Civil War Overview
Civil War 1861
Civil War 1862
Civil War 1863
Civil War 1864
Civil War 1865
Civil War Battles
Robert E. Lee
Civil War Medicine
Civil War Links
Civil War Art
Republic of Texas
Civil War Gifts
Robert E. Lee Portrait
HOSPITAL AND CAMP INCIDENTS.
SANITARY COMMISSION AMONG THE SOLDIERS.
IN nothing does the Sanitary
Commission more palpably exhibit its competency for the office it has assumed
than in its celerity of movement and its spontaneity of action in every
exigency. No matter where a battle may be fought, its
surgeons and nurses are
sure to appear instantly with needed supplies; no matter what difficulties may
stand between it and desirable results, or how sluggishly other bodies may move,
the Commission moves forward always with swift and steady pace, overcoming all
obstructions with a resolution and faith in itself which holds all things to be
possible in the name and service of humanity. The work performed by the
Chattanooga strikingly illustrates this truth. The battle of Chicamauga, it will be remembered, was fought unexpectedly; the means of
communication, moreover, were very limited, neither land nor water routes
meeting the sudden exigencies of the service; the depots of supplies, too, were
far removed from the scene of action, insomuch that for a time the army suffered
materially from the want of rations; but notwithstanding all this, long before
the battle had ceased and the shattered columns had found pause in their bloody
work, the nurses of this Commission were at work on the field, performing just
the service demanded by the occasion. Within ten days after the action two
thousand packages of sanitary stores were distributed. This illustrates the
promptness and availability of the Commission. Another fact exhibits with equal
emphasis its thoroughness. The battle of
Chickamauga was fought on the 19th and
20th of September. Between that time and the 17th of November seven thousand
additional packages and boxes of staple battle-stores, such as stimulants,
fruits, vegetables, and clothing were forwarded for the relief of the sick and
Probably in no considerable
battle since the commencement of the war have the wounded been so well and
promptly cared for as at Chattanooga. The agents of the Commission were every
where. They fitted up rooms for the reception of the suffering, supplied them
with clothing, bandages, and edibles, procured and put up stores, dressed the
wounds of those requiring immediate assistance, and superintended also the
cooking of rations for the men. On the second day of the battle these agents
made comfortable nearly two thousand men, doing what it was impossible for the
Government to do. One incident will clearly attest their usefulness and
efficiency. Returning from the field on the evening (Sunday) of the second day
of the fight, one of the principal agents found the steps of a church in
Chattanooga, where services had been held during the day, crowded with wounded
men. Entering the building, he found the whole interior filled with a
congregation from the battle-field, crippled with every variety of wounds, with
no medical or other officer in charge, without food of any kind, without water,
and without even a candle to shed a glimmering light over their destitution. The
agent at once carried a quantity of concentrated beef to a residence near the
church, and there prepared immense caldrons of soup, which, with candles, bread,
and water, the nurses carried to the sufferers and distributed, all receiving
the gifts with the most grateful satisfaction. The next day they were supplied
with vegetables and other food; comforts, shirts, and blankets were provided for
the destitute; medical assistance was furnished, and hundreds of lives that
would, but for this timely intervention, have been lost, were saved to the
nation, to share in the triumphs of liberty through long years to come.
The services rendered by the
Commission agents after the recent battles about
Missionary Ridge were no less
important than those already rehearsed. Stores to the value of $75,000 were
distributed within a week after the battle, and hundreds of instances are
recorded showing the benefits of its noble work.
The gallantry of our men in the
assault upon Mission Ridge is attested by hundreds of incidents which came to
the knowledge of the Commission-workers as they toiled in the wake of the army.
