to talk with her, who stood, straight as a telegraph
pole, holding a bottle which she ever and anon applied to her nose; but
when she reached this climax, I raised my head, looked into her face,
"I shall not be sorry Miss Dix, if you do; for then I shall apply to my
friends, Mrs. Abraham Lincoln and Secretary Stanton, and have your
I went on with my work; she growled something and left the boat, but did
not disturb us further.
Going down the river I grew worse, and thought I might be obliged to
return with the boat, and stay at home; but consulted a surgeon on his
way to the front, who talked with another, and said:
"There is no immediate danger in your case. It is only secondary
hemorrhage; and with care you may go on, but must not attempt to do
anything. You can, however, be of incalculable service, simply by being
in Fredericksburg; can sit down and see that people do their duty. What
our wounded need most, is people who have an interest in their
welfare--friends. You can do a great deal toward supplying this want,
this great need; but be careful and do not try to work."
After some time this surgeon brought, and introduced Col. Chamberlain,
of Maine, evidently an invalid, and a man of the purely intellectual
type. Two other surgeons were with him, and all three endeavored to
persuade him to return to Washington, as his lack of health made it very
dangerous, if not quite useless, for him to go to the front. I thought
the surgeons right; and told him I feared he was throwing away his life,
in an effort to do the impossible.
He explained that he was in command of a brigade of eight regiments;
that in them were hundreds of his neighbors and pupils, for he had
resigned a professorship in a college to enlist. Said he knew his own
constitution better than any one else could know it; knew he would be
stronger when he reached his post, and that the danger would be in any
attempt to keep out of danger--the danger which his men must face.
Turning to me he said:
"If you had eight children down there, you would go to them, if you
We arranged that if he should be wounded so as to suffer a thigh
amputation, he should let me know, that I might nurse him through.
At Belle Plaine, Georgie went to look for transportation, and I to the
Sanitary Commission boat, where I was introduced to Mrs. Gen. Barlow and
Miss Hancock, both busy furnishing hot coffee to those being embarked
for Washington. Mrs. Barlow was a tall, superbly formed woman, very
handsome, and full of health and spirits. She looked down on me
compassionately, and said:
"Oh, you poor little thing! What ever brought you here? We have sick
folks enough now! Do sit down until I get you a cup of tea!"
While I drank the tea, she stood looking at me, and said meditatively:
"Oh, you queer little thing," and hurried off to her work.
Soon a Colonel with a badly wounded head came on board, leaned against,
a post and groaned. I found a basin of water and a towel, and began
bathing his head, wetting those torturing dressings and making him
comparatively comfortable, when she stopped in her hurried walk, looked
on an instant, and exclaimed:
"Oh, you nice little thing! Now I see what you are good for! I could not
do that; but you will take care of their wounds and I will feed them!
That will be grand!"
Soon Georgie came to say there was no transportation to be had, but she
had found a Campbell surgeon in charge of a hospital tent, and he wanted
me; said he was worn out, and had plenty of work for both of us. The
doctor had a large tent, filled with wounded lying on loose hay. His
patients seemed to want for nothing, but he must needs give so much time
to receiving and forwarding those pouring in from the front, that he
needed us. He had a little tent put up for us, and that was the only
night I have ever slept in a tent.
Next morning while we were attending to a Colonel, and Lieutenant
Colonel, both of the same regiment, and both badly wounded and just
brought in, one said to the other: "My God, if our men in Fredericksburg
could have a little of this care!" "Why?" said I, "I have heard that
everything possible was being done for them?"
"Everything possible!" exclaimed one, and both together began the most
terrible recital of the neglect and abuse of the wounded in that
horrible place--men dying of thirst, and women spitting in their faces,
kicking and spurning them. We set down our basins; Georgie started in
one direction and I in another, to find transportation.
The surgeon in command of the station stood superintending the loading
of oats while he looked at my pass, and said he could not possibly send
us, adding: "Fredericksburg is no place for a lady. It is impossible to
describe the condition of things there."
"But, Doctor, I am not a lady! I am a hospital nurse. The place where
men are suffering must be the place for me. I do not look strong, but
you cannot think how much I can do.
"But, Madam, you forget that our army is cut off from its base of
supplies, and must be furnished with subsistence, and that we have not
half the transportations we need."
"Doctor, you are sending bags of oats in ambulances! I do not weigh much
more than one, and will be worth six when you get me there."
He promised to send me that afternoon, but I doubted him; went to the
Christian Commission tent, found a man who knew me by reputation, and
told him they had better send me to Fredericksburg, or put me under
arrest, for I was in a mood to be dangerous. He feigned fright, caught
up his hat, and said:
"We'll get you out of this in the shortest possible space of time."
An hour after I was on the way, and Georgie a few moments in advance. I
had seen bad roads in northern and western Pennsylvania, but this was my
first ride over no road. We met a steady stream of such wounded as were
able to walk, but comparatively few were brought in ambulances.
It was raining when we reached Fredericksburg, at four o'clock on
Sabbath, and I went to the surgeon in command, reported, and asked him
to send me to the worst place--the place where there was most need.
"Then I had better send you to the Old Theater, for I can get no one to
He gave me my appointment, and I went to a Corps Surgeon, who signed it,
and advised me not to go to the theater--I could do nothing, as the
place was in such dreadful condition, while I could be useful in many
THE OLD THEATER.
This building was on Princess Ann street. The basement floor was level
with the sidewalk, but the ground sloped upward at the back; so that the
yard was higher than the floor. Across the front was a vestibule, with
two flights of stairs leading up to the auditorium; behind the vestibule
a large, low room, with two rows of pillars supporting the upper floor;
and behind this three small rooms, and a square hall with a side
entrance. The fence was down between the theater and Catholic church,
next door. I stopped in the church to see Georgie, who was already at
work there, came and left by the back door, and entered the theater by
the side hall.
