Pember, Phoebe Yates, "Reminiscences of A Southern Hospital. By Its Matron." The Cosmopolite, Serialized: Vol. I., No. III. March 1866, pp. 297-309; First page of memoir has it copyrighted 1865 by T. C. DeLeon in Maryland.
A SOUTHERN HOSPITAL.
BY ITS MATRON.
Now, for the first time, began to be felt what was really meant by "war;" for privations had to be endured, which tried the temper and patience. A growing want of confidence was constantly forced upon the mind, and with doubts which, though unexpressed, were felt as to the ultimate success of our cause, came into play the antagonistic qualities of many around us.
The money worthless, and a weak financier and weaker Congress, failing to make it worth the paper it was printed on, the latter refusing to the last to raise the Hospital fund to meet the depreciation. Everything furnished through Government contracts of the very worst of its kind, perhaps necessarily so from the difficulty of supplying at all.
The railroads constantly cut, so that what had been carefully collected in the country by Hospital agents, in the form of poultry and vegetables, would be unfit for use by the time the connection was restored; the inducements for theft in this season of scarcity of food and clothing; the appeals made for the coarsest meal by starving men, all wore upon the health and strength of those exposed to the strain, and made life in a Hospital weary and hopeless at times. The rations became so small towards the end of the war, that every ounce of flour was valuable, and I can remember the times when it has been necessary to refuse, with heart aching and eyes filling, the request of decent, manly-looking fellows for a small piece of dry corn bread. If given, it would have robbed the rightful owner of part of his scanty rations. After the flour, or meal had been weighed and made into bread, it was almost ludicrous to see with what painful solicitude Miss G. and myself would count the rolls, or hold a council over the pans of corn bread, measuring with a piece of string, how large we could afford to cut the squares, so that they should hold out. Sometimes when, from the causes stated, the supplies did not come as usual, invention had to be taxed to an extreme, and every available article in the pantry brought into requisition. We had constantly to fall back upon dried fruit and rice for the convalescing appetites, and tea or arrow root for the very sick. There was only one way of making the latter at all palatable and that was by destroying its consistency and flavor, or rather flavorlessness, by drenching it with whiskey. Long abstinence in the field from everything that could be considered a delicacy, exaggerated the fancy of sick men for any particular article of food into a passion, and they expressed wishes for such peculiar dishes, that surgeons and nurses might well be puzzled. One of the greatest difficulties in graitifying these desires, was that tastes became contagious, and whatever a patient asked for, his neighbor, and the one next to him, and so on, all through the ward, wanted also, and it was impossible to make a difference. No one unacquainted with the state of the Southern country, can appreciate the difficulties under which we labored. Stoves, in any degree of usefulness, we did not have; they were rare and immensely expensive. As may be supposed, they were not the most convenient articles in the world to pack away in small blockade-running vessels, and the trouble and expense of land transportation also seriously affected the quality of the wood furnished us. Timber which had been passed over before this time as unfit for use light, wet and soggy, became the only quality received. The bacon, too, cured during the first year of the war, when salt commanded an enormous price, in most cases was very bad, from the economy practised in the use of that article, and bacon was one of the sinews of war. We kept up brave hearts, and said we could eat the simplest fare, and wear the simplest clothing, but there was absolutely nothing to be bought that did not rank as a luxury. It was useless to attempt to economize, and one felt in full force the submissive precept, "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." There really was a great deal of heroism displayed, in looking back, at the calm courage with which Miss G. and myself learned to count the number of mouths to be fed daily, and then contemplating the food, calculate, not how much, but how little each man would be satisfied with. War may be glorious in all its panoply and pride, when in the field opposing armies meet add strive for victory; but battles fought by starving the sick and wounded, by crushing in, by main force, day by day, all the needs of human nature, make victories hardly worth the name.