A few of these may be recited here. A soldier fallen in the difficult ascent,
and lying with a shattered shoulder, thus urged forward two comrades who had
halted to carry him to the rear: "I'm of no account; don't stop for me; for
God's sake push right up with the boys;" and on they pressed, leaving him in his
bloody vestments, more royal and and grand than kingly purple. At another place
a colonel, toiling up the mountain, encountered two brothers, one wounded unto
death, the other bending anxiously over him. The colonel, not seeing at first
the fallen man, ordered the other to move on. "But this is my brother," he said,
with a sob in his voice. The poor dying fellow on the ground rallied in an
instant: "Yes, that's right, George; go on, go on!" George, turning a sad look
on the dying brother, clasped his musket and crowded on, fighting bravely until
the summit was reached. Then, hurrying back, he knelt again over the prostrate
brother, but he was dead; in the tumult of the battle his discharge had come,
and calmly, gladly he had been mustered out and gone home.
At the first line of
in the grand advance of our columns, the Colonel of the Forty-first Ohio
Regiment fell terribly wounded. A General rode up as he fell, exclaiming, "I
hope you are not badly wounded?" The Colonel only said, "Do you think we'll make
it, General?" "I do," the General replied. "Then," said the gallant fellow, with
a smile, "I'm satisfied; I can stand this." And there, perfectly content, he
remained while the battle throbbed and beat along the hills, with the shouts of
the ascending heroes "speaking to him comfortably" now and then through the din.
In the charge upon the second
range of rebel works a Captain fell, and two men came to his aid. But he would
not suffer them to remain. "Don't wait here," he cried; "go back to your places.
One useless man is enough; don't
make it three." Just then a cheer floated down the mountain as some new success
was achieved by the resistless columns. "Don't you hear that?" he cried.
"March!" And away went the loitering soldiers, leaving their comrade where he
fell. With such a spirit animating rank and file, rousing to sublimest heroism
in the hour of peril, what wonder that all dangers are overcome, all opposition
beaten down, and the flag of the nation carried lustrously wherever duty points
A prominent and most useful
feature of the Commission in its work among the soldiers is its
Directory, which was originated in a humane desire to supply a record of the
inmates of army hospitals, whether becoming such by disease or from wounds
received in battle, in order to meet the inquiries of the friends of the soldier
unable to obtain any knowledge of the name or locality of his hospital. The
benefit, however, conferred by the Directory has not been merely to friends of
the soldier, but also to the soldier himself, becoming, as it has, a medium of
communication for wives and mothers searching for husbands and sons; a channel
through which has flowed messages of love, and cheer, and hope, more grateful to
the fevered brain and the agony of wounds than the tenderest care of surgeons
and nurses. The total number of names on record in this Directory on the 1st of
December last was 513,437; the total number of inquiries for information was
12,884; and the number of successful answers rendered 9203, or seventy-two per
cent. upon the number received. In these nine thousand two hundred and three
answers lies a history which only the Day of Final Assize can reveal. But the
gratitude with which their receipt is acknowledged is not hidden nor concealed.
Mothers write of "their undying gratitude" for the simple announcement that
their boys are doing well in hospital; others "invoke the blessing of God upon
the labors of the Commission;" while others still declare that while life lasts
they will cherish warmest memories of the service it has rendered.
Incidents illustrating the
usefulness of this Directory might be cited by the volume. A few, however, of
the more entertaining will serve our purpose here.
A poor woman from Wisconsin,
whose husband and son were in the ranks, learning that the latter was wounded at
Lookout, made her way to Louisville, whence she was sent by the Commission
agents to Nashville. Owing to the interruption of railway communications it was
impossible to send her further front, and the Nashville office accordingly
telegraphed to the Commission agent at Chattanooga for information. The next
day, which was Thursday, it was answered that her son was severely wounded, and
had been placed in a hospital which was subsequently captured by the enemy, in
whose hands he then was. It was sad news, but better than none. It was
communicated to her as kindly and gently as possible; but, gently as the
intelligence was imparted, it drove her almost frantic. Several times during the
day following she visited the office to hear more, but there was nothing more to
tell. And so two days more slipped away, each a blank. The suspense became
terrible. Was he alive? were his wounds cared for by the rebels? was he dead?
