When wave of patriotism rolled over the land at the outbreak of the late Rebellion, fathers and mothers were proudly willing to send forth sons and daughters to take their part in the struggle. The young men were speedily marshalled and marched to the scene of action; but the young women were not so fortunate in getting off to places in the hospitals before the first ardor of excitement had cooled. Indeed, all hospital organization was in such an imperfect state that no definite plan could be made for ladies desiring to enter upon the good work.
Then came grave doubts from sage heads as to the propriety and expediency of young women's going at all. One said that they would always be standing in the way of the doctors; another, that they would run at the first glimpse of a wounded man, or certainly faint at sight of a surgical instrument; others still, that no woman's strength could endure for a week the demands of hospital life. In fact, it was looked upon as the most fanatical folly, and suggestions were made that at least a slight experiment of hospital horrors ought to be made before starting on such a mad career. Accordingly, in Boston, a few who cherished the project most earnestly began a series of daily visits to the Massachusetts General Hospital. To the courtesy and kindness of Dr. B. S. Shaw and the attending surgeons,—especially Dr. J. Mason Warren,—these novices were indebted for the privilege of witnessing operations and being taught the art of dressing wounds. The omission of fainting on the part of the new pupils rather disappointed general expectation; and though the knowledge gained in a few weeks was superficial, yet for practical purposes the nurses were not deemed totally incompetent.
After receiving a certificate of fitness for the work from medical authority, it was discouraging at last to be denied the consent of parents. However, some favored ones went forth, and, returning home in a few months, brought back such accounts of satisfaction in finding themselves of use, and of their enjoyment in ministering to our suffering soldiers, that at length the prejudices which withheld consent were overcome, and one of the last of those who went was allowed to take part in the most interesting duties to which the war called women.
I have often thought that one day of hospital employment, with its constant work and opportunities, was worth a year of ordinary life at home, and I remember with thankfulness how many times I was permitted to take the place of absent mothers and sisters in caring for their sons and brothers. It seemed to me that we women in the hospitals received our reward a hundred-fold in daily sights of patient heroism, and expressions of warm gratitude, and that we did not deserve mention or remembrance in comparison with the thousands at home whose zeal never wearied in labors indirect and unexciting, until the day of victory ended their work.
No place in the country could have been better adapted to the uses of a hospital than the grounds and buildings belonging to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, enclosed on two sides, as they are, by an arm of the Chesapeake Bay and the river Severn, and blessed with a varied view, and fresh, invigorating breezes. At the opening of the war General Butler landed troops at this point, thus communicating with Washington without passing through Baltimore. The Naval School was immediately removed to Newport, where it remained until after the close of our national troubles. The places of the young students preparing for the naval service were soon filled by the sick and wounded of the volunteer armies.
The city of Annapolis is old and quaint. Unlike most of our American capitals, it gives a stranger the impression of having been finished for centuries, and one would imagine that the inhabitants are quite too contented to have any idea of progress or improvement. The Episcopal church, destroyed by fire a few years since, has been rebuilt; but even that is crowned with the ancient wooden tower rescued from the flames, and preserved in grateful memory of Queen Anne, who bestowed valuable gifts on this church of her namesake city.
Within easy access of all the conveniences of a city, and with excellent railroad facilities, the hospital grounds were perfectly secluded by surrounding walls. As one entered through the high gates, an indescribable repose was felt, enhanced by the charm with which Nature has endowed the spot, in the abundant shade, evergreen, and fruit trees, and rose-bushes, holly, and other shrubbery. The classical naval monument, formerly at the Capitol in Washington, has within a few years been removed, and with two others—one of which perpetuates the memory of the adventurous Herndon—stands here. The wharf built for the embarkation of the Burnside Expedition in 1861 is also here. About sixty brick buildings, comprising the chapel, post-office, dispensary, and laundry, with long rows of tents stretched across the grassy spaces, afforded accommodation for patients varying from five hundred to twenty-two hundred in number.
In the summer of 1863, Dr. B. A. Vanderkeift was appointed surgeon in charge of the U.S. General Hospital, Division I., at Annapolis, more frequently called the Naval School Hospital. Dr. Vanderkeift, from his uncommon energy of character, his large experience, and rare executive ability, was admirably fitted for his position. By day and night he never spared himself in the most watchful superintendence of all departments of the hospital; no details were too minute for his care, no plan too generous which could tend to the comfort of the suffering. Absolute system and punctuality were expected to be observed by all who came under his military rule. The reveille bugle broke the silence of early dawn. Its clear notes, repeated at intervals during the day, announced to the surgeons the time for visits and reports, and to the men on duty—such as the guards, police, nurses, and cooks—the time for their meals. One of the most original of the Doctor's plans was the establishment of a stretcher corps. At one time there was daily to be seen upon the green in front of head-quarters a company of men, ward-masters, nurses, and cooks, performing the most surprising evolutions, playing alternately the parts of patients and nurses, studying by experiment, under the eye and direction of skilful surgeons, the most comfortable method of conveying the helpless. In this way the stretcher corps acquired an amount of skill and tenderness which was brought into good use when the long roll on the drum summoned them to meet an approaching transport, bringing either the wounded from the last battle-field, or the emaciated victims who had been held as prisoners of war at the South.
