Thursday, July 20, 2017

Antietam Then & Now: William McKinley monument


 THEN image: Library of Congress collection, 1925 | NOW image: John Banks, April 1, 2017 (Sorry, hover effect does not work on phones, tablets.)

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Grave matters: Meet the man who helps make a great site go

"I've been fascinated and immersed in learning history," says Russ Dodge, a senior administrator
for the Find A Grave web site.
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For Civil War researchers, there's plenty to like online. Digitized regimental histories, glass-plate images from the Library of Congress, fabulous war-time newspaper accounts from the New York Times, widow's pension records and much more are available in seconds at our fingertips.

Among my go-to online sources for information is Find A Grave, a contributor-based web site that documents, often with photographs, the final resting places of thousands associated with the Civil War. Digging into Find A Grave led to my published accounts about a 54-year-old Connecticut private who was killed at Antietam and a Confederate soldier who wrote a beautiful, haunting post-war letter to his sister. Using the site, I contacted their descendants, who generously shared letters, photographs and other information with me about those Civil War soldiers. (I am also a big fan of Find A Grave's searchable, aggregated information for cemeteries -- especially this one for the national cemetery at Antietam.)

Find A Grave was founded in the mid-'90s by Jim Tipton.
A Find A Grave member since 2008, I have been curious about the site's inner workings and who was behind it. So I contacted Find A Grave senior adminstrator Russ Dodge, who got involved with the site soon after its creation in the mid-'90s. A longtime history buff, Dodge figures he puts in 20 hours a week working on the web site and other history-related projects. (In his day job, the 48-year-old New Jersey native works for a chemical trucking firm.)

"I've been fascinated and immersed in learning history," Dodge told me, "with Civil War history being my favorite topic." Of course, he also enjoys visiting cemeteries, especially the historic Laurel Hill Cemetery -- an "underground museum," he calls it -- high on the banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.

Dodge, who lives in Conshohocken, Pa., recently answered my questions about Find A Grave, Laurel Hill Cemetery, what beverage he would raise at the grave of his favorite Civil War soldier and more.

For the uninitiated, tell us what Find a Grave is and how it came about.

Dodge: Find A Grave is a contributor-based gravesite documentation web site. That’s its main purpose, which has not changed since its inception. Over the years, it has evolved two secondary purposes – as a memorial site to those who have passed and as a genealogical resource.

Jim Tipton started it in the mid-1990s as a venue for his hobby, which was seeking out and photographing the final resting places of famous and infamous people. Once people like me starting finding it, he started accepting contributions from other grave photographers. It grew to a point where he expanded it to include anyone who has lived and died. He opened it up to direct contributions from anyone who cared to register and contribute to it in 2001, and the rest, as they say, is history. There are now over 162 million names on the site. (Here's the site's FAQ.)

Russ Dodge (far left) pursues his passion for history during a tour of Laurel Hill Cemetery
 in Philadelphia. Here, he is at the family plot for Union General George Meade.
How did you get involved with Find A Grave?

Dodge: I sent in a pack of photos in October 1996, which he accepted and put on his site. That started my now 20+ years' association with Find A Grave. For a while, he had a small group of “power users,” which he granted limited autonomy in contributing to the database. When he made the 2001 switch to allow anyone to contribute, it quickly grew to point where he couldn’t run it by himself anymore, so in April 2002, he asked me and another well-regarded contributor, A.J. Marik, to become site administrators. For a good portion of the 2000s, it was just us three. Together we formulated standards and policies that for the most part are still in place today, and have seemed to serve the site well so far.

What's your favorite Civil War-related story regarding Find A Grave?

Dodge's efforts led to a new marker for the grave of
71st Pennsylvania Sergeant Albert Gesner Bunn,
who was killed at Gettysburg.
(Photo: Russ Dodge)
Dodge: There are too many to count. I thoroughly enjoy coming across a grave, and finding out their Civil War service through research. I guess my favorite is when I discover a Civil War veteran’s unmarked grave, and that information I discover leads to that veteran finally getting a grave marker. In Laurel Hill Cemetery, I discovered the grave of Sergeant Albert Gesner Bunn of the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry, who was killed manning an artillery piece near the copse of trees during Pickett’s Charge. He had lain unmarked for 148 years. After I put all his information on Find A Grave and created a memorial to him, the cemetery was able to get a marker for him, which was dedicated during a Memorial Day ceremony. I was glad to be a part of getting him the honors and recognition his sacrifice deserved.

PANORAMA: George Meade's gravesite at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Union General George Meade, who lived in Philadelphia after the Civil War, died there in 1872.
You give tours of the vast, historic Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. It's the final resting place of Union General George Meade and Confederate General John Pemberton of Vicksburg infamy, among many others with ties to the Civil War. What makes that place special to you?

Confederate General John Pemberton,
vanquished at Vicksburg in 1863,
is buried in historic Laurel Hill Cemetery
in Philadelphia.
Dodge: It’s truly an underground museum, just seething with history known and yet to be discovered. There are over 700 known Civil War veterans there, from buck privates to high-ranking generals – all of whom have a story under their stones. Name a theater of operations during the war, there is a veteran buried in the cemetery who served there. I feel like I'm walking in the footsteps of the history I love when I'm there.

As a cemetery expert, what advice do you have for amateurs?

Dodge: Be prepared. Have a camera handy, a notebook, water, and during the summer, sunscreen and bug spray. Learn to read a cemetery – they have patterns and “flow” that develop over the vast years that are only apparent after a long stretch of time. Doing so will help you find what you are looking for if it's something or someone specific. Be cautious and especially be respectful, and always remember someone’s loved one’s physical remains are under your feet. We are the custodians of their memory – always try to honor that.

I have found that Find A Grave is an excellent Civil War research tool. Give us three tips for using it for Civil War research.

Dodge: Get to know the three main web sites outside of Find A Grave that have an incredible amount of Civil War information at your fingertips –, and People are put off by them because they are all for-profit pay sites, but I've found that the ease of information access is worth the price for me (Full disclosure: bought Find A Grave three years ago, so now via Find A Grave, I am an employee of Ancestry.) Information found on the site can really help you either flesh out a biography of a Civil War veteran you would like to add to the Find A Grave database, or it can help you determine if a Find A Grave memorial with scant info on it is indeed a Cvil War veteran.

Understand that there can be many variants of a soldier’s or sailor’s name, due to the unregulated record keeping of the time period, the lack of universal literacy amongst the general populace, and the very common use of aliases during service. Often the soldier you are looking for can be found if you spell his name in a different way. Don’t give up right away if you at first can’t find the name in the database.

Use the “Virtual Cemetery” aspect of Find A Grave to gather memorials together for easy reference. I have a “virtual cemetery” for every New Jersey Civil War regiment, so if I stumble upon a New Jersey Civil War veteran memorial, I have a place to add them to where I can easily find if needed.