The mud was running in from the yard. Opposite the door, in a small
room, was a pile of knapsacks and blankets; and on them lay two men
smoking. To get into the large room, I must step out of the hall mud
over one man, and be careful not to step on another. I think it was six
rows of men that lay close on the floor, with just room to pass between
the feet of each row; they so close in the rows that in most places I
must slide one foot before the other to get to their heads.
The floor was very muddy and strewn with _debris_, principally of
crackers. There was one hundred and eighty-two men in the building, all
desperately wounded. They had been there a week. There were two leather
water-buckets, two tin basins, and about every third man had saved his
tin-cup or canteen; but no other vessel of any sort, size or description
on the premises--no sink or cess-pool or drain. The nurses were not to
be found; the men were growing reckless and despairing, but seemed to
catch hope as I began to thread my way among them and talk. No other
memory of life is more sacred than that of the candor with which they
took me into their confidence, as if I had been of their own sex, yet
ever sought to avoid wounding the delicacy they ascribed to mine.
I found some of the nurses--cowards who had run away from battle, and
now ran from duty--galvanized them into activity, invented substitutes
for things that were wanting--making good use of an old knapsack and
pocket-knife--and had tears of gratitude for pay.
One man lay near the front door, in a scant flannel shirt and cotton
drawers, his left thigh cut off in the middle and the stump supported on
the only pillow in the house. It was six by ten inches, stuffed with
straw. His head was supported by two bits of board and a pair of very
muddy boots. He called me, clutched my dress, and plead:
"Mother, can't you get me a blanket, I'm so cold; I could live if I
could get any care!"
I went to the room where the men lay smoking on the blankets; but one of
them wearing a surgeon's shoulderstraps, and speaking in a German
accent, claimed them as his private property, and positively refused to
yield one. The other man was his orderly, and words were useless--they
kept their blankets.
Going into a room behind that, I found a man slightly wounded sitting on
the floor, supporting another who had been shot across the face, and was
totally blind. He called, and when I came and talked with them, said:
"Won't you stay with us?"
"Stay with you?" I replied, "Well, I rather think I will, indeed; I came
to stay, and am one of the folks it is hard to drive away!"
"Oh! thank God; everybody leaves us; they come and promise, and then go
off, but I know you will stay; you will do something for us!"
It was so pitiful, that for an instant my courage failed, and I said:
"I will certainly stay with you; but fear it is little I can do for
"Oh, you can speak to us; you do not know how good your voice sounds. I
have not seen a woman in three months; what is your name?"
"My name is mother."
"Mother; oh my God! I have not seen my mother for two years. Let me feel
I took between both of mine his hand, covered with mud and blood and
smoke of battle, and told him I was not only going to stay with them,
but was going to send him back to his regiment, with a lot more who were
lying around here doing nothing, when there was so much fighting to be
done; I had come on purpose to make them well, and they might make up
their minds to it. My own courage had revived, and I must revive theirs;
I could surely keep them alive until help should come. By softening the
torturing bandages on his face, I made him more comfortable; and in an
adjoining room found another man with a thigh stump, who had been served
by field-surgeons, as the thieves served the man going from Jerusalem to
Jericho: i.e., "stripped him, left him naked and half dead." Those men
surely did not go into battle without clothes; and why they should have
been sent out of the surgeon's hands without enough of even
underclothing to cover them, is the question I have never yet had
answered. Common decency led to his being placed in the back room alone,
but I shall never blush for going to him and doing the little I could
for his comfort.
After I returned to the large room, I took notice about clothing, and
found that most of the men had on their ordinary uniform; some had two
blankets, more had one; but full one-third were without any. There was
no shadow or pretense of a bed or pillow, not even a handful of straw or
hay! There was no broom, no hoe, or shovel, or spade to sweep or scrape
the floor; and the horrors were falling upon me when the man of the
blankets came, and said:
"Mattam, iv you are goin' to do any ding for tese men, you petter git
dem someding to eat."
"Something to eat?"
"Yaas! mine Cot, someding to eat! De government petter leave dem to tie
on de pattle field, nur do pring tem here to starve."
I looked at him in much surprise, and said:
"Who are you?"
"Vy, I am de surgeon. Tey send me here; put mine Cot, I cannot do
notting. Tere ish notting to do mit!"
I called out: "Men, what have you had to eat?"
"Hard tack, and something they call coffee," was the response.
"Have you had no meat?"
"Meat? We have forgotten what it tastes like!"
In one corner, near the front door, was a little counter and desk, with
a stationary bench in front. To this desk the surgeon gave me a key. I
found writing material, and sent a note of four lines to the Corps
Surgeon. Half an hour after, an irate little man stormed in and stamped
around among those prostrate men, flourishing a scrap of paper and
calling for the writer. His air was that of the champion who wanted to
see "the man who struck Billy Patterson," and his fierceness quite
alarmed me, lest he should step on some of the men. So I hurried to him,
and was no little surprised to find that the offending missive was my
note. I told him I had written it, and could have had no thought of
"reporting" him, since I knew nothing about him.
After considerable talk I learned that he had charge of the meat, and
that none had been issued to that place, because no "requisition" had
been sent. I had never written a requisition, but found blanks in that
desk, filled one, signed it and gave it to the meat man, who engaged
that the beef should be there next morning.
It grew dark, and we had two tallow candles lighted! May none of my
readers ever see such darkness made visible--such rows of haggard faces
looking at them from out such cavernous gloom! I talked hopefully,
worked and walked, while mentally exclaiming:
"Oh, God! What shall I do?"
