When I came through the lines I was refused permission to bring any baggage; therefore my supply of clothing was exceedingly small. I had, however, some gold concealed about my person, and fortunately procured with it a plain wardrobe. This I had carefully treasured, but now it was rapidly diminishing. At least I must have one new dress. It was bought,—a simple calico, and not of extra quality. The cost was three hundred dollars! With the exception of a plain muslin bought the following summer for three hundred and fifty dollars, it was my only indulgence in the extravagance of dress during the whole war. Two pretty gray homespuns made in Alabama were my standbys.
A good-sized store had been assigned to me as a linen room and office. The linen room, standing upon the street, was very large, and shelved all around, a counter on one side, and otherwise furnished with splint chairs and boxes to sit upon. My sanctum lay behind it, and here my sick and convalescent boys came frequently, and dearly loved to come, to rest upon the lounge or upon my rocking-chair, to read, to eat nice little lunches, and often to write letters. The front room was the rendezvous of the surgeons. In the morning they came to consult me about diet-lists or to talk to each other. In the evening the promenade of the ladies generally ended here, the surgeons always came, and I am proud to say that a circle composed of more cultivated, refined gentlemen and ladies could not be found than those who met in the rough linen-room of the Buckner Hospital. Dr. McAllister often looked in, but only for a few moments. He was devoted to his business as surgeon in charge of a large hospital. The multifarious duties of the position occupied him exclusively. He was a superb executive officer: nothing escaped his keen observation. No wrong remained unredressed, no recreant found an instant's toleration. He was ever restless, and not at all given to the amenities of life or to social intercourse, but fond of spending his leisure moments at his own temporary home, which a devoted wife made to him a paradise. His manners to strangers were very stiff; his friendship, once gained, was earnest and unchangeable. Dr. Gamble, surgeon of the post, was an urbane, kindly gentleman. Business claimed his entire time also, and he was seldom seen outside of his office. The ladies of our little circle have been already mentioned, as well as most of the surgeons. Dr. Bemiss, of all others, was a general favorite. We did not see much of him, as he was a very busy man; but at least once a day he would find his way to the rendezvous, often looking in at the window as he "halted" outside for a little chat. Invariably the whole party brightened up at his coming. He was so genial, so witty, so sympathetic, so entirely en rapport with everybody. A casual occurrence, a little discussion involving, perhaps, a cunning attempt to enlist him on one side or the other, would prove the key to unlock a fund of anecdotes, repartee, bon-mots, and, best of all, word-pictures, for here Dr. Bemiss excelled every one I ever knew. My own relations with him were very pleasant, for he was my adviser and helper in using properly the Louisiana and Alabama funds. The friendship between Drs. Bemiss and Gore seemed almost like that of Damon and Pythias. I think that Dr. Bemiss was first surgeon in charge of the "Bragg," but when a larger field was assigned to him Dr. Gore succeeded, Dr. Bemiss still retaining in some way the position of superior officer. Both these men were eminent surgeons and physicians, possessing in a remarkable degree the subtle comprehension and sympathy which is so valuable a quality in a physician. The tie that bound these two embraced a third, apparently as incongruous as possible,—Dr. Benjamin Wible, also of Louisville, a former partner of Dr. Bemiss. Diogenes we used to call him, and he did his best to deserve the name.
His countenance was forbidding, except when lighted up by a smile, which was only upon rare occasions. He was intolerant of what he called "stuff and nonsense," and had a way of disconcerting people by grunting whenever anything like sentimentality or gush was uttered in his presence.
When he first came, his stern, dictatorial manner, together with the persistent coldness which resisted all attempts to be friendly and sociable, hurt and offended me; but he was so different when among the sick, so gentle, so benignant beside the bedsides of suffering men, that I soon learned to know and appreciate the royal heart which at other times he managed to conceal under a rough and forbidding exterior.
Dr. Archer, of Maryland, was as complete a contrast as could be imagined. A poet of no mean order, indulging in all the idiosyncrasies of a poet, he was yet a man of great nerve and an excellent surgeon. Always dressed with careful negligence, his hands beautifully white, his beard unshorn, his auburn hair floating over his uniformed shoulders in long ringlets, soft in speech, so very deferential to ladies as to seem almost lover-like, he was, nevertheless, very manly. Quite a cavalier one could look up to and respect. At first I thought him effeminate, and did not like him, but his tender ways with my sick boys, the efficacy of his prescriptions, and his careful orders as to diet quite won me over. Our friendship lasted until the end of my service in the Buckner Hospital, since which I have never seen him. Another complete contrast to Diogenes was Dr. Conway, of Virginia, our Chesterfield. His perfect manners and courtly observance of the smallest requirements of good breeding and etiquette made us feel quite as if we were lord and ladies. Dr. Conway had a way of conveying subtle indefinable flattery which was very elevating to one's self-esteem. Others enjoyed it in full, but often, just as our Chesterfield had interviewed me, infusing even into the homely subject of diet-lists much that was calculated to puff up my vanity, in would stalk Diogenes, who never failed to bring me to a realizing sense of the hollowness of it all. Dr. Hughes was a venerable and excellent gentleman, who constituted himself my mentor. He never failed to drop in every day, being always ready to smooth tangled threads for me. He was forever protesting against the habit I had contracted in Richmond, and never afterwards relinquished, of remaining late by the bedside of dying patients, or going to the wards whenever summoned at night. He would say, "Daughter, it is not right, it is not safe; not only do you risk contagion by breathing the foul air of the wards at night, but some of these soldiers are mighty rough and might not always justify your confidence in them." But I would not listen. My firm belief in the honor of "my boys" and in their true and chivalrous devotion towards myself caused me to trust them utterly at all times and places. I can truly say that never during the whole four years of the war was that trust disturbed by even the roughest man of them all, although I was often placed in very trying circumstances, many times being entirely dependent upon their protection and care, which never failed me. So I used to set at naught the well-meant counsels of my kindly old friend, to laugh at his lugubrious countenance and the portentous shaking of his silvery head. We remained firm friends, however, and, though my dear old mentor has long since passed away, I still revere his memory. Dr. Yates was an ideal Texan, brave, determined, plain, and straightforward, either a warm, true friend or an uncompromising enemy. He wished to be at the front, and was never satisfied with hospital duties. Mrs. Yates was a favorite with all. Dr. Jackson, of Alabama, in charge of the officers' quarters, performed some miracles in the way of surgical operation. He was a great favorite with his patients, who complained bitterly because they were so often deprived of his services for a time, when his skilful surgery was needed at the front. Besides these were Drs. Devine, Ruell, Estell, Baruch, Frost, Carmichael, Welford, and Griffith, none of whom I know particularly well.
Meantime, the wounded of several battles had filled and crowded the wards. As before, every train came in freighted with human misery. In the Buckner Hospital alone there were nearly a thousand beds, tenanted by every conceivable form of suffering.
An ambulance-train arrived one night, bringing an unusually large number of sick and wounded men, whose piteous moans filled the air as they were brought up the hill on "stretchers" or alighted at the door of the hospital from ambulances, which, jolting over the rough, country road, had tortured them inexpressibly.
Occasionally a scream of agony would arise, but more frequently suppressed groans bespoke strong men's suffering manfully borne. In the ward where those badly wounded were placed, there was so much to be done, that morning found the work unfinished.
It was, therefore, later than usual when I found time to pay my usual morning visits to other wards.
Upon entering Ward No. 4, my attention was attracted by a new patient, who lay propped up on one of the bunks near a window. He was a mere lad (perhaps twenty). His eyes, as they met mine, expressed so plainly a sense of captivity and extreme dislike of it that I felt very sorry for him. He had been dressed in a clean hospital shirt, but one shoulder and arm was bare and bandaged, for he was wounded in the left shoulder,—a slight wound, but sufficient to occasion severe pain and fever.
At first I did not approach him, but his eyes followed me as I paused by each bed to ascertain the needs of the sick and to bestow particular care in many cases. At last I stood by his side, and, placing my hand upon his head, spoke to him. He moved uneasily, seemingly trying to repress the quivering of his lip and the tears that, nevertheless, would come. Not wishing to notice his emotion just then, I called the nurse, and, by way of diversion, gave a few trifling directions, then passed on to another ward.
Returning later, bringing some cooling drink and a bottle of Confederate bay-water (vinegar), I gave him to drink and proceeded to sponge off his head and hands. He submitted, as it seemed at first, unwillingly, but just as I turned to leave him he suddenly seized my hand, kissed it, and laid his burning cheek upon it. From that moment I was eagerly welcomed by him whenever I appeared among the sick.