Russ Dodge would enjoy raising a craft porter
or stout to the memory of Philip Kearny,
who's buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
To honor Civil War soldiers, some people place a penny (Lincoln side up) or a small pile of rocks on a headstone. Do you do anything special?

Dodge: I do indeed. After photographing and noting a Civil War veteran grave, I briefly touch the marker (depending upon its condition) as my way of silent saying, “I was here visiting you, and I am remembering you.” I also give a thanks for their service.

Ever been creeped out walking through a cemetery?

Dodge: Only by human neglect and human indifference to the memory of those buried there. It still astounds me that some places and some cemeteries are treated as badly as they are by the local populace.

Finally, if you could raise a pint of your favorite beverage at the grave of a Civil War soldier, whom would you choose and why?

Dodge: It would probably be a good craft porter or stout, and it would be at the grave of General Phil Kearny in Arlington National Cemetery. I feel he was personally the bravest general to serve in the Union army, and had he not died at the Battle of Chantilly on Sept. 1, 1862, the war in the East might have gone much differently.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Antietam Then & Now: 16th Connecticut monument dedication


THEN: Unknown photographer, Oct. 11, 1894 | Courtesy Gil Barrett via Stephen Recker,
Rare Images of Antietam And the Photographers Who Took Them.
NOW: John Banks, July 2, 2017. (Sorry, hover effect does not work on phones, tablets.)

In its first battle of the war, the 16th Connecticut was routed in a field of head-high corn at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862,. Here's an excerpt from the moving dedication speech for the regiment's monument at Antietam by former 16th Connecticut Lt. Colonel Frank Cheney, who was severely wounded during the battle. He was discharged for disability on Christmas Eve 1862. In the "Then" image above, Cheney may be the second man to the right of the monument.

QUOTE/UNQUOTE: "The general history of the Battle of Antietam has been written many times, and rewritten in all of its details. Just and unjust praise has been bestowed for what was done, and vain regrets wasted over what was left undone. The part of its true history which comes home to us to-day is that in which this small remnant of our regiment and our dead comrades were a part. The story of each man’s own life is the only atom of history he has knowledge of at first hand — what he knows about himself and his companions in arms; how they came to be soldiers; how they lived and looked in camp and on the march, in winter and summer, in storm and sunshine, at rest and in the thick of the fight alive; — full of courage and high hopes; then, dead on the field, or sadder yet, in the hospital; the hurried burial, or the slow funeral march; the last volley over the grave, and the march back to quick time. These war scenes come rolling over you with those of that bloody day at Antietam thirty-two years ago."

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Saturday, July 08, 2017

Can you unlock secrets to Antietam's 'Amos Humiston' story?

A close-up of the face of the young woman in the CDV below.
CDV of an unknown woman with a tie to the Battle of Antietam.
 (Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.
 "Woman" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1827 - 1934.)
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The young woman in the plaid dress, hands folded in her lap, elbow resting on a small table and hair pushed back in a popular Civil War-era style, stares intently at the cameraman. Except for her hauntingly sad eyes, the image itself is unremarkable -- hundreds of  thousands of carte-de-visites like it were produced during the Civil War. What makes this CDV remarkable -- and mysterious -- is what we find on the reverse (see photo below):

 CDV of a Union officer found in the Ezra Carman Papers
with the image of the young woman in this post. 

(Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library. 
"Soldier" New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1827 - 1934.)
"Copied from an ambrotype found in the grave of an Unknown soldier, on the Battle Field of Antietam."

At an unknown date after Antietam, fought Sept. 17, 1862, in the farm fields and woodlots near the village of Sharpsburg, Md., the ambrotype was copied and turned into a CDV by Bascom William Tell Phreaner, who ran a photography business in Hagerstown, Md., from 1864-1907. In addition to shooting images of the Antietam battlefield, Phreaner was a portrait photographer.

That one line on back of the Phreaner CDV prompts scores of questions, among them:

Who is the young woman?

What is the "unknown" soldier's name? Was the woman his wife or sweetheart?

Was the ambrotype found in the grave of a Confederate or Union soldier?

Where on the battlefield was the image found?

When was the photograph found? Many remains of Union soldiers who died at Antietam were moved to the national cemetery in 1867; others were removed and buried in hometown cemeteries. In the years immediately after the Civil War, remains of Southern soldiers were removed from the field and often re-buried in the Confederate section of Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown or Elmwood Cemetery in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Was the copy of the image part of a publicity effort to discover the identity of the woman and the soldier? If so, did stories about it appear in publications in Maryland, or was a national effort made to discover the identity of the soldier and the sad-eyed, young woman? What was published about this image, if anything? A search of  Maryland newspapers of the era available on provided no clues.

A close-up of the officer in the CDV above.
This tale, of course, could be the Amos Humiston story of Antietam. One of the enduring stories of Gettysburg is the discovery on the battlefield in July 1863 of an ambrotype of three children with the body of a Union soldier. He had no identification. That soldier, 154th New York Sergeant Humiston, was finally identified by his widow, who learned of his death after reading a detailed description of the image in a publication.

Adding another twist to our photo mystery, the image of the woman was found with a CDV of a Union soldier in the Ezra A. Carman Papers in the New York Public Library by preeminent Antietam historian Tom Clemens. Is the officer part of this story? Could his identification lead to solving the mystery? Perhaps the badge (see enlargement below) could be a clue to his identity.

Could this badge on the officer's chest be a clue to unlocking 
our mystery? This is a cropped enlargement 
of the photograph above.
(Carman, a Union veteran who served at Antietam, collected reminisces and much more from veterans of both sides to create the ultimate account of the battle and the Maryland Campaign. He served on the Antietam Battlefield Board from 1894-98. In a terrific effort, Clemens edited Carman's papers, provided context and had published a three-volume series on the Maryland Campaign. You can purchase those books on amazon,com here, here and here.)

This post is sprinkled with clues. Our hope is Civil War brain power around the world can lead to identification of the soldier and woman. Photographs in this post may be downloaded at the New York Public Library site here, here and here. And, by all means, please share this post on social media.

My deep-dive into this story has officially begun. Let's solve a Civil War mini-mystery.

The reverse of the carte-de-visite of the young woman with the sad eyes.
 (Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "
Woman" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1827 - 1934.)

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

'Bloodstains' and earthworks: Living with history underfoot

Dave and Laura Rowland at the now-capped well where a Confederate soldier is believed to have 
been  killed by a Union artillery shell that crashed through their house, killing two other soldiers.
In a small front room in the Rowlands' house, the floorboards have dark stains. Is it blood? 
Laura Van Alstyne Rowland talks about the history of her house.

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Near Laura and Dave Rowland's cozy house on East Main Street in Sharpsburg, Md., Civil War history abounds.

