|War-time image of Civil War nurse Maria Hall, who married a Connecticut man|
named Lucas Richards in 1872. (The Foard Collection of Civil War Nursing)
Nearly 25 years after Maria Hall cared for wounded from Antietam, she wrote a remarkable, two-part series for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican about her experiences as a nurse following the battle. The Antietam installments -- published in January 1887 as part of a series Hall wrote for the newspaper about her Civil War experiences -- are compelling reading.
Hall's work was greatly admired.
“Her self-sacrifice is worthy of something more than newspaper notice,” wrote Sergeant. Thomas Grenan of the 78th New York, who was at Smoketown for four months with a gunshot wound to his lower jaw. “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. … Such noble women as she strips the battle-field of half its terrors.”
My thanks to Connecticut historian Clifford T. Alderman, who called these Antietam installments to my attention, I had the good fortune to meet Barbara Powers, Hall's great-grandaughter, and her husband Dave in October 2013. Barbara provided information about Hall for my book, Connecticut Yankees at Antietam, and posed for a photograph at the site of her ancestors' house in Unionville, Conn. Maria Hall married Lucas Richards, a Unionville manufacturer, in 1872.
Supplemented by my Antietam images as well as historical images and the magic of Google Street View, Hall's words appear here as they were printed in the Springfield Republican 130 years ago. Let's take a journey with her back in time:
By Mrs. M. C. Richards of Unionville, Ct.
For the Republican
A short period of rest followed my work on the James River. Reports of the South Mountain and Antietam battles reached me at home in Washington City. On the Sunday evening following those battles came to me a telegram: “Follow me to Gen. McClellan’s head-quarters -- Mrs. John Harris.”
Instantly the purpose was formed to follow the brave little woman who called for me, but with vague notions of the location of the general’s headquarters. Armed with a pass from the secretary of war, and equipped with a large trunk of hospital stores provided by friends in New Jersey, the preparations were completed. Personal provisions for these journeys was scanty indeed. We did not emulate Gen. Grant, who was said to carry only a cigar and his tooth-brush, but our personal baggage was contained in a valise of the size of a knapsack. The few changes of clothing we carried we often washed after the hospital day’s work was done, and the ironing was done by wearing!
I set forth on Monday morning, knowing only in a general way that I should reach Frederick City; from there the army had found Antietam. Why should not I find the army, the head-quarters, and Mrs. Harris? At Frederick City all passengers were apparently bent on one object, namely to reach the army with hospital supplies. It was my good fortune to meet a party of women and men from Chelsea, Mass., going with aid for the 35th regiment. I was kindly made one of the party, and with them soon set off through the streets of Frederick in the cool September morning, following the lead of the armies which had so lately gone that way.
A Battle-Field Ramble
(Google Street View)
As we walked along the brow of the mountain and wondered as to the courage and dash of men fighting up that steep to their death, a foot touched a snow-white skull half covered by the pitying leaves; in the very center of it, a tiny hole, but large enough to have destroyed the life -- all that was left of somebody’s boy, for it was so small and delicate, the surgeon said it was not more than 18 years old, if that -- all that was left of a rebel or Yankee boy! Who could tell whether he was climbing or defending the height? Where was the home that mourned him, knowing of him only that he was “missing?”
Friend and Foe Lying Side by Side in Amity
(Google Street View)
Going on we passed through Middletown and Boonesboro, finding all along the way houses and churches given up to the wounded. We visited one of the church hospitals at Boonesboro inquiring for friends and acquaintances. Here we found wounded from both armies lying side by side as amicably as though they had never been called enemies. When we commented upon this fact one of our boys sagely remarked, “It wasn’t the privates that brought on the war,” and a rebel soldier, “Ah, we are good friends as soon as the fighting is over.”
|In Keedysville, Md., near the Antietam|
battlefield, Maria Hall saw wounded
General Francis Barlow and his wife.
(Library of Congress)
The Hoffman farm was given over to hospital services; every barn, wagon-house, shed, stable, straw-stack and porch was filled with the suffering ones. Everywhere the surgeons and attendants were busy. I worked with Mrs. Lee (of Philadelphia) whose chief business was making and distributing soup until the approach of night bade me decide the question of an abiding place. Mrs. Lee wished to show me hospitality, but when I saw her accommodation I excused her want of cordiality. Her bed was made in the smoke-house on an inclined plane about three feet wide, and already shared with a lady helper!
