I talked until (wonderful to relate) my tongue was tired: my audience being the old, white-haired father, the mother, the wife, and the eager children, who were shy at first, but by degrees nestled closer, with bright eyes from which sleep seemed banished forever.
The next morning when, after a substantial breakfast, I was once more ready to start, every member of the family made some addition to my stores, notably, a few pounds of really good country butter. This was always highly prized by the soldiers. As a general thing, when the cows were fed upon cotton-seed the butter was white and "waxy," this was yellow and firm. The oldest girl brought me a pair of socks she had herself knitted; one of the little boys, six eggs laid by his own "dominiker," which he pointed out to me as she stalked about the yard proud of her mottled feathers and rosy comb.
Even the baby came toddling to the door saying, "Heah, heah," and holding out a snowy little kitten. The old gentleman, mounting his horse, offered to "ride a piece" with us. Thanks to his representations to the neighbors, I was able in a short time to turn my face homewards, having gathered an excellent supply of chickens, eggs, hams, home-made cordials, peach and apple brandy, and a few pairs of socks. The old farmer also showed us a way by which we could avoid a repetition of the tortures of yesterday, and rode beside the ambulance to the main road. I remember well how he looked, as he sat upon his old white mule, waiting to see the last of us. His hat, pushed back, showed a few locks of silvery hair; his coarse clothes and heavy, home-made boots were worn in a manner that betrayed the Southern gentleman. The parting smile, still lingering upon his kindly face, could not conceal the "furrows of care," which had deepened with every year of the war. But, alas! I cannot recall his name, although I then thought I could never forget it.
Upon arriving at Newnan, I lost no time in preparing my boxes for the front. Everything was cooked; even the eggs were hard-boiled. There was sufficient to fill two large boxes. Having packed and shipped to the depot my treasures, I prepared for the final step without hesitation, although not without some doubt as to success in eluding the vigilance of my friends. Announcing my determination to see the boxes off, I—accompanied by my maid—walked down to the depot just before train-time. There was only one rickety old passenger-car attached to the train. This, as well as a long succession of box-and cattle-cars, were crowded with troops,—reinforcements to Atlanta. Taking advantage of the crowd, I, with Tempe, quietly stepped on board, escaping discovery until just as the train was leaving, when in rushed Dr. McAllister, who peremptorily ordered me off; but, being compelled to jump off himself, failed to arrest my departure. I was in high spirits. On the train were many soldiers whom I had nursed, and who cared for my comfort in every way possible under the circumstances. I was the only lady on the train, so they were thoughtful enough to stow themselves in the crowded boxes behind, that I might not be embarrassed by a large number in the passenger-car. At last, as we approached Atlanta, I heard the continuous and terrific noise of the bombardment. The whistle of the engine was a signal to the enemy, who at once began to shell the depot. I did not realize the danger yet, but just as the train "slowed up" heard a shrieking sound, and saw the soldiers begin to dodge. Before I could think twice, an awful explosion followed; the windows were all shivered, and the earth seemed to me to be thrown in cart-loads into the car. Tempe screamed loudly, and then began to pray. I was paralyzed with extreme terror, and could not scream. Before I could speak, another shell exploded overhead, tearing off the corner of a brick store, causing again a deafening racket. As we glided into the station, I felt safer; but soon found out that every one around me had business to attend to, and that I must rely upon myself.
The shells still shrieked and exploded; the more treacherous and dangerous solid shot continually demolished objects within our sight. For a few hours I was so utterly demoralized that my only thought was how to escape. It seemed to me impossible that any body of soldiers could voluntarily expose themselves to such horrible danger. I thought if I had been a soldier I must have deserted from my first battle-field. But at last I grew calmer; my courage returned, and, urged by the necessity of finding shelter, I ventured out. Not a place could I find. The houses were closed and deserted, in many cases partly demolished by shot or shell, or, having taken fire, charred, smoking, and burnt to the ground.
All day frightened women and children cowered and trembled and hungered and thirsted in their underground places of refuge while the earth above them shook with constant explosions. After a while I grew quite bold, and decided to stow myself and my boxes in the lower part of a house not far from the depot. The upper story had been torn off by shells. I could look through large holes in the ceiling up to the blue sky. The next move was to find means of notifying my husband and his friends of my arrival. I crept along the streets back to the depot, Tempe creeping by my side, holding fast to my dress. Then I found an officer just going out to the trenches, and sent by him a pencilled note to Lieutenant Cluverius, thinking an officer would be likely to receive a communication, when a private might not. Soon after sunset, my husband joined me, and soon after many friends. They were all ragged, mud-stained, and altogether unlovely, but seemed to me most desirable and welcome visitors.
One of my boxes being opened, I proceeded to do the honors. My guests having eaten very heartily, filled their haversacks, and, putting "a sup" in their canteens, returned to camp to send out a fresh squad. The next that came brought in extra haversacks and canteens "for some of the boys who couldn't get off," and these also were provided for.
With the last squad my husband was compelled to go back to camp, as just then military rules were severe, and very strictly enforced. I passed the night in an old, broken arm-chair, Tempe lying at my feet, and slept so soundly that I heard not a sound of shot or shell. Very early next morning, however, we were awakened by a terrible explosion near us, and directly afterwards heard that within a hundred yards of our place of refuge a shell had exploded, tearing away the upper part of a house, killing a man and his three children, who were sleeping in one of the rooms. This made me very uneasy, and increased Tempe's terror to such an extent that she became almost unmanageable. During the next day I actually became accustomed to the noise and danger, and "with a heart for any fate" passed the day. At night my levee was larger than before; among them I had the satisfaction of seeing and supplying some Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee soldiers. That night the bombardment was terrific. Anxiety for my husband, combined with a shuddering terror, made sleep impossible.
The next morning, my husband having obtained a few hours' leave of absence, joined me in my shattered retreat. The day was darkened by the agony of parting. It seemed to me impossible to leave him under such circumstances, and really required more courage than to face the shot and shell. But I could easily see that anxiety for me interfered with his duty as a soldier, so—we must part. On the same evening I returned to Newnan, where my friends were so overjoyed at my safe return that they forbore to upbraid. Soon afterward the battle of Jonesboro' again filled our wards with shattered wrecks. As I have already stated, my husband then came for the first time to claim my care. Before he was quite able to return to duty, the post was ordered to Fort Valley, Georgia, a pleasant and very hospitable town, where new and excellent hospital buildings had been erected. From here Mr. Beers returned to his command. The day of his departure was marked by hours of intense anguish which I yet shudder to recall. The train which stopped at the hospital camp to take up men returning to the front was crowded with soldiers,—reinforcements. I had scarcely recovered from the fit of bitter weeping which followed the parting, when, noticing an unusual commotion outside, I went to the door to discover the cause. Men were running up the railroad track in the direction taken by the train which had just left. A crowd had collected near the surgeon's office, in the midst of which stood an almost breathless messenger. His tidings seemed to have the effect of sending off succeeding groups of men in the direction taken by those I had first seen running up the road. Among them I discovered several surgeons. Something was wrong. Wild with apprehension, I sped over to the office, and there learned that the train of cars loaded and crowded with soldiers had been thrown down a steep embankment, about three miles up the road, and that many lives were lost. Waiting for nothing, I ran bareheaded and frantic up the track, for more than a mile never stopping, then hearing the slow approach of an engine, sunk down by the side of the track to await its coming. Soon the engine appeared, drawing very slowly a few platform-and baggage-cars loaded with groaning, shrieking men, carrying, also, many silent forms which would never again feel pain or sorrow. The surgeons upon the first car upon descrying me crouching by the roadside, halted the train and lifted me upon the last car, where, among the "slightly hurt," I found my husband, terribly bruised and shaken, but in no danger. Arrived at camp, where tents had been hastily pitched, the wounded and dying were laid out side by side in some of the largest, while others received the dead. The sights and sounds were awful in the extreme. At first I could not muster courage (shaken as I had been) to go among them. But it was necessary for purposes of identification, so I examined every one, dying and dead, feeling that certainty, however dreadful, might be better borne by loving hearts than prolonged suspense.
Among these dreadful scenes came a minister of God, whose youthful face, pale and horror-stricken, yet all alight with heavenly pity and love, I can never forget. Tenderly he bent above these dying men, his trembling lips touched by divine inspiration, whispering words precious to parting souls. Unshrinkingly he performed his mission to those who yet lived, then, passing among the dead, lovingly composed and prepared for decent burial the mutilated bodies. One burial-service served for all; this was as tenderly rendered as if each unfortunate had been dear to himself.
This young clergyman was Rev. —— Green, of Columbia, S.C., a near relative of the eminent divine and inspired patriot, Dr. B.M. Palmer, now of New Orleans.