The national cemetery -- the bucolic, eternal resting place for scores of Union soldiers killed in the fields and woodlots at Antietam -- is a five-minute walk away. St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church once stood across the street -- its belfry was an observation point for Confederates and its sanctuary a makeshift hospital for the Federals’ V Corps. In the fall of 1862, 20 paces or so from the Rowlands' front door, Alexander Gardner captured that battle-scarred church and houses in the village of Sharpsburg beyond it in a well-known photograph. (See a Then & Now of the church on my Civil War photography blog here.)

A close-up of the dark stains on the floor.

But Laura and Dave – you can also call him  “Bear” -- don’t even have to leave the house they rent to step back into time.

During the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, a Union artillery shell crashed through their house, killing three Confederate soldiers, longtime battlefield chronicler O.T. Reilly wrote in 1906. One victim apparently was in the backyard, where he was drawing water from the well. The demise of the other victims came in the kitchen, where one of them was found clutching a bunch of onions.

That soldier was "literally torn to pieces," Reilly wrote in The Battlefield of Antietam. "There have been Union soldiers who visited the battlefield since the battle who remembered seeing the sight just mentioned."

On Saturday afternoon, Laura moved pieces of furniture and lifted a braided rug to reveal possible evidence of the long-ago tragedy: massive, dark stains on the polished, brown floorboards. Is it really blood? Perhaps we'll leave the definitive answer for a future episode of Forensic Files.

In the video above, Laura, who had an ancestor killed at Gettysburg, talks about the “bloodstains” and history of the beautiful house, used as a hospital at Antietam. The residence, built in the late 18th century, is known locally as the Mary Hill House.

        GOOGLE STREET VIEW: The Rowlands' house was built in the late-18th century.
                                         (Click at upper right to explore the area.)

Dan Goldstein talks about Union earthworks behind his house.

Remains of Union earthworks in Dan Goldstein's neighborhood.
War-time Mineral Springs Road winds through the Estates of Chancellorsville neighborhood.
Dan Goldstein, whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy, lives with Civil War history in his backyard – literally. When the Union army was flanked by Stonewall Jackson during the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863, panicked Federals fell back toward Mineral Springs Road, where the Yankees dug in for an expected assault. The remains of the XI Corps’ long-ago earthworks may be found in the fringe of woods behind Goldstein’s two-year-old house, about 25 yards from the end of his driveway.

In a nod to the neighborhood's history, 
street names are Civil War-related.
On a sultry Monday afternoon, the former director of development for the Fredericksburg (Va.) Area Museum pointed out remains of earthworks as we walked on the war-time road that winds through woods behind houses in the recently developed Estates of Chancellorsville neighborhood. Goldstein also showed me where earthworks were recently destroyed, a victim of a developer who paved a street called Second Corps Drive right through them. A historic easement wasn't good enough to save a chunk of history.

Goldstein has mixed feelings about living in the Estates, where many of the streets have Civil War-related names (“Fifth Corps Lane,” “Irish Brigade Court,” “General Sykes Circle”). Adjacent to the Chancellorsville battlefield, the neighborhood of upscale houses with spacious lots is a nice place to raise a family. On the other hand, battlefield land -- once National Park Service property -- was carved up to create the community that, according to its web site, “greets you with a stone entry feature and dual carriageway entrance lined with distinctive, period split-rail fencing.”

As our walk in the woods neared an end, Goldstein and I wondered about the Union soldiers' state of mind as they hurriedly built the defenses in early May 1863. "They must have been terrified," said Goldstein, who talks about the remains of the earthworks in his backyard in the video above. (Note: The reference in the video to "late May" should be "early May." We blame the heat.)

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Saturday, July 01, 2017

Letters after Gettysburg: 'Your sainted husband fell asleep ...'

The Wheatfield, where 27th Connecticut officer Henry Merwin was mortally wounded July 2, 1863.
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After battles ended, informing loved ones of the deaths of soldiers began. The duty often fell to a commanding officer, another comrade or the chaplain of the regiment. As in the case of Confederate General Paul Jones Semmes -- who suffered a mortal wound at The Wheatfield at Gettysburg -- sometimes a stranger took on the sad task. Some condolence letters were short and matter of fact. Others went into great detail about a soldier's death, even noting the gruesome nature of wounds. Below are three Gettysburg condolence letters. (For all Civil War condolence letters posted on my blog, go here.)


At Gettysburg, Lieutenant colonel Henry Czar Merwin commanded the 75-man 27th Connecticut,   the smallest Union regiment in the battle. Eight companies in the regiment had been captured at Chancellorsville in early May -- Merwin was among them, but he was paroled later that month. On July 2, 1863, the 24-year-old officer was wounded in the chest in The Wheatfield and died hours later. His body was returned to Connecticut, where his funeral was a major event in in his hometown of New Haven. "The people would cherish his name," the New Haven Daily Palladium noted, "and immortalize it with indelible characters on the tablet of Fame." Merwin was buried in Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven

On July 12, 1863, 27th Connecticut Lieutenant David S. Thomas wrote this condolence letter to Merwin's brother, Samuel:

S. E. Merwin, Jr.


Henry Merwin "was the man for the boys 
of the regiment," a 27th Connecticut officer wrote.
Enclosed please find $2 -- a small amount advanced me by your brother when we came to this place. Henry also gave me his old blouse and overcoat. The former I wear at present, and both I shall take with me home. The value of these articles is of course little, but should your family wish to retain them for their associations I will leave them with you. In the great loss you have sustained I can but add my sympathy to the general sorrow of the regiment. I am conscious that the deepest condolence fails to rectify events, or that the most sincere sorrow of friends cannot assuage the poignant grief of family affliction, yet a companionship of months forms ties which a soldier serves [indecipherable] in silence, but the memory of which still clings to him through all vestitudes [indecipherable] of life.

A frequent recipient of his kindness myself, I had learned to look upon Col. Merwin as the head of the regiment -- the father to the men and the friend to all. In camp, on the march or on the battle field Col. Merwin was the man for the boys. It was he whose kind words and kinder deeds cheered the sick and encouraged the wayworn -- it was he who inspired us in battle and who looked to our welfare when the battle was over. We had hardly a comfort -- but it was associated with his name, and we never had a sorrow that any exertions on his part could banish. Any proficiency in drill which the regiment may have attained is due in a great measure to his personal attentions, which to him I am directly indebted for what knowledge I have gained of military. Both officers and men will ever cherish the memory of Lieut. Col. H.C. Merwin, as they would cherish the memory of a very dear brother.

Yours, Lieut. D. S. Thomas

SOURCE:, accessed July 1, 2017.