Shortly after Dr. Vanderkeift came to the hospital, he invited "Sister Tyler" to take the head of the ladies' department. She will always be remembered as identified with the war from the very beginning. She was the only woman in Baltimore who came forward on the 19th of April, 1861, when the men of our Massachusetts Sixth were massacred in passing through that city. She insisted upon being permitted to see the wounded, and with dauntless devotion, in the face of peril, had some of them removed to her own home, where she gave them the most faithful care for many weeks. These men were but the first few of thousands who can never forget the kindness received from her hands, the words of cheer which came from her lips. Until within ten months of the closing events of the war, she was constantly engaged in hospital service, and then only left for Europe because too much exhausted to continue longer in the work. "Sister Tyler" had supervision of the hospital, and of the fourteen ladies who had a subdivision of responsibility resting upon each of them. Their duties consisted in the special care of the wards assigned them, and particular attention to the diet and stimulants; they supplied the thousand nameless little wants which occurred every day, furnished books and amusements, wrote for and read to the men,—did everything, in fact, which a thoughtful tact could suggest without interfering with surgeons or stewards.
Dr. Vanderkeift wisely considered nourishing diet of more importance than medicine. There were three departments for the preparation of low and special diet, over each of which a lady presided. The cooks and nurses, throughout the hospital, were furnished from the number of convalescent patients not fit to go to the front. They made excellent workers in these positions, learning with a ready intelligence their new duties, and performing them with cheerful compliance; but they often regained their strength too rapidly, and the whole order and convenience of kitchens and wards would be thrown into wild confusion by a stern mandate from Washington, that every able-bodied man was to go to his regiment. No matter what the exigency of the case might be, these men were despatched in haste. Then came a new training of men, some on crutches, some with one hand, and all far from strong. When the ladies remonstrated at having such men put on duty, they were told that feebleness must be made good by numbers, and it was no uncommon thing for four or five crippled men to be employed in the work of one strong one. These changes made wild confusion for a few days, but gradually we began to consider them a part of the fortunes of war, and to find that a stoical tranquillity was the best way in which to meet them. Though exceedingly inconvenient, there was rarely any serious result attending them. Occasionally a lady would be fortunate enough to evade the loss of a valuable man by sending him into the city on an errand, or by keeping him out of sight while an inspection was going on. In this way my chief of staff, as I used to call a certain German youth, was kept a year in the hospital. His efficiency and constant interest in the patients made him a valuable auxiliary in my little department; and I know that his services were appreciated by others than myself, for one of the chief surgeons advised me to keep him by all means, even if hiding him in the ice-chest were necessary.
The regular supplies from the commissary were comparatively plentiful, but fell short of the demand, both as to quantity and variety. The Christian and Sanitary Commissions met this want in great measure, providing good stimulants, dried fruits, butter, and various other luxuries. But with the utmost delight were received boxes packed by generous hands at home. I shall ever feel indebted to many Boston friends for their laborious care and munificent contributions. One of them, Mrs. James Reed, has now entered upon the full reward of a life rich in noble impulses and kindly deeds. Her cordial sympathy for those languishing in distant hospital wards was manifested in sending gifts of the choicest and most expensive home luxuries.
A gentleman well known in England, as well as our own country, for his friendly patronage of art, was never forgetful of our warriors in their dreary days of suffering. Many a cheery message did he send in letters, and never without liberal "contents." His name was gratefully associated by the men with bountiful draughts of punch and milk, fruits, ice-cream, and many other satisfying good things. His request was never to allow a man to want for anything that money could buy; and though "peanuts and oranges"—of which he desired the men should have plenty—were not always the most judicious articles of diet, the spirit of his command was strictly obeyed.
Mrs. Alexander Randall, who lived near the hospital at Annapolis, was exceedingly kind in sending in timely delicacies for the men. Fruits and flowers from her own garden in lavish profusion were the constant expressions of her thoughtful interest. I remember especially one morning when a poor boy who was very low could not be persuaded to take any food; many tempting things had been suggested, but with feeble voice he said that some grapes were all that he cared for. It was early in the season, and they could not be bought. But just at this moment Mrs. Randall opportunely sent in some beautiful clusters. The countenance of the dying boy brightened with delight as he saw them. They made his last moments happy, for within half an hour he turned his head on the pillow, and with one short sigh was gone.
The large basketfuls of rosy apples from this lady were hailed with the utmost delight by those allowed to eat them. "I have wanted an apple more than anything," was often the eager reply, as they were offered to those who had recently come from a long captivity; and as they were distributed through the wards, not the least gratifying circumstance was the invariable refusal of the ward-masters and nurses to take any. Their diet was not sumptuous, and apples were a great luxury to all; but they would say, "No, thank you, let the men who have just come have them all."