When he began to mend and was allowed to talk freely, I learned his name, Charley Percy, that he was a native of Bayou Sara, Louisiana, and a member of the fifth company of Washington Artillery, Captain Slocomb commanding. He had been wounded at Resaca. I grew to love him dearly. As soon as he was permitted to leave his bed he became averse to remaining in the ward, and most of his waking hours were spent in the little room which was specially allotted to me. Whenever I returned after my rounds among the sick it was a certainty that the glad, bright presence awaited me, and that many little plans for my rest and comfort would make the rough place homelike.
He became to me like a dear young brother, devoted and ever-thoughtful. The matron's room at the hospital was called very often "Soldiers' Rest," and sometimes "The Promised Land," because many soldiers came there every day, and those newly convalescent made it a goal which they aspired to reach as soon as permitted.
This habit gave me an opportunity to use properly what might have been sent in boxes which arrived frequently from different quarters, filled with a variety of goodies, but in quantities entirely insufficient to supply all the soldiers. A sangaree or any other delicacy, taken while resting after a walk which taxed the weakened energies to the utmost, or a meal served outside the fevered air of the wards, did more to build up the strength than any amount of medicine could have done. As there never was, by any chance, a supply of these things for one thousand men (the usual number assigned to Buckner Hospital), delicacies (already becoming scarce) were served only to the very sick or to convalescents.
It was beautiful to see how young Percy delighted to assist in waiting on these visitors to "The Soldiers' Rest,"—how his sprightliness pleased and amused them. His own great embarrassment seemed to be that he had lost all his clothes at the time he was wounded, so was compelled to wear the unbleached shirts with blue cottonade collars and cuffs, which were supplied to all patients, numbered to correspond with the bunks. These he called State's prison uniform. One day, however, Dr. Fenner from New Orleans, Louisiana, paid a visit to Buckner Hospital (then located at Newnan, Georgia), leaving with me two large boxes of clothing and stores for the Louisiana soldiers. Percy assisted to unpack these boxes, soon finding himself amply provided with underclothing and a nice jacket and pants of gray, also a new blanket. He was pleased, but not yet quite satisfied, for the jacket was simply gray. He wanted it trimmed with red.
It chanced that there was in one of the boxes a piece of red flannel. With this I trimmed the suit under his careful supervision. I can never forget how happy he was to get into this suit, or how he danced around me, pretending to go through the artillery drill, and to load and fire at imaginary Yankees.
Later, his cap was retrimmed, the letters and artillery badge furbished up, and one beautiful day was made sad and gloomy to his friends and myself by the departure of this brave, dear boy, to rejoin his command.
Eager, bright, full of fire and ardor, the young soldier went to meet his doom. He reached the front (where the company to which he belonged was always to be found) shortly before the battle of Peach-tree Creek, and here, his bright young face turned to the foe, his eager hands serving his gun to the last, he met a soldier's death.
Alas! poor Percy, his fate seemed hard; yet, while sincerely grieving, I remembered with some degree of comfort the fact that so he had wished to die,—"Upon the field of glory."
There came to the hospital at the same time with young Percy an intimate friend and comrade of his, whose name and the circumstances of his death were preserved in a diary kept by me, but which, with all my papers, fell into the hands of the enemy subsequently. This poor fellow had pneumonia, which soon developed into typhoid. He was delirious when brought in and never regained consciousness. Vainly I strove to soothe him, stroking back the long, straight hair, black as a raven's wing, vainly trying to close the magnificent black eyes, which forever stared into space, while the plaintive voice repeated ceaselessly, "Viens a moi, oh, ma mere" and thus he moaned and moaned until at last the white eyelids drooped beneath the gaze of Death, and the finger of eternal silence was laid upon the fevered lips.
Of course Percy was not told how his friend died until long afterward, when his questions could no longer be evaded. He was deeply moved, crying out, "I don't want to die like that. If I must die during this war, I hope I shall be instantly killed upon the battle-field." This wish was granted.
He sleeps in a soldier's grave. In the light of eternity the sad mystery which still shadows the hearts of those who live to mourn the holy cause—loved and lost—exists no more for him.
Besides the "Buckner," there were the "Bragg" and two more hospitals, the names of which I have forgotten, one presided over by two gentle ladies,—Mrs. Harrison and Mrs. ——, of Florida,—whose devotion and self-sacrifice, as well as their lovely Christian character and perfect manners, made them well-beloved by everybody at the post. Mrs. Harrison was a zealous Episcopalian. Through her influence and correspondence frequent services were held in Newnan. We several times enjoyed the ministrations of Bishops Quintard, Beckwith, and Wilmer. The large number of wounded men, and the fearful character of their wounds, made skill and devotion on the part of the surgeons of the greatest importance. These conditions were well fulfilled, and aided by the healthy locality "and" (during the first few months) "the excellent possibilities open to our foragers," many a poor fellow struggled back to comparative health. I was particularly fortunate while in Newnan in having at my command supplies of clothing and money from both Louisiana and Alabama. This, with the aid of my own wages, which, although I had refused to receive them, had accumulated and been placed to my account, and which I now drew, gave me excellent facilities for providing comforts, not only for the sick, but for the braves at the front, whose rations were growing "small by degrees and beautifully less." Upon two occasions I received visits from the venerable Dr. Fenner, of Louisiana, and his colleague, Mr. Collins. Each time they left money and clothing, giving me large discretionary powers, although specifying that, as the money was supplied by Louisianians, the soldiers from that State should be first considered. Through Mr. Peter Hamilton, of Mobile, Alabama, I also received boxes of clothing and delicacies, and, upon two occasions, six hundred dollars in money, with the request, "Of course, help our boys first, but in any case where sufferings or need exist, use your own judgment." As there were hundreds entirely cut off from home, actually suffering from want of clothing, sometimes needing a little good wine or extra food, I found many occasions where it seemed to me right to use this discretionary power, especially during visits to the front, which I was called upon to make about this time, first to my husband and his comrades in Kingston and Dalton, later to Macon to look up some Louisiana and Alabama soldiers, and lastly to Atlanta, where my husband and many other friends lay in the trenches. (Of these experiences more hereafter.)
Mrs. Harrison, Mrs. Gamble, myself, and one or two others were the only Episcopalians among the ladies of the Post, but the services were attended by soldiers, both officers and privates. Mrs. Gamble, of course, led the choir. We could always find bassos and tenors. I sang alto. The music was really good. The death of Bishop Polk was a great grief to everybody, especially to the faithful few among us who revered him as a minister of The Church. Even while saying to ourselves and to each other "God knows best," we could not at once stifle the bitterness of grief, for it seemed as if a mighty bulwark had been swept away. I had known Bishop Polk as a faithful and loving shepherd of souls, feeding his flock in green pastures, tenderly leading the weary and grief-stricken ones beside the waters of comfort. But when the peaceful fold was invaded, when threatening howls were arising on every side,—casting aside for a time the garb of a shepherd, he sallied forth, using valorously his trusty sword, opposing to the advance of the foe his own faithful breast, never faltering until slain by the horrid fangs which greedily fastened themselves deep in his heart. As I have already mentioned, I made during the winter and spring several visits to the front. At one time my husband, a member of Fenner's Louisiana Battery, was with his command in winter quarters at Kingston, whither I went to pay a visit and to inquire after the needs of the "boys." My little son (who had by this time joined me at Newnan) accompanied me. Kingston was at this time a bleak, dismal-looking place. I stopped at a large, barn-like hotel, from the gallery of which, while sitting with visitors from camp, I witnessed an arrival of Georgia militia, whose disembarkation from a train in front of the hotel was met by a noisy demonstration. They were a strange-looking set of men, but had "store clothes," warm wraps, sometimes tall hats, in all cases good ones. This, with the air of superiority they affected, was enough to provoke the fun-loving propensities of the ragged, rough-looking veterans who had collected to watch for the arrival of the train. As the shaking, rickety cars passed out of sight, these raw troops walked up to the hotel and there strode up and down, assuming supreme indifference to the storm of raillery which assailed them. Of course my sympathies were with the veterans, and I laughed heartily at their pranks. One of the first to set the ball in motion was a tall, athletic-looking soldier clad in jeans pants, with a faded red stripe adorning one leg only, ragged shoes tied up with twine strings, and a flannel shirt which undoubtedly had been washed by the Confederate military process (i.e., tied by a string to a bush on the bank of a stream, allowed to lie in the water awhile, then stirred about with a stick or boat upon a rock, and hung up to drip and dry upon the nearest bush or tied to the swaying limb of a tree). "A shocking bad hat" of the slouch order completed his costume. Approaching a tall specimen of "melish," who wore a new homespun suit of "butternut jeans," a gorgeous cravat, etc., the soldier opened his arms and cried out in intense accents, "Let me kiss him for his mother!" Another was desired to "come out of that hat." A big veteran, laying his hand on the shoulder of a small, scared-looking, little victim, and wiping his own eyes upon his old hat, whined out, "I say, buddy, you didn't bring along no sugar-teats, did you? I'm got a powerful hankerin' atter some." An innocent-looking soldier would stop suddenly before one of the new-comers neatly dressed, peer closely at his shirt-front, renewing the scrutiny again and again with increasing earnestness, then, striking an attitude, would cry out, "Biled, by Jove!" One, with a stiff, thick, new overcoat, was met with the anxious inquiry, "Have you got plenty of stuffing in that coat, about here" (with a hand spread over stomach and heart), "because the Yankee bullets is mighty penetrating." Each new joke was hailed with shouts of laughter and ear-piercing rebel yells, but at last the "melish" was marched off and the frolic ended.
