Part 6 out of 6
"Is it your wife?" and he replied,
"No! but she would have been."
I always tried to avoid bringing sadness to the living on account of
death; but it must have been hard for men to sleep in sound of his
labored breathing; and to soften it I began singing "Shining Shore." He
took it up at once, in a whisper tone, keeping time, as if used to
singing. Soon one, then another and another joined, until all over the
church these prostrate men were singing that soft, sad melody. On the
altar burned a row of candles before a life-sized picture of the Virgin
and Child. The cocks crew the turn of the night outside, and when we had
sung the hymn through, some of the men began again, and we had sung it a
second time when I heard George call me. I knew that he, too, was dying,
and would probably not hear the next crowing of the cock. I must go to
him! how could I leave this head unsupported? Oh, death where is thy
sting? I think it was with me that night; but I went to George, and when
the sun arose it looked upon two corpses, the remains of two who had
gone from my arms in one night, full of hope in the great Hereafter.
TAKE BOAT AND SEE A SOCIAL PARTY.
Next morning a new surgeon took charge, and ordered that hay to be
removed. The men clung to their beds and sent for me; I plead a respite,
in hopes of getting muslin to make ticks; but was soon detected in the
act of taking a bowl of broth to one of my patients. This the surgeon
forbade on the ground that it was not regular meal time. I said the man
was asleep at meal time. This he would not permit, men must be fed at
regular hours, or not at all, and the new authority informed me that
"More wounded soldiers had been killed by women stuffing them than by
He had just come from Massachusetts, and this was his first day among
the wounded. I set my bowl down before the altar, found a surgeon who
ranked him, and stated the case, when the higher authority said:
"Give every man an ox, every day, if he will take it in beef tea."
"But, Doctor, there is nothing in beef tea. I give broth."
"Very good, give them whatever you please and whenever you please--we
can trust you."
The new surgeon was promptly dismissed, and when next I saw him he was
on his way back to Massachusetts.
That night a nurse came for me to go to the theater which had been
vacated, and once more almost filled with men who lay in total darkness,
without having any provision made for them. I got them lights, nurses
and food, but could not go back for another siege in that
building--could not leave my present post, but the city was being
evacuated. Both theater and church were emptied, and I went to the
tobacco warehouse, where Mrs. Ingersol was perplexed about a man with a
large bullet in his brain. When I had seen him and assured her that
another ounce of lead in a skull of that kind was of no consequence, she
redoubled her care, and I have no doubt he is living yet. But there was
one man in whom I felt a deep interest and for whom I saw little hope.
He had a chest wound, and had seemed to be doing well when there was a
hemorrhage, and he lay white and still almost as death. He must not
attempt to speak, and I was a godsend to him, for I knew what he needed
without being told, and gave him the best care I could. He was of a
Western State, and his name Dutton, and when I left him I thought he
must die in being moved, as he must be soon; but I must go with a
boat-load of wounded.
This boat was a mere transport, and its precious freight was laid on the
decks as close as they could well be packed, the cabin floor being given
up to the wounded officers. There were several surgeons on board who may
have been attending to the men, but cannot remember seeing any but one
engaged in any work of that kind. There were also seven lady nurses, all
I think volunteers, all handsomely if not elegantly dressed. Of course
they could do nothing there, and I cannot see how they could have done
anything among the wounded in any place where there were no bedsteads
to protect the men from their hoops. They had probably been engaged in
preparing food, taking charge of, and distributing supplies and other
important work, for personal attendance on the men was but a part of the
work to be done.
Surgeons could do little without soiling their uniforms, but my dress
had long been past soiling or spoiling; my old kid slippers without
heels, could be slid, with the feet in them, quite under a man, and as I
stepped sideways across them, they took care that my soft dress did not
catch on their buttons. When I sat on one heel to bathe a hot face, give
a drink or dress a wound, some man took hold of me with his well hand
and steadied me, while another held my basin. I had half of an old
knapsack to put under a wound, keep the floor dry and catch the worms
when I drove them out--and no twenty early birds ever captured so many
in the same length of time. I became so eager in the pursuit that I kept
it up by candle-light, until late midnight, when I started to go to my
Entering the cabin, I came upon a social party, the like of which I
trust no one else will ever see. On the sofas sat those seven lady
nurses, each with the arm of an officer around her waist, in full view
of the wounded men on the floor, some of whom must go from that low bed,
to one still lower--even down under the daisies.