          PANORAMA: Henry Merwin's 75-man regiment was routed in The Wheatfield.
                                       (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)


Confederate General Paul Semmes, a 48-year-old banker and planter from Georgia, was wounded in the thigh during a charge in The Wheatfield on July 2. “Severely wounded. Main danger over," he wrote in a short letter to his wife on July 9, 1863, from Martinsburg, Va. (now West Virginia), where he was treated. "Stay at home. Will write." Semmes died the next day. His remains were returned to his native Georgia, where he was buried in Linwood Cemetery in Columbus. This condolence letter to Semmes' wife, Emily, from a Martinsburg woman named Mary Oden vividly captures the general's last days. 

Friday July 10th 1863

My Dear Mrs Semmes

I need hardly ask you to pardon me for addressing you in this your season of sore anguish and bereavement, it will be enough to state in apology for so doing, that your sainted husband fell asleep among us; it was a privilege to have his example before us, teaching us that the soldier of Christ has nothing to fear when passing through the dark valley. Dr. [Jacob Milton] Hadley, one of his surgeons, remarked to him that he bore his sufferings with great calmness, his reply was, I am endeavouring to bear them like a Christian philosopher; even when suffering severe pain he seemed to take pleasure in conversing and after he became so ill talked constantly of his family.

Paul Jones Semmes was mortally wounded
in The Wheatfield on July 2, 1863.
The Confederate general was buried
in his native Georgia.
In a conversation with him, he told me that he thought he would write the despatch to be sent to you himself as you would feel less uneasy. I suggested that it might be taxing his strength too far, he wrote but little however; you have I suppose received it, but we thought you would like to have the original, we fortunately obtained it from the operator here, you will find it enclosed with several locks of hair in this letter.

I know by experience how hard it is to resign a friend from whom we have been separated for a long time, whom he had fondly hoped to see again; that they should die far from home and among strangers adds keenly to our grief, but you my dear friend in affliction, will derive infinite comfort from the knowledge that his brother, your nephew and a friend that loved him tenderly, when he breathed his last were with him; he passed away just as Dr. Pryor a Presbyterian minister had opened the Testament to read to him.

To a minister who was with him earlier in the evening he expressed his willingness to die; his only regret was leaving his wife and children. Much very much sympathy is felt for you all; I have thought so much of your daughters, I too am fatherless, yes even worse  han that an orphan indeed, but little more than a year has passed since our dear Mother was numbered with the dead; my dear Father has been dead a number of years and I know what it is to be without that fatherly love and protection which the heart ever yearns for. Excuse me for referring to my own trouble, I only do it in order that you may feel that you have the warmest sympathy of those who know how to sympathize, because they too have trod affliction’s path.

I wish you could see the quantities of beautiful flowers brought here this morning; for fear you may not be able again to look upon the deceased, I will tell you the arrangement, for no particular is trifling concerning those we love; a large bouquet of white flowers and evergreens was placed upon his bosom, white jessamine, clematis, and ivy were placed around the sides of the coffin near his head, on the outside two bouquets similar [inserted: to the first] were placed, one at the foot, the other
below the glass, in the middle his coat and sword have been laid. His remains are laid in the sitting room according to Captain Cody’s request, as it takes some little time to make arrangements, he preferred it to the parlors.

Surgeon Jacob Milton Hadley cared for mortally wounded 
Confederate General Paul Semmes in Martinsburg, Va. 
(now West Virginia.) Hadley was captured by the Union army at 
Martinsburg in July 1863, days after the Battle of Gettysburg.
Your husband desired Mr. Cleveland to find out each of our names in order to tell you, our family consists of my Aunt Mrs Pendleton, Mr & Mrs Allen, (my brother in law and sister) my sister Kate, my brother and myself; we have a friend Miss Murphy who was with us during his sickness. His friends now make efficient nurses that we could not do much, Kate prepared herself what little he eat while here; he came on Sunday morning July 7th [5th] about eleven o’clock, he rested better he thought that night than usual; the next morning he seemed better; in the evening my sister took him some raspberries and cream which he seemed to enjoy very much, he talked to her sometime about Virginia and Georgia.

Thursday evening between three and four we thought he was dying, a surgeon and minister were both sent for, once he asked what time it was on being told that it was three, he said “by quarter past three I hope to be with Christ."

We told Mr Hanson, that he was far away from Christ that he had not come up to His standard, but he was willing to die and ascribed his conversion to your example. I have been this minute in relating as far as possible all that relates to the departed, for fear that  you may not hear all, for gentlemen sometimes forget little things that transpire, then perhaps Mr Cleveland may not be able to go to you, every word I know is treasured up as a precious memorial in the heart’s casket and a twice told tale is not unwelcome when it concerns our beloved ones. While I write my heart is saddened by the thought that you are unconscious as yet of your irreparable loss. I wish you could be here, but God has ordered it otherwise, and may He give you grace patiently and resignedly to say, “Thy will be done.”

           PANORAMA: The Wheatfield, where General Semmes was mortally wounded.
                                     (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

In conclusion my dear Mrs. Semmes allow me to say, that what little we could do to conduce to your husband’s comfort has been a great pleasure; we saw him first two weeks before his death passing through with his Brigade, his appearance struck us so forcibly that Captain [George] Cheever, his commissary whom we had known before asked us if we would like to make his acquaintance, we then invited him to tea, his duties prevented his acceptance of the invitation, Captain Cody came with Dr Told & Capt Cheever and though we had not known the General he seemed very far from a stranger when brought among us. He has passed away but his spirit is now enjoying perfect peace; we mourn not [inserted: for] the dead but the living: for those who will grieve sadly that the privilege of ministering to the departed was denied them accept the love and deep sympathy of each member of our family, praying again that God may strengthen you even as he did him.

I remain with much love your sympathizing friend.

Mary Oden

One little circumstance I have forgotten; a few moments before the General died, he asked for his sword, laying it across his arm, he asked again for his Testament he took it and with it in his hands expired, they would have left it so, but that he had asked that you should have it. Oh! if all our warriors might die as he did, death would be robbed of half its sting.

PS -- You will also find a few evergreens, taken from the bouquets laid upon the coffin my sister thought you would value them.


Oden, Mary (1863, July). [Letter to Emily J. Semmes]. The Gilder Lehrman Collection, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, New York, N.Y. Transcript retrieved July 1, 2017, from

National Archives via


John Rinker, a private in the 108th New York, was mortally wounded on July 3, 1863. Rinker, a German whose first name apparently was anglicized from Johannes, died the next day. He left behind a wife of three years named Johnanette, who was pregnant with the couple's second child. The Rinkers had another son, 2-year-old Lewis. Rinker's final resting place is unknown.

Camp 108th Regt NYV, Aug. 4.

Mrs. Rinker
Dear Madam

Your husband was in the Battle of Gettysburg & it is my painful duty to acquaint you of his wound & consequent death.

He was shot through the bowels & died the next day.

He died in a hospital & was decently buried.