Such were the questions which the poor mother dinned constantly in the ears of
the agents. "Oh that I could hear!" she cried. "Even the worst would be better
than this suspense." At last, late on Sunday night, the word so prayed and
waited for came. It was this only: "Dead." It was a terrible blow. A very agony
of grief settled upon the mother's heart, and for hours her sufferings seemed
beyond all human endurance. After a time, carrying her great sorrow with her,
she went away; but the next morning she returned to the office, still terribly
stricken in heart, but calmer than before, and said, pointing to the flag over
the door, with tears in her eyes, "That flag is doubly dear to me this morning.
IT HAS COST ME SOMETHING." Her means were exhausted, and the Commission defrayed
her expenses home. Think you the memory of its work will not be forever side by
side in her wounded heart with recollections of her boy slain in the battle's
One day a stout, clean-faced
farmer from Danvers, Massachusetts, appeared at the Nashville office, seeking
information of his son. He was furnished with passes and, with necessary
directions, sent on his way. A few days afterward he returned, carrying a sword
and haversack, and with a long white box in his care—a very quiet box, but very
precious to the old father. The sword and haversack were his son's, and the
son's corpse was in the quiet box. It had been recovered through the agency of
the Commission Directory; but for that, there would never have been in a Danvers
church-yard the head-stone which tells now to the days as they go the story of
that farmer's sacrifice in the country's cause.
Another illustration of the value
of this Directory is furnished by the following incident. On the 12th of
November the following inquiry from a Northern city was received at the
Nashville office: "Sanitary Commission. Answer immediately. Is Henry Ford,
Company F, Thirty-fifth Ohio, alive? Hospital 13.—FATHER." Inquiry was at once
made at the Nashville hospital, and this answer promptly returned: "Henry Ford,
Company F, Thirty-fifth Ohio, is alive—slightly better; says, Tell father to
come as soon as he can." Thus father and son were brought together, as they
probably would not have been but for this Directory.
Some of the scenes witnessed at
the offices of the Directory in Washington and at other central points are
touching in the extreme. Thus, at the Washington office: A father presents
himself—a strong man, and still young in years—asking for news from his son. The
record is referred to; the boy is dead. The announcement, coming with the
suddenness of a bolt from heaven, goes with sharpest agony to the father's
heart, and he steals away weeping, with a shadow on his life that only the
sunrise of some great hope can ever brighten. Another, with white
face and trembling voice,
pressing to the office-desk, begs for information of his boy: "He was a noble
fellow! no father ever had a better son; can't you tell me something of him?" He
is told that the "boy" is in a hospital but a little distance off; he grasps the
hand with both of his, tears running down his cheeks the while, and without
uttering another word leaves the room. Still another comes—a woman, who, with
almost breathless voice, exclaims, "I want to find my husband! I have not heard
from him for months! Can you tell me where he is?" His name and the number of
his regiment is ascertained, and the answer is promptly returned, "You will find
him at Lincoln Hospital." A momentary shade of incredulity appears upon the
anxious face; then, turning her full eyes, swollen with emotion, she gives one
look of gratitude—a full reward for years of labor—and in an instant is in the
street, flying with swift feet to embrace the husband of her love. Thus, day by
day, the varied scene goes on, each new incident adding fresh testimony of the
value of this admirable system.
Louisville office scenes
equally affecting have been presented almost daily ever since the advance of
Rosecrans from Murfreesboro. One day an old man from Northern Ohio entered the
office. He had traveled the long distance to meet his son, and applied at the
office, as he had been told to do, for direction to the hospital in which his
boy was quartered. While the clerk examined the books, the old man chatted of
his son and home, telling of the different articles in his carpet-bag, placed
there by mother and sisters at home; each had sent some little comfort. He was
all animation and hope, possessed of pleasant anticipations of a speedy meeting
with his boy. Alas for his high hopes! The record said, "Died"—that very
morning. It was a terrible shock; but it was better than to grope on in the
dark, never knowing how, or where, or when the son of his love had been called
away. He had found his boy; it was a consolation to look into his face even
though the death-dews were upon it. So sadly and slowly the old man went away, a
clerk going with him and procuring a coffin for the dear remains, with which
that same day he started for his Ohio home—in which, henceforth, one voice would
be missed, one step would never more be heard on the threshold.
