A RECORD OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND ADVENTURE DURING FOUR YEARS OF WAR.
MRS. FANNIE A. BEERS.
Press of J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia. 1888.
Copyright, 1888, by Fannie A. Beers.
"THE BOYS WHO WORE THE GRAY,"
WHETHER THE LOFTY OR THE LOWLY; EQUALLY TO THE SURVIVING HEROES WHO STAND BEFORE THE WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF A GLORY NEVER SURPASSED, AND TO THE MARTYRS WHOSE PATRIOT BLOOD AND SACRED GRAVES HAVE FOREVER SANCTIFIED THE LAND THEY LOVED,
ARE RESPECTFULLY AND LOVINGLY DEDICATED.
For several years my friends among Confederate soldiers have been urging me to "write up" and publish what I know of the war. By personal solicitation and by letter this subject has been brought before me and placed in the light of a duty which I owe to posterity. Taking this view of it, I willingly comply, glad that I am permitted to stand among the many "witnesses" who shall establish "the truth," proud to write myself as one who faithfully served the defenders of the Cause which had and has my heart's devotion. I have tried to give a faithful record of my experiences, to "nothing extenuate nor aught set down in malice," and I have told the truth, but not always the whole truth. A few of these "Memories" were originally written for the Southern Bivouac, and are here republished because my book would have been incomplete without them.
I am very inexperienced in the business of making books, but relying with confidence upon the leniency of my friends, and feeling sure that I have no enemy who will savagely rejoice that I have written a book, I make the venture.
CHAPTER I. Alpha
CHAPTER II. Alabama
CHAPTER III. Buckner Hospital, Gainesville, Alabama
CHAPTER IV. Ringgold
CHAPTER V. Newnan, Georgia
CHAPTER VI. Omega
CHAPTER VII. Confederate Women
CHAPTER VIII. An Incident of the Battle of the Wilderness
CHAPTER IX. Fenner's Louisiana Battery
CHAPTER X. "Bob Wheat"
PART II. FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.
CHAPTER I. Nelly
CHAPTER II. Brave Boys
CHAPTER III. The Young Color-Bearer
CHAPTER IV. Bravery honored by a Foe
CHAPTER V. Sally's Ride
CHAPTER VI. High Price for Needles and Thread
CHAPTER VII. Bunny
CHAPTER VIII. Beauregard
PART III. AFTER TWENTY YEARS.
CHAPTER I. "My Boys"
CHAPTER II. The Confederate Reunion at Dallas
CHAPTER III. Camp Nichols
CHAPTER IV. The March of Time
CHAPTER V. A Woman's Record
Among those who early espoused the Southern Cause, few, perhaps, were more in earnest than my husband and myself. Our patriotism was at the very outset put to a crucial test. The duties of a soldier and a civilian became incompatible. Being in ill health, it was thought best that I should go to my mother at the North for awhile. My husband, after preliminary service with the "Minute Men" and the State troops, as a member of Company A, Crescent Rifles, was, with this company, regularly mustered into the Confederate service in April, 1861, and left for Pensacola, Florida, where the Crescent Rifles, with the Louisiana Guards, Orleans Cadets, Shreveport Guards, Terrebonne Rifles, and Grivot Guards, were organized into the Dreux Battalion. It was then supposed that "the affair" would be "settled in ninety days."
From my house of refuge I watched eagerly the course of events, until at last all mail facilities were cut off, and I was left to endure the horrors of suspense as well as the irritating consciousness that, although sojourning in the home of my childhood, I was an alien, an acknowledged "Rebel," and as such an object of suspicion and dislike to all save my immediate family. Even these, with the exception of my precious mother, were bitterly opposed to the South and Secession. From mother I received unceasing care, thorough sympathy, surpassing love. During this troubled time a little babe was born to me,—a tiny babe,—who only just opened its dark eyes upon the troubled face of its mother to close them forever.
The guns of Sumter, reverberating throughout the North, "stirred a fever in the blood of age" and youth alike. Fanatics raved more wildly than ever, while those who had hitherto been lukewarm hastened to swell the cry of horror and fury which everywhere arose at this "insult to our flag." This feeling found vent in acts of oppression, met by prompt and determined resistance, and thus was inaugurated the fratricidal strife which was for four years to desolate the land.
Rumors of an engagement in Virginia intensified my suspense until it seemed unbearable. One day I received a kindly warning from an old friend concerning a small Confederate flag which had been sent to me by my husband. It was a tiny silken affair, which I kept in my prayer-book. This harmless possession was magnified by the people of the town into an immense rebel banner, which would eventually float over my mother's house. I had still a few friends whose temperate counsel had hitherto protected me. The note referred to warned me that while I retained possession of the flag I might at any time expect the presence of a mob. I would not have destroyed my treasure for worlds, and how to conceal it became a subject of constant thought. The discovery one day of a jar of "perpetual paste" in mother's secretary suggested an idea which was at once carried out. Applying this strongly adhesive mixture to one side of the flag, I pasted it upon the naked flesh just over my heart. One morning the mail brought certain news of a Confederate victory at Big Bethel. This so exasperated the people that on their way from the post-office an excited crowd halted under my window, crying out, "Where's that rebel woman?" "Let's have that flag," "Show your colors," etc. Carried away by intense excitement, I threw open the blinds, and, waving the newspaper above my head, shouted, "Hurrah! Hurrah for Big Bethel! Hurrah for the brave rebels!" A perfect howl of rage arose from below, and greater evil might have befallen but for the timely appearance of the venerable village doctor, who now rode hastily in among the excited men, and, standing up in his buggy, cried out, "Friends, she is but a frail, defenceless woman. Be thankful if your morning's work be not her death." Slowly and sullenly the crowd dispersed, while the good doctor hastily ascended to my chamber. I lay with fevered cheeks and burning eyes among the pillows where my mother had placed me. The terrible excitement under which I labored forbade all blame or any allusion to my act of imprudence. I was soothed and tenderly cared for until, under the influence of a sedative, I fell asleep.
Early next morning the doctor appeared at my bedside. Meantime a change had come over me. I seemed to have lost the nervous excitability of a girl and to have become a woman, full of courage and hope. Dr. —— regarded me steadily for a moment; then,—"Ah! better this morning? That's my brave girl." Meeting his gaze fully, I replied, "I shall try henceforth to be brave, as befits the wife of a soldier." A frown appeared upon the doctor's brow. Tenderly placing his hand upon my head, he said, "My child, I fear your courage will soon be put to the test. Your own imprudence has greatly incensed the town people. Danger menaces you, and through you, your mother. Fortunately, the friends of your childhood still desire to protect you; but your only safety lies in giving up the rebel flag which it is said you possess. Give it to me, Fannie, and I will destroy it before their eyes, and thus avert the threatened danger." I only smiled, as I replied: "Dr. ——, since the rebel flag has existed, I have cherished it in my heart of hearts. You may search the house over; you will find no flag but the one I have here," placing my hand on my heart. The good man had known me from childhood, and he could not doubt me. He questioned no further, but took his leave, promising to use his influence with the incensed villagers. They, however, were not so easily convinced. They had been wrought up to a state of frenzied patriotism, and declared they would search the house where the obnoxious flag was supposed to be. Dire threats of vengeance were heard on every side. At last a committee was appointed to wait upon "the traitress" and again demand the surrender of the flag. It was composed of gentlemen who, though thorough and uncompromising "Union men," were yet well known to me, and were anxious, if possible, to shield me. They were admitted to the room, where I calmly awaited them. I reiterated the assertion made to the doctor, so calmly, and with such apparent truth, that they were staggered. But they had come to perform a duty, and they meant to succeed. They convinced me that the danger to myself and to the house of my mother was real and imminent, but I only repeated my assertions, though my heart throbbed painfully as I saw the anxiety and trouble in mother's face. Suddenly I remembered that I had in my possession a paper which, just before all mail communication had ceased between the North and South, had been sent to me for the purpose of protection. It was simply a certificate of my husband's membership and good standing in a Masonic lodge, and had a seal affixed. As I called for the portfolio, all eyes brightened with expectation of seeing at last the "rebel flag." Drawing forth from its envelope the fateful document, I said, "I was told to use this only in dire extremity; it seems to me that such a time is at hand. If there be any virtue in Masonry, let it now protect me and the roof which is at present my only shelter!"
Thus speaking, I handed the paper to one whom I knew to be a prominent Mason. The certificate was duly examined and, after a short conference, returned. "We will do our best," said the spokesman of the party, and all withdrew. The day passed without further trouble, and as I sank to sleep that night there came to me a feeling of safety and protection, which was indeed comforting.
Weeks passed, during which I slowly but surely gathered the strength and health necessary to carry out the resolution lately formed, to join my husband, and, if might be, to labor for the cause so loved. The unceasing ministrations of my mother strengthened alike soul and body, but as I read in that dear face a love and devotion which could never fail, my heart felt many a bitter pang at the thought of the parting that must be.
One evening, having found the courage necessary to tell mother of my plans and hopes, to my surprise the noble woman heard me calmly. "I had expected this," she said. "It is right—you must, go; but, oh! not now—not soon," and in uncontrollable agitation she left the room. Two days later the subject was resumed. Ways and means were discussed. The mother's face grew paler as that of her child brightened and glowed with returning health and hope. She pleaded to keep my little boy, but fearing lest his young heart might receive, among the enemies of Southern liberty, impressions which could not be effaced, I decided that he must not be left.
Upon the eve of the battle of Manassas we started on our hazardous journey. The utmost secrecy had been observed. No baggage could be allowed. My thoughtful mother converted quite a large sum into gold, which, stitched into a broad belt, was sewed around my waist. One bright morning mother and I, with my boy, seated ourselves in the carriage as if for our usual drive. There was no leave-taking, no appearance of anything unusual. Once on the road, we were rapidly driven to a railroad depot in a distant town; there I took the train, while my poor mother returned homeward alone.