The rats, too, had felt the times, and waxed strong and cunning, defying all our skill to entrap them, and levying black mail upon us day by day and night by night. Hunger must surely have educated their minds and sharpened their faculties. Other vermin the change of seasons would rid us of, but the coldest day in winter and the hottest in summer made no difference in their vivacious movements. They examined traps with the air of connoisseurs, sometimes springing them from a safe position; and kicked over the bread spread with butter and strychnine, to show their disapproval of such an underhand warfare. The men told wonderful rat stories, not well enough authenticated to put on record; but they certainly ate all the poultices applied during the night, and dragged away the pads stuffed with bran from under the arms and legs of the wounded. One rather ludicrous operation they did perform, which entitled the operators to pass the board of surgeons. A Virginian had been wounded right through the instep. The hole made was large, and the wound sloughed fearfully, while a great lump of flesh formed in the centre like an island. The surgeons feared to remove this mass, as it might be connected with the nerves of the foot, and lock-jaw might follow. Poor Patterson used to sit all day looking at his lame foot and bathing it, with a very rueful face which had brightened amazingly one morning when I paid him a visit. He exhibited the foot with great glee, a deep hollow left, but the little island gone and the wound washed clean and looking healthy. Some skillful rat-surgeon had done this good service, and he only knew that, on awakening, he had found the operation performed. I never had but one personal encounter with them; an old grey gentleman, who looked a hundred years old, both in years and depravity, would eat nothing but butter, when that article was twenty dollars a pound; so finding all other means of getting rid of him fail, by his superior intelligence, I caught him with a fish-hook, well baited with a lump of his favorite butter, dropped into his domicile under the kitchen floor. Epicures sometimes managed to entrap them, and get a nice broil for supper, declaring that the flesh was superior to squirrel meat, but never having tasted it, I cannot give my testimony. They staid with us to the last, nor did I ever see any signs of their having changed their politics.
One of the most remarkable features of the war, was the perfect good nature with which the rebels discussed their foes. In no instance, up to a certain period, did I ever hear any remark made that savored of individual hatred. They fought for a cause, and against a power, and spoke perhaps in depreciation of a corps or brigade; but "they fit us and we fit them," was the whole story generally, and till the blowing up of the mine at Petersburg there was a gay, insouciant style in their descriptions of war scenes. But after that day the sentiment changed, from an innate feeling the private soldier had that mining was "a mean Yankee trick," as he expressed it. They did not recognize the stratagem that is fair in war, and what added to their indignation was the pouring in of the negro soldiers when the breach was opened. Incensed at the surprise, they wanted foes worthier of their steel, not caring to dampen it in the black cloud that issued from the crater. The men had heretofore been generally calm and restrained, particularly before a woman, never using oaths or improper language; but the wounded, that came in from that fight, emulated Uncle Toby's Army in Flanders, and eyes gleamed and teeth clenched as they showed me the locks of their muskets to which the blood and hair still clung, when after firing, without waiting to reload, they had clenched the barrel and fought hand to hand. If their accounts can be relied on, it was a gallant strife and a desperate one, and ghastly wounds bore testimony to the truth of many a tale then told.
Once again the bitter blood showed itself, when, after a skirmish, the foe cut the rail track so that the wounded could not be brought to the city. Of all the monstrous crimes that war sanctions, this surely is the most sinful. Wounded soldiers without the shelter of a roof, or the comfort of a drink of water, left exposed to sun, dew and rain, with hardly the prospect of a bed to lie on for days, knowing that comfort able quarters awaited them, all ready prepared, but rendered useless by what seems a fiendish act. Is it any wonder that their habitual indifference to suffering gave way, and the soldier cursed loud and deep at this causeless inhumanity, which in a civilized age was worse than savage. When the sufferers reached the hospitals, their wounds had not been attended to for three days, and the sight was indeed fearful. Busy in my kitchen, seeing that the supply of necessary food was in preparation, I was spared the sight of much of the suffering, but in passing to and from the wards, among the ambulances, there, seated up in one of them, was a dilapidated figure, both bands holding his head, which was tied up with rags of all descriptions. He seemed incapable of talking, but nodded, and winked, and 'made motions with head and feet. In the general confusion he had been forgotten, so I took him as my especial charge. He was taken into a ward, and one rag after another unbound without any sensitiveness on my part, for there was no flinching and his eye was merry and bright, but when the last came off, what a sight!