About nine o'clock Dr. Porter, Division Surgeon, came with Georgie, to
take us to our quarters. These were but half a block away, on the same
side of the street, but on the opposite side, and corner of the next
cross-street, in a nice two-story brick house, with a small yard in
front. An old lady answered his summons, but refused to admit us: when
he insisted and I interposed, saying the lady was afraid of soldiers,
but would admit us. We would bid him good night, and soon our lodgings
would be all right.
She was relieved, took us in, cooked our rations for herself and us,
gave us a comfortable bed, and was uniformly kind all the time we
staid, and seemed sorry to have us leave.
I spoke the first night to Dr. Porter about blankets and straw, or hay
for beds, but was assured that none were to be had. Supplies could not
reach them since being cut off from their base, and the Provost Marshal,
Gen. Patrick, would not permit anything to be taken out of the houses,
though many of them were unoccupied, and well supplied with bedding and
other necessaries. I thought we ought to get two blankets for those two
naked men, if the Government should pay their weight in gold for them;
and suggested that the surgeons take what was necessary for the comfort
of the men, and give vouchers to the owners. I knew such claims would be
honored; would see that they should be; but he said the matter had been
settled by the Provost, and nothing more could be done.
It seems to me now that I must have been benumbed, or I could have done
something to provide covering for those men. I did think of giving one
of them my shawl, but I must have died without it. I remembered my
Douglas Hospital letter, and knew that Gen. Patrick could order me out
of Fredericksburg, and leave these men to rot in the old theater.
Already their wounds were infested by worms, which gnawed and tormented
them; some of those wounds were turning black, many were green; the
vitality of the men was sinking for want of food and warmth. I could not
forsake them to look after reform; would not fail to do what I could, in
an effort to do what I could not or might not accomplish.
In the morning I saw that the men had something they called coffee, and
found canned milk for it, which was nourishment; but a new difficulty
arose. The men who brought the coffee would distribute it to those who
had cups or canteens, and the others would get none. I had some trouble
to induce them to leave their cans, until, with the two tin cups I could
borrow, I could give about one-third the whole number the coffee they
could not otherwise have.
Our cooking was done in the churchyard, with that of the church
patients. A shed had been put up; but our cooking was an "uncovenanted
mercy," and when our beef came there was a question as to how it could
be cooked--how that additional work could be done.
I wrote to the Provost-Marshal, stating our trouble, and the extremity
of one hundred and eighty-two men. Asked that we might take a cook-stove
out of a vacant house near; promised to take good care of it and have it
returned; and he wrote, for answer:
"I am not a thief! If you want a stove send to the Sanitary Commission!"
He must have known that the Commission was as pressed as the Government
to conform its arrangements to the movements of an army cut off from its
base of supplies, and that it had no stoves, so the plain English of his
"Let your wounded die of hunger, in welcome! I am here to guard the
property of the citizens of Fredericksburg!"
I had already written to the Commission for blankets and a broom, but
there were none to be had. It soon however sent a man, who cut branches
off trees, and with them swept the floors.
AM PLACED IN AUTHORITY.
On Monday morning I sent for Dr. Porter, and stated the trouble about
nurses shirking. He had them all summoned in the front end of the large
room, and in presence of the patients, said to them:
"You see this lady? Well, you are to report to her for duty; and if she
has any fault to find with you she will report you to the
I have never seen a set of men look more thoroughly subdued. There were
eleven of them, and they all gave me the military salute. The doctor
went off, and I set them to work. One middle-aged Irishman had had some
experience as a nurse; could dress wounds--slowly, but very well--was
faithful and kind; and him I made head-nurse up stairs, where there were
fifty-four patients, and gave him three assistants, for whom he was to
be responsible. After Patrick's note, I calculated my resources, and got
ready for a close siege. As I sat on that little stationary bench,
making an inventory, I heard shrieks, groans and curses, at the far end
of the room; ran to the place, and got there in time to see the surgeon
of the blankets tearing the dry dressings off a thigh stump! Coming up
behind him, I caught him by both ears, and had my hands full, ordered
him to stop, and said:
"You had better go back to your room and smoke."
Again I sent for Surgeon Porter, and in less than two hours that little
wretch, with his orderly, packed up his blankets and I saw him or them
no more. I had never dressed a thigh stump, but must dress a good many
now; I rolled that one in a wet cloth, and covered it carefully, to let
the man get time to rest, while I got rid of his horrid tormentor. When
there was so much to be done, I would do the most needful thing first,
and this was ridding the wounds of worms and gangrene, supporting the
strength of the men by proper food, and keeping the air as pure as
possible. I got our beef into the way of being boiled, and would have
some good substantial broth made around it. I went on a foraging
expedition--found a coal-scuttle which would do for a slop-pail, and
confiscated it, got two bits of board, by which it could be converted
into a stool, and so bring the great rest of a change of position to
such men as could sit up; had a little drain made with a bit of board
for a shovel, and so kept the mud from running in at the side door;
melted the tops off some tin cans, and made them into drinking cups; had
two of my men confiscate a large tub from a brewery, set it in the
vestibule to wash rags for outside covers to wounds, to keep off chill,
and had others bring bricks and rubbish mortar from a ruin across the
street, to make substitutes for pillows.
I dressed wounds! dressed wounds, and made thorough work of it. In the
church was a dispensary where I could get any washes or medicines I
wished, and I do not think I left a worm. Some of them were over half an
inch long, with black heads and many feet, but most were maggots. They
were often deeply seated, but my syringe would drive them out, and twice
a day I followed them up. The black and green places grew smaller and
better colored with every dressing. The men grew stronger with plenty of
beef and broth and canned milk. I put citric acid and sugar in their
apple sauce as a substitute for lemons. I forget how many thigh stumps I
had, but I think as many as twelve. One of them was very short and in a
very bad condition. One morning when I was kneeling and dressing it, the
man burst into tears, and said:
"You do not seem to mind this, but I know you would not do it for
anything but the love of God, and none but He can ever reward you; but if
I live to see my wife and children, it will be through what you have
done for me, and I will teach them to bless your name!"