On the 17th of November, 1863, the steamer New York came in, bringing one hundred and eighty men from Libby Prison and Belle Isle. Most of these were the soldiers who had fought at Gettysburg. Never was there an army in the world whose health and strength were better looked after than our own; the weak and sick were always sent to the general hospitals; and the idea that our men were ever in other than the most sound and robust condition at the time of their becoming prisoners has no foundation. Language fails to describe them on their return from the most cruel of captivities. Ignominious insults, bitter and galling threats, exposure to scorching heat by day and to frosty cold at night, torturing pangs of hunger,—these were the methods by which stalwart men had been transformed into ghastly beings with sunken eyes and sepulchral voices. They were clothed in uncleanly rags, many without caps, and most without shoes. Their hair and beards were overgrown and matted. The condition of their teeth was the only appearance of neatness about them: and these were as white as ivory, from eating bread made of corn and cobs ground up together. A piece of such bread four inches square daily, with a morsel of meat once a week and a spoonful of beans three times a week, had been their food for several months. Some were too far gone to bear the strain of removal from the steamer; nine died on the day of arrival, and one third of the whole number soon followed them. Roses, which had lingered through the mellow autumn, were wreathed with laurel and laid upon their coffins as they were carried into the beautiful little chapel for the funeral services, before they were laid in the government cemetery, about a mile from the hospital. It is a lovely place, with many trees surrounding its gentle slopes; and here thousands sleep, with their name, rank, company, and regiment inscribed upon wooden slabs. But "Unknown" is the only sad record on many a headboard. These were men who died either on transports, or who when brought to us were too much impaired in mind to remember anything,—for the loss or derangement of mental faculties was no uncommon occurrence. When the first cases of starvation were brought under treatment, the doctors prescribed the lightest diet, mostly rice, soup, and tea. By experiment it was proved that just as many died in proportion under this care as when an intense desire for any particular article of food was allowed in a measure to be satisfied. Almost every man on his arrival would have his mind concentrated on some one thing: with many, pickles were the coveted luxury; with others, milk. Often, as I passed through the wards, one or another would call out, "Lady, do you think there is such a thing as a piece of Bologna sausage here?" or, "Lady, is there a lemon in this place? I have been longing for one for months." The first thing that one man asked for was a cigar. He was very low, but said, "I would like one sweet smoke before I die." He finished his cigar only a few moments before he breathed his last.
The gratification of an insane craving for food cost many a poor fellow his life. One morning a man who had just come received some money from a friendly comrade; going in to the sutler's, he bought a quart of dried apples. After eating them he became quite thirsty, and drank an alarming quantity of cold water. It is needless to say that he died the next day. At another time a boy received a box from home; his fond mother, with more kindness than good judgment, sent, with other things, a mince-pie, which delighted him, and he was greatly disappointed in not being allowed to taste it. Though warned of the danger, when the nurse left him for a few moments to bring him some beef-tea, he got at the pie, ate half of it, and when the nurse returned was lying dead. Perhaps his death was not caused, but only hastened, by this. It was impossible always to guard against such imprudences.
One of the most interesting of the patients, who lived a few weeks after coming, was Hiram Campbell, of the Hundred and Forty-fifth Pennsylvania Regiment. An imprisonment of one hundred and thirty-eight days had reduced him to a point beyond recovery. Day by day he grew weaker, yet clung to life for the sake of going home to see his friends once more. A few weeks before, Dr. Vanderkeift had allowed a man in similar condition to start for home, and he had died on the way; so that the Doctor had made a rule that no man should leave the hospital unless able to walk to head-quarters to ask for his own papers. An exception to this rule could not be granted, and the only chance was to try to build up Campbell's little remaining strength for the journey, to relieve his sufferings by comforts, and to keep hope alive in his mind by interesting him in stories and books. He was delighted to have "Evangeline" read to him, and the faint smile which passed over his haggard features as he listened told of a romance in his own life, begun, but destined too soon to be broken off by death. When too low to write, as a lady was answering a letter from his sister for him, he asked to have it read over to him. In her letter the sister had requested him to name her infant daughter. When the lady came to this request, he stopped her by asking what she thought a pretty name. Edith was suggested, but he did not seem satisfied with that; at last he said shyly, "How do you spell your name? I think I would like to have her named for you." The lady felt rather embarrassed in writing this, and persuaded him to let her mention several names, so that at least the sister might have a choice. This was only a few days before his death. His father was sent for, because it was evident that there could no longer be any hope of returning strength for him. The poor old man was heart-broken when he saw his son in such an emaciated condition. They had heard at home of his severe sufferings, but said he, "How could I ever expect to see him the like of this?" With patient resignation to God's will, the sufferer waited, and his life ebbed slowly away.
The sorrow-stricken father took to his home in the interior of Pennsylvania the body of his son, that he might rest in the village graveyard by the side of his mother. By his grassy grave a little child often hears from her mother's lips how her uncle fought and died for the country, and with questioning wonder asks, "And am I named for the lady who was kind to Uncle Hiram?" Such are the strange links in life.
