On the morning of Saturday, July 4, 1863, came the glorious news of our victorious arms and of the retreat of the enemy towards the border. We learned that by afternoon supplies could be forwarded to our army. The public square in York was rapidly filled with wagons packed with provisions, clothing, blankets and hospital stores waiting the arrival of the banished horses which had been sent across the river before the occupation of the town by General Gordon's command. About 3 p.m. I started with two ladies and my oldest son in a two-horse wagon loaded with necessaries of every kind. A former Cabinet minister presented me with several dozen bottles of the purest imported liquors, with the request that we distribute it ourselves, to which I added a quantity of fine old whiskey from one of our celebrated county distilleries.
The urgent call for help from Gettysburg decided us to go through without stopping. We took a circuitous route, avoiding the turnpike, and traveling with great caution, as we were in danger of meeting squads of desperate fugitives from the defeated army. Before nightfall a pouring rain came on, and fearing to continue our journey in the darkness, as the swollen streams might render the by-roads impassable, we stopped at Hanover until the storm subsided. After a few hours rest we again started in the clear starlight. A hushed calm brooded over the whole earth, as if nature herself had participated in the fearful combat and had lain down to rest. Day gradually broke with a strange, solemn light. Slowly the Sabbath sun came up over the distant hill-tops as if reluctant to look upon the scenes of horror on the battle ground, only yesterday filled with fierce combatants, and the incessant roar of artillery drowning the groans of thousands of poor wounded fellows; to-day covered with the unburied dead and the wrecks of the bloody strife.
As we neared Gettysburg, still cautiously proceeding, we heard firing at regular intervals, while an occasional report told that the artillery was still doing its fatal work. We were repeatedly stopped by sentinels who refused to allow us to pass the lines, representing the danger of meeting with skirmishing parties, or of being struck by a chance shell, but a note from our Chief Burgess stating our errand prevailed and we were allowed to proceed. Before we reached the highway we became aware of the approach of a large body of troops and thought, "peradventure, the Philistines were upon us," but just after we entered the road we met a small squad of soldiers with a guard bearing General Sickles on a stretcher, and were much relieved to find ourselves in the hands of friends.
Half a mile further on we were delayed for an hour by General Slocum's Division making a forced march in full pursuit of the enemy. As the men recognized our hospital flag, the officers rushed out from the line to give us a grateful clasp of the hand and "God bless you" for our timely aid, while cheer after cheer went up from the ranks. Brave fellows, how tired they looked; grimed with the smoke of battle, weary and footsore, they went on the way rejoicing in their victory, unmindful of hunger, fatigue or the heavy roads, tramping in mud up to the wheels of their gun carriages. About 7 A.M. we reached the first hospital ground. I thought before this that I had learned all the horrors of warfare inside the walls of our crowded hospitals and from the continually passing trains of wounded, bleeding men to whom we carried food and stimulants, as they went on their way to distant points. It was of frequent occurrence to receive a telegram announcing an hour at which a train would arrive with hundreds of sufferers who would stop to be fed; often coming directly from the fighting ground, the cars dripping with blood from undressed wounds. Our citizens never failed to respond, laden with coffee, soup and bread.
But here a new revelation of the brutality of war was presented to my eyes. No imagination could paint the picture in that wood. I instinctively recoiled from the sight. Grouped beneath the trees we saw about five hundred, the wounded from the first day's battle, who had hastily been removed beyond fighting limits. They were lying upon the bare ground, some of them literally half buried in mud. There was no shelter. Wounded, chilled, starving and racked with pain, how they welcomed us as we carried food and reviving cordial. Our stock of bread and other pro- visions was rapidly disappearing and the hungry men were not half satisfied, when we were relieved by the arrival of several wagons from the provision train. The extra train (about thirty wagons) had remained at Hanover all night and were considerably in our rear. They were delayed before reaching General Kilpatrick's headquarters (at a farm house several miles from Gettysburg) by one of his aides, who commanded them in his name to immediately unload the provisions, as they needed the wagons to convey the wounded officers to Littlestown.
The gentlemen remonstrated, telling him the wagons belonged to private parties and had come to relieve the wants of the suffering soldiers in response to urgent demands for help, that most of the provisions were for immediate use and could not be stored without loss. "That makes no difference," was the reply; "we need the wagons and must have them." At this juncture a venerable gentleman approached and after hearing the case inquired by whose authority the officer made the demand.