I stopped, uttered some exclamation, then stood in speechless surprise.
Three surgeons released the ladies they were holding, came forward and
inquired if there was anything wanted. I might have replied that men and
women were wanted, but think I said nothing. When I reached my room I
found in the berth a woman who raised up and said:
"The stewardess told me this was your room; will you let me stay with
She was another Georgie--young, calm, strong, refined, was Miss Gray of
Columbia Hospital, and staid with me through a long hard trial, in which
she proved that her price was above rubies.
Next morning I found on one of the guards, young Johnson, the son of an
old Wilkinsburg schoolmate. Hoped I had so checked the decay and final
destroyers which had already taken hold of him, that he might live.
Wrote to his people, and saw him at noon transferred with the other
patients, the surgeons and stylish lady nurses, to a large hospital
boat; when Miss Gray and I returned in the transport to Fredericksburg.
TAKE FINAL LEAVE OF FREDERICKSBURG.
I cannot remember if our boat lay at the Fredericksburg wharf one day or
two; but she might start any moment, and those who went ashore took the
risk of being left, as this was the last boat. The evacuation was almost
complete, and we waited the result of expeditions to gather up our
wounded from field hospitals at the front. We were liable to attack at
any moment, and were protected by a gunboat which lay close along side.
There was plenty to do on board, but in doing it I must see the piles of
stores on the wharf brought there too late to be of service to our
wounded, and now to be abandoned to the Rebels. There were certainly one
hundred bales of hay, which would have more than replaced all that was
withheld by United States bayonets from our own men in their extremity.
I soon learned after entering Fredericksburg, that our Commissaries were
issuing stores without stint to the citizens; went and saw them carry
off loads of everything there was to give; and when those one hundred
and eighty-two Union soldiers were literally starving in the old
Theater, Union soldiers were dealing out delicacies to Rebels, while
others guarded the meanest article of their property, and kept it from
our men, even when it was necessary to save life.
I consulted several old Sanitary Commission men, who told me it was
always so when Grant was at the front; that he was then in absolute
command; that Patrick, the Provost Marshal, was his friend, and would be
sustained; and that we must be quiet or we would be ordered out of
Gen. Grant may have been loyal to the Union cause, but it has always
seemed to me that in fighting its battles, he was moved by the pure love
of fighting, and took that side which could furnish him the most means
to gratify his passion for war. His Generalship was certainly of a kind
that would soon have proved fatal to our cause in the war of the
Revolution, and only succeeded in the war of the Rebellion, because the
resources at his command were limitless, as compared with those of the
enemy. It was late in the afternoon when our boat shoved off, and as we
steamed away we saw the citizens rush down and take possession of the
stores left on the wharf. During the evening and night we were fired
into several times from the shores, but these attacks were returned from
the gun-boat, which kept our assailants at such distance that their
shots were harmless. We must have no lights that night, and the fires
were put out or concealed, that they might not make us a target. So I
slept, as there was nothing to be done, but in the morning was out early
in search of worms, and was having good success, when two richly,
fashionably dressed ladies came to tell me there was to be nothing to
eat, save for those who took board at the captain's table. They had gone
to the kitchen to make a cup of tea for a wounded officer, and were
ignominiously driven off by the cook. What was to be done? We might be
ten days getting to Washington.
I went in search of a surgeon in charge, and found one in bed, sick;
waited at his door until he joined me, when together we saw the captain
of the boat. There were two new cook-stoves on board, but to put one up
would be to forfeit the insurance. There were plenty of commissary
stores. The surgeon went with me, ordered the commissary to give me
anything I wanted, and went back to bed. Our stores consisted of
crackers, coffee, dried-apples, essence of beef, and salt pork in
abundance, a little loaf bread, and about half a pound of citric acid.