Few patients were sent to Fort Valley. Upon recovering from the effects of the railroad accident, my husband again left for his command. Growing dissatisfied, I applied to Dr. Stout for a position nearer the front. Not receiving a satisfactory reply, went to Macon, where for a few weeks I remained at one of the hospitals, but still felt that I was losing time, and doing very little good. In November I was offered a position in a tent-hospital near the front, which I eagerly accepted, little dreaming (God help me!) of the hardship and disappointment which awaited me.
The detention of the railroad-train belated us, and when we (I and my servant) were left at a small station in Mississippi, night had fallen. The light from a little fire of pine knots, built on the ground outside, while illuminating the rough depot and platform, left the country beyond in deeper darkness. It was bitterly cold. The driver of the ambulance informed me, we had "quite a piece to ride yet." A moment later, Dr. Beatty rode up on horseback, welcomed me pleasantly, waiting to see me safely stowed away in the ambulance. The ride to camp was dismal. I continued to shiver with cold; my heart grew heavy as lead, and yearned sadly for a sight of the pleasant faces, the sound of the kindly voices, to which I had been so long accustomed. At last a turn in the road brought us in sight of the numberless fires of a large camp. It was a bright scene, though, far from gay. The few men who crouched by the fires were not roistering, rollicking soldiers, but pale shadows, holding their thin hands over the blaze which scorched their faces, while their thinly-covered backs were exposed to a cold so intense that it congealed the sap in the farthest end of the log on which they sat. Driving in among these, up an "avenue" bordered on either side by rows of white tents, the ambulance drew up at last before the door of my "quarters,"—a rough cabin built of logs. Through the open door streamed the cheery light of a wood-fire, upon which pine knots had been freshly thrown.
A bunk at one side, made of puncheons, and filled with pine straw, over which comforts and army-blankets had been thrown, hard pillows stuffed with straw, having coarse, unbleached cases, a roughly-made table before the fire, a lot of boxes marked "Q.M.," etc., to serve as seats, and you have my cabin in its entirety.
Drawing my box up close to the fire, I sat down, Tempe, in the mean while, stirring the coals and arranging the burning ends of the pine in true country style.
Presently my supper was brought in,—corn-bread, cornmeal coffee, a piece of musty fried salt meat, heavy brown sugar, and no milk. I was, however, hungry, and ate with a relish. Tempe went off to some region unknown for the supper, returning unsatisfied and highly disgusted with the "hog-wittles" which had been offered to her. Soon Dr. Beatty called, bringing with him Mrs. Dr. ——, a cheery little body, who, with her husband, occupied a room under the same roof as myself, a sort of hall open at both ends dividing us.
We had some conversation regarding the number of sick and the provisions for their comfort. On the whole, the evening passed more cheerfully than I had expected. My sleep that night was dreamless. I did not even feel the cold, although Tempe declared she was "dun froze stiff."
Very early I was astir, gazing from the door of my cabin at my new sphere of labor.
Snow had fallen during the night, and still came down steadily. The path was hidden, the camp-fires appeared as through a mist. A confused, steady sound of chopping echoed through the woods. I heard mysterious words, dimly saw figures moving about the fires. Everything looked unpromising,—dismal. Chilled to the heart, I turned back to my only comfort, the splendid fire Tempe had built. My breakfast was exactly as supper had been, and was brought by the cook, a detailed soldier, who looked as if he ought to have been at the front. He apologized for the scanty rations, promising some beef for dinner.
Soon Dr. Beatty, accompanied by two assistant-surgeons, appeared to escort me to the tents. I went gladly, for I was anxious to begin my work. What I saw during that hour of inspection convinced me, not only that my services were needed, but that my work must be begun and carried on under almost insurmountable difficulties and disadvantages. I found no comforts, no hospital stores, insufficient nourishment, a scarcity of blankets and comforts, even of pillows. Of the small number of the latter few had cases; all were soiled. The sick men had spit over them and the bedclothes, which could not be changed because there were no more. As I have said, there were no comforts. The patients looked as if they did not expect any, and seemed sullen and discontented. The tents were not new, nor were they all good. They seemed to me without number. Passing in and out among them, I felt bewildered and doubtful whether I should ever learn to know one from another, or to find my patients. Part of the camp was set apart for convalescents. Here were dozens of Irishmen. They were so maimed and shattered that every one should have been entitled to a discharge, but the poor fellows had no homes to go to, and were quite unable to provide for themselves. There were the remnants of companies, regiments, and brigades, many of them Louisianians, and from other States outside the Confederate lines. Had there been any fighting to do, they would still have "taken a hand," maimed as they were. The monotony of hospital camp-life made them restless; the rules they found irksome, and constantly evaded; they growled, complained, were always "in hot water," and almost unmanageable.
The first time I passed among them they eyed me askance, seeming, I feared, to resent the presence of a woman. But I made it my daily custom to visit their part of the camp, standing by their camp-fires to listen to their "yarns," or to relate some of my own experiences, trying to make their hardships seem less, listening to their complaints, meaning in earnest to speak to Dr. Beatty regarding palpable wrongs. This I did not fail to do, and whenever the doctor's sense of justice was aroused, he promptly acted on the right side. I do not wish to convey to my readers the idea that there were men always sullen and disagreeable. Far from it, they were a jolly set of men when in a good humor, and, like all Irishmen, full of wit and humor. After I became known to them their gentle, courteous treatment of me never varied. They were very fond of playing cards, but whenever I appeared upon one of the avenues, every card would disappear. Not one ever failed to salute me, often adding a "God bless you, ma'am, may the heavens be your bed," etc. Disliking to interfere with their only amusement, I let them know that I did not dislike to see them playing cards. At this they were very pleased, saying, "Sure, it's no harrum; it's not gambling we are; divil a cint have we to win or lose." One day I stopped to look on a moment at a game of euchre. One of the players had lost an arm (close to the shoulder). Said he, "Sure, ma'am, it's bating the b'ys intirely, I am." I did not understand, so he explained, with a comic leer at the others,—"Sure, haven't I always the 'lone hand' on thim?" At once I recalled a similar remark made by an Irish soldier lying in the hospital at Newnan, who had just lost one of his legs; when I condoled with him, he looked up brightly, and, pointing at his remaining foot, explained, "Niver mind, this feller will go it alone and make it."
Among the surgeons in camp was one who had highly offended these convalescents by retiring to his cabin, pulling the latch-string inside and remaining deaf to all calls and appeals from outside. Mutterings of discontent were heard for a while, but at last as there was no further mention of the matter, I believed it was ended.
About this time the actions of the convalescents began to appear mysterious: they remained in their tents or absented themselves, as I supposed, upon foraging expeditions. Frequently, I found them working upon cow-horns, making ornaments as I thought (at this business Confederate soldiers were very expert). One day I caught sight of a large pile of horns and bones just brought in, but still thought nothing of it. Shortly, however, a small deputation from the convalescent camp appeared at the door of my cabin just as I was eating my dinner: all saluted; the spokesman then explained that the "b'ys" were prepared to give the obnoxious surgeon a "siranade" that same night. They had been working for weeks to produce the instruments of torture which were then all ready. "We don't mane to scare ye, ma'am, and if it'll be displazin' to ye, sure we'll give it up." I told them that I did not want to know about it, and was sorry they had told me, but I would not be frightened at any noise I might hear in the night. "All right, ma'am," said the spokesman, winking at the others to show that he comprehended. The party then withdrew. About midnight such a startling racket suddenly broke the stillness that in spite of my previous knowledge, I was frightened. Horns of all grades of sound, from deep and hoarse to shrill, tin cups and pans clashed together or beaten with bones, yells, whistling, and in short every conceivable and inconceivable noise.
After the first blast, utter stillness; the startled officers, meanwhile, listening to discover the source of the unearthly noise, then, as if Bedlam had broken loose, the concert began once more. It was concentrated around the cabin of the surgeon so disliked. As the quarters of the officers were somewhat removed from the hospital proper, and very near my own, I got the full benefit of the noise. I cannot now say why the racket was not put a stop to. Perhaps because the serenaders numbered over one hundred and the surgeons despaired of restoring order. At all events, during the whole night we were allowed to sink into slumber, to be aroused again and again by the same hideous burst of sound. I only remember that the next day the horns, etc., were collected and carried away from camp, while the offenders were refused permission to leave their quarters for a while.
In the sick camp there lay over two hundred sick and wounded men, faithfully attended and prescribed for by the physicians, but lacking every comfort. Dr. Beatty was worried about the sick, but under the circumstances what could he do? Soon after occurred the terrible battle of Franklin, when our tents were again filled with wounded men. These men were unlike any I have ever nursed. Their shattered forms sufficiently attested courage and devotion to duty, but the enthusiasm and pride which had hitherto seemed to me so grand and noble when lighting up the tortured faces of wounded soldiers, appearing like a reflection of great glory, I now missed. It seemed as if they were yet revengeful and unsatisfied; their countenances not yet relaxed from the tension of the fierce struggle, their eyes yet gleaming with the fires of battle. The tales they told made me shudder: Of men, maddened by the horrible butchery going on around them, mounting the horrible barricade (trampling out in many instances the little sparks of life which might have been rekindled), only to add their own bodies to the horrid pile, and to be trampled in their turn by comrades who sought to avenge them; of soldiers on both sides, grappling hand to hand, tearing open each other's wound, drenched with each other's blood, dying locked in a fierce embrace. It turns me sick even now when I remember the terrible things I then heard, the awful wounds I then saw. During the whole period of my service, I never had a harder task than when striving to pour oil upon these troubled waters, to soothe and reconcile these men who talked incessantly of "sacrifice" and useless butchery. This was particularly the case with General Clebourne's men, who so loved their gallant leader that, at his death, revenge had almost replaced patriotism in their hearts.