Arrived in Baltimore, we found ourselves among those whose hearts were filled with ardent love of "the Cause," and bitter hatred for the soldiers who had, in spite of their heroic resistance, so lately passed through the streets of the city on their way to subjugate the South. "The rebel" was enthusiastically received. All were ready to assist her, but at this juncture it seemed impossible to pass the Federal lines.
The great battle of Manassas had been decided. The wildest excitement prevailed. Flying soldiers were everywhere. Almost every hour the sound of fife and drum was heard, as shattered regiments and decimated battalions marched through the streets. Although all expression of feeling, among the citizens, was sternly repressed, the mask of sullen indifference was known to be but a mask. Hearts beneath were bounding with pride and joy and hope. Almost without exception, houses were closed and devoid of all appearance of life. Yet behind those closely-shut blinds women embraced each other with tempestuous joy, or paced the floor in uncontrollable agitation, or knelt in earnest prayer, mingling thanksgivings with agonized petitions for those whose fate was yet unknown. Mothers, sisters, wives, strove, with trembling lips, to comfort each other, bidding the voice of patriotism be heard above the "tempest of the heart." In the midst of all this excitement my interests were never lost sight of. Secret meetings were held, and various plans discussed. At last, one day a note was received inviting me to spend a social evening at the house of "one of the faithful." A casual observer would have discovered nothing more than a few lines of invitation, still the paper bore a private mark which made my heart beat with hope.
Arrived at the house indicated, where seemed to be only an ordinary gathering of friends, I found it difficult to appear at ease, and watched eagerly for developments. Not a sign or a word was given, however, until after supper, when the ladies repaired (as usual) to the dressing-room up-stairs to rearrange their toilets. Instead of entering with the rest, the hostess, by a slight pressure of the hand, indicated to me that I was desired to pass on and up a second flight of stairs.
We did so unnoticed, and soon entered a small room in the third story, where were found waiting a few friends, among them a captain and clerk of a steamboat which was expected to leave in three days for Newport News with United States troops to reinforce Colonel Phelps at that point. Here appeared to be a chance, but a hazardous one, since the officers of the boat must not evince any interest in their passenger, and could afford no assistance or protection among the rough soldiers who would crowd every available foot of room. They must appear as good Union men, engaged in transporting troops to assist in quelling "the rebellion." In case of any rough treatment of the "rebel woman," they could only appeal to the officers in charge of the troops, and the result of such an appeal, in the present state of feeling, would be doubtful. The boat was not a passenger steamer, and had only two or three small staterooms, occupied by its officers. These might be required by the military commanders. Instantly, and unhesitatingly, I decided to make the trial. We ladies then descended to the parlor, while one by one our friends were conveyed out of the house.
A new difficulty at once arose; a friend had applied to General Scott for a pass—unsuccessfully. The precious hours were passing, and failure seemed imminent. This difficulty was increased by the fact that I had undertaken the charge of Jemmy Little, a boy of ten, who, having lingered too long at school in Baltimore, had been cut off from his family in Norfolk, and being desperately unhappy, had implored to be included in the plans formed for me. He was to pass as my brother, and, having once promised, I could not disappoint him, especially as his waking hours were spent by my side, his hand often nestling into my own, his large wistful eyes questioning my face, as if dreading to find there some evidence of hesitation or change of purpose.
One day passed. At evening, as I was anxiously pacing my room, my hostess hurriedly entered, exclaiming, in agitation, "Your brother awaits you in the drawing-room. I could not welcome him. I will not see him. Only for your sake would I allow a Federal soldier to cross my threshold; but he is your brother; go to him."
Trembling with excitement, I descended to the parlor, where I found my brother,—a mere boy yet,—wearing the uniform of a Federal officer.
"Sister!" "Charles!" each cried, and no further greeting passed between us. The boy stood with folded arms, looking proudly, yet tenderly, at me, his only sister, all the brave ardor of a soldier who believes in the cause he serves revealed in his handsome young face. I sank into a chair and covered my face, that I might shut out the sight which so pained me. The interview that followed was long. Finding that my brother not only approved the determination to join my husband, but was able and willing to assist in obtaining the necessary pass, I told him of my wish to have it in possession by the next day, and received his promise to send it, if possible. He was going to "the front," and overcome by the thought that I might never see him again, I threw my arms around his neck, while tears fell fast upon the blue uniform, and so, with a last embrace, we parted.
The pass, embracing "Mrs. Beers, brother, and child," was forthcoming next day, and the same afternoon I, with my boys, set forth unattended for the boat. No sign of recognition passed between the captain and ourselves as we were conducted to the upper deck, and seated under the awning. Soon the sound of drum and fife announced the approach of the troops. A regiment of blue-coated soldiers appeared on the wharf, and directly they marched on board. Witnessing their embarkation, I could not repress a feeling of extreme uneasiness, which increased as officers and men appeared on every side. They were so many: I was the only woman on the boat. Sitting motionless, with veil closely drawn, holding my boy on my lap, while poor Jemmy nestled close to my side (valiant in feeling, but of boyish appearance, and looking even smaller beside the tall soldiers), I hoped to pass unobserved, but soon after the boat left the wharf found myself subjected to rude stares and ruder remarks, and at last was forced to seek the clerk to beg that I might find shelter in one of the little state-rooms. All were taken by the officers, who seemed utterly indifferent to the forlorn condition of "Madam Reb." At last the clerk (after a short consultation with one kindly-looking officer, who, however, seemed half ashamed of the kindness of heart which contrasted so finely with the rudeness of his comrades) led the way to a room below,—small, and close, but a shelter. Here he placed us, having locked us in to prevent intrusion. The boys soon fell asleep, but I passed the night in listening to the ceaseless noises outside.
Morning found the boat at Fortress Monroe, whence, after a short delay, she proceeded to Newport News.
Under pretence of guarding well the "female rebel," the good clerk escorted us to the officers' quarters. Here my pass was examined closely; many questions were asked and answered. Still, the result seemed doubtful; means of transportation were wanting. The colonel in command was inclined to be suspicious and sternly unsympathetic. While standing tremblingly before those whose adverse decision would, I knew, crush all my hopes, one of the officers espied around my neck a slender black chain, and demanded to know what it held. Instantly hope returned: I drew from my bosom a small case enclosing the Masonic document before mentioned. As at my mother's house, it was examined and returned without comment. An hour later, however, a plentiful repast was set before us, after which a covered ambulance appeared, in which was placed for my comfort the only arm-chair the camp contained. Soon, attended by an officer and a guard of Federal soldiers, our little party entered upon the last stage of our journey to the Confederate lines.
The route lay amid scenes of desolation sadder than anything I had ever dreamed of. Fields, which a few short weeks before had given promise of a rich harvest, were laid waste. Here and there tiny columns of smoke arose from the smouldering ruins of once happy homes. The heat and dust were almost insufferable, but as the sun declined a cool breeze sprang up, and later a flood of moonlight clothed the landscape with a mystical beauty. It shone coldly on the few deserted homes which the hand of the destroyer had spared, and to me it seemed that its silvery rays were like the pale fingers of a mourner who places white wreaths upon the grave of love. In the soft wind I heard only moans and sighs.
The children slept soundly in the straw at the bottom of the ambulance, and soon the steady, monotonous tramp of the guard lulled me also to rest. We approached the Confederate lines just at sunrise. A flag of truce was unfurled, and at once answered by an officer on picket-duty. A short parley ensued. At a word of command the Federal guard fell back and were replaced by Confederates. A moment later, I, with my charges, descended, to be greeted with enthusiasm, tempered with the most chivalrous respect, by the "boys in gray," who proved to be members of the battalion to which my husband was attached, and who at once relieved my fears by assurances of his safety. It was a supreme moment, such as comes seldom in a lifetime, and yet a time for stern self-repression.
The emotions of a heart at rest, after trials so sore, were too sacred to find expression.
I gazed around me in silent ecstasy. It seemed to me that the sun had never shone so brightly, or on a scene so lovely. Noting the manly faces and noble bearing of those who wore the gray, I felt that the purple and ermine of kings could not have clothed them half so magnificently. And, oh I how delicious and appetizing seemed "the rations," which, though simple, were served under those green trees with the earnest, genuine hospitality which is so well described by the term "Southern."
The camp being several miles distant, nothing remained but to wait patiently for some means of transportation. It was near sunset when the loud singing of a negro driver was heard. Soon he appeared upon a novel conveyance,—a rough, unplaned board or two on wheels and drawn by a single ox. Unpromising as this "turnout" appeared, we were informed that it was a "Godsend," so we joyfully mounted the cart, a soldier being detailed to accompany us. My little son was made supremely happy by being invited to sit upon the lap of the driver, whose characteristic songs beguiled the way through the shadowy woods. Within a few miles of camp the challenge of a sentry was heard; half an hour later we found ourselves among the tents of the Dreux Battalion.
My husband was "on guard," perhaps thinking sadly of his absent wife and boy, certainly never dreaming they were so near. As the ambulance drove into camp it was at once surrounded by soldiers, both officers and privates. As soon as my name was known, some one who evidently appreciated the situation rushed off in hot haste to notify and relieve the soldier most interested. Meantime a dozen hands clasped mine in kindly greeting. To whom they belonged I could not tell, for the dense shade shut out the moonlight, and seen by the light of the camp-fires, disguised as each one was in the rough garb of a soldier, my quondam city friends wore quite unrecognizable.
I will leave to the imagination of the reader the happy meeting between long-parted ones and the many caresses showered upon our child.
I had expected nothing better than to spend the night in the ambulance or under a tent, and would have taken great pride in "camping out," but the chivalrous officers in command would not hear of such a plan. Their quarters (two rooms in a little log house) were instantly vacated, and I had scarcely descended from the vehicle when a negro man appeared, to bring a message. "De Major's compliments, mistis, and de room am ready." I could not have been bidden to a luxurious apartment with more ceremony.
The next morning the shrill sound of the fife and the drum beating the "reveille" aroused us, and we were up with the sun.
The scene was entrancing; to me particularly so, for the white tents gleaming among the trees reminded me that I was among Southern soldiers. As they strode to and fro with martial air, fully armed and equipped to answer roll-call, or bent over the camp-fires preparing breakfast, it seemed to me that no such splendid soldiers were ever before seen. Several invitations to breakfast were received; that of the officers' mess, having been first, was accepted.