"By the authority of General Kilpatrick, sir." "General Kilpatrick? Ah, very good; we will see about that," and drawing from his pocket a folded paper gave it to the aid. The crestfallen Captain handed it back with a deferential salute. The old gentleman was Chief Chaplain of the Army. He directed the train to the Fifth Army Corps, about five miles from Gettysburg, where we already were, and told them if they were again molested to say that they were under the protection of Chaplain Adams.
We spent the morning with them in that wood of that "charnel house of death." It contained the desperately wounded men of Friday's battle. They had received but scanty care and no supplies but a little hard bread and coffee since they had lain there. The huge Pennsylvania barn was completely packed, so full that we could not step between the men; even the stables and lofts were crowded.
How bravely they bore all the suffering and privation, scorning to complain. How eagerly they asked the news of the battle. Many who thought McClellan had resumed command of the army said with exulting looks and tones: "We never could have fought so if he had not been there," and one poor fellow whose moments were numbered, making a last supreme effort, said with faltering accents, "We--couldn't--have--whipped--'em--if McClellan--had--not been--h--head," and glorying in the thought that he had poured out his life blood for the honor of his beloved leader, calmly sank back to die. Watching by him till the last spark of life had fled, I closed his eyes and left to burial one unknown to fame. It seems impossible that poor, weak, human nature could endure such agonies with such fortitude, such uncomplaining heroism. Loss of limbs, torturing pains, even death itself, seemed to them as nothing in comparison with the glorious success for which they suffered.
The time was all too short for the work before us; hours flew like minutes. Night approached before we half fulfilled our task. Leaving supplies with the nurses we left in response to the urgent call from other points in the same distressing need. About 6 P.M. we started for Gettysburg. On our arrival we were greeted with blessings, thanks and prayers for help on every side. Here would come from a surgeon the repeated message: "Come quickly, for the love of God," then another begging for food for his starving multitude, while the demands for lint and bandages were incessant. Hospitals for the soldiers had been arranged in all the public buildings while the private houses were filled with officers of all rank. My first summons was to the Court House. Armed with my brandy bottle and basket of bread, I at once followed the messenger. The most eloquent description would fail to convey the faintest idea of that scene; the writhing agonies, the bleeding, gaping wounds, the dying groans, while over all hung black "shadows of death."
I remained in the town on Monday, giving of my long experience in hospital work in trying to best serve the needs of the hour. That night, being completely exhausted, I remained at the house of a friend, whose doors (as indeed was generally the case) were ever open to give help and shelter to the needy and weary. Here I must pay a most deserved tribute to the inhabitants of that devoted town. Nothing could exceed their generous hospitality. They came out of the battle fought in their very midst with hands ready for every needed work, and hearts overflowing with sympathy for the unfortunate claimants for care, with unflinching nerves the women carrying the wounded in as they were shot down at their very doors. Friend and foe alike were ministered to with untiring effort. The resources of the good house-mothers were inexhaustible; not one complaint of loss, privation or trouble, but all, with heart and soul, entered into the good work as fresh as if they had not lived under a deadly fire for days.
On Monday I was, by request, assigned to the Second Army Corps' Hospital, temporarily located on the ground along Rock Creek, about two and a half miles south of Gettysburg. I began work there on Tuesday morning. As I look back upon it from this standpoint of peace and prosperity, I can hardly credit the reality of the scenes then so familiar. How can I paint that picture, as I beheld it first on that bright July morning? More than two thousand wounded men lying on three hill sides, which gently sloped down to a ravine. At their base two of the hills were crowded with our own brave boys in blue, and the third with the no less boys in gray. What a tiny band of workers we seemed to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and shelter the dying from the fierce rays of the sun. On our arrival it seemed hopeless to attempt to do any- (NOTE: missing text) , but a system of divided labor was adopted, assigning to each assistant a certain field and certain duties.
Some were able to materially aid the surgeons in their herculean task, and with firm hands and steady nerves assisted in dressing wounds; others devoted themselves to feeding and clothing the men. The good work was forwarded with marvelous rapidity, and before nightfall the ground was dotted with tents and the store and kitchen cabins were in order. Our first work was to satisfy the hunger of the men, taking them row by row as they came in regular order. We made no difference between the Union soldiers and the prisoners in the distribution of food, clothing and medicines which the nurses could administer. Many were not so badly wounded, but that they could help themselves somewhat, and after being revived and strengthened by food, clean clothing and needed stimulants could, in turn, assist in the care of their helpless comrades.