I do not consider myself competent, nor do I wish to criticise the generals who led our armies and who, since the war, have, with few exceptions, labored assiduously to throw the blame of failure upon each other. I have read their books with feelings of intense sorrow and regret,—looking for a reproduction of the glories of the past,—finding whole pages of recrimination and full of "all uncharitableness." For my own part, I retain an unchanged, unchangeable respect and reverence for all alike, believing each to have been a pure and honest patriot, who, try as he might, could not surmount the difficulties which each one in turn encountered.
A brave, vindictive foe, whose superiority in numbers, in arms, and equipment, and, more than all, rations, they could maintain indefinitely. And to oppose them, an utterly inadequate force, whose bravery and unparalleled endurance held out to the end, although hunger gnawed at their vitals, disease and death daily decimated their ranks, intense anxiety for dear ones exposed to dangers, privations, all the horrors which everywhere attended the presence of the invaders, torturing them every hour.
While yielding to none in my appreciation of the gallant General Hood, there is one page in his book which always arouses my indignation and which I can never reconcile with what I know of the history of the Army of Tennessee, from the time General Hood took command to the surrender. Truly, they were far from being like "dumb driven cattle," for every man was "a hero in the strife." It seems to me that the memory of the battle of Franklin alone should have returned to General Hood to "give him pause" before he gave to the public the page referred to:
"My failure on the 20th and the 22d to bring about a general pitched battle arose from the unfortunate policy pursued from Dalton to Atlanta, and which had wrought 'such' demoralization amid rank and file as to render the men unreliable in battle. I cannot give a more forcible, though homely, exemplification of the morale of the troops at that period than by comparing the Army to a team which has been allowed to balk at every hill, one portion will make strenuous efforts to advance, whilst the other will refuse to move, and thus paralyze the exertions of the first. Moreover, it will work faultlessly one day and stall the next. No reliance can be placed upon it at any stated time. Thus it was with the army when ordered into a general engagement, one corps struggled nobly, whilst the neighboring corps frustrated its efforts by simple inactivity; and whilst the entire Army might fight desperately one day, it would fail in action the following day. Stewart's gallant attack on the 20th was neutralized by Hardee's inertness on the right; and the failure in the battle of the 22d is to be attributed also to the effect of the 'timid defensive' policy of this officer, who, although a brave and gallant soldier, neglected to obey orders, and swung away, totally independent of the main body of the Army."
Time softens and alleviates all troubles, and this was no exception. But the winter was a very gloomy one: my heart was constantly oppressed by witnessing suffering I could not relieve, needs which could not be met. The efforts of the foragers, combined with my own purchases from country wagons (although Dr. Beatty was liberal in his orders, and I spent every cent I could get), were utterly insufficient, although the officers of this camp-hospital were self-denying, and all luxuries were reserved for the sick. I hit upon an expedient to vary the rations a little, which found favor with the whole camp. The beef was simply atrocious. I had it cut into slices, let it lie in salt with a sprinkling of vinegar for a day, then hung the pieces up the chimneys until it was smoked. I first tried it in my own cabin, found it an improvement, and so had a quantity prepared for the hungry wounded. And so these dark days sped on, bringing, in due time,
THE LAST CONFEDERATE CHRISTMAS.
I will here subjoin an article originally written for the Southern Bivouac, which will give my readers an idea of how the Christmas-tide was spent.
For some time previous I had been revolving in my mind various plans for the celebration of Christmas by making some addition to the diet of the sick and wounded soldiers then under my charge. But, plan as I would, the stubborn facts in the case rose up to confront me, and I failed to see just how to accomplish my wishes. We were then located at Lauderdale Springs, Mississippi. I, with my servant, Tempe, occupied one room of a small, double house, built of rough-hewn logs, and raised a few feet from the ground; a sort of hall, open at both ends, separated my room from one on the opposite side occupied by Dr. —— and his wife. All around, as far as one could see, amid the white snow and with lofty pine-trees towering above them, extended the hospital-tents, and in these lay the sick, the wounded, the dying. Hospital-supplies were scarce, our rations of the plainest articles, which, during the first years of the war, were considered absolute necessaries, had become priceless luxuries. Eggs, butter, chickens came in such small quantities that they must be reserved for the very sick. The cheerfulness, self-denial, and fellow-feeling shown by those who were even partly convalescent, seemed to me to be scarcely less admirable than the bravery which had distinguished them on the battle-field. But this is a digression: let me hasten to relate how I was helped to a decision as to Christmas "goodies." One morning, going early to visit some wounded soldiers who had come in during the night, I found in one tent a newcomer, lying in one of the bunks, his head and face bandaged and bloody. By his side sat his comrade,—wounded also, but less severely,—trying to soften for the other some corn-bread, which he was soaking and beating with a stick in a tin cup of cold water. He explained that the soldier with the bandaged head had been shot in the mouth, and could take only soft food. I said, "Don't give him that. I will bring him some mush and milk, or some chicken soup." He set down the cup, looked at me with queer, half-shut eyes, then remarked, "Yer ga-assin' now, ain't ye?"
Having finally convinced him that I was not, I retired for a moment to send the nurse for some food. When it came, and while I was slowly putting spoonfuls of broth into the poor, shattered mouth of his friend, he stood looking on complacently, though with his lip quivering. I said to him, "Now, what would you like?" After a moment's hesitation he replied, "Well, lady, I've been sort of hankerin' after a sweet-potato pone, but I s'pose ye couldn't noways get that?" "There," thought I, "that's just what I will get and give them all for Christmas dinner."
Hastening to interview the surgeon in charge, I easily obtained permission to go on the next day among the farmers to collect materials for my feast. An ambulance was placed at my disposal.
My foraging expedition was tolerably successful, and I returned next evening with a quantity of sweet potatoes, several dozen eggs, and some country butter. Driving directly to the door of my cabin, I had my treasures securely placed within; for, although holding my soldier-friends in high estimation, I agreed with the driver of the ambulance,—"Them 'taturs has to be taken in out of the cold." My neighbor's wife, Mrs. Dr. ——, entered heartily into my plans for the morrow, promising her assistance. My night-round of visits to the sick having been completed, I was soon seated by my own fireside, watching the operation of making and baking a corn hoecake, which, with some smoked beef of my own preparation and a cup of corn-coffee, made my supper on this Christmas eve. It was so bitterly cold that I did not undress; but, wrapping a blanket around me, lay down on my bunk. Tempe also rolled herself up, and lay down before the fire. In order to explain what followed, I must here say that the boards of my floor were only laid, not fastened, as nails were not to be had. I was awakened from "the first sweet sleep of night" by an unearthly yell from Tempe, who sprang unceremoniously upon my bunk, grasping me tightly, and crying, "O Lord, Miss ——, yearthquate dun cum!" Sitting up, I was horrified to see the boards of the floor rising and falling with a terrible noise. A moment later I realized the situation. A party of hogs had organized a raid, having for its object my precious potatoes. A sure-enough "yearthquate" would have been less appalling to me, as I have always been mortally afraid of hogs. Just then one of the invaders managed to knock aside a board and get his head in full view. I shivered with terror, but Tempe now grasped the state of the case, and, being "to the manner born," leaped forward to execute dire vengeance on the unfortunate hog. Seizing a burning stick from the fire, she rushed upon the intruder, who had gotten wedged so that advance or retreat was alike impossible. Her angry cries, and the piercing squeals of the hog, roused all in the vicinity. Help soon came, our enemies were routed, quiet was restored. My pones were a great success. All who were allowed by their surgeons partook of them. I had two immense pans full brought to my cabin, where those who were able brought their plates and cups, receiving a generous quantity of the pone and a cup of sweet milk.
But these struggles and hardships were nothing in comparison to what was now to befall us. The constant fighting and daily-increasing number of wounded at the front required the presence of experienced surgeons. After the battle of Franklin some of ours were sent up. In one or two instances those who replaced them were young and inexperienced. They were permitted to attend the convalescents and light cases. One morning, I was aroused very early by a nurse who begged me to go to one of the convalescents who had been calling for me all night.
Arrived at the tent, which at that hour was rather dark, I lifted the flap to enter, but was arrested by a piteous cry from the patient, who lay facing the entrance. "For God's sake keep out that light," said he, "it hurts my eyes." The nurse said, "It's masles he has, ma'am." So I concluded the pained eyes were not unusual.