I received two invitations for the following day, one to dine with the officers of Fenner's Louisiana Battery, and one, which I accepted, from the soldiers of my husband's mess. About twelve o'clock the next morning an ambulance stood before the door of the hotel. From it descended a spruce-looking colored driver, who remarked, as he threw the reins over the mule's back, "Don't nobody go foolin' wid dat da mule ontwill I comes back. I jes gwine to step ober to de store yander 'bout some biziness fur de cap'n. Dat mule he feel mity gaily dis mornin'. Look like he jes tryin' hisseff when he fin' nuffin' behin' him but dis amperlants (ambulance) stid ob dem hebby guns." Off he went, leaving the mule standing without being tied, and looking an incarnation of mischief. The road to camp was newly cleared and full of stumps and ruts. As I stood upon the upper gallery awaiting the return of our Jehu, our little boy, taking advantage of the extra fondness inspired in the heart of his father by long absence, clamored to be lifted into the ambulance. This wish was gratified, his father intending to take the reins and mount to the driver's seat, but before he could do so the mule started off at headlong speed, with Georgie's scared face looking out at the back, and perhaps a dozen men and boys in hot pursuit. The mule went on to camp, creating great alarm there. The child in some miraculous manner rolled out at the back of the ambulance, and was picked up unhurt. This accident delayed matters a little, but in due time we arrived at the village of log-huts, called "Camp," and, having paid our respects to the officers, repaired to the hut of my husband's mess. The dinner was already cooking outside. Inside on a rough shelf were piles of shining tin-cups and plates, newly polished. The lower bunk had been filled with new, pine straw, and made as soft as possible by piling upon it all the blankets of the mess. This formed the chair of state. Upon it were placed, first, myself (the centre figure), on one side my husband, exempt from duty for the day, on the other my little boy, who, far from appreciating the intended honor, immediately "squirmed" down, and ran off on a tour of investigation through the camp. The mess consisted of six men including my husband, of whom the youngest was Lionel C. Levy, Jr., a mere boy, but a splendid soldier, full of fun and nerve and dash. Then there was my husband's bosom friend, J. Hollingsworth, or Uncle Jake, as he was called by everybody. Of the industrial pursuits of the mess, he was the leading spirit, indeed, in every way his resources were unbounded. His patience, carefulness, and pains-taking truly achieved wonderful results in contriving and carrying into execution plans for the comfort of the mess. He always carried an extra haversack, which contained everything that could be thought of to meet contingencies or repair the neglect of other people. He was a devoted patriot and a contented, uncomplaining soldier; never sick, always on duty, a thorough gentleman, kindly in impulses and acts, but—well, yes, there was one spot upon this sun,—he was a confirmed bachelor. He could face the hottest fire upon the battle-field, but a party of ladies—never with his own consent. Upon the day in question, however, I was not only an invited guest, but the wife of his messmate and friend. So, overcoming his diffidence, he made himself very agreeable, and meeting several times afterward during the war, under circumstances which made pleasant intercourse just as imperative, we became fast friends, and have remained so to this day. John Sharkey, Miles Sharkey, and one more, whose name I have forgotten, comprised, with those mentioned above, the entire mess. The dinner was excellent, better than many a more elegant and plentiful repast of which I have partaken since the war. All the rations of beef and pork were combined to make a fricassee a la camp, the very small rations of flour being mixed with the cornmeal to make a large, round loaf of "stuff." These delectable dishes were both cooked in bake-ovens outside the cabin. From cross-sticks, arranged gypsy-fashion, swung an iron pot, in which was prepared the cornmeal coffee, which, with "long sweetening" (molasses) and without milk, composed the meal. In this well-arranged mess the work was so divided that each man had his day to cut all the wood, bring all the water, cook, wash dishes, and keep the cabin in order. So, on this occasion there was no confusion. All was accomplished with precision. In due time a piece of board was placed before me with my rations arranged upon it in a bright tin plate, my coffee being served in a gorgeous mug, which, I strongly suspect, had been borrowed for the occasion, having once been a shaving-mug. Dinner over, Lieutenant Cluverius called to escort me through the camp, and at the officers' quarters I met many old acquaintances. Upon inquiry, I found the boys in camp contented and entirely unwilling to receive any benefit from the fund placed in my hands. They had taken the chances of a soldier's life, and were quite willing to abide by them.
The terrible bumping which I had experienced while riding to camp, in the ambulance drawn by the "gaily mule," disinclined me for another ride. So, just at sunset, my husband and I, with our boy and one or two friends, walked through the piny woods to the hotel, whence I returned next day to Newnan. This was during the winter. Later, I made a second trip, this time to Macon, having been called upon to supply money to the family of an old soldier (deceased) who wanted to reach home. Wishing to investigate in person, I went to Macon. On the morning of my return, while passing through one of the hospitals, I met at the bedside of a Louisiana soldier a member of Fenner's Battery, John Augustin, of New Orleans. At the depot we met again, and the gentleman very kindly took charge of me. I was going to Newnan, he returning to camp. Delightful conversation beguiled the way. Among other subjects, poets and poetry were discussed. I told him of Dr. Archer, and a beautiful "Ode to Hygeia" composed by him, parts of which I remembered and repeated. Gradually I discovered that Mr. Augustin had an unfinished manuscript of his own with him, entitled "Doubt," and at last persuaded him to let me read it. Finding me interested, he yielded to my earnest request,—that he would send me all his poems in manuscript. In due time they came, and with them a dedication to myself, so gracefully conceived, so beautifully expressed, that I may be pardoned for inserting it here.
"TO MRS. FANNIE A. BEERS.
"To you, though known but yesterday, I trust These winged thoughts of mine. Be not, I pray, too critically just, Rather be mercy thine!
"Nor think on reading my despairing rhymes That I am prone to sigh. Poets, like children, weep and laugh at times, Without scarce knowing why!
"Thoughts tend to heaven, mine are weak and faint. Please help them up for me; The sick and wounded bless you as a saint, In this my patron be;
"And as the sun when shining it appears On dripping rain awhile, Make a bright rainbow of my fancy's tears With your condoling smile.
"KINGSTON, February 23, 1864."
At the front, desultory fighting was always going on. Our army under General Johnston acting on the defensive, although retreating, contesting every step of the way, and from intrenched position, doing great damage to the enemy. As the spring fairly opened, our troops became more actively engaged. From the skirmishes came to us many wounded. In May, the battle of New Hope Church was fought. General Johnston, in his "Narrative," speaks of this as "the affair at New Hope." Judging from my own knowledge of the number of wounded who were sent to the rear, and the desperate character of their wounds, I should say it was a very terrible "affair." A great many officers were wounded and all our wards were full. There came to me some special friends from Fenner's Louisiana Battery, which was heavily engaged, losing several men and nearly all the horses. Lieutenant Wat. Tyler Cluverius, while standing on the top of the breastworks and turning towards his men to wave his sword, was shot through both shoulders, a very painful wound, but which the gallant young soldier made light of, pretending to be deeply mortified because "he had been shot in the back." Although an exceptional soldier, he was a most troublesome patient, because his strong desire to return to his command made him restless and dissatisfied, greatly retarding his recovery. Indeed, he would not remain in bed or in his ward. A more splendid-looking officer I never saw. Better still, under his jacket of gray there beat a heart instinct with every virtue which belongs by nature to a Virginia gentleman. With the ladies of the "post" he became a prime favorite. So kind and attentive were they that I gave myself little thought concerning him. He was off and away in a wonderfully short time, for duty lay at the front and the strongest attractions could not outweigh its claims.
