Saturday, March 29, 2014

Nurse to Antietam amputee: 'Forget not, my friend ... '

Nurse Maria Hall, who cared for wounded soldiers after the Battle of Antietam,
 was beloved  by soldiers. "Her self-sacrifice is worthy of something more than
 a newspaper notice," a soldier in the 78th New York wrote
(Photo: U.S. Army Military Heritage Institute)
While he lay wounded after a cannon ball ripped apart his right leg in Miller's cornfield at the Battle of Antietam, 12th Massachusetts Corporal Frederick Swarman was struck again by Rebel fire in the head and arm. Thankfully, the 23-year-old bootmaker from Medway, Mass., eventually was taken to nearby Smoketown Hospital, where he received treatment that probably saved his life. (Smoketown and Crystal Spring hospitals were large tent hospitals organized for thousands of Antietam wounded by Dr. Jonathan Letterman, the Army of the Potomac medical director.)

In this enlargement of an image taken at Smoketown Hospital,
Maria Hall is seen with wounded soldiers.
(Eli Collection, Edward G. Miner Library, Rochester, N.Y.)
After his right leg was amputated, Swarman spent more than six months recuperating at Smoketown, receiving care there from a 26-year-old nurse named Maria Hall, whose remarkable devotion to wounded soldiers earned her much acclaim.  "With untiring perseverance she dealt out to the poor, wounded soldier the delicacies that he could relish, and which, by Government regulations, he could not get," wrote 78th New York Sergeant Thomas Grenan, who had suffered a gunshot wound to the jaw. Hall ran a ward at Smoketown, which handled patients whose wounds were so serious that they could not be removed to hospitals in nearby Frederick, Md., or elsewhere.

Finally well enough to be sent home, Swarman was discharged from the army for disability on April 2, 1863, several weeks before Smoketown was disbanded. Twenty-two days later, Hall wrote a four-page letter to the former Antietam patient, noting "we miss your cheerful face & voice from Ward D" and reflecting on her more than seven months' service at the hospital. (Complete letter below.)
Post-war image of Swarman.

"It has been a very happy home to us for some months," Hall wrote, "a place of intense suffering & close sympathy. But it has given me so much solid pleasure -- the very best kind of pleasure to have the privilege of ministering ... to relieve the sufferings and loneliness of our brave Antietam boys."  She also implored Swarman to remember those who took care of him at Smoketown.

"Forget not, my friend," she wrote, "to whose gracious protection and care you owe your life and its blessings."

Apparently eager to re-join the army, Swarman re-enlisted again on Aug. 17, 1863 in the Veterans Reserve Corps, but his Antietam wounds wouldn't allow him to serve for long. In January 1864, he was discharged for good. After the war, he got married, reared three children, ran a grocery and dry goods store and became postmaster in Medway, Mass. Swarman died of cancer at age 76 on March 2, 1915.

Sources: James, Ephraim Orcutt, The Military History of Medway, Mass., 1745-1885, Millis, Mass., E.O. Jameson, 1886.
1860 and 1870 U.S. census, ancestry.com

Hall wrote a four-page letter to 12th Massachusetts Corporal Frederick Swarman three weeks 
after he was released from Smoketown Hospital, also known as Antietam Hospital.
(Copy of letter courtesy  George  Glastris)

Antietam Hospital
April 24

It is just after tea my good friend & I am much inclined to spend a few moments in chatting to you. I was very glad to hear from you, and I rejoice in your happiness in being once more at home "sweet home." Doubtless there is some one besides yourself who rejoices in your presence there once more. We miss your cheerful face and voice from Ward D & often speak of the lady who sat in my tent one evening with her hood on. Poor Charley misses you more than any one who has left the ward. He is now in Porter's tent, waiting to see what will turn up for him. But I presume he has given you all the items of interest in regard to himself & the ward for I asked him to send a note with me. Smoketown begins to look ....

