The Story of Aunt Becky's Army-Life/Chapter XXIV
Again, I went down to the darky camp, and washed, just for the excitement of the thing, and to earn my good sleep. We have lost one man with fever—a mere boy, from a Pennsylvania regiment. He was too weak to talk, although he manifested a desire to say something to me which I could not understand.
He died very calmly, and we closed his eyes, with a sigh for those who would never look upon his face again. Oh for the death-bed where the last whisper is breathed into the ear of those who love us best! Oh for the quiet burial in the country churchyard, where the grass grows rank over the graves, and the lark builds her nest low among its tufted richness!I have been on my feet all day, and am very weary to-night. I went over to the Second Corps, and then went down to the New York Relief, and procured six shirts, and the same number of pairs of drawers. So much has been crowded into this long, long day, and I am thankful for night and shadows. It seems like the summer evenings when I was young, and hopes were newly budded in my girlish bosom.
The days come and go, they sometimes seem to drag their heavy length along, then again they fly with the rapidity of the wind. Some time, I know, the swift-flying days will bring this to the end, and I am glad of them, and have no care; although they bring to me wrinkles, gray hairs, and tottering steps, it will all be well at last, after our feet have stepped into the water of the river; there will be no more signs of earthly decay; to bathe therein is to render life perennial.
We have had another death to-day, and it has saddened me inexpressibly. We nurses should be insensible to anything only the performance of our strict duty—should have no heart to enter into the feelings of far-away friends—should stifle all humanity in our souls, and be deaf, and dumb, and blind.
To-night, they are bringing in the sick and wounded from the Division Hospital—they have arrived to the number of three hundred, many of them belonging to the ranks of the enemy.
I have been to look upon the new recruits of sick and wounded, and find many quite low, and with fearful wounds. Three from our regiment, but they will recover. They are packing up to make a move at the front. How anxious we shall be now to know when and where, and so fearful that the great battle is soon at hand.
Oh! if I could still these heart-throbs when the time draws near, and go my round as calmly as General Grant surveys the great battle-plain, I would be content. Lieut. Bowen has been here nearly all the evening, on his way home, and I am yet unselfish enough to be glad to see any of them go.
It is a beautiful morning, only a high wind sweeps over us, dropping down now and then to flap the white wings of my tent, and then sweep like a whirlwind around us. I had a grand night's sleep, and feel much refreshed. The transport Connecticut leaves, this morning, for Washington, with those able to be moved.
Lieut. Bowen has just left, and the old homesickness creeps over me again—the old longing for children, and friends, and the North, now throwing off the chains of old winter's forging. I shall some time go—when, only the Good Lord knows—not while they need me here, if my heart gnaws itself in the strong agony of despair.
How the wind raves and rages—it has never been so wild since I have been here, and my tent flutters like a hurt bird trying to disentangle itself from the sportsman's net.
The rain is drifting with it now in solid sheets, and my bed is soaking wet, yet I must lie down upon it, or sit up all night and hear the dismal howling of the storm. Both are bad enough, I hardly know which to choose. I think, however, that I will go to to bed, and if my tent blows over, I go with the contents.
After a sleepless, comfortless night, I am again astir, to find everything wringing wet. The wind blew fearfully all night, and the rain beat against my tent like strong hands clamorous for entrance.
Two souls have gone out with the raging of the storm—they went up through the surging of the elements, and their bodies will be buried in wet graves to day. I have been my round, and am quite hopeful for the recovery of those left.
I have scarcely been alone a moment to-day, and to-night will be a continuation of the fearful one preceding, but my house holds its own—although rocked like a shell by the stormy waves of Ocean. I shall keep my light burning.
The bugle-call roused me from a waking dream this morning, after another wretched night. I feel rheumatic in every joint of my body, and my constitution must be strong indeed to endure this saturating process with no injury.I am tired of the clatter, and wish it would favor some other portion of the continent with its prank-playing, and take its exit from City Point. We are not likely to lose any of our sick to-day. The transport has gone for another load; they are clearing the way for the new instalment of bloody heroes, from the fresh battle-fields of this spring-time. With shuddering I remember it—in fancy I see the ghastly procession as they are brought in, pale, bloody, and gasping with pain.
Oh! the horror of this carnage! When will the judgment come?
Is it possible that the year is nearly one quarter gone? Almost one season's length has passed since New Year's day, and it seems only like one of the long summer days which seemed in my childhood to be endless.
How long a year seemed then—almost an age, as it rolled slowly away, with bright, bright hours when we roamed the meadow for strawberries, and the wild wood for blossoms—when we trod with bare feet the pathway to the old school-house, and set them in the brook as we loitered on the way. And the seasons seemed to be unending.
There was an eternity of winter when the snow lay deep, and we thought it would never melt under the breath of the lagging spring.
Now spring opens, and goes, and summer flies away, leaving the sear flower-stalk a sad legacy to the fleeting autumn, and winter again slips over all her robe of purity, and the cycle ends again. Sometimes in those years we used to think of war,—what horrible scenes were upon the battle-fields of the East,—but the grim phantom seemed to be afar off from our proud land, but it came to us with hot and deadly breath.
Four weary years have dragged along, and thousands of our braves sleep in the trenches, the sleep which knows no waking. Thousands more have gone,—yielded up sweet life none the less for their country that they died in hospitals of long, wasting disease.
Oh! the sun, the renovating sun; the rain and the wind have gone, and the air is thrilled with sunshine, and the streets of our camp are full again. All who are able to get out of their beds, are at the doors, sitting in the light, catching the soft breeze which whispers of the summer.
I have enjoyed the change from the rain and wind, and have passed the day quite cheerily. I have had company from our regiment. How all the faces of that noble band seem like the faces of brothers to me—I can call them all such, indeed, and could dare and do much to aid them.
I have got to gadding, I fear, for I have again to record that I have been over to the Second Corps, and had a gossiping time with the women. Now there is some comfort in that, of which the masculine gender knows nothing. It is a great comfort to know that others are no better than they should be, and that Mrs. Such-a-one has spirit enough to insist upon her husband passing as much time with her as at the next corner with a curled and perfumed Miss. It is a good thing to ventilate one's opinions, if they do soar no higher than the material things of this material earth, and to keep a sharp look out over your neighbor as well as yourself.
Then again the gossiping of neighborhoods is hardly confined to the women, and when a man contracts the habit he is away and beyond all efforts of the most inveterate tattler who ever lifted a tea cup at Madam Grundy's table, and if it is denied, I could bring proofs as strong as has sent many a man to the gallows, with his sins all on his unrepentant soul.