W.T. Vaudry, also of Fenner's Louisiana Battery, was by his own request sent to me. His wound was as painful as any that can be imagined. He had been struck full in the pit of the stomach by a spent ball, and was completely doubled up. He had been left on the field for dead, and for some time it was feared that fatal internal injuries had been received. From the nature of the wound, a full examination could not be made at first. Speedy relief was quite impossible. Even the loss of a limb or the most severe flesh-wound would have caused less intense agony. Courage and endurance equally distinguish the true soldier: the one distinction was his already, the other he now nobly won during days of exquisite torture. I little thought as I bent over him day after day, bathing the fevered brow, meeting with sorrowful sympathy the eyes dim with anguish, that in this suffering boy I beheld one of the future deliverers of an outraged and oppressed people. The officers' ward was delightfully situated on the corner of the main street. Its many windows commanded a pleasant view of a beautiful shaded square in the midst of which stood the brick court-house (now filled with sick, and pertaining to the Bragg Hospital). The windows on the side street gave a view far up the street, becoming a post of observation for the gallant young officers within, who invariably arranged themselves here "for inspection," at the usual hour for the ladies' promenade, looking as became interesting invalids, returning with becoming languor the glances of bright eyes in which shone the pity which we are told is "akin to love." Later these knights being permitted to join in the promenade, made the very most of their helplessness, enjoying hugely the necessary ministrations so simply and kindly given. Among these officers were two whose condition excited my most profound sympathy as well as required special care. Both were exiles; both badly wounded. One, indeed, bore a wound so terrible that even though I looked upon it every day, I could never behold it without a shudder. From a little above the knee to the toes the mechanism of the leg was entirely exposed, except upon the heel, which always rested in a suspensory bandage lifted above the level of the bed upon which he rested. Every particle of the flesh had sloughed off, and the leg began to heal not "by first intention" but by unhealthy granulations like excrescences. These had constantly to be removed, either by the use of nitric acid (I believe) or by the knife. As maybe imagined, it was horribly painful, and there was no chloroform. Day after day I was sent for, and stood by, while this terrible thing was going on, wiping the sweat from the face that, though pale as death, never quivered. Save an occasional groan, deep and suppressed, there was no "fuss."
Does it seem to you that this was exceptional, dear reader? Ah! no; in the wards outside, where lay hundreds of private soldiers, without the pride of rank to sustain them, only their simple, noble manhood, I daily witnessed such scenes. The courage and daring of our soldiers have won full appreciation from the whole world. Of their patient endurance, I was for four years a constant witness, and I declare that it was sublime beyond conception. I cannot remember the name of the heroic officer whose wound I have described. I remember, however, that Dr. Jackson treated it successfully, and that in the desperate days, towards the close of the war, the wounded man was again at his post. I know not whether he fell in battle or if he still lives bearing that horrible scar. Captain Weller, of Louisville, Kentucky, was also an inmate of the same ward. My remembrance of him is that he also was badly wounded. I also recollect that he was a great favorite with his comrades in the ward, who spoke enthusiastically of his "record." He was never gay like the others, but self-contained and reticent, and frequently grave and sad, as became an exile from "the old Kentucky home." My cares were at this time of constant skirmishing, greatly increased by anxiety for my husband.
He had at the battle of New Hope Church, while carrying ammunition from the caisson to the gun, received a slight wound in the left foot, but did not consider it of sufficient importance to cause him to leave his command. Later, however, he succumbed to dysentery, and after the battle of Jonesboro', although having served his gun to the last, he was utterly overcome, and fell by the road-side. The last ambulance picked him up, and he was sent to Newnan, as all supposed, to die. Had I not been in a position to give him every advantage and excellent nursing he must have died. Even with this, the disease was only arrested, not cured, and for years after the war still clung about him. Under Providence, his life was saved at that time. This one blessing seemed to me a full recompense for all I had hitherto encountered, and a thorough justification of my persistence in the course I marked out for myself at the beginning of the war. Various "affairs" continued to employ the soldiers at the front; in all of these our losses were comparatively small. I never saw the soldiers in better spirits. There was little if any "shirking." As soon as—almost before—they were recovered they cheerfully reported for duty. The "expediency" of Johnston's retreat was freely discussed. All seemed to feel that the enemy was being drawn away from his base of supplies into a strange country, where he would be trapped at last, and to feel sure that it was "all right." "Let old Joe alone, he knows what he is about," and on every hand expressions of strong affection and thorough confidence. The army was certainly far from being "demoralized," as General Hood must have discovered, when, immediately afterward, on the 22d of July, and later at Franklin, they withstood so magnificently the shock of battle, and at the word of command hurled themselves again and again against the enemy, rushing dauntlessly onward to meet overwhelming numbers and certain death. On the 18th of July, the news reached us that General Johnston had been relieved from command, and that General Hood had succeeded him. I knew nothing of the relative merits of the two commanders, and had no means of judging but by the effect upon the soldiers by whom I was then surrounded. The whole post seemed as if stricken by some terrible calamity. Convalescents walked about with lagging steps and gloomy faces. In every ward lay men who wept bitterly or groaned aloud or, covering their faces, refused to speak or eat. From that hour the buoyant, hopeful spirit seemed to die out. I do not think anything was ever the same again. For, when after the awful sacrifice of human life which followed the inauguration of the new policy, the decimated army still were forced to retreat, the shadow of doom began to creep slowly upon the land. The anchor of my soul was my unbounded confidence in President Davis; while he was at the helm I felt secure of ultimate success, and bore present ills and disappointments patiently, never doubting. Meantime, disquieting rumors were flying about, railroad communication was cut off here and there, and with it mail facilities. Of course the Confederate leaders were apprised of the movements of the Federals, but at the hospital post we were constantly on the qui vive. Large numbers of convalescents were daily returning to the front, among them Lieutenant Cluverius, Mr. Vaudry, and Captain Weller.
Rumors of the approach of the Federal forces under McCook had for days disquieted our minds. The little town of Newnan and immediately surrounding country was already full of refugees. Every day brought more. Besides, the presence of hundreds of sick and wounded, in the hospitals which had been established there, rendered the prospect of an advance of the enemy by no means a pleasant one. But, as far as the hospitals were concerned, the surgeons in charge must await orders from headquarters. As long as none were received, we felt comparatively safe.
One night, however, a regiment of Roddy's Confederate Cavalry quietly rode in, taking possession of the railroad depot at the foot of the hill, and otherwise mysteriously disposing of themselves in the same neighborhood. The following morning opened bright and lovely, bringing to the anxious watchers of the night before that sense of security which always comes with the light. All business was resumed as usual. I had finished my early rounds, fed my special cases, and was just entering the distributing-room to send breakfast to the wards, when a volley of musketry, quickly followed by another and another, startled the morning air. Quickly an excited crowd collected and rushed to the top of the hill commanding a view of the depot and railroad track. I ran with the rest. "The Yankees! the Yankees!" was the cry. The firing continued for a few moments, then ceased. When the smoke cleared away, our own troops could be seen drawn up on the railroad and on the depot platform. The hill on the opposite side seemed to swarm with Yankees. Evidently they had expected to surprise the town, but, finding themselves opposed by a force whose numbers they were unable to estimate, they hastily retreated up the hill. By that time a crowd of impetuous boys had armed themselves and were running down the hill on our side to join the Confederates. Few men followed (of the citizens), for those who were able had already joined the army. Those who remained were fully occupied in attending to the women and children.
It was evident that the fight was only delayed. An attack might be expected at any moment. An exodus from the town at once began.
Already refugees from all parts of the adjacent country had begun to pour into and pass through, in endless procession and every conceivable and inconceivable style of conveyance, drawn by horses, mules, oxen, and even by a single steer or cow. Most of these were women and boys, though the faces of young children appeared here and there,—as it were, "thrown in" among the "plunder,"—looking pitifully weary and frightened, yet not so heart-broken as the anxious women who knew not where their journey was to end. Nor had they "where to lay their heads," some of them having left behind only the smoking ruins of a home, which, though "ever so lowly," was "the sweetest spot on earth" to them. McCook, by his unparalleled cruelty, had made his name a horror.
