THE DARKEST PERIOD OF THE WAR---MY VISIT TO WASHINGTON IN 1862---STRANGE EXPERIENCES ON THE JOURNEY---PITIFUL SCENES IN A CONVALESCENT CAMP.
Woman's Council called in Washington---Mrs. Hoge and myself the Chicago Delegates---Darkest Period of the War---Am detained at Suspension Bridge---A Restless Crowd in the Waiting-room---A blind Vocalist Charms them to Quietness---Homeward-bound Invalid Soldiers on the Trains---Repulsive Instrument of Slave Torture---Trains going North from Washington Packed with Furloughed Soldiers---President Lincoln's Explanation---"The War to be ended by Strategy!"---We take in our Charge a Sick Soldier---New Experience in Baltimore---Visit to Dorothea Dix---Her extensive Work---Superintendent of Women Nurses---Washington Soldiers' Home---Amy Bradley the Matron---"Solid Chunks of Sunshine"---Visit Alexandria---"Camp Misery"---" A perfect Golgotha"---Great Indignation of Visitors---Amy Bradley takes up her Abode in the Camp---Great Improvement follows---"The Soldiers' Journal "---We Visit President Lincoln.
n November, 1862, the United States Sanitary Commission called a council of its members at Washington, to which every Branch of the Commission sent women representatives. Sanitary supplies were rapidly on the decrease, while the increasing demand for them was pitiful. The people lacked confidence in the ability of the Commission to carry to the suffering soldiers the supplies intrusted to its care. They knew nothing of its system of inspection and relief. They did not then comprehend the dire necessities of the hospital and battle-field, which grew out of the expansion of the army, and the increased area of its operations; nor yet the inability of the government to meet these necessities, while it was taxed to the utmost in every other direction.
A more perfect organization of the system of relief was necessary; so also was a greater concert of action and a unification of methods, while the patriotism of the people, their loyalty to the Union, and their sympathy with the soldiers, needed to be quickened and fired with new zeal. Only in this way would it be possible for the Commission to provide assistance and consolation for the sick and suffering of the army "abundantly, persistently, and methodically." To the women of the country the Commission looked for the accomplishment of these great aims. Hence. the call for the "Woman's Council."
It was a time of great depression and discouragement. In the East there were only reports of disaster to our armies. After the battle of Antietam, which resulted in no substantial advantage, General McClellan rested so long a time on the north side of the Potomac, that President Lincoln and his military advisers ordered an immediate advance of the army. But McClellan still delayed, and, while he halted, raids were made into Maryland and Pennsylvania by the enemy, who penetrated to Chambersburg, a score of miles in the rear of our army, and then speedily returned to Virginia, having entirely completed the circuit of the Federal forces. When, at length, McClellan began to cross the Potomac, with the design of engaging the enemy, he received a telegram from Washington relieving him of the command of the army, and ordering him to turn it over to General Burnside, who reluctantly and with many protests accepted it.
This announcement fell on the country like a thunderbolt, and a fierce partisan discussion sprang up concerning the wisdom of the removal and the merits of the retired commander, which created great bitterness. Following quickly on the heels of this change, Burnside made a rapid march to Fredericksburg, hoping to capture the place before Lee's army could reach it, and thus cut off his retreat towards Richmond. He was repulsed with frightful slaughter, and the wearied and bleeding, but heroic Army of the Potomac was driven from before Richmond.
At the West the military movements were not crowned with the success the public had expected from previous rapid victories. The triumphant fleet which had regained control of the Mississippi above and below Vicksburg, was baffled by this city, built on a high bluff, fortified like another Gibraltar, and bidding defiance to the gunboats. It had seemed to the people that the work of opening the great river was about ended, and now it appeared to them just begun. The enemy again invaded Missouri, and made alarming raids into Tennessee and Kentucky. Cincinnati was threatened and consternation sent among its citizens, who rallied for immediate defence, as did the people of other similarly situated towns. Instigated by the enemy, the Indians on the frontier began their depredations, and Minnesota became the theatre of a horrible massacre.
The question of giving recognition to the Southern Confederacy was openly discussed in England---by the press, at public meetings, and in both Houses of Parliament. The South became bold and confident, and. its President appointed a day of thanksgiving throughout the Confederacy, because of its successes and hopeful prospects. Those who opposed the war at the North broke out into defiant demands for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and for "peace at any price." The loyal masses found themselves confronted by an enemy within their own territorial limits. Everywhere there were doubt, despondency, gloom, and forebodings. It was one of the darkest periods of the war.
It was with heavy hearts that Mrs. Hoge and myself started from Chicago at this time, on a mid-winter journey to Washington. On account of my honored father, who had been waiting his release from life through weary months of physical infirmity, I was obliged to go to Washington by way of Boston. I was detained at Suspension Bridge one entire night by a collision of freight trains, which tore up the tracks, blocked the road, and hindered all travel for twelve or fourteen hours. There were not even sitting accommodations for the great multitude emptied into the comfortless station-rooms, as several other trains were halted here besides our own. After the first three or four hours of waiting, as the night deepened and the time wore heavily on, our condition became more comfortless, and the great crowd became intolerably uneasy. Mothers were impatient, children fretting and crying, fathers persistently ill-natured. One or two games of fisticuffs were extemporized, by way of settling political differences, which most of the men were discussing in loud and heated language; and there were universal grumbling and growling over our uncomfortable situation, thus making a bad matter worse.
Among the few who possessed their souls in patience was a young lady, nearly blind, and her brother, who carried a violin in a case. Some one carelessly asked the lad to "play a tune," when the boy replied that he did not play, but that his sister was an excellent performer on the violin, and several other instruments, and that she also sang. An earnest entreaty from three or four of us brought the violin from its case, which the young girl lifted to her shoulder. Inclining her cheek caressingly to it, she tuned it, and then gave us melody after melody of exquisite sweetness, that gradually hushed the turbulence of the restless throng, and charmed the noisiest into silence. A song was besought of her---and without excuse, or apology, or delay, the almost sightless girl gave us the touching ballad, "Just before the battle, mother," in a voice whose sweetness, purity, and pathos, thrilled every heart. Song after song was now asked for and granted, until the unknown singer had exhausted her répertoire of patriotic and common songs, when she fell back on operatic airs, giving English translations of Italian gems, and proving herself as skilful in execution as she was gifted in voice.
Gradually the mood of the heterogeneous audience changed from curiosity to interest. And when our young vocalist sang the majestic Marseillaise, throwing herself into the spirit of the grand hymn, interest heightened into enthusiasm. Here and there, one and another joined in the chorus, until it was sung by many voices. Men threw up their hats and cheered, and women clapped and applauded. For two hours she sang and played in the dingy, crowded waiting-room, only stopping occasionally, to mend a string of the violin, or to put it in tune, until, towards daylight, the train came shrieking to the door. And for two hours she held the weary, impatient, and at times semi-brutal crowd spell-bound by the magic of her voice. It was the old story of Orpheus and his lyre, charming the beasts from their savageness and the mountains from their immobility. In the detention at which all had murmured all now rejoiced.
Some conscientious body, who believed in paying for what he received, passed round the hat, taking up a collection of nearly twenty dollars, which the girl was compelled to accept, as a testimonial of gratitude for the most acceptable concert ever given. Our singer was chary of information concerning herself, and reluctant to speak of her blindness. But we learned enough of her to know that her case was one of those where nature withholds one gift that she may double another. She was on her way to New York, her brother said, for better cultivation of her rare musical gifts.