Approaching the bunk, and taking the patient's hand, I found he had a raging fever. But when I placed my hand upon his forehead, and felt the dreadful pustules thickly covering it, my heart almost ceased to beat. An unreasoning terror overpowered me; my impulse was to flee at once from that infected tent. But I must not give any alarm, so I simply said to the nurse, "I will go to Dr. Beatty for some medicine; let no one enter this tent until I come back." Dr. Beatty was not yet out of his cabin, but receiving my urgent message, soon appeared. I said, "Doctor, in tent No.—— there is a very sick man; can we look at the books and learn what diagnosis his surgeon has made?" We went to the office, found the patient's name and number: diagnosis,—Measles. I then said, "Dr. Beatty, it is not measles, but, I fear, smallpox." At once, the doctor strode off, followed closely by myself. As before, the tent was dark. "Lift those flaps high," said the surgeon. It was done, and there lay before us a veritable case of smallpox.
Dr. Beatty's entire calmness and self-possession quite restored my own. Said he, "I must have time to consult my surgeons, to determine what is to be done. Meanwhile, retire to your cabin. You will hear from me when matters are arranged."
The next few hours were for me fraught with fearful anxiety and uncertainty,—yes, uncertainty,—for (to my shame, let it be recorded) I actually debated in my own mind whether or not to desert these unfortunate boys of mine, who could not themselves escape the threatened danger.
God helping me, I was able to resist this terrible temptation. I had, I reasoned, been already exposed as much as was possible, having attended the sick man for days before. Having dedicated myself to the Holy Cause, for better or worse, I could not desert it even when put to this trying test. So, when Dr. Beatty came to say that in a few hours quarantine would be established and rigidly enforced, offering me transportation that I might at once go on with the large party who were leaving, I simply announced my determination to remain, but asked that Tempe might be sent to her owners in Alabama, as I dared not risk keeping her.
The poor fellow who had been first seized died that night, and afterward many unfortunates were buried beneath the snow-laden pines. Some of the nurses fell sick; from morning until night, after, far into the night, my presence was required in those fever-haunted tents.
When not on duty, the loneliness of my cabin was almost insupportable. Sometimes I longed to flee away from the dismal monotony. Often I sat upon my doorstep almost ready to scream loudly enough to drown the sad music of the pines. Since the war I have seen a little poem by John Esten Cooke, which always reminds me of the time when the band in the pines brought such sadness to my own heart:
"THE BAND IN THE PINES.
"Oh, band in the pine-wood cease! Cease with your splendid call; The living are brave and noble, But the dead were bravest of all!
"They throng to the martial summons, To the loud, triumphant strain; And the dear bright eyes of long-dead friends Come to the heart again.
"They come with the ringing bugle And the deep drum's mellow roar, Till the soul is faint with longing For the hands we clasp no more!
"Oh, band in the pine-wood cease Or the heart will melt in tears, For the gallant eyes and the smiling lips And the voices of old years!"
When, at last, we were released from durance vile, the Confederate army had retreated. Of course, the hospitals must follow it. By this time my health was completely broken down. The rigors of the winter, the incessant toil, the hard rations had done their work well. I was no longer fit to nurse the sick. In February I left the camp, intending to go for a while wherever help was needed, relying upon a change to recuperate my exhausted energies.
But from that time there was so much irregularity as far as hospital organization was concerned that one scarcely knew how best to serve the sick. Besides, the presence of a lady had become embarrassing to the surgeons in charge of hospitals, who, while receiving orders one day which were likely to be countermanded the next, often having to send their stores, nurses, etc., to one place while they awaited orders in another, could find no time to provide quarters and sustenance for a lady. As an illustration of this state of things, I will here give an extract from a letter addressed to me after the war by Dr. McAllister, of the "Buckner Hospital."
"I was ordered late in November to Gainesville, Alabama; before reaching that place, my orders were changed to Macon; in February to Auburn, Alabama; thence to the woods to organize a tent hospital. No sick were sent there, and I had nothing to do but to build. Put up eighty large tents, built octagon homes, with rounded tops, and flag-poles on the top of each. Everything looked gloomy, but I kept on as if I expected to remain there always. Just as I had everything completed, received orders to move to Charlotte, North Carolina. When I got to Columbus, Georgia, was ordered to send on my stores with my negroes and women-servants, in charge of a faithful man, while I and my detailed men were to remain in the city during its investment, and as long as the struggle lasted, but at last to save myself, and join my stores in Macon, Georgia. Remained during the fight, while the city fell, and all my detailed men were captured; rode out of the city by the light of the burning buildings, and my road was lighted for twelve or fifteen miles by the burning city; borrowed horses about twelve at night, caught the last retreating train, put my servants Noel and Sam on it; rode on with my true friend Dr. Tates. Found the servants at Genoa Station, a distance of thirty-five miles, next morning at sunrise, thence to Macon; next night found my wife on the same crowded box-car; left her with Mrs. Yates, Mrs. Calan, and another lady from Columbus. Some of my stores had been sent to Atlanta, and some had been sent to Macon; then the railroad was cut between Macon and Atlanta; I had either to remain at Macon and be captured, or take the only road that was clear to Fort Valley, which I did, leaving my wife and Mrs. Yates at Dr. Green's. Yates, myself, Sam, and Noel took to the woods, and there remained about ten days, living as best we could. Then there was a flag of truce, and we came into Fort Valley. Thousands of Yankee cavalry were there in camps; all the railroads cut so we could not leave. One night we stole from the Yankees two good mules, borrowed a wagon, and took our wives across the country until we could strike one end of the Atlanta road, of which the Yankees had not got possession; went on into the city of Atlanta, where I met Dr. Stout, who told me the game was up, that my stores were some of them at Congress Station, some hundred miles away on the Augusta road, and for me to go on there and surrender to the first Yankee who commanded me to do so. Great heaven! what a shock to me! I would rather have died than to have heard it. I went down the road and found my stores, but did not have the honor of surrendering to the Yankees. A mob, constituted of women, children, and renegade Confederate soldiers, and with some negroes, charged my encampment and took everything except my wife, and trunks, and Mrs. Yates, and her trunks, which we saved by putting them into a wagon and driving for our lives out of the back alley of the town. At last we came to Atlanta, where we parted with Dr. and Mrs. Yates. My wife and I travelled to Marion in an old wagon, leaving the poor negroes scattered about in the woods. I only had time to tell them to go where they came from, to their former owners. After a tedious journey, having to beg my bread, I arrived at home (Marion, Alabama) about the first of May, 1865."
The same irregularities existed everywhere; my state of health forbade me to follow these erratic movements: indeed, I was utterly broken down and therefore made my way, not without great difficulty and many detentions, to Alabama, where my little boy had preceded me. Even then, we never dreamed of surrender, nor did the sad news reach us until many days after it had taken place. We were utterly incredulous, we could not, would not believe it. Meanwhile, the state of things described in one of the articles contained in another part of this book, designed for children (Sally's ride) culminated in the long-dreaded Raid.
Why the raiders had recrossed the river, returning to Selma, and leaving undisturbed (alas! only for a time) the elegant plantation-homes which lay all along their route, remained a mystery. It was certain that a detachment of them had been seen and reported by our own scouts, who at that time were in the saddle day and night "watching their motions;" the negroes also declared, "Dey was dare, suah, 'case we dun seed 'em." All able-bodied men had long ago gone to the front. The "home-guard," who were doing their best to keep watch and ward over helpless women and children, were only boys, full of ardor and courage, but too young to join the army, or men who from age or disability were also ineligible. These knew every inch of ground, every hiding-place for many miles. At every plantation they were expected and welcome, whenever they could find an opportunity to dash in, dismount, report the state of matters outside, and hastily swallow the "snack" always kept ready and set before them without loss of time, quite as a matter of course.
The news brought by these scouts, far from quieting apprehension, tended to increase and deepen it. The old man who, time out of mind, had managed the little ferry fifteen miles away, had been shot for refusing to ferry over some Federal soldiers. The bright light so anxiously watched one dark night proved to have been a fire, which had consumed the dwelling, gin-house, stables, etc., of a widowed cousin. Her cows had been slaughtered, her horses stolen, her garden and "truck-patch" ploughed all over in the search for hidden silver. Other and even more hideous tales (alas! too true) appalled the hearts and tried the courage of the women, who yet must never give up trying to protect the interests confided to them, must seem to hold the reins of power when really they were at the mercy of the negroes, who (to their credit be it spoken) behaved under these trying circumstances extremely well, in some cases showing the most affectionate solicitude and sympathy. They could not, however, in all cases be trusted to withstand the bribes sure to be offered for information as to hiding-places of valuables. So, little by little, silver and jewelry were made up into small packages to be disposed of secretly.
