Harper's Weekly 06/11/1864


In company with other delegates of the Christian
Commission I reached Fredericksburg, Virginia, on
the 12th of May, seven days after the first engage-
ment of the Army of the Potomac with the Confed-
erate forces under General Lee. The spectacle
which presented itself to our view as we passed
down the pleasant streets to the head-quarters of
the Commission was pitiable to the last degree.
The town was one vast hospital; every church, ev-
ery store, every dwelling, every door-yard was
crowded with wounded; even the side-walks were
occupied in many places by exhausted soldiers on
their way from the field in search of shelter and as-
sistance. On that day—the 12th of May—there
were six thousand maimed and mangled veterans
thus accumulated in this charming town, this ma-
lignantly traitorous town, lying by the river's brink,
with green and smiling slopes stretching away be-
hind it, and rows of thrifty trees spreading their
broad boughs along its ample streets. Walking
abroad any hour of the day, groups of soldiers, with
arms and faces bandaged, with feet limping painful-
ly, many leaning on crutches, some supported on the
brawny arms of kindly comrades, met us at every cor-
ner. Entering the roomy churches, a wounded hero
was found lying in every pew, with his dirty blank-
et for a pillow; others crowded the vestibule, aisles,
and pulpit; while among them all nurses moved
softly to and fro, some with cups of coffee and bask-
ets of fruit, some with basins and sponges, some
with bandages, lint, and clothing—all with some-
thing needed by the suffering. Stepping into a
private mansion, its portico overhung with vines,
and flowers creeping up to the windows, soiled,
weary, wounded men were found in every nook and
corner, occupying chairs, sofas, beds, or lying on
the floors, or sitting in ghastly rows against the
walls, patiently awaiting necessary relief. Every
where weariness was finding rest, and brave, pa-
tient souls were finding anchorage in still, home-
like harbors, away from the battle's storm.

Hourly, as the days and nights slipped on, trains
of ambulances from the distant field wound along
the streets, pausing here and there to leave addi-
tional wounded, or to permit the guards to lift out
the dead and dying, and carry them away on stretch-
ers to the dead-house, or the rooms where the more
serious cases were attended to by the surgeons.
Scarcely an hour passed, in the five days imme-
diately following our arrival, that trains of this
kind did not reach the town. Often, the ambu-
lance trains proving inadequate to the emergency,
the wounded were brought in in heavy army wag-
ons, the men lying flat on their backs and suffering
necessarily from the incessant jolting and the ab-
sence of the comforts ordinarily provided in ambu-
lances. In some instances the poor fellows thus
brought in were without any thing to eat or drink
for over two days.


As far as possible the wounded, as they were
brought in, were classified and assigned to the divi-
sion and corps to which they belonged. In the Sec-
ond and Sixth Corps the loss had been so great that
several of the largest buildings in the town were re-
quired to accommodate merely the serious cases.
One principal surgeon, with as many assistants as
were needed, was assigned to each hospital, the
delegates of the Christian and Sanitary Commis-
sions acting as nurses. These men labored with a
zeal and fidelity which can not be too warmly com-
mended. Many worked night and day, snatching
bits of sleep at odd moments, in carrying stores,
dressing wounds, washing and clothing the sick and
wounded, preparing food and drink, writing letters
for the soldiers to the dear ones at home. This last
is a prominent feature in the work of the Christian
Commission. Its delegates, in all cases where
deaths occur under their observation, furnish par-
ticulars of the event to the friends and relatives of
the deceased, always sending a lock of hair as a me-
mento of the lost one; and communicate also, in be-
half of the wounded whenever they desire it, with the
homes they have left to battle for the nation's sake.
Thousands of hearts have thus been enriched by
news from the field which might never, but for
this Commission, have been informed as to the fate
of absent dear ones.


For the first week after our occupation of Fred-
ericksburg hospital supplies were very scarce, and
there was much suffering in consequence. The
few citizens who had failed to join in the exodus
of the population refused to furnish any facilities
for the care of the wounded; the stores had been
stripped by the Confederate soldiery, and absolute
destitution consequently prevailed, even the com-
monest utensils, such as cups and basins, being al-
together beyond our reach. It happened, from this,
that many of the wounded were neither cleansed
nor removed from the wagons in which they were
transported from the field for two or three days
after their arrival, and some who were carried to
Belle Plain were a whole week without surgical
assistance. Within nine days, however, after the
first engagement, the medical and sanitary work
was thoroughly systematized; adequate supplies
were obtained, and the condition of the men was
made comparatively comfortable. On Saturday the
14th, when there were 6000 wounded in the hospi-
tals, and probably 2000 others wandering about the
streets, there were none for whom it was impossible
to provide, though there was of course, among those
who had suffered amputations, or sustained injuries
in vital parts, a great amount of suffering which it
was impossible for any human skill to relieve.


A large proportion of those who had gone into
hospital had sustained wounds of the arm and right
breast. This was said to be owing to the fact that
in the engagements in “the Wilderness,” where
the scrub timber was about as high as a man's head,
the right arm, lifted necessarily in loading the mus-
ket, had presented a mark for the sharp-shooters of
the enemy, who, firing deliberately under cover
of the brush, had thus disabled an unnatural pro-
portion of our soldiers in the arm so peculiarly ex-
posed. The wounds thus received were for the
most part slight, and would not permanently disa-
ble those sustaining them. Many, however, wound-
ed from the same cause in the head, suffered great-
ly; in some cases balls were extracted, in others
broken pieces of the skull removed, and in a few
eyes were shot away, jaws broken, noses fractured.
Wounds of this nature required the closest care and
attention, needing to be dressed, when peculiarly
aggravated, once or twice a day. One poor fellow
who fell under our care—J. H. Pervis, of the Thir-
ty-seventh Alabama Regiment—was wounded in
four places, namely: in the neck, breast, shoulder,
and right arm—all the wounds having been made
by a single ball. The hurts were of the most ag-
gravated and offensive character, emitting a horri-
ble odor; but the sufferer was attended to with the
same care as our own men, his hurts being faith-
fully cleansed and dressed twice a day.

All these wounds, however, were but scratches as
compared with the injuries of many who fell in the
desperate engagement of Thursday, May 12. Some
of the men who came in from that terrible field
were literal hulks. Arms, legs, hands, feet, and
in some cases even the bowels, were shot away;
and for two days after their arrival in the hospi-
tals a large force of surgeons was constantly em-
ployed in amputating fractured limbs. Walking
the streets, you could see streams of stretchers
bending under limp and mangled bodies, dead and
living, flowing in and out at the doors; while all
about groups of soldiers stood chatting with calm
unconcern, simply saying, as the litters drifted past
them, “There goes Captain This, Colonel That, or
Private So-and-so—dead, poor fellow, at last!”


Yet amidst all these scenes of horror, these
pains and sufferings, under which common men
would have perished, these royal-souled veterans
of the Army of the Potomac did not utter one
whimper or complaint. Suffering often for food
and drink; their clothing saturated with blood,
their limbs limp and helpless; sometimes dragging
themselves on crutches, by painful marches, from
the distant field to the nearest hospital, they en-
dured all with a robust patience and resignation,
showing they had in them the stuff of which mar-
tyrs are made, seeming to rejoice that it was their
privilege to “suffer and be strong” for the nation's
sake. A cup of coffee, or ration of “hard tack,”
seemed to compensate, in their view, for all pains
and losses; and the assurance of shelter and a hand-
breath of dry ground on which to spread their
blankets and lie down to rest, was to them the only
bliss, beyond the supply of nature's wants, they
could desire. One day, passing along a side street,
we found a woman kneeling over a soldier lying
prostrate on the sidewalk, his head resting on a
tuft of grass which the thousands of hurrying feet
had left untouched. Upon inquiry we learned that
the sufferer—named Stephen Kidd, of the Twelfth
New Jersey Regiment—had two wounds in his
bowels and his right arm broken; that he had come
from the field in an ambulance, but becoming too
much exhausted to ride any further had been lifted
out and left at the roadside where we found him.
Stimulants were administered, and animation was
after a while restored, when the wounds were
dressed, though it was apparent he could not sur-
vive the day. The brave fellow, however, vehe-
mently insisted that he “would be all right in a
day or two;” and on reply to a question whether
he would not like his family to be advised of his
condition, said it was altogether unnecessary; he
could very soon write himself and tell the whole
story. Yet, while he was thus talking to us in
painful morsels of speech, death was every moment
deepening its shadow on his face, and the soft sky,
bending over him, and all nature's loveliness, was
fading slowly, surely, and forever from his failing
sight! The dream of his heart, glimmering that
hour through his feeble talk, that he would yet
have “another chance” at the foe, and participate,
perhaps, in the glory of the final triumph, was not
to have its fulfillment, failing, alas! as the prophe-
cies of how many other brave souls have failed in
these sad years of the latter time.

Yet the noble men who “welcome death with
songs and decorate it with the braveries of faith”
are by no means callous to the gentler influences of
life. The mere mention of Home was at any time
sufficient to bring a grave and wistful look into the
bronzed, weather-beaten veteran's face. Passing a
church occupied as a hospital, a night or so after
our arrival, we heard the music of an organ. En-
tering the building, with every pew and aisle
crowded with wounded, a ghostly light from a
dozen lanterns making the darkness seem only the
more horrible, we saw in the organ-loft a group of
men with their arms in slings, one of whom, who
had sustained a mere trifle of a hurt, was fondling
the organ-keys. Presently, as we stood there in
the pallid gloom, down from the gallery, and along
the aisles, floated the tender notes of “Home, sweet
Home,” sobbing, sighing, as with the unutterable
longings