I was advised to go to Sharpsburg, but again failing to find my chief, I was located for the night at a farm-house called Mt. Airy [also known as Stephen Grove farm], where I was assured the hospitality of the ladies of the family. These ladies, I presume, learning of my being a Union nurse, did not deign to meet me, but I was cared for by an old negro woman, and two rebel surgeons very kindly vacated a room for my use. This farm-house proved to be the head-quarters for the wounded prisoners in our hands, in charge of Dr. Rauch, Dr. Vollum, medical inspector, also having his head-quarters here.
|At widow Susan Hoffman's farm, "every barn, wagon-house, shed, stable, straw-stack and porch |
was filled with the suffering ones," Maria Hall wrote. The farm is privately owned today.
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
|The Hoffman barn was used as a makeshift hospital during and after Antietam.|
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Letter-Writing for the Wounded After Battle
And here I am invited to stay and work. Dr. Rauch assures me that I shall find enough Union soldiers, as the parlor and hall of the large house are full of Yankees. Deciding it the wisest course to remain, the doctor dispatches a note informing Mrs. Harris of my whereabouts, and I address myself to the business of doing what I can for our boys in the house, mentally resolute against giving aid or comfort to his enemy. I entered the parlor to find the floor like a huge bed full of soldiers lying on their blankets with a little straw beneath, knapsacks for pillows, and not much room to spare.
|At Mount Airy, the Stephen Grove farm, Maria Hall|
wrote letters home for wounded soldiers. In the
front yard, Alexander Gardner took the famous photo
of Abraham Lincoln and Union officers.
(Read about my visit to the farm here.)
Going thus in order around the room, I found myself listening to a young Vermont boy who was wounded in the foot, and preferred writing for himself. He described at length and with much enthusiasm his experiences of battle, but as I listened to his words I watched the sad face on an older man lying next to him. Turning to him at length, I said, “Would you like to write home, or shall I do it for you?” The look of pain deepened, as he shook his head, saying, “I can’t write home.”
“Are you then so badly wounded?”
He laid back with his left hand the sheet, showing the right shoulder badly shattered. Again I offered to write, but he shook his head. “Surely,” I urged, “there must be a dear mother or a wife or sweetheart who is longing to know of your welfare?”
“Yes,” he said, “my old mother would like to hear from me, but my home is too far off,” and turning away his face, he covered his eyes that I should not see the tears. Still unsuspicious, I urged that Uncle Sam would send letters to any distance for his boys.
“Ah, but not for me, my home is on the other side!”
Not till then did it dawn on me that I was actually sympathizing with a rebel! Just an instant I wavered, and then the good impulse triumphed, and I assured him that a flag of truce would protect even his letter. Ascertaining from Dr. Rauch that this was the fact, I obtained his home address and at once wrote to his mother. He was a lieutenant in a South Carolina regiment, a man of intelligence and always most grateful for any attention or comfort. He never pretended to any loyalty to the old flag, but avoided any discussion of the question, at least in my presence. Letters of one page and unsealed were sent under flag of truce through the lines, and after this experience I wrote a great many of them.
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
Nursing Rebel Prisoners
Under the charge of Dr. Rauch were from 1000 to 2000 prisoners, about 600 at this point and the remainders at other hospitals. I remained here perhaps one week, finding a duty “next my hand” to minister to their necessities. They needed care enough; they were dirty, worn out with their marches, suffering terribly from their wounds, and added to all this, defeated, and in the hands of the enemy. Some of them sullenly accepted our care, almost rebelling against it, when I retained my strong Union sentiments. Others were glad to be under the old flag once more. Many were totally ignorant of the meaning of the war, declaring that they had to enlist to save their homes from the Yankees who were coming to desolate their land.
One North Carolina man who had an arm amputated by our surgeon, declared himself “mightilly skeered when that doctor put him on the table to cut off his arm.” He expected to be “most eaten up alive if the Yankees got him;” but he found out that the doctor was just the best man in the world, and he was surprised every day at the kindness he received.
|Hall recalled a North Carolina soldier who sent |
word of thanks for her kindly treatment of
his brother, who had his arm amputated.
(United States Army Military History Institute)
One Sunday morning, Rev. Dr. [James] Karfoot, president of St. James college (since of Trinity college, and later the beloved bishop of Pittsburg), came to hold service at the head-quarters of the 5th army corps -- Gen. Fitz-John Porter’s, adjacent to the hospital. He came first with the officers on their inspection of the hospital, and I hoped to follow and join in attending the service. But in a wagon-house nearby lay 12 sufferers whom I had taken as my work for the morning, and if the service for them seemed less divine than that going up from the multitude in the field nearby, it was surely no less merciful.