Major —— came in person to escort his guests to a lovely spot near the cabin, where, under a large shady oak, upon a table of rough boards covered with a nice white cloth, a delicious meal was set, consisting of broiled chickens, omelet, fragrant coffee, buttermilk, corn bread, and batter-cakes. A likely young negro boy attended at table, industriously flourishing a green branch to keep away the flies, and seemingly delighted to show off his company manners.
After breakfast I sat long upon the little gallery of the log cabin entertaining soldier visitors and enjoying the situation with all my heart. I soon discovered, however, an air of sadness and restraint which was unaccountable until my husband told me of the death of the gallant Dreux, the first martyr of the war. Ah! then I knew. Struggle as they might, their brave hearts were wrung with anguish, for their gallant leader had succumbed to the only conqueror he ever knew. The impassioned oratory that had never failed to fire the hearts of men was hushed forever. The ardent patriotism ever prompting to deeds of daring was now only a memory. The brilliant intellect and administrative ability so early recognized, so highly valued, were lost to the Confederacy.
I no longer wondered that manly brows were clouded, or that the eyes of soldiers moistened, as, even amidst pleasant conversation, a sudden remembrance of their loss overcame them. For them the memory of that death-scene was fresh. The echo of his last brave words had not yet died away: "Steady, boys, steady," as if he would have said, "Let not my fate appall; still do your duty."
Before the sun was high the ambulance reappeared to convey our party as far as Williamsburg, where young Little was to remain until he could hear from his father; I and my boy were to go on to Richmond. My husband was granted a furlough of two days that he might escort his family as far as Williamsburg. As may be imagined, the ride was most delightful. Although often oppressed by thoughts of the parting hour so rapidly approaching, we were at times charmed into forgetfulness, and keen enjoyment of the beautiful scenery and the incidents of the journey. I now, for the first time, began to use from my little store of gold and silver, and it proved the "open sesame" to much enjoyment. Watermelons and other fruit, roasting ears, buttermilk, etc., were purchased without stint, also a chicken. At noon the little party camped in a grove by the roadside, where my soldier-husband proudly showed off his new attainments in the way of cooking. The dinner was pronounced "just splendid" by the appreciative guests. Our boy having gorged himself, fell asleep upon the grass; the negro driver was sent off to buy a few dainties to send back to friends in camp, and the two so lately reunited—so soon to part—enjoyed for the first time an uninterrupted talk relating to the adventures that each had met with since our parting in New Orleans. I unfolded my plans for the future, receiving the full permission and sympathy of my husband.
Soon after the journey was resumed two horsemen appeared on the road coming from the direction of Williamsburg. I was quite unprepared to recognize a Confederate officer of high rank in either of the riders who now approached, as neither were very handsomely uniformed.
The one who most attracted my attention appeared of middle age, was rather stout, of florid complexion, and (as I thought) looked very cross. He wore a sort of fancy jacket or roundabout, profusely trimmed with gold lace.
"There is General Magruder!" exclaimed my husband, and, as the officers came near, saluted. Bringing the ambulance to a halt with an imperious gesture, the general sharply questioned him as to his absence from camp, his name, command, destination, length of time he expected to be absent, etc. I was then introduced, and began to express my pleasure at the meeting, etc. The grim visage of the general did not relax. My pleasant talk was cut short by another question, this time, of importance. I then found myself subjected to a series of questions so searching that all I had seen or heard while passing through the enemy's lines was imparted to General Magruder before I quite realized the situation.
What woman, denied the pleasure of talking, would not have felt and expressed, as did my discomfited self, great indignation in view of a deprivation so severe. But upon being reminded of the heavy responsibility resting upon the mind and heart of the patriot who could not withdraw his attention from the great and all-absorbing interests committed to his guidance long enough to think of, much less to practise, the amenities of life, I felt ashamed of my hasty anger, and remembered only that I had been permitted to see and converse with the hero of the battle of Bethel, the first Confederate victory of the war.
At Williamsburg, under the roof of the queer, old-fashioned, but comfortable inn, excellent accommodations were found, and here the soldier partook heartily of the "square meals" which he knew were his last for many a day.
A few hours of happiness was all that could be accorded to us. A battle seemed imminent. My husband must return to his post. I, with my little boy, proceeded to Richmond, where unbounded kindness and hospitality awaited me.
Here began the realization of the dream which had haunted me while yet compelled to linger among the foes of the South. Joining at once the noble army of women who untiringly ministered to the sick and wounded, I entered upon the performance of a vow to devote myself to this work if only the opportunity were accorded me.
Richmond in 1861-62.
Who that witnessed and shared the wild excitement which, upon the days immediately following the victory at Manassas, throbbed and pulsated throughout the crowded capital of the Southern Confederacy can ever forget?
Men were beside themselves with joy and pride,—drunk with glory.
By night the city blazed with illuminations, even the most humble home setting up its beacon-light,—a sure guide to where loyal, devoted hearts were throbbing with patriotism.
In the general rejoicing the heavy price of victory was for a time unheeded. But Richmond had sent forth to battle her best beloved, and, alas! many were the "unreturning braves."
The dazzling light fell upon many dwellings only to reveal the utter darkness that reigned without and within. No need to ask why. All knew that in each darkened home stricken hearts filled with an agony of desolation struggled in vain to remember that they were mothers and wives of heroes, but could not yet lift their eyes from the ghastly wounds—the bloody graves of their dead.
Ah! the lovely, joyous, hopeful, patriotic days of that summer of 1861. The Confederate gray was then a thing of beauty,—the outer garb of true and loyal souls. Every man who wore it became ennobled in the eyes of every woman. These boys in gray were strangers to none. Their uniform was a passport to every heart and every home. Broad Street was thronged with them all day long.
Officers of all grades rode hither and thither, or congregated on the steps of the hotels. Squads of soldiers promenaded, gayly chatting with acquaintances whom they chanced to meet. Occasionally the sound of drum and fife or the fuller music of a brass band would herald the appearance of a company or regiment, perhaps just arrived from some distant State, eager to reach the front. On more retired streets, at their homes, humble or luxurious, sweet young girls welcomed with kindly words and sunny smiles officers and private soldiers, extending equal courtesy to both. The elegant mansions on Clay Street and elsewhere were never without soldier guests. Impromptu meals were served whenever needed. In elegant dining-rooms stately servants supplied the wants of soldiers. No one asked who they were, whence they came. They were Confederate soldiers—that was quite enough.
In the cool drawing-rooms pleasant chat beguiled the summer hours, sweet songs floated out upon the air, or the more stirring notes of "Dixie" or "The Bonnie Blue Flag," played with a spirit and vim which electrified every listener.
If these warriors who lingered here could have chosen for themselves, they would never have thus quietly rested upon the laurels won at Manassas. Contrary to their wishes, they had been recalled from the pursuit of the flying foe and consigned to temporary inactivity.
As the new companies or regiments came in they were marched into camp in the suburds or temporarily provided for in the immense tobacco warehouses which were numerous all over the city. Passing one of these, at every window appeared laughing or discontented faces of soldiers newly arrived, full of ardor, ready and expecting to perform prodigies of valor, yet ignominiously shut up within four brick walls, with a sentinel guarding every door.
The evening drills at the camp-grounds were attended by hundreds of ladies. So enthusiastic were these, so full of pride and admiration for the braves who had come to defend their homes and themselves, so entirely in accord with the patriotic spirit which burned in every manly heart, that not a soldier, no matter how humble, came near or passed before a group of these animated beauties who was not literally bathed in the radiance of kindly smiles,—transformed into a demigod by the light of gloriously flashing eyes.
No pen can do justice to the scenes I would fain describe. Language is quite inadequate to express the feeling which then lived and had its being in the hearts of all Southern women towards the heroes who had risen up to defend the liberties of the South. Exalted far above mere sentiment, holding no element of vanity or selfishness,—idolatrous, if you will, yet an idolatry which inspired the heart, nerved the hand, and made any sacrifice possible. No purer patriotism ever found lodgment in human breast. No more sacred fire was ever kindled by human hands on any altar than the impulse which imperatively called men from the peaceful avocations of life to repel the threatened invasion of their homes and firesides. They were actuated by no spirit of hatred or revenge (then). They sought not to despoil, to lay waste. But, when justice was dethroned, her place usurped by the demon of hate and prejudice, when the policy of coercion and invasion was fully developed, with one heart and voice the South cried aloud, "Stand! The ground's your own, my braves."
Swift as a meteor, yet clear and unwavering, flashed and burned the beacon-light first kindled in South Carolina. A million torches lighted at this flame were borne aloft throughout the Southland.
And now the invader had been met and foiled in his first attempt to conquer and desolate the homes of Virginia. Who can wonder that their brave defenders were the idols of a grateful people? Their valor, having been fully tested, had far surpassed the expectations of the most sanguine. "Hope told a flattering tale." Alas! too flattering, for the confidence begotten by this first success inspired a contempt for the foe quite undeserved.
Meanwhile, the summer sun still brightened the unharmed capitol. The summer wind still bore aloft on the dome in Capitol Square the flag of the new Confederacy, the "stars and bars." Here, after sunset and in the moonlight, came young men and maidens, matrons and children. Old men, too, who, baring their silvery heads to the cool breeze, gazed upward at the bonnie flag, with a look half triumphant, half sad; for the love of the "star-spangled banner" had grown with their growth and strengthened with their strength, and it had been hard to tear it from their hearts.
To young eyes the new flag seemed an emblem of glory. Young hearts glowed with pride as often as they looked upon it. The story of the eventful hour when it first replaced the "stars and stripes" and floated over the capitol building in full view of the whole city, hailed by acclamations from many thousand voices, is still told with pride by the citizens of Richmond.