At this time there was in the wards an elderly man, who for months had been vainly trying to recruit his strength. He had not been a prisoner, but had been sent to the rear on account of feebleness. Now John Bump thought it a great waste of time to be staying here in the hospital, where he was doing no good to the nation, while, if he were at home, he might be acquiring quite a fortune from his "profession," for he was a chair-maker. His descriptive list not having been sent from the regiment, he could draw no pay. One day he received the following important queries from his anxious wife, who with eight small children at home did seem to be in a precarious condition: "The man who owns the house says I must move out if I cannot pay the rent: what shall I do? I have nothing for the children to eat: what shall I do? There is nothing to feed the hens with: what shall I do? The pigs are starving: what shall I do?" An application was made, which resulted in John Bump's being sent to his regiment, from which he no doubt soon received his discharge papers.
Around the post-office at noon might always be seen an eager group awaiting the distribution of the mail. A letter from friends was the most cheering hope of the day, often proving more effectual than anything else toward the restoration of health, by bringing vividly to minds languid with disease all the little interests and charms of home.
Gathered about the fire on a wintry day, the men would recount the experiences of their captivity, from the moment when they first found themselves with dismay in the power of the enemy, and, relieved of muskets, were marched without food to Richmond. There whatever they chanced to have of money or of value was taken into the care of a Rebel officer, with the assurance that it would be returned on their release. The promise was never fulfilled, and the men were hurried off to the sandy plains of Belle Isle. The death of companions was the principal change in their dreary, monotonous life, varied also by the addition from time to time of others doomed to share their fate. Efforts to escape were not always unsuccessful. At one time eight men burned spots on their faces and hands with hot wire, and then sprinkled the spots with black pepper. When the doctor came round, they feigned illness, and he ordered these cases of small-pox to be taken to the pestilence-house beyond the guards. In the night the men started for their homes in the West, and were not caught.
Tracy Rogers, with his bright, sunny face, and sweet voice, whose merry music resounded through the wards, was one of the first to regain strength and spirits. His patriotic zeal had only been reanimated by his sufferings, and he was in haste to be in his place at the front again. A brother had been killed in the same battle in which he was taken prisoner, and another had died in a Philadelphia hospital. He was sure that he should yet die for his country, and talked of death as soon to come to him. With earnest thoughtfulness, he recalled the teachings of a Christian mother in his far-off Connecticut home. As the tears filled his manly blue eyes one day, he asked if the hymn,
"On Jordan's stormy banks I stand, And cast a wishful eye," could be found in the hospital. He said that it had been sung at his mother's funeral, on his fourteenth birthday; that he had never seen it since, but that lately he had thought much about it. The hymn was brought, and he committed it to memory. We were sorry to part with him, when, after serving as ward-master, he was strong enough to go to his regiment. Not long after he left, a letter came, saying that he had been badly wounded, and wished himself back among his Annapolis friends once more. We never heard of him again, and fear that his wounds must have proved fatal.
Those were quiet, solemn hours passed in the hospital in the intervals between past and coming dangers. At the close of the day, the men would gather into one ward for prayers. Many a stern voice was uplifted that never prayed before. After petitions for pardon and guidance had arisen to the Giver of all good things, the men would sit and sing, for hours sometimes, each one wishing for his favorite hymn to be sung, and saying that this time was more homelike than any other of the day.
The inspection on Sunday forenoon made it the busiest morning of the week. In the chapel at two o'clock, and again at seven, short services were held, conducted either by the chaplain, or by the Rev. Mr. Sloan, the devoted agent of the Christian Commission at this post. After a while the second service was changed into a Sunday school, very interesting to our grown-up scholars. The ladies found themselves fully occupied as teachers in answering the various difficult questions crowded into a short space of time. Sometimes the officers who were patients would take classes too, which was far less embarrassing than having them ask permission to take the part of scholars, as they sometimes did. Before we had Sunday school, the men in my own wards would ask to have psalms and passages selected for them to learn on Sundays. On Monday mornings each one would have his little book ready to recite his lesson.
For a week before Christmas, active preparations were made for its celebration. The men were allowed to go into the woods across the river, and bring boughs of hemlock, pine, and laurel, and of holly laden with bright berries. Every evening was occupied in twisting and tying evergreen in the chapel. Many a reminiscence of home was told, as we sat in clusters, wreathing garlands of rejoicing so strangely contrasting with the sights and sounds of life and death around us. Late on Christmas eve, some of the men from Section V., a tent department, came to ask as a great favor that I would assist them in decorating the tent of Miss H——. They said that she had been "fixing up" the wards all day, and they wanted to have her own tent adorned as a surprise when she came down in the morning.
On going over to the tent, I found that they had already cut out of red and blue flannel the letters for "A Merry Christmas to Miss H——." These were soon sewed upon white cotton, which, being surrounded with evergreen, was hung in the most conspicuous place. Then there were crosses, stars, and various other designs to go up, among them a Goddess of Liberty of remarkable proportions, considered the masterpiece of the whole. There were only a few men present, not more than a dozen; each had been seriously wounded, and nearly every one had lost either a leg or an arm. It was a weird sight as they eagerly worked, by the light of dimly burning candles, on this cold, full-mooned midnight, cheerfully telling where they were a year ago, lying in rifle-pits or on picket duty, and wishing themselves only able to be there again.