My requisition for changes of clothing and bed-linen for my dozen rebels was filled as it best could be from barrels under the Sanitary Commission tent. The pillows I made by filling pillow-cases with straw and sewing up the ends. But, the poor fellows were washed and combed and cleansed; new straw was put under the blankets of those who could be moved, and all were fed with nourishing food. It was not for long that one North Carolina boy enjoyed the refreshing change, for that night he died. But his last hours were comforted by the promise that his sorrowing mother at home should have his Testament, a lock of his hair, and should know that in the land where he was a prisoner he was cared for with kindly hands.
One man to whom I had ministered was seized with hemorrhage in the night. The attendant in the barn begged permission to call me in to help him, but he said no! He would die rather than have any more help from a Union woman and in the morning I heard the pitiful tale of how he had bled to death refusing help. While distributing writing paper one day a boy asked for a sheet of it, saying, “I can write to my mother who is Illinois.”
“Oh,” said I, “you are a little rebel then?”
“Oh, no, don’t call me so,” and there followed a story of himself and a school-master with him who were compelled to enlist, and at the battle of Antietam gladly surrendered. They begged for something to take the place of the gray uniform, and to that end I gave them clean shirts and second-hand pantaloons. The young surgeons thank me every evening for what I have done for the “rebels,” and some of them are profuse in gratitude, thinking I am an angel because I give them clean clothes and improve the quality of the rations.
camped after Antietam. (Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
“Clear Soup” and a Scolding
Hearing complaints of the soup, I asked to see a sample of it. It looked very much like greasy dishwater, and taking the cup, I at once went to the surgeon in charge, offering it for his inspection, “Is that fit for wounded men?” He blandly tasted the apparently delicious draught, and turning to a group of officers in gray whom I had not observed, remarked upon the uneducated taste of the average soldier, who thought nothing of clear soup, but must have it thick as gravy to like it. I was dumbfounded and indignant, but remonstrated no further.
Taking the cup of “clear soup,” I returned to be followed very soon by the surgeon, who addressed me thus, “Miss. H. If you ever complain to me again in the presence of a rebel officer, I will send you home; don’t you know better than to complain in the hearing of these men?” I was rebuked for my untimely zeal, the cook was further rebuked for the bad quality of his rations. Full rations of meat were provided for these men, as for our own, and only ignorance and carelessness in the preparation of good material caused the poor soup.
At the end of my sojourn here, when Mrs. Harris came to claim me, I was surprised to find how much I had become interested in these poor fellows. The doctor invited me to remain, and some of the patients declared they could not spare “our lady,” yet with some regrets I felt it right to leave them, and go with Mrs. Harris to do the work for which I had come.
A Ride through a Country of Tented Fields
The business of the day led Mrs. H to the office of the medical director, and she was then on her way to Pleasant Valley where Gen. McClellan’s head-quarters were located. That ride in the “blue and gold September” is never to be forgotten. A shower overtook us near sunset, and its parting glory of double rainbows spanned the hills, leaving the scene a radiant picture in memory forever. It was a country of tented fields, but with arms at rest, and everything spoke of quiet and peace after the wild din and conflict of the little while before.
|"We were not fastidious as to toilet|
accessories," wrote Hall, who often improvised
while she served as a nurse.
(Image courtesy Hall descendant Barbara Powers)
Mrs. Harris at once went in to find a surgeon operating at that hour without the merciful aid of chloroform. The supply was exhausted, the operation might save life, and the poor fellow thought he could stand it. While we waited in the wagon, a hospital steward hearing of our hungry estat, came out into the dark offering his little all by way of refreshment. It was a bit of apple pie and a cup of lemonade. I had eaten nothing since breakfast, and even the satisfaction of helping others never stilled the cravings of hunger. But as we tasted the kindly offered food yet listening to the groans from the house, our hearts sickened, and the food and tears mingled.
Procuring a guide on horseback, we were soon set in the right direction, and ‘ere long Mrs. Harris joyfully exclaimed, “Here we are at home. And there is the good Sammy!” I peered into the darkness to catch a glimpse of home, but could only see a spark of fire on the ground, and the glare of a lantern held by an invisible hand. As the horses stopped, Mrs Harris sprang out, saying, “Here we are at home, now Sammy, have you some tea for us?” Sammy, the invisible, replied, “Yes, but I thought you’d never come.”