With much respect I am you obt. servant

A. T. Wells
Lt. Company A.

SOURCE: John Rinker's widow's pension file, National Archives & Records Service, Washington, D.C., via

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

'Killed with kindness’: A journey with Union nurse Maria Hall

In 1886, Union nurse Maria Hall wrote about her war-time experiences for a newspaper.
 (The Foard Collection of Civil War Nursing)
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Philadelphia may have a less-than-brotherly reputation today, but nurse Maria Hall was impressed with the city’s embrace of Union soldiers during the Civil War.

“But was there ever a city that so warmly welcomed the boys to her gates,” she wrote in The Springfield (Mass.) Republican in 1886, "as did Philadelphia.” In Part 2 of the newspaper series about her experiences early in the war, Hall recalled the scene as she arrived at a wharf in the city aboard a steamer filled with wounded soldiers.

“Women wearing the lovely drab bonnets and gowns, and the lovelier faces of the Friends, came bringing baskets of bread, biscuits and cookies, pails of lemonade, pitchers of milk and bottles of wine,” she wrote, “knowing that the boys had come from a barren land, and so welcoming them to plenty and comfort. Our only fear for our patients now was lest they should be killed with kindness.”

In the account published in The Republican on Dec. 20, 1886, Hall – who married a man from Unionville, Conn., after the war – also recalled her experiences at the massive Union encampment at Harrison’s Landing, Va., in the summer of 1862; feeding famished soldiers; the perils of sailing down the James River under fire from Confederates and much more. (My thanks to Connecticut historian Clifford Alderman for transcribing this installment of Hall’s war-time remembrances. Click here and here for previous installments on my blog.)

Written for The Republican by Mrs. M.M.C, Richards of Unionville, Ct.

Entrance to Fort Monroe in 1864. The fort was also site of a major hospital during the Civil War.
(Library of Congress)
The head-quarters of the hospital transports in service was at Fortress Monroe. Here they were reported to the medical director, and received orders as to the destination of their wounded. The hasty and imperfect diary of this time relates that having taken a load of 350 men to Baltimore, we were once more at Fortress Monroe, and there ordered to receive passengers from the State of Maine which had become disabled by an accident to the machinery. We took on board 320 men, wounded in the seven days’ battles, and having had only the hasty care that could be given on the field; many were in sorrowful plight, tossing with fever or deranged in mind, and some were dying when we first saw them. They were laid wherever a blanket could be spread for a bed, after the steamer’s bunks and state-rooms were filled.

Nurse Almira Fales: "How these ravens do eat," 
she remarked about famished Union soldiers.
(The Foard Collection of Civil War Nursing)
Here as elsewhere, the right man was not always in the right place and the tallest man of the lot was laid across the narrow end of the cabin. He grimly complained of being “too long at both ends,” but as the trip was to be short, he concluded things would average about right. Among the names recorded as patients on these trips are Col. [Ebenezer] Pierce of Big Bethel fame, having lost an arm, Col. Morrison, Col. [Edward Winslow] Hinks of Massachusetts, Robert Way of a New York regiment, seriously wounded in the lungs, and Charles Smith of Boston or vicinity.

Drs. Davenport and Brown of Detroit were among the surgeons, and Mr. Harland from the Young Men’s Christian association of Philadelphia, a most tender and devoted agent in caring for the sufferers. I quote from a letter: “I have not time to tell of the many interesting cases we have cared for. Individuals are merged in the whole when the acquaintance is so short, the services rendered so hurried and divided among so many. Dressing wounds is a new business, but you should have seen me bandage an arm broken by a ball in two places, doing it up in a splint, and that before breakfast. I won’t spoil your appetite as I did my own by telling you in what condition the poor arm was when I first saw the soldier trying to help himself. Assisted Dr. B. two or three hours this morning, washing and dressing the wounds. Many of these boys are the zouaves, wounded in the arms and legs. Their scarlet uniforms must be fatally conspicuous marks for the enemy’s fire.”

Mrs. [Almira] Fales’s heart had been gladdened by new and generous supplies of comforts and delicacies for her “ravens.” She remarks occasionally, “How these ravens do eat,” at the same time finding it the joy of her heart to feed them to the full. Her supplies were all that we had for the comfort of the sufferers on these trips. Having carried two loads of the wounded to Baltimore, we were ordered to Philadelphia with the third.

Philadelphia Hospitality to the Soldiers

Lithograph of citizens greeting Union soldiers in Philadelphia.
(National Archives)
There was little difference in the experiences on these short voyages. It was the same story of suffering bravely endured with a cheerful courage that always excited my wonder. But was there ever a city that so warmly welcomed the boys to her gates, as did Philadelphia. Our steamer had scarcely touched the wharf before we were taken captive by the wonderfully organized hospital agencies of the city. Policemen lifted the feeble ones in their arms, as if they were brothers, taking special care of the little ones. Women wearing the lovely drab bonnets and gowns, and the lovelier faces of the Friends, came bringing baskets of bread, biscuits and cookies, pails of lemonade, pitchers of milk and bottles of wine, knowing that the boys had come from a barren land, and so welcoming them to plenty and comfort.

Our only fear for our patients now was lest they should be killed with kindness. In later years of the war a soldier could not mention Philadelphia without a grateful apostrophe to the kindness of the people, and the “good meal of victuals” we got there. One little boy we saw lifted by a big policeman who said with tears in his eyes, “We’ll take you to a good place.” We had called him a drummer boy, but he resented the idea, and declared that he “carried a musket till — till — it — got so heavy.” He was taken to the Cooper shop, and recovered after a very serious illness.

Running a Rebel Battery

Confederate batteries at Fort Powhaton fire on the Union hospital ship Daniel Webster
 in the James River in this illustration in Harper's Weekly, a war-time newspaper.
On the 8th we left the city of Brotherly Love, and reached Fortress Monroe the next day. We were most bountifully supplied with stores for the sick by the ladies’ aid of the city, and Mrs. Fales anticipated great delight in feeding her next flock of ravens. At Fort Monroe we saw the Burnside fleet anchored; in the evening it started away up the James river, and next morning at 5 o’clock, we were following in its wake. At this time we were informed that the “rebs” were doing mischief firing upon our transports, mail boats, etc., and were soon assured by our own experiences of the correctness of this information.

About 8 or 10 miles below Harrison’s Landing we came alongside the gunboat Sebago. Our captain hailed the officer on deck inquiring if there were danger ahead. His reply was “keep well to the port side.” As we rounded a bend of the river at the eminence known as Fort Powhatan, whiz! went the bullets over our heads. A hurried retreat was made by all from the upper deck close by the pilot-house where we had gathered to enjoy the quiet resting time. The boat was skillfully managed by the captain, and as soon as we were out of range, the gun-boat swung round, and with a few forcible remarks shut up the little battery.