The moment it was known that Virginia had passed the ordinance of secession, the cheering, enthusiastic crowd which had for hours surrounded Mechanics' Institute, made a rush for the State-House to "haul down" the old flag, and run up the "stars and bars." Upon making the attempt, it was found impossible to move the United States flag, some one having either nailed or driven it with staples to the staff. Two boys, burning with zeal, started for the cupola to cut loose the flag. One of these, although a lad of eighteen, was a member of the Richmond Howitzers. Hoping to outstrip the other, he climbed hand over hand up the lightning-rod. Just as he reached the goal of his ambition, however, the staples securing the rod pulled out and the boy was left swaying back and forth in mid-air, while the crowd upon the top of the capitol and on the ground below looked on in horror. The lightning-rod was one of the old-fashioned sort, and more than an inch in diameter. One after another the staples gave way under the weight. The rod swayed gently back and forth as if uncertain which way to fall, but finally lurching towards the up-town side. Every one expected that the lad would be so disconcerted and appalled when he struck the edge of the roof, that he would be unable to look out for his own safety. One of the party resolved to attempt a rescue, although by so doing his own life would be endangered. Throwing himself flat on the roof like a bat, he slid down headforemost to the gutter, which, fortunately, was very wide. Placing himself on his back in this gutter so as to be able to arrest the other poor boy in his fall, he waited until the lightning-rod struck the roof, then called out loudly, "Let go; I'll catch you." The boy obeyed, and as he slipped down the roof in an almost unconscious condition, his rescuer in the gutter grasped and held him until he recovered his self-possession, when both pulled off their shoes and climbed the steep roof to the skylight. Both boys were gallant soldiers, but perhaps neither was ever again in greater danger than when excess of patriotism cost the one that hazardous ride on the lightning-rod, the other to assume the equally dangerous but noble position of rescuer.
Both are still living,—veterans now. One, occupying a position of honor and of public trust, is a personal friend of the writer.
To me the Confederate flag was an object of profound love and passionate devotion. It represented hopes that I thought could never fail, possibilities so glorious that imagination was dazzled. I used to go to the square before sunrise, leading my little boy, trying vainly to make him understand and share in some degree my own enthusiasm, but instead he only busied himself in trying to steal near enough to pounce upon one of the many little birds flitting from spray to spray with happy songs. Approaching the beautiful monument where the statues are so lifelike as to appear real companions, sentient and cognizant of one's presence, I chose always a seat where I could gaze upon the face of Patrick Henry, recalling his stirring words, trying to imagine what he would have thought and said now, and almost daring to wish that soul of fire might come, if only for a moment, to animate the cold form; that the silent lips might speak, the eyes look upward to where the breeze of morning stirred the sacred flag which my own heart saluted. Lingering thus until the first rays of the sun came to glorify its waving folds, I drank in deep draughts of patriotism and love for the holy cause, sweet, inspiring, elevating; a tonic powerful and lasting in its effects, bracing mind and soul to persevere in the course I had marked out for myself, to tread unfalteringly a path beset by difficulties then undreamed of. Not long afterward the capitol square became forever sacred to Southern hearts; for here, standing upon the steps of the beautiful monument, beneath the bronze statue of George Washington, the first President of the Southern Confederacy took upon himself the solemn vows of office, and at the same time the stirring airs of "Dixie" and "The Bonnie Blue Flag" received the stamp of nationality. Ah! then how overwhelming the applause. But no one dreamed of a time in the far future when the Southern Confederacy should have become a thing of the past; of a time when the first faint notes of "Dixie" would have power to sway the hearts of thousands, to turn quiet crowds into excited, surging masses of men who would rend the air with cheers and the dear old "rebel yell," of women who, unable to control their feelings, would testify by applauding hands, waving handkerchiefs, and streaming eyes how precious were the memories awakened.
One moonlight evening I stood again before the statue of that grand patriot and statesman, Patrick Henry. My companions were Mrs. Frances Gawthmey, of Richmond, and Commodore Matthew F. Maury, a man whom the scientific world delighted to honor, and of whom it may be well said, "We ne'er shall look upon his like again." When Virginia cast her fortunes with the Southern Confederacy, he held a distinguished position under the United States Government. Had he sought self-aggrandizement, renown, the fullest recognition of valuable services to the Government, the way was open, the prospect dazzling. But he was not even tempted. Beloved voices called him,—the voices of love and duty. He listened, obeyed, laying at the feet of the new Confederacy as loyal a heart as ever beat,—a resplendent genius, the knowledge which is power.
In the days of my childhood I had known Captain Maury, and had been taught to revere him. When we met in Richmond, Commodore Maury was still my friend and mentor. His kindly offices were mine whenever needed, and his care followed me through all vicissitudes, until, after many months, the varying fortunes of war separated us, never, alas! to meet again in this world.
On the evening referred to above, Mrs. Gawthmey and myself, escorted by Commodore Maury, passed through the square on our way to the hotel, where we expected to meet a brilliant circle of distinguished Southerners. Arrived in front of the monument, we paused involuntarily. The same thoughts which had before come to me seemed to possess all our minds. Mrs. Gawthmey remarked, "If Patrick Henry had been living, I reckon Virginia would have stepped out of the Union side by side with South Carolina." "Well," replied Commodore Maury, "he would have acted as he thought. There would have been no 'pros and cons,' and his irresistible eloquence would have carried all before it." Then baring his head, while the moonlight seemed to glorify his grand intellectual countenance, he repeated a portion of that grand oration of Mr. Henry ending, "Give me liberty or give me death." As those immortal words fell from his lips all remained silent, though wrought up to the highest pitch of patriotic excitement. After a moment we walked on very quietly, until, passing out of the mellow moonlight, we entered the brilliantly-lighted parlors of the Spottswood Hotel.
The hum of conversation, the sound of careless, happy laughter, the music of a band playing outside, soon brought us down from the heights of enthusiasm to the delightful realities of the present. For, spite of battle and death and perplexities, even certain trouble ahead, Richmond was gay, hopeful, and "all went merry as a marriage bell." The gaunt spectres of privation, want, disease, death, of ruined homes, starving families, and universal desolation, were shadows which fled before the legions of hope pressing so gladly and gayly to the front. Here in one corner laughing girls bewitched and held in thrall young soldier boys,—willing captives,—yet meeting the glances of bright eyes with far less courage than they had shown while facing the guns upon the battlefield. Thrilling tales of the late battle wore poured into credulous ears: "We were here. We were there. We were everywhere. Our company accomplished wonderful deeds of valor;" and if Beauty's smile be indeed a fit reward, truly these young heroes received it.
Our party exchanged greetings with several groups, seating ourselves at last within the brilliant circle surrounding Judge and Mrs. Hopkins, of Alabama. Here were several ladies, wives of distinguished officers in the Confederate service, members of the Cabinet, and others, and splendid-looking officers in handsome uniforms were constantly coming and going, exchanging courteous greetings, lingering for a few moments in conversation, grave or gay. Here, perhaps, a stately form strode up and down the large rooms so engrossed in thought as to be regardless of all that was passing. There, in deep converse, stood a group equally regardless of their surroundings, whose grave faces and earnest questions showed the importance of the subject under discussion. Among those who upon that evening and afterward, "many a time and oft," were met together in those brilliant rooms there was not one heart untouched by the fire of patriotism,—a flame fed by every thought, word, and action, burning ever with steadily-increasing brightness.
I fail to recall many of the illustrious names which on that night sounded like stirring music in my ears; but as often as memory reverts to that scene, the forerunner of repeated pleasures, I seem to feel anew the pressure of friendly hands, unforgotten faces appear through the mists of the past, still aglow with "the light of other days."
Judge Hopkins was rather an invalid, but his high position, fine appearance, his pleasant conversational powers, marked him as one worthy of attention from all.
To Mrs. Hopkins had been entrusted the duty of caring for the sick and wounded soldiers from Alabama. Two State hospitals had already been established by her, and she had full power to control all matters connected with these hospitals, except such as came within the province of the surgeon in charge.
I have never seen a woman better fitted for such a work. Energetic, tireless, systematic, loving profoundly the cause and its defenders, she neglected no detail of business or other thing that could afford aid or comfort to the sick or wounded. She kept up a voluminous correspondence, made in person every purchase for her charges, received and accounted for hundreds of boxes sent from Alabama containing clothing and delicacies for the sick, and visited the wards of the hospitals every day. If she found any duty neglected by nurse or surgeon or hospital steward, her reprimand was certain and very severe. She could not nurse the sick or wounded personally, for her whole time was necessarily devoted to executive duties, but her smile was the sweetest, I believe, that ever lit up a human face, and standing by the bedside of some poor Alabamian, away from home, and wretched as well as sick, she must have seemed to him like an angel visitant. A more decided woman in dealing with all who came within her influence or control I never knew, yet she was kindly withal, though never expecting or brooking opposition. To her husband alone she deferred in all things, and was gentleness itself.
On meeting her for the first time she called me to her side, saying, in her abrupt way, "I like you, you are so in earnest; do you really mean to nurse our sick soldiers during the war, as Mr. Maury tells me?" I replied, as I distinctly recollect, with great fervor, "I do, God helping me."
"But you are not strong enough, and you are too young."
Again I replied, "I feel that I am called to the work, and strength will be given me."
She laid her hand kindly upon my shoulder, smiling as she said, "I may put you to the test some day; be ready."
This conversation occurred on the evening of my visit to the hotel with my friends. On the way home an earnest protest against my "quixotic idea" was made by both, which ended in a truce of a few days, during which it was hoped I would repent and rescind my determination.
On the corner of Clay and Twelfth Streets stood the pleasant and commodious residence of Mr. and Mrs. Booker.
My friend Mrs. Gawthmey resided here, and here the greater part of my time was spent when "off duty" (of which more anon).
This model Virginia household was so true a type of the homes of Richmond as they were at that time, that its description will present to the reader all, for the same spirit pervaded every one. As in almost every case, the young men of the family were in the Confederate service (the sons of this household were of the Richmond Howitzers). The father, in feeble health, yet lavished his means and his little strength upon every patriotic duty which arose. The mother, far more youthful, active, and energetic, full of enthusiasm for the cause, exceeding proud of the brave boys whom she had freely sent out to battle, loving and serving all soldiers with heart and hand, was seconded with equal ardor and wonderful ability by her sweet young daughters. The spare sleeping-rooms were always daintily prepared, and at the service of any soldier who needed care and rest. Soldiers feeble from recent illness were encouraged to recline awhile in restful arm-chairs in the cool flower-scented parlors, while the girls often entertained them with music or pleasant conversation.