Of these only the crackers and bread could be eaten without being
cooked. There were four hundred and fifty wounded men--all bad cases,
all exhausted from privation. How many of them would live to reach
Washington on a diet of crackers and water? I went to the cook, a large,
sensible colored woman, and stated the case as well as I could. After
hearing it she said:
"I see how it is; but you see all these officers and ladies are agoin to
board with the captain, an' I'll have a sight o' cooking to do. I can't
have none of those fine ladies comin' a botherin' around me, carryin'
off my things or upsettin' 'em. But I'll tell you what I'll do; I'll
hurry up my work and clare off my things; then you can have the kitchen,
you an' that young lady that's with you; but them women, with their
hoops an' their flounces, must stay out o' here!"
It was hard to see how two of them would get into that small domain, a
kitchen about ten feet square, half filled by a cook-stove, shelves, and
the steep, narrow, open stairs which led to the upper deck; but what a
kingdom that little kitchen was to me! All the utensils leaked, but cook
helped me draw rags through the holes in the three largest which I was
to have, and which covered the top of the stove. There were plenty of
new wooden buckets and tin dippers on board as freight, some contraband
women, and an active little man, who had once been a cook's assistant.
He and the women were glad to work for food. He was to help me in the
kitchen. They worked outside, and must not get in the way of the crew.
They washed dried apples and put them to soak in buckets, pounded
crackers in bags and put the crumbs into buckets, making each one a
third full and covering them with cold water. I put a large piece of
salt pork into my largest boiler, added water and beef essence enough to
almost fill the boiler, seasoned it, and as soon as it reached boiling
point had it ladled into the buckets with the cracker-crumbs, and sent
for distribution. The second boiler was kept busy cooking dried apples,
into which I put citric acid and sugar, for gangrene prevailed among the
wounds. In the third boiler I made coffee; I kept it a-soak, and as soon
as it boiled I put it strong into buckets, one-third full of cold water.
I kept vessels in the oven and on the small spaces on top of the stove.
My little man fired up like a fire-king, another man laid plenty of wood
at hand; and I think that was the only cook-stove that was ever "run" to
its full capacity for a week. By so running it, I could give every man a
pint of warm soup and one of warm coffee every twenty-four hours. To do
this, everything must "come to time."
When one piece of pork was cooked, it was cut into small pieces and
distributed, and another put into the boiler. During our cooking times I
usually sat on the stairs, where I could direct and be out of the way;
and to improve the time, often had a plate and cup from which I ate and
drank. Cook always saved me something nice, and I made tea for myself. I
was running my body as I did the cook stove, making it do quadruple
duty, and did not spare the fuel in either case. Around each foot, below
the instep, I had a broad, firm bandage, one above each ankle and one
below each knee. If soldiers on the march had adopted this precaution,
they would have escaped the swollen limbs so often distressing. I also
had each knee covered by several layers of red flannel, to protect them
while I knelt on damp places. Soon after going into Campbell, I
discovered that muscles around the bone will do double service if held
firmly in place, and so was enabled in all my hospital work, to do what
seemed miraculous to the most experienced surgeons.
I rested every moment I could, never stood when I might sit, made no
useless motions, spent no strength in sorrow, had no sentiment, was
simply the engineer of a machine--my own body; could fall asleep soon as
I lay down, and wake any moment with my senses all alert, outlived my
prejudice about china cups, and drank tea from brown earthen mugs used
for soup, and never washed save in cold water; often ate from a tin
plate with my left hand, while my right held a stump to prevent that
jerking of the nerves which is so agonizing to the patient, many a time
eating from the same tin plate with my patient, and making merry over
it; and think I must have outstanding engagements to dance cotillions
with one hundred one-legged men.