The Webster was pierced from side to side with four solid shot and two shells were found in its side. More than 100 musket balls were found, and two or three shells burst over our heads. We all had our tale of hair-breadth escapes and I still cherish one bullet which did not hit me as I looked out of the captain’s office to see how the fray was going. We reached Harrison’s Landing in safety, but the Webster was disabled for further use as a transport. After waiting orders and being thrown into great excitement by reports that we were to go to Richmond for our released prisoners, the boat is totally taken as head-quarters of the medical purveyor.

A war-time illustration of Harrison's Landing in Harper's Weekly.
          PANORAMA: James River at Harrison's Landing, where nurse Maria Hall served.
                                         (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

Amidst Cities of Tents

On Tuesday we made our exit from the Webster, having accepted the invitation of Dr. Barnes and Col. Adams to make their regiment our base of operations (the 27th New York volunteers). We are in Bartlett’s brigade, Slocum’s division — on high ground in the edge of a pine grove. It is strange to think we are living so near the head-quarters of our grand army; within a short ride of Gen. McClellan’s tent, and in the midst of cities of tens, and within two miles of the outmost pickets we are told. The scene on the plain near the river is novel, indeed. Ambulances, horses, army wagons are constantly gathered about the landing, and the quartermaster’s tent; solitary horsemen galloping about in frantic haste, contrabands idling, orderly working and singing, guards pacing to and fro; cannon, freight, horses, mules and muskets mixed promiscuously together, now and then a [illegible] soldier carried by and buried near the hospital.

"It's strange to think we are living so near
the head-quarters of our grand army" and
George McClellan's tent, Maria Hall
wrote about her stay at Harrison's Landing.
Col. Adams and Dr. Barnes furnished us with every luxury at their command, including a carpet of hemlock boughs (or was it pine?) and stretchers for beds. These were swung on forked sticks driven into the ground, and proved luxurious conches, though it must be owned our slumbers were sometimes disturbed by the unaccustomed sounds of the camps, among these being the nightly concerts given by the army mules. Our kitchen was under the sky, the fire easily made as we had no smoky chimney, and our cooking readily done. We became veritable tramps and after ministering each day to the wants of those nearest to us would walk miles hunting up individuals, or to fill wants made known to us day by day.

Carrying Goodies to the Sick and Wounded

Our basket was furnished with a pocket-stove, tea-pot, condensed milk, cups, spoons, forks, knives, etc., so that in about five minutes after entering a tent Mrs. Fales was prepared to furnish a square meal to the sick ones. We were accompanied by an orderly detailed by the colonel and so easily three baskets of supplies could be carried.

One day we visited the hospital tent of a New York regiment. One poor fellow longed for some of the currant-jelly he saw but could not be prevailed on to touch it. After it had been given to others he discovered that it was given and not sold. He had refused because he had no money to buy it and the next day he received a tumbler of it much to his comfort; and his wonder that he could have it without pay was very touching.

Mrs. Fales’s coming into one of these tents had the effect of magic. Her cheery words were as ready and helpful as any part of her equipment. “Come, come.” She would say, “Cheer up. The secretary of war doesn’t want such long-faces here, he sent me down on purpose to make you stretch out your faces this way.” – at the same time giving a pair of thin, sunken cheeks a friendly pinch. By this time the tea was simmered, the boys were smiling, and the real needs of one and another were made known, so that the stores from the baskets could be judiciously applied.

A Visit to the Vermont Brigade

Berkeley Plantation mansion was used as headquarters for a Union hospital at Harrison's Landing.
On a certain Sunday we set out to visit the Vermont brigade not far away. We found Chaplain Mark of the 3d Vermont just about going to hold service in a quaint, old brick church in the Westover place. Of course, we were glad to accompany him, and attend the service. The building was crowded, and all who could not find room within were crowding about the door and windows. The service was heartily enjoyed, and afterward we joined a group of officers and privates about the little organ, singing the Gloria in Excelsis, and other chants of the dear old church we loved. We are called away from the singing and the talk of home which followed, to visit and extemporized hospital outside the church. Here were very sick men lying on benches of a sort of rustic summer house, sheltered from the sun by canvas and boughs.

We had not forgotten our big baskets when we came to church and now they were invaluable. A cup of tea was soon made for one, a bit of jelly tempted another to eat a little food, hot water served to prepare a mustard draught for one who was suffering for want of it. These were men on detailed duty, away from their regiments and without care or comforts. We visited them afterward and carried them such help as we could till they were removed to the general hospital at the landing.

"We had occasional salutes
 from our friends, 'the enemy.'"
 Hall wrote about her stay 
at Harrison's Landing.
(U.S. Military History Institute)

And to that point my own services were soon afterward transferred. Mrs. Fales being called home by some family cares I became assistant to Mrs. John Harris, agent of the ladies aid society of Philadelphia. The old family mansion of the Harrison plantation was located at the Landing, and this building was occupied as head-quarters of the hospital, and offices of various sorts, the cupola and upper rooms being used as a signal station. Here Mrs. Harris had a room, with tents for her stores close by. Here were brought the sick from the army all about, and here indeed was an army of sick men.

A letter dated August 6 gives a glimpse of the work at this point: —

Every day is more or less occupied in preparing delicacies for the sick in the numerous hospital tents. Yesterday afternoon and this morning large numbers were brought in for whom the division were not prepared. Before breakfast I was passing through the hall of the mansion when a sick man called me; he proved to be an old patent office patient and very sick. He could not eat his breakfast and begged me to prepare him something. This I did, and had hardly finished breakfast when I was handed an order for a box to be prepared for an Ohio regiment.

Before this was finished a ward master came for Mrs. Harris; in her absence I went with him, and was requested by a surgeon to provide breakfast for a dozen men who had eaten nothing since the day before at noon. We made up a kettle of chocolate and spread bread and butter for them. While dealing this out other men came to the tent begging for something for their ward; there I found 25 more men with nothing to eat. Before we could feed them all it was dinner time but we went on feeding the hungry and doing the little deeds of kindness as the chances occurred until night came on finding us weary enough. Then Mr. Sloan was chaplain, Mrs. Harris, mother of our little family, Mrs. Lee and Mr. Alvord of the Boston tract society came into the tent as is our custom and held family prayers. We sang “Rise my soul.” And Mr. Alvord prayed , thanking God for the cares and toils and trials of the day and for any spirit of faith in which we had borne them, “for so we may assure ourselves that we are thy children and striving to do thy work.