Two balls had passed through the cheek and jaw within a half inch of each other, knocking out the teeth on both sides and cutting the tongue in half. The inflammation caused the swelling to be immense, and the absence of all previous attendance, in consequence of the detention of the wounded till the road could be mended, had aggravated the symptoms. There was nothing fatal to be apprehended, but fatal wounds are not always the most trying. The sight of this was the most sickening my long experience bad ever seen. The swollen lips turned out, and the mouth filled with blood, matter, fragments of teeth, from amidst all of which the maggots in countless numbers swarmed and writhed, while the smell generated by this putridity was unbearable. Castile soap and soft sponges soon cleansed the offensive cavity, and he was able in an hour to swallow some nourishment drawn through a quill. The following morning I found him reading the newspaper, and entertaining every one about him by his abortive attempts to make himself understood, and in a week he actually succeeded in this. The first request distinctly enunciated was to the effect that he wanted a looking-glass to see if his sweetheart would be willing to kiss him when she saw him. We all assured him that she would not be worthy of the name if she did not.
An order came about this time, to clear out some of the wards for the reception of improperly vaccined patients, who soon arrived in large numbers. They were dreadfully afflicted objects many of them with sores so deep and thick upon the arms and legs, that amputation had to be resorted to. As fast as the eruptions would be healed up in one place, they would break out in another, for the blood seemed entirely poisoned. The unfortunate victims bore the infliction as they had borne everything else painful, with calm patience and indifference to suffering. Sometimes a comparision would be made between this and the greater evils of losing limbs. No one, who was a daily witness to their agonies from this cause, could help feeling indignant at charges made of inhumanity to Federal prisoners of war, who were vaccinated with the same virus; and while on this subject, though it may be outside of "hospital reminiscences," I cannot help stating, that on no occasion was the subject of rations and medicines, to be issued for prisoners, discussed in my presence, (and circumstances placed me where I had the best opportunity of hearing the truth) that good evidence was not given, that the Confederate Government issued to them the same rations it gave its soldiers in the field, and only when reductions of food were made in our army, were they also made in the prisons. The question of supplies for them, was an open and a vexed one among the people generally, and angry and cruel things were said, but every one, at all cognizant of facts in Richmond, knows that even when Gen. Lee's Army lived at times on corn meal, that the prisoners were still supplied with their usual rations.
My hospital was now entirely composed of Virginians and Marylanders, and the nearness to the homes of the former, entailed upon me an increase of annoyance in the shape of wives, sisters, cousins, aunts, and sometimes whole families, down to the baby at the breast. They came in troops, and, hard as it was to know what to do with them, it was harder to send them away. Sometimes they brought provisions, but not often, and even when they did, there was no place to cook the food provided by them. It must be remembered that everything was reduced to the lowest minimum, even fuel. They could not stay in the wards all day with men around them, and if they were willing to, do so, the restraint on wounded, restless men, who wanted to throw their limbs about with freedom during a hot summer day, was too great. Generally their only idea of kindnesss was giving any patient the food he would take in any quantity, and of every quality, and in the furtherance of then desires they were pugnacious in the extreme. Whenever rules harassed them they abused the Government, then the hospital, and then all in it, including myself. Many ludicrous incidents happened daily, and I have, often seen the harassed ward master, heading away a pertinacious female, who, failing to get in at one door of his ward, would try the other three perseveringly. They seemed to think it was a pious and patriotic duty, not to be ashamed under any circumstances. One sultry day, I found a whole family, accompanied by two young lady friends, seated round a wounded man's bed; as I passed through, six hours later, they held the same position. Some appeal was necessary.
"Had not you all better go home?"
"We came to see my cousin, who is wounded."
"But you have been here almost all day, and it is a restraint upon the other men. Come to-morrow."