Not a meal was set in that house unshared by one or more soldiers. The table was always as attractive as finest linen damask, elegant china and glass, and handsome silver could make it. The meals were abundant and nourishing, but plain. Delicacies of all kinds were prepared constantly in that "Virginia kitchen," and daintily arranged in the pantry by the ladies' own hands, but only to be sent to the sick and wounded strangers lying in the numerous hospitals.
Opposite to the home just described arose the spacious but unpretentious residence of President Davis, the Confederate "White House" (in this case only in a figurative sense, for the executive mansion was of dark brown stone or stucco). As nearly as I can remember, the main entrance was on Clay Street. On one side the windows opened on Twelfth Street, on the other lay a beautiful garden extending quite to the edge of "Shokoe Hill," which overlooked the classic valley of "Butchertown," through the midst of which ran "Shokoe Creek." The boys of this region, from generation to generation, had been renowned for exceeding pugnacity. Between them and the city boys constantly-recurring quarrels were so bitter that sometimes men were drawn in through sympathy with their boys. The law seemed powerless to put an end to this state of things.
Regular arrangements were made, definite challenges were given and accepted, and fights took place between successive sets of boys as they grew old enough to throw down or take up the gauntlet. Richmond was at that time considered a law-abiding city, and had only a few policemen, whom the boys found it easy to elude. The appearance of officers Chalkly and Tyler, however, generally served to close the fight until next time.
Within the Presidential mansion was no magnificence of furniture or appointments,—nothing in the style of living calculated to create dissatisfaction or a sense of injustice in the minds of those who, equally with their chosen leader, had already sacrificed much, and were willing to give their all to the cause. No pomp and circumstance chilled loyal hearts.
Jefferson Davis, the statesman to whose wisdom had been entrusted the destinies of the South; the patriot who merged his ambition, his hopes, himself, in his devotion to the right; the Christian, who humbly committed his ways unto the Lord, whose dignity enhanced prosperity, whose fortitude conquered adversity,—Jefferson Davis, the chosen exponent of undying principles, was yet in his own house simply a Southern gentleman,—a kindly, genial host, extending genuine hospitality to all.
Of Mrs. Davis my recollections are very pleasant. Always meeting from her a cordial reception, admiring the unaffected courtesy which put her visitors at their ease, I yet became distinctly conscious that in her the feelings of wife and mother were stronger than any other; that no matter into what station of life it should please God to call her, devotion to these womanly duties would be paramount.
From the very first there was among the people of the South an earnest dependence upon God, a habit of appeal to His mercy and loving-kindness, and a marked attention to religious duties. On Sundays the churches were crowded with devout worshippers. Every service was attended by more or less Confederate soldiers, generally in squads, but sometimes even in companies, marshalled by some of their officers.
The first Sunday after my arrival in Richmond, kneeling in St. James's Church, I heard for the first time the changed prayer for the "President of the Confederate States and all others in authority." A death-like silence prevailed during the most solemn and impressive reading of the prayer. Then from every mouth welled forth a fervent, heartfelt "Amen!" The earnest, manly voices of the soldiers added depth and volume to the sound which thrilled every pulse of one's being. It did not seem to us that we were merely going through a form of prayer for one of "those in high places," but that our President was one of ourselves, and all hearts went out toward him, earnestly desiring for him heaven's choicest blessings,—the all-wise guidance he was so sure to need.
Scattered all over the city in many a shady nook were cosey, pleasant retreats, where wounded or sick soldiers were gladly welcomed,—private hospitals presided over by ladies, sustained by their constant attention and unbounded liberality. One lady generally had direction of the affairs of one particular hospital, assisted by others whose duties lay just there, and who devoted each in turn on successive days their entire care and attention to this labor of love. For instance, on Monday certain ladies sent in all the cooked food needed by the patients. Others personally nursed the sick. Still others attended to the distribution of the food or superintended the servants, and so with all duties required. On Tuesday another set of ladies were on duty, and so on.
My whole heart and soul went out toward the sick soldiers. My days were mostly spent in visiting the hospitals.
At first the larger ones attracted me, because there seemed to be so many sufferers and more need of nurses. My timid advances (never amounting to a direct application, but only a suggestion as to my qualifications as a nurse) were condescendingly smiled down by the surgeons in charge. My youthful appearance was against me. Besides, there really was no need for other nursing in many of the State hospitals, notably that of Louisiana, than the angelic ministrations of the Sisters of Charity, whose tireless vigils knew no end, whose skill and efficiency, as well as their constant devotion, environed the patients committed to their care. Occasionally I was allowed the blessed privilege of fanning a sick hero or of moistening parched lips or bathing fevered brows. But somebody always came whose business it was to do these things, and I was set aside. One day, however, by a happy chance, I found in a ward of one of the hospitals a poor fellow who seemed to have been left to die. So forlorn, so feeble, so near death did he seem, that my heart yearned over him, for he was only a boy, and I knew he was some mother's darling. He had, like many other soldiers, been unwilling to go to a hospital, and remaining in camp while broken out with measles, took cold and provoked an attack of pneumonia. In addition to this, terrible abscesses had formed under each ear, and his eyes were swollen and suppurating. His surgeon said there was little hope of his recovery; none at all unless he could be removed to some more quiet place, and receive unremitting care and watchfulness as well as excellent nursing. "Can he be removed if I promise to fulfil all these conditions?" said I. "It is a risk, but his only chance," replied Dr. ——. "Then I will go at once and prepare a place." As I spoke, the suffering boy grasped my hand with all his feeble strength, as if afraid to let me leave him. Reassuring him as well as I could, I rushed off to the "Soldiers' Rest," where I knew I should find friends ready and willing to help me. My tale was soon told to the ladies in charge, who at once and with all their hearts entered into my plans. One vacant cot temptingly clean and white was moved into a secluded corner and assigned to me for the use of my "sick boy." The loan of an ambulance, readily obtained, facilitated his removal. That same evening I had the satisfaction of seeing him laid carefully upon the comfortable bed so kindly prepared by the ladies of the Soldiers' Rest, exhausted, but evidently not worse for the change.
Right here began my career as a nurse of Confederate soldiers. This was my first patient,—my very own,—to have and to hold until the issues of life and death should be decided. All facilities were accorded me by the ladies. Dr. Little gave his most careful attention and his greatest skill, but the nursing, the responsibility, was mine.
I may as well state that I came off with flying colors, earning the precious privilege, so ardently desired, of being enrolled among those ready for duty and to be trusted. My patient recovered, and returned to his command, the —— Mississippi Regiment. His name was D. Babers, and twenty years after the war I met him once more,—a stalwart, bearded man, as unlike as possible the pale young soldier who had lived in my memory. His delight and gratitude and that of his family seemed unbounded, and so I found the bread once cast upon the waters very sweet when returned to me "after many days."
Finding that my desultory wanderings among the larger hospitals were likely to result in little real usefulness, and that the ladies attached to the Soldiers' Rest would be glad of my help, I became a regular attendant there. This delightful place of refuge for the sick and wounded was situated high up on Clay Street, not very far from one of the camps and parade-grounds. A rough little school-house, it had been transformed into a bower of beauty and comfort by loving hands. The walls, freshly whitewashed, were adorned with attractive pictures. The windows were draped with snowy curtains tastefully looped back to admit the summer breeze or carefully drawn to shade the patient, as circumstances required. The beds were miracles of whiteness, and clean linen sheets, in almost every case, draped and covered them. Softest pillows in slips of odorous linen supported the restless heads of the sick. By the side of each cot stood a small table (one or two old-fashioned stands of solid mahogany among them). Upon these were spread fine napkins. Fruit, drinks, etc., were set upon them, not in coarse, common crockery, but in delicate china and glass. Nothing was too good for the soldiers. The school-house contained three rooms. The school-room proper was quite large, and here were ranged about thirty beds. One of the recitation-rooms was set apart for patients who might need special attention or seclusion. The other was occupied by the ladies whose duty it was to receive and distribute the delicate and nutritious supplies of food which unfailingly arrived at stated hours, borne by aristocratic-looking colored servants, on silver waiters or in baskets covered with snowy damask. During every hour of the day, gentle women ministered untiringly to the sick. They woke from fevered dreams to behold kindly faces bending above them, to feel the touch of soft hands, to receive the cooling draught or welcome food. Every evening brought carriage-loads of matrons and young girls laden with flowers or fruit, bringing books, and, better than all, smiles and pleasant words. The sick soldiers were objects of interest to all. All hearts yearned over them, all hands were ready to serve them. As night came on, the ladies who had served during the day were replaced by others. No one ever failed to meet her self-imposed duties. No patient was for a moment neglected.
I cannot recall the names of all the ladies who attended at the Soldiers' Rest. Those whom I knew best were Mrs. Gawthmey, Mrs. Booker, Mrs. Grant, Miss Catherine Poitreaux, Mrs. Edmond Ruffin, and Miss Susan Watkins.
A few steps below, between Ninth and Tenth Streets, was another private hospital, similar in almost every respect to the one just described, organized and presided over by Mrs. Caroline Mayo. She also was assisted by several ladies, but had entire direction, and threw herself into the work with all her soul. Her patriotism was boundless, her courage and endurance unfailing. Not only at that time, but for three years, every hour of her time, every thought of her heart, was given to the sick and wounded Confederates.
Sometimes, alas! the care and nursing lavished upon the sick was unavailing. Death often invaded the "Rest." In every case the rites of burial were accorded. Women remembered tenderly the far-distant mother or wife, and therefore honored their dead.
For a few days after my patient had ceased to need special nursing I continued to serve with, the ladies attached to the little hospital on Clay Street, still longing, however, for a larger sphere of usefulness.
