PAGES FROM AN OLD VOLUME OF LIFE
A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS
By Oliver Wendell Holmes
BREAD AND THE NEWSPAPER MY HUNT AFTER "THE CAPTAIN" THE INEVITABLE TRIAL CINDERS FROM ASHES THE PULPIT AND THE PEW
BREAD AND THE NEWSPAPER.
This is the new version of the Panem et Circenses of the Roman populace. It is our ultimatum, as that was theirs. They must have something to eat, and the circus-shows to look at. We must have something to eat, and the papers to read.
Everything else we can give up. If we are rich, we can lay down our carriages, stay away from Newport or Saratoga, and adjourn the trip to Europe sine die. If we live in a small way, there are at least new dresses and bonnets and every-day luxuries which we can dispense with. If the young Zouave of the family looks smart in his new uniform, its respectable head is content, though he himself grow seedy as a caraway-umbel late in the season. He will cheerfully calm the perturbed nap of his old beaver by patient brushing in place of buying a new one, if only the Lieutenant's jaunty cap is what it should be. We all take a pride in sharing the epidemic economy of the time. Only bread and the newspaper we must have, whatever else we do without.
How this war is simplifying our mode of being! We live on our emotions, as the sick man is said in the common speech to be nourished by his fever. Our ordinary mental food has become distasteful, and what would have been intellectual luxuries at other times, are now absolutely repulsive.
All this change in our manner of existence implies that we have experienced some very profound impression, which will sooner or later betray itself in permanent effects on the minds and bodies of many among us. We cannot forget Corvisart's observation of the frequency with which diseases of the heart were noticed as the consequence of the terrible emotions produced by the scenes of the great French Revolution. Laennec tells the story of a convent, of which he was the medical director, where all the nuns were subjected to the severest penances and schooled in the most painful doctrines. They all became consumptive soon after their entrance, so that, in the course of his ten years' attendance, all the inmates died out two or three times, and were replaced by new ones. He does not hesitate to attribute the disease from which they suffered to those depressing moral influences to which they were subjected.
So far we have noticed little more than disturbances of the nervous system as a consequence of the war excitement in non-combatants. Take the first trifling example which comes to our recollection. A sad disaster to the Federal army was told the other day in the presence of two gentlemen and a lady. Both the gentlemen complained of a sudden feeling at the epigastrium, or, less learnedly, the pit of the stomach, changed color, and confessed to a slight tremor about the knees. The lady had a "grande revolution," as French patients say,—went home, and kept her bed for the rest of the day. Perhaps the reader may smile at the mention of such trivial indispositions, but in more sensitive natures death itself follows in some cases from no more serious cause. An old, gentleman fell senseless in fatal apoplexy, on hearing of Napoleon's return from Elba. One of our early friends, who recently died of the same complaint, was thought to have had his attack mainly in consequence of the excitements of the time.
We all know what the war fever is in our young men,—what a devouring passion it becomes in those whom it assails. Patriotism is the fire of it, no doubt, but this is fed with fuel of all sorts. The love of adventure, the contagion of example, the fear of losing the chance of participating in the great events of the time, the desire of personal distinction, all help to produce those singular transformations which we often witness, turning the most peaceful of our youth into the most ardent of our soldiers. But something of the same fever in a different form reaches a good many non-combatants, who have no thought of losing a drop of precious blood belonging to themselves or their families. Some of the symptoms we shall mention are almost universal; they are as plain in the people we meet everywhere as the marks of an influenza, when that is prevailing.
The first is a nervous restlessness of a very peculiar character. Men cannot think, or write, or attend to their ordinary business. They stroll up and down the streets, or saunter out upon the public places. We confessed to an illustrious author that we laid down the volume of his work which we were reading when the war broke out. It was as interesting as a romance, but the romance of the past grew pale before the red light of the terrible present. Meeting the same author not long afterwards, he confessed that he had laid down his pen at the same time that we had closed his book. He could not write about the sixteenth century any more than we could read about it, while the nineteenth was in the very agony and bloody sweat of its great sacrifice.
Another most eminent scholar told us in all simplicity that he had fallen into such a state that he would read the same telegraphic dispatches over and over again in different papers, as if they were new, until he felt as if he were an idiot. Who did not do just the same thing, and does not often do it still, now that the first flush of the fever is over? Another person always goes through the side streets on his way for the noon extra,—he is so afraid somebody will meet him and tell the news he wishes to read, first on the bulletin-board, and then in the great capitals and leaded type of the newspaper.
When any startling piece of war-news comes, it keeps repeating itself in our minds in spite of all we can do. The same trains of thought go tramping round in circle through the brain, like the supernumeraries that make up the grand army of a stage-show. Now, if a thought goes round through the brain a thousand times in a day, it will have worn as deep a track as one which has passed through it once a week for twenty years. This accounts for the ages we seem to have lived since the twelfth of April last, and, to state it more generally, for that ex post facto operation of a great calamity, or any very powerful impression, which we once illustrated by the image of a stain spreading backwards from the leaf of life open before as through all those which we have already turned.
Blessed are those who can sleep quietly in times like these! Yet, not wholly blessed, either; for what is more painful than the awaking from peaceful unconsciousness to a sense that there is something wrong, we cannot at first think what,—and then groping our way about through the twilight of our thoughts until we come full upon the misery, which, like some evil bird, seemed to have flown away, but which sits waiting for us on its perch by our pillow in the gray of the morning?
The converse of this is perhaps still more painful. Many have the feeling in their waking hours that the trouble they are aching with is, after all, only a dream,—if they will rub their eyes briskly enough and shake themselves, they will awake out of it, and find all their supposed grief is unreal. This attempt to cajole ourselves out of an ugly fact always reminds us of those unhappy flies who have been indulging in the dangerous sweets of the paper prepared for their especial use.
Watch one of them. He does not feel quite well,—at least, he suspects himself of indisposition. Nothing serious,—let us just rub our fore-feet together, as the enormous creature who provides for us rubs his hands, and all will be right. He rubs them with that peculiar twisting movement of his, and pauses for the effect. No! all is not quite right yet. Ah! it is our head that is not set on just as it ought to be. Let us settle that where it should be, and then we shall certainly be in good trim again. So he pulls his head about as an old lady adjusts her cap, and passes his fore-paw over it like a kitten washing herself. Poor fellow! It is not a fancy, but a fact, that he has to deal with. If he could read the letters at the head of the sheet, he would see they were Fly-Paper.—So with us, when, in our waking misery, we try to think we dream! Perhaps very young persons may not understand this; as we grow older, our waking and dreaming life run more and more into each other.
Another symptom of our excited condition is seen in the breaking up of old habits. The newspaper is as imperious as a Russian Ukase; it will be had, and it will be read. To this all else must give place. If we must go out at unusual hours to get it, we shall go, in spite of after-dinner nap or evening somnolence. If it finds us in company, it will not stand on ceremony, but cuts short the compliment and the story by the divine right of its telegraphic dispatches.
War is a very old story, but it is a new one to this generation of Americans. Our own nearest relation in the ascending line remembers the Revolution well. How should she forget it? Did she not lose her doll, which was left behind, when she was carried out of Boston, about that time growing uncomfortable by reason of cannon-balls dropping in from the neighboring heights at all hours,—in token of which see the tower of Brattle Street Church at this very day? War in her memory means '76. As for the brush of 1812, "we did not think much about that"; and everybody knows that the Mexican business did not concern us much, except in its political relations. No! war is a new thing to all of us who are not in the last quarter of their century. We are learning many strange matters from our fresh experience. And besides, there are new conditions of existence which make war as it is with us very different from war as it has been.
The first and obvious difference consists in the fact that the whole nation is now penetrated by the ramifications of a network of iron nerves which flash sensation and volition backward and forward to and from towns and provinces as if they were organs and limbs of a single living body. The second is the vast system of iron muscles which, as it were, move the limbs of the mighty organism one upon another. What was the railroad-force which put the Sixth Regiment in Baltimore on the 19th of April but a contraction and extension of the arm of Massachusetts with a clenched fist full of bayonets at the end of it?
This perpetual intercommunication, joined to the power of instantaneous action, keeps us always alive with excitement. It is not a breathless courier who comes back with the report from an army we have lost sight of for a month, nor a single bulletin which tells us all we are to know for a week of some great engagement, but almost hourly paragraphs, laden with truth or falsehood as the case may be, making us restless always for the last fact or rumor they are telling. And so of the movements of our armies. To-night the stout lumbermen of Maine are encamped under their own fragrant pines. In a score or two of hours they are among the tobacco-fields and the slave-pens of Virginia. The war passion burned like scattered coals of fire in the households of Revolutionary times; now it rushes all through the land like a flame over the prairie. And this instant diffusion of every fact and feeling produces another singular effect in the equalizing and steadying of public opinion. We may not be able to see a month ahead of us; but as to what has passed a week afterwards it is as thoroughly talked out and judged as it would have been in a whole season before our national nervous system was organized.
