Thursday, November 09, 2017

'A Real Love Story': Lt. Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes' recovery

Lucy and Rutherford Hayes on their wedding day on Dec. 30, 1852. Nearly 10 years later, 
he would be seriously wounded at the Battle of South Mountain. (Library of Congress) 
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In late summer and early fall 1862, future U.S. president Rutherford B. Hayes spent weeks in Captain Jacob Rudy's two-story brick house in Middletown, Md., in the heart of the beautiful Middletown Valley.

The 23rd Ohio lieutenant colonel wasn't there on a furlough.

On Sept. 14, 1862, while leading his troops at Fox's Gap during the Battle of South Mountain, Hayes was seriously wounded. "Just as I gave the command to charge," the 39-year-old officer wrote in his diary, "I felt a stunning blow and found a musket ball had struck my left arm just above the elbow. Fearing that an artery might be cut, I asked a soldier near me to tie my handkerchief above the wound. I soon felt weak, faint and sick at the stomach."

23rd Ohio Lt. Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes
(Library of Congress)
While he lay in the field as the battle swirled nearby, Hayes had a "considerable talk" with a wounded Confederate. "I gave him messages for my wife and friends in case I should not get up," he wrote. "We were right jolly and friendly; it was by no means an unpleasant experience." Finally rescued by another Union officer, Hayes was carried out of  range of Rebel fire, placed behind a big log and given a large canteen of water.

After his wound was dressed, Hayes walked a half-mile to the small house of a widow named Elizabeth Koogle, remaining there for two or three hours. Still faint from loss of blood, he was taken by ambulance three or four miles or so into Middletown -- "Little Massachusetts," it was called, because of its pro-Union sentiment. Churches, private homes, barns and other buildings there were thrown open for scores of Union wounded. Hayes' association with local merchant Jacob Rudy, his wife Elizabeth and their two sons and five daughters began that night.

So, too, did a mutual admiration society.

While he recovered, Hayes grew quite fond of the Rudys -- he felt "as snug as a bug in a rug" while he lay in an upstairs room in their house. "I am comfortably at home," he wrote his mother the day after he was wounded, "with a very kind and attentive family here named Rudy."

Two days after he was wounded, Hayes was free of pain when he lay still. He delighted in sampling Elizabeth Rudy's currant jellies, and the family's youngest son, 8-year-old Charlie, enjoyed describing for Hayes the troops as they passed their house on the busy National Pike. "Charlie, you live on a street that is much traveled," Hayes said. "Oh, it isn't always so," the youngster replied, "it's only when the war comes."

In April 1877, a lengthy, and remarkably detailed, account of Hayes' stay with the Rudys was published in the New York Herald. Under the headlines "Reminiscences of His Treatment With A Friendly Family" and "A Real Love Story," Rudy's wife and daughters Kate and Ella recounted their experiences with Hayes, sworn in as 19th U.S. president the previous month.

When the ambulance carrying Hayes and army surgeon Joseph Webb, his brother-in-law, arrived about sunset at the Rudy's house on the National Pike, near the western edge of town, the family was in the midst of their own health crisis. Twenty-one-year-old Daniel Webster Rudy, the couple's eldest son, was seriously ill with smallpox, and daughters Laura, 11, and Ella, 9, had scarlet fever.

Still, the Rudys welcomed the disheveled and badly wounded Hayes, whose uniform was spattered with dust and mud. The officer was carried up the narrow staircase and placed in a bed in a room next to the one where Daniel lay ill. Webb and his brother, James, also an army surgeon, tended to Hayes' wounded arm. A highly respected local physician named Charles Baer aided them. The two black servants who accompanied Hayes and Joseph Webb in the ambulance to Middletown slept on the floor of Daniel's room.

               Then & Now: Rudy house in Middletown, Md. (Google Street view)
Early-20th century postcard of the Rudy house, where Hayes recovered from his wounds.

When Lucy Hayes, the lieutenant colonel's 31-year-old wife, arrived from Ohio more than a week after the Battle of South Mountain, Elizabeth Rudy made an instant connection with the mother of five young sons. "... the moment she crossed our threshold," she told the reporter, "I knew she was a good woman and a natural lady. Of course her husband was rejoiced to see her and hear about his children, and she was relieved to know that his wound was not so dangerous as she had imagined it. She made herself easily at home here at once."

Mild-mannered Rutherford Hayes didn't talk much, Mrs. Rudy recalled, and when he did, he never had a cross word to say about the Rebels. "... though he suffered constantly and got little sleep for a week and longer," Ella Rudy said, "he was always cheerful. He not only wouldn't be cross -- he wouldn't allow any extra trouble to be taken on his account. Mother used to ask him if she could not 'do something' for him. He always thanked her, but said no ... "

Lucy Hayes, Rutherford's wife,
 in 1877.  (Library of Congress)
While her husband recuperated, Lucy often visited with wounded Confederate and Union soldiers in hospitals in Middletown, taking them grapes and other delicacies. "She had a great many favorites," Mrs. Rudy said, "but she was attentive to all, and admired by everybody."

In late September, Hayes was well enough to walk about Middletown. He preferred the unpaved south side of the street, sometimes sloshing through shoe-deep mud, instead of the paved north side, causing the town's tongues to wag. In early October, he and his wife visited the Lutheran Church cemetery, where they could watch the sun set and admire gorgeous fall foliage. On his 40th birthday on Oct. 4, Hayes and Lucy traveled with Jacob Rudy and two other men to the South Mountain battlefield. "Hunted up the graves of our gallant boys," he wrote in his diary. Later that month, Hayes finally returned to his home in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife.

Weeks after Hayes' departure, every member of the Rudy family contracted smallpox. Charlie died from the disease on Nov. 4.

In the summer of 1864, with the Union army again in western Maryland, Hayes found time to visit with the Rudys."They were so kind and cordial," he wrote in a letter to Lucy. "They all inquired after you. The girls have grown pretty -- quite pretty."

Captain Rudy, who died on Christmas Day in 1876, had not forgotten about the soldier he took into his home in 1862. "Mr. Rudy said if I was wounded," Hayes told his wife, "he would come a hundred miles to get me."

Clearly, Hayes remained close to the hearts of Elizabeth, Kate and Ella Rudy, too.

"So you all fell in love with the patient Colonel?" the reporter asked Elizabeth Rudy during his 1877 visit.

"We fell in love with him directly," she replied.

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-- Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Ninteenth President of the United States, Volume II, 1861-1865, Edited by Charles Richard Williams, The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1922.
-- New York Herald, April 9, 1877

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