Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Doctor to soldier's widow: 'He wished to convey his last love ...'

Patients at Harewood Hospital in Washington in 1864. Isaac Nelson died at the hospital in 1863.
(Library of Congress)
Harewood Hospital was built on the Corcoran farm. The U.S. Capitol Building looms at right.
(Library of Congress | CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
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In the aftermath of the Union army's disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg, Va., in December 1862, scores of Federal wounded were transported to hospitals in Washington. On Dec. 18, seriously wounded 155th Pennsylvania Private Isaac Nelson was admitted to Ward "E" of  Harewood Hospital, a sprawling facility on the rolling hills of William Corcoran's farm, within sight of the U.S. Capitol Building.

During a suidical frontal assault made by four, untested Pennsylvania regiments on Marye's Heights five days earlier, a bullet crashed into Nelson's right hip, apparently tearing through his abdomen as well. Early in his treatment, the married father of a 10-month-old girl named Mary Elizabeth appeared on his way to recovery -- he was even able to walk short distances. But during a stretch of "stormy days" in January, the 23-year-old soldier contracted a cold, his wounds re-opened and he "sank from exhaustion," according to the surgeon in charge of the ward.

Isaac Nelson's gravestone, Plot No. 4187, in
U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's National Cemetery
in Washington. (Find A Grave)
In his final days, Nelson seemed to accept his fate, Thomas H. Elliott wrote to the private's wife, Anna Elizabeth, who lived near Pittsburgh. (Complete letter below; more condolence letters on my blog here.)

"He spoke of his approaching death with calmness and wished to convey his last love to his wife and child -- they seemed to occupy much of his thoughts," the surgeon noted about Nelson, who died at 10 p.m. on Jan. 31, 1863.

Nelson could not have chosen a finer physician to care for him. "[Elliott] was remarkable," a post-war account noted, "for the kindly sympathies and tender offices which he carried in the chamber of his patients."

Surgeon Elliott assured Widow Nelson her husband's remains would be carefully buried and his grave "distinctly marked" so his body could be recovered. "His few effects -- properly marked -- are in the office here, subject to your order," the 45-year-old physician wrote. "If you choose you can write to me in reference to them and his papers, back pay, etc."

Nelson's remains were never returned to his native Pennsylvania. His grave may be found today at U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington.


Isaac Nelson widow's pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., via
-- Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania at the Twenty-Seventh Annual Session, Held at Philadelphia, May 31, and June 1, 1876, Vol XI, Part I, Philadelphia, Collins Printer,  705 Jayne Street, 1876.

Surgeon Thomas Elliott's condolence letter to Isaac Nelson's widow, Anna Elizabeth.
(National Archives via

Read more condolence letters on my blog here.
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