He quite took me by surprise, for I seemed to have forgotten any other
life than that I was then living; and dressing the most frightful wounds
was as natural as eating. I felt no disgust, no shrinking, and mere
conventional delicacy is withdrawn when the Angel of Death breathes upon
The man we stepped over at the back door, proved to be a student from
the Pennsylvania Agricultural College, shot through the alimentary
canal, near the base of the spine. For him there was no hope, but I did
what I could to make him less uncomfortable, and once he said:
"This is strange work for a lady."
"You forget," I said, "that I am surgeon in charge, that you and I were
made of the same kind of clay, in much the same fashion, and will soon
turn into just the same kind of dust." How my heart was wrung for him,
with his refined face, dying for a country which sent its bayonets to
stand between him and the armful of straw, with which I might have
raised him above that muddy floor. He had no knapsack to serve as a
pillow, no blanket, no cup, and his position across the doorway was cold
and uncomfortable; but even after I had made a better place for him, he
objected to leaving two companions, who lay next to him, and I could not
find room for all three together, even on that dirty floor. He himself
always dressed the wound where the bullet entered, and was most grateful
for the means of doing so. I cared for that one through which Death's
messenger made its exit, and although he knew its condition, he did not
know the certainty of a fatal result, and resented any intimation that
he should not recover.
The second morning of my work in the old theater, Miss Hancock came to
see how I got along. She was thoroughly practical, and a most efficient
laborer in the hospital field, and soon thought of something to better
the condition of the man minus clothes, who lay quite near my desk and
the front door, and caught my dress whenever he could, to plead for a
blanket. She could get no blanket; but was stationed in the Methodist
Church, where there was a surgeon in charge, and everything running in
regular order. In a tent adjoining, this man could be laid out of the
draught and chill of that basement, and she would do her best to get
some clothing for him. She sent two men with a stretcher, who took him
to the church tent, where I fear he was not much better provided for
than in the place he left.
After some days, Mrs. Gen. Barlow came to see the men who all belonged
to her husband's division, and were rejoiced to see her; and to express
a general fear for my life. I was to die of overwork and want of sleep,
"and then," she exclaimed, "what will become of these men? No one but
you ever could or would have done anything for them. Do you know there
were three surgeons detailed for duty here, before you came, and none of
them would stay? Now if you die, they will. Do take some rest!"
I listened and looked at her flushed face, while she talked, and said:
"Mrs. Barlow, I am not going to die--am in no danger whatever, and will
hold out until help comes. This cannot last; Government will come to the
rescue, and my men will be here when it comes. After all is over, I will
fall to pieces like an old stage coach when the king-bolt drops out;
will lie around as lumber for a while, then some one will put me
together again, and I will be good as new. It is you who are killing
yourself. You must change your arrangements or you will take typhoid
fever, and after such a strain, recovery will be hopeless. I take
nobody's disease--am too repellant; but you will catch contagion very
readily. Keep away from fever cases and rest; you are in imminent
peril." She hurried away, laughing at the idea of one in her perfect
health being injured by hard work; but my heart was full of evil omen. I
had talked with Mrs. Senator Pomeroy, on her way from her last visit to
the Contraband camp, where she gave her life in labor for the friendless
and poor, and she had looked very much as Mrs. Barlow did that day.
Soon after this, I was made glad by the sight of my friend, Mrs. Judge
Ingersol. People say her daughter, Mrs. Gov. Chamberlain, is a beauty,
but she is not old enough ever to have been as beautiful as her mother,
that day, in her plain widow's dress, walking among the wounded, with
her calm face so full of strength and gentleness.
She and Mrs. Barlow had hatched a rebellion. In the city was a barn
containing straw, for want of which our men were dying. It was guarded
by one of Gen. Barlow's men. Mrs. Barlow took two others, went with
them, placed herself in front of the guard, told them to break open the
barn and carry out the straw, and him to fire, if he thought it is duty;
but he must reach them through her. The man's orders were to guard the
barn; with the straw out of it he had nothing to do. The men moved side
and side, going in and out, and she kept in range to cover them until
the last armful had been removed. It was taken away and was to be
distributed; but there was still so little compared to the need, that
there must be consultation about the manner of using it. Mrs. Ingersol
thought it should be made into small pillows, and volunteered to
undertake that work; as the Commission could furnish muslin, I thought
this best. She found a loft, and engaged several Fredericksburg women
to work for pay. They worked one day, but did not return on the second.
There were a good many Union women there by this time, who should have
helped, but few could confine themselves to obscure work in a loft, when
there was so much excitement on the streets. There was no authority to
hold any one to steady employment; and so about two-thirds the helpers
who reached Fredericksburg, spent a large part of their time in an
aimless wandering and wondering, and finding so much to be done, could
So, most of the time Mrs. Ingersol was in her loft alone, except the
orderlies who stuffed her slips, sewed up the ends and carried them off
to the places she designated; but she had nimble fingers, and
sleight-of-hand, and turned out a surprising number of small straw
As my allowance came, the question was what to do with them. They were
too precious for use. What should I do with those scraps of white on
that field of grime? Our gaunt horror became grotesque, in view of such
unwonted luxuries. What! A whole dozen or two little straw pillows among
one hundred and sixty men! Who should elect the aristocrats to be
cradled in such luxury amid that world of want?