A consultation was held, but when it ceased they only lit their pipes and smoked in silence. "Will you come back to-morrow ?"
"No! you come in the wards when you please and so will we."
"But it is my duty to be in them, besides I always ask if I can enter, and never stay longer than fifteen minutes."
Another unbroken silence, which was a trial to any patience left, and finding no move made, I handed some clothing to a patient near.
"Here, Mr. Wilson, is a clean shirt and pair of drawers for you, put them on as soon as I get out of the ward."
I had hardly reached my kitchen when the whole procession, pipes and all, passed me, solemnly and angrily; but for many days, and even weeks, there was no ridding the place of this large connection. Their sins were manifold. They overfed their relative, who was recovering from an attack of typhoid fever, and even defiantly took the food for the purpose from under my very nose. They marched on me en masse at ten o'clock at night, with a requisition from the boldest, for sleeping quarters. The steward was summoned and said he "did not keep a hotel," so in a weak moment of pity, I housed them in the Laundry. They entrenched themselves there for six weeks, making predatory incursions into the kitchen during my temporary absence, ignoring Miss. G. completely. The object of their solicitude recovered and went to the field, but still, finding my writs of ejectment were scorned, an explanation was demanded in person. The same spokeswoman, alluded to above, answered my inquiries to the effect that hearing a battle was shortly expected, she had determined to remain, as her husband might be wounded. In the ensuing press of business, I forgot her, and strange to say, her husband was brought in sick the following week. The back is surely fitted for the burden, so I contented myself with re-taking my Laundry and letting her shift for herself while a whole month slipped away. One morning, my arrival at the hospital was the signal for a general burst of merriment from Miss G., and the servants, black and colored. Experience had made me sage, and my first question was-
"Where is Mrs. Daniells?" she who had always been spokeswoman.
"In Ward G. She wants you."
"What is the matter?"
"You must go and see."
There was something either amusing, or amiss. I entered Ward G, and walked up to Daniells' bed. One might have heard a pin drop in the ward.
I had supposed up to this time that Miss G. and myself had been called upon to suffer every ill that humanity and the state of the country could inflict, but here was something in addition, for lying composedly in her husband's bed (he had relinquished it on the occasion,) lay Mrs. Daniells and her baby, just one hour old.
The conversation that ensued is not worth repeating. The poor little wretch had indeed come into a bleak and comfortless world, for its inhuman mother had not provided a rag to cover it with. No woman could scold her at such a time; but what was to be done? I went in search of the surgeon of the Division, and our conversation on the subject was didactic but hardly satisfactory.
"Doctor, Mrs. Daniells has a baby. She is in Ward G. What shall I do with her?"
"A baby? Ah, indeed; you must get it some clothes."
"What must I do with her?"
"Move her to some comfortable place and send her a cup of tea."
This was done, but Mrs. D. said she would wait till dinner for some bacon and greens.
The baby was a sore annoyance. The ladies of Richmond made up a wardrobe by subscription, and at the end of the month, Mrs. D., the child and a basket of provisions were sent off in the ambulance. My feelings of satisfaction can be imagined, but the end had not come. An hour after the ambulance stopped at the kitchen door, apparently empty, and the black driver lifted a bundle out with some trepidation, and laid it silently on the dresser. Mrs. Daniells' baby!!
The unnatural woman had deserted it, leaving it in the railroad depot; but, fortunately, the father was still with us, and to him I appealed. A short furlough was obtained, and at last I was relieved from the fear that the mother would have to be sent for again. Had such been the case she would surely have still been there. It may be remarked, en passent, that it was the first, the last, the only baby named after me.