All along the route furloughed or discharged soldiers were taken aboard, on their way home, most of them maimed, crippled, pale, thin, weary, and shabby. Unobtrusive, patient, and submissive, they took whatever accommodations chanced to fall to them. When we stopped to breakfast or dine, they bought lunches of bread and meat, or brought forth rations from their haversacks, that they might more carefully husband their slender means. When inquired of, they gayly replied that "they had plenty, their money and food were ample," and of their discomforts they made very light, in a lofty soldier fashion. They were on their way home, and this soothed every pain, and made the poorest fare delicious.
At Springfield, Mass., where we made connection with a New York train for Boston, some twenty more of the poor fellows were added to the company. They belonged to Maine regiments, and were on their way home from Port Hudson, recovering from wounds, or convalescing from sickness. Poor fellows! How different their return from their going forth to the war! Then, they marched in solid columns, gay in new uniforms, led by martial music, cheered by admiring crowds, their breasts heaving with ambition and patriotism. Now, if the grave had yielded its dead, their appearance could not have been ghastlier. Many of the Maine men were without money, and knew not what to do on their arrival in Boston, in their enfeebled condition, but were confident they should find friends, as they had done all along the route. All were provided for long before they reached Boston; for the people on the train became infected with generosity and patriotism, and freely gave whatever money was needed.
While I was in Boston, all instrument of slave torture was on exhibition, such as Northern people had often heard described, but in whose existence few believed. It was shown at the art rooms of Williams and Everett, on Washington Street, and seemed fearfully out of place amid the pictures, statuary, and bric-à-brac, of the handsome rooms. It was a rough, heavy iron collar, weighing half a dozen pounds, from which three curved prongs rose, with a joint at the back, and closed in front with a rivet.
|1. Twenty first Mass Reg't||2. Fortieth N.Y. Reg't||3. Fourteenth Conn. Reg't|
|4. Twenty fourth Mass. Reg't||5. First Maine Heavy Art.||6. First Conn. Heavy Art.|
It was taken from the neck of a slave girl, near New Orleans, by Captain S. T. Reed, of the Third Massachusetts Cavalry. The girl was about eighteen years of age, quite white,---an octoroon,---and very beautiful. She had attempted to run away; and, as the city was occupied by Federal troops, she was suspected of "sympathy with the Yankees." For this she was invested with this iron collar,---which had rusted into the neck,---and she had been chained in a dungeon and half starved for three months.
The girl was taken to the city, where the iron collar was removed from her neck by a blacksmith, and she was subsequently freed by military authority.
As we approached Washington, we were filled with amazement at the number of furloughed soldiers whom we met en route for the North. It seemed as if the army was being disbanded. They were not like those whom we had met in Massachusetts, for few of these were disabled, wounded, or invalid. They were bronzed and hardy, jolly and hearty, looking as if they had, seen service but had been toughened by it. They filled the railway stations, packed the trains, crowded the platforms of the cars, and cheered our southward bound train as they passed us. We could not understand it. While in Washington we received an explanation of this phenomenon, from no less an authority than President Lincoln.
The army is constantly depleted," he said, "by company officers who give their men leave of absence in the very face of the enemy, and on the eve of an engagement, which is almost as bad as desertion. At this very moment," he continued, "there are between seventy and a hundred thousand men absent on furlough from the Army of the Potomac. The army, like the nation, has become demoralized with the idea that the war is to be ended, the nation united, and peace restored, by strategy, and not by hard desperate fighting. Why, then, should not the soldiers have furloughs?"
As we were approaching Baltimore slowly, experiencing numerous delays, our train ran off the track and we were detained for hours. While we waited, the afternoon deepened into evening, and despite the continued tramping in and out of impatient men, who vented their distress at our slow progress in emphatic and not very reverent language, I fell asleep. I was awakened by a peculiar noise, like that of an animal in distress. The conductor just then passed through the train, and Mrs. Hoge asked of him an explanation of the distressing sounds.
"A drunken soldier on the platform of the rear car, Madam!" was the nonchalant answer.
It was snowing furiously. The cries of distress continued, rising at times into short, sharp shrieks. The conductor returned through the train, and Mrs. Hoge again accosted him;
"Drunk or sober, conductor, that man is in distress. He is a soldier, and must not be left on the platform. Please bring him in here." He gruffly refused, declaring that "drunken soldiers were no company for ladies!" and rudely pushed ahead.
Mrs. Hoge rose and went to the door, and I followed her. A man lay coiled in a heap on the platform of the rear car, writhing in the fierce throes of convulsions. With assistance from bystanders, we brought him in, arranged a rough bed with the seats, unbuttoned his military overcoat, brushed off the snow that covered him, and then looked into the pale face of a delicate lad of eighteen. His staring eyes saw nothing; his limbs were rigid; he was as cold as if dead; and his mouth was flecked with bloody foam. In the terrible spasms, his teeth had bitten through tongue and lips.
There was no lack of interest now, and no withholding of assistance. Every one in the car was eager to help. Blanket shawls were heated and wrapped around the slender fellow's figure. Hot bricks, and heated sticks of wood, were applied to his feet and legs. His hands and pulseless wrists were vigorously chafed, and hot cloths were applied to the chest and abdomen. The train was searched for a physician, and at last one was found who added his remedial skill to our nursing. In about two hours we were rewarded for our efforts by seeing the young soldier relieved from pain, his muscles relaxed,, his breathing became regular, and he was conscious. Gazing at us wonderingly for a few moments, he covered his face with his thin fingers, through which the tears trickled. "Excuse me, ladies! I thought I was at home with my mother." He was a convalescent soldier, going from the hospital to his regiment, and altogether too much of an invalid for the exchange. The cold, exposure, fatigue, and improper food of the journey had nearly bereft him of life, when we fortunately discovered him.
Just as we were entering Baltimore an officer with a captain's bars on his shoulders came into our coach, and accosted our patient, in amazement,---
"Why, William, what's the matter?"
Mrs. Hoge answered with much feeling. "He has been very near death, but is better now. Are you his captain, sir?"
"Not exactly;" was the reply. "I was put in charge of one hundred convalescents to be taken back to their regiments. None of them are well enough to go, but they had to be sent away, the hospitals are so crowded, to make room for sicker men. Some of my men are as sick as this fellow."
"Do you know this young man personally?" inquired Mrs. Hoge.
"No," he replied, "but they requested me at the hospital to be careful of him, as he is delicate, and they gave him a good name for pluck and patience. I had him in the rear car with the rest, and went out, leaving him there. I have been in the smoker, and only missed him just now when I went back."
"I was sick, captain," said the lad; "I thought I was going to faint, and went to the platform for air, and that is all I know."
Mrs. Hoge's indignation had been steadily rising, and now burst forth. "And this is the way you discharge your obligations to sick soldiers, placed in your care! You leave them for hours to be neglected, abused, branded as drunkards, while you seek your own gratification! Four hours after this boy fell on the platform, and was left to die like an animal, you come to inquire after him. But for us, you would have found only a corpse; for the physician who has attended him declared that he could not have lived an hour longer, uncared for. This is not the way, sir, to treat the 'rank and file' of our army, made up of the very flower of American young manhood. No wonder soldiers desert, if this is a specimen of the treatment accorded them. Had this lad died, sir, you would have been responsible for his death." She spoke sternly, and with feeling.