When my aristocrat was elected, how should his luxury be applied? Would
I put it under his head or mangled limb? I think I never realized our
destitution until those little pillows came to remind me that sometimes
wounded men had beds! Oh, God! would relief never come? Like the Scotch
girl in the besieged fortress of India, I felt like laying my ear to the
ground, to harken for the sound of the bagpipes, the tramp of the
Campbells coming. It did seem that, without surgical aid or comforts of
any kind, my men must soon be all past hope; but a surgeon came, and I
hailed him with joy, thinking him the advance guard of the army of
relief. Half an hour after his appearance I missed him, and saw him no
more; and this was the fourth which left those men, after being
regularly detailed to duty among them--left them to die or live, as they
Soon after this we had an official visit from one of those laundry
critics, called "Medical Inspectors." As there were no sheets or
counterpanes to look after, he turned his attention to a heap of dry
rubbish in the vestibule, which gave the place an untidy appearance, as
seen from the street. To remove this eyesore he had one of my nurses
hunt up a wheel-barrow, and two shovels--shovels were accessible by this
time--and ordered him and another to wheel that rubbish out into the
street. The wheel-barrow coming in the door called my attention, when I
learned that we were going to be made respectable. I sent the
wheel-barrow home, gave the shovels to two men to dig a sink hole back
in the yard, and forbade any disturbance of the dry, harmless rubbish in
the vestibule. I would not have my men choked with dust by its removal,
and set about getting up false appearances. No medical inspector should
white that sepulchre until he cleared the dead men's bones out of it. He
had not looked at a wound; did not know if the men had had any dinner. A
man did not need a medical diploma to clear up after stage carpenters.
If the Government wanted that kind of work done, it had better send a
man and cart with its donkey.
In Washington, I had done nothing for any wounded officer, except a
captain who was brought to our ward when all the others were taken away,
and in Fredericksburg I began on that principle. I found twenty in the
Old Theater, and had them removed to private houses, to make room for
the men, and that they might be better cared for. Officers could be
quartered in private houses, and have beds, most of those taken out of
the theater were put into houses between it and our quarters, so that I
could see them on my way to and from meals. Among them was the blind
man, who still craved to hear me speak and feel my hand, and I kept his
face in a wet compress until a surgeon was dressing it and found the
inflammation so gone that he drew the lid of one back, and the man cried
out in delight: "I can see! I can see! now let me see mother." I stood
in his range of vision, until the surgeon closed the lids, when he said:
"Now, mother, I shall always remember just how you look."
I found in my visit to those men that some orderlies needed some one to
keep them in order, and that a helpless man is not always sure his
servant will serve him. Often the orderlies themselves were powerless,
and those men would have suffered if I had not cared for them. More than
once some of them said: "I wish, mother, we were back with you in the
There was a captain whose stump I must fix every night before he could
sleep, and when his wife came I tried to teach her, but she was so much
afraid of hurting him she could do nothing. I learned in time that
officers quartered in private houses, even with the greater comforts
they had, often suffered more than the men in all their privations. Mrs.
Barlow came for me to see one given up to die, and I found him in a
large handsome room, on the first floor of an elegant residence,
absolutely hopeless, but for years have not been able to recall the
trouble in his case.
It must have been easy to set right, for he began at once to recover,
and I felt that people had been very stupid, and that there was an
unreasonable amount of wonder and gratitude over whatever it was I did.
It was often so easy to save a life, where there were the means of
living, that a little courage or common sense seemed like a miraculous
gift to people whose mental powers had been turned in other directions.
But I found another side to looking after officers in private quarters.
One evening after dark, Georgia called to tell me of a dreadful case of
suffering which a surgeon wished her to see. He was there to accompany
her, but she declined going without me, and I went along, walking close
behind them, as the pavement was narrow. He did not seem to notice that
I was there, was troubled with the weight of his diploma and
shoulderstraps, and talked very patronizingly to the lady at his side,
until she turned, and said to me:
"Do you hear that?"
"Oh, yes," I replied, "and feel very grateful to the young man for his
permission to do the work he is paid for doing, but if he had reserved
his patronage until some one had asked for it, it would have had more
"Your friend is sarcastic," was his reply to her; and I said no more
until we reached the case of great distress, which was on the second
floor of a vacant house, and proved to be a colonel in uniform, seated
in an easy chair, smoking, while his orderly sat in another chair, oil
the other side of the room.
Georgie stood looking from one man to the other in speechless surprise;
but I spoke to the man in the chair, saying:
"How is it, sir, that you, an officer, in need of nothing, have
trespassed upon our time and strength, when you know that men are dying
by hundreds for want of care?"
He began to apologize and explain, but I said to Georgie:
"Come, Miss Willets, we are not needed here."
As we passed from the room, the surgeon took his cap to accompany us,
when I stopped, made a gesture, and said:
"Young man! stay where you are! Your friend must be too ill to do
without you. I will see the young lady to her quarters. The vidette is
on the corner, and we do not need you!"
We came away filled with wonder, but we did not for some time realize
the danger. We came to know that Miss Dix's caution was not altogether
unwise; that women had been led into traps of this kind, when it would
have been well for them had they died there, and when duty to themselves
and the public required them to get one or more doctors ready for
dissection. After that lesson, however, I did not fear to leave Georgie,
who remained with the army, doing grand work, until Richmond fell, but
laying the foundation of that consumption, of which she died.
Of all the lives which the Rebellion cost us, none was more pure, more
noble, than that of this beautiful, refined, strong, gentle girl.
"NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP."
The Sanitary Commission soon got a supply of clothing, and sent two men
to wash and dress my patients. These, with the one sweeping floors with
branches, were an incalculable help and comfort; but these two did their
work and passed on to other places. One of the men they had dressed grew
weak, and I was at a loss to account for his symptoms, until by close
questioning, I drew from him the answer,
"It is my other wound!"