We were invited to set down and have our tea, with all the cordiality and courtesy due to the cozy home parlor, and there in the darkness, under September stars, we sat on dry-goods boxes and drank the refreshing cup of tea, listening meanwhile to the sounds wafted to us on the night breeze -- moans from the men lying not far off in straw sheds, snatches of words out of dreamland, restless tossings and quieting words from the attendants, wakeful and watching. When our repast was finished, we followed Mrs H., going as in a dream, to our sleeping apartment.
We passed through the kitchen of a farm-house, up stairs to a sort of garret, stored with barrels, boxes and what-not. Here on a crooked bed-stead, with straw-filled sacks for bedding, were two Pennsylvania women: here was the camp bed-stead of Mrs. Harris, and Miss. Tyree’s pallet, and I was furnished with a blanket and pillow. At midnight after this strange day, I was ready to sleep anywhere, but hardly ready to welcome the mie which visited my face and hair! However, morning came, and the light revealed to me our surroundings. We were not fastidious as to toilet accessories, and a pitcher of water brought up the night before, with an emptied tin can for a basin were considered sufficient luxury in that line.
The “Ladies and the Tent”
|14th Indiana regimental surgeon Anson Hurd tends to wounded at the Otho J. Smith farm.|
Maria Hall also cared for wounded here at General William French's Division hospital.
I pause to wonder if those who read these jottings of hospital days have an idea of what it was to be in a field hospital -- to find one’s self laid all quivering with pain, on the floor of a barn, or on a pile of straw in some shed not so cleanly as a barn, to be perhaps on the ground, helpless and maimed, with only a thatch of straw as shelter from the rain and the sun? The army boys who were there know about it, but who that did not see it can tell just what it was? Those who do not know can appreciate neither the suffering nor the courage of those who bore it all. Our hearts ached with pity and with sympathy for the suffering we saw, and wondered daily at the heroism which made light of it, and turned the groan into a jest, and cheated the murmur by a cheery song.
|A cropped enlargement of the original|
Alexander Gardner photograph shows
a man, probably a wounded soldier,
under a makeshift, hay-covered tent
at the Otho J. Smith farm.
(Library of Congress site)
Work was all out of doors, even our meals were within sight of camp, taken from plate and cup set in our lap as we sat on boxes under the “fly.” But once we indulged in the extravagance of a set table. The surgeon sent to Mrs. Harris the present of a bit of steak, the one time that we ate meat during the 10 days of our work at this point. The occasion demanded that our lady should be served, regardless of the expense. A barrel, a box cover, and a half-worn child’s dress from the rag barrel produced an allegedly draped table. The cups, plates, glasses and dishes presented as great a variety of style, color, age and cracks, as the most exacting lover of old crockery could require. The fact of ladies eating at such a table was a “sight to behold,” and great was the rush of business to our quarters.
The officer of the day duly apologized for his curiosity, but declared that it looked so much like home that he could not help coming near. But this one luxury was the last, for on that same day we learned that a more permanent field hospital was to be erected at a central point, to which the extreme surgical cases, and those in fever should be carried on stretchers. They could not bear ambulance transportation to an established hospital, the nearest of which was at Hagerstown, 17 miles distant. And indeed the numbers were so great that large accommodations were required.
Establishing a Field Hospital
|Post-war view of the site Smoketown Hospital.|
|Present-day view of Smoketown hospital site (in trees in distance). In 1862, Smoketown Road |
extended into this field.
(Click at upper right for full-screen experience.)
The point selected was known as Smoketown, a locality about three-quarters of a mile east of the Dunker church, on a road leading from Hagerstown pike to Keedysville. Smoketown was said to consist of three houses and a blacksmith shop. I could find but one house, and at some distance up the same road an old school-house afterward used as quarters for wounded officers. On the morning of my transfer to the new scene of labor, we found Surgeon [Bernard] B. A. Vanderkieft directing the placing of tents, flies, etc. for the “ladies aid.” He was spoken of by the regimental surgeons as "the little dutch doctor who made soup for the boys when they had nothing to eat and nobody else knew what to do.”