Christmas morning came at last. As the sun shone brightly on the frosty windows, each one showed its wreath, and the wards were gayly festooned. In some of the larger ones there were appropriate mottoes made of evergreen letters; as, "Welcome home,"—"He bringeth the prisoners out of captivity." Friends in Philadelphia had requested to provide the dinner, which was most lavish and luxurious. The tables were loaded with turkeys, pies of various kinds, fruits, and candies. This was a feast indeed to the thousand heroes gathered around the board, and to those too ill to leave the wards a portion of all was taken, that at least they might see the good things which the others were enjoying. The thoughts of many of the sick had centred on this Christmas dinner, and they had named the favorite morsels that they wished for.
An Episcopal service was held in the chapel in the evening, by the Rev. Mr. Davenport of Annapolis. A crowded congregation gathered within the walls, which were hung with scrolls bearing the names of our battle-fields, and richly adorned with evergreen, while the national flag gracefully draped the large window. Carols were merrily sung, and the shattered, scarred, and emaciated soldiers in the most righteous cause that ever brought warfare to a nation joined in heralding the advent of the Prince of Peace.
The Christmas had been rendered still happier by the reception of a telegram, that another exchange of paroled prisoners had been made, and we were hourly expecting their arrival. In the cold, gray dawn of the 29th of December, the shrill whistle of the "New York" coming up the bay was heard. Every one was soon astir in preparation for a warm welcome. Large quantities of coffee, chocolate, and gruels were to be made, clothes were to be in readiness, and the stretcher corps to be mustered.
As the sun arose, a great crowd assembled, and when the New York neared the wharf, shouts and cheers greeted her. The decks were covered with men, whose skeleton forms and vacant countenances told of starvation, the languid glimmer that at moments overspread their faces feebly betokening the gratitude in their hearts at their escape from "Dixie."
This time the Rebel authorities had allowed only "well men," as they called them, to come, because so much had been said at the North about "the last lot," who came in November. Those able to walk were landed first, the barefooted receiving shoes. Many were able to crawl as far as Parole Camp, a little beyond the city. The more feeble were received into the hospital, where hot baths awaited them; and when they had been passed under scissors and razor, and were laid in comfortable beds,—only too soft after the hard ground they had lain on for months, with as much earth as they could scrape together for a pillow,—they expressed the change in their whole condition as like coming from the lower regions of misery into heaven itself.
Handkerchiefs and combs, writing-materials and stamps, were among the first requisites of the new-comers. A few were able to write; and for the others, the ladies were but too happy to apprise the friends at home of their arrival, even if recovery were doubtful. In taking the names of the men, I came to a white-headed patriarch, and expressed surprise at finding him in the army. His name was R. B. Darling; and as I wrote it down, he said: "You might as well put 'Reverend' before it, for I am a Methodist minister. I lived in Greenville, Green County, Tennessee, and when this Rebellion came on, I preached and preached, until it did not seem to do any good; so I took up the musket to try what fighting would do." He had left a wife and six children at home, from whom he had heard only once, and then through a friend taken prisoner six months after himself. He had been down with "those fiends," as he called them, twenty-one months, and had been in nine different prisons. He had worked for the Rebels—only at the point of the bayonet—while his strength lasted, in digging wells. He had passed three months in the iron cage at Atlanta, and three months in Castle Thunder under threat of being tried for his life for some disrespectful speech about Rebeldom; finally, after all the perils of Libby Prison and Belle Isle, he was free once more. "These are tears of gratitude," he said, in answer to the welcome given him, as they rolled down his furrowed cheeks; "it is the first word of kindness that I have heard for so long." On soiled scraps of paper he had the names of many of his fellow-prisoners. He had promised, should he ever escape, to let their friends at home know when and where they had died. Letters were at once written, carrying the painful certainty of loss to anxious hearts. To his own family it was useless to write, for the Rebels surrounded his home, cutting off postal communication. He brought with him six little copies of the Gospels, one for each child at home; they had been given to him at the South, having been sent over by the British and Foreign Bible Society for distribution. Surely no men ever more needed the promises of divine consolation than the captives whom these volumes reached.
It was difficult to restrict the diet of this old hero. After eating an enormous meal of soup, meat, vegetables, pudding, and bread, his appetite would not be in the least satisfied; he would very coolly remark that he had had a very nice dinner; there was only one trouble about it, there was not enough. On being told that we would gladly give him more, were it considered safe, he would persist in saying that he felt "right peart," and begged me to remember that it was twenty-one months since he had had any dinners. As he gained strength enough to walk about, he became acquainted with the system of the hospital and made a discovery one day; namely, that he was on low diet, and that there was such a thing as full diet for the well men. "If my present fare is low, what may not the full be?" he reasoned, as visions of illimitable bounty floated through his insatiable mind. So he asked the doctor one morning to transfer his name to the full-diet list; and when the bugle sounded, he joined the procession as it moved to the dining-hall. Salt-fish, bread, and molasses chanced to be all that presented themselves to the famished, disappointed old man; his countenance was forlorn indeed, as he came to the window of the low-diet serving-room to ask for something to eat. "I shall get the doctor to put my name back on to this list, for I like this cook-shop the best, if it is called low diet."