Occasional Shots From the Enemy

                PANORAMA: Present-day view of Harrison's Landing, site of massive
        Union presence during Civil War.  (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

We had occasional salutes from our friends, “the enemy.” As we were one day engaged in the usual routine of bread and butter, we heard heavy firing from the opposite side of the river. But the signal officer soon gave such instructions to our gun-boats that they were glad enough to quit that. Again we were wakened once in the night by the screaming of the “Dutch ovens.” And presently we heard the order to “put out lights — no lights allowed.” So in the darkness a hasty consultation was held, we decided to put on the clean dress, secure all our hair-pins and so be ready for any emergency. Being dressed, we went out of the tent to find a general state of alarm in the camp. The firing, however, soon ceased, and we learned that no great harm had been done.

There seems to be scarce time to tell of a horseback ride on a McClellan saddle in a rainy day through the camps and to see the out-works. But I must not forget the beautiful camp of the Massachusetts regiment I saw one day; How clean the streets, and how nice everything was. No sickness or want here surely! One man sat in the door of his tent busily sewing on buttons. As we came near he looked up and gazing at us said: “Well, it does look scarce to see a woman around.” He looked too, as if he would like to put out his sewing, but we did not step in to take it in.

           Google Earth view of Harrison's Landing and Berkeley Plantation in Virginia.

About the middle of August an order was given to break up the hospital. Some sort of a move was on foot, and we were officially advised to go to New York with a load of the sick, by the Daniel Webster, No. 2. When the final order came to go I was carrying a plate of raw tomatoes to an officer, sick with the fever in one of the buildings. He ate nothing and longed for nothing but a raw tomato cut up in vinegar. I had hired a little negro boy to get me some, and had just time to prepare them and carry them to the sick man. I left him enjoying the tomato and the next summer on going into a hospital ward at Annapolis, I found the same lieutenant wounded and a paroled prisoner. As the news of our going became known, we had applications from some of the contrabands to join the party. One bright boy begged me to “ax de doctor for to let him go. I interceded for him and reported to Charley. “What he say, miss?”

“He thinks you can go.”

Said I. “Well, I guess he better had, or else I’d do like I done down to Williamsport.”

“How was that, Charles?”

“Oh I just borrowed a hoss to go, and I went and don’t forget to take de hoss back, too.” Aunt Rosie, an old family servant, also joined the party, leaving behind her a little flock of grandchildren. We took both these servants North, and heard afterward of their well-doing in new homes.

On a bright Sunday morning we wake to the sight of the beautiful shores of Staten Island. As we heard the church bells pealing over the waters, we fancied we had reached the gates of paradise, and begin to realize the desolation and sorrow from which we had come. At the New Jersey depot our party separated to meet no more, but all again became workers in hospital service till the close of the war.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

'You'll stay by me, won't you?' A Union nurse's life in 1861-62

War-time images of nurse Maria Hall, who served in the Eastern Theater. 
(Left: U.S. Army Military Heritage Institute | Right: The Foard Collection of Civil War Nursing)
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In December 1886, more than 21 years after the Civil War ended, Maria M.C Richards of Unionville, Conn., wrote a two-part series  for The Springfield (Mass.) Republican about her service as a nurse during the first two years of the conflict. Known as Maria Hall before her post-war marriage to a Unionville man, she observed heart-rending scenes in the Eastern Theater in the early days of the war.

Maria Hall (right) at Smoketown hospital,
near the Antietam battlefield. Read more

(Eli Collection, Edward G. Miner Library, 
Rochester, N.Y)
After a young man died at the U.S. Patent Office hospital in Washington -- the first military death Hall witnessed during the war -- a lock of the soldier's hair was cut as a memento for his mother. She also wrote of a soldier named Tyler from Michigan, who was accidentally shot through both knees and died after his leg was amputated. 

"... we could only sit by the poor fellow as his life ebbed away," Hall recalled, "and the day came for this soldier to die for his country without sight of battle or shout of victory."

My thanks to Connecticut historian Clifford T. Alderman, who transcribed the early-war installments and called to my attention Hall's remarkable, two-part series in the Springfield newspaper on her experiences at Antietam in 1862-63.  Supplemented by historical images as well as my own photographs and Google Street View, Hall's words appear here as they were published in the Springfield Republican on Dec. 13, 1886. Part 2 of Hall's remembrances may be found here.

Written for The Republican by Mrs. M. M. C. Richards of Unionville, Ct.

In these days of “war papers” it may not be out of order to offer some recollections of hospital life. To many of the boys this part of the service was prolonged and sorrowful; in it many, alas! were mustered out. To many women of the country hospital work in some form offered the only opportunity to do and dare for the Union. How gladly and bravely they used the opportunity I do not need to relate.

To be sure much zeal and linen were wasted in the early days of havelocks and lint-scraping, and many yards of cotton expended in fashioning shirts and drawers so large that no Yankee soldier could possibly fill one, except if he were measured by his courage and endurance. One pair fell into our hands measuring eight feet in length and wide in proportion. These were laid aside at the suggestion of a Boston surgeon for mush poultice bags into which the patient should be slipped and tied up.

But neither zeal nor patriotism were exhausted in those first efforts, and when the real need came in the summer of ’61 there were plenty of loyal women in Washington ready to respond to the call.

A 19th-century view of the U.S. Patent Office building, which was used as a hospital for
 soldiers during the Civil War. (Library of Congress collection)
            National Portrait Gallery in Washington, once home of  the U.S. Patent Office.                                                                              (Google Street View)

The First Volunteer Hospital

The first volunteer hospital was opened to the sick men of the 19th Indiana regiment, in the unfinished wing of the United States patent office, by the action of Caleb Smith, secretary of the interior. This was in its beginning a rude affair, and when we entered with Mrs. Almira Fales into the rough, comfortless wards we were dismayed. But her cheerful order to “Go to work, girls, wash their faces, comb their hair, do what you can,” — and her salutation to the men, “Now boys, I guess you’ll get well; I’ve brought some young ladies to see you” — lent an atmosphere of cheer to the scene, for the moment at least.

"Go to work, girls, wash their faces, comb their hair, do
what you can," Almira Fales told her nursing crew
at the Patent Office hospital in Washington.
(The Foard Collection of Civil War Nursing)
The sick boys in their gray state uniforms lie on rough boards, or on tiles placed against walls, with or without mattresses as it happens. Surgeons and hospital stewards and women work in a confused way without order or direction. But from the disorder and discomfort came gradually a well-ordered hospital which was opened to patients from various regiments, but called always the Indiana hospital. It was here that we watched the dying of our first young soldier boy; taking the loving message for the mother at home, and cutting off for her a lock of the fair hair she had so lately touched. And here too we waited for our first wounded men.

Arrival of the First Wounded.

Shall we ever forget the day when news of a battle was brought in, and orders given to prepare the ward for 24 wounded men? Were not the poor, sick fellows then considered as secondary, and routed out of all the most favorable positions? Were not the nurses rivals then for the “worst cases” for surgical treatment? And as the day wore on, and rumor brought conflicting reports of the number and variety of the cases, who can tell how the excitement grew! At last came the herald announcing the arrival of ambulances, and in the gathering twilight the procession entered the ward; first the surgeon, then the hospital steward   — the ward-master and  — the one wounded man having a flesh wound in his cheek.

