The Story of Aunt Becky's Army-Life/Chapter XX
Saturday, February 4, 1865.
To-day being so bright and beautiful, yet so muddy, that as I go from tent to tent I lodge in the mire at times, I almost wish myself at home, where I should not be obliged to go out—still I am content, and happy to be doing some good to these poor fellows, who have neither wife, mother, or sister near them to listen to plans for the future, or to the history of the past.
I am alone of women in the Ninth Corps, yet I was never treated with more consideration than by these rough soldiers, with bronzed and scarred faces, telling that a hero has fought and bled for his country. A year and a half has gone by, and I have not seen my girls. When I think of them, and of home, how I long for the wings of a bird that I might fly away and be near them, to shelter and comfort with a mother's love.
Shall I write it? O Journal, bear witness to the weakness of women, I wish the war was over, and I could sleep upon a bed of feathers, and sit within the arms of a cushioned rocking-chair!
How the cunning things of this earth entangle the heart, and how hard it is to break away from such habits of civilization. I have often thought it was a mistake that nature made me so small and weak, with all a man's ardor and enthusiasm pent up in my heart, and this wild fancy which would soar so far away, and beyond my poor strength.
I would do so much that this weak hand is impotent to work out, that I seem useless, either to myself or to others. Yet I know in some way it is all right, and I will make no more complaint—content to bear my little load in patience, and when I come to lay it down, thank God it was no heavier.
There has been no death in the Ninth Corps for three weeks, and only one man from the One Hundred and Ninth Regiment ill, and he in no immediate danger.
Sunday, February 5.
This morning is wild and windy, with close clouds over the sky, and soul and body are in sympathy with the inclement weather. Yesterday was so sunny and mild, and to-day the cold rain winds are moaning, and borne upward on their wailing the soul of one of our men has gone.
John Bush, of the One Hundred and Eighty-sixth N. Y., died this morning, and he will be buried while no tears fall on his pale dead face, when for the last time the light of day falls upon it.
Men die here, and are forgotten, but there, friends mourn over the pallid form, and lay it reverently in the church-yard, and go to the desolate home to mourn for the loved who went out of its shelter, never more to return.
Life here is like a leaf from the tree, borne down by the passing gale, and amidst all the summer's greenery no one can tell that it is gone. By and by when the sad news reaches those who have prayed for him, and felt his absence from home, then will be shed tears of regret over his memory, while they think with heart-pangs of the returning veterans of war, amongst which he will not be marching.
It is such a blessed thing that time can heal such grief—that the gentle flowers of remembrance can by and by spring up on their graves, and though never forgotten, yet the keen pain is soothed—the bitterness is washed away, and again life holds out its tempting cup for our eager lips, and we quaff and are at rest, waiting the meeting beyond the river.
I had a pleasant evening after an unpleasant day, and then dreamed away with the night my weariness of heart.
Monday, February 6.
I feel quite like myself this morning; the cold air seems to brace me, although I long for the sunny days to come with warm winds and balmy skies, and varied flowers strewing the grass. The question of peace seems to be the one absorbing theme. How I hope something may grow out of it to fill the land with joy.
When I think of the dear ones out of so many lonely homes which want their presence, I can imagine what a thrill of joy will run into every pulse at the coming of the blissful time when the war is ended and the army melts away into the bosom of families, and communities.
Then hands which now wield the death weapon will be turned to the arts of husbandry again, and no more dreadful tidings of death and carnage be borne on the net-work of wires.
But, with all the joy, how many will still be desolate—how many homes will never echo to the sound of returning feet, but forever keep sacred the memory of some brave one who died and found a grave in the sunny South.
Some of our men leave to day on the transport State of Maine, for the General Hospital, at Washington. I wish a greater number were going, where they could have more comforts than we can provide for them.
I had my favorite dish of pigs' feet for dinner, and as they used to tell us each part strengthened a part, I wondered if my pigs' feet would all centre their strength in one foot.
To-day is an anniversary. How well I remember, just fifteen years ago, how bright everything looked to me—with Youth and Hope leading me beyond the rugged paths of common existence, to a clearer and higher atmosphere than pervades this world of sin.How changes came to me—altering the web of life-weaving on the groundwork which should have held roses, and mosses, and trailing leaves, only a dark pattern, fit for a funeral pall.
Where are the thoughts which should have budded into rich blossoms of love—where are the creeping mosses of sweet remembrance? Alas, alas! Here I sit in womanhood's prime, in my coarse dress, with hands roughened by hard toil—a Hospital Nurse,—and my heart is buried in the past.
The evenings are long as I sit alone—hearkening to the wind, or the constant nibbling of the mice, which keep me in a continual flutter. I think of all which has gone away, and wonder if the future holds anything bright in store for me. Life seems a dream—my heart seems to sleep in an enchanted house, haunted by many ghosts.
Well, it is only a little while. How many lamps I have seen go out—and mine may disappear as suddenly. I will try to be content in doing the work which my hands find here, and earn the commendation of the Master when we shall go up at that great day, bearing our sheaves with us.
Those mice—Oh, those nibbling mice—I think I will fix them this night, so that sleep may not be scared away from my pillow.
Another gloomy day without,—no sun,—no rain,—no wind,—only cold, dull dampness, which chills to the marrow of one's bones, and renders a warm fire a positive necessity. Within my cloth house the horror of a murder lies red and glaring. Only think of a little life going out in Aunt Becky's tent, but I cannot endure the patter-patter of those little feet, and the incessant nibbling which sends me wild with its monotonous tones.
I am not alone, two soldiers are making free with their onions and johnny-cake here, and enjoying themselves hugely in their freedom from restraint. I cannot check them when I know how near they may be to the river's brink down which so many have plunged with no warning cry.
The poor wounded are now being brought in from the Fifth Corps—the loss is said to be heavy—and yet they call it "victory." Oh! this cruel, cruel war, when will it end, and these men, so precious to somebody's heart, cease to be brought here with bleeding wounds, maimed, helpless—dying?
God, let thy vengeance fall speedily on those at whose door this carnage may be laid—let the rope and the bullet do their work, till the land shall be rid of the evil which wrought this sin, and our brave, noble soldiers be set free.
The greed for ambition and gain has reached this awful climax. Do not those who ventured no risk in the chaos never shrink back from the yawning hell right at their feet? Death, in a speedy form, would seem a punishment too light for them to bear, rather I would doom them to long-lingering decay,—deprived of human society, the four bare walls of an iron cell should enclose them, and not even a glimpse of Heaven's own blue should drift before their vision, for have they not desecrated its semblance in the glorious old flag which floats over our loyal country?
North or South—friend or foe, I care not on
whom the curse may fall, if it crushes out this terrible war under which we groan, and our young men bleed and die.
The gloomy day is gone, and a pleasant evening, enlivened by two calls, ends the scene, and I am ready for sleep to charm me away to the land of dreams, where I may hope to meet those long loved, and long lost.