Father Darling, as he used to be called, soon became a favorite all over the hospital. He delighted to perform any act of kindness for his fellow-sufferers. On Sunday mornings he might be seen wandering through the grounds, carrying books and newspapers into the wards, with a bright smile and cheery word for each man. His eloquence reached its highest pitch, when, talking of the Southern Confederacy, he declared that he did not believe in showing mercy to traitors, but that God intended them to be "clean exterminated" from the face of the earth, like the heathen nations the Israelites were commanded to destroy ages ago. He had but too good reason for wishing justice to be done. After he returned to his home in Tennessee, he wrote: "There is but one tale in the whole country: every comfort of life is purloined, clothes all in rags, a great many men and boys murdered, and, worst of all, Christianity seems to have gone up from the earth, and plunder and rapine to have filled its place. Surely war was instituted by Beelzebub. The guerillas are yet prowling about, seeking what they may devour. In these troublous times, all who can lift a hoe or cut a weed are trying to make support, but unless we get help from the North many must suffer extremely. The Rebs have not left my family anything. They went so far as to smash up the furniture, take my horse, all my cattle, and carry off and destroy my library. They smashed up the clock and cut up the bedsteads; and, in fact, ruin stares us in the face, and doleful complaint stuns the ear. Even sick ladies have been dragged out of bed by the hair of the head, so that the fiends of Davis could search for hid treasure. All who have labored for the government are destitute. Since the winter broke, I have been fighting the thieving, murdering Rebels, and now their number is diminished from two hundred to nine, and I can ride boldly forth where for the last three years it would have been certain death. O, how are the mighty fallen!"
On New Year's evening the ladies held a reception. Huge logs burned brightly in the large old-fashioned fireplace of their dining-room, and a "Happy New Year to all," in evergreen letters, stood out from the whitewashed wall. Surgeons and stewards, officers, extra-duty men, and patients, mingled in groups to exchange friendly good-wishes. Conversation and singing, with a simple repast of apples, cake, and lemonade, proved allurements to a long stay. Those who had gained admission were reluctant to depart to make room for the hundreds awaiting entrance outside. For days afterwards this evening was talked over with delight by the men: it was the only party they had attended since the war began, and it formed the greatest gayety of hospital experience.
Some of the vessels of the Russian fleet, then cruising in our waters, wintered at Annapolis. A severe sickness breaking out among the sailors, their accommodations on shipboard were not found adequate, and, by invitation of our government, they were received into the hospital. Their inability to speak one word of English made their sojourn rather a melancholy affair. Their symptoms were often more successfully guessed from signs and gestures, than from their attempts to express some particular wish in words. They all returned to their floating homes in a little while quite recovered, except one, who met with an accidental death, and was buried from our chapel with the full ceremonies of the Greek Church. With his face uncovered, he was carried by his comrades to the cemetery, and laid by the side of our soldiers. A Greek cross of black iron, among the white slabs, designates this stranger's grave.
The Vanderkeift Literary Association held a meeting every Tuesday evening in the chapel, which was always crowded. Some of the citizens of Annapolis, with their families, did not disdain a constant attendance. An animated discussion of some popular topic was held by the debating club; and the intelligence often shown did credit to the attainments of the men who filled the ranks of our army. Ballads were sung by the Kelsey Minstrels,—so named from their leader, a clerk at head-quarters. "The Knapsack," a paper edited by the ladies, was read. Into it was gathered whatever of local interest or amusement there was going on at the time. Contributions in prose or verse, stories, and conundrums filled the little sheet.
The short Southern winter wore quickly away, with little of unusual excitement in the constantly changing scenes of war. Our prisoners pined in dreary captivity, and the clash of arms was stilled for a season.
So many strange ideas are entertained about a woman's life in hospital service that I am tempted to transcribe a page from my own experience, in order that a glimpse may be had of its reality. Imagine me, then, in a small attic room, carpeted with a government blanket, and furnished with bed, bureau, table, two chairs, and, best of all, a little stove, for the morning is cold, and the lustrous stars still keep their quiet watch in the blue heavens. A glow of warmth and comfort spreads from gas-light and fire,—an encouraging roar in the chimney having crowned with success the third attempt at putting paper, wood, and coal together in exact proportions. After all, the difficulty has been chiefly in the want of a sufficient amount of air, for there could be no draught through the dead embers, and these could be disturbed only noiselessly, for the lady in the next room has the small-pox, and it will not do to awake her from her morning slumbers.