For several days all were on the qui vive. The fearful suspense, dread, and anguish of that time will never be forgotten by those who shared those anxious vigils; from earliest light until nightfall, restless feet traversed the house and yard, anxious eyes watched every possible approach,—the road, the woods, the plantation. At night, not one of the "white folks" thought of undressing; the very last of a bag of real coffee, which had been treasured like gold, was now brought out. During the day, the usual sweet-potato coffee was served. In the cool April nights, a cheerful fire always blazed in the open fireplace of the parlor, by it was set a pot of very strong coffee, upon which the ladies relied to keep them awake. One at a time would doze in her chair or upon the sofa, while the others kept watch, walking from window to window, listening at the fast-locked door, starting at every sound. Occasionally the dogs would bark furiously: "There they are!" cried everybody, and rising to their feet, with bated breath and wildly-beating hearts, they would listen until convinced that their four-footed friends had given a false alarm. Those of the women-servants who had no husbands begged every night to sleep "in de house." They were terrified. Their mattresses strewed the floors, and it really seemed as if they were a kind of protection, although they always fell asleep and snored so loudly as to drive the ladies, who wanted to listen for outside sounds, to the verge of distraction. Some one would occasionally interrupt the noise by administering to each in turn a good shake or insisting upon a change of position, but at best the lull was temporary. Soon one of the sleepers would give a suppressed snort, to be immediately joined by one after another, until the unearthly chorus once more swelled to rack the quivering nerves of the listeners.
Sometimes a peculiar tapping announced the presence outside of the master of the house. Creeping softly to the window of an empty room, the wife would receive assurances of present safety. She would then hand out valuable packages of silver or jewelry to be hidden far in the woods in places unknown to any but the owner, who marked the way to the buried treasure by "blazing" certain trees. Many valuables were hidden in this way and recovered after the war. The feeble condition of Colonel —— added tenfold to the anxiety of his family, for, although he persisted in doing his duty, it was certain that continual exposure and fatigue might at any time prove fatal. Insidious disease was even then gnawing at his vitals; but, Spartan-like, he folded above the dreadful agony the robe of manly courage and dignity, which hid it from even those who knew him best. Amid all the darkness and sorrow his pleasant smile cheered, his commanding presence inspired respect and confidence. From the windows of his soul shone the steady light of the patriotism that hopeth all things, believeth all things, endureth all things. It was not God's will that he should go forth to battle, but with a kindly heart and generous hand he helped the soldiers to do their duty by caring for their "loved ones at home."
Meanwhile the noble wife proved a helpmate indeed. A true type of Southern women. Not a duty was neglected. She looked well to the ways of her household and the well-being of the negroes committed to her care. The spinning and weaving of cloth for the almost naked soldiers in the field went on; the quarters were visited, the sick were cared for. The calm, steady voice read to the old, precious promises, or instructed the young negroes as to the way of truth. So day after day passed, the same anxious dread chilling all hearts, added fear always recurring as the darkness came with its terrible possibilities.
April had come, bringing a greater profusion of flowers, painting the face of nature with lovelier hues. No one knew why the neighborhood had thus far escaped being "raided." One evening the scouts (not one alone, but several) reported, "Not a Yankee on this side the river. Gone off on a raid miles on the other side." Colonel —— came in later confirming the report. He was persuaded to remain for one night's rest, and immediately retired to his room. About dusk two men in the disguise (it is now believed) of Confederate soldiers—ragged, worn, barefooted, and hungry—came stealing in, apparently fearful of being discovered and taken prisoners. No one suspected them. They were warmly welcomed. A supper of broiled ham, milk, eggs, corn-muffins, and real coffee was set before them. They were afterwards shown to a comfortable cabin in the yard,—"the boys' room,"—provided with every comfort, a servant to wait on them, and left to repose. These also having assured the ladies that "the Yanks" had gone off on a raid on the other side, it was deemed safe to take advantage of such an opportunity to go regularly to bed and rest, in preparation for whatever might befall afterwards. By ten o'clock everybody was sound asleep. About midnight one of the ladies, hearing a slight noise, arose and looked out the window. Old Whitey was walking about the yard, nibbling the grass. Knowing he was never allowed in the yard, she simply supposed that one of the servants had left open the quarter-gate. Not another sound save the mule's step broke the stillness of the night. Strange to say, the dogs were nowhere to be seen, nor did they bark at the mule. Wondering a little at this circumstance, the lady was about to lie down again, when simultaneously every door of the house was assailed with the butts of guns with a terrific noise. At the same time many hoarse voices yelled, "Open these doors, d—— y—! Open up, here, or we'll burn the house over your heads!" Everybody at once realized the situation. In that fearful moment strength and courage seemed to come as from above. The servants, sleeping upon the floor, began to scream, but were instantly silenced. The ladies, slipping on dressing-gowns, but never stopping to put on shoes or stockings, quietly opened the doors. Instantly the whole house swarmed with Federal soldiers. Their first act was to capture Colonel —— and drag him outside the house, giving him no time to put on any clothes save his pants and night-shirt. The raiders then proceeded to ransack the house. Every room, every closet, every trunk, box, drawer, was rifled. Two men went to the sideboard, quietly gathering up the few silver spoons, forks, ladles, etc., not hidden, wrapped them up and put them in their pockets. Others stripped off the pillow-and bolster-cases, stuffing them with clothing, pictures, etc., tied them together, and placed them ready to be slung over the backs of their horses. Bayonets wore thrust through portraits; the sofas, beds, and lounges were pierced in search of concealed valuables; bureau-drawers were emptied, then pitched out of the doors or windows; the panels of locked armoires were broken or kicked to pieces to get at the contents; even the linen sheets were dragged off the beds and thrust into already full sacks and bags. Meanwhile, bonfires had been kindled in the yard. By the light the swarming demons carried on their destructive work outside. Around the pans of delicious milk in the dairy men reached over each others' heads to fill their tin cups. Buttermilk, clabber, fresh butter, disappeared in an instant. In the basement the officers were feasting on ham, etc. The smoke-house was left bare. Sugar, meal, flour, rice, were emptied into the yard, and stamped or shuffled into the dust. Axes or the butts of guns were employed to literally smash everything. Ham, shoulder-meat, etc., were tossed into wagons. Cows were driven off, and, oh, the beautiful horses, the pride and pets of their owners, were led, snorting and frightened, into the road, where the saddles of the cavalry-horses were put upon their shivering backs preparatory to being mounted and ridden away by their new masters.
With perfect calmness the ladies watched the havoc and desolation which was being wrought in their beloved home, among their household treasures. To one of them had been given, some time previous, a sacred trust, a watch which before the war had been presented to a minister by his congregation. When dying in one of the Confederate hospitals he had given it to Mrs. ——, begging that, if possible, it might be sent to his wife in Arkansas. This watch had been concealed upon the tester of a bed, and so far had escaped discovery. But one of the servants having given information regarding it, suddenly two soldiers dragged Mrs. —— into her own room, where they believed it was concealed. She positively refused to give it up. Throwing off the mattress, the men held a match to the feather-bed beneath, saying, "Here goes your d——d old house, then." Had the house been her own she might still have resisted, but as she was only a guest, and had been sheltered and most kindly treated, the watch was given up. The ruffians then insisted upon searching her, and in trying to force a ring from her finger, bruised and hurt the tender flesh. Even the negro cabins were searched. In several instances small sums of money which had been saved up were taken. Many threats to burn up "the whole business" were made, but, for some unknown reason, not carried into effect. Just at dawn the raiders mounted their horses and rode away, recrossing the river to Selma with their prisoners. As they rode through the "quarters," the negro men joined them on mules, horses, or on foot. Among the prisoners rode Colonel —— upon an old, worn-out horse, without saddle or bridle. By his side, guarding him and mounted upon the colonel's magnificent riding-horse, fully accoutred, was a negro man belonging to a neighboring plantation, who had guided the Federals to "ole ——'s place." Just behind, upon a sorry mule, escorted by a mixture of negroes and Yankees riding his own fine horses, came Colonel M——, his head erect, his eyes blazing scornfully, glancing from side to side, or drawing a sharp, hard breath between his clinched teeth as he overheard some ribald jest. His house and gin-house had been burned, his fields laid waste; he had left his young daughters without protection and without shelter. What the ladies felt as they saw this sad cavalcade pass out of sight may not be told. Morning dawned upon a scene of desolation, sickening in the extreme,—ruin, waste, wreck everywhere. The house emptied of everything valuable, floors filthy with the prints of muddy feet, the garden ruined, furniture battered and spoiled. Outside, broken barrels, boxes, etc., strewed the earth; lard, sugar, flour, meal were mingled together and with the sandy soil; streams of molasses ran down from broken casks; guns which had belonged to the family were broken and splintered and lay where they had been hurled; fences were broken down. Had there been any stock left, there was nothing to keep them out of garden or yard. Only old Whitey was left, however, and he walked gingerly about sniffing at the cumbered ground, looking as surprised as he was able. The carriage and buggy had been drawn out, the curtains and cushions cut and smeared thoroughly with molasses and lard. Breakfast-time arrived, but no Ruthy came up from the quarter; no smoke curled upward from the kitchen-chimney; a more hopeless, dismal party could not well be imagined than the three women who walked from room to room among the debris, neither noticing or caring for the losses, only intensely anxious regarding the helpless prisoner, who was surely suffering, but whom they could not hope to relieve. As the day wore on, some of the women from the quarters ventured near, bringing some coarse food which had been cooked in their own cabins; they would not, however, go inside the house, "Mass Yankee tole us we gwine ter get kill ef we wait on you all." Towards evening Mrs. —— walked down to the "quarter." Not a man was to be seen. The women were evidently frightened and uncertain as to how far the power of "Mass Yankee" extended. Their mistress had been a kind friend, and their habitual obedience and respect for her could not at once be overcome, but the threats and promises of the Federals had disturbed and unsettled them. Aunt Sophy was an old servant who had nursed Mrs. ——'s mother. For years she had been an invalid, kindly nursed and cared for by her master and mistress, receiving her meals from the family table, and having always some of the younger servants detailed to wait on her. Passing by her cottage now, Mrs. —— was astonished to see it empty. "Where is Sophy? what has happened to her?" "Oh, she dun gone to Selma." "That is impossible; why, she has not walked even as far as the house for months." "Well, she dun gone, shuah; she make Elsie hitch up ole Whitey in de cart and dribe her ober. One genplum he gwine gib her a mule for her own sef and forty acres ob groun'; so she dun gon' ter see 'bout hit." "Did any one else go?" "Oh, yes, mistis, Uncle Albert and Aunt Alice dey go too, and dey want we all to go 'long, but I's gwine ter wait untwill sees what Jack got ter say, 'cause I ain't gwine nowha dragging all dem chillum along untwill I knows for sartin whar I's gwine ter stop." Sick at heart, the lady turned away, slowly returning to the desolated house. Her occupation was gone; order and system could not be restored. There was nothing before the anxious woman but to watch and wait for news. On the second day one of the negro men returned, bringing a tale almost too horrible for belief,—Colonel M——, whose defiant bearing had incensed his captors more and more, had been shot down for refusing to obey orders. "Master was well, but looked mighty bad." The man also brought the first news of the surrender, a rumor which all refused to believe, although even the possibility filled all breasts with terrible forebodings. Could it be true? No! a thousand times no! And yet,—oh, the dread, the anguish of waiting to know.