These words sounded like a death-knell, but I insisted on seeing the
other wound, and found four bullet holes under his new clothes. From the
one wound, for which I had been caring, he might easily recover; but
with four more so distributed that he must lie on one, and no surgeon to
make trap doors, no bed--there was no hope. He was so bright, so good,
so intelligent, so courageous, it was hard to give him up. Ah, if I had
him in Campbell, with Dr. Kelly to use the knife! How my heart clung to
He lay near the center of the room, with his head close to a column; and
one night as I knelt giving him drink, and arranging his knapsack and
brick pillow, making the most of his two blankets, and thinking of his
mother at home, I was suddenly impressed by the beauty and grandeur of
his face;--his broad, white brow shaded by bushy, chestnut hair, half
curling; the delicate oval of his cheeks; the large, expressive grey
eyes; the straight nose and firm chin and lips!--he could not have been
more than twenty-two, almost six feet high, with a frame full of vigor.
How many such men were there in this land? How many could we afford to
sacrifice in order to preserve a country for the use of cowards and
traitors, and other inferior types of the race?
The feeble light of my candle threw this picture into strong relief
against the surrounding gloom, and it was harder than ever to give him
up, but this must be done; and I wanted to extract from that bitter cup
one drop of sweetness for his mother; so I said to him:
"Now, George, do you think you can sleep?" He said he could, and I
"Will you pray before you sleep?" He said he would.
"Do you always pray before going to sleep?" He nodded, and I continued:
"Let us pray together, to-night, just the little prayer your mother
taught you first."
He clasped his hands, and together we repeated "Now I lay me down to
sleep," to the end; when I said:
"Do you mean that, George? Do you mean to ask God to keep your soul, for
Christ's sake, while you are here; and, for His sake, to take it to
Himself when you go hence, whenever that may be?"
The tears were running over his cheeks, and he said, solemnly:
"Then it is all well with you, and you can rest in Him who giveth his
There was no time for long prayers, and I must go to another sufferer.
A kind, strong man, from the Michigan Aid Society, came and worked two
days among my men, and said:
"If I only had them in a tent, on the ground; but this floor is
Up stairs were some wounds I must dress, while a corpse lay close beside
one of the men, so that I must kneel touching it, while I worked. It lay
twelve hours before I could get it taken to its shallow, coffinless
grave; and while I knelt there, the man whose wound I was dressing,
"Never mind; we'll make you up a good purse for this!"
He had no sooner spoken than a murmur of contemptuous disapproval came
from the other men, and one said:
"A purse for her! She's got more money than all of us, I bet!"
Another called out: "No, we won't! Won't do anything of the kind!
We're your boys; ain't we, mother? You're not working for money!"
"Why," persisted the generous man, "we made up a purse of eighty dollars
for a woman t' other time I was hurt, and she hadn't done half as much
"Eighty dollars!" called out the man who thought me rich; "eighty
dollars for her! why I tell you she could give every one of us eighty
dollars, and would not miss it!"
"She isn't one of the sort that are 'round after purses!"
Why any of them should have thought me rich I cannot imagine except for
the respect with which officers treated me. To veil the iron hand I held
over my nurses, I made a jest of my authority, pinned a bit of bandage
on my shoulder, and played commander-in-chief. Officers and guards would
salute when we passed, as an innocent joke, but the men came to regard
me as a person of rank.
Citizens of Fredericksburg, who at first insulted me on the street, as
they did other Yankee nurses, heard that I was a person of great
influence, and began to solicit my good offices on behalf of friends
arrested by order of Secretary Stanton, and held as hostages, for our
sixty wounded who were made prisoners while trying to pass through the
city, before we took possession.
So I was decked in plumes of fictitious greatness, and might have played
princess in disguise if I had had time; but I had only two deaths in the
old theater--this man up stairs, and the man without clothes, who lay
alone in that back room, and after the amputation of his thigh, had no
covering until government gave him one of Virginia clay.
MORE VICTIMS AND A CHANGE OF BASE.
One day at noon, the air thrilled with martial music and the earth shook
under the tramp of men as seven thousand splendid troops marched up
Princess Ann street on their way to reinforce our army, whose rear was
about eight miles from us. They were in superb order, and the forts
around Washington had been stripped of their garrisons, and most of
their guns, to furnish them; but the generalship which cut our army off
from its base of supplies, and blundered into the battle of the
Wilderness, like a blind horse into a briar patch, without shelling or
burning the dry chapperal in which our dead and wounded were consumed
together, after the battle, had made no arrangements for the safe
arrival of its reinforcements. So they were ambushed soon after passing
through Fredericksburg; and that night, before ten o'clock, all the
places I had succeeded in making vacant were filled with the wounded
from this reinforcement. How many of them were brought to Fredericksburg
I do not know; but it must have been a good many, when some were sent to
my den of horrors.
One evening, after dark, I went to the dispensary, and found a surgeon
just in from the front for supplies. While they were being put up, he
told us of the horrible carnage at Spottsylvania that day, when the
troops had been hurled, again and again, against impregnable
fortifications, under a rain of rifle balls, which cut down a solid
white oak tree, eighteen inches in diameter.
The battle had ceased for the night, and it was not known whether it
would be renewed in the morning.
"But if it is," said the speaker, "it will be the bloodiest day of the
war, and we must be whipped, routed. The Rebels are behind breastworks
which cannot be carried. Any man but Grant would have known that this
morning, but he is to fight it out on this line, and it is generally
thought he will try it again in the morning. If he does, it will be a
worse rout than Bull Run."
No one was present but the surgeon in charge of the church, the
dispensary clerk, and myself; so he was no alarmist, for when he had
done speaking, he took his package, mounted his horse and left. People
had said, through the day, that the roar of guns was heard in the higher
portions of the city, but no news of the battle seemed to have reached
it during all the next day.
I spent it in preparing for the worst, warned Georgie and tightened the
reins on my nurses. I had had no reason to complain of any, and felt
that I should hold them to duty, even through a rout. It also seemed
well to know where our wounded were located, in that part of the city,
so that if an attempt were made to remove them, in a hurry, there might
not be any overlooked.