The citizens simply stampeded, "nor stood upon the order of their going." There was no time for deliberation. They could not move goods or chattels, only a few articles of clothing; no room for trunks and boxes. Every carriage, wagon, and cart was loaded down with human freight; every saddle-horse was in demand. All the negroes from the hospital as well as those belonging to the citizens were removed at once to a safe distance. These poor creatures were as much frightened as anybody and as glad to get away. Droves of cattle and sheep were driven out on the run, lowing and bleating their indignant remonstrance.
While the citizens were thus occupied, the surgeons in charge of hospitals were not less busy, though far more collected and methodical. Dr. McAllister, of the "Buckner," and Dr. S.M. Bemiss, of the "Bragg," were both brave, cool, executive men. Their self-possession, their firm, steady grasp of the reins of authority simplified matters greatly. Only those unable to bear arms were left in the wards. Convalescents would have resented and probably disobeyed an order to remain. Not only were they actuated by the brave spirit of Southern soldiers, but they preferred anything to remaining to be captured,—better far death than the horrors of a Northern prison. So all quietly presented themselves, and, with assistant-surgeons, druggists, and hospital attendants, were armed, officered, and marched off to recruit the regiment before mentioned.
The ladies, wives of officers, attendants, etc., were more difficult to manage, for dread of the "Yankees," combined with the pain of parting with their husbands or friends, who would soon go into battle, distracted them. Fabulous prices were offered for means of conveyance. As fast as one was procured it was filled and crowded. At last, all were sent off except one two-horse buggy, which Dr. McAllister had held for his wife and myself, and which was driven by his own negro boy, Sam. Meantime, I had visited all the wards, for some of the patients were very near death, and all were in a state of great and injurious excitement. I did not for a moment pretend to withstand their entreaties that I would remain with them, having already decided to do so. Their helplessness appealed so strongly to my sympathies that I found it impossible to resist. Besides, I had an idea and a hope that even in the event of the town being taken I might prevail with the enemy to ameliorate their condition as prisoners. So I promised, and quietly passed from ward to ward announcing my determination, trying to speak cheerfully. Excitement, so great that it produced outward calm, enabled me to resist the angry remonstrances of the surgeon and the tearful entreaties of Mrs. McAllister, who was nearly beside herself with apprehension. At last everybody was gone; intense quiet succeeded the scene of confusion. I was alone,—left in charge. A crushing sense of responsibility fell upon my heart. The alarm had been first given about eight o'clock in the morning. By three the same afternoon soldiers, citizens, all had disappeared.
Only a few men who, by reason of wounds too recently healed or from other causes, were unable to march or to fight had been left to act as nurses.
I sat down upon the steps of my office to think it over and to gather strength for all I had to do. On either side of me were two-story stores which had been converted into wards, where the sickest patients were generally placed, that I might have easy access to them. Suddenly, from one of the upper wards, I heard a hoarse cry, as if some one had essayed to give the rebel yell. Following it a confused murmur of voices. Running hastily up-stairs, I met at the door of the ward a ghastly figure, clad all in white (the hospital shirt and drawers), but with a military cap on his head. It was one of my fever patients who had been lying at death's door for days. The excitement of the morning having brought on an access of fever with delirium, he had arisen from his bed, put on his cap, and started, yelling, "to join the boys!" Weak as I had supposed him to be, his strength almost over-mastered my own. I could hardly prevent him from going down the stairs. The only man in the ward able to assist me at all was minus an arm and just recovering after amputation. I was afraid his wound might possibly begin to bleed, besides, I knew that any man's interference would excite the patient still more. Relying upon the kindly, chivalrous feeling which my presence always seemed to inspire in my patients, I promised to get his gun for him if he would go back and put on his clothes, and, placing my arm around the already tottering and swaying figure, by soothing and coaxing got him back to the bed. A sinking spell followed, from which he never rallied. In a lower ward another death occurred, due also to sudden excitement.
Fearful of the effect that a knowledge of this would have upon other patients, I resorted to deception, declaring that the dead men were better and asleep, covering them, excluding light from windows near them, and even pretending at intervals to administer medicines.
And now came another trial, from which I shrank fearfully, but which must be borne.
In the "wounded wards," and in tents outside where men having gangrene were isolated, horrible sights awaited me,—sights which I trembled to look upon,—fearful wounds which had, so far, been attended to only by the surgeons.
These wounds were now dry, and the men were groaning with pain. Minute directions having been left with me, I must nerve myself to uncover the dreadful places, wash them, and apply fresh cloths. In the cases of gangrene, poultices of yeast and charcoal, or some other preparation left by the surgeons.
Entering Ward No. 3, where there were many badly-wounded men, I began my work upon a boy of perhaps nineteen years, belonging to a North Carolina regiment, who had one-half of his face shot away.
My readers may imagine the dreadful character of the wounds in this ward, when I relate that a day or two after a terrible battle at the front, when dozens of wounded were brought in, so badly were they mangled and so busy were the surgeons, that I was permitted to dress this boy's face unaided. Then it was bad enough, but neither so unsightly nor so painful as now that inflammation had supervened. The poor boy tried not to flinch. His one bright eye looked gratefully up at me. After I had finished, he wrote upon the paper which was always at his hand, "You didn't hurt me like them doctors. Don't let the Yankees get me, I want to have another chance at them when I get well." Having succeeded so well, I "took heart of grace," and felt little trepidation afterward. But—oh! the horror of it. An Arkansas soldier lay gasping out his life, a piece of shell having carried away a large portion of his breast, leaving the lungs exposed to view. No hope, save to alleviate his pain by applying cloths wet with cold water. Another, from Tennessee, had lost a part of his thigh,—and so on. The amputations were my greatest dread, lest I might displace bandages and set an artery bleeding. So I dared not remove the cloths, but used an instrument invented by one of our surgeons, as may be imagined, of primitive construction, but which, wetting the tender wounds gradually by a sort of spray, gave great relief. Of course, fresh cloths were a constant necessity for suppurating wounds, but for those nearly healed, or simply inflamed, the spray was invaluable. The tents were the last visited, and by the time I had finished the rounds, it was time to make some arrangements for the patients' supper, for wounded men are always hungry.
I remember gratefully to this day the comfort and moral support I received during this trying ordeal from a South Carolina soldier, who even then knew that his own hours were numbered, and was looking death in the face with a calm resignation and courage which was simply sublime. He had been shot in the spine, and from the waist down was completely paralyzed. After he had been wounded, some one unintentionally having laid him down too near a fire, his feet were burned in a shocking manner. He was one of the handsomest men I ever saw, and, even in his present condition, of commanding presence and of unusual intelligence. I strive in vain to recall his name, but memory in this as in many other cases of patients to whom I was particularly attracted will present their faces only. Calling me to his bedside he spoke kindly and cheerfully, praising my efforts, encouraging me to go on, drawing upon his store of general knowledge for expedients to meet the most trying cases.
Everything that Dr. McAllister did was well and completely done. He was kind-hearted, generous, ready to do or sacrifice anything for the real good of his patients; but his rules once laid down became immutable laws, not to be transgressed by any. His constant supervision and enforcement of rules affected every department of the hospital. In my own, I had only to report a dereliction of duty, and the fate of the culprit was sealed. If a woman, I had orders to discharge her; if a man, the next train bore him to his regiment or to the office of the medical director, upon whose tender mercies no wrong-doer could rely.
Consequently, I had only to go to my well-ordered kitchen to find ready the food which it had been my first care to have prepared in view of the (as I hoped) temporary absence of the cooks. The departing men had all taken marching rations with them, but there was still plenty of food on hand. A bakery was attached to the Buckner. We also owned several cows. In the bakery was plenty of corn-bread and some loaves of flour-bread, although flour was even then becoming scarce.
The cows, with full udders, stood lowing at the bars of the pen. Among the doubts and fears that had assailed me, the idea that I might have trouble with these cows never occurred to my mind. During my childhood my mother had owned several. I had often seen them milked. One had only to seize the teats firmly, pull quietly downward, and two streams of rich milk would follow. Oh, yes! I could do that easily. But when I arrived at the pen, a tin bucket in one hand, a milking-stool in the other, and letting down the bars, crept inside, the cows eyed me with evident distrust and even shook their horns in a menacing manner which quite alarmed me. However, I marched up to the one which appeared the mildest-looking, and sitting down by her side, seized two of the teats, fully expecting to hear the musical sound of two white streamlets as they fell upon the bottom of the tin bucket. Not a drop could I get. My caressing words and gentle remonstrances had not the slightest effect. If it is possible for an animal to feel and show contempt, it was revealed in the gaze that cow cast upon me as she turned her head to observe my manoeuvres. I had heard that some cows have a bad habit of holding back their milk. Perhaps this was one of them. I would try another. Removing the stool to the side of another meek-looking animal, I essayed to milk her. But she switched her tail in my face, lifting a menacing, horrid hoof. "Soh, bossy!" cried I. "Pretty, pretty cow that makes pleasant milk to soak my bread." In another moment I was seated flat upon the ground, while my pretty, pretty cow capered wildly among the rest, so agitating them that, thinking discretion the better part of valor, I hastily climbed over the fence at the point nearest to me and returned to the kitchen.