There were no means of keeping the relations of patients from coming to them. There had been a rule made to that effect but it was impossible to send away a wife from her husband; and, besides, the common, and even better class of people looked upon care and attendance; at a hospital as a farce. They resented the detention there of men who in many instances could lie in bed and point to their homes, sometimes even in sight, and agreed that they would have more attention and better food if allowed to go to their families. That maladie du pays, called by the surgeons "nostalgia;" the homesickness which wrings the heart and impoverishes the blood, killed many a brave soldier, and the matron who, day by day, had to stand powerless, helpless by the bed of the sufferer, knowing that a week's furlough would make his heart sing for joy and save his wife from widowhood, learned the most bitter lesson of endurance that could be taught. This home-sickness recognized no palliation. However carefully the appetite might be pampered, or stimulants be prepared and given, the food never nourished, the drink never strengthened; the decay would be gradual, but death was inevitable. Perhaps when recovery seemed hopeless, a statement of the case might procure a furlough from the examining board of surgeons, but the patient would then be generally too weak and ill to profit by the concession. It was wonderful to see how long the poor, broken machine would hold out in some case's; for months I have watched a victim, motionless, helpless and hopeless receive into his mouth a few spoonsful of nourishment daily, making no other movement; the skin barely covering the bones, and the skeleton of the face as sharply defined as it might be after many weeks dissolution. The answer to cheering words seldom exceeding a slight movement of the eyelids. Towards the end of the war, this detention of ill men and many other abuses were reformed by allowing a "board" to be convened of three of the oldest surgeons at the hospitals, who would dispose of such cases without deferring to higher authority. There had been so much imposition practised by men who wanted to get out of the service, that abuses had crept in despite the stringency of rules, making severity necessary.
The spring campaign again opened with the usual "on to Richmond." Day after day and night after night would the sudden boom of cannon strike upon the ear. The enemy were always coming, and curiosity seemed to have usurped the place of fear among the women. In the silence of night the alarm bells would suddenly peal out, till the order to ring them at any sudden alarm was modified to a command that they should only be sounded in case of positive attack. The people became so accustomed to the report of fire arms, that they scarcely interrupted their conversation at the corners of the streets to ask in what direction the foe was advancing, or if there was any foe at all. There was such entire reliance in the military power which guarded the city, and former attacks had been so promptly repelled, that whatever was ultimately to be the result of the war, no one trembled for Richmond. So the summer of 1864 passed, and early in September we were gladdened by the tidings that the exchange of prisoners was to be renewed. The sick and wounded of the hospital (but few in number at that time) were transferred to other quarters, and the wards put in order to receive our own men from Northern prisons. About the 20th of September they began to come.
Can any pen or pencil do justice to those squalid pictures of famine and desolation? These gaunt, lank skeletons with the dried, yellow flesh clinging to bones enlarged by dampness and exposure? The pale, bluish lips, and feverish eyes, glittering and weird when contrasted with the famine-stricken faces. That piteous, scared, flitting smile which greeted their fellow creatures (those they had left could hardly claim the name) will live forever before the mental gaze that witnessed it.
Living and dead were taken from the flag-of-truce boat, not distinguishable save from the difference of care exercised in moving them. The Federal prisoners we had released were in many instances in the same state, but our ports had been blockaded, our harvests burnt, our cattle stolen, our country wasted. Even had we felt the desire to give, how could the wherewithal have been found? But the foe – the ports of the whole world were open to them. They could have fed their prisoners on milk and honey and not have missed it.
No tears will drop from the recording angel's eye to blot out one line of the piteous tale. Of what importance is the vice or sin condemned daily which in most cases hurts the sinner only, compared to the infliction of this horrible wholesale misery. What is murder - sudden, violent murder – which extinguishes life, and with it, suffering and sorrow, but a mercy far above the daily torture of systematic starvation and careless cruelty, and this perpetrated by good people, pious people, who every Sunday meet together to hear the doctrine of universal love. If this was Christianity, then the atonement has failed, and Christ has lived and died in vain.
But it was no time for vague reflections. With heart beating with indignation, throbbing head and icy hands, I went among this army of martyrs and spectres whom it was imposible to realize were human beings, powerless to speak to them, choking with burning hate against their oppressors, but striving to aid and comfort. There was no variety of appearance, from bed to bed the same picture met the eye. Hardly a vestige of humanity left in one single man.