At half-past eleven that night I had heard nothing from the front, and
went to sleep, with heavy forebodings. At two o'clock I was aroused by
the sounds of a moving multitude, rose and looked out to see, under the
starlight, a black stream pouring down the side street, on the corner of
which our quarters were situated, and turning down Princess Ann, toward
the river landing. To me, it was the nation going to her doom, passing
through the little period of starlight, on into the darkness and the
In Louisville, I had learned to believe that the Eternal verities
demanded the destruction of our Government. True, the South had beaten
the North in her bloody struggle for the privilege of holding her slaves
while she flogged them; but I could see, in this, no reason why that
North should be chosen as Freedom's standard-bearer! Our ignoble
Emancipation Proclamation had furnished no rock of moral principle on
which to plant her feet while she struggled in that bloody surf. God was
blotting out our name from among the nations, that he might plant here a
government worthy of such a country.
I calculated there was a rear guard that would hold the enemy back until
morning, and did not wake Georgie, who needed sleep; but I must be with
my men, who would be alarmed by the unusual sounds; must see that those
nurses did not run away.
To get to my post, I must cross that stream, and as I stood waiting on
the bank, could see that it was not composed of men in martial array. It
met exactly all my previous conceptions of a disorderly flight. There
were men in and out of uniform, men rolled in blankets, men on
horseback and men on foot, cannon, caisons, baggage wagons, beef cattle,
ambulances and nondescripts, all mixed and mingled, filling the street
from wall to wall; no one speaking a word, and all intent on getting
forward as fast as possible. So thickly were they packed that I waited
in vain, as much as twenty minutes, for some opening through which I
might work my way to the other side, and at last called the vidette, who
came and helped me over.
Reaching the theater, I found many of the men awake and listening; went
among them and whispered, as I did something for each, that there was
some movement on the street I did not understand, but should probably
know about in the morning. During the suspense of those dark hours, and
all the next day I was constantly reminded of the Bible metaphor of "a
nail fastened in a sure place." The absolute confidence which those men
reposed in me, the comfort and strength I could give them, were so out
of proportion to my strength that it was a study. I was a very small
nail, but so securely fastened in the source of all strength, that they
could hold by me and hope, even when there seemed nothing to hope for.
As for me, all the armies of the world, and the world itself might melt
or blow away, but I should be safe with God, and know that for every
creature He was working out some noble destiny. All the pain, and
sorrow, and defeat, were rough places--briars in an upward path to
something we should all rejoice to see.
All day that dark stream surged around that corner, and I took heart
that the flight was not disorderly, since I heard of none coming by any
other street. All day the work went on as usual at the old theater, and
I made short excursions to other places. Up that street in one end of an
engine house, up a narrow, winding stair, I found a room full of men
deserted, and in most pitiable condition. They were all supposed to be
fever cases, but one young man had an ankle wound, in which inflammation
had appeared. I hurried to the surgeons, stationed in the far end of the
building, and reported the case. They sent immediately for the man, and
I knew in two hours that the amputation had been successful, and barely
As I went on that errand, I met two Christian Commission men walking
leisurely, admiring the light of the rising sun on the old buildings,
and told them of the urgent demand for help, and chicken broth or beef
broth and water up in that room. They were polite, and promised to go as
soon as possible to the relief of that distress; but when I returned and
up to the last knowledge I had of the case, they had not been there.
I secured a can of cooked turkey, the only one I ever saw, and a pitcher
of hot water, and with these made a substitute for chicken broth; gave
them all drinks of water, bathed their faces, found one of their absent
nurses, made him promise to stay, and went back to the main building to
have some one see that he kept his word.
Here was a large floor almost covered with wounded, and among them a
woman stumbled about weeping, wailing, boo-hooing and wringing her
hands; I caught her wrist, and said:
"What _is_ the matter?" "Oh! oh! oh! Boo-hoo! boo-hoo! the poor fellow
is goin' to die an' wants me to write to his mother."
"Well, write to her and keep quiet! you need not kill all the rest of
them because he is going to die."
"Oh! boo-hoo! some people has no feelin's; but I have got feelin's!"
I led her to the surgeon in charge, who sent her and her "feelin's" to
her quarters, and told her not to come back.
She was the only one of the Dix' nurses I saw in Fredericksburg, and her
large, flat, flabby face was almost hideous with its lack of eye-brows
and lashes; but this hideousness must have been her recommendation, as
she could not have been more than twenty years old.
From the engine house I went to the Methodist church. Miss Hancock had
been detailed to the General Hospital, just being established, and I
found a house full of men in a sad condition. Nine o'clock, on a hot
morning, and no wounds dressed; bandages dry and hard, men thirsty and
feverish, nurses out watching that stream pouring through the city, and
patients helpless and despondent.
I got a basin of water and a clean rag, never cared for sponges, and
went from one to another, dripping water in behind those bandages to
ease the torment of lint splints, brought drinks and talked to call
their attention from the indefinite dread which filled the air, and got
up considerable interest in--I do not remember what--but something which
set them to talking.
Some wounds I dressed, and while engaged on one, a man called from the
other side of the house to know what the fun was all about, when the
man whose wound I was attending placed a hand on each of his sides,
screamed with laughter, and replied:
"Oh, Jim! do get her to dress your wound, for I swear, she'd make a dead
I found some of the nurses; a surgeon came in who would, I thought,
attend to them, and I went back to my post to find every man on duty.
It was near sundown when we heard that this backward movement was a
"change of base;" but to me it seemed more like looking for a base, as
there had been none to change. The stream thickened toward nightfall,
and continued until two o'clock next morning; so that our army was
twenty-four hours passing through Fredericksburg; and in that time I do
not think a man strayed off on to any other street! All poured down that
side street, turned that corner, and went on down Princess Ann.