We learned that his genius was not confined to making soup, but that he was most excellent in every department of hospital administration. A native of Holland, well educated in the medical profession, having seen military service in Europe, he had come to our country to offer himself and his skill to the Union army. His first appointment was that of regimental surgeon with the Burnside expedition to North Carolina. His admirable fitness for hospital organization had brought him to the front at this time, and he had been selected for the charge of what might here continue a winter hospital. And all his energies were instantly required, for the sick and wounded were rapidly brought and the attendants demanded places for them faster than accommodations could be provided.
At Smoketown Hospital
|A post-war image of 12th Massachusetts|
Corporal Frederick Swarman,
whose leg was amputated
at Antietam. Maria Hall cared for him
at Smoketown Hospital.
(Read more on my blog.)
Co. H, 2th Massachusetts volunteers were on guard and police duty, and to them we shall always be indebted for their cheerful and intelligent assistance every day during their stay. Henry Wright was detailed as chief cook, and a most excellent one he was. Sergt. Grary, George Osgood, Mr. Spinney, “Fatty Bates the old doctor,” who sang sweetly, are among the names I recall, and I am always glad to remember them.
The Maryland lady of our party, seeing the general intelligence of these men, their ready expedients for every emergency, and their manly and courteous bearing, could not believe that they belonged to the laboring class: it was the old southern ignorance of the northern habit and character, which the Yankee privates were already doing so much to enlighten.
Our kitchen soon became a model camp kitchen and was furnished with all sorts of conveniences for culinary operations devised and executed by Co. H. The lady from Maryland aforesaid was the presiding genius of this department, and with the assistance of Wright prepared and dispensed the following bill of fare daily: Eight gallons of tea, four of chocolate, four of corn-starch, four of farina, two of beef-tea, and from four to five of soup. Besides this stewed fruit was always ready, and sometimes for supper an extra kettle of mush.
When we could get fresh milk as an accompaniment this went straight to the heart of every man lucky enough to get it. Those rations were served to the male attendants for each ward who came with their cups and plates at the bugle call three times a day. Hard-tack, coffee and other regular rations were furnished to the able-bodied men from the commissary’s cook-house.
Arrangements were soon made for a bakery, and soft bread was furnished in place of the hard-tack. More than once I exchanged soda crackers from our store with the bugler from Ohio, for his ration of bread, having given out all our bread as toast for the sick, leaving none for ourselves. We learned to relish the hard-tack, when Henry Wright prepared it for us (if the butter was not too strong). But the Pennsylvania farmers, and some good friends from Montgomery County, Md., visited the camp and always brought substantial gifts of food for the wounded. After such visits we gave "bread and butter parties,” serving from 600 to 700 sandwiches.
|Cropped version of a rare image showing woman believed to be Maria Hall at Smoketown Hospital.|
(Unknown photographer | Photo courtesy Bob Zeller)
|In this cropped enlargement of a photo taken at Smoketown Hospital, nurse Maria Hall appears |
among Union wounded. (Ely Collection, Edward G. Miner Library, Rochester, N.Y.)
The work here seemed to be for an indiscriminate multitude, but day by day the crowd became more familiar, and the cases of special need or interest more prominent. One day it is a man whose stump is in a frightful condition by the neglect of an inexperienced or drunken surgeon. I was present at the dressing, and the poor fellow appeals to the lady. The case is brought before the surgeon in charge, and becomes the last grievance of that kind.
Here it is a young fellow who sent for me to read and talk with him at twilight, his brief day drawing rapidly to its close. As I sit on the ground beside him, waiting for the bayonet candlestick to be prepared for lighting, I unconsciously sing softly to myself. Hearing it an Irishman with his arm amputated says, “Oh, lady, will ye sing to me? If ye do I’ll get to sleep, and it’s sleep that I’m after wanting -- not an eye-full of it have I had since I was wounded.”
A gently lullaby hymn was sung, and before the close of it the poor fellow has his two eyes full of sleep. The young soldier to whom I had read also “fell asleep” that night, but knew no waking here. Here and there and everywhere the men want pipes and tobacco. One fair, blue-eyed boy of 17 lay on a cot with I know not how much of a box for the treatment of a fractured thigh. I found his nurse, “Uncle Til,” one morning filling an old clay pipe, and exclaimed, “Why do you smoke among your patients?”
“Oh, I’m filling it for the baby.”
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SOURCE: Sergeant Thomas Grenan letters to Rochester, N.Y., newspaper, Jan. 21, 1863, courtesy of Shaun Grenan.