"As the wild tempest wakes the slumbering sea, Thou only teachest all that man can be!"
We indulged in the above apostrophe to War in a Phi Beta Kappa poem of long ago, which we liked better before we read Mr. Cutler's beautiful prolonged lyric delivered at the recent anniversary of that Society.
Oftentimes, in paroxysms of peace and good-will towards all mankind, we have felt twinges of conscience about the passage,—especially when one of our orators showed us that a ship of war costs as much to build and keep as a college, and that every port-hole we could stop would give us a new professor. Now we begin to think that there was some meaning in our poor couplet. War has taught us, as nothing else could, what we can be and are. It has exalted our manhood and our womanhood, and driven us all back upon our substantial human qualities, for a long time more or less kept out of sight by the spirit of commerce, the love of art, science, or literature, or other qualities not belonging to all of us as men and women.
It is at this very moment doing more to melt away the petty social distinctions which keep generous souls apart from each other, than the preaching of the Beloved Disciple himself would do. We are finding out that not only "patriotism is eloquence," but that heroism is gentility. All ranks are wonderfully equalized under the fire of a masked battery. The plain artisan or the rough fireman, who faces the lead and iron like a man, is the truest representative we can show of the heroes of Crecy and Agincourt. And if one of our fine gentlemen puts off his straw-colored kids and stands by the other, shoulder to shoulder, or leads him on to the attack, he is as honorable in our eyes and in theirs as if he were ill-dressed and his hands were soiled with labor.
Even our poor "Brahmins,"—whom a critic in ground-glass spectacles (the same who grasps his statistics by the blade and strikes at his supposed antagonist with the handle) oddly confounds with the "bloated aristocracy;" whereas they are very commonly pallid, undervitalized, shy, sensitive creatures, whose only birthright is an aptitude for learning,—even these poor New England Brahmins of ours, subvirates of an organizable base as they often are, count as full men, if their courage is big enough for the uniform which hangs so loosely about their slender figures.
A young man was drowned not very long ago in the river running under our windows. A few days afterwards a field piece was dragged to the water's edge, and fired many times over the river. We asked a bystander, who looked like a fisherman, what that was for. It was to "break the gall," he said, and so bring the drowned person to the surface. A strange physiological fancy and a very odd non sequitur; but that is not our present point. A good many extraordinary objects do really come to the surface when the great guns of war shake the waters, as when they roared over Charleston harbor.
Treason came up, hideous, fit only to be huddled into its dishonorable grave. But the wrecks of precious virtues, which had been covered with the waves of prosperity, came up also. And all sorts of unexpected and unheard-of things, which had lain unseen during our national life of fourscore years, came up and are coming up daily, shaken from their bed by the concussions of the artillery bellowing around us.
It is a shame to own it, but there were persons otherwise respectable not unwilling to say that they believed the old valor of Revolutionary times had died out from among us. They talked about our own Northern people as the English in the last centuries used to talk about the French,—Goldsmith's old soldier, it may be remembered, called one Englishman good for five of them. As Napoleon spoke of the English, again, as a nation of shopkeepers, so these persons affected to consider the multitude of their countrymen as unwarlike artisans,—forgetting that Paul Revere taught himself the value of liberty in working upon gold, and Nathaniel Greene fitted himself to shape armies in the labor of forging iron. These persons have learned better now. The bravery of our free working-people was overlaid, but not smothered; sunken, but not drowned. The hands which had been busy conquering the elements had only to change their weapons and their adversaries, and they were as ready to conquer the masses of living force opposed to them as they had been to build towns, to dam rivers, to hunt whales, to harvest ice, to hammer brute matter into every shape civilization can ask for.
Another great fact came to the surface, and is coming up every day in new shapes,—that we are one people. It is easy to say that a man is a man in Maine or Minnesota, but not so easy to feel it, all through our bones and marrow. The camp is deprovincializing us very fast. Brave Winthrop, marching with the city elegants, seems to have been a little startled to find how wonderfully human were the hard-handed men of the Eighth Massachusetts. It takes all the nonsense out of everybody, or ought to do it, to see how fairly the real manhood of a country is distributed over its surface. And then, just as we are beginning to think our own soil has a monopoly of heroes as well as of cotton, up turns a regiment of gallant Irishmen, like the Sixty-ninth, to show us that continental provincialism is as bad as that of Coos County, New Hampshire, or of Broadway, New York.
Here, too, side by side in the same great camp, are half a dozen chaplains, representing half a dozen modes of religious belief. When the masked battery opens, does the "Baptist" Lieutenant believe in his heart that God takes better care of him than of his "Congregationalist" Colonel? Does any man really suppose, that, of a score of noble young fellows who have just laid down their lives for their country, the Homoousians are received to the mansions of bliss, and the Homoousians translated from the battle-field to the abodes of everlasting woe? War not only teaches what man can be, but it teaches also what he must not be. He must not be a bigot and a fool in the presence of that day of judgment proclaimed by the trumpet which calls to battle, and where a man should have but two thoughts: to do his duty, and trust his Maker. Let our brave dead come back from the fields where they have fallen for law and liberty, and if you will follow them to their graves, you will find out what the Broad Church means; the narrow church is sparing of its exclusive formulae over the coffins wrapped in the flag which the fallen heroes had defended! Very little comparatively do we hear at such times of the dogmas on which men differ; very much of the faith and trust in which all sincere Christians can agree. It is a noble lesson, and nothing less noisy than the voice of cannon can teach it so that it shall be heard over all the angry cries of theological disputants.
Now, too, we have a chance to test the sagacity of our friends, and to get at their principles of judgment. Perhaps most, of us, will agree that our faith in domestic prophets has been diminished by the experience of the last six months. We had the notable predictions attributed to the Secretary of State, which so unpleasantly refused to fulfil themselves. We were infested at one time with a set of ominous-looking seers, who shook their heads and muttered obscurely about some mighty preparations that were making to substitute the rule of the minority for that of the majority. Organizations were darkly hinted at; some thought our armories would be seized; and there are not wanting ancient women in the neighboring University town who consider that the country was saved by the intrepid band of students who stood guard, night after night, over the G. R. cannon and the pile of balls in the Cambridge Arsenal.
As a general rule, it is safe to say that the best prophecies are those which the sages remember after the event prophesied of has come to pass, and remind us that they have made long ago. Those who, are rash enough to predict publicly beforehand commonly give us what they hope, or what they fear, or some conclusion from an abstraction of their own, or some guess founded on private information not half so good as what everybody gets who reads the papers,—never by any possibility a word that we can depend on, simply because there are cobwebs of contingency between every to-day and to-morrow that no field-glass can penetrate when fifty of them lie woven one over another. Prophesy as much as you like, but always hedge. Say that you think the rebels are weaker than is commonly supposed, but, on the other hand, that they may prove to be even stronger than is anticipated. Say what you like,—only don't be too peremptory and dogmatic; we know that wiser men than you have been notoriously deceived in their predictions in this very matter.
Ibis et redibis nunquam in bello peribis.
Let that be your model; and remember, on peril of your reputation as a prophet, not to put a stop before or after the nunquam.
There are two or three facts connected with time, besides that already referred to, which strike us very forcibly in their relation to the great events passing around us. We spoke of the long period seeming to have elapsed since this war began. The buds were then swelling which held the leaves that are still green. It seems as old as Time himself. We cannot fail to observe how the mind brings together the scenes of to-day and those of the old Revolution. We shut up eighty years into each other like the joints of a pocket-telescope. When the young men from Middlesex dropped in Baltimore the other day, it seemed to bring Lexington and the other Nineteenth of April close to us. War has always been the mint in which the world's history has been coined, and now every day or week or month has a new medal for us. It was Warren that the first impression bore in the last great coinage; if it is Ellsworth now, the new face hardly seems fresher than the old. All battle-fields are alike in their main features. The young fellows who fell in our earlier struggle seemed like old men to us until within these few months; now we remember they were like these fiery youth we are cheering as they go to the fight; it seems as if the grass of our bloody hillside was crimsoned but yesterday, and the cannon-ball imbedded in the church-tower would feel warm, if we laid our hand upon it.