One morning, just as I had arrived there and was preparing to begin my daily duties, a carriage stopped at the door, from which Mrs. Judge Hopkins descended, and, hastily entering the hospital, announced to the ladies that she had "come for Mrs. Beers." They strongly demurred, and I felt at first great hesitation in obeying so hasty a summons. But Mrs. Hopkins was very much in earnest. "Indeed, you must come," said she, "for I have great need of you. A large number of sick and wounded Alabamians will arrive this morning. I have found a place to put them, but some one must be there to prepare for their accommodation, to receive hospital supplies, and direct their arrangement, while I make purchases and attend to other matters. Come," holding out both hands towards me; "no hireling can fill the place. Come, now; with me: we have no time to lose." I hesitated no longer, but entered the carriage. We were at once driven down-town, stopping to order cots, mattresses, etc., then to the corner of —— and —— Streets, where stood an immense tobacco factory, owned by Messrs. Turpin & Yarborough.
Arrived here, a pitiful sight met our eyes. Perhaps fifty sick men had arrived unexpectedly, and were sitting or lying about in every conceivable position expressive of feebleness, extreme illness, utter exhaustion. Mr. Yarborough, having given up the keys to Mrs. Hopkins, was impatiently pacing in and out among the prostrate men. Coming upon this scene, both Mrs. Hopkins and myself at once realized all that lay before us, and braced our nerves to meet the emergency.
The men were soon under shelter, but no beds had yet arrived. Mrs. Hopkins led me into the factory, introduced me to Dr. Clark, who had come to take charge as surgeon, and placed me under him at the head of affairs as her deputy. A corps of nurses, hastily summoned, were ordered to report to me.
Meantime immense boxes arrived from the depot, sent by the people of Alabama. These contained pillows, comforts, sheets, as well as wines, cordials, and every delicacy for the sick, also quantities of shirts, drawers, and socks, old and new. The boxes were wrenched open, pillows placed quickly under the heads of the sickest, and cordials administered. As the beds came in they were placed, made up, and the worst cases first, others afterward, were transferred to them, until all were lying comfortably between clean sheets and clad in clean shirts and drawers. There was no lack of food, both substantial and of a kind proper for the very sick.
I do not believe that a squad of sick soldiers arrived in Richmond, at least during the first year of the war, who were not discovered and bountifully fed shortly after their arrival. In this case waiter after waiter of food was sent in, first from the house of Mr. Yarborough and afterward by all the neighborhood. Hospital supplies having been ordered as soon as it was known the sick men were expected, all necessaries were soon at hand, while the boxes referred to supplied many luxuries. The large room into which all these were huddled presented for days a scene of "confusion worse confounded." The contents of two of the largest boxes were dumped upon the floor, the boxes themselves serving, one as a table for the drugs, the other as a sort of counter where the druggist quickly compounded prescriptions, which the surgeons as hastily seized and personally administered. Carpenters were set at work; but of course shelves, etc., could not be magically produced, so we placed boards across barrels, arranging in piles the contents of the boxes for ready use.
Mrs. Hopkins, sitting upon a box, directed these matters, while I had my hands full attending to the poor fellows in the wards where they had been placed.
Four of our sick died that night. I had never in my life witnessed a death-scene before, and had to fight hard to keep down the emotion which would have greatly impaired my usefulness.
At the end of a long, large wing of the factory were two excellent rooms, formerly the offices of the owners. These were comfortably fitted up, the one as a bedroom for myself, and the other as a sitting-room and private office. A female servant was specially assigned to me, who slept on a mattress on the floor of the sitting-room, and whose duty it was to accompany me through the wards and render any special or personal service required. A long hall ran along this wing, connecting the offices with the main building. The long, broad room opening out of this hall was fitted up as a ward specially mine, for the reception of my own friends and very ill patients who needed my special attention day and night. This favor was granted me because I had shown some unwillingness to place myself in any position where I could not nurse any Louisiana soldier friends or others who might desire or be permitted to come to me. As soon as matters were somewhat settled, my little son joined me in my new quarters, and thus the Third Alabama Hospital became our home for many a month. The little fellow spent very little time there, however. My Richmond friends never lost sight of me for one day during my service in that city. Nearly every day my little boy was sent for to play among happy children, far away from the impure atmosphere of the hospital, which was soon filled with patients suffering from almost every form of disease.
As the demand for more room became pressing, the three stories of the main building were successively utilized, as well as a large storage-room in the yard. The ground-floor contained the surgeons' and steward's offices, store-rooms, etc., while the second and third formed two immense sick-wards. The first floor of the long wing before mentioned was occupied by the kitchen and sleeping apartments for servants.
Mrs. Hopkins and I thought exactly alike regarding the disposition of the delicacies continuously sent from all points in Alabama for the sick and wounded. None but the sick should have them. Nothing but the simple though plentiful rations were ever served at the meals, which the resident surgeons and druggists shared with me. Yet, by the never-ceasing kindness of friends outside, I was well supplied with luxuries enough for myself, and to share with my messmates each day.
Having the care and responsibility of so many sick, my time was fully occupied, I seldom went out. I could not stop to talk to visitors, but often led kind ladies to the bedsides of those whom I knew would enjoy and be benefited by their bright presence and kindly words, as well as by their offerings of flowers, fruit, or dainties.
Amid disease and suffering, battling always with death (too often, alas! the conqueror), I was yet happy and content. The surgeons were skilful and devoted; the means at hand to supply the wants, even the caprices of my patients, as soon as expressed.
I loved very dearly these heroes whom I served, and felt that I was as well beloved. Welcoming smiles, eager greetings, grateful words, blessed me as unfailingly as the sunlight and dew the earth. Every hour of toil brought its own rich reward. These were Confederate soldiers. God had permitted me to work for the holy cause. This was enough to flood my whole being with content and deepest gratitude.
Next to Commodore Maury one of my most faithful friends was Dr. Little, of Richmond. He was surgeon of the Soldiers' Rest, and also attended the sick soldiers at many private houses in the city and at some of the larger hospitals.
Small in stature, in extremely delicate health, he was yet a giant as far as skill and work were concerned. An earnest Christian, a polished gentleman, of quiet and unassuming yet elegant manners, interesting in conversation, a true, firm friend, an unflinching patriot, what more could be added to indicate an almost perfect character? His care and watchfulness, combined with rare skill,—directed by the All-merciful Father,—saved the life of my little boy, who was brought to death's door by an attack of typhoid fever during the fall of 1861.
Meantime, as the months rolled on, it became evident that the victory at Manassas could not be considered as a criterion of future success. Everywhere there was fighting. Varying fortune attended the Confederate arms. Unvarying glory, unsurpassed, magnificent bravery so dazzled the eyes of the nation that none saw or admitted defeat anywhere. Yet valuable territory had been surrendered. Homeless refugees flocked into Richmond, but even these were hopeful and defiant, almost proud of their early martyrdom, ready to serve the cause by "doing all their hands found to do with their might."
If anything had been needed to inspire hope, to arouse patriotic pride, the appearance of Johnston's army as it passed through Richmond on its way to the Peninsula to foil once more the "On-to-Richmond" plans of the enemy would have more than sufficed.
Oh, what days were those, which came unheralded, to write their history in letters of fire upon the records of the city of Richmond!
General Johnston had kept his own counsel. Says Pollard: "With such consummate address was this move managed, that our own troops had no idea of what was intended until the march was taken up." Soldiers had been continually passing through the city, but by companies or regiments, each in its turn admired and enthusiastically cheered. Now, when seemingly countless legions swept by with martial tread, their resounding footsteps and splendid appearance equally with the roll of many drums and the clash of regimental bands stirred the hearts of the multitude thronging the sidewalks, crowding every door-way and gallery, "mounting wall and battlement, yea, even to chimney-top;" not, indeed, to see a "great Caesar," but to hail with wildest delight a magnificent army, of which the humblest soldier was a "greater than Caesar," inasmuch as he was ready to sacrifice upon the altar of patriotism all that the Roman conqueror held most dear first of all,—personal ambition.
Among the crowd, side by side with the ladies resident in Richmond, stood mothers, wives, sisters, from other Southern States, looking eagerly for the well-known uniform worn by their own, proudly pointing them out as they passed, even to utter strangers, sure of warmest sympathy, following them with longing eyes until they were lost to sight, hundreds, alas! forever.
Among the gayly-fluttering banners borne proudly aloft some were ragged and torn by shot or shell. As each of these appeared men shouted themselves hoarse, women drew shuddering sighs and grew deathly pale, as if realizing for the first time the horrors of war and the dangers their loved ones had passed.
For several days this excitement was kept up. All night heavy artillery rumbled along Broad Street. At any hour of the night I could see from my window shadowy figures of mounted men, could hear the ceaseless tramp of cavalry horses. Every day the sun shone upon the glittering bayonets and gay flags of swiftly-passing soldiery. The air was flooded with music until the last strain died away, and the calm which preceded a terrible storm of battle fell upon the city.
The glorious scenes of the past few days had engendered a sense of protection and security. All felt that this splendid army must prove invincible.
In the Valley of Virginia brave troops under Stonewall Jackson were actively engaged in keeping the enemy at bay. Forced marches, insufficient food, the want of tents to shelter them from the weather while they slept, continually decimated this army.
The number of wounded in our wards increased daily. Sick men poured into the hospital. Often they came too late, having remained at the post of duty until fever had sapped the springs of life or the rattling breath sounded the knell of hope, marking too surely that fatal disease, double pneumonia. Awestruck I watched the fierce battle for life, the awful agony, trying vainly every means of relief, lingering to witness struggles which wrung my heart, because I could not resist the appealing glance of dying eyes, the hoarse, whistling whisper that bade me stay,—because I must try to comfort the parting soul, must hope to catch some last word or message to comfort the loved ones at home.
Since then I have witnessed every form of suffering and death, but none more appalling than the fierce struggle for breath, when the lungs are filling up by sure degrees, in the last stages of the disease. Never has the Death Angel seemed to me more merciful than when he took in his icy grasp the fevered hands wildly beating the air, closed the starting eyes, silenced the gasping breath.
Fortunately, I then had ample means at my command to relieve suffering, in many cases even to indulge the caprices of the sick. In this I only acted as the almoner of devoted, generous women in far-away homes, who deprived themselves of every luxury to benefit the sick soldiers. There seemed to be no end to the arrival and unpacking of boxes.
To nearly every one of numberless pairs of socks and gloves was pinned a paper upon which was written some kindly message, a few words of cheer, generally signed with the name of the donor. Strange as it may seem, it is perfectly true that I found among these (not once, but several times) the name of one of my patients, and at a venture bearing the article to his bedside, watched his delight, the eager grasp, the brightened eyes, the heaving breast of some poor fellow who had thus accidentally received a gift and message from his own home.
Although relieved of all unnecessary fatigue, having at my command nurses and servants to carry out my plans for the sick, the burden of their suffering lay heavy upon my own heart. The already full wards of the hospital now became crowded. For many of the gallant men who a few weeks before had marched so gayly to their doom were brought back bearing horrible, ghastly wounds.
Anxious responsibility murdered sleep. A shuddering horror, a consuming pity, possessed me as often as dreadful groans from the operating-room reached my ears. No one could have convinced me then that I should ever get used to it, as I did later.
Mrs. Hopkins watched over me with the tenderness of a mother. But she also had hands and heart full. Her cautions, with those of other friends, bore not a feather's weight in comparison with the increasing demands of my sick. But one day I fell fainting while on duty. Thus began a severe attack of nervous fever, which brought me very low. Can I ever forget the tender, devoted nursing of some of the ladies of Richmond! Truly it seemed as if "God had sent angelic legions," whose sweet faces bent above me day after day, whose kindly voices pervaded my feverish dreams. The same care usually given to sick soldiers was now lavished upon me. After several days I was able to leave my bed, but, finding myself totally unfit for duty, and being unwilling to remain a burden upon my kind friends, I decided to go to my husband's relatives in Alabama, though fully intending to return to my labors in Richmond as soon as my strength should be restored.
My husband having been transferred to the Army of Tennessee, where he continued to serve until the close of the war, this plan was changed. I have never since revisited the scene of my earliest service to the Confederacy. Perhaps it is as well that I did not, for memory preserves at least this one picture, more full of light than shadow, because always softly illumined by the beautiful star which had not then begun to wane,—"the star of Hope."
"Here we rest."
The hoarse panting of the steam-pipes, the clangor of bells, the splashing of the paddle-wheels, died away in the distance as I stood upon the landing watching the receding boat steaming down the Alabama River on its way to Mobile.
Ah, how lovely appeared the woodland scenery around me! The sombre green of pines, and the equally dark though glossy foliage of oaks, were beautifully enlivened by lighter greens, and by the brilliant hues of the sassafras-tree. Here climbed in tantalizing beauty—tempting as insidious vice, which attracts but to destroy—the poison-oak vine. Cherokee roses starred the hedges, or, adventurously climbing the highest trees, flung downward graceful pendants. Upon the edge of the bank stood a lofty pine, branchless and dead, but, by the law of compensation which nature delights to execute, clothed to the very top with closely-clinging vines of mingled green and brightest red.
Standing upon the bluff above the river, drinking in the beauty of the scene, listening to the murmur of waters, the song of birds, the weird music of the pines, I repeated to myself the sweet name Alabama with a new sense of its fitness: sweet quiet and restfulness seemed to belong to the spot.
Surely, the noise of battle, the suffering and sorrow I had so lately witnessed, could never invade this abode of peace. Walking towards the house where I was to await conveyance to the plantation of my uncle, I heard the moaning of one apparently in deep distress. At the door the lady of the house appeared, with red eyes and a sorrowful countenance. Said she, "Just listen at Mrs. ——. Her son went off on the boat to join the army, and 'pears like she can't get over it. She kept up splendid until after he got off." I sat listening, not daring to intrude upon such sorrow.
Over the lovely landscape before me fell the shadow of the future, a shadow soon to darken every fair domain, every home in all the South.
After a time the grieving mother passed out, and, entering her carriage, was driven away to her desolate home.
Later, I, too, accomplished the last ten miles of my journey, arriving at my destination in time for supper, and meeting with a cordial welcome from my friends.
Let none give undue praise to the women to whom during the war Almighty God vouchsafed the inestimable privilege of remaining near the front, even though they may have endured untold hardship, hours of agony while listening to the noise of battle, fully realizing the extreme danger of beloved fathers, husbands, or sons.
Never until my visit to Alabama had I fully realized the horrors of suspense,—the lives of utter self-abnegation heroically lived by women in country homes all over the South during the dreary years of the war.
Every day—every hour—was fraught with anxiety and dread. Rumor was always busy, but they could not hear definitely: they could not know how their loved ones were faring.
Can imagination conceive a situation more pitiable?
Ghastly visions made night hideous. During the day, the quick galloping of a horse, the unexpected appearance of a visitor, would agitate a whole household, sending women in haste to some secret place where they might pray for strength to bear patiently whatever tidings the messenger should bring.
Self-denial in all things began from the first. Butter, eggs, chickens, etc., were classed as luxuries, to be collected and sent by any opportunity offering to the nearest point of shipment to hospital or camp. Fruits were gathered and made into preserves or wine "for the sick soldiers." Looms were set up on every plantation. The whirr of the spinning-wheel was heard from morning until night. Dusky forms hovered over large iron cauldrons, continually thrusting down into the boiling dye the product of the looms, to be transformed into Confederate gray or butternut jeans.
In the wide halls within the plantation-houses stood tables piled with newly-dyed cloth and hanks of woollen or cotton yarns. The knitting of socks went on incessantly. Ladies walked about in performance of household or plantation duties, sock in hand, "casting on," "heeling," "turning off." By the light of pine knots the elders still knitted far into the night, while to young eyes and more supple fingers was committed the task of finishing off comforts that had been "tacked" during the day, or completing heavy army overcoats; and painfully these toiled over the unaccustomed task.
When a sufficient number of these articles had been completed by the united efforts of ladies for miles around, a meeting was held at one of the churches, where all helped to pack boxes to be sent to "the front." I attended one of these meetings, the memory of which is ever fresh.
We started from the plantation in the early morning. Our way lay along the red clay roads which in many parts of Alabama contrast so beautifully with the variously-shaded green of the woods and the brown carpet beneath the pines. The old negro driver, "Uncle George," sitting upon the box, looked solemnly out from the enormous and stiff shirt-collar which helped to support his dignity.
I believe the old man always drove his beautiful horses under protest. It was either too early or too late, too hot or too cold, the roads either too muddy or too dusty.
This particular morning was so lovely that even the horses seemed to enjoy it, and for some reason "Uncle George" was less pompous and more gentle than usual. Perhaps the anxious faces of the ladies touched his heart, or he may have been softened by the knowledge of the perils his young masters were being subjected to.
As often as we passed horseman or carriage on the road a stop was ordered, while the ladies made eager inquiries for news from Richmond.
The battle of Shiloh, and afterwards that of Seven Pines, had desolated many homes in the vicinity. The fate of some was yet uncertain. Strong fellow-feeling knit all hearts. Any passer-by, even if a stranger, asked or answered questions.
A drive of eight miles brought us to the church, a simple, lowly building, the "Grove Church" I believe it was called. Here beneath the shade were drawn several carriages, and at the door a few plantation-wagons waited, some laden with straw, others with articles to be sent off. In the vestibule, boxes were being rapidly filled. It was a busy scene, but by no means a gay one. A few unconscious children "played at party" in the pews, setting out on leaves or bits of bark their luncheon, broken into fragments, and serving in acorn cups cold water for tea. Unmolested and unreproved, they ran up and down the steps of the high, old-fashioned pulpit, half-fearfully sitting down upon the minister's chair, or standing on tip-toe to peep over the sacred desk at the busy group below. Young girls moved silently about "helping." Over their pale lips not a ripple of laughter broke. The fire of youth seemed to have died out of their sad eyes, quenched for a time by floods of bitter tears.
To kindly question one of these replied, "Mamma is well, but of course utterly prostrated, and does not leave her room. Papa is still in Virginia nursing Buddie Eddie. We have no tidings of brother yet; he is reported 'missing,' but we hope he may have been taken prisoner."
Some familiar faces were absent. And of these it was told that one had lost a husband, another a son, and so the sadness deepened. Presently the trot of a horse was heard. In another moment the good minister stood among his people. Alas! he could only confirm the fearful tales of battle and carnage. But from the storehouse of mind and heart he brought forth precious balm, won direct from heaven by earnest prayer and simple faith. With this he strove to soothe the unhappy, anxious ones who looked to him for comfort. His heart yearned over his little flock, wandering in a pathway beset with sharpest thorns. But upon his troubled face was plainly written, "Of myself I can do nothing." A few faltering words he essayed, but, as if conscious of the utter uselessness of any language save that of prayer, he raised imploring hands to heaven, saying, simply, "Let us pray."
Calmer, if not comforted, all arose from their knees, and, having finished their labor of love, separated, to return to the homes which had known beloved forms and faces, but would know them no more for years, perhaps forever.
Upon reaching once more our own home, we crept, one by one, to a darkened chamber, where lay a martyred mother whose son had been slain at the battle of Seven Pines. Pale as death she lay, her Bible clasped to her breast, the sad eyes closed, the white lips murmuring always words of prayer for patient submission to God's will, the nerveless hands never losing their grasp upon the "rod and staff" which comforted her.
Of this family, every man, and every boy old enough to handle a gun, had long ago joined the Confederate army. The dear boy whom our hearts now mourned had just graduated with the highest honors when the war broke out. Never a blind enthusiast, but an intelligent patriot, he had been among the first to lay ambitious hopes and literary aspirations upon the altar of his country. His brothers were cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, and afterwards did good service under Stonewall Jackson. Our slain hero joined the Third Alabama Regiment, and, notwithstanding his tender age and delicate health, had already made his mark as a soldier, brave as the bravest, never succumbing for a moment to unaccustomed hardship. His record as a son was all that a mother's heart could desire. He had been seen by a comrade during the terrible battle, sitting up against a tree, shot through the breast and mortally wounded. The enemy swept over the ground and he was seen no more. Not even the poor comfort of knowing that his last hours were rendered comfortable or where his grave was made, was vouchsafed to this distracted mother. Two more brave boys of the household were still unheard from, but believed to be unhurt, as they were not reported "dead," "wounded," or "missing." And yet the noble women of this as well as of numberless families so situated in every State of the new Confederacy never intermitted, even for a day, their work for "the soldiers,"—left no domestic duty unattended to,—in many instances taking the place and doing the work of the men whom patriotism had called to the field.
Much as I admired and revered this "noble army of martyrs," I lacked moral courage to emulate their example. Such a life of anxiety and suspense would have driven me mad. The pitiful faces of the sick and wounded haunted me every hour. I yearned to be with them. I felt sure that I was called to this work. My health being restored, I could no longer remain idle. But where to go, how to begin, I knew not.
One day there appeared in the Selma paper a letter from Surgeon W.T. McAllister, Army of Tennessee, describing the dreadful condition of hundreds of sick and wounded men, who, after the terrible battle of Shiloh and the subsequent evacuation of Corinth, had been huddled into hospital-quarters at Gainesville, Alabama, and inquiring for a "lady" to assist him in organizing, and in caring for the sick. Here was a chance for me. I applied for the position, and, receiving a favorable answer, proceeded without delay to Gainesville, leaving my little boy at the plantation in charge of his father's relations.
BUCKNER HOSPITAL, GAINESVILLE, ALABAMA.
Had I yielded to the almost irresistible impulse which tempted me to fly from the painful scenes and fearful discouragements which met me at Gainesville, Alabama, these "Memories" would have remained unwritten.
I had stipulated that while I would not receive compensation for nursing sick Confederates, and was quite willing to live on the government rations, I must always be provided with a sleeping-room in some respectable private family, apart from the hospital. This was promised; and this arrangement continued as long as I remained at the "Buckner."
Dr. McAllister, surgeon in charge, being unavoidably absent, I was met at the depot by Dr. Minor, assistant surgeon. His look of surprise, almost consternation, when I appeared gave me an uneasy sensation; but, assuming an extra amount of dignity, I calmly accompanied him to a most comfortable-looking house, where my room had been engaged. The hostess was unmistakably a lady. I met with a pleasant reception, and was soon seated at supper with several officers and their wives, During the meal I had an uneasy consciousness that curious glances were bent upon me from all sides. The evening, however, was spent agreeably. After I had gone to my room, a kind old lady came to me to beg that I would reconsider my determination to accept the position of matron, but, finding me firm and somewhat dignified, left me to my fate.
The next morning, escorted by Dr. Minor, I went through the hospital.
For the first time my heart utterly misgave me, and I felt that my courage was inadequate to the task before me. I must premise that this was not a State hospital, but under the direction of the Confederate Government, which, at that time, was full of perplexity and trouble, yet, like all new governments, exceedingly tenacious of forms. Dr. Minor told me that the time and attention of Dr. McAllister had been fully occupied in untying, one after another, knots of red tape, and that, so far, perfect organization had been impossible.
I entered the wards expecting to find something of the neatness and order which in the Richmond hospitals had charmed every visitor.
Alas! alas! were these the brave men who had made forever glorious the name of Shiloh?
Hospital supplies were scarce; beds and bedding could not be often changed. Here were rooms crowded with uncomfortable-looking beds, on which lay men whose gangrened wounds gave forth foul odors, which, mingled with the terrible effluvia from the mouths of patients ill of scurvy, sent a shuddering sickness through my frame. In one room were three or four patients with faces discolored and swollen out of all semblance of humanity by erysipelas,—raging with fever, shouting in delirious agony.
The hospital had formerly been a large hotel, and was divided into many rooms, all crowded with sick. The wounded men who were not gangrened were carefully kept apart from those who were. Some of these were frightfully disfigured in the face or head, and presented a ghastly appearance. In rooms filled with fever-patients old men and mere boys lay helpless, struggling with various forms and stages of disease, hoarsely raving, babbling sweetly of home, vainly calling remembered names, or lying in the fatal stupor which precedes death.
Although many convalescents paced gloomily up and down the halls, or lounged upon the spacious galleries, I noticed few male nurses. Perhaps half a dozen women met us at the doors of different wards, jauntily dressed, airily "showing off" their patients, and discoursing of their condition and probable chances of life, in a manner utterly revolting to me. I caught many a glance of disgust bent upon them by the poor fellows who were thus treated as if they were stocks or stones. These women were, while under the eye of the surgeon, obsequious and eager to please, but I thought I saw the "lurking devil in their eyes," and felt sure they meant mischief.
Dr. McAllister arrived that night. The next morning I was regularly installed. But I could not help feeling that there was a reservation of power and authority, a doubt of my capacity, due to my youthful appearance. Very helpless and friendless I felt, as, escorted by the "surgeon in charge," I once more made the rounds. He left me at the door of one of the fever-wards. This I entered, and stood for a moment looking upon the scene of suffering humanity, wondering how and where to begin the work of alleviation. Suddenly a faint voice called "Milly! Oh, Milly!" I turned to meet a pair of blue eyes regarding me with a look of pleased recognition, although it was at once evident that I had been mistaken for some "loved one at home" through the delirium of fever. Humoring the fancy, I stepped to his bedside and gave my hand to the hot clasp of the poor fellow, a man of middle age, whose eyes, fever-bright, still devoured my face with a happy look. "Howdy, Milly! I've been looking for you every day. I'm mighty glad you've come. The roar of the guns has hurt my head powerful. Get some water from the far spring and bathe my head, Milly."
It so happened that one of his own company, of some Georgia regiment, a convalescent, had by his own request been detailed to nurse the sick man. He soon brought me water, and I bathed the hot head, face, and hands, until the patient fell asleep.
This little incident encouraged me greatly. Passing on among the sick, I found no lack of work, but sadly missed the facilities, comforts, and luxuries which in Richmond had been always at my command.
Lest it seem strange that such a state of things should have existed, I will here ask the reader to remember that military movements of tremendous importance were then taking place. An immense army was executing, "with admirable skill and precision," a change of base. Upon this army depended the destinies of a large portion of the Confederacy. Means of transportation for the troops and their military supplies, including, as an important precautionary measure, medical stores, became an imperative necessity. The wounded and sick had also been moved, and at least placed under shelter. Surgeons, however, were unable to obtain either suitable diet or needed medicines. Requisitions failed to be promptly filled, and hence the state of things I have tried to describe.
Dr. McAllister was absent most of the time in the interests of the unfortunates under his charge. Meantime, I struggled to perform my duties among the sick, and to exert authority, of which, as I soon discovered, I possessed but the semblance. Nothing was left undone by the women before referred to to thwart and annoy me. They had evidently determined I should not remain there. I had ample evidence that they were neglectful and unscrupulous in their dealings with the patients.
In one of the rooms, separated from the other patients, I found a man who had been brought in several days before, suffering from excessive drinking. Not being able to obtain whiskey, he had managed to get hold of a bottle of turpentine emulsion from a table in the hall, and had drank the whole. Dr. Minor and I worked for hours with this unfortunate and hoped he would recover, but other patients required looking after, and during my absence whiskey was smuggled in to him, of which he partook freely. After that, nothing could save his life. A patient suffering agonies from gastritis was also placed under my special charge. I was to feed him myself, and avoid giving water, except in the smallest quantities. I did my best, but he grew worse, and just in time I found under his pillow a canteen full of water, which had been procured for him by the woman who attended in his ward. If I called for a basin of water to wash the face and hands of neglected men, one of these women would laugh insultingly and say, "Perhaps ye'll wait till I get a nagur to bring it to you, or a silver waiter." They would insist that the surgeon had ordered them to do this or that, and stop to argue against my directions, until I was fain to save the sick further noise and clamor by leaving the ward.
Not wishing to begin my work by complaining, or reporting to the surgeons these daily-recurring annoyances, I struggled to hold my own and to break down opposition by patient endurance. But one morning the "last straw" was added to my burden. I found my Georgia soldier apparently dying,—breathing heavily, and as cold as death already. His comrade was in great distress, but ready to do all in his power, and together we went to work in earnest. I sent for brandy and a box of mustard. Pouring through the white lips spoonful after spoonful of the stimulant, rubbing hands, arms, and legs with mustard, applying plasters of the same, as well as bottles of water, to restore warmth to the body, I soon had the satisfaction of seeing a faint color tinge the cheeks and lips,—the clammy sweat superseded by returning warmth. Working earnestly, thinking of nothing but the human life that hung in the balance, I failed to observe the presence of the most disagreeable of the female nurses, who was standing, with "arms akimbo," looking on, until, with an insulting leer, she remarked, "It seems to me ye're taking great liberties for an honest woman." Paralyzed with surprise and indignation, I knew not how to act. Just then the surgeon in charge of the ward, who had been summoned, appeared.
After a hasty examination, "Madam," said he, "you have saved your patient."
Leaving the case in his hands, I fled to my room, resolving never to enter the hospital again. Forthwith I wrote my resignation, and demanded transportation back to Alabama.
Meantime, the comrade of the sick man had reported to the surgeon the whole matter. The next morning I received a visit from Surgeons McAllister, Minor, and —— (whose name I am sorry to have forgotten), of the ward I had fled from. A letter had been received from Dr. Little, of Richmond, whose name I had given as reference. The ill behavior of the nurses having come to the knowledge of the surgeon in charge, he at once acted with his usual promptness and decision. The obnoxious women had already been discharged and furnished with transportation to Mobile; the men who had aided and abetted them were ordered to their regiments. I was urged to remain, on my own terms, and offered a position of trust, responsibility, and honor,—my authority to be second only to that of surgeon in charge in general matters; in the wards, to that of the ward surgeons. Under these circumstances I could not refuse to withdraw my resignation.