The bright sunlight, the waving trees, the joyous notes of the feathered songsters seemed a mockery. Their stricken hearts cried out to all the beautiful things of nature,—
"How can ye bloom so fresh and fair? How can ye sing, ye little birds, and I so weary, fu' o' care?"
Towards evening on the third day of suspense the master returned fresh from the prison, weary, ragged, dirty, and utterly woe-begone, for he had been set at liberty only to learn that liberty was but an empty sound. Sadly he confirmed the story of the surrender. The kindly eyes still strove to cheer, but their happy light was forever quenched. The firm lip quivered not as he told to the sorrowing women the woful tale, but the iron had entered his soul and rankled there until its fatal work was accomplished. Ah, many a noble spirit shrunk appalled from the "frowning Providence" which then and long afterwards utterly hid the face of a merciful and loving Father. And yet, as mother Nature with tender hands and loving care soon effaces all traces of havoc and desolation, creating new beauties in lovely profusion to cover even the saddest ruins, so it is wisely ordered that time shall bring healing to wounded hearts. The women who on that April evening long ago grieved so bitterly over the news of the surrender have since known deep sorrow, have wept over many graves. But, like all the women of the South, they have taken up the burden of life bravely, and, God helping them, will not falter or fail until He shall release them.
By and by, the men and boys of the family, from distant Appomattox, from the Army of Tennessee, came straggling home. All had walked interminable miles,—all wore equally ragged, dirty, foot-sore, weary, dejected, despairing. They had done their best and had failed. Their labor was ended.
All over the land lay the ruins of once happy homes. As men gazed upon them, and thought of the past and the future, the apathy of despair crept over them; life seemed a burden too heavy to be borne; they longed to lay it down forever. For a time, men who had faced death again and again while struggling for freedom, could not find courage to look upon the desolation of the land, or to face the dread future. Closing their weary eyes, they slept until the clanking of chains awakened them.
Despotic power wrung the already bleeding, tortured heart of the South, until crying aloud, she held out to her sons her fettered hands. And then, fully aroused, hearing the piteous cries, the rattle of chains, seeing the beloved face, full of woe, conscious of every bitter, burning tear (which as it fell, seemed to sear their own hearts), struggling to reach, to succor her, they found themselves bound and powerless to save.
Alas, dear friends, that the pathway which opened so brightly, which seemed to lead to heights of superlative glory, should have ended beside the grave of hope. Oh, was it not hard to believe that "whatever is is right?" To kneel submissively in this valley of humiliation, and lift our streaming eyes to the heavens, that seemed of brass, to the Father who, it then appeared, had forgotten to be merciful. The glory which even then was apparent to the outside world, could not penetrate the clouds which hung above us.
The land was yet red with blood that had been poured out in vain. From once happy homes came wails of grief and despair.
Even the embers wore dead upon the hearths around which loved ones should never more gather.
And since hope is dead, and naught can avail to change the decrees of Fate, let me close this record of mingled glory and gloom, for hero must be written,—
No historian can faithfully recount the story of the war and leave untouched the record made by Southern women. Their patriotism was not the outcome of mere sentiment, but a pure steady flame which from the beginning of the war to the end burned brightly upon the altars of sacrifice, which they set up all over the land. "The power behind the throne" never ceased to be felt. Its spirit pervaded every breast of the living barricades which opposed the invaders, nerved every arm to battle for the right, inspired valorous deeds which dazzled the world. From quiet homes far from the maddening strife, where faithful women toiled and spun, facing and grappling with difficulties, even dangers, never complained of, came bright, cheery letters, unshadowed by the clouds which often hung dense and dark over their daily pathway but glowing with unshaken faith, undaunted patriotism, lofty courage, and more than all pride in the exceptional bravery which they always took for granted. Men must not fail to come up to the standard set up in simple faith by mothers, wives, daughters, and, as all the world knows, they did not.
It was my daily business during the war to read and answer letters to sick soldiers. Almost all were such as I have described. A few, alas! were far different. As I read them and watched the agony they caused, I understood why some men became deserters, and absolutely revered the manliness and patriotism which resisted a temptation so terrible.
It seemed once that I could never forget the contents of letters which particularly impressed me, but am sorry I have done so and cannot reproduce them here. One I can never forget. A tall, splendid Missouri soldier came into my office one morning, his face convulsed with grief. Handing me a letter, he sank into a chair, burying his face in his hands and sobbing pitifully. A letter had been somehow conveyed to him from his sister-in-law announcing that his wife was dying of consumption. Appended to the letter (which was sad enough) were a few lines written by the trembling hand of the dying one. "Darling, do not let any thoughts of me come between you and your duty to our country. I have longed to see you once more, to die with my head upon your breast; but that is past,—I am calm and happy. We have long known that this parting must be; perhaps when my soul is free I may be nearer you. If possible, my spirit will be with you wherever you are."
I can only recall these few lines. A volume could not convey more strongly the spirit of Southern women, strong even in death. I could only offer the stricken soldier the little comfort human sympathy can give, but my tears flowed plentifully as he told me of his wife and his home.
He was, as I afterwards learned, killed at the battle of Franklin. I thought almost with pleasure of the happy reunion which I felt sure must have followed.
How often I have marshalled into the hospital wards mothers and wives, who for the sake of some absent loved one had come from homes many miles away, to bring some offering to the sick. Timid, yet earnest women, poorly dressed, with sunbrowned faces and rough hands, yet bearing in their hearts the very essence of loving-kindness towards the poor fellows upon whose pale faces and ghastly wounds they looked with "round-eyed wonder" and pity. After a while they would gain courage to approach some soldier whom they found "sort o' favored" their own, to whom they ventured to offer some dainty, would stroke the wasted hand, smooth the hair, or hold to the fevered lips a drink of buttermilk or a piece of delicious fruit. Ah, how many times I have watched such scenes! To the warmly-expressed thanks of the beneficiaries they would simply answer, "That is nothing; 'mebbe' somebody will do as much for mine when he needs it."
About seven miles from Ringgold, Georgia, lived an old couple, Mr. and Mrs. Russell, who, although ardently loving the cause, were too old and feeble to serve it otherwise than by their unceasing prayers, and by giving freely of their substance to sustain the patients at the hospitals then established at Ringgold. Their daughter, "Miss Phemie," a beautiful young girl, was never weary of conferring benefits upon the Southern soldiers; every day she rode in, never minding even heavy storms, and often riding upon a wagon because it would hold a larger supply of vegetables, etc. Many a soldier was taken to the homestead to be cared for. Those who could not go from under medical or surgical treatment were often treated to little rides. Her devotion to the soldiers I can never forget.