Nay, in this our quickened life we feel that all the battles from earliest time to our own day, where Right and Wrong have grappled, are but one great battle, varied with brief pauses or hasty bivouacs upon the field of conflict. The issues seem to vary, but it is always a right against a claim, and, however the struggle of the hour may go, a movement onward of the campaign, which uses defeat as well as victory to serve its mighty ends. The very implements of our warfare change less than we think. Our bullets and cannonballs have lengthened into bolts like those which whistled out of old arbalests. Our soldiers fight with weapons, such as are pictured on the walls of Theban tombs, wearing a newly invented head-gear as old as the days of the Pyramids.
Whatever miseries this war brings upon us, it is making us wiser, and, we trust, better. Wiser, for we are learning our weakness, our narrowness, our selfishness, our ignorance, in lessons of sorrow and shame. Better, because all that is noble in men and women is demanded by the time, and our people are rising to the standard the time calls for. For this is the question the hour is putting to each of us: Are you ready, if need be, to sacrifice all that you have and hope for in this world, that the generations to follow you may inherit a whole country whose natural condition shall be peace, and not a broken province which must live under the perpetual threat, if not in the constant presence, of war and all that war brings with it? If we are all ready for this sacrifice, battles may be lost, but the campaign and its grand object must be won.
Heaven is very kind in its way of putting questions to mortals. We are not abruptly asked to give up all that we most care for, in view of the momentous issues before us. Perhaps we shall never be asked to give up all, but we have already been called upon to part with much that is dear to us, and should be ready to yield the rest as it is called for. The time may come when even the cheap public print shall be a burden our means cannot support, and we can only listen in the square that was once the marketplace to the voices of those who proclaim defeat or victory. Then there will be only our daily food left. When we have nothing to read and nothing to eat, it will be a favorable moment to offer a compromise. At present we have all that nature absolutely demands,—we can live on bread and the newspaper.
MY HUNT AFTER "THE CAPTAIN."
In the dead of the night which closed upon the bloody field of Antietam, my household was startled from its slumbers by the loud summons of a telegraphic messenger. The air had been heavy all day with rumors of battle, and thousands and tens of thousands had walked the streets with throbbing hearts, in dread anticipation of the tidings any hour might bring.
We rose hastily, and presently the messenger was admitted. I took the envelope from his hand, opened it, and read:
To__ H _
Capt H_ wounded shot through the neck thought not mortal at Keedysville WILLIAM G. LEDUC
Through the neck,—no bullet left in wound. Windpipe, food-pipe, carotid, jugular, half a dozen smaller, but still formidable vessels, a great braid of nerves, each as big as a lamp-wick, spinal cord,—ought to kill at once, if at all. Thought not mortal, or not thought mortal,—which was it? The first; that is better than the second would be.—"Keedysville, a post-office, Washington Co., Maryland." Leduc? Leduc? Don't remember that name. The boy is waiting for his money. A dollar and thirteen cents. Has nobody got thirteen cents? Don't keep that boy waiting,—how do we know what messages he has got to carry?
The boy had another message to carry. It was to the father of Lieutenant-Colonel Wilder Dwight, informing him that his son was grievously wounded in the same battle, and was lying at Boonsborough, a town a few miles this side of Keedysville. This I learned the next morning from the civil and attentive officials at the Central Telegraph Office.
Calling upon this gentleman, I found that he meant to leave in the quarter past two o'clock train, taking with him Dr. George H. Gay, an accomplished and energetic surgeon, equal to any difficult question or pressing emergency. I agreed to accompany them, and we met in the cars. I felt myself peculiarly fortunate in having companions whose society would be a pleasure, whose feelings would harmonize with my own, and whose assistance I might, in case of need, be glad to claim.
It is of the journey which we began together, and which I finished apart, that I mean to give my "Atlantic" readers an account. They must let me tell my story in my own way, speaking of many little matters that interested or amused me, and which a certain leisurely class of elderly persons, who sit at their firesides and never travel, will, I hope, follow with a kind of interest. For, besides the main object of my excursion, I could not help being excited by the incidental sights and occurrences of a trip which to a commercial traveller or a newspaper-reporter would seem quite commonplace and undeserving of record. There are periods in which all places and people seem to be in a conspiracy to impress us with their individuality, in which every ordinary locality seems to assume a special significance and to claim a particular notice, in which every person we meet is either an old acquaintance or a character; days in which the strangest coincidences are continually happening, so that they get to be the rule, and not the exception. Some might naturally think that anxiety and the weariness of a prolonged search after a near relative would have prevented my taking any interest in or paying any regard to the little matters around me. Perhaps it had just the contrary effect, and acted like a diffused stimulus upon the attention. When all the faculties are wide-awake in pursuit of a single object, or fixed in the spasm of an absorbing emotion, they are oftentimes clairvoyant in a marvellous degree in respect to many collateral things, as Wordsworth has so forcibly illustrated in his sonnet on the Boy of Windermere, and as Hawthorne has developed with such metaphysical accuracy in that chapter of his wondrous story where Hester walks forth to meet her punishment.
Be that as it may,—though I set out with a full and heavy heart, though many times my blood chilled with what were perhaps needless and unwise fears, though I broke through all my habits without thinking about them, which is almost as hard in certain circumstances as for one of our young fellows to leave his sweetheart and go into a Peninsular campaign, though I did not always know when I was hungry nor discover that I was thirsting, though I had a worrying ache and inward tremor underlying all the outward play of the senses and the mind, yet it is the simple truth that I did look out of the car-windows with an eye for all that passed, that I did take cognizance of strange sights and singular people, that I did act much as persons act from the ordinary promptings of curiosity, and from time to time even laugh very much as others do who are attacked with a convulsive sense of the ridiculous, the epilepsy of the diaphragm.
By a mutual compact, we talked little in the cars. A communicative friend is the greatest nuisance to have at one's side during a railroad journey, especially if his conversation is stimulating and in itself agreeable. "A fast train and a 'slow' neighbor," is my motto. Many times, when I have got upon the cars, expecting to be magnetized into an hour or two of blissful reverie, my thoughts shaken up by the vibrations into all sorts of new and pleasing patterns, arranging themselves in curves and nodal points, like the grains of sand in Chladni's famous experiment,—fresh ideas coming up to the surface, as the kernels do when a measure of corn is jolted in a farmer's wagon,—all this without volition, the mechanical impulse alone keeping the thoughts in motion, as the mere act of carrying certain watches in the pocket keeps them wound up,—many times, I say, just as my brain was beginning to creep and hum with this delicious locomotive intoxication, some dear detestable friend, cordial, intelligent, social, radiant, has come up and sat down by me and opened a conversation which has broken my day-dream, unharnessed the flying horses that were whirling along my fancies and hitched on the old weary omnibus-team of every-day associations, fatigued my hearing and attention, exhausted my voice, and milked the breasts of my thought dry during the hour when they should have been filling themselves full of fresh juices. My friends spared me this trial.
So, then, I sat by the window and enjoyed the slight tipsiness produced by short, limited, rapid oscillations, which I take to be the exhilarating stage of that condition which reaches hopeless inebriety in what we know as sea-sickness. Where the horizon opened widely, it pleased me to watch the curious effect of the rapid movement of near objects contrasted with the slow motion of distant ones. Looking from a right-hand window, for instance, the fences close by glide swiftly backward, or to the right, while the distant hills not only do not appear to move backward, but look by contrast with the fences near at hand as if they were moving forward, or to the left; and thus the whole landscape becomes a mighty wheel revolving about an imaginary axis somewhere in the middle-distance.
My companions proposed to stay at one of the best-known and longest-established of the New-York caravansaries, and I accompanied them. We were particularly well lodged, and not uncivilly treated. The traveller who supposes that he is to repeat the melancholy experience of Shenstone, and have to sigh over the reflection that he has found "his warmest welcome at an inn," has something to learn at the offices of the great city hotels. The unheralded guest who is honored by mere indifference may think himself blessed with singular good-fortune. If the despot of the Patent-Annunciator is only mildly contemptuous in his manner, let the victim look upon it as a personal favor. The coldest welcome that a threadbare curate ever got at the door of a bishop's palace, the most icy reception that a country cousin ever received at the city mansion of a mushroom millionaire, is agreeably tepid, compared to that which the Rhadamanthus who dooms you to the more or less elevated circle of his inverted Inferno vouchsafes, as you step up to enter your name on his dog's-eared register. I have less hesitation in unburdening myself of this uncomfortable statement, as on this particular trip I met with more than one exception to the rule. Officials become brutalized, I suppose, as a matter of course. One cannot expect an office clerk to embrace tenderly every stranger who comes in with a carpet-bag, or a telegraph operator to burst into tears over every unpleasant message he receives for transmission. Still, humanity is not always totally extinguished in these persons. I discovered a youth in a telegraph office of the Continental Hotel, in Philadelphia, who was as pleasant in conversation, and as graciously responsive to inoffensive questions, as if I had been his childless opulent uncle and my will not made.