A glance at the wonderful beauty in which day is breaking is sufficient compensation for such early rising, as with hurried step I go to the wards, about seven rods off. The kind-hearted steward stands at the door: "Talbot died at two o'clock; he was just the same till the last." I am not surprised, for when I left him I knew that his feeble frame could not much longer endure the violence of delirium. He was by no means among the most hopeless of the last prisoners who came, but an unaccountable change had passed suddenly over him within the last few days. And now tidings of his death must carry a sad revulsion to hearts at home, made happy, but a short time since, by news of his safety.
The patients rouse themselves from the drowsiness of a sleepless night, expecting a morning greeting as I pass through the wards, giving to each his early stimulant of whiskey or cherry-brandy. The men in the ward where poor Talbot died seem in especial need of it; for, as they glance at the vacant corner, they say, "He screamed so badly, we didn't get much sleep."
At the call of the bugle a general stampede takes place for breakfast, and I must repair to the serving-room to oversee the last preparations for low and special diet; for on his return each of the male nurses will appear at the window with a large tray to be filled for his hungry men. Beef essence, jellies, and puddings for the day's requirement claim a little personal attention. Such things are not always left to servants at home; and how could our "boys in blue" be expected to handle the spoon with the same dexterity as the musket? They are not, however, deficient in culinary skill, as the savory hash, well-turned beefsteaks, nicely dropped eggs, and good coffee will testify.
After the procession of heavily laden breakfast-bearers has moved off, supplies from the commissary need a little arranging; and one must plan how they may be made the most of, and what additions for the next three meals are to be furnished from private resources. The result of which consideration is usually the despatch of Henry, the chief cook, into the city to purchase chickens, oysters, and milk in as great quantity as can be bought.
At eight o'clock the ladies meet for their morning meal. Good cold water, bread and molasses, with the occasional luxury of a salt-fish cake, suffice to keep soul and body together. The coffee is said to be good by those in the habit of taking it, and some, too, enjoy the butter.
The preparation of lemonade in large quantities, and drinks of various degrees of sweetness and acidity, is next to be superintended. As rapidly as possible the little pitchers are filled, and I follow them to the wards.
Wondering what can be the matter, and cooling his parched lips and bathing his burning brow, I stand over Allen as the doctor enters. Doubt is soon dispelled, for he pronounces it a violent case of small-pox. It is becoming very prevalent, but this is my first introduction to it. The doctor orders the immediate removal of the patient to Horn Point, the small-pox quarters, about two miles across the bay. It is too bleak for the open-boat conveyance, and so he must be jolted six miles round in an ambulance. On his bed, buried in blankets and stupefied with fever, he starts for his new abode, not without a plentiful supply of oranges, lemons, and bay-water.
The plaintive, whining tones of William Cutlep, a boy of sixteen, who is a picture of utter woe, with mind enough only left to know that he is in "awful pain," detain me too long; and when I must leave him, it is with the promise of coming up soon again, for he says he always did like to see "women folks around." His home is in Southern Virginia, whence he escaped to join the Union army; and he will never hear from his home again, for thirty-six ounces of brandy daily will not keep him alive much longer. He has already taken a ring from his finger, to be sent home with a dying message after the war is over.
The lower ward is not reached too soon, for the manly, gentle Mason is near his end. He faintly presses my hand, begging me not to leave him again, for it will soon be all over. An attack of pneumonia has proved too much for his reduced system to resist, and, meekly submitting to its ravages, he lies at last upon his death-bed. A saintly fortitude sustains him, as in broken accents these sentences come from his lips: "It is a country worth dying for." "Others will enjoy in coming years what I have fought for." "I can trust my Saviour. He is lighting me through the valley of death." "All is well." Low words of prayer commend the departing soul to the God who made it, and the sweet hymn,
"O sing to me of heaven, When I am called to die," breaks the stillness of the ward.
"It is growing dark,—I can't see you any more,"—he whispers; and then, as the bugle notes strike his ear, "Before that sound is heard again, I shall be far away." His heavy breathing grows thicker and shorter, until that radiance which comes but once to any mortal face, streaming through the open portal of eternity, tells of the glory upon which his soul is entering, as his eyelids are quietly closed on earth. The men in the beds around mutely gaze upon him, wishing that they may die like him when their last summons comes. The tender-hearted McNally, the faithful nurse, tearfully laments the loss of the first patient who has died since he took charge of the ward, and is sure that he could not have done more for him had he been his own brother. Nor could he.
I go back to the upper wards. Little Cutlep moans deeply in restless sleep. But there are others to be cheered, and many a promise to be fulfilled from the heterogeneous contents of a small basket, a constant and most valuable companion. Comfort-bags, braces, knives, come forth at requirement. Books, too, are always in demand. After they have been read, they are sent to many a distant fireside by mail; some of the boys have several treasured up to take with them when they go home, for such books are rare where they live, and their little brothers and sisters will greatly prize them. One boy still keeps under his pillow, clinging to it until the last, the little book, "Come to Jesus," which he requests shall be sent to his mother after his death, with the message that it has been the saving of his soul.