Among the sick and wounded who were sent to the hospital at Newnan were many Georgians whose homes were within twenty-five or thirty miles.
After the fight at Missionary Ridge, two boys, brothers, were brought in. One was threatened with pneumonia; the other, a lad of sixteen, had his right arm shattered from the shoulder down. At his earnest request his mother was sent for; the necessary amputation being deferred awhile, because he begged so hard that the surgeon should await her arrival. She had to ride all the way on a wagon drawn by a steer (oh, mothers, can you not imagine the agony which attended that lengthened journey?), and she was so long detained that I had to take her place at her boy's side while the operation was performed. The boy rapidly sunk,—when his mother came was past speaking, and could only express with his dying eyes his great love for her. Kneeling beside him, she watched intently, but without a tear or a sob, the dear life fast ebbing away. The expression of that mother's face no one who saw it can ever forget.
When all was over, I led her to my own room, where she asked to be left alone for a while. At last, in answer to the sobbing appeals of her remaining son, she opened the door. He threw himself into her arms, crying out, "Buddie's gone, but you're got me, ma, and I'll never leave you again. I'll help you take Buddie home, and I'll stay with you and help you work the farm."
The mother gently and tenderly held him off a little way, looking with burning eyes into his face; her own was pale as death, but not a sob or tear yet. Quietly she said, "No, my son, your place is not by me; I can get along as I have done; you are needed yonder (at the front); go and avenge your brother; he did his duty to the last; don't disgrace him and me. Come, son, don't cry any more; you're mother's man, you know."
That same night that mother started alone back to her home, bearing the coffined body of her youngest son, parting bravely from the elder, whose sorrow was overwhelming. Just before leaving, she took me aside and said, "My boy is no coward, but he loved his Buddie, and is grieving for him; try to comfort him, won't you?"
I did try, but during the whole night he paced with restless feet up and down my office. At daylight I sat watching his uneasy slumber.
A few weeks later a young wife came by train to visit her husband, who lay very ill of fever, bringing with her a lovely blue-eyed baby girl about two years old.
I found a room for her at a house near the hospital, and she was allowed to nurse her husband. When he was nearly ready to report for duty, a fearful accident happened by which the baby nearly lost her life, and was awfully disfigured. At the house where the young wife boarded there was a ferocious bull-dog, which was generally kept chained until it showed such evident fondness for the babe that he was sometimes allowed to lie upon the gallery beside it while it slept, and the little one on awakening would crawl all over the dog, who patiently submitted, and would affectionately lick her face.
One day, however, when the family were all assembled upon the gallery, the dog suddenly sprung upon the little girl, fastening his dreadful fangs in one side of her face. Everybody was stricken with horror. Nothing availed to make the beast loosen his hold, until suddenly he withdrew his teeth from the child's face and fastened them once more in her shoulder. At last, as no other alternative presented itself, some one placed a pistol to his ear and killed him. The baby on being released still breathed, but was so torn and disfigured that the sight turned strong men sick.
The father fell in a swoon; the young mother, pale and shaking as with an ague, yet held her mutilated babe through all the examination and the surgical operations which followed. For two weeks it seemed as if the child must die, but she did not, and soon, unconscious of her disfigurement, began to play and smile. All pitied the unfortunate father when, after some time allowed him through sympathy with his misfortune, it became necessary for him to return to the front. He had borne an excellent record, but now broke down utterly, declaring he could not leave his child. The young wife, putting down with a strong hand her own sorrow, actually set herself to rouse her husband to a sense of duty, and succeeded; I was present at the depot when the brave, girlish wife waved to the soldier a smiling farewell, and afterwards witnessed her vain efforts to suppress the short, sharp screams of agony which had been kept under as long as her husband needed to be upheld, but which after his departure convulsed her at intervals for hours.
There are two women against whom, during and since the war, I held and still hold a grudge. One was of that class of women who undervalue and strive to undo all the good done by others; who hold opinions and views which they absolutely insist upon carrying out regardless of consequences.
During the whole four years of the war I was annoyed by these would-be directresses of hospitals. They would intrude themselves into my wards, where they hesitated not to air their superior knowledge of all sickness, to inspire discomfort and distrust in the patients by expressive gestures, revealing extreme surprise at the modes of treatment, and by lugubrious shakes of the head their idea of the inevitably fatal result. While the kindly women, who, though already overburdened, would take from the wards of the hospital enough of convalescents or sick men to crowd their own homes, often thereby saving lives,—always doing good,—these prowling women would manage to convey their sense of the dreadful condition of hitherto well-satisfied patients without ever suggesting a remedy. In one of the large churches used for sick-wards in Newnan lay a young man from Maryland, who had suffered the amputation of an arm. The wound had been carefully bandaged, the arteries taken up, etc., but as inflammation supervened the pain became almost unbearable, the poor fellow moaned unceasingly. One night two old women visited the ward. Afterward, upon making my last round, I found the young man above mentioned so quiet that I did not disturb him. It so happened that Dr. Merriweather, of Alabama, was in Newnan, in close attendance upon his young son, who had received a most peculiar and apparently fatal wound. He was shot through the liver. The wound, at all times excessively painful, exuded bile. Whenever Dr. Merriweather wanted an hour's rest I took my place at the bedside of the lad. Interest in the case took me very frequently to the ward. Just before bedtime, therefore, I returned to the side of young Merriweather to let his father off for a while. Inquiring of the nurse as to the patient who had been so restive, I learned that he had neither moved nor spoken. Feeling uneasy, I walked over to the corner where he lay. At once I heard a drip, drip, drip, and, calling for a light, soon discovered that the bed and floor were bloody. Dr. Yates was called at once, but too late. That dreadful meddler, the old woman visitor, had actually dared to loosen the bandages, and the poor victim, feeling only relief, had sunk tranquilly to his death.
The other was a heartless girl, who has, I feel sure, by this time made a selfish, unloving wife to some poor man. Her lover, after the battle of Franklin, was brought to the tent hospital, having lost a leg and being wounded in the face. He confided to me the fact of his engagement to "one of the prettiest and peartest girls in 'Massissip,'" and begged me to write her of his condition, and, said the poor fellow, "If she don't care about sticking to a fellow murdered up like I am, I reckon I'll have to let her off" (this with a sigh). Then, with a brighter look, "Maybe she'll stick, anyhow." How he watched for the answer to that letter! His restlessness was pitiful to see. I tried to help him by reading to him and by relating to him instances of women who only loved more because the object of their affection had been unfortunate. Among other things, I told him of the noble English girl who wrote to her mangled lover that she still loved and would marry him "if there was enough of his body left to contain his soul." Afterward I felt sorry that I had encouraged him to hope, for it was my misfortune to read to him a very cold letter from his lady-love, who declined to marry "a cripple." She wanted a husband who could support her, and as some man who lived near was "mighty fond of her company and could give her a good home," she reckoned she would take his offer under consideration.
For a few days my poor young friend was inconsolable; but one morning I found him singing. "I've been thinking over that matter," said he, "and I reckon I've had a lucky escape. That trifling girl would never have made me a good, faithful wife." From that day he seemed to have recovered his cheerfulness. I have never forgiven that faithless girl.
All over the South, wherever "pain and anguish wrung the brow" of their defenders, women became "ministering angels."
Even those who had been bereft of their own suppressed their tears, stifled the cry of bleeding hearts, and, by unwearied attention to living sufferers, strove to honor their dead. Self-abnegation was, during the war, a word of meaning intense and real. Its spirit had its dwelling-place in the souls of faithful women, looked out from the bright eyes of young girls, whose tender feet were newly set in a thorny pathway, as well as from the pale, stricken faces of those whose hearts the thorn had pierced.
Among the tender and true women with whom I have corresponded since the war is the mother of Colonel Robadeaux Wheat, the noble Louisianian who fell at Gaines's Mill. I have several of her letters by me, written in the tremulous hand of one who had passed her seventy-ninth birthday, but glowing with love for the cause, and fondest pride in the sons who died in its defence. It is touching to see how she clings to and cherishes the record, given by his companions in arms, of "Robadeux's" last hours on earth, when, in the early morning, before going forth to battle, his heart seemed to return to the simple faith of his boyhood, and, gathering his subordinate officers around him in his tent; he read reverently the service of prayer which committed himself and them to the protection of the God of battles. Mrs. Wheat's letters are, I think, among the most beautiful and touching I ever read, yet sprightly and interesting. Believing that all my readers will feel an interest in the mother of glorious "Bob Wheat," I will here transcribe a small portion. In one letter she says,—
"I am, thank God, in excellent health for one aged seventy-eight. My husband was born in this city (Washington, D.C.) in the year one, he says.
"We shall soon celebrate the fifty-ninth anniversary of our marriage, and he is deeply engaged upon some 'post-nuptial lines' for me."