The passion of intense loathing against those who had reduced them to this, caused my hand to shake too strongly to give the bread soaked in wine into their mouths. Many laid with their limbs extended, but some had drawn up their knees, a position they never changed till they died. Their more fortunate comrades said that the attitude had become familiar, as it reduced the feeling of hunger and relieved the pang from which they never felt respite day or night. The Federal prisoners were starved in the South; we cannot deny this; but we starved with them; we did not have the food to give them. May the vengeance that belongs to the Most High fall when it is deserved. Tales may be told to listeners that stir the blood, arouse a gentle pity or a mild indignation, but the Southern woman who has seen the sights that landed from the flag-of-truce boat and forgets them, deserves that God should forget her in her need.
One in particular among them lingered in silence the usual three days. He was a Marylander, heir to name renowned in the history of his country, the last of seven brothers; brought up in luxury and affluence, but presenting the same starved bloodless appearance they all showed. There was some chance of his rallying, perhaps, with judicious nursing and good brandy. Every precaution was taken, but on the evening of the third day fever supervened, and the little strength he had failed rapidly. He gave me the trinkets he had brought from Point Lookout to send to his family, and one souvenir for myself, begged that he might be buried apart from the crowd in some spot where those who knew and cared for him might find him some day, and died that night. The next morning was the memorable 29th of September, when the enemy made a desperate attack, taking Fort Harrison, holding it and placing Richmond in jeopardy for three hours. The alarm bell summoned the citizens together, and the shops being closed there was no means of getting either a decent coffin, or a hearse. There was no time to lose as it was against the rules to keep the body in the hospital, so the carpenter knocked together a rude coffin, and having the seats taken from my ambulance, the body was enclosed and put in.
The enemy were in sight as, seated on the coffin, I started in the ambulance for Hollywood Cemetery, while from every high point the masses of manoeuvering soldiers and flash of the enemy's cannon, could be distinguished. Only stopping to buy a piece of ground from the Cemetery agent, we reached Hollywood by eleven o'clock. On the way, meeting the Rev. Mr. McCabe, his presence was requested, and we stood by while the sexton dug the grave. The rain was pouring in torrents, while the Minister repeated from memory, the burial service. Besides ourselves, there were but two poor women of the humblest class of life - Catholics, who, passing, stopped, and dropping on their knees, paid their humblest tribute of respect to the dead. He had all the honors of a soldier's burial paid to him, for the cannon roared and the musketry rattled, mingling with the thunder and lightning above. The sexton held his hat over the little piece of paper-on which I inscribed his name, to be put on the head-board-to protect it from the driving rain; and with a tear of pity for the solitary grave we left, we drove back to the city. The Reverend gentleman was taken to his home, and perhaps to this day, does not know who was his companion during that sad hour. At mid day the city was in the same state of excitement, for no news had been received, except perhaps in official quarters, and it was well known at the time of the attack, there were no troops in the vicinity. Instead of returning to the hospital, I drove to the house of one of the Cabinet ministers, where I was engaged to dine, and found the mistress of the establishment, surrounded by her trunks and servants, preparing for a hasty retreat should it be necessary. Some persuasion induced her to desist, and the situation of the house, commanding an extensive view of the surrounding country, we watched the advance of the enemy at the extreme northeast, for with the aid of opera glasses we could distinguish the color of heir uniforms.
Slowly onward moved the bodies of dark blue, emerging from and disappearing into the woods, seeming to skirt around but never to diminish the distance between, but becoming more distinct, which proved their advance, while a not one single Confederate jacket could be seen over the whole sweep of ground. Half an anxious hour passed and then one single horseman in the beloved gray appeared, like a phantom, far to the northeast, leader of many that followed, winding round and cutting off the foe. Then a peal at the bell, and a courier brought the news that Wade Hampton and his cavalry were in the rear of the enemy. There was no fear after this, for Hampton was the Montrose of the Southern army - he, who could make any cause glorious with his sword and famous with his pen. The dinner was put in course of preparation, and was seasoned, when served, by spirits brightened by reaction.