What should I do now? Perhaps one of the decrepit nurses left in the ward knew how to milk. But no, they did not, except one poor, limping rheumatic who could only use one hand. Just then a feeble-looking patient from the Bragg Hospital came tottering along. He also knew how to milk, and they both, volunteered to try. Much to my surprise and delight, the cows now behaved beautifully, perhaps owing to the fact that, obeying the injunctions of my two recruits, I provided each with a bundle of fodder to distract their attention during the milking process. There was more milk than I could possibly use, as nearly all the convalescents were absent. So I set several pans of it away, little thinking how soon it would be needed.
By the time all had been fed, I felt very weary; but it was midnight before I found a minute's time to rest.
I had made frequent rounds through all the buildings of the hospital, each time finding some one who had need of me. At last, wearied out by the excitement of the day, the sick grew quiet and inclined to sleep. Released for a time, I sat down on the steps of my office to think and to listen: for I did not know anything of the whereabouts of the enemy. The town might have been surrendered. At any moment the Federal soldiers might appear. Just then, however, the streets were utterly deserted. The stillness was oppressive.
If I could only discover a friendly light in one of these deserted dwellings. Oh, for the sound of a kindly voice, the sight of a familiar face!
Doubtless there may have been some who had remained to protect their household gods, but they were women, and remained closely within doors.
Melancholy thoughts oppressed me. Through gathering tears I gazed at the pale moon, whose light seemed faded and wan. There came to me memories of the long-ago, when I had strayed among the orange-groves of my own dear home under a moonlight far more radiant, happy in loved companionship, listening with delight to the voices of the night, which murmured only of love and joy and hope, inhaling the perfume of a thousand flowers. To-night, as the south wind swept by in fitful gusts, it seemed to bear to my ears the sound of sorrow and mourning from homes and shrines where hope lay dead amid the ruined idols cast down and broken by that stern iconoclast—War.
As I sat thus, buried in thought, a distant sound broke the silence, sending a thrill of terror to my heart. It was the tramp of many horses rapidly approaching. "Alas! alas I the enemy had come upon us from the rear. Our brave defenders were surrounded and their retreat cut off."
I knew not what to expect, but anxiety for my patients banished fear. Seizing a light-wood torch, I ran up the road, hoping to interview the officers at the head of the column and to intercede for my sick, perhaps to prevent intrusion into the wards. To my almost wild delight, the torch-light revealed the dear old gray uniforms. It was a portion of Wheeler's Cavalry sent to reinforce Roddy, whose meagre forces, aided by the volunteers from Newman, had held the Federals in check until now, but were anxiously expecting this reinforcement.
The men had ridden far and fast. They now came to a halt in front of the hospital, but had not time to dismount, hungry and thirsty though they were. The regimental servants, however, came in search of water with dozens of canteens hung around them, rattling in such a manner as to show that they were quite empty. For the next half-hour, I believe, I had almost the strength of Samson. Rushing to the bakery, I loaded baskets with bread and handed them up to the soldier-boys to be passed along until emptied. I then poured all the milk I had into a large bucket, added a dipper, and, threading in and out among the horses, ladled out dipperfuls until it was all gone. I then distributed about four buckets of water in the same way. My excitement was so great that not a sensation of fear or of fatigue assailed me. Horses to the right of me, horses to the left of me, horses in front of me, snorted and pawed; but God gave strength and courage: I was not afraid.
A comparatively small number had been supplied, when a courier from Roddy's command rode up to hasten the reinforcements. At once the whole column was put in motion. As the last rider disappeared, and the tramping of the horses died away in the distance, a sense of weariness and exhaustion so overpowered me that I could have slept where I stood. So thorough was my confidence in the brave men who were sure to repel the invaders that all sense of danger passed away.
My own sleeping-room was in a house situated at the foot of the hill. I could have gone there and slept securely, but dared not leave my charges. Sinking upon the rough lounge in my office, intending only to rest, I fell fast asleep. I was awakened by one of the nurses, who had come to say that I was needed by a patient whom he believed to be dying, and who lay in a ward on the other side of the square.
As we passed out into the street, another beautiful morning was dawning. Upon entering Ward No. 9, we found most of the patients asleep. But in one corner, between two windows which let in the fast-increasing light, lay an elderly man, calmly breathing his life away. The morning breeze stirred the thin gray hair upon his hollow temples, rustling the leaves of the Bible which lay upon his pillow. Stooping over him to feel the fluttering pulse, and to wipe the clammy sweat from brow and hands, I saw that he was indeed dying, a victim of that dreadful scourge that decimated the ranks of the Confederate armies more surely than many battles,—dysentery,—which, if not cured in the earlier stages, resulted too surely, as now, in consumption of the bowels.
He was a Kentuckian, cut off from home and friends, and dying among strangers. An almost imperceptible glance indicated that he wished me to take up his Bible. The fast-stiffening lips whispered, "Read." I read to him the Fourteenth Chapter of St. John, stopping frequently to note if the faint breathing yet continued. Each time he would move the cold fingers in a way that evidently meant "go on." After I had finished the reading, he whispered, so faintly that I could just catch the words, "Rock of Ages," and I softly sang the beautiful hymn.
Two years before I could not have done this so calmly. At first every death among my patients seemed to me like a personal bereavement. Trying to read or to sing by the bedsides of the dying, uncontrollable tears and sobs would choke my voice. As I looked my last upon dead faces, I would turn away shuddering and sobbing, for a time unfit for duty. Now, my voice did not once fail or falter. Calmly I watched the dying patient, and saw (as I had seen a hundred times before) the gray shadow of death steal over the shrunken face, to be replaced at the last by a light so beautiful that I could well believe it came shining through "the gates ajar."
It was sunrise when I again emerged from Ward No. 9. Hastening to my room, I quickly bathed and redressed, returning to my office in half an hour, refreshed and ready for duty.
The necessity for breakfast sufficient to feed the hungry patients recalled to me the improvidence of my action in giving away so much bread the night before. It had gone a very little way toward supplying the needs of so large a body of soldiers, and now my own needed it.
There was no quartermaster, no one to issue fresh rations. Again I had the cows milked, gathered up all the corn-bread that was left, with some hard-tack, and with the aid of the few decrepit nurses before mentioned made a fire, and warmed up the soup and soup-meat which had been prepared for the convalescent table the day before, but was not consumed. My patients, comprehending the situation, made the best of it. But the distribution was a tedious business, as many of the patients had to be fed by myself.
I had hardly begun when some of the men declared they "heard guns." I could not then detect the sound, but soon it grew louder and more sustained, and then we knew a battle was in progress. For hours the fight went on. We awaited the result in painful suspense. At last the ambulances came in, bringing some of the surgeons and some wounded men, returning immediately for others. At the same time the hospital steward with his attendants and several of our nurses arrived, also the linen-master, the chief cook, and the baker. With them came orders to prepare wards for a large number of wounded, both Confederate and Federal. Presently a cloud of dust appeared up the road, and a detail of Confederate cavalry rode into town, bringing eight hundred Federal prisoners, who were consigned to a large cotton warehouse, situated almost midway between the hospital and the railroad depot.
My terrible anxiety, suspense, and heavy responsibility was now at an end, but days and nights of nursing lay before all who were connected with either the Buckner or Bragg Hospitals. Additional buildings were at once seized and converted into wards for the reception of the wounded of both armies. The hospital attendants, though weary, hungry, and some of them terribly dirty from the combined effect of perspiration, dust, and gunpowder, at once resumed their duties. The quartermaster reopened his office, requisitions were made and filled, and the work of the different departments was once more put in regular operation.
I was busy in one of the wards, when a messenger drove up, and a note was handed me from Dr. McAllister,—"Some of our men too badly wounded to be moved right away. Come out at once. Bring cordials and brandy,—soup, if you have it,—also fill the enclosed requisition at the drug-store. Lose no time."
The battle-field was not three miles away. I was soon tearing along the road at breakneck speed. At an improvised field-hospital I met the doctor, who vainly tried to prepare me for the horrid spectacle I was about to witness.