The captain winced under her rebuke, and said he had not intended to be neglectful, and had not, supposed William was so badly off. When we volunteered to stop over in Baltimore, and see him safely bestowed in a hospital, he turned him over to our care, and gave us a written order for this purpose. We reached Baltimore at midnight, and for two hours rode from hospital to hospital with our charge, before we succeeded in finding a place for him. At last, we met a surgeon, in charge of a smaller hospital, who was willing to cut the red tape that barred our sick soldier from the wards, so as to admit him. Neither William's captain nor ourselves, at that time, were acquainted with the multitudinous forms to be observed before admission could be secured to a military hospital. We left him in comfort, and heard from him daily when in Washington. On our return to Chicago, weeks later, we received a touching letter of thanks from his mother and sister in New Jersey, who spoke of their son and brother most tenderly, as good and true, faithful and obedient.
It was Sunday morning when we arrived in Washington; and, as the Sanitary Commission held no meeting that day, we decided, after breakfast, to pay a visit to Miss Dix. I had known this lady by reputation for years. I had heard of her deep interest in the condition or paupers, lunatics, and prisoners, and knew that she had spent, her life in their service. She had visited poorhouses, prisons, and insane asylums, had accomplished reforms, corrected abuses, and secured favorable legislation for their relief. With a passion for justice, great energy of character, and wonderful executive talent, she was a very interesting personage. I anticipated great pleasure from the interview.
Miss Dix passed through Baltimore shortly after the dire tragedy of April, 1861, when the Sixth Massachusetts regiment, on its way to the defence of the national capital, was mobbed in its streets. Some were left dead, and others wounded. Her first work, on reaching Washington, was to nurse to health these victims of the Baltimore mob. Washington, at that time, was a great camp. Hospitals were hastily organized, and filled with sick, while there were few to nurse them. Everywhere there were confusion and disorder, lack of discipline and executive ability.
Miss Dix offered her services to the government in any department where she could be made useful. On he tenth of June, 1861, Secretary Cameron vested her with sole power to appoint women nurses in the hospitals. Secretary Stanton, on succeeding him, ratified the appointment; and she had already installed several hundred nurses in their noble work,---all of them Protestants and middle-aged. She personally examined the qualifications of every applicant. The women must be over thirty years of age, plain almost to repulsion in dress, and devoid of personal attractions, if they hoped to receive the approval of Miss Dix. She also insisted on good health and an unexceptionable moral character. Many of the women whom she rejected because they were too young and too beautiful entered the service under other auspices, and became eminently useful. Many women whom she accepted because they were sufficiently old and ugly proved unfit for the position, and a disgrace to their sex.
Fortunately we found Miss Dix at home, but just ready to start for the hospitals. She was slight and delicate looking, and seemed physically inadequate to the work she was engaged in. In her youth she must have possessed considerable beauty, much as she deprecated its possession by her nurses. She was still very comely, with a soft and musical voice, a graceful figure, and very winning manners when she chose to use them. Her whole soul was in her work. She rented two large houses as depots for the sanitary supplies sent to her care, and houses of rest and refreshment for nurses and convalescent soldiers. She employed two secretaries, owned ambulances, and kept them busily employed, printed and distributed circular, went hither and thither from one remote point to another in her visitations of hospitals, adjusted disputes, settled difficulties where her nurses were concerned, undertook long journeys by land and by water, and paid all expenses incurred from her private purse. Her fortune, time, and strength were laid on the altar of her country in its hour of trial.
Unfortunately, many of the surgeons in the hospitals did not work harmoniously with Miss Dix. They were jealous of her power, impatient of her authority, condemned her nurses, and accused her of being arbitrary, opinionated, severe, and capricious. Many, to rid themselves of her entirely, obtained permission of Surgeon-General Hammond to employ Sisters of Charity only in their hospitals, a proceeding not at all to Miss Dix's liking. I knew, by observation, that many of the surgeons were unfit for their office; that too often they failed to carry skill, morality, or humanity, to their work; and I understood how this single-hearted friend of the sick and wounded soldier would come in collision with these laggards..
Miss Dix regarded her army work as only an episode of her life, and, when the war closed, returned to her early labors, working for the insane and the criminal, until increasing years and infirmities compelled a cessation of them. Since the close of the war she has resided in Trenton, N. J.
Of the prolonged meetings of the Sanitary Commission held during the week, no account need be given. They resulted in the formation of wise plans of work, which, faithfully carried out, soon swelled the amount of sanitary stores to an extent never anticipated. Special agents were appointed, and a thorough system of canvassing was adopted. Monthly bulletins were issued by the various branches to their tributary aid societies, containing latest accounts of actual work, compiled receipts or sanitary stores up to date, and a statement of the immediate necessities of the hospitals. Earnest and successful efforts were made all along the lines to induce all organizations working for the relief of the army to adopt the Sanitary Commission as the almoner of their bounty; and great quickening resulted immediately. Henceforth to the end of the war "an enthusiastic spirit of devotion to the soldier inspired the popular heart." The treasury of the Commission was kept full, and "its storehouses overflowed with plenteousness."
The sessions of the Sanitary Commission being ended, and the Woman's Council adjourned sine die, we remained a few days in Washington to visit hospitals, soldiers' homes, and other places of interest.
The hospitals in Washington were, even then, marvels of order, comfort, and neatness. Among the nurses were some of the very noblest women of the East---women of culture, of family, and of rare nobleness of character. The Soldiers' Home in Washington had been established by the Commission for the comfort of the private soldier travelling to his regiment or home, who ran the risk, while awaiting transportation, of being entrapped by sharpers, always seeking to fleece every man connected with the army. It also received the sick men who could not go on immediately with their regiments, furnishing them with food, medicines, and care. It obtained the back pay of discharged soldiers, secured for them railroad tickets at reduced rates, sought to make them clean and comfortable before they left for home, and was in constant readiness, with food or clothing, in large quantities, for soldiers who passed through Washington in any direction. Forty similar homes were established and maintained before the close of the war.
On Reverend Frederick N Knapp, an agent of the Commission, whose name is imperishably associated with its grand work of special relief, devolved the duty of establishing this home. He selected as matron, Miss Amy M. Bradley---an alert, executive little woman from Maine. She had been a successful teacher before the war, and had already achieved an enviable reputation in the hospital service of the Commission. For our men speedily fell victims to the malaria of the miasmatic swamps of the Chickahominy during the terrible Peninsular Campaign, in the spring and summer of 1862. The hospital transports of the Commission did heroic service in those dark days, in removing the, poor fellows North, where they could have a chance to live, or at least to die amid their kindred. Amy Bradley had made herself a power on these transports by her skill in nursing, in preparing food for the sick and wounded, in dressing wounds, and in making herself generally useful to the wretched men temporarily placed in her care.
She was absent from the Home when we entered it, but the spirit of neatness, good order, and cheerfulness which characterized her was visible everywhere. There were three hundred and twenty exquisitely clean beds awaiting occupants. The pleasant reading-room was filled with quiet readers, every man of whom seemed comfortable. As we spoke to them, each one had his grateful story to tell of Miss Bradley's care and faithfulness.
"Miss Bradley obtained over one hundred dollars' worth of back pay for me, which I could not get myself," said one, "and I have forwarded it to my family in need of it."
"One hundred dollars!" interjected another. "She has obtained over one hundred thousand dollars' worth of back pay from government for soldiers, since she came to this Home."
"She nursed over nine hundred of us in the hospital," chimed in another, "and only let thirteen die. Bring on your doctor who can do better."
"You ought to see the letters she writes every week for the men in this Home," added an assistant. "The letters she writes haven't any blue streaks in them, but are solid chunks of sunshine."
In every department of the Home this panegyric of Miss Bradley was repeated. She returned just as we were departing, and we had the pleasure of an interview with the noble little woman, whose untiring work, begun with the war, for the soldiers, has been continued to this day among the poor white people of the South. She is still laboring among them at Wilmington, N. C. Erect and decisive, quick of comprehension and prompt in action, we were immediately won by her kindly face and winning manners. It was not strange that the soldiers loved and respected her.
The next day we went to Alexandria, across the Potomac, some nine or ten miles from Washington. Just outside the town there was a large encampment, significantly named by the soldiers, "Camp Misery." Here we were to pass the day. We took the carriage road rather than the boat. The road was through an almost continuous encampment. The country was nearly bare of trees, for many of them, umbrageous with the growth of centuries, had long ago been felled by the necessities of war. The fences also had vanished, and the numerous forts and groups of tents revealed themselves plainly as we rode on. I had driven over this same country many times in happier years, and the desolation visible everywhere touched me painfully.
We were "halted" at every bridge, and crossroad, were compelled to show our passes, and, hour after hour, rode past never-ending trains of heavily laden army wagons, rumbling slowly along. Soldiers were everywhere---drilling, cooking, cutting wood, washing clothes, writing letters, cleaning arms, mending clothes, playing games, working on forts, digging graves. Whichever way we turned we beheld United States soldiers.
We stopped a moment at the hotel in Alexandria, where the chivalric Ellsworth foolishly threw away his life. I saw him for the last time in Chicago, just before the war began, when he gave an exhibition drill of his wonderful Zouaves. They had just returned home from a triumphal tour through the principal cities of the East. At the very first call of the country, the Zouaves, with their brave Colonel, entered the service. Their loyalty to the Union created a furor wherever they appeared. The career of the young and handsome commander was brief, and ended in a tragic death.
Passing the hotel in Alexandria, from the roof of which floated a rebel flag, he was so stung by this insult to the government, offered within the very eight of the capital, that he bounded up the stairway and tore it down. On the instant he was shot dead by the proprietor of the hotel, who, in his turn, fell beside his victim, slain by the avenging bullet of Ellsworth's friend and comrade, who had accompanied him. The hotel had been entirely remodelled, as a protection from the visits of the curious.
In the large encampment at Alexandria were included four camps. One was for "new recruits awaiting orders to join regiments in the-field." Another was for paroled prisoners waiting exchange. Another for stragglers and deserters, captured and soon to be forwarded to their regiments. And the fourth was for convalescents from the Washington and Maryland hospitals. The first two were in anything but a good condition, there being great destitution of everything needful and convenient. The stragglers' camp was neglected and disorderly, as might be expected; but the convalescent camp was a perfect Golgotha. The four camps were located on a hillside, bare of grass, whose soil was so porous that a heavy shower saturated the whole like a sponge. The convalescents were camped at the foot of the slope, where it was forever damp, even in dry weather, from the drainage of the camps above.
Here, ranged in streets named from the states to which they belonged, were fifteen thousand feeble men, all of them unfit for duty, and sent here to recover. "Recover!"---this was the governmental fiction which glossed over the worst condition of things I had ever beheld.
Most of the men were poorly clad, without blankets, straw, or money, though many had seven or eight months' pay due them. They were lodged, in the depth of a very severe winter, in wedge and Sibley tents of the smallest pattern, five or six to a tent, without floors or fires, or means of making any, amid deep mud or frozen clods. They were obliged to cook their own food and obtain their own fuel; and, as all the timber in the neighborhood had been cut, it was necessary for them to go a mile for even green wood.
They slept on the bare ground, or, when it rained, as it did while we were there, in the mud. Their food was the uninviting rations of the healthy men. There were but three surgeons for the four camps; and if the boys needed medicine, they must go to one of them. The surgeons only visited the hospital of the camp, which was full and running over, so that many were refused admission who were seriously sick, and who remained in their tireless and bedless tents. Such destitution, squalor, and helplessness, I had never beheld. Bowel diseases were very prevalent; throat and lung difficulties met its at every turn, and the incessant coughing made us all nervous.
In our party were representatives from most of the Northern states; and there was a simultaneous burst of indignation from the lips of all, as we saw the utter neglect of these invalids. In Illinois Street, two young men, connected with the Eighth Illinois Cavalry, accosted me by name. They came from Chicago, and had been my near neighbors. But the mother who bore them would never have recognized the skeletonized fellows. Feeble as they were, they overwhelmed me with an avalanche of questions about home. Women were rare visitors in these camps, for the Alexandrian ladies were indifferent to the welfare of Northern soldiers. As the lady visitors, therefore, sought out the soldiers of their various states, they were instantly surrounded by groups of wan and fleshless men, eager to see a woman from home who had interested herself to call on them. The inquiries made by them can be imagined, but not their sad faces and sadder stories.
We visited many of the miserable little tents, where the poor fellows were doomed to pass much of their time. They were cold and cheerless; and memories of the condition of their suffering inmates gave us the heartache for weeks after. When, on our return to Washington, I read in a morning paper that half a dozen of the feeblest of these convalescents had frozen to death in their tents during the previous cold night, I was not surprised. As we left, we were commissioned with affecting messages for friends at home. I filled pages of my memorandum book with these messages and errands. I was to call and see the mother and sisters of one; to assist a wife in getting the discharge of her hopelessly invalid husband; to convey to a young wife her own photograph and that of her child, with a half-finished letter taken from the pocket of her dead husband; and so on.
All of us had been accustomed to hospitals from the beginning of the war, and were used to sad sights; but this convalescent camp,---where fifteen thousand brave men, who had lost health and heart in the service of the country, were huddled as no good farmer would pen up cattle,---outweighed in sadness anything we had previously seen. The apparent indifference of the authorities concerning them seemed almost brutal. An endless stream of protests had been sent to the Secretary of War and the Surgeon-General, to whom the horrible condition of this camp was made known; and still it was not broken up, nor was any apparent attempt made at its improvement.
Before we left, we found a gleam of light, for we heard again of Amy Bradley. She had been sent down to "Camp Misery" by the Sanitary Commission, as a special relief agent, and had taken up her quarters among the men. She had made frequent visits to the camp during the previous three months, always bringing supplies, which she personally distributed. Now she had come to stay with the convalescents; and the desponding men took heart as they heard the glad tidings. She had set up her tents, and arranged her little hospital cook-room, storeroom, wash-room, bath-room, and office. We were told that she had passed round with the officers that very morning, as the men were drawn up in line for inspection, and had supplied seventy-five almost naked men, who were very feeble, with woollen shirts.
We walked over to her hospital tents. She had forty patients in them, who were washed, made clean, had been warmed and fed. We breathed easier; we felt sure that at last light had dawned on the darkness. Nor were we mistaken; for, during the next six months, she conveyed more than two thousand soldiers from this camp, whose discharges she had obtained, and turned them over to the Soldiers' Home in Washington. Most of them were incurably ill, and would have perished but for her divine ministrations. In four months she had relieved "one hundred and thirty patients in her little hospital, fifteen of whom died." To the friends of the dead she sent full accounts of the last hours of their lost ones. Before the close of six months she had procured the re-instatement of one hundred and fifty soldiers, who had been dropped from the muster rolls unjustly as "deserters," had secured their back pay to them, amounting in all to eight thousand dollars.
There seemed to be no limit to this little woman's capacity for helpfulness. She was as cheery as a sunbeam, and infused health, hope, and courage into all with whom she came in contact. When, at last, the convalescent camp was broken up, and its inmates transferred to the "Rendezvous of Distribution" in Washington, she located herself among them there. She established a weekly paper at their headquarters, called the "Soldiers' Journal," a quarto sheet of eight pages, which was edited with remarkable ability, until the breaking up of the Rendezvous and disbanding of the hospital at the end of the war. "The profits of the paper were twenty-two hundred dollars, besides the value of the printing-press and materials. This amount was expended for the benefit of orphans, whose fathers had been connected with the camp, and was increased by generous contributions from other sources."
LIFE IN A CONTRABAND CAMP---WASHINGTON IN 1865---A CONTRABAND PRAYER MEETING---MY INTERVIEW WITH SECRETARY STANTON---THE DRUMMER-BOY OF THE EIGHTH MICHIGAN.
Fugitive Slaves rejoicing in Freedom---Prayer-meeting in Camp---Meet old "Aunt Aggy"---An Episode of Slavery---"Thar's a Day a-comin'!"---Lively Praying---Tempestuous Singing---Intense Sectarians---A Boy Philosopher---Visit Washington in 1865---Great Changes---Deserters from the Enemy---Runaway Negro---with a Six-Mule Team--- Courtesy and Kindness of Secretary Stanton---Meet Admiral and Mrs. Farragut---Their Simplicity and Geniality---Lieutenant Cushing, the Hero of the Ram Albemarle---Other Eminent Notabilities---The Drummer Boy of the Eighth Michigan---Enlists with his Teacher---Charlie petted by all---His Teacher and Captain Shot at James Island--- Fierce Life of the Eighth Michigan---Charlie Shares it All---Struck by a Chance Shot---Fatal Result.
CONTRABAND camp had been established at Washington, made up principally of fugitives from Maryland and Virginia, though we found numerous representatives of the "patriarchal institution" from North and South Carolina, and Georgia. There were three thousand of them in camp at the time of our visit, but the number varied from week to week. Rev. D. B. Nichols, a former superintendent of the Chicago Reform School, was in charge of this motley company of escaped slaves, and although there was evidence of a lack of administrative talent, the poor refugees from bondage had certainly, for the time, a happy home in their miserable quarters.
All ages, both sexes, every shade of complexion and every variety of character, were found here. I had lived on a Southern plantation for two years, in my early life, and the people and scenes were not as novel to me as to my companions. They were overwhelmed with astonishment at the intelligence, good sense, and decorum manifested by all. They had expected to see a gathering of half-humanized baboons or gorillas, and were not certain that they ought not take with them an interpreter. All with whom we conversed gave an intelligent and graphic account of their escape from slavery, and their descriptions of "massa" and "missus" revealed a clear insight into character. They admitted that they were not in as good condition now as they had been "at home," but they expected to have better days by and by, and to earn money, and to keep house, and to "live like white folks." Not one regretted their change of circumstances.
"Why, missus," said a very intelligent mulatto woman, with considerable pretensions to beauty, who had come from Point Lookout, laying her right forefinger in the broad palm of her left hand to give emphasis to her speech, "we'd ruther be jes' as po' as we can be, if we's only free, than ter b'long to anybody, an' hab all de money ole massa's got, or is cher gwine ter hab."
Compared with white people at the North they were not industrious, but they compared favorably with the humbler classes of whites at the South, and were even ahead of them in intellect and industry. Every morning the men of the camp went into the city to get work for the day. So did the women who had not young children to care for. Few of them failed to find employment. Government employed the men---and the women found chance jobs of house-cleaning, washing, etc., for which they asked and received moderate compensation. Many had thriven so well that they had commenced housekeeping by themselves, an event to which all were aspiring. The contraband camp at Washington was therefore very nearly a self-sustaining institution.
Our first visit to the contrabands proved so interesting that we accepted an invitation from Mr. Nichols to attend their evening prayer-meeting. The prayer-meetings were held every evening as soon as supper was ended, and were the great staple of their enjoyment. In them they found never-failing satisfaction. They had all assembled when we arrived, but of so large a company of white people had the effect to disband several minor meetings in the various huts, and to augment the larger one in Mr. Nichols' quarters. Room was made for us by the dense crowd with great courtesy. The utmost decorum prevailed, seriousness sat on all faces, and a hush settled over the sable assembly. The oppressive stillness was broken by a comely mulatto woman, far advanced in years, who rose, and came towards me.
"I 'clar to goodness," she said, in a subdued undertone, respectfully extending her hand, "you're Miss Lucy's and Miss Mary's and Massa Robert's teacher, down on de ole plantation! I knowed yer de minit I seed yer a-comin' in, a-walkin' so straight and so tall! I allers knowed yer on de ole place, clar way off furder'n I could see yer face, cos yer allers walked so oncommon straight."
It was "Aunt Aggy," the housekeeper on the plantation where I had been governess in my early womanhood. She was the nurse of my pupils, and the foster-mother of two or three of them. A slave, she was entirely trusted, and was always respectful and obedient. Never garrulous, always grave and taciturn, she carried herself in those days with a rare dignity, and never became obsequious, as did the other house-servants. I instantly recalled a drama of those long gone years, in which she was both spectator and actor.
Her daughter "Carline" (Caroline), a pretty and graceful mulatto, was a servant in the dining-room. One morning when passing a cup of coffee to Mr. -----, her master and owner, by an unlucky movement of his hand he knocked it from the tray on which she served it, to his knees. It was warm weather; he was attired in linen, and the hot coffee scalded him. Jumping up with an oath, he raised his chair, and felled the girl to the floor, striking her two or three times after she had fallen. She was carried to the cottage of "Aunt Aggy," her mother, who had witnessed the scene from an adjoining room, stunned, bruised, bleeding, and unconscious. I left the table and withdrew to my own apartment, shocked beyond expression at the brutal outrage of the passionate master.
Later in the day "Aunt Aggy" came to my room on some household errand, when I expressed my indignation at the brutal treatment her daughter had received, uttering myself with the frankness of a New England girl of nineteen who had been trained to be true to her convictions I was astonished at the change that came over the taciturn and dignified woman. Turning squarely about and facing me, with her large, lustrous eyes blazing with excitement, she spoke in a tone and manner that would have befitted a seer uttering a prophecy:---
"Thar's a day a-comin'! Thar's a day a-comin'!" she said, with right hand uplifted; "I hear de rumblin' oh de chariots! I see de flashin' in' ob de guns! White folks' blood is a-runnin' on de ground like a riber, an' de dead's heaped up dat high!" measuring to the level of her shoulder. "Oh, Lor'! hasten de day when de blows, an' de bruises, an' de aches, an' de pains, shall come to de white folks, an' de buzzards shall eat 'em as dey's dead in de streets. Oh, Lor'! roll on de chariots, an' gib de black people rest an' peace. Oh, Lor'! gib me de pleasure ob livin' till dat day, when I shall see white folks shot down like de wolves when dey come hongry out o' de woods!"
And without another word she walked from the room, nor could I ever afterwards induce her to speak of the beating given Caroline. I reminded "Aunt Aggy" of the occurrence, at the close of the prayer-meeting, and found that it was photographed on her memory as distinctly as on mine.
"I allers knowed it was a-comin'," she said. "I allers heerd de rumblin' o' de wheels. I allers 'spected to see white folks heaped up dead. An' de Lor', He's keept His promise, an' 'venged His people, jes' as I knowed He would. I seed 'em dead on de field, Massa Linkum's sojers an' de Virginny sojers, all heaped togedder, wid de dead bosses, an' de smash-up waggins-all de fightin' done done for dis ye world foreber. Ole massa and missus bof done die afore de war, an' young Massa Robert, what you teached in de school-room, he done died, in dese yer arms. Little Mass' Batt, what liked to say his prars in yer room, he went to de war, an' was shot in ole Car'lina, an' buried wid his sojers. Miss Lucy an' little Courty bof done died when de war begin, an' dey was buried in Liberty Hill. De ole place is all done broke up, an' de colored folks go jes' whar dey please---no passes now. Oh, de Lor' He do jes' right, if you only gib Him time enough to turn Hisself."
The meeting commenced by the singing of a hymn. It was a song and chorus. The leader, a, good singer, stood in the centre of the room, and sang alone the first two lines:--
"I see de angels beck'nin'---I hear dern call me 'way,
I see de golden city, an' de eberlastin' day!"
And then the whole congregation rose to their feet, and with a mighty rush of melody, and an astonishing enthusiasm, joined in the inspiring chorus:---
"Oh, I'm gwine home to glory---won't yer go along wid me,
Whar de blessed angels beckon, an' de Lor' my Saviour be?"
The leader was a good improvisatore as well as singer, and long after the stock of ready-made verses was exhausted, he went on and on, adding impromptu and rough rhymes, and the congregation came in, promptly and with ever-rising enthusiasm, with the oft-repeated chorus. All sang with closed eyes, thus shutting out all external impressions, and abandoned themselves to the ecstasy of the hour. The leader gesticulated violently, swinging his arms around his head, uplifting his hands, and clasping them tightly and pointing into space; while his companions swayed slowly to and fro, beating time to the music with their feet.
At last the swaying became wild and dizzy gyrations, which were interspersed with quick, convulsive leaps from the floor. Accompanying all this was a general hand-shaking, in which we white people were included. One powerful Maryland woman nearly toppled me from the elevated and precarious seat which I had selected, the better to look down on the congregation, so fervent was her hand-clasping. All of us were glad when this exercise was ended, for our hands ached.
Whar de blessed angels beckon, an' de Lor' my Saviour be?"
After this followed a prayer. Never have I heard a prayer of more pathos and earnestness. It appealed to God, as Infinite Justice, and with confidence that the wrongs of the slave would be redressed.
"You know, O Lor' King," said the kneeling supplicant, "how many a time we've been hongry, and had noffin to eat,---how we've worked all day and night in de cotton and 'bacca fields, and had no time to sleep and take care of our chillen, and how we've bin kep' out in de frost and de snow, and suffered many persecutions. But now, O King, you've brought us up hyar under de shadder o' de Linkum. army, and we pend on Thee for de rest. We're gwine to wait for Thee, O King, to show us de way." With the utmost fervor he prayed for the Union army---that "the Lor' would smother its enemies,"---and for "Massa Linkum, who was doing de good Lor's will." And to both these petitions the whole audience added a tempest of supplicatory responses. Finally, after specifying every distressed class of which they had any knowledge, they begged the Lord to "pardon the damned out o' hell, if so be de good Lor' could do it."
During this prayer a dozen of half-grown mulatto boys had entered the rear of the room, who were not imbued with the seriousness of the great congregation. After a few moments they became uneasy, and began to frolic. Once or twice one of the number made some comment to his companions, in an audible tone of voice, and several times they broke down in a suppressed giggle. They were remembered by a venerable negro who prayed next, in this ingenuous fashion:---
"O Lor', bress us all poor sinners. Bress dese yer boys, O Lor'; dey'se got so many blessin's, dey I dunno what to do wid 'em; dey'se like de hogs under de 'simmons trees, eating 'simmons,---dey dunno whar dey come from. O Lor', bress us all poor sinners, an' bress my poor Jim,"---who now laughed outright--"'case he's a berry bad boy, Lor'; he's a badder boy dan you know for; he swars; he swars more dan you know about; he swars more in de tent dan he does outdoors. Now, Lor', bress us all, an' stan' by me, an' I'll stan' by you, sartin."
A prolonged exhortation followed this prayer. It was mainly devoted to the case of one of their number who had died two nights before, who was a notorious thief, and who, the speaker unhesitatingly declared, "was in hell." "An' now, chillen, whar you 'spect uncle Jim done gone? Wednesday night, chillen, at half past ten o'clock,"---the hour at which the man died,---" uncle Jim done gone to hell. Now he roll about on de red-hot sheet-iron floor thar, an' he clim' up de red-hot walls, an' fall back agin"--and so on. I confess I felt quite reconciled to uncle Jim's unpleasant predicament, in consideration of their prayer that God would pardon the damned. Other scenes, speeches, and prayers followed, but one was a sample of all. The meeting was of the-liveliest character throughout. They were not only hearers, but in a very emphatic sense they were also doers, and with their gesticulations, beating of feet, shaking of hands, and unintermitted responses, they made busy and hard work of their prayer-meetings.
They were mostly Baptists, and were intensely sectarian. One Methodist brother ventured to start a hymn, but he had it all to himself. The Baptists sat still with folded hands and closed eyes, grim as sphinxes, and let him sing it through alone, without the aid of a single helping voice.
Mr. Nichols informed us that while the piety of these people was of the most orthodox character, their morality was not so satisfactory. The vices of slavery very naturally clung to them, and they were not truth-telling nor honest. All knew that the President had issued a Proclamation of Emancipation, and they expected to be free before the end of the war. When they sang their celebrated song, until then always sung stealthily and in secrecy, beginning,
"Go tell Moses, go down into Egypt,
An' tell King Pharaoh, let my people go,"
the leader improvised verses at the close stilted to their circumstances, and the congregation changed the chorus, shouting with excitement, and gesticulating in a way that would have been terrific had they been less jubilant, "He will let my people go!"
Our return route to Chicago was by way of Philadelphia, as we wished to visit the Branch Commissions in Philadelphia and New York. Walking up Chestnut Street, I met a cheery-faced lad, wearing the blue uniform of the army, who had lost a leg, and was swinging along painfully on a crutch. I could not do otherwise than speak to him.
"My child, you have been very unfortunate."
"Yes; ma'am," he replied, as cheerfully as though I had simply remarked, "It is a pleasant day."
"Do you belong to the army?"
"Yes, ma'am---I am a drummer."
"Did you lose your leg in battle?"
"Yes, ma'am; I suppose it was partly my fault, though. I was told not to go down where the fight was, for I was not needed. But I wanted, to see the fun, and went; and a piece of shell splintered my ankle so that I had to have my foot taken off."
"My poor boy! I am very sorry for you, and now you must be a cripple for life."
"Oh, well, 'taint so bad as it might be. I'm going to have an artificial leg, some time. I might have one now, but I should outgrow it in a year; and, as they cost fifty dollars, a fellow can't afford to have a new leg every spring, like he does a pair of trousers. But when I get grown I shall have one, and then I can go it as well as ever."
Blessings on the cheery-faced thirteen-year-old philosopher! In his sunny nature and hopeful spirit he had a greater fortune than the wealth of Vanderbilt would give him if he lacked these qualities.
I was compelled to visit Washington for the last time during the war, in 1865, about a month before Lee's army surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox. My visit then was in the interest of the last sanitary fair of the country. Washington was full, and running over. Congress was just at the close of the term, overcrowded with work, and holding sessions day and night to finish up the necessary business of the country. People were in the city, representing every taxable interest, entreating immunity from taxation for their particular industry, seeking appointments for themselves or friends, endeavoring to get real or fancied wrongs righted, eager to go to the front,---from curiosity or to aid sick and wounded friends, or awaiting the ceremonies of the approaching inauguration of President Lincoln for a second term, which promised to be more than ordinarily brilliant.
The city had changed during the war. More money had been spent on its streets during the four years of the war than in all its previous history. Horse-cars ran in every direction, the city was well lighted, and the sidewalks and crossings were in good condition. The city had taken on a business look, and its old dulness had disappeared. But it was even then what it had always been---one of the most unlovely cities of the Union. Ragged and straggling, with the oddest jumble of amazing houses on its spacious streets, whose depths of mud were immeasurable, the magnificent public buildings only emphasized the general meanness of the city, making it painful to behold.
The sights of war were not as numerous as in 1862. Then, all day and all night one heard the unceasing rumble of army wagons. Regiments were constantly passing through the city. Everywhere one caught the gleam of the bayonet, and. heard the roll of the drum. Two great hostile armies were then encamped but a short distance from Washington, and one's spirits rose and fell with the rumor that hourly disturbed the public mind.
Now, one realized that the theatre of war was remote; and in the prophetic soul of every one dwelt the unshaken conviction that the end was near. The only unusual sight in the military line was the daily processions of deserters from the enemy, constantly arriving within the lines of our army. General Grant had promised, by proclamation, to buy of the deserters the teams and munitions of war they brought with them, and they came loaded, hundreds every night, squalid, ragged, dirty, and miserable. Two or three times a day I met them, under the escort of our soldiers, unkempt, almost barefooted, and generally bareheaded, as brown as berries, but jubilant, and often hilarious.
Whole picket lines deserted; and the rebel guards; who witnessed the transaction, and who remained behind because they had families in the Confederacy, refrained from firing on the deserters, or fired high, so as not to hit them. General Lee's army was melting away like snow in the spring sun; and to him every deserter was an irreparable loss, for he could not be replaced. Most of the men were unmarried, and some had families in the North. In conversation with them, they informed me that the married men deserted to their homes in the South, and in four times the numbers of the single men who escaped to the North.
One day, a negro, who was believed trustworthy, was sent out of the enemy's lines with a six-mule team for a big load of wood. He had got beyond the pickets, and seemed to think it worth while to venture a little farther, and so kept on towards "Uncle Sam's boys." The rebel pickets saw him going, and rushed after him. Our men saw him coming, and rushed towards him. The ebony teamster whipped up his mules, shouted, hurrahed, and urged them on. Guns were fired on both sides, and the yelling and excitement were tremendous for a few minutes. But the negro gained the day, and ran out of slavery into freedom. He was taken to the quartermaster, who gave him several hundred dollars for his team, so he not only got his liberty but a good start. He was sent up to Washington, at his desire; for his wife had worked her way to the city, and he wished to seek her. His story found its way into the papers, and for a brief day he was a small hero.
"Golly, missus!" was his comment, when I expressed my surprise that he had not been killed in the attempt to escape, "I was dat s'prised when I foun' myself alive and free in Massa Linkum's army, wid all dat money for my own, dat I couldn't b'lieve it. I was. dat weak I couldn't stan' no more'n a broken-winded mule can run. It's a heap sight better up hyar, dan down on de ole place, and I 'spect me and de ole woman'll stay hyar when I'se found her."
Of my interview with President Lincoln, and its result, I have given an account elsewhere. I was commissioned to borrow the captured rebel flags, the battle-flags in the possession of the government, and the government bunting, for the use of the last great fair of the Sanitary Commission. For this purpose I went to the Secretary of War. I must confess that I never approached a human being more reluctantly than I did Secretary Stanton. I had heard fearful. accounts of his porcine manners, discourtesy, and vulgar hauteur; and I dreaded to meet him. I did not then know that these charges were brought against him by cotton speculators, Southern traders in goods contraband of war, and other harpies, who had sought to prey on the government, and whose rapacious schemes he had thwarted.
A great crowd was in attendance, each waiting his turn, one standing behind the other in a long line that stretched far out into the hall. A hush like that of death pervaded the apartment. Each one in turn stepped forward to the Secretary, who stood to receive the applicants, and in a low tone proffered his request, or presented his papers. In the same subdued tone Mr. Stanton gave his advice or decision, and the interview ended.
My turn would not have come. for two or three hours, and I had not the time to spare; so I sent by a page a brief letter of introduction given me by Mrs. Lyman C. Trumbull, long since deceased, one of the noblest women of the land, for whom Secretary Stanton had a great regard. It worked like the "open sesame" of the fairy tale. The page conducted me to the Secretary immediately, who greeted me very pleasantly, holding in his hand the open letter of our mutual friend. "Mrs. Trumbull sends no one to me on a trivial or doubtful errand!" was his only comment; and then he stood in an attitude of attention. There was no waste of words on either side. What I asked was granted, an order for the flags was written on the spot by the Secretary, who informed me how to obtain the bunting.
Finding this so easily accomplished, I grew bolder, and asked other favors of the same sort, and for the same use; and they were promised in black and white. At last, I invited the Secretary to honor our Chicago fair with his presence, as President and Mrs. Lincoln had promised to do, on the day of opening; and this he declined. Your efforts, madam, are in the direction of mitigating the horrors of war. Mine are in the direction of finishing the war; and till that is accomplished, here is my place." I left the War Office with a very different impression of the Secretary from that with which I entered. Excepting President Lincoln, he was, by common consent, the hardest-working man of the administration. He had a grand head and a good face. He was fearfully industrious, laconic, and stern, when opposed to the enemies of the government, at home or abroad; but everywhere in Washington, among loyal people, he was known to be just, courteous, honest, and humane.
I accidentally fell in with Admiral and Mrs. Farragut on this occasion, whom it was a pleasure to meet---they were so simple and unaffected. The admiral was the most genial, social, simple-hearted, and jolly sailor imaginable. He seemed utterly oblivious to the fact that he was a great man; and I doubt if he ever comprehended that his deeds of loyalty and heroism were unusual. When I made some allusion to his being lashed to the mast while fighting the battle of New Orleans, he burst out in amazement: "I want to know if you have heard of that out in Chicago! That wasn't much of an affair, although the papers have made a great ado over it."
The admiral was living in Norfolk, Va., when that state seceded. He fought against secession with entreaty and argument; but it availed nothing, and he was notified by the authorities that he must leave Norfolk with his family in two hours. "I tell you," said the admiral, "we packed our trunks in a hurry and brought off lots of plunder. There were four of us, and we packed sixteen large trunks among us, containing most of our valuables." In the course of the war he captured many of his old friends and neighbors. "They met me rather stiffly," said the admiral; "not a bit like they used to." Fond of the naval life he led, and proud of his profession, he liked to boast that "since his twentieth birthday, he had not been inland sixty miles from the ocean."
Lieutenant W. B. Cushing was another of the heroes whom I met in Washington. The whole country was at that time ringing with his praises, for he had performed one of the most daring and gallant deeds of the war, for which the Secretary of the Navy had thanked him, in a most complimentary letter. The rebel ram Albemarle had attacked the Union fleet, and destroyed some of our vessels. Lieutenant Cushing was charged with the perilous duty of destroying the ram. Constructing a torpedo boat, and selecting his officers and crew, thirteen in all, not one of whom expected to return alive, he set out on the expedition.
The Albemarle lay near the mouth of the Roanoke, defended by a stoutly built enclosure of logs, the banks of the river lined all the way with pickets. But with incredible daring the young lieutenant drove the torpedo under the ram, and exploded it, and the dreaded Albemarle sank at her moorings. Only one of the company besides Lieutenant Cushing returned from this exploit. The rest were never heard from, but were killed, captured, or drowned No one would have imagined the boyish, rosy checked lieutenant to be a hero. He was painfully modest, and any eulogistic allusion to his services dyed his face with crimson blushes to the roots of his hair.
There were other notable men and women to be seen in Washington at that time, some of whom will always be remembered by the country---General Hooker, the hero of Lookout Mountain, "the battle fought above the clouds," and who, despite the wear and tear of military life, was still one of the handsomest men of the day; Chief-Justice Chase, whose Jove-like head and kingly port made him the observed of all observers; Mrs. Stephen A. Douglas, who, it was said, had been more toasted and fêted than any other woman in America, because of her personal beauty; Mrs. General W. T. Sherman, who was intent on seeking attractions for the Catholic department of the forthcoming Sanitary Fair, of which she had been chosen superintendent; Captain Winslow, the brave commander of the Kearsarge, that crippled, and compelled the surrender of the Confederate Alabama, "which had made the ocean lurid with the flames of our burning merchantmen." There was no lack of eminent personages for the pursuit of the lion-hunter. But the nation was in no mood for lionizing its celebrities. It was watching the closing scenes of the mighty drama, now being played before Richmond. It was waiting in hushed expectancy for the news of the great surrender, which would bring an end of war, and restore peace to the weary people. In less than twenty days it came and the lightning flashed the glad tidings to the farthest verge of the civilized world.
Just as I was leaving Washington, I received a telegram asking me to stop in Indianapolis to inquire the fate of a drummer boy, belonging to the Eighth Michigan, whose family lived in my neighborhood. Charlie Gardner was a schoolboy, thirteen and a half years old, in the town of Flint, Mich., when the war began. Under the first call for seventy-five thousand troops, his father, who was connected with a military organization of long standing, left for the defence of the national capital. Soon there came a second call, for three hundred thousand more, when Charlie's teacher, an exemplary young man, resigned his position and entered the army. Between this teacher and the boy there existed a very ardent attachment, and Captain Guild seconded Charlie's earnest entreaties that he might go with him as a drummer. He had been famous from babyhood for his musical gifts; and had acquired a good deal of local notoriety for his skilful handling of the drumsticks.
"If I can go to the war with my drum, and take the place of a man who can carry a musket," was Charlie's persistent plea, "I think it my duty to go, especially as you, mother, do not greatly need me at home." At last, reluctantly, the poor mother, who had surrendered her husband, gave up her son, and he was mustered into the Eighth Michigan, with his teacher.
The regiment was ordered to Port Royal, and on their way thither Charlie met his father in Washington. As they were returning from the Navy Yard, where they had been to receive their arms, he saw, his father at a distance, and, forgetful of military rule, he broke from the ranks, and ran with childish joy into his arms. It was their last meeting, as Mr. Gardner died the following November, at Alexandria, of typhoid fever. Charlie's letters to his mother, after this bereavement, were remarkably thoughtful for a boy of fourteen. "I am nearly broken-hearted," he writes. "I try to be cheerful, but it is of no use, for my mind continually runs towards home, and a fresh gush of tears comes to my eyes, and I have to weep. But, my dear mother, if this is so hard for me, what must it be for you?: Do not take it too much to heart, for remember that you have me left, and I will do my best to help you. I shall send you all my money hereafter, for I really do not need money here." This promise he fulfilled to the letter.
By and by we heard of the fearless little fellow, small beyond his years, on the battle-field with the surgeon, where the grape and canister were crashing around him, pressing forward to the front during an engagement, with the hospital flag in his hand, to aid in the care of the wounded. A peremptory order from his superior officer sent him to the rear.
When the wounded were brought in, he worked all night and the next day carrying water and bandages, and lighting up the sorrowfulness of the hour by his boyish but never-failing kindness. Never was the lad more serviceable than during a battle.
At the terrible battle of James Island, in an assault on the fort, his beloved captain, always foremost in a fight, had climbed the parapet, when a shot struck him, he fell backwards, and was seen no more. Now was Charlie indeed bereaved. His teacher, captain, friend, father, lover, dead on the battle-field, and the poor satisfaction denied him of burying his remains. His letters after this were one long wail of sorrow. He could not be comforted---and yet, always thoughtful for others, he wrote, "Oh, how I pity Guild's poor mother!"
Months passed, and the Eighth Michigan was ordered to Vicksburg to re-enforce Grant, who had beleaguered that doomed city. Battle after battle followed---nineteen of them---in all of which Charlie participated, often escaping death as by a miracle. Something of the fierce life led by this regiment may be inferred from the fact that of fifteen hundred and sixty-three men whose names were on its muster-rolls, less than four hundred survived at the close of the war. On marches, on reconnoissances, and throughout campaigns, Charlie kept with the regiment. They crossed the mountains to Knoxville, Tenn., in General Burnside's corps, when they were compelled to subsist on three ears of corn a day. For weeks they were shut up in that city, besieged by Longstreet's forces, where they were put on quarter rations. Yet not one word of complaint ever came from the patient lad,---not one word of regret, only an earnest desire to remain in the service until the end of the war.
At last there came a letter from the surgeon. During the siege of Knoxville Charlie had been wounded for the first time. A chance shot entered the window of the house in which he was sitting, struck him on the shoulder, and, glancing, entered the left lung. "He has been in a very dangerous condition," wrote the surgeon; "but he is now fast recovering, He is a universal pet, and is well cared for in the officers' quarters" The next news was even more comforting. The regiment was on its way to Detroit on a thirty days' furlough, would recruit, return, and remain until the end of the war. Now, a telegram announced that the regiment was in Louisville, then in Indianapolis, in Michigan City, at last in Detroit.
With a happy heart, the glad mother telegraphed her boy to come to her in Chicago, whither she had removed on her husband's death. Then she watched the arrival of the trains. "He will be here tonight! He will be here to-morrow!" she said; and answered every summons of the door-bell herself, expecting to greet her boy. Everything was in readiness for the lad---his room, his clothes, the supper-table spread with the delicacies he loved. Mother, sister, brother, all were waiting him.
A ring at the door. All start, all rush; now it is surely Charlie. No; only a telegram: "The regiment has arrived in Detroit; but Charlie died in Indianapolis." God help the poor mother!
I obeyed the direction sent me to Washington, and went to Indianapolis in search of the lad's dead body. He had not been in that city. I went to Louisville, and consulted the hospital directory of the Sanitary Commission. He had died in Louisville, from hemorrhage of the lungs, occasioned by the chance shot which penetrated them. The lifeless corpse was exhumed from the soldiers' burying-ground, and forwarded the mother. Ah, the war of the rebellion cost us dearly!