One day while I sat eating and watching, that just enough cans of beef
were put into each boiler of broth, and no time wasted by letting it
stand after reaching boiling point, a surgeon asked to see me at the
kitchen door. He informed me that up on the forecastle, some men had had
soup twice while those in some other place had had none. He evidently
wished to be lenient, but felt that I had been guilty of great neglect.
I heard his grievance, and said:
"Doctor, how many of you surgeons are on this boat?"
After some consideration he answered:
"Four surgeons!" I repeated, "beside the surgeon in charge, who is sick!
We have four hundred and fifty wounded men! I draw all the rations,
find a way to cook them, have them cooked and put into the buckets,
ready for distribution. Do you not think that you four could organize a
force to see that they are honestly distributed--or do you expect me to
be in the kitchen, up in the forecastle, and at the stern on the boiler
deck, at one and the same time? Doctor, could you not take turns in
amusing those ladies? Could they not spare two of you for duty?"
I heard no more complaints, but left Miss Grey more in charge of the
kitchen, and did enough medical inspecting to know that I had been
unjust. Some of the surgeons had been on duty, and the men were not so
much neglected as I had feared. As for the Ladies, I do not know how
many there were of them, but they were of good social position--quite as
good as the average of those whose main object in life is to look as
much better than their neighbors as circumstances will admit. There was
on board one of those folks for whose existence Christianity is
responsible, and which sensible Hindoos reduce to their original
elements, viz.: a widow who gets a living by being pious, and is
respectable through sheer force of cheap finery; one who estimates
herself by her surroundings, and whose every word and look and motion is
an apology for her existence. She was a Dix, or paid nurse. The ladies
snubbed her; we had no room for her hoops; and she spent her time in odd
corners, taking care of them and her hair, and turning up her eyes, like
a duck in a thunder-storm, under the impression that it looked
devotional. If I had killed all the folks I have felt like killing, she
would have gone from that boat to her final rest.
One night about eleven o'clock a strange surgeon, who had just come
aboard with twenty wounded, came to the kitchen door, and handed in a
requisition for tea and custard and chicken for his men. The man told
him he could have nothing but cracker-broth or coffee. He was very
indignant, and proceeded to get up a scene; but the man said, firmly:
"Can't help it, Surgeon! That's the orders!"
"Orders! Whose orders?"
I got down from my porch on the stairs, came forward and said:
"It is my orders, sir, and I am sorry, but this is really all we can do
for you. If your men have tin cups, each one can have a cup of warm
soup--it will not be very hot--or a cup of warm coffee. Those who get
soup will get no coffee, and those who get coffee can have no soup. You
can get tin cups from the commissary, and should have them ready, so
that the food will not cool."
While I made this statement he stood regarding me with ineffable
disdain, and when I was through inquired:
"Who are you?"
"I am the cook!"
"The cook!" he repeated, contemptuously. "I will report your insolence
when we reach Washington!"
"That may be your duty; but I will send up the coffee and soup, and do
you get the tin cups."
He stamped off in dudgeon, and others who heard him were highly
indignant; but I was greatly pleased to find a surgeon who would get
angry and raise a disturbance on behalf of his patients. I never knew
his name, but if this should meet his eye I trust he will accept my
thanks for his faithfulness to his charge.
On the lower deck, behind the boilers, lay twenty wounded prisoners, who
at first looked sulky; but as I was stepping over and among them, one
caught my dress, looked up pleadingly, and said:
"Mother, can't you get me some soft bread? I can't eat this hard-tack."
He was young, scarce more than a boy; had large, dark eyes, a good
head--tokens of gentle nurture--and alas! a thigh stump. He told me he
was of a Mississippi regiment, and his name Willie Gibbs. I bathed his
hot face, and said I would see about the bread; then went to another
part of the deck, where our men were very closely packed, and stated the
case to them. There was very little soft bread--it was theirs by right;
what should I do? I think they all spoke at once, and all said the same
"Oh, mother! give the Johnnies the soft bread! we can eat hard-tack!"