"Well the end of Smoketown draweth nigh!" Hall wrote. The hospital disbanded in May 1863, 
eight months after the Battle of Antietam.
...lonely enough & ere long the glory will have departed. There are now remaining only about 75 patients & on Monday 25 more are to leave for Frederick. All the old nurses who are able to do regimental duty have gone to the army and convalescents are left to do hospital work. Dr. [Bernard] Vanderkieft has gone home to Washington where he will probably receive instructions as to the remaining patients & will also learn where he will be sent for duty upon closing this hospital. Well the end of Smoketown draweth nigh! It has been a very happy home to us for some months -- a place of intense suffering & close sympathy. But it has given me so much solid pleasure -- the very best kind of pleasure to have the privilege of ministering in a slight degree to relieve the sufferings and loneliness of our brave Antietam boys. It is a saddening reflection that all the pain ...

"I hope you find no Copperheads in your region to battle against," Hall wrote. The
Copperheads were a vocal group of  Northern Democrats who opposed the war.

... endured here, & all the anguish at home so closely connected with this, is but a small part of the terrible portion of suffering to be poured out in our country! I hope you find no Copperheads in your region to battle against. If there are any such I beg you to hit them full the weight and strength of a good Antietam crutch on their head. We have been in the depths of a Maryland rainstorm for the last two days. All the cripples, except some adventurous ones like Henry [?] and Charley, have been obliged to stay in the tents. But this evening the sun shined out before its setting, and everybody is coming out to take a peek at it. Enjoy the prospect of a bright day tomorrow. You need no more words to tell you how the boys have felt during the stormy time.

Dr. Vanderkieft is made very happy by the arrival of his long-expected wife. They are very happy to be once more together ...

Hall wrote that she was eager to hear from Swarman again, but noted that "my correspondents
are so numerous that I can hardly promise to answer you promptly."

... as you can well realize, enjoying as you do the restoration to your friends.

I am so thankful for you that you are there in safety. Forget not, my friend, to whose gracious protection and care you owe your life and its blessings. Alfred Munroe has just been in to get some paper. [Note: Munroe was a private in Company H of the 12th Massachusetts. A shoemaker from Weymouth, Mass., he was wounded at Gettysburg, necessitating amputation of his left arm.] He desires his love to you and says that he expects soon to go to the Regiment & see the boys once more. The enclosed letter was brought me by Egbert a few days ago to send to you. It must have been somewhat delayed by the way. Theodore wrote me of his safe arrival. His address is 93 1/2 West 26th Street N.Y. My sister is with me spending a few days. It is almost homelike. I would be very glad to hear from you again but my correspondents are so numerous that I can hardly promise to answer you promptly. Indeed I must confess that you are indebted to the enclosed letter and Charley's note for my being even at all prompt -- for many of the unanswered are staring me in the face at this moment. With kind regards to your wife I remain your sincere friend.

Maria M.C. Hall

Attempting to squeeze as much into the four-page letter as she could, Hall included this
at the top of the first page of the letter. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)
I suppose  Charley has told you of Dr. [illegible] departure for the Regt. and of Dr. Truitt's doing duty in the dispensary. You would not know Smoketown's wards with all the changes.

3 comments:

  1. Terrific post. New England's Civil War nurses did amazing work. New Hampshire's best known was Sarah Low, who, in a state of exhaustion, wrote copious letters about home about her experiences with soldiers in D.C. At the hospital in Annapolis, Maria Hall gave comfort to a wounded Vermonter named Elmer Bragg and wrote a touching letter to his father after Bragg died. You can read a portion of that letter at http://ourwarmikepride.blogspot.com/2014/01/life-is-valuable-sacrifice-but-not-too.html

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  2. Once again, John, you honor Maria. As a family, we are grateful to you for finding and sharing your wonderfully researched information. My father must be smiling in heaven, as he truly loved his grandmother. Thank you.

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  3. Thank you John for connecting us to the past and to the stories of those who served.

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