On the road again the next morning, over the ferry, into the cars with sliding panels and fixed windows, so that in summer the whole side of the car maybe made transparent. New Jersey is, to the apprehension of a traveller, a double-headed suburb rather than a State. Its dull red dust looks like the dried and powdered mud of a battle-field. Peach-trees are common, and champagne-orchards. Canal-boats, drawn by mules, swim by, feeling their way along like blind men led by dogs. I had a mighty passion come over me to be the captain of one,—to glide back and forward upon a sea never roughened by storms,—to float where I could not sink,—to navigate where there is no shipwreck,—to lie languidly on the deck and govern the huge craft by a word or the movement of a finger: there was something of railroad intoxication in the fancy: but who has not often envied a cobbler in his stall?
The boys cry the "N'-York Heddle," instead of "Herald"; I remember that years ago in Philadelphia; we must be getting near the farther end of the dumb-bell suburb. A bridge has been swept away by a rise of the waters, so we must approach Philadelphia by the river. Her physiognomy is not distinguished; nez camus, as a Frenchman would say; no illustrious steeple, no imposing tower; the water-edge of the town looking bedraggled, like the flounce of a vulgar rich woman's dress that trails on the sidewalk. The New Ironsides lies at one of the wharves, elephantine in bulk and color, her sides narrowing as they rise, like the walls of a hock-glass.
I went straight to the house in Walnut Street where the Captain would be heard of, if anywhere in this region. His lieutenant-colonel was there, gravely wounded; his college-friend and comrade in arms, a son of the house, was there, injured in a similar way; another soldier, brother of the last, was there, prostrate with fever. A fourth bed was waiting ready for the Captain, but not one word had been heard of him, though inquiries had been made in the towns from and through which the father had brought his two sons and the lieutenant-colonel. And so my search is, like a "Ledger" story, to be continued.
I rejoined my companions in time to take the noon-train for Baltimore. Our company was gaining in number as it moved onwards. We had found upon the train from New York a lovely, lonely lady, the wife of one of our most spirited Massachusetts officers, the brave Colonel of the _th Regiment, going to seek her wounded husband at Middletown, a place lying directly in our track. She was the light of our party while we were together on our pilgrimage, a fair, gracious woman, gentle, but courageous,
—"ful plesant and amiable of port, —estatelich of manere, And to ben holden digne of reverence."
On the road from Philadelphia, I found in the same car with our party Dr. William Hunt of Philadelphia, who had most kindly and faithfully attended the Captain, then the Lieutenant, after a wound received at Ball's Bluff, which came very near being mortal. He was going upon an errand of mercy to the wounded, and found he had in his memorandum-book the name of our lady's husband, the Colonel, who had been commended to his particular attention.
Not long after leaving Philadelphia, we passed a solitary sentry keeping guard over a short railroad bridge. It was the first evidence that we were approaching the perilous borders, the marches where the North and the South mingle their angry hosts, where the extremes of our so-called civilization meet in conflict, and the fierce slave-driver of the Lower Mississippi stares into the stern eyes of the forest-feller from the banks of the Aroostook. All the way along, the bridges were guarded more or less strongly. In a vast country like ours, communications play a far more complex part than in Europe, where the whole territory available for strategic purposes is so comparatively limited. Belgium, for instance, has long been the bowling-alley where kings roll cannon-balls at each other's armies; but here we are playing the game of live ninepins without any alley.
We were obliged to stay in Baltimore over night, as we were too late for the train to Frederick. At the Eutaw House, where we found both comfort and courtesy, we met a number of friends, who beguiled the evening hours for us in the most agreeable manner. We devoted some time to procuring surgical and other articles, such as might be useful to our friends, or to others, if our friends should not need them. In the morning, I found myself seated at the breakfast-table next to General Wool. It did not surprise me to find the General very far from expansive. With Fort McHenry on his shoulders and Baltimore in his breeches-pocket, and the weight of a military department loading down his social safety-valves, I thought it a great deal for an officer in his trying position to select so very obliging and affable an aid as the gentleman who relieved him of the burden of attending to strangers.
We left the Eutaw House, to take the cars for Frederick. As we stood waiting on the platform, a telegraphic message was handed in silence to my companion. Sad news: the lifeless body of the son he was hastening to see was even now on its way to him in Baltimore. It was no time for empty words of consolation: I knew what he had lost, and that now was not the time to intrude upon a grief borne as men bear it, felt as women feel it.
Colonel Wilder Dwight was first made known to me as the friend of a beloved relative of my own, who was with him during a severe illness in Switzerland; and for whom while living, and for whose memory when dead, he retained the warmest affection. Since that the story of his noble deeds of daring, of his capture and escape, and a brief visit home before he was able to rejoin his regiment, had made his name familiar to many among us, myself among the number. His memory has been honored by those who had the largest opportunity of knowing his rare promise, as a man of talents and energy of nature. His abounding vitality must have produced its impression on all who met him; there was a still fire about him which any one could see would blaze up to melt all difficulties and recast obstacles into implements in the mould of an heroic will. These elements of his character many had the chance of knowing; but I shall always associate him with the memory of that pure and noble friendship which made me feel that I knew him before I looked upon his face, and added a personal tenderness to the sense of loss which I share with the whole community.
Here, then, I parted, sorrowfully, from the companions with whom I set out on my journey.
In one of the cars, at the same station, we met General Shriver of Frederick, a most loyal Unionist, whose name is synonymous with a hearty welcome to all whom he can aid by his counsel and his hospitality. He took great pains to give us all the information we needed, and expressed the hope, which was afterwards fulfilled, to the great gratification of some of us, that we should meet again when he should return to his home.
There was nothing worthy of special note in the trip to Frederick, except our passing a squad of Rebel prisoners, whom I missed seeing, as they flashed by, but who were said to be a most forlorn-looking crowd of scarecrows. Arrived at the Monocacy River, about three miles this side of Frederick, we came to a halt, for the railroad bridge had been blown up by the Rebels, and its iron pillars and arches were lying in the bed of the river. The unfortunate wretch who fired the train was killed by the explosion, and lay buried hard by, his hands sticking out of the shallow grave into which he had been huddled. This was the story they told us, but whether true or not I must leave to the correspondents of "Notes and Queries" to settle.
There was a great confusion of carriages and wagons at the stopping-place of the train, so that it was a long time before I could get anything that would carry us. At last I was lucky enough to light on a sturdy wagon, drawn by a pair of serviceable bays, and driven by James Grayden, with whom I was destined to have a somewhat continued acquaintance. We took up a little girl who had been in Baltimore during the late Rebel inroad. It made me think of the time when my own mother, at that time six years old, was hurried off from Boston, then occupied by the British soldiers, to Newburyport, and heard the people saying that "the redcoats were coming, killing and murdering everybody as they went along." Frederick looked cheerful for a place that had so recently been in an enemy's hands. Here and there a house or shop was shut up, but the national colors were waving in all directions, and the general aspect was peaceful and contented. I saw no bullet-marks or other sign of the fighting which had gone on in the streets. The Colonel's lady was taken in charge by a daughter of that hospitable family to which we had been commended by its head, and I proceeded to inquire for wounded officers at the various temporary hospitals.
At the United States Hotel, where many were lying, I heard mention of an officer in an upper chamber, and, going there, found Lieutenant Abbott, of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers, lying ill with what looked like typhoid fever. While there, who should come in but the almost ubiquitous Lieutenant Wilkins, of the same Twentieth, whom I had met repeatedly before on errands of kindness or duty, and who was just from the battle-ground. He was going to Boston in charge of the body of the lamented Dr. Revere, the Assistant Surgeon of the regiment, killed on the field. From his lips I learned something of the mishaps of the regiment. My Captain's wound he spoke of as less grave than at first thought; but he mentioned incidentally having heard a story recently that he was killed,—a fiction, doubtless,—a mistake,—a palpable absurdity,—not to be remembered or made any account of. Oh no! but what dull ache is this in that obscurely sensitive region, somewhere below the heart, where the nervous centre called the semilunar ganglion lies unconscious of itself until a great grief or a mastering anxiety reaches it through all the non-conductors which isolate it from ordinary impressions? I talked awhile with Lieutenant Abbott, who lay prostrate, feeble, but soldier-like and uncomplaining, carefully waited upon by a most excellent lady, a captain's wife, New England born, loyal as the Liberty on a golden ten-dollar piece, and of lofty bearing enough to have sat for that goddess's portrait. She had stayed in Frederick through the Rebel inroad, and kept the star-spangled banner where it would be safe, to unroll it as the last Rebel hoofs clattered off from the pavement of the town.