From the hospital-tent distressing groans and screams came forth. The surgeons, both Confederate and Federal, were busy, with coats off, sleeves rolled up, shirt-fronts and hands bloody. But our work lay not here.
Dr. McAllister silently handed me two canteens of water, which I threw over my shoulder, receiving also a bottle of peach brandy. We then turned into a ploughed field, thickly strewn with men and horses, many stone dead, some struggling in the agonies of death. The plaintive cries and awful struggles of the horses first impressed me. They were shot in every conceivable manner, showing shattered heads, broken and bleeding limbs, and protruding entrails. They would not yield quietly to death, but continually raised their heads or struggled half-way to their feet, uttering cries of pain, while their distorted eyes seemed to reveal their suffering and implore relief. I saw a soldier shoot one of these poor animals, and felt truly glad to know that his agony was at an end.
The dead lay around us on every side, singly and in groups and piles; men and horses, in some cases, apparently inextricably mingled. Some lay as if peacefully sleeping; others, with open eyes, seemed to glare at any who bent above them. Two men lay as they had died, the "Blue" and the "Gray," clasped in a fierce embrace. What had passed between them could never be known; but one was shot in the head, the throat of the other was partly torn away. It was awful to feel the conviction that unquenched hatred had embittered the last moments of each. They seemed mere youths, and I thought sadly of the mothers, whose hearts would throb with equal anguish in a Northern and a Southern home. In a corner of the field, supported by a pile of broken fence-rails, a soldier sat apparently beckoning to us. On approaching him we discovered that he was quite dead, although he sat upright, with open eyes and extended arm.
Several badly wounded men had been laid under the shade of some bushes a little farther on; our mission lay here. The portion of the field we crossed to reach this spot was in many places slippery with blood. The edge of my dress was red, my feet were wet with it. As we drew near the suffering men, piteous glances met our own. "Water! water!" was the cry.
Dr. McAllister had previously discovered in one of these the son of an old friend, and although he was apparently wounded unto death, he hoped, when the ambulances returned with the stretchers sent for, to move him into town to the hospital. He now proceeded with the aid of the instruments, bandages, lint, etc., I had brought to prepare him for removal. Meantime, taking from my pocket a small feeding-cup, which I always carried for use in the wards, I mixed some brandy and water, and, kneeling by one of the poor fellows who seemed worse than the others, tried to raise his head. But he was already dying. As soon as he was moved the blood ran in a little stream from his mouth. Wiping it off, I put the cup to his lips, but he could not swallow, and reluctantly I left him to die. He wore the blue uniform and stripes of a Federal sergeant of cavalry, and had a German face. The next seemed anxious for water, and drank eagerly. This one, a man of middle age, was later transferred to our wards, but died from blood-poisoning. He was badly wounded in the side. A third could only talk with his large, sad eyes, but made me clearly understand his desire for water. As I passed my arm under his head the red blood saturated my sleeve and spread in a moment over a part of my dress. So we went on, giving water, brandy, or soup; sometimes successful in reviving the patient, sometimes able only to whisper a few words of comfort to the dying. There were many more left, and Dr. McAllister never for a moment intermitted his efforts to save them. Later came more help, surgeons, and attendants with stretchers, etc. Soon all were moved who could bear it.
Duty now recalled me to my patients at the hospital.
My hands and dress and feet were bloody, and I felt sick with horror.
As I was recrossing the battle-field accompanied by Dr. Welford, of Virginia, the same terrible scenes were presented to the view. The ground was littered with the accoutrements of soldiers,—carbines, pistols, canteens, haversacks, etc. Two cannon lay overturned, near one of which lay a dead Federal soldier still grasping the rammer. Beneath the still struggling horses lay human forms just as they had fallen. Probably they had been dead ere they reached the ground, but I felt a shuddering dread lest perhaps some lingering spark of life had been crushed out by the rolling animals.
We had nearly reached the road when our attention was arrested by stifled cries and groans proceeding from a little log cabin which had been nearly demolished during the fight. Entering, we found it empty, but still the piteous cries continued. Soon the doctor discovered a pair of human legs, hanging down the chimney, but with all his pulling could not dislodge the man, who was fast wedged and only cried out the louder.
"Stop your infernal noise," said the doctor, "and try to help yourself while I pull." By this time others had entered the cabin, and their united effort at length succeeded in dislodging from the chimney,—not a negro, but a white man, whose blue eyes, glassy with terror, shone through the soot which had begrimed his face. He had climbed up the chimney to escape the storm of shot, and had so wedged himself in that to release himself unaided was impossible. Irrepressible laughter greeted his appearance, and I—I am bitterly ashamed to say—fell into a fit of most violent hysterical laughter and weeping. Dr. Welford hurried me into the buggy, which was near at hand, and drove rapidly to town, refusing to stop at the hospital, landing me at my room, where some ladies who came from I know not where kindly helped me to bed. Under the influence of a sedative I soon fell into a deep sleep, awakening at daylight to find my own servant (who had returned with other negroes during the night) standing at my bedside. The surgeons had sent a little of the precious real coffee, of which there was only one sack left. Upon awakening, I was to be at once served with a cup. A warm bath followed. By six o'clock I was once more at the hospital, ready for duty, after two days and nights, during which, it seemed to me, I had lived for years.
Even at this early hour, Buckner hospital presented a scene of great activity. Some of the surgeons had remained all night on duty, and were still busy; while others, having snatched a few hours of sleep, were now preparing for their trying work.
In almost every ward lay a few wounded Federals, but, all the spare beds having been filled, a long, low, brick building, on the corner opposite the drug-store, once used as a cotton-pickery, was fitted up as comfortably as the limited hospital-supplies at our command would allow for the Federals exclusively, and they were permitted to have the attendance of their own surgeons, although ours always responded readily, if needed.
These Federal surgeons appeared to me to be very indifferent to the comfort of their patients, and to avoid all unnecessary trouble. They were tardy in beginning their work the morning after the battle, and, when they were ready, coolly sent in requisitions for chloroform, which, having been (contrary to the dictates of humanity and to the customs of civilized nations) long since declared by their government "contraband of war," was almost unattainable, and used by our Confederate surgeons only in extreme cases. In all minor, and in some severe, operations the surgeons relied upon the manly fortitude of the patients, and, God bless our brave boys, they bore this cruel test with a courage fully as worthy to be recorded as the most brilliant action on the battle-field.
On the morning in question, as I made my early rounds, there met me everywhere ghastly reminders of the battle,—men shot and disfigured in every conceivable manner. Many, fresh from the hands of the surgeons, exhausted by suffering, looked as if already Death had claimed them for his own. Attendants were constantly bearing into different wards fresh victims from the operating-rooms, where the bloody work would still go on for hours. These must have immediate attention,—must be closely watched and strongly nourished. This was my blessed privilege; and, thanks to the humane and excellent policy adopted by General Johnston, and continued by General Hood,—both of whom looked well to the ways of quartermasters and commissaries,—the means to provide for the sick and wounded were always at hand,—at least, up to the time of which I write.
Some of my favorite patients, whom, previous to this battle, I had nursed into convalescence, were now thrown back upon beds of pain. In one corner I found a boy whom I had nursed and fed through days and nights of suffering from typhoid fever. His name was Willie Hutson, and he belonged to the —— Mississippi Regiment. Two days ago he had been as bright as a lark, and pleading to be sent to the front. Now he lay, shot through the breast, so near death that he did not know me. As I bent over him with tearful eyes, a hand placed upon my arm caused me to turn. There stood Dr. Gore, his kind face full of sympathy, but greatly troubled, at his side a Federal surgeon in full uniform. Dr. Gore said, "This is one of my old chums, and—" But I cried out, "Oh, doctor! I cannot,—look" (indicating with my hand first Willie, then the entire ward)! Passing swiftly out, I fled to my office and locked myself in, shedding hot tears of indignation. The dreadful work of the invaders had been before my eyes all the morning. I felt as if I could have nothing to do with them, and did not wish to see one of them again. They had not only murdered my poor boy Willie, but dozens of dearer friends. They were even now running riot in the home I loved. They were invaders!
I could not meet them,—could not nurse them.
It is painful thus to reveal the thoughts of my wicked, unchristian heart; but thus I reasoned and felt just then.
After a while a note from Dr. Gore was handed me. He said (in substance), "I know how bitterly you feel, but pray for strength to cast out evil spirits from your heart. Forget that the suffering men, thrown upon our kindness and forbearance, are Yankees. Remember only that they are God's creatures and helpless prisoners. They need you. Think the matter over, and do not disappoint me. Gore."