Much of my work lay among the Confederate troops, whom I found in a most deplorable condition. In some instance they were entirely destitute of clothing, being covered with a piece of old blanket. Others had nothing on but a ragged shirt or pair of drawers, those who were fortunate enough to have two garments sharing with those who had none. The long march had completely worn out the poor uniform, and the distance from the base of their supplies rendered it impossible to replace them. Providentially our ample stores enabled us to clothe them all decently. How emaciated they were! Some of them told me they had subsisted almost entirely upon corn, gathered from the fields in their hurried march, which ravenous hunger often compelled them to devour green from the stalk. After the struggle was over and there was no longer need for exertion, nature seemed to have exhausted her resources, and they were for the most part indifferent, depressed and hopeless.
One day, after a very fatiguing morning, I sat down on a stump for a moment's rest among the Southern soldiers. As usual a group of boys gathered around me and one said: "Madam, I can't understand your treatment of us. Our women would not be so willing to help prisoners from your army, but you are just as kind to us as to your own men." "Oh," I said, " the reason is that we do not look upon you as enemies. We still regard you as our own children, and although you have gone astray we have not given you up and expect you to come back to us, just as a loving mother hopes her wayward boy will repent of his wanderings and disobedience and return again to take his place around the hearthstone. You belong to us yet, and the time will come when we shall again be one people, under a united government."
"Well, boys," said one of the brightest of them, "there is something in that. Now, mar'm, won't you please give us a chaw of tobacker?"
I was much surprised at the absence of all sectional jealousy among the enlisted men. The greater number ignored the difference between North and South and many on both sides seemed to have but a faint realization of the meaning of the warfare in which they engaged, and were entirely ignorant of the great principles involved. I met but one Union soldier who complained that we treated the "rebs" as well as our own men. I had asked him to carry the heavy tray for me one morning, as I was about to give out the breakfast, and as I went to a group of prisoners who came first in my way he refused to go, saying he would not feed the "rebels" while so many of our own men were still hungry.
Among many similar instances I recall one of a Confederate officer of high rank, who, by the courtesies of war, would at once have been removed to comfortable quarters. I first met him on Wednesday, lying on the ground, with no shelter but a couple of army blankets. Upon my expressions of surprise at finding him in such a situation he replied that he could not desert his men.
"I enlisted most of the poor fellows," said he, "and I will stay by them as long as I am permitted to remain."
He had a brother, also an officer in his regiment, lying near him. They did all in their power to help the men bear the terrible reverse. He, besides being painfully wounded, was suffering severely from chills and rheumatism.
I offered him some brandy which he refused, saying, "I can do without it, but if you can give some to that poor fellow," (pointing to one lying near him racked with cramps) "I will be exceedingly indebted." After complying with the request I told him I had some for him also, and gave him a cup and a bottle of old whiskey that he might use it at his discretion. I sent for some strong hot coffee, which revived him, and procured for him some quinine and a supply of blankets and pillows, and had a tent put up for him that night. I subsequently had several interviews with him and found him an earnest, thoughtful man, who deplored the war and felt from the beginning that it never should have been inaugurated. His heart overflowed with sympathy for the unfortunate men who had been coerced into the fight, and who had lost everything, with no hope of reparation.
Among the men were all classes, creeds and colors. In one of my errands in a remote part of the field, I was called to see a most distressing case. Long before I reached the designated spot I heard the most agonizing groans and appeals for mercy, a constant repetition of "Oh, God! Have mercy upon me; Oh! God have mercy upon my lost soul."
Again was the cry lifted up in pitiful tones! "Oh, God, save me from my sins!" I found on reaching him one of the hopelessly wounded cases, a poor fellow who had been left to die, being past all aid. I approached him and asked what I could do for him. He turned his eloquent dark eyes, lustrous and beautiful, even in his dying agony, upon me.
I shall never forget the impression he made upon me. A man of powerful physique and remarkable personal beauty, with a rich, dark olive complexion. Every lineament of his face spoke of intellect, pride and great magnetic power. Oh, what anguish was depicted there. He reminded me of some great creature brought to bay, with no way to escape. Such terror! Such fear! The like I never before saw painted on the face of man. He shook his head and said "You can do nothing. I must die. I only ask for death. Oh, this dreadful, dreadful suffering! Oh, my soul! Oh, God have mercy on my poor soul!"