New wants arise to be remembered, and special desires for additions to the next meal are expressed. On the whole, the men seem comfortable and happy to-day, as they rest on their elbows partly sitting up in bed, playing backgammon, or scanning the last pictorial newspaper, or working over puzzles, for which last they are indebted to Rev. Mr. Ware, who made a visit to our hospital a few weeks since, and on his return sent from Boston a goodly assortment of amusements.
By this time the stimulants are to be given out again, and preparations made for dinner. For it will hardly be welcome, unless the promised mug of milk or ale, fried onions or sour-krout, fruit or jelly, shall come with it. Each tray receives its burden of hearty nourishment, and by one o'clock the ladies may be seen returning to their quarters for rations of beef and bread. It is well that we are blessed with elastic spirits, for "a merry heart doeth good like a medicine." All sadness for the dead must be concealed for the sake of the living. As we cheerfully meet at dinner-time, an occasional letter in the following strain is not without a salutary and amusing effect:—
"Dear Miss T——:—I set down to tell you that I've arrove hum, an wish I was sum whar else. I've got 3 Bully boys an they are helpin me about gettin the garden sass into the groun; but they haint got no mother, an ive got a hous and a kow an I thort youd be kinder handy to take care of um, if youd stoop so much. I've thort of you ever sense I com from the hospittle, and how kinder jimmy you used to walk up and doun them wards. You had the best gate I ever see, an my 1st wife stepped of jis so, an she pade her way I tell you. I like to work, and the boys likes to work, an I kno you do, so ide like to jine if youv no objecshuns; an now ive maid so bold to rite sich, but I was kinder pussed on by my feelins an so I hope youl excuse it and rite soon. I shant be mad if you say no, but its no hurt to ask an the boys names are Zebalon, Shadrac and peter, they want to see you as does your respectful frend wich oes his present helth to you
A few letters for the men are to be written for the afternoon mail. Twining a wreath of immortelles and laurel, is the last that can be done for brave Tenny, who died yesterday, and will be buried with military honors to-day. The little procession, with reversed arms, winds slowly through the grounds, and at the sound of the bugle four patriots, each wrapped in the flag he has died for, are borne into the chapel. Inspired passages are read, "There is rest for the weary" is sung by the ladies, and prayers are offered for bereaved relatives at a distance. The chaplain precedes the short train to the cemetery, where the final portion of the church burial-service is said, and over the newly made graves resound three sharp volleys of musketry.
There is not much time to-day to read to the group around the fire, but with evident pride and pleasure they listen to "The Blue Coat of the Soldier," and "The Empty Sleeve," a touching poem, inscribed to the noble General Howard. I would gladly tarry longer at the request of the little audience, but the other wards must be looked after. An awkward man stands in the first one I enter, and begins a protest against being put on duty. He says he "'listed to fight," and knows nothing about "nussing." He hands over the materials for a mustard plaster, as he professes profound ignorance on the subject, saying that he fears the men left to his charge will not get very good care. This is the only instance I remember of a man who did not cheerfully try to do his best for his sick comrades. Fortunately, he was soon sent to his regiment.
Preparation of stimulants and supper keep me busily occupied until, in the shadowy twilight, the men from the fifteen wards gather into one, where the patients are not too ill to listen to a few texts from the Holy Book, which come with a diviner meaning of consolation than ever before, in the hush of closing day, with death so familiar a thought to each. Sergeant Murphy leads in prayer with true Methodist fervor, and the hymn,
"Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer, That calls me from a world of care," concludes the short service.
After their tea, the ladies meet in the chapel, to teach in the evening school held for an hour four times a week. It serves to interest the men in useful study. A large library in one corner of the chapel furnishes, too, stores of knowledge and amusement in works of history, travel, and fiction.
On going back again to the wards, I am glad to find that Carney's wife has come in the evening train. She was startled by the last news from him. It is well that she is here: if anything can save his life, it will be her presence. The poor woman is worn out by anxiety and a two days' journey. The chaplain must be found to write a permit for her entrance into the "Home" provided by the Sanitary Commission for the accommodation of those coming to see their friends in the hospital. The good-natured orderly, Frank Hall, conducts her out to the comfortable house.
The lurid gas flickers in the chilly breeze, for never are the windows allowed to be closed by day or night, in sunshine or storm. It does sometimes seem as if a circulation of air a little less like a hurricane from an iceberg might conduce more to the health and comfort of the inmates; but then this is one of Dr. Vanderkeift's pet points of practice, and woe betide any one who dares to shut out a breath of the exhilarating element. Most of the men are stilled in merciful slumbers, more or less peaceful or unquiet. One shout from a sleeper of "We'll whip them yet, boys!" tells that Colby is fighting over in a dream his last battle, while from others come groans only audible in hours of unconsciousness. In wakeful uneasiness, others sigh for sleep, and are at length lulled to rest by soothing words or rhymes, not unfrequently by the childish melodies of Mother Goose. And so the day's privilege of duty ends with gratitude, and a healthful weariness that vanishes before the next morning.