A sprightly young wife appeared
one day at the Louisville office, asking to have a dispatch written for a permit
to visit her husband in Nashville. The clerks turned to consult the record for
his name, which she at once pronounced a useless delay—"she knew he was in
Nashville, and all she wanted was a dispatch written, and would be obliged for
as much haste as possible." "But," said the clerk, "are you quite sure he is in
Nashville?" "Certainly; nothing is more certain." "You would have no objections
to meeting him here?" the clerk inquired again, his eye resting on an open page,
with his finger at a particular name. The woman flushed as if annoyed. "You are
playing with me, Sir. Will you give me the dispatch?" "No; you will not need it.
This 'abstract' will please you better. These are directions where to find your
husband—a few blocks off," the clerk rejoined, a smile breaking over his face.
With one look, to be sure that she was not the victim of a deception, the young
wife darted away, and a few minutes afterward found that, after all, the one she
sought was not in Nashville, but right within reach of her loving arms. Had she
not gone to the Directory, possibly she might have procured a pass to Nashville
and gone; or, failing in that, might have gone home without seeing her husband
at all, leaving him among strangers, longing through day and night for a glimpse
of the face which made the sunshine of his home.
A NIGHT IN A SNOW-DRIFT.
ONE day, in the depth of as
severe a winter as I ever experienced, I had to take a long journey, the greater
part by rail—then only a single line. At the wretched shed dignified with the
name of "station" a somewhat curious party attracted my attention.
They were four.
An old and apparently totally
paralyzed gentleman, so swathed in shawls, comforters, fur cap, and
buffalo-robe, that only a small strip of his face was visible, and that was of a
A young lady, thickly veiled,
apparently not the daughter of the invalid: for she seemed to avoid looking at
or approaching him, as he half-sat, half-lay, propped up by boxes and bags, in a
corner of the one bench.
Two sallow, evil-looking men
completed the number. They were dressed in a much inferior manner to the others,
but evidently had charge of both invalid and lady.
I got into the same car with this
strange party. Whether I should have done so, could I have foreseen the tragic
termination of our journey, I can not tell.
snow was lying very deep on
the ground; and occasionally, where a drift had formed across the line, we had
much ado to force our way through it.
I was the only occupant of the
car besides the party I have described, and amused myself by speculating on the
connecting links between such a strange quartette.
The lady was a lady evidently.
Though I had not caught a glimpse of her face—as she had not once lifted the
heavy veil she wore—yet every fold of her dress, every movement of her figure,
We had been plodding on at a
miserable rate for many hours; the snow becoming thicker and thicker.
To look out of the windows was
useless; for the ground was snow, and the air seemed to be snow, so thickly was
What could I do but watch my
I had forgotten to say that in
the early part of the journey I had made some casual remark to the two men about
the entirely hopeless state of their charge; but I received such a short answer,
by such an evil look, that I
resolved to hold my tongue for the remainder of the journey.
The young lady, when I spoke to
the men, gave a quick sort of half turn toward me, as if she would have spoken;
but was instantly checked by one of the men desiring her, in a rough and
peremptory manner, to change her seat.
Still dragging along—and more
snow, more snow!
The men, having refreshed
themselves several times from a spirit-flask, took a bottle and a spoon, and
prepared to feed the paralyzed gentleman.
I could not see what they gave
him, or whether he ate; for the men carefully placed themselves and the young
lady between the sick man and me.
I should here say that the young
lady had absolutely refused to take any food whatever, though several times
pressed by the men.