I inquired about him of a man lying near who told me he had seven gunshot wounds through his body, that he could not be moved and nothing could alleviate his pain. Of his former life or history nothing was known. They had fought side by side in several battles. Until then he seemed to bear a charmed life; possessed of incredible strength and bravery, his tall form was ever to be seen in the thickest of the fight. He was always a reserved and moody man, evidently far superior in intellect, education and position to most of the soldiers, with whom he never fraternized. As he lay there his eyes riveted to my face, as though he would fain derive some comfort, I tried to soothe him by pointing out to him the way to obtain the mercy he so eagerly craved and repeated to him the old, yet ever new story of Him who suffered greater agony than he endured, even the burden of the guilt of all mankind, and died on the cross that he and all men might live eternally. He listened with despairing eagerness, then turning away with a groan, replied:
"Oh! Madam, my Savior has not yet come. I must die without seeing Him. I am a Jew."
Again, I tried to tell him of the infinite love and compassion, that even at the eleventh hour he might believe and lay his sins on the "Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world." He mournfully shook his head and said: Oh! I have heard all these sayings before, but my Christ has not come.
Oh! God of Abraham, hear me." He begged for death to end his miseries. I left him, to send some opiate which I hoped might reduce him to blessed unconsciousness. Two days after I was near the same part of the ground and heard his faint voice still uttering the same prayer to the "God of his fathers," but I did not approach him. It was too painful to witness such distress, with no power of relief. Whether his great agony was from the retrospect of his life or the pathetic appeal of a faithful "son of Abraham," dying with no priest of the ancient faith to lay the hand of expiation on his substitute, was ever an impenetrable secret, like the unwritten history of thousands who were sacrificed in that great war.
Among the most harrowing in those days of horrible sights were those of sufferers who had been left to their inevitable death. There was no time or means on the first day or two after the battle to spend on the mortally wounded. Our strength and resources were taxed to the uttermost limit to even insufficiently help the men who had a chance for life, but those whose days were numbered and were pronounced beyond surgical aid had to depend on their fellow-sufferers' care. Many a poor fellow died on the bare ground, with no shelter, and happy he who found a pitying comrade to close his eyes and fold his hands across his wounded breast. I never could pass those unfortunates without stopping a moment to say some word of sympathy or give the cup of cold water for which they thirsted.
One beautiful evening, after a long day's hard work, one of my boys came to me and said: "There is a little chap' out there who heard there was a woman from his home and he wants to see you." I found him at the farthest extremity of the hospital, with a half dozen other hopeless cases. He was a lovely boy, scarcely more than a child, who had run away from his home in Providence, Rhode Island, to join the "drum corps." He was a brave boy and a great pet among the soldiers, who nursed him as tenderly as possible, but could poorly supply a mother's loving care. How he longed for one more look of her dear face and once again to hear her sweet words of love! He was so frail and slight it was a marvel how he could have endured the fatigue and privation (Note: missing 4 - 8 lines of text).......was not disfigured by wounds, but constant marches, insufficient food and often sleepless nights had exhausted his strength and he had not vitality to resist the sharp attack of fever. He was perfectly conscious, but too weak to say much.
I asked the poor child what I could do for him. "Oh, I want my mother!" I sat down on the ground and taking him in my arms tried to comfort him. He turned his face to me, saying, "I am so tired," laid his head against me and appeared to sleep. The last rays of the sun touched the lovely features of the dying boy. The long drawn shadows vanished in the gathering darkness. Silence, unbroken save by the plaintive moan of some poor victim, succeeded the hum of the busy day. The pitying dews shed a balm upon his brow. Fainter and fainter grew the breath and more feeble the clasp of the little hand, when suddenly rousing he opened his eyes, glazed in death, and looking long and earnestly in my face, said: "Kiss me, lady, before I die!" Clinging still closer to the stranger who could but faintly represent the fond mother's tenderness he so eagerly craved, he dropped his heavy lids and slept away his brief life as peacefully as a child goes to sleep in its mother's arms. I gently laid the lifeless form down on the hard earth and left him to a soldier's burial and a nameless grave. Poor fellow, what an atom he seemed to be in all that mass of wretched, suffering, dying humanity! Yet he was all the world to the heart of that mother, who wept and prayed for her darling's safe return to the distant home, that never again would echo his boyish step or ringing laugh.