I think I was impartial, but there was a temptation to give Willie Gibbs
a little more than his share of attention. His face was so sad, and
there was so little hope that he would ever again see those who loved
him, that I think I did more for him than for any other one on board.
His companions came to call me "mother," and I hope felt their captivity
softened by my care; and often rebel hands supported me while I crouched
When we approached Washington, I proposed rewarding the cook for the
incalculable service she had rendered, but she replied:
"No, ma'am, I will not take anything from you 'cept that apron! When we
get to Washington, you will not want it any more, an' I'll keep it all
my life to remember you, and leave it to my children! Lord! there isn't
another lady in the world could 'a done what you've done; an' I know
you're a lady! Them women with the fine clothes is trying to pass for
ladies, but, Lord! I know no lady 'u'd dress up that way in a place like
this, an' men know it, too--just look at you, an' how you do make them
fellers in shoulderstraps stand 'round!"
Her observation showed her Southern culture, for whatever supremacy the
North may have over the South, Southern ladies are far in advance of
those of the North in the art of dress. A Southern lady seldom commits
an incongruity, or fails to dress according to age, weather, and the
occasion. I do not think any one of any social standing would have gone
among wounded men, with the idea of rendering any assistance, tricked
out in finery, as hundreds, if not thousands, of respectable Northern
The apron which I gave to my friend the cook, was brown gingham, had
seen hard service, and cost, originally, ten cents, and half an hour's
hand-sewing; but if it aids her to remember me as pleasantly as I do
her, it is part of a bond of genuine friendship.
TRY TO GET UP A SOCIETY AND GET SICK.
After two days in bed at home, I was so much better, that when Mrs.
Ingersol came with a plan for organizing a society to furnish the army
with female nurses, I went to see Mrs. Lincoln about it. She was willing
to cooperate, and I went to Secretary Stanton, who heard me, and
"You must know that Mrs. Barlow and Mrs. Ingersol and you are not fair
representatives of your sex," and went on to explain the embarrassment
of the Surgeon-General from the thousands of women pressing their
services upon the Government, and the various political influences
brought to bear on behalf of applicants, and of the well grounded
opposition of surgeons to the presence of women in hospitals, on account
of their general unfitness. Gen. Scott, as a personal friend of Miss
Dix, had appointed her to the place she held, and it was so convenient
and respectful to refer people to her, that the War Department would not
interfere with the arrangement. In other words, she was a break-water
against which feminine sympathies could dash and splash without
submerging the hospital service.
After what I had seen among the women who had succeeded in getting in, I
had not much to say. A society might prescribe a dress, but might be no
more successful than Miss Dix in making selections of those who should
I asked the Secretary how it came that no better provision had been
made for our wounded after the battle of the Wilderness, and tears
sprang to his eyes as he replied:
"We did not know where they were. We had made every arrangement at the
points designated by Gen. Grant, but he changed his plans and did not
notify us. The whole army was cut off from its base of supplies and must
be sustained. As soon as we knew the emergency, we did everything in our
power; but all our preparations were lost. Everything had to be done
over again. You cannot regret the suffering more than I, but it was
impossible for me to prevent it."
I never saw him so earnest, so sorrowful, so deeply moved.
That effort seemed to be the straw which broke the camel's back, and I
was so ill as to demand medical attendance. For this I sent to Campbell.
Dr. Kelly came, but his forte was surgery, and my case was left with Dr.
True, who had had longer practice in medicine. They both decided that I
had been inoculated with gangrene while dressing wounds, and for some
weeks I continued to sink. I began to think my illness fatal, and asked
the doctor, who said:
"I have been thinking I ought to tell you that if you have any unsettled
business you should attend to it."
I had a feeling of being generally distributed over the bed, of being a
mass of pulp without any central force, but I had had a letter that day
from my daughter, who was with her father and grandmother in Swissvale,
and wanted to come to me, and the thought came: "Does God mean to make
my child an orphan, that others may receive their children by my
death?" Then I had a strange sensation of a muster, a gathering of
scattered life-force, and when it all came together it made a protest; I
signed to the doctor, who put his ear to my lips, and I said:
"Doctor True, I shall live to be an hundred and twenty years old!"
