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Civil War Harper's Weekly, February 6, 1864

Harper's Weekly was the most popular newspaper during the Civil War, and was read by millions of Americans across the country. Today, these priceless treasures serve as a resource for those interested in learning more about the war.

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General Grant

General Grant

Butler Biography

General Butler Biography

East Tennessee

War in East Tennessee

Young Soldier

The Youngest Soldier

Sanitary Commission

Sanitary Commission

Train Wreck

Train Wreck

Stag Dance

Stag Dance

Seward Cartoon

Seward Cartoon



Wagon Train

Wagon Train








[FEBRUARY 6, 1864.




No. II.

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 Commission at 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 wounded.

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 rifle-pits, 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 the way!

A prominent and most useful feature of the Commission in its work among the soldiers is its Hospital 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 front?

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.

At the 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.


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 deathlike hue.

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.

The 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, showed refinement.

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 it falling.

What could I do but watch my companions?

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, accompanied

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 toward me.

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 again.

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 ''Murder!"

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 revolver.

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 man.

"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 destination.

Dig! yes—but who can dig without a spade?

Small progress was made; it soon became apparent to all that we were fast until two o'clock, when the night-mail followed us.

Five mortal hours in that piercing cold!

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 rum-and-water.

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 trust you!"

"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!




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