PRAYERS ENOUGH AND TO SPARE.
The next evening, after hearing of the battle of Spottsylvania, and
while waiting to know if it had been renewed, I sat after sundown on the
door-step of our quarters, when an orderly hurried up and inquired for
the Christian Commission. A lieutenant was dying, and wanted to see a
preacher. I directed the messenger, but doubted if he would find a
preacher, as I had seen nothing of any save a Catholic priest, with whom
I had formed an alliance; and I went to stay with the dying man, who was
I found him nervous and tired, with nothing to hinder his return to his
regiment inside of a month. He had been converted, was a member of the
Methodist church, and seemed an humble Christian man. I told him he was
getting well, had seen too much company, and must go to sleep, which he
proceeded to do in a very short time after being assured that that
motion was in order.
He had slept perhaps five minutes when the messenger returned, followed
by six preachers! I made a sign that he slept and should not be
disturbed, but they gathered around the bed with so much noise they
There seemed to be a struggle for precedence among his visitors, but one
gained the victory. They all wanted to shake hands with the man in the
bed, but his left arm was off, and I objected; whereupon the head
spokesman groaned a good solid groan, to which the others groaned a
response. He stood at the foot of the bed, spread his chest, and
"Well, brother, how is your soul in this solemn hour?"
The answer was such as a good Christian might make; and I told the
gentleman that the lieutenant had been unnecessarily alarmed; that he
had seen too much company, was weary and excited, needed rest, and was
rapidly recovering; that he ought to go to sleep; but they all knelt
around the bed, and the first prayed a good, long, loud prayer; talked
about "the lake that burneth," and other pleasant things, while I held
the patient's hand, and felt his nerves jerk.
I thought it would soon be over; but no sooner had this one finished
than the next fell to, and gave us a prayer with more of those sobs made
by hard inhalation than his predecessor, and a good deal more
brimstone. No sooner had he relieved his mind than a third threw back
his head to begin, and I spoke, quietly as possible; begged they would
let the lieutenant sleep; told them that down in the old theater was a
man in a back room, alone and dying. I had tried to get some one to sit
with him and pray with him, and hoped one or two of them would go to him
at once, as every moment might make it too late. A man was also dying in
the engine-house, who ought to have some Christian friend with him as he
crossed the dark valley.
They listened impatiently; then the man whose turn it was to ventilate
his eloquence, pushed his sleeves up to the elbows, rubbed his hands as
if about to lift some heavy weight, and exclaimed:
"Yes, sister! Yes. We'll attend to them; but, first, let us get through
with this case!"
Then he went to work and ladled out groans, sobs and blue blazes. The
other three followed suit, and when they had all had a good time on
their knees, each one gave a short oration, and when they got through I
reminded them again of the two dying men; but like the undutiful son,
they said, "I go! and went not!"
It was two of the six whom I met next morning, and asked to go to the
relief of those poor patients, who promised and went not.
GET OUT OF THE OLD THEATER.
I do not know how long I was in charge of the old theater, but remember
talking to some one of having been there ten days, and things looking as
usual. It was after the change of base, that one afternoon I got eight
hopeful cases sent to the General Hospital, where they would have beds.
That night about ten o'clock the vidette halted a man, who explained
that he was surgeon in charge of that institution, and when he got leave
to go on, I caught him by the lapel of his coat, and said:
"If you are Surgeon--what is the reason that the eight men I sent you
this afternoon had had no supper at nine o'clock?"
He promised to attend to them before he slept, and on that we parted.
Soon after this, Dr. Childs, of Philadelphia, and a regular army
surgeon, came to the old theater, hung their coats and official dignity,
if they had any, on the wall--never said a word about the rubbish in the
hall, but fastened up their sleeves and went to work. When they came, I
felt as if I could not take another step, went to my room and lay down,
thinking of Raphael's useless angels leaning their baby arms on a cloud.
My angels wore beards, and had their sleeves turned up like farm
laborers, as they lifted men out of the depths of despair into the light
and warmth of human help and human sympathy.
In sending the men away, they sent the amputation cases and George to
the church, and sent for me to go to them there.
Georgie had gone to the General Hospital, and there was no surgeon in
charge at the church when I went to it. So, once more, I set about doing
that which was right in my own eyes. I could have a bale of hay, whipped
out my needle and thread, and for several bad cases who had two blankets
converted one into a bed tick, had it filled with hay, and a man placed
on it; but three were sadly in need of beds, and had no blankets; and to
them I alloted the balance of my precious bale, had it placed under them
loose, and rejoiced in their joy over so great a luxury. My theater men
had been laid in a row close to the wall, next to the late scene of
their suffering; and about midnight of the first night there, a nurse
asked me to go to a man who was dying. I found him in front of the
altar. The doors and front panels of the pews had been fastened V shape
to the floor, and he lay with one arm over this, and his head hanging
forward. He had been shot through the chest, was breathing loud and in
gasps, worn out for want of support, and to lay him down was to put out
his lamp of life instantly. What he needed was a high-backed chair, but
General Patrick's sense of duty to the citizens of Fredericksburg left
no hope of such a support. As the only substitute in my reach, I sat on
the edge of the pew door and its panel, drew his arm across my knee,
raised his head to my shoulder, and held it there by laying mine against
it. In this way I could talk in a low monotone to him, and the hopes to
which the soul turns when about to leave the tenement of clay. He gasped
acquiescence in these hopes, and his words led several men near to draw
their sleeves across their eyes; but they all knew he was dying, and a
little sympathy and sadness would not injure them.
He reached toward the floor, and, the man next handed up a daguerreotype
case, which he tried to open. I took and opened it; found the picture of
a young, handsome woman, and held it and a candle, so that he could see
it. His tears fell on it, as he looked, and he gasped,
"I shall never be where that has been."