The horrors that attended, in other and past times, the bombardment of a city, were experienced to a great degree in Richmond during the fighting around us. The close proximity to the scenes of strife; the din of battle, the bursting of shells, the fresh wounds of the men hourly brought in, were daily occurrences. Walking home after the duties of the Hospital were over, often when evening had well set in, during this time, the pavement around the railroad depot would be lined with wounded men, laid there to wait for ambulances to tale them to the receiving hospital; some on stretchers, others on the bare bricks, or a thin blanket, suffering from wounds hastily wrapped around with the coarse, galling, unbleached homespun bandages, in which the blood had stiffened till every crease cut like a knife. Women, passing like myself, would put down their basket or bundle, and ringing at the bell of any neighboring house, ask for basin and soap, and a few soft rags, and going from one sufferer to another, alleviate, with what skill they had the pain of wounds, change the uneasy position and allay the thirst. Many passing, would stop and look oil, till the labor appearing to require no particular skill, they too would follow the example set them, and asking occasionally a word of advice, do their part carefully and willingly. Idle boys passing, would get a pine knot, or tallow candle, and stand quietly as torch bearers, till the scene, with its gathering accessories, formed a strange picture, not easily forgotten. Persons passing in vehicles would sometimes alight, and, choosing the patients most in want of surgical aid, put them in and send them to the Seabrook Hospital, continuing their way on foot. There was very little conversation carried on, no necessity for introductions, and no names ever asked. This last was a peculiarity strongly exhibited in the Hospitals, for after nursing a sick or, wounded patient for months, he has left very often without any curiosity as regarded my name, whereabouts, or anything else concerning me. A case in point was related by a friend. When the daughter of our General had devoted much time and care to a sick man, he seemed to think so little about the attention paid, that her companion, to rouse him, told him that Miss Lee was his nurse. "Lee, Lee," he said, "there are some Lees down in Mississippi who keep a tavern, does she belong to them?" Almost as uncomplimentary was the remark of one of my sick, a poor fellow who had been wounded in the head, and though sensible enough when in the ward, would feel the effect of the sun in his brain whenever he was exposed to its influence. After advising him to wear a wet paper in the crown of his hat, more from a desire to show some interest in him than from any-belief in is efficacy, I stopped at the door, and heard him ask the ward master "who that was?" "Why, that is the matron of the Hospital, she attends to having everything nicely done for you." "Well," said he, "I always did think this Government was a confounded sell, but now I am sure of it, when they put a little fool like that at the head of such a big Hospital as this."
Their ingenuity was wonderful in making little toys and trifles, and a great deal of mechanical talent displayed. Every ward had its draught board and draughtmen cut out of hard wood, and stained with vegetable dies; and sometimes chessmen would be cut out with a common knife, in such an ornamental way that they would not have disgraced a drawing room. One man carved pipes from ivy root, with exquisitely cut shields on the bowl, bearing the arms of the different States and their mottos. He would charge and easily get a hundred and fifty dollars for his work, and only used his well worn knife. Playing cards were difficult to imitate, so that any original packs had a hard time of it. They were, as may be supposed from the hands that dealt them, very dirty, and the corners by no means in a respectable condition, but after the diffusion of the Oxford bound books of the Bible, the soldiers took a lesson, and rounded the corners in imitation. A pack of cards, after four years use in a Southern Hospital, was beyond criticizing. The men had their fashions too, sometimes insisting upon drawing light blue pants, and at other times preferring gray; but while the mania for either color raged, they were dissatisfied with the other. When the Quartermaster issued canvass shoes, there was general dissatisfaction and grumbling, till some original genius changed the whitish hue of the material by a, liberal application of poke berries. He was the Brummel of the Hospital, and for many months crimson shoe's were the rage, and long rows of unshod men would sit under the eaves of the wards, all diligently employed in the same labor and up to their elbows in red juice.