I do not believe that ever before or since have I fought so hard a battle. God helping me, I decided to do right. The short, sharp contest ended—I acted at once.
On my way to the Federal wards, I met more than one hospital-attendant carrying off a bloody leg or arm to bury it. I felt then, and saw no reason to alter my opinion afterwards, that some of their surgeons were far rougher and less merciful than ours; and I do not believe they ever gave the poor, shattered fellows the benefit of a doubt. It was easier to amputate than to attend a tedious, troublesome recovery. So, off went legs and arms by the wholesale.
I had not been five minutes in the low, brick ward, where lay the most dangerously wounded Federals, when all animosity vanished and my woman's heart melted within me.
These were strangers and unwelcome, but far from home and friends, suffering, dying. The surgeon said to me, "Madam, one-half the attention you give to your own men will save life here."
The patients were all badly, many fatally, wounded. They were silent, repellent, and evidently expectant of insult and abuse, but after a while received food and drink from my hands pleasantly, and I tried to be faithful in my ministrations.
I believe that most of the soldiers in this ward were from Iowa and Indiana.
One I remember particularly, a captain of cavalry, who was shot through the throat and had to receive nourishment by means of a rubber tube inserted for the purpose. A young man in a blue and yellow uniform—an aide or orderly—remained at his side day and night until he died. His eyes spoke to me eloquently of his gratitude, and once he wrote on a scrap of paper, "God bless you," and handed it to me. He lived about five days.
The mortality was very considerable in this ward. I grew to feel a deep interest in the poor fellows, and treasured last words or little mementoes as faithfully for their distant loved ones as I had always done for Confederates.
Among the personal belongings taken from me by raiders at Macon, Georgia, was a large chest, full of articles of this kind, which I intended to return to the friends of the owners whenever the opportunity offered.
In another ward were several renegade Kentuckians, who constantly excited my ire by noting and ridiculing deficiencies, calling my own dear boys "Old Jeff's ragamuffins," etc. One day Dr. Gore happened to be visiting this ward when these men began their usual teasing. Something caused me to eulogize Dr. Gore and all the Kentuckians who had sacrificed so much for "The Cause." One of these fellows then said, "Well, I'm a Kentuckian too, what have you got to say about me?" I replied, "I think you hold about the same relation to the true sons of Kentucky that Judas Iscariot bore to the beloved disciple who lay upon the bosom of our Saviour." Then walked out of the ward.
It was rather a spiteful repartee, I must confess, but was provoked by many ill-natured remarks previously made by this renegade, and had the good effect of putting an end to them.
We were comparatively safe once more,—for how long no one knew. I now became very anxious about the men in the trenches at Atlanta who were lying day after day, always under fire. Suffering from insufficient food, exposed to the scorching sun or equally pitiless rain, sometimes actually knee-deep in water for days. The bombardment was heavy and incessant, ceasing only for a while at sunset, when carts were hastily loaded with musty meat and poor corn-bread, driven out to the trenches, and the rations dumped there. Many of my friends were lying in these trenches, among them my husband. In addition to other ills, the defenders of Atlanta were in instant danger of death from shot or shell. I could not bear it. The desire to see my husband once more, and to carry some relief in the shape of provisions to himself and his comrades could not be quelled. Many things stood in the way of its accomplishment, for, upon giving a hint of my project to my friends at Newnan, a storm of protest broke upon my devoted head. Not one bade me God-speed, everybody declared I was crazy. "A woman to go to Atlanta under such circumstances; how utterly absurd, how mad." So I was obliged to resort to deception and subterfuge. My first step was to request leave of absence, that I might forage for provisions to be sent to the front by the first opportunity.
Dr. McAllister very kindly accorded me his permission, placing at my disposal an ambulance and a driver, advising me, however, not to follow the main road or the beaten track which had already been drained by foragers, but to go deep into the piny woods. Said he, "Only one of our foragers has ever been through that region, and his reports were not very encouraging. The people want to keep all they have got for home-consumption, and greatly distrust 'hospital people,' but if success is possible, you will succeed." In anticipation, this ride into deep, odorous pine woods seemed delightful. When the ambulance with its "captured" mule drove up before my door, I gayly climbed into it, and, waving merry adieux to half-disapproving friends (among them Dr. Hughes, with his distressed face, and Diogenes, who looked daggers at me), set off in high glee. The ride along the pleasant road was lovely; early birds sung sweetly; the dew, yet undisturbed, glistened everywhere, the morning breeze blew freshly in my face. As the sun began to assert his power, I became eager to penetrate into the shady woods, and at last, spying a grand aisle in "Nature's temple," bade the driver enter it. For a while the result was most enjoyable. The spicy aroma of the pines, the brilliant vines climbing everywhere, the multitude of woodland blossoms blooming in such quantities and variety as I had never imagined, charmed my senses, and elevated my spirit. Among these peaceful shades one might almost forget the horror and carnage which desolated the land. The driver was versed in wood-craft, and called my attention to many beauties which would have otherwise escaped me. But soon his whole attention was required to guide the restive mule through a labyrinth of stumps and ruts and horrible muddy holes, which he called "hog wallows;" my own endeavors were addressed to "holding on," and devising means to ease the horrible joltings which racked me from head to foot. After riding about two miles we came to a small clearing, and were informed that the road for ten miles was "tolerbal clar" and pretty thickly settled. So after partaking of an early country dinner, also obtaining a small amount of eggs, chickens, etc., at exorbitant prices, we resumed our ride. That expedition will never be forgotten by me. At its close, I felt that my powers of diplomacy were quite equal to any emergency. Oh, the sullen, sour-looking women that I sweetly smiled upon, and flattered into good humor, praising their homes, the cloth upon the loom, the truck-patch (often a mass of weeds), the tow-headed babies (whom I caressed and admired), never hinting at my object until the innocent victims offered of their own accord to "show me round." At the spring-house I praised the new country butter, which "looked so very good that I must have a pound or two," and then skilfully leading the conversation to the subject of chickens and eggs, carelessly displaying a few crisp Confederate bills, I at least became the happy possessor of a few dozens of eggs and a chicken or two, at a price which only their destination reconciled me to.
At one house, approached by a road so tortuous and full of stumps that we were some time before reaching it, I distinctly heard a dreadful squawking among the fowls, but when we arrived at the gate, not one was to be seen, and the mistress declared she hadn't a "one: hadn't saw a chicken for a coon's age." Pleading excessive fatigue, I begged the privilege of resting within the cabin. An apparently unwilling assent was given. In I walked, and, occupying one of those splint chairs which so irresistibly invite one to commit a breach of good manners by "tipping back," I sat in the door-way, comfortably swaying backward and forward. Every once in a while the faces of children, either black or white, would peer at me round the corner of the house, then the sound of scampering bare feet would betray their sudden flight. Suddenly I caught sight of a pair of bare, black feet protruding from under the bed. Presently an unmistakable squawk arose, instantly smothered, but followed by a fluttering of wings and a chorus of squawks. So upset was the lady of the house that she involuntarily called out, "You Isrul!" "Ma'am," came in a frightened voice from under the bed, then in whining tones, "I dun try to mek 'em hush up, but 'pears like Mass Debbel be on dey side, anyhow."
Further concealment being impossible, I said, "Come, you have the chickens ready caught, I'll give you your own price for them." She hesitated—and was lost, for producing from my pocket a small package of snuff, to which temptation she at once succumbed, I obtained in exchange six fine, fat chickens. As I was leaving she said, in an apologetic tone, "Well, I declah, I never knowed you was going to light, or I wouldn't have done sich a fool-trick."
Stopping at every house, meeting with varied success, we at last, just at night, arrived at a farm-house more orderly than any we had passed, where I was glad to discover the familiar face of an old lady who had sometimes brought buttermilk and eggs to the sick. At once recognizing me, she appeared delighted, and insisted upon my "lighting" and having my team put up until morning. This I was glad to do, for it was quite out of the question to start on my homeward journey that night. Greatly I enjoyed the hospitality so ungrudgingly given, the appetizing supper, the state bed in the best room, with its "sunrise" quilt of patch-work. Here was a Confederate household. The son was a soldier. His wife and his little children were living "with ma" at the old homestead. The evening was spent in talking of the late battle. Here these women were, living in the depths of the woods, consumed with anxiety, seldom hearing any news, yet quietly performing the monotonous round of duty with a patience which would have added lustre to the crown of a saint.