He took up the lamp, threw the light on my face, and peered anxiously
into it, and I looked straight into his eyes, and said:
He laughed and set down the lamp, saying:
"Then you must get over this!"
"You must get me over it. Bring Dr. Kelly!"
Next morning, I had them carry me into a larger room, where the morning
sun shone on me, and ten days after, started for Pennsylvania, where I
spent three weeks with my old Swissvale neighbors, Col. Hawkins and Wm.
When I returned to Washington, I found an official document, a
recommendation from the Quarter-Master General, of my dismissal for
absence without leave. It was addressed to Secretary Stanton, who had
written on the outside:
"Respectfully referred to Mrs. Swisshelm, by Edwin M. Stanton."
I went back to work, and learned that Mrs. Gen. Barlow had died of
typhoid fever, in Washington. No man died more directly for the
Government. Thousands who fell on the battle-field, exhibited less
courage and devotion to that service, and did less to secure its
success. I know not where her body lies, but wherever it does, no
decoration-day should pass in which her memory is not crowned with
She died at a time when my life was despaired of, and when Mrs. Ingersol
wrote to a Maine paper of my illness, adding:
"I hope the Lord will not take her away, until He has made another like
She told me afterwards that just then she held the world at a grudge;
but it must have been relieved of my presence long ere this, if I had
not found in homoepathy relief from pain, which for eight months made
life a burden, and for which the best old-school physicians proposed no
AN EFFICIENT NURSE.
To show the capabilities of some of the women who thought they had a
mission for saving the country by acting as hospital nurses, I give the
history of one.
While I lay ill, a friend came and told of a most excellent woman who
had come from afar, and tendered her services to the Government, who had
exerted much influence and spent much effort to get into a hospital as
nurse, but had failed.
Hearing of my illness, her desire to be useful led her to tender her
services, so that if she could not nurse wounded soldiers she could
nurse one who had. The generous offer was accepted, and I was left an
afternoon in her care.
I wanted a cup of tea. She went to the kitchen to make it, and one hour
after came up with a cup of tea, only this and nothing more, save a
saucer. To taste the tea. I must have a spoon, and to get one she must
go along a hall, down a long flight of stairs, through another hall and
the kitchen, to the pantry. When she had made the trip the tea was so
much too strong that a spoonful would have made a cup. She went down
again for hot water, and after she had got to the kitchen remembered
that she had thrown it out, thinking it would not be wanted. The fire
had gone out, and she came up to inquire if she should make a new one,
and if so, where she should find kindling? She had spent almost two
hours running to and fro, was all in perspiration and a fluster, had
done me a great deal of harm and nobody any good, had wasted all the
kindlings for the evening fire, enough tea to have served a large family
for a meal, and fairly illustrated a large part of the hospital service
rendered by women oppressed with the nursing mission.
My sense of relief was inexpressible when Mrs. George B. Lincoln
returned from her visit to the White House, sent my tea-maker away and
took charge of me once more.
TWO FREDERICKSBURG PATIENTS.
Some months after leaving Fredericksburg, I was walking on Pennsylvania
avenue, when the setting sun shone in my face, and a man in uniform
stopped me, saying:
"Excuse me! you do not know me, but I know you!"
I turned, looked at him carefully, and said:
"I do not know you!"
"Oh, no! but the last time you saw me, you cut off my beard with your
scissors and fed me with a teaspoon. When you left me you did not think
you would ever see me again."
"Oh!" I exclaimed joyfully, "you are Dutton."
He laughed, and replied, "That's me. I have just got a furlough and am
He was very pale and thin, but I was so glad to see him and shake hands,
and wish him safely home with his friends.
During the great review after the war, I had a seat near the President's
stand. There was a jam, and a man behind me called my attention to a
captain, at a short distance, who had something to say to me, and passed
along the words:
"You took care of me on the boat coming from Fredericksburg."