They are bending over the
invalid; the young lady, by their direction, also standing, with her side-face
With a quick and silent movement
she raises her veil, and looks for an instant with a questioning, agonized
glance in my face.
She must have seen honest pity
there; for, slightly leaning toward me, pallid as death, she formed a word with
her lips—but without sounding it—pointing to the men; then lowered her veil
Although the whole had taken
place in a second or two, the men had observed some movement, and turned
fiercely to her, looking like devils at both of us.
I, however, was already sitting
with folded arms, and eyed, half-shut, as if sleepy; not so sleepy, though, but
that I caught a moment's view of that strip of face I had seen at the station.
That second look satisfied me of
what I had doubted—the word dumbly spoken by the young lady. The word was
I sat still and thought:
"Here I am with a couple of
murderers—probably armed—their victim apparently the father of that lovely girl.
Yes—this is the explanation of her shunning him at the station, and in lifting
him into the cars. I have my revolver—not loaded: if it were I couldn't shoot
these men down without more proof against them than a word—only seen, not heard.
It is of no use giving them up at the end of our journey; for, of course, they
will say that, half-dead when he started, he died of the cold in the cars. Cold!
Yes, bitterly, piercingly cold; and our stove does not seem to give the heat it
should; and—there is no more fuel!"
Although I could not see through
the young lady's veil, she doubtless could see me through it. I nodded slightly
to her, and, fumbling in the folds of my cloak, half exposed the barrel of my
The answer was a scarcely
perceptible shake of the head.
For the twentieth time we are
pushing and battering at a drift: this time it must be a deep one, for we are
come to a dead stop.
"I guess I must get some wood
from that darned conductor, or we shall be friz," said one of the men, the
shorter and least evil-looking of the two.
"Do," said I, "for it is awfully
cold, even for us who are strong; what must it be for your invalid charge!"
"Oh! he won't hurt," replied the
"You shut up, and fetch the
wood!" said the other.
He returned soon, and said the
engineer would not let him have a stick: declaring it was not his business to
supply the cars—and that he had barely enough to keep his own fire up.
On going out to see the state of
affairs for myself, I found the drift, in which we were fast, was of a most
formidable size; and saw at once that, without digging, the engine could not
possibly force its way through.
I went to the engineer, whom I
knew, and asked if he would spare us a log or two; but even while asking I saw
how useless the request was—he had no more wood.
Nine o'clock at night—still
snowing—no fire, and no fuel!
Fast buried in a snow-drift, on a
single line of rails—miles away from any house!
I must spend the night with a
dead man and his two murderers!
But the poor girl! How can she
bear the cold?
All the men set to work
vigorously to clear the line while there was yet fire enough and steam enough to
carry us through.
We were not many miles from our
Dig! yes—but who can dig without
Small progress was made; it soon
became apparent to all that we were fast until two o'clock, when the night-mail
Five mortal hours in that
The conductor, half frozen as he
was, walked a quarter of a mile down the line, and extemporized a danger-signal
as best he could; I and the other passengers getting into the cars, and wrapping
ourselves up, grimly to bear the five hours of misery. As I enter I see only the
shorter of the two men; on asking him for his friend he says:
"Oh! he's crouching down by the
fire-box of the engine to get warm."
I mentally add—"And will go to
sleep, and when the fire goes out will be frozen to death!"
I now saw the young lady watching
her companion closely, seeing him becoming sleepy from copious draughts of
A loud snoring soon proclaimed
him fast asleep. The poor girl then with half-frozen fingers lifted her veil,
and whispered, with trembling voice:
"Can you help me? I think I can
"Sit perfectly still for an
instant," I answered. A happy thought had struck me.
I had for some time past suffered
much from face and tooth ache, and was in the habit of carrying a stoppered
bottle of chloroform.
I took out my bottle, and,
signing to the young lady to be silent, poured the whole upon my handkerchief,
and held it over the face of the sleeping murderer!