This fashion died out, and gave place to a button mania. Men who had never had a hope or a thought beyond horn ones, saved up their means to replace them with gilt, and made neat little wooden shelves, with a slit, through which the buttons slid, so that they could be cleaned without soiling the jacket. With the glitter of buttons came the corresponding taste for gilt bands and tinsel around the battered hat.
The duty, of all others, that pressed most heavily upon me, and which I could not perform, was that of telling a man he could not live, when he was perhaps unconscious that there was any danger in his wound. The idea of death so seldom occurs, when disease and suffering has not wasted the frame and destroyed the vital energies, that there is little opening, or encouragement, to commence such a subject, unless the patient suspects the result ever so slightly. In many cases, too, the yearning for life was so strong, that to destroy that hope was beyond humanity. Life was a furlough with him – family and friends once more around; a future was all he wanted, and considered it cheaply purchased, if for only a month, by any wound, however painful or tiresome.
There were long discussions among soldiers and outsiders during the war 'concerning unnecessary amputations on the field, and often when a fine-looking, hearty young man would be brought in with a leg or arm cut off, I would feel that it might have been saved; but experience taught me the wisdom of these prompt measures. Poor food and exposure had thinned the blood and broken down the system so much that all secondary amputations performed in the hospital almost invariably resulted in death. The blood lost on the battle-field when the wound would be first received, would pull down the already impaired system and render it incapable of further endurance. Once we received a strong, stalwart soldier from Alabama, and after five days finding the inflammation from the wound in his arm too great to save the limb, the attending surgeon requested me to feed him on the best I could command, by that means to try and give him strength to undergo amputation. Irritability of stomach, as well as indifference to food always accompanying wounds while the fever continued, it was necessary to give him as much nourishment in as small compass as possible as well as easily digested food that would assimilate with his system. Beef tea he could not, or would not take, or anything that would give strength, so asking him if he would drink some "chemical mixture," and receiving his consent, I prepared the infusion. Chipping up a pound of beef and pouring upon it a pint of water, it was stirred until all the blood was extracted and only the white fibre left, and with a little salt added, favored by the darkness of the corner of the ward in which he laid, I carried it to him. He drank the infusion without suspicion, and fortunately liked it, so that by the end of a week, his pulse was as strong as that of a healthy man, and there had been no accession of fever. Every precaution was taken, both for his sake and the benefit of the experiment, and the arm taken off by the most skillful surgeon we had. An hour after the amputation he looked as bright and well as before, and so on for five days, but then the usual results followed. The system proved not strong enough to throw the "pus," or inflammation, and this mingling with the blood produced that most fatal of all diseases from wounds, called pyaemia, from which no man ever recovered. He was only one of numerous cases; so that my heart beat twice as fast as ordinarily whenever there were any arrangements progressing for amputations, after there had elapsed any time, or any efforts had been made to save the limb. The only cases that survived were two Irishmen; and it was really so difficult to kill an Irishman that there was little room for boasting on the part of the officiating surgeons. One of those mentioned had had his leg cut off in pieces, amputation having been performed three times, and the last heard from him was that he had married a young wife and settled down on a profitable farm in Macon. He had touched the boundary lines of the "unknown land," had been given up by the surgeons, who left me with an order to stimulate him if possible. The priest was naturally angry at my disturbing what he considered were the last moments of a dying man, which ought to have been devoted to less earthly temptations than mint julips, and a rather brisk encounter was the result; but if he was responsible for the soul, so was I for the body, and I held my ground firmly. It was hard for an Irishman and a good Catholic to have to chose at such a moment between whiskey and religion, but though his head was turned towards good Father T___, his eyes rested too lovingly on the goblet held so near his lips to allow any mistake as to his ultimate intentions. The interpretation put on that look was, to my mind to the effect that Callahan thought as long as brandy and mint lasted in the Confederacy, that this world was good enough for him, and the result proved that I was not mistaken. He always gave me the credit I have awarded to the julips, and till the evacuation of Richmond kept me informed as to his domestic happiness.
[To be continued.]