One of the saddest of all the saddest incidents crowded into this week of suffering was the fate of some boys whom I found on Wednesday evening as I was about to leave the ground. When I had reached the ravine which lay below the sloping hills I found a little group of young men who had not been badly wounded, but were temporarily unfit for duty. They had kindled a fire and drawn around it some logs, upon which they had stretched themselves to dry their soaked uniforms. Three of them were from the old "Bay State." There were also two Georgians, prisoners; one raw Irish boy, who was the life of the party, and a down Easter from the forests of Maine. In spite of their discomforts they were a jolly set, the oldest not more than eighteen years. As usual they begged me for a "chaw of tobacker." Unfortunately, I had exhausted my supply, but found in the depths of my pocket some calamus root and some cinnamon bark which they willingly took as a substitute. "Oh," said one, "this makes me think of home and the pies my mother made! When I had to grind the cinnamon for her she always gave me a piece." They all began to talk about their homes, telling me their simple stories. Even the Irish boy fondly recalled the memory of the little cabin in the Green Island where he was born, and longed to see the sisters and brothers with whom he shared his scanty meal.
They begged me to stay with them, but it was late, and my faithful escort was impatiently waiting to take me back to my night quarters in town, and I reluctantly left them with the promise to go at noon the next day and take them tobacco and some pies if I could procure them. A sharp, sudden shower came up in the night and converted the little stream into a roaring torrent. The little band of light-hearted merry boys, who had borne hunger, thirst and the fatigues of many a weary day's march, had escaped the deadly battle and the fatal shell only to die in the midst of safety. They were all swept away without a moment's warning and drowned in the flood.
On my arrival at the surgeon's headquarters on morning, one of the surgeons desired me to look after some sick boys who had been placed in a separate tent the day before. The presence of those who had been badly wounded was very unfavorable to the sick and seemed to retard their recovery. There were about a half a dozen of them who needed nursing and special diet. I had just begun to inquire into the wants and needs, when I heard a faint voice saying: "Come here." As I went over to the cot its occupant said: "Don't you know me?" I carefully studied his wasted lineaments, but could not discover one familiar feature. "Don't you remember Charley M____, who lived in the little brown house on the hill in N____?"
He was the son of a poor widow in my native town, whom I had often seen in my girlhood days, but who until then had passed from my notice. He was so happy to find some one to whom he could talk about his mother and his home. He directed me where to find a number of boys from the neighboring towns, all of whom were delighted to once more see a Northern woman, even though a stranger. I spent most of my time with them after that, writing to their friends and attending to their wants.
He showed me a little Bible which contained his mother's name and a prayer for her darling's safety. He wanted us to write and tell her where and how he had died. After giving him all the time I could spare I left, promising to go and see him the next day. When I went back the next morning his place was vacant. His mother's prayers were answered. He was safe at home in the house with many mansions which God has prepared for his children.
A lifetime of misery was crowded into that sort week, but in all its varied horrors I was but once utterly unnerved. Having been belated one night my driver proposed taking a short cut across the field to reach the ambulance. On the way we suddenly came upon an amputation table. Beside it lay a ghastly pile of severed limbs, just as they had been taken from the mangled bodies. I had seen the ground thickly strewn with dead bodies, had picked my way among them with calloused nerves, had stood on the brink of uncovered trenches filled with blackened corpses, had gone home at night with my skirts stained with blood, but there was a pathetic horror around those nameless hands and feet, none knowing or caring to whom they once belonged. It was so dreadful, so revolting, that my feet seemed paralyzed and I stood rooted to the spot with a horrible fascination.
As soon as the boys could help themselves they were allowed to leave the hospitals and find shelter wherever a friendly door opened to them. Many of them were taken in the farm houses. Free transportation was furnished to all who could go home. Thus our number daily decreased and the burden was lightened. On my way out to my work in the morning I met scores of poor fellows who, under more favorable circumstances, would have been thought to need the utmost care. The halt, the maimed, the bruised and cut, pallid with loss of blood, went on their painful pilgrimage, often stopping to rest, leaning against the fences or lying down on the ground. They never failed to come to me to say good-bye and express the greatest gratitude for all the kindness they had received.
The days flew rapidly by, each bringing some new experience and revealing new phases of character. One could fill volumes with touching incidents that presented themselves in the short space of a week; but even this imperfect sketch has grown beyond its allotted limits. On the 11th I reluctantly said good-bye to the boys, many of whom had become very dear to me through their long suffering and patience. Of the hundreds to whom I ministered the greater part have faded out of my life as a "vision of the night." Others made an ineffaceable impression, and their memories are still graven on my heart in letters of gold. Even at this distant day I am encouraged by an occasional word or token from some grateful soul that gilds the remembrance of that tragic period with unfading glory.
York, Pa., 1882