Pathetic Scenes

Ah! But that was in the summer of ’61, and we could smile at the want of wounded men then. Later on came pathetic scenes at which we did not smile — one when Tyler of Michigan was brought in, accidently shot through both knees while gathering wood for a camp-fire. The surgeon trying to save both limbs waited too long till blood poisoning occurred, and one sorrowful day the nurse found the usually cheerful fellow crying like a child at the decision of the surgeon just made known to him.

Kalorama mansion in Washington after it was destroyed by fire
in December 1865. Confiscated by a Union regiment, it was used
as a hospital for small-pox patients during the Civil War.
“My leg has got to be amputated tomorrow, I wish it could be done to-day if it has got to come off,” — and then the thought of going home crippled — it was almost better not to go at all. “But you’ll stay by me, won’t you?” And on the promise given in response to this he relied.

The next day stretched upon the rude amputating table, he looked about for the nurse, and taking her hand said he was ready, saying, “Now let me go to sleep,” and so seemed content till the blessed chloroform deadened all thought or care. Though the operation was “successful,” and all the first conditions good, a secondary hemorrhage occurred after the first dressing, and then we could only sit by the poor fellow as his life ebbed away, and the day came for this soldier to die for his country without sight of battle or shout of victory. These first instances are so vivid, and stand forth distinctively, while the years that follow seem filled with shadowy forms going on to death, with here and there individual cases, whose experiences were marked.

 In the winter, small-pox appeared among us, and many of the boys were sent to Kalorama, the place chosen as the government pest-house. The first case I remember to have been was a red-headed man who begged to have his hair brushed to ease the pain in his head. He presently remarked that he guessed that “brush would take the hide off.” The surgeon passing by stopped to examine the pustules that appeared under the manipulations of the nurse, and hastily advised no more brushing. The man was at once removed to an outer hall, and presently the ambulance carried him away.

To the Front

Union wounded at a field hospital at Savage Station, Va., on June 27, 1862.  (Library of Congress)
In the summer of ’62 Washington had been better furnished with hospital accommodations for the army, and the Indiana hospital was closed, and its workers scattered to other points. Now came a chance to go “to the front.” All the world was crying “on to Richmond,” and on to Richmond we essayed to go, following [George] McClellan’s grand Army of the Potomac. Mrs. Almira Fales, known to so many of the army boys, had already made an expedition to the army at Savage Station, and there distributed to the necessities of the soldiers bountiful supplies furnished so generously from the North.

Onboard the hospital ship Daniel Webster,
Maria Hall slept on a bunk with
no mattress and an improvised pillow.
(Photo courtesy Hall descendants)
She had near the end of June returned to Washington to replenish her stores, and now proposed to make a second journey. She remarked that “those boys had been fed on lint and bandages long enough, I’m going to take them some goodies.” The writer was to her own great delight allowed to accompany Mrs. Fales as her assistant, and armed with passes from the secretary of war we went to Fortress Monroe, only to learn that no farther could we go at present.

A letter of June 29, ’62, dated “Hospital ship, Daniel Webster” is before me, and I quote as follows: –

“We found we could not go in the direction we expected; for either the army has been repulsed, or the plan of operations materially changed. All sorts of rumors abound, and nothing seems reliable. We have come aboard this hospital transport, and here we find two surgeons, some young men nurses of the Christian commission, and they expect to go to Yorktown for the wounded. We have decided to go with them, using our stores and ourselves as circumstances dictate. A boat has just come in from White House [Va.] bringing the news that the left wing of our army is in Richmond, the right wing turned, and the center firm — very likely we shall be in Richmond before we can hear from you — (!) We are lying off Fortress Monroe, in sight of the Rip Raps, a prison for mutinous soldiers, and nearby are the black gun-boats with their ‘peace-makers’ grinning from the port-holes; and off there in the distance the scene of action between the Merrimac and the Monitor. We find no luxuries and few conveniences onboard for sick or well. I sleep on a bunk with no mattress, but a pike of hospital shirts for a pillow.”

The next day we were ordered to proceed to the James River, casting anchor about dark alongside the gun-boat Port Royal. A little boat’s crew came to visit us and the crowd on deck are electrified by the news we hear from them.

“McClellan cut to pieces, the left wing 23 miles back, and the whole army on the skedaddle.”

The captain of the Port Royal gives the parting advice to Capt. Woods of the Daniel Webster to hurry up in the morning as soon as it is light, keep all the ladies below, and don’t be surprised to see a shot across your bows any time.

War-time sketch of Harrison's Landing in Harper's Weekly. James River appears in background.
                PANORAMA: Present-day view of Harrison's Landing, site of massive
       Union presence during Civil War.  (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)

Nursing the Wounded at Harrison’s Landing

The diary of July 1 says: Wake early to find ourselves steaming rapidly up the James River. Reach Harrison’s Landing at 7 o’clock. Find crowds of sick, wounded and worn-out men engaged in the recent battles. It is not long before Mrs. Fales and I are among them feeding and questioning. None of these were very seriously wounded, but all were seriously hungry and demolished the rations with skill of veterans.

We are at the Landing several hours receiving many to be examined and have wounds dressed, and then to be sent to another boat. Our load numbers finally about 300. Mrs. Fales’s supplies all the provisions we have for the sick, and she deals them out lavishly all day long, forgetting even to eat any dinner herself. For my own part I am busy all day helping here and there. Some wounds I wash and bandage. One shattered finger I wash and leave covered till a surgeon comes. He takes out his knife and before I know it the finger is left there for me to pick up and throw away!

Berkeley Plantation mansion at Harrison's Landing, Va., where
Maria Hall served as a nurse in July 1862.
One man was struggling in vain to dress a wound on his shoulder. Offering to help him I found him so much in need of cleaning up generally that I proposed to him that he should wash his face first. “Wash my face,” said he, as if the idea were new to him, “why I haven’t washed my face since the 24th of June!”

 “Well,” said I, “Would you like to try it for a change?”

“I guess so,” he answered; “you see we hadn’t any water to spare for our face down on the Chickahominy; we drank water that we wouldn’t give to a dog at home.”

I brought him a basin of water, soap, towel and a clean shirt and left him to these luxuries. You should have heard him laugh when I came again to find him. “Don’t know me now I’m so clean, do you?”

This story is good to tell to those who are fond of quoting that other story of the young lady who went one morning into a city hospital and proposed to bathe the head of a sick soldier. The soldier declined her offer with thanks, but she insisted saying, “Let me bathe your head, I want so much to be useful.”

“Well,” he sighed, “you can if you want to so bad, but you are the 14th one who has done it this morning.”

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