Near by Lieutenant Abbott was an unhappy gentleman, occupying a small chamber, and filling it with his troubles. When he gets well and plump, I know he will forgive me if I confess that I could not help smiling in the midst of my sympathy for him. He had been a well-favored man, he said, sweeping his hand in a semicircle, which implied that his acute-angled countenance had once filled the goodly curve he described. He was now a perfect Don Quixote to look upon. Weakness had made him querulous, as it does all of us, and he piped his grievances to me in a thin voice, with that finish of detail which chronic invalidism alone can command. He was starving,—he could not get what he wanted to eat. He was in need of stimulants, and he held up a pitiful two-ounce phial containing three thimblefuls—of brandy,—his whole stock of that encouraging article. Him I consoled to the best of my ability, and afterwards, in some slight measure, supplied his wants. Feed this poor gentleman up, as these good people soon will, and I should not know him, nor he himself. We are all egotists in sickness and debility. An animal has been defined as "a stomach ministered to by organs;" and the greatest man comes very near this simple formula after a month or two of fever and starvation.
James Grayden and his team pleased me well enough, and so I made a bargain with him to take us, the lady and myself, on our further journey as far as Middletown. As we were about starting from the front of the United States Hotel, two gentlemen presented themselves and expressed a wish to be allowed to share our conveyance. I looked at them and convinced myself that they were neither Rebels in disguise, nor deserters, nor camp-followers, nor miscreants, but plain, honest men on a proper errand. The first of them I will pass over briefly. He was a young man of mild and modest demeanor, chaplain to a Pennsylvania regiment, which he was going to rejoin. He belonged to the Moravian Church, of which I had the misfortune to know little more than what I had learned from Southey's "Life of Wesley." and from the exquisite hymns we have borrowed from its rhapsodists. The other stranger was a New Englander of respectable appearance, with a grave, hard, honest, hay-bearded face, who had come to serve the sick and wounded on the battle-field and in its immediate neighborhood. There is no reason why I should not mention his name, but I shall content myself with calling him the Philanthropist.
So we set forth, the sturdy wagon, the serviceable bays, with James Grayden their driver, the gentle lady, whose serene patience bore up through all delays and discomforts, the Chaplain, the Philanthropist, and myself, the teller of this story.
And now, as we emerged from Frederick, we struck at once upon the trail from the great battle-field. The road was filled with straggling and wounded soldiers. All who could travel on foot,—multitudes with slight wounds of the upper limbs, the head, or face,—were told to take up their beds,—alight burden or none at all,—and walk. Just as the battle-field sucks everything into its red vortex for the conflict, so does it drive everything off in long, diverging rays after the fierce centripetal forces have met and neutralized each other. For more than a week there had been sharp fighting all along this road. Through the streets of Frederick, through Crampton's Gap, over South Mountain, sweeping at last the hills and the woods that skirt the windings of the Antietam, the long battle had travelled, like one of those tornadoes which tear their path through our fields and villages. The slain of higher condition, "embalmed" and iron-cased, were sliding off on the railways to their far homes; the dead of the rank and file were being gathered up and committed hastily to the earth; the gravely wounded were cared for hard by the scene of conflict, or pushed a little way along to the neighboring villages; while those who could walk were meeting us, as I have said, at every step in the road. It was a pitiable sight, truly pitiable, yet so vast, so far beyond the possibility of relief, that many single sorrows of small dimensions have wrought upon my feelings more than the sight of this great caravan of maimed pilgrims. The companionship of so many seemed to make a joint-stock of their suffering; it was next to impossible to individualize it, and so bring it home, as one can do with a single broken limb or aching wound. Then they were all of the male sex, and in the freshness or the prime of their strength. Though they tramped so wearily along, yet there was rest and kind nursing in store for them. These wounds they bore would be the medals they would show their children and grandchildren by and by. Who would not rather wear his decorations beneath his uniform than on it?
Yet among them were figures which arrested our attention and sympathy. Delicate boys, with more spirit than strength, flushed with fever or pale with exhaustion or haggard with suffering, dragged their weary limbs along as if each step would exhaust their slender store of strength. At the roadside sat or lay others, quite spent with their journey. Here and there was a house at which the wayfarers would stop, in the hope, I fear often vain, of getting refreshment; and in one place was a clear, cool spring, where the little bands of the long procession halted for a few moments, as the trains that traverse the desert rest by its fountains. My companions had brought a few peaches along with them, which the Philanthropist bestowed upon the tired and thirsty soldiers with a satisfaction which we all shared. I had with me a small flask of strong waters, to be used as a medicine in case of inward grief. From this, also, he dispensed relief, without hesitation, to a poor fellow who looked as if he needed it. I rather admired the simplicity with which he applied my limited means of solace to the first-comer who wanted it more than I; a genuine benevolent impulse does not stand on ceremony, and had I perished of colic for want of a stimulus that night, I should not have reproached my friend the Philanthropist, any more than I grudged my other ardent friend the two dollars and more which it cost me to send the charitable message he left in my hands.
It was a lovely country through which we were riding. The hillsides rolled away into the distance, slanting up fair and broad to the sun, as one sees them in the open parts of the Berkshire Valley, at Lanesborough, for instance, or in the many-hued mountain chalice at the bottom of which the Shaker houses of Lebanon have shaped themselves like a sediment of cubical crystals. The wheat was all garnered, and the land ploughed for a new crop. There was Indian corn standing, but I saw no pumpkins warming their yellow carapaces in the sunshine like so many turtles; only in a single instance did I notice some wretched little miniature specimens in form and hue not unlike those colossal oranges of our cornfields. The rail fences were somewhat disturbed, and the cinders of extinguished fires showed the use to which they had been applied. The houses along the road were not for the most part neatly kept; the garden fences were poorly built of laths or long slats, and very rarely of trim aspect. The men of this region seemed to ride in the saddle very generally, rather than drive. They looked sober and stern, less curious and lively than Yankees, and I fancied that a type of features familiar to us in the countenance of the late John Tyler, our accidental President, was frequently met with. The women were still more distinguishable from our New England pattern. Soft, sallow, succulent, delicately finished about the mouth and firmly shaped about the chin, dark-eyed, full-throated, they looked as if they had been grown in a land of olives. There was a little toss in their movement, full of muliebrity. I fancied there was something more of the duck and less of the chicken about them, as compared with the daughters of our leaner soil; but these are mere impressions caught from stray glances, and if there is any offence in them, my fair readers may consider them all retracted.
At intervals, a dead horse lay by the roadside, or in the fields, unburied, not grateful to gods or men. I saw no bird of prey, no ill-omened fowl, on my way to the carnival of death, or at the place where it had been held. The vulture of story, the crow of Talavera, the "twa corbies" of the ghastly ballad, are all from Nature, doubtless; but no black wing was spread over these animal ruins, and no call to the banquet pierced through the heavy-laden and sickening air.
Full in the middle of the road, caring little for whom or what they met, came long strings of army wagons, returning empty from the front after supplies. James Grayden stated it as his conviction that they had a little rather run into a fellow than not. I liked the looks of these equipages and their drivers; they meant business. Drawn by mules mostly, six, I think, to a wagon, powdered well with dust, wagon, beast, and driver, they came jogging along the road, turning neither to right nor left,—some driven by bearded, solemn white men, some by careless, saucy-looking negroes, of a blackness like that of anthracite or obsidian. There seemed to be nothing about them, dead or alive, that was not serviceable. Sometimes a mule would give out on the road; then he was left where he lay, until by and by he would think better of it, and get up, when the first public wagon that came along would hitch him on, and restore him to the sphere of duty.
It was evening when we got to Middletown. The gentle lady who had graced our homely conveyance with her company here left us. She found her husband, the gallant Colonel, in very comfortable quarters, well cared for, very weak from the effects of the fearful operation he had been compelled to undergo, but showing calm courage to endure as he had shown manly energy to act. It was a meeting full of heroism and tenderness, of which I heard more than there is need to tell. Health to the brave soldier, and peace to the household over which so fair a spirit presides!