"I want to send you a sword and flag for the Exposition. How I wish I could take it to New Orleans, where I lived many years when my husband was rector of St. Paul's Church! You know, our second son, I.T. Wheat, was Secretary of the Secession Committee when Louisiana seceded, also Secretary of the Legislature. He was killed at Shiloh at the same hour as General Sydney Johnston, and is buried in Nashville. We are hoping to have the dear brother's monument in Hollywood, Richmond, where both beloved ones shall rest in the same grave." .... In conclusion, "Our love and blessings rest ever on yourself and all friends of our hero sons. Truly yours, in Christian fellowship,
Here is the record of another mother, who is to this day proud of the splendid record made by her sons, and devoted in the memory of the cause.
At the commencement of the war there lived in Sharon, Mississippi, Mr. and Mrs. O'Leary, surrounded by a family of five stalwart sons. Mrs. Catharine O'Leary was a fond and loving mother, but also an unfaltering patriot, and her heart was fired with love for the cause of Southern liberty. Therefore, when her brave sons, one after the other, went forth to battle for the right, she bade them God-speed. "Be true to your God and your country," said this noble woman, "and never disgrace your mother by flinching from duty."
Her youngest and, perhaps, dearest was at that time only fifteen. For a while she felt that his place was by her side; but in 1863, when he was barely seventeen, she no longer tried to restrain him. Her trembling hands, having arrayed the last beloved boy for the sacrifice, rested in blessings on his head ere he went forth. Repressing the agony which swelled her heart, she calmly bade him, also, "Do your whole duty. If you must die, let it be with your face to the foe." And so went forth James A. O'Leary, at the tender age of seventeen, full of ardor and hope. He was at once assigned to courier duty under General Loring. On the 28th of July, 1864, at the battle of Atlanta, he was shot through the hip, the bullet remaining in the wound, causing intense suffering, until 1870, when it was extracted, and the wound healed for the first time. Notwithstanding this wound, he insisted upon returning to his command, which, in the mean time, had joined Wood's regiment of cavalry. This was in 1865, and so wounded he served three months, surrendering with General Wirt Adams at Gainesville. A short but very glorious record. This young hero is now residing in Shreveport, Louisiana, is a successful physician, and an honored member of the veteran association of that city,—Dr. James A. O'Leary.
Of his brothers, the oldest, Ignatius S. O'Leary, served throughout the war, and is now a prominent druggist of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Dr. Richard O'Leary, surgeon P.A.C.S., now practises medicine in Vicksburg.
Cornelius O'Leary, badly wounded at the battle of Fredericksburg, lay on the field for hours with the legions of friend and foe alternately charging over him. After a long illness he recovered, and is now a planter near Sharon, Mississippi.
John Pearce O'Leary was killed in the battle of the Wilderness.
Mrs. O'Leary still lives in Sharon. The old fire is unquenched.
There are two names of patriotic women which will always awaken in every Southern heart profound veneration, and imperishable love and gratitude,—women who devoted themselves so entirely, so continuously to the soldiers of the Confederacy as to obliterate self, unconsciously winning for themselves the while a name and fame which history will proudly record.
Their names—written in many hearts, fondly cherished in the homes of veterans whose children are taught to revere them—are Mrs. Buck Morris and Mrs. L.M. Caldwell. Mrs. Morris was by birth a Kentuckian, but at the beginning of the war resided with her husband, a prominent and wealthy lawyer, in Chicago, Illinois.
Her sympathies, always Southern, became strongly enlisted upon the side of the unfortunate prisoners at Camp Douglas. Both Judge Morris and his wife were deeply implicated in the plot to release these men. Their home in Chicago was a place of secret rendezvous for Southerners who, in the interest of these prisoners, were secretly visiting Chicago.
By some means constant communication with the prisoners was established, and if they still suffered horribly, hope revived among them for a while, and her blessed presence lightened their burdens. Mrs. Morris well knew that by implicating herself in the plot she was placing herself and husband in a position to suffer in their own persons and property in case of failure. Death would be the most probable consequence. Yet she risked it all. To use her own words, copied from a letter which I received from her shortly before her death, "I did help my suffering, starving countrymen, who were subjected to the horrors of Camp Douglas. I loved them with all the sympathy and pride of a mother, and I did spend upon them every dollar of my own money and as much of my husband's as I could get by fair means or foul in my hands.
"At the close of the war we found ourselves broken in health and fortune, but my husband had still enough left for our support; but the great Chicago fire swept our all away.
"Should my health improve, I wish to make an effort to send you a fuller account, and to add my small morsel of praise to the gallantry and patient endurance of the most bitter and maddening trials that men were ever called upon to endure.
"One unselfish action I would like to have recorded of a member of J.H. Morgan's command, the same to which my dear friend Colonel B.F. Forman belonged, and he can tell you how proud all Kentucky was of her brave boys. This is what I wish to write, because I like to have every noble deed recorded. After my good brother, Ex-Governor Blackman (who has administered medicine whenever I needed it), removed to Tennessee, and I felt the attack coming on from which I have so long and so severely suffered, I applied to Dr. R. Wilson Thompson for medical advice, and, receiving it, put my hand in my pocket. He said, almost sternly, 'No, no, Mrs. Morris, do not attempt that; you cannot do it,' and, rising abruptly, left the house. Returning the second day, he said, 'I fear you did not understand me, Mrs. Morris: I feel as every Confederate soldier feels, or ought to feel,—that he could never do enough for you; we could never receive pay from you for anything.' And so for the last five months he, although like many of our brave boys has had many hardships to endure, and his constitution shattered, has come through snow and sleet night and day to minister to the relief of an old woman who only did her duty to him and his people twenty long years ago. How few remember to be grateful so long! Present my best love to my old friend B.F. Forman. I remain always your friend and well-wisher,
"MRS. MARY B. MORRIS.
"SPRING STATION, KENTUCKY."
From one of the many Louisiana soldiers who received, at the hands of Mrs. Caldwell, the tender care and excellent nursing which doubtless saved his life, I have received a description of the "Refuge," which, during three years of the war, was opened to Louisiana soldiers; not to officers, although a few personal friends of Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell were there by special invitation; but it was understood that none but private soldiers were expected without an invitation, while all privates were welcomed as to a home.
The 'Refuge,' the residence of John B. Caldwell during the war, was situated in Amherst County, Virginia, about three and a half miles from Lynchburg. The residence was of peculiar build, having more the appearance of the Queen Anne style of architecture than any else, and was probably the only house in that section of country where the constructor had diverged from the accepted style for a country residence, hence, even in its isolated situation, it was known far and wide. The estate comprised an area of about eight hundred acres, and was cultivated in wheat, corn, etc. The route to it from Lynchburg lay, for about a mile and a half, along the north side of the James River, from which the road turned at almost right angles toward the north, over an undulating country, and through a long lane, which was part of the farm.
The house stood about fifty yards from the road, and presented a rather picturesque appearance, the lawn being surrounded by a fence, outside of which and in front of the house a circular lawn had been laid out, around which was the carriage drive.
There were four rooms on the ground floor of the house, and two in the main building up-stairs, and two additional rooms which had been added, but were so situated that an accurate description would be hard to give, and perhaps harder to understand after giving.
The house faced nearly east, and had a porch up and down-stairs, and on the north side a gallery. There were the usual out-houses, and a feature of the place was the spring, which was situated at the foot of the hill upon which the house stood. Water was supplied from this spring by means of a ram-pump with pipes. Around the spring was a growth of very fine walnut-and chestnut-trees, which made it a very cool retreat during the warm days of summer. A large orchard of apples, plums, and peaches was immediately in the rear of the residence. Between the farm and the road which led from Lynchburg to Amherst Court-House, a distance of about two miles, was a thick growth of woods, consisting principally of chestnut-trees.
"The whole face of the country consisted of hills and dales, and was rather rugged; the soil rather poor, probably having been exhausted by long cultivation. The nearest house was fully a mile distant, that section of country being but sparsely settled."
Their painful journey thitherward ended, just imagine what it must have been to these suffering men to arrive at such a haven of rest!—a "refuge" indeed. Think of the cool, breezy chambers, clean and white and fragrant, like home, of the tender ministry of that gentle woman, whose loving service was theirs to command, of the country food, of the cool, sparkling water from the spring under the oaks, held to fevered lips by ever-ready hands, while the favored patients drank at the same time draughts of sympathy from eyes whose kindly glances fell upon the humblest as upon their very own. The excellence and faithfulness of the nursing is fully proved by the fact that while three or four hundred patients were sent to this blessed "Refuge," no mortality occurred among the soldiers, the only death being that of a little son of Captain Laurence Nichols, who had fallen in battle at Gaines's Mill, and whose widow found in this lovely, hospitable home a temporary resting-place for the body of her gallant husband, and shelter for herself and child, a lovely boy of three years, who was thence transferred to the arms of the Good Shepherd. Sad, indeed, were the hearts of the little band of women gathered at the "Refuge."