Looking across, I could see him quite well, but even when his hat was
off could not recognize him; and this is all I have ever heard from or
of the men with whose lives mine was so knit during that terrible time.
I fear that not many survived, and doubt if a dozen of them ever knew me
by any other name than that of "Mother."
When Early appeared before Washington, we all knew there was nothing to
prevent his coming in and taking possession. The forts were stripped.
There were no soldiers either in or around the city. The original
inhabitants were ready to welcome him with open arms. The departments
were closed, that the clerks might go out in military array, to oppose;
but of course few soldiers were sitting at desks at that stage of the
war. The news at the Quartermaster's office one morning was that the
foreign ministers had been notified, and that the city would be shelled
that afternoon. We lived on the north side of the city; and when I went
home, thousands of people were on the streets, listening to the sound of
guns at Fort Reno.
So far as I knew, there was a universal expectation that the city would
be occupied by rebel troops that night. As this was in harmony with the
general tenor of my anticipations for a quarter of a century, I readily
shared in the popular opinion, and for once was with the majority.
Among the groups who stood in the streets were many contrabands, and
their faces were pitiful to see. One scantily-clad woman, holding a
ragged infant, and with two frightened, ragged children clinging to her
skirts, stood literally quaking. Her black face had turned gray with
terror, and she came to me and asked:
"Oh! Missus! does ye tink dey will get in?"
Suddenly my eyes were opened, like those of the prophet's servant when
he saw the horses and chariots of fire, and I replied:
"No! never! They will come no nearer than they now are! You can go home
and rest in peace, for you are just as safe from them as if you were in
She was greatly comforted; but a gentleman said, as she moved away:
"I wish I could share your opinion; but what is to hinder their coming
"God is to hinder! He has appointed us to rescue these people. They are
collected here in thousands, and the prayers of centuries are to be
I myself went home feeling all the confidence I spoke, and wondering I
could have been so stupid as to doubt. Our Government and people were
very imperfect, but had developed a sublime patriotism--made an almost
miraculous growth in good. Ten righteous men would have saved Sodom. We
had ten thousand; and I must think there are few histories of
supernatural interference in the affairs of the Jews more difficult to
account for, on merely natural grounds, than the preservation of
Washington in that crisis.
December 6th, 1865, the fiftieth anniversary of my birth, found me in
Washington, at work in the Quarter-Master's office, on a salary of sixty
dollars a month, without any provision for support in old age; and so
great a sufferer as never to have a night of rest unbroken by severe
pain, but with my interest in a country rescued from the odium of
Southern slavery, and a faint light breaking of the day which is yet to
abolish that of the West.
In the summer of '66, Dr. King, of Pittsburg, came to know what I would
take for my interest in ten acres of the Swissvale estate, which he had
purchased. My deed had presented a barrier to the sale of a portion of
it, and he was in trouble:
I consulted Secretary Stanton, who said:
"Your title to that property is good against the world!"
It had become valuable and the idea of its ownership was alarming! I had
made up my mind to poverty, had been discharged from the
Quarter-Master's office by special order of President Johnson, "for
speaking disrespectfully of the President of the United
States!"--_Washington Star_--was the first person dismissed by Mr.
Johnson; was without visible means of support, could not suddenly adjust
my thought to anything so foreign to all my plans as coming into
possession of a valuable estate, and said:
"Oh, Secretary Stanton, how shall I ever undertake such a stewardship at
my time of life?" He looked sternly at me, and replied:
"Mrs. Swisshelm, don't be a fool! take care of yourself! It is time you
would begin. The property is yours now. You are morally responsible for
it, and can surely make some better use of it than giving it away to
rich men around Pittsburg. Go at once and attend to your interests."
This was our last interview. I instituted the suit he advised, and he
would have plead my cause before the Supreme Court, but when it came up
he was holding possession of the War Department to defeat President
Johnson's policy of making the South triumphant. However, the decree of
the court was in my favor, and through it I have been able to rescue the
old log block house from the tooth of decay, and to sit in it and recall
those passages of life with which it is so intimately connected.