Dr. Thompson, the very active and intelligent surgical director of the hospitals of the place, took me in charge. He carried me to the house of a worthy and benevolent clergyman of the German Reformed Church, where I was to take tea and pass the night. What became of the Moravian chaplain I did not know; but my friend the Philanthropist had evidently made up his mind to adhere to my fortunes. He followed me, therefore, to the house of the "Dominie." as a newspaper correspondent calls my kind host, and partook of the fare there furnished me. He withdrew with me to the apartment assigned for my slumbers, and slept sweetly on the same pillow where I waked and tossed. Nay, I do affirm that he did, unconsciously, I believe, encroach on that moiety of the couch which I had flattered myself was to be my own through the watches of the night, and that I was in serious doubt at one time whether I should not be gradually, but irresistibly, expelled from the bed which I had supposed destined for my sole possession. As Ruth clave unto Naomi, so my friend the Philanthropist clave unto me. "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge." A really kind, good man, full of zeal, determined to help somebody, and absorbed in his one thought, he doubted nobody's willingness to serve him, going, as he was, on a purely benevolent errand. When he reads this, as I hope he will, let him be assured of my esteem and respect; and if he gained any accommodation from being in my company, let me tell him that I learned a lesson from his active benevolence. I could, however, have wished to hear him laugh once before we parted, perhaps forever. He did not, to the best of my recollection, even smile during the whole period that we were in company. I am afraid that a lightsome disposition and a relish for humor are not so common in those whose benevolence takes an active turn as in people of sentiment, who are always ready with their tears and abounding in passionate expressions of sympathy. Working philanthropy is a practical specialty, requiring not a mere impulse, but a talent, with its peculiar sagacity for finding its objects, a tact for selecting its agencies, an organizing and art ranging faculty, a steady set of nerves, and a constitution such as Sallust describes in Catiline, patient of cold, of hunger, and of watching. Philanthropists are commonly grave, occasionally grim, and not very rarely morose. Their expansive social force is imprisoned as a working power, to show itself only through its legitimate pistons and cranks. The tighter the boiler, the less it whistles and sings at its work. When Dr. Waterhouse, in 1780, travelled with Howard, on his tour among the Dutch prisons and hospitals, he found his temper and manners very different from what would have been expected.
My benevolent companion having already made a preliminary exploration of the hospitals of the place, before sharing my bed with him, as above mentioned, I joined him in a second tour through them. The authorities of Middletown are evidently leagued with the surgeons of that place, for such a break-neck succession of pitfalls and chasms I have never seen in the streets of a civilized town. It was getting late in the evening when we began our rounds. The principal collections of the wounded were in the churches. Boards were laid over the tops of the pews, on these some straw was spread, and on this the wounded lay, with little or no covering other than such scanty clothes as they had on. There were wounds of all degrees of severity, but I heard no groans or murmurs. Most of the sufferers were hurt in the limbs, some had undergone amputation, and all had, I presume, received such attention as was required. Still, it was but a rough and dreary kind of comfort that the extemporized hospitals suggested. I could not help thinking the patients must be cold; but they were used to camp life, and did not complain. The men who watched were not of the soft-handed variety of the race. One of them was smoking his pipe as he went from bed to bed. I saw one poor fellow who had been shot through the breast; his breathing was labored, and he was tossing, anxious and restless. The men were debating about the opiate he was to take, and I was thankful that I happened there at the right moment to see that he was well narcotized for the night. Was it possible that my Captain could be lying on the straw in one of these places? Certainly possible, but not probable; but as the lantern was held over each bed, it was with a kind of thrill that I looked upon the features it illuminated. Many times as I went from hospital to hospital in my wanderings, I started as some faint resemblance,-the shade of a young man's hair, the outline of his half-turned face,—recalled the presence I was in search of. The face would turn towards me, and the momentary illusion would pass away, but still the fancy clung to me. There was no figure huddled up on its rude couch, none stretched at the roadside, none toiling languidly along the dusty pike, none passing in car or in ambulance, that I did not scrutinize, as if it might be that for which I was making my pilgrimage to the battlefield.
"There are two wounded Secesh," said my companion. I walked to the bedside of the first, who was an officer, a lieutenant, if I remember right, from North Carolina. He was of good family, son of a judge in one of the higher courts of his State, educated, pleasant, gentle, intelligent. One moment's intercourse with such an enemy, lying helpless and wounded among strangers, takes away all personal bitterness towards those with whom we or our children have been but a few hours before in deadly strife. The basest lie which the murderous contrivers of this Rebellion have told is that which tries to make out a difference of race in the men of the North and South. It would be worth a year of battles to abolish this delusion, though the great sponge of war that wiped it out were moistened with the best blood of the land. My Rebel was of slight, scholastic habit, and spoke as one accustomed to tread carefully among the parts of speech. It made my heart ache to see him, a man finished in the humanities and Christian culture, whom the sin of his forefathers and the crime of his rulers had set in barbarous conflict against others of like training with his own,—a man who, but for the curse which our generation is called on to expiate, would have taken his part in the beneficent task of shaping the intelligence and lifting the moral standard of a peaceful and united people.
On Sunday morning, the twenty-first, having engaged James Grayden and his team, I set out with the Chaplain and the Philanthropist for Keedysville. Our track lay through the South Mountain Gap, and led us first to the town of Boonsborough, where, it will be remembered, Colonel Dwight had been brought after the battle. We saw the positions occupied in the battle of South Mountain, and many traces of the conflict. In one situation a group of young trees was marked with shot, hardly one having escaped. As we walked by the side of the wagon, the Philanthropist left us for a while and climbed a hill, where, along the line of a fence, he found traces of the most desperate fighting. A ride of some three hours brought us to Boonsborough, where I roused the unfortunate army surgeon who had charge of the hospitals, and who was trying to get a little sleep after his fatigues and watchings. He bore this cross very creditably, and helped me to explore all places where my soldier might be lying among the crowds of wounded. After the useless search, I resumed my journey, fortified with a note of introduction to Dr. Letterman; also with a bale of oakum which I was to carry to that gentleman, this substance being employed as a substitute for lint. We were obliged also to procure a pass to Keedysville from the Provost Marshal of Boonsborough. As we came near the place, we learned that General McClellan's head quarters had been removed from this village some miles farther to the front.
On entering the small settlement of Keedysville, a familiar face and figure blocked the way, like one of Bunyan's giants. The tall form and benevolent countenance, set off by long, flowing hair, belonged to the excellent Mayor Frank B. Fay of Chelsea, who, like my Philanthropist, only still more promptly, had come to succor the wounded of the great battle. It was wonderful to see how his single personality pervaded this torpid little village; he seemed to be the centre of all its activities. All my questions he answered clearly and decisively, as one who knew everything that was going on in the place. But the one question I had come five hundred miles to ask,—Where is Captain H.?—he could not answer. There were some thousands of wounded in the place, he told me, scattered about everywhere. It would be a long job to hunt up my Captain; the only way would be to go to every house and ask for him. Just then a medical officer came up.
"Do you know anything of Captain H. of the Massachusetts Twentieth?"
"Oh yes; he is staying in that house. I saw him there, doing very well."
A chorus of hallelujahs arose in my soul, but I kept them to myself. Now, then, for our twice-wounded volunteer, our young centurion whose double-barred shoulder-straps we have never yet looked upon. Let us observe the proprieties, however; no swelling upward of the mother,—no hysterica passio, we do not like scenes. A calm salutation,—then swallow and hold hard. That is about the programme.
A cottage of squared logs, filled in with plaster, and whitewashed. A little yard before it, with a gate swinging. The door of the cottage ajar,—no one visible as yet. I push open the door and enter. An old woman, Margaret Kitzmuller her name proves to be, is the first person I see.
"Captain H. here?"
"Oh no, sir,—left yesterday morning for Hagerstown,—in a milk-cart."
The Kitzmuller is a beady-eyed, cheery-looking ancient woman, answers questions with a rising inflection, and gives a good account of the Captain, who got into the vehicle without assistance, and was in excellent spirits. Of course he had struck for Hagerstown as the terminus of the Cumberland Valley Railroad, and was on his way to Philadelphia, via Chambersburg and Harrisburg, if he were not already in the hospitable home of Walnut Street, where his friends were expecting him.
I might follow on his track or return upon my own; the distance was the same to Philadelphia through Harrisburg as through Baltimore. But it was very difficult, Mr. Fay told me, to procure any kind of conveyance to Hagerstown; and, on the other hand, I had James Grayden and his wagon to carry me back to Frederick. It was not likely that I should overtake the object of my pursuit with nearly thirty-six hours start, even if I could procure a conveyance that day. In the mean time James was getting impatient to be on his return, according to the direction of his employers. So I decided to go back with him.
But there was the great battle-field only about three miles from Keedysville, and it was impossible to go without seeing that. James Grayden's directions were peremptory, but it was a case for the higher law. I must make a good offer for an extra couple of hours, such as would satisfy the owners of the wagon, and enforce it by a personal motive. I did this handsomely, and succeeded without difficulty. To add brilliancy to my enterprise, I invited the Chaplain and the Philanthropist to take a free passage with me.
We followed the road through the village for a space, then turned off to the right, and wandered somewhat vaguely, for want of precise directions, over the hills. Inquiring as we went, we forded a wide creek in which soldiers were washing their clothes, the name of which we did not then know, but which must have been the Antietam. At one point we met a party, women among them, bringing off various trophies they had picked up on the battlefield. Still wandering along, we were at last pointed to a hill in the distance, a part of the summit of which was covered with Indian corn. There, we were told, some of the fiercest fighting of the day had been done. The fences were taken down so as to make a passage across the fields, and the tracks worn within the last few days looked like old roads. We passed a fresh grave under a tree near the road. A board was nailed to the tree, bearing the name, as well as I could make it out, of Gardiner, of a New Hampshire regiment.
On coming near the brow of the hill, we met a party carrying picks and spades. "How many?" "Only one." The dead were nearly all buried, then, in this region of the field of strife. We stopped the wagon, and, getting out, began to look around us. Hard by was a large pile of muskets, scores, if not hundreds, which had been picked up, and were guarded for the Government. A long ridge of fresh gravel rose before us. A board stuck up in front of it bore this inscription, the first part of which was, I believe, not correct: "The Rebel General Anderson and 80 Rebels are buried in this hole." Other smaller ridges were marked with the number of dead lying under them. The whole ground was strewed with fragments of clothing, haversacks, canteens, cap-boxes, bullets, cartridge-boxes, cartridges, scraps of paper, portions of bread and meat. I saw two soldiers' caps that looked as though their owners had been shot through the head. In several places I noticed dark red patches where a pool of blood had curdled and caked, as some poor fellow poured his life out on the sod. I then wandered about in the cornfield. It surprised me to notice, that, though there was every mark of hard fighting having taken place here, the Indian corn was not generally trodden down. One of our cornfields is a kind of forest, and even when fighting, men avoid the tall stalks as if they were trees. At the edge of this cornfield lay a gray horse, said to have belonged to a Rebel colonel, who was killed near the same place. Not far off were two dead artillery horses in their harness. Another had been attended to by a burying-party, who had thrown some earth over him but his last bed-clothes were too short, and his legs stuck out stark and stiff from beneath the gravel coverlet. It was a great pity that we had no intelligent guide to explain to us the position of that portion of the two armies which fought over this ground. There was a shallow trench before we came to the cornfield, too narrow for a road, as I should think, too elevated for a water-course, and which seemed to have been used as a rifle-pit. At any rate, there had been hard fighting in and about it. This and the cornfield may serve to identify the part of the ground we visited, if any who fought there should ever look over this paper. The opposing tides of battle must have blended their waves at this point, for portions of gray uniform were mingled with the "garments rolled in blood" torn from our own dead and wounded soldiers. I picked up a Rebel canteen, and one of our own,—but there was something repulsive about the trodden and stained relics of the stale battle-field. It was like the table of some hideous orgy left uncleared, and one turned away disgusted from its broken fragments and muddy heeltaps. A bullet or two, a button, a brass plate from a soldier's belt, served well enough for mementos of my visit, with a letter which I picked up, directed to Richmond, Virginia, its seal unbroken. "N. C. Cleveland County. E. Wright to J. Wright." On the other side, "A few lines from W. L. Vaughn." who has just been writing for the wife to her husband, and continues on his own account. The postscript, "tell John that nancy's folks are all well and has a verry good Little Crop of corn a growing." I wonder, if, by one of those strange chances of which I have seen so many, this number or leaf of the "Atlantic" will not sooner or later find its way to Cleveland County, North Carolina, and E. Wright, widow of James Wright, and Nancy's folks, get from these sentences the last glimpse of husband and friend as he threw up his arms and fell in the bloody cornfield of Antietam? I will keep this stained letter for them until peace comes back, if it comes in my time, and my pleasant North Carolina Rebel of the Middletown Hospital will, perhaps look these poor people up, and tell them where to send for it.
On the battle-field I parted with my two companions, the Chaplain and the Philanthropist. They were going to the front, the one to find his regiment, the other to look for those who needed his assistance. We exchanged cards and farewells, I mounted the wagon, the horses' heads were turned homewards, my two companions went their way, and I saw them no more. On my way back, I fell into talk with James Grayden. Born in England, Lancashire; in this country since he was four years old. Had nothing to care for but an old mother; didn't know what he should do if he lost her. Though so long in this country, he had all the simplicity and childlike lightheartedness which belong to the Old World's people. He laughed at the smallest pleasantry, and showed his great white English teeth; he took a joke without retorting by an impertinence; he had a very limited curiosity about all that was going on; he had small store of information; he lived chiefly in his horses, it seemed to me. His quiet animal nature acted as a pleasing anodyne to my recurring fits of anxiety, and I liked his frequent "'Deed I don't know, sir." better than I have sometimes relished the large discourse of professors and other very wise men.
I have not much to say of the road which we were travelling for the second time. Reaching Middletown, my first call was on the wounded Colonel and his lady. She gave me a most touching account of all the suffering he had gone through with his shattered limb before he succeeded in finding a shelter; showing the terrible want of proper means of transportation of the wounded after the battle. It occurred to me, while at this house, that I was more or less famished, and for the first time in my life I begged for a meal, which the kind family with whom the Colonel was staying most graciously furnished me.
After tea, there came in a stout army surgeon, a Highlander by birth, educated in Edinburgh, with whom I had pleasant, not unstimulating talk. He had been brought very close to that immane and nefandous Burke-and-Hare business which made the blood of civilization run cold in the year 1828, and told me, in a very calm way, with an occasional pinch from the mull, to refresh his memory, some of the details of those frightful murders, never rivalled in horror until the wretch Dumollard, who kept a private cemetery for his victims, was dragged into the light of day. He had a good deal to say, too, about the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, and the famous preparations, mercurial and the rest, which I remember well having seen there,—the "sudabit multum." and others,—also of our New York Professor Carnochan's handiwork, a specimen of which I once admired at the New York College. But the doctor was not in a happy frame of mind, and seemed willing to forget the present in the past: things went wrong, somehow, and the time was out of joint with him.
Dr. Thompson, kind, cheerful, companionable, offered me half his own wide bed, in the house of Dr. Baer, for my second night in Middletown. Here I lay awake again another night. Close to the house stood an ambulance in which was a wounded Rebel officer, attended by one of their own surgeons. He was calling out in a loud voice, all night long, as it seemed to me, "Doctor! Doctor! Driver! Water!" in loud, complaining tones, I have no doubt of real suffering, but in strange contrast with the silent patience which was the almost universal rule.
The courteous Dr. Thompson will let me tell here an odd coincidence, trivial, but having its interest as one of a series. The Doctor and myself lay in the bed, and a lieutenant, a friend of his, slept on the sofa, At night, I placed my match-box, a Scotch one, of the Macpherson-plaid pattern, which I bought years ago, on the bureau, just where I could put my hand upon it. I was the last of the three to rise in the morning, and on looking for my pretty match-box, I found it was gone. This was rather awkward,—not on account of the loss, but of the unavoidable fact that one of my fellow-lodgers must have taken it. I must try to find out what it meant.
"By the way, Doctor, have you seen anything of a little plaid-pattern match-box?"
The Doctor put his hand to his pocket, and, to his own huge surprise and my great gratification, pulled out two match-boxes exactly alike, both printed with the Macpherson plaid. One was his, the other mine, which he had seen lying round, and naturally took for his own, thrusting it into his pocket, where it found its twin-brother from the same workshop. In memory of which event, we exchanged boxes, like two Homeric heroes.
This curious coincidence illustrates well enough some supposed cases of plagiarism of which I will mention one where my name figured. When a little poem called "The Two Streams" was first printed, a writer in the New York "Evening Post" virtually accused the author of it of borrowing the thought from a baccalaureate sermon of President Hopkins of Williamstown, and printed a quotation from that discourse, which, as I thought, a thief or catch-poll might well consider as establishing a fair presumption that it was so borrowed. I was at the same time wholly unconscious of ever having met with the discourse or the sentence which the verses were most like, nor do I believe I ever had seen or heard either. Some time after this, happening to meet my eloquent cousin, Wendell Phillips, I mentioned the fact to him, and he told me that he had once used the special image said to be borrowed, in a discourse delivered at Williamstown. On relating this to my friend Mr. Buchanan Read, he informed me that he too, had used the image,—perhaps referring to his poem called "The Twins." He thought Tennyson had used it also. The parting of the streams on the Alps is poetically elaborated in a passage attributed to "M. Loisne," printed in the "Boston Evening Transcript" for October 23, 1859. Captain, afterwards Sir Francis Head, speaks of the showers parting on the Cordilleras, one portion going to the Atlantic, one to the Pacific. I found the image running loose in my mind, without a halter. It suggested itself as an illustration of the will, and I worked the poem out by the aid of Mitchell's School Atlas.—The spores of a great many ideas are floating about in the atmosphere. We no more know where all the growths of our mind came from, than where the lichens which eat the names off from the gravestones borrowed the germs that gave them birth. The two match-boxes were just alike, but neither was a plagiarism.
In the morning I took to the same wagon once more, but, instead of James Grayden, I was to have for my driver a young man who spelt his name "Phillip Ottenheimer" and whose features at once showed him to be an Israelite. I found him agreeable enough, and disposed to talk. So I asked him many questions about his religion, and got some answers that sound strangely in Christian ears. He was from Wittenberg, and had been educated in strict Jewish fashion. From his childhood he had read Hebrew, but was not much of a scholar otherwise. A young person of his race lost caste utterly by marrying a Christian. The Founder of our religion was considered by the Israelites to have been "a right smart man and a great doctor." But the horror with which the reading of the New Testament by any young person of their faith would be regarded was as great, I judged by his language, as that of one of our straitest sectaries would be, if he found his son or daughter perusing the "Age of Reason."
In approaching Frederick, the singular beauty of its clustered spires struck me very much, so that I was not surprised to find "Fair-View" laid down about this point on a railroad map. I wish some wandering photographer would take a picture of the place, a stereoscopic one, if possible, to show how gracefully, how charmingly, its group of steeples nestles among the Maryland hills. The town had a poetical look from a distance, as if seers and dreamers might dwell there. The first sign I read, on entering its long street, might perhaps be considered as confirming my remote impression. It bore these words: "Miss Ogle, Past, Present, and Future." On arriving, I visited Lieutenant Abbott, and the attenuated unhappy gentleman, his neighbor, sharing between them as my parting gift what I had left of the balsam known to the Pharmacopoeia as Spiritus Vini Gallici. I took advantage of General Shriver's always open door to write a letter home, but had not time to partake of his offered hospitality. The railroad bridge over the Monocacy had been rebuilt since I passed through Frederick, and we trundled along over the track toward Baltimore.
It was a disappointment, on reaching the Eutaw House, where I had ordered all communications to be addressed, to find no telegraphic message from Philadelphia or Boston, stating that Captain H. had arrived at the former place, "wound doing well in good spirits expects to leave soon for Boston." After all, it was no great matter; the Captain was, no doubt, snugly lodged before this in the house called Beautiful, at — Walnut Street, where that "grave and beautiful damsel named Discretion" had already welcomed him, smiling, though "the water stood in her eyes," and had "called out Prudence, Piety, and Charity, who, after a little more discourse with him, had him into the family."
The friends I had met at the Eutaw House had all gone but one, the lady of an officer from Boston, who was most amiable and agreeable, and whose benevolence, as I afterwards learned, soon reached the invalids I had left suffering at Frederick. General Wool still walked the corridors, inexpansive, with Fort McHenry on his shoulders, and Baltimore in his breeches-pocket, and his courteous aid again pressed upon me his kind offices. About the doors of the hotel the news-boys cried the papers in plaintive, wailing tones, as different from the sharp accents of their Boston counterparts as a sigh from the southwest is from a northeastern breeze. To understand what they said was, of course, impossible to any but an educated ear, and if I made out "Starr" and "Clipp'rr," it was because I knew beforehand what must be the burden of their advertising coranach.
I set out for Philadelphia on the morrow, Tuesday the twenty-third, there beyond question to meet my Captain, once more united to his brave wounded companions under that roof which covers a household of as noble hearts as ever throbbed with human sympathies. Back River, Bush River, Gunpowder Creek,—lives there the man with soul so dead that his memory has cerements to wrap up these senseless names in the same envelopes with their meaningless localities? But the Susquehanna,—the broad, the beautiful, the historical, the poetical Susquehanna,—the river of Wyoming and of Gertrude, dividing the shores where
"Aye those sunny mountains half-way down Would echo flageolet from some romantic town,"—
did not my heart renew its allegiance to the poet who has made it lovely to the imagination as well as to the eye, and so identified his fame with the noble stream that it "rolls mingling with his fame forever?" The prosaic traveller perhaps remembers it better from the fact that a great sea-monster, in the shape of a steamboat, takes him, sitting in the car, on its back, and swims across with him like Arion's dolphin,—also that mercenary men on board offer him canvas-backs in the season, and ducks of lower degree at other periods.
At Philadelphia again at last! Drive fast, O colored man and brother, to the house called Beautiful, where my Captain lies sore wounded, waiting for the sound of the chariot wheels which bring to his bedside the face and the voice nearer than any save one to his heart in this his hour of pain and weakness! Up a long street with white shutters and white steps to all the houses. Off at right angles into another long street with white shutters and white steps to all the houses. Off again at another right angle into still another long street with white shutters and white steps to all the houses. The natives of this city pretend to know one street from another by some individual differences of aspect; but the best way for a stranger to distinguish the streets he has been in from others is to make a cross or other mark on the white shutters.
This corner-house is the one. Ring softly,—for the Lieutenant-Colonel lies there with a dreadfully wounded arm, and two sons of the family, one wounded like the Colonel, one fighting with death in the fog of a typhoid fever, will start with fresh pangs at the least sound you can make. I entered the house, but no cheerful smile met me. The sufferers were each of them thought to be in a critical condition. The fourth bed, waiting its tenant day after day, was still empty. Not a word from my Captain.
Then, foolish, fond body that I was, my heart sank within me. Had he been taken ill on the road, perhaps been attacked with those formidable symptoms which sometimes come on suddenly after wounds that seemed to be doing well enough, and was his life ebbing away in some lonely cottage, nay, in some cold barn or shed, or at the wayside, unknown, uncared for? Somewhere between Philadelphia and Hagerstown, if not at the latter town, he must be, at any rate. I must sweep the hundred and eighty miles between these places as one would sweep a chamber where a precious pearl had been dropped. I must have a companion in my search, partly to help me look about, and partly because I was getting nervous and felt lonely. Charley said he would go with me,—Charley, my Captain's beloved friend, gentle, but full of spirit and liveliness, cultivated, social, affectionate, a good talker, a most agreeable letter-writer, observing, with large relish of life, and keen sense of humor. He was not well enough to go, some of the timid ones said; but he answered by packing his carpet-bag, and in an hour or two we were on the Pennsylvania Central Railroad in full blast for Harrisburg.
I should have been a forlorn creature but for the presence of my companion. In his delightful company I half forgot my anxieties, which, exaggerated as they may seem now, were not unnatural after what I had seen of the confusion and distress that had followed the great battle, nay, which seem almost justified by the recent statement that "high officers" were buried after that battle whose names were never ascertained. I noticed little matters, as usual. The road was filled in between the rails with cracked stones, such as are used for macadamizing streets. They keep the dust down, I suppose, for I could not think of any other use for them. By and by the glorious valley which stretches along through Chester and Lancaster Counties opened upon us. Much as I had heard of the fertile regions of Pennsylvania, the vast scale and the uniform luxuriance of this region astonished me. The grazing pastures were so green, the fields were under such perfect culture, the cattle looked so sleek, the houses were so comfortable, the barns so ample, the fences so well kept, that I did not wonder, when I was told that this region was called the England of Pennsylvania. The people whom we saw were, like the cattle, well nourished; the young women looked round and wholesome.
"Grass makes girls." I said to my companion, and left him to work out my Orphic saying, thinking to myself, that as guano makes grass, it was a legitimate conclusion that Ichaboe must be a nursery of female loveliness.
As the train stopped at the different stations, I inquired at each if they had any wounded officers. None as yet; the red rays of the battle-field had not streamed off so far as this. Evening found us in the cars; they lighted candles in spring-candle-sticks; odd enough I thought it in the land of oil-wells and unmeasured floods of kerosene. Some fellows turned up the back of a seat so as to make it horizontal, and began gambling, or pretending to gamble; it looked as if they were trying to pluck a young countryman; but appearances are deceptive, and no deeper stake than "drinks for the crowd" seemed at last to be involved. But remembering that murder has tried of late years to establish itself as an institution in the cars, I was less tolerant of the doings of these "sportsmen" who tried to turn our public conveyance into a travelling Frascati. They acted as if they were used to it, and nobody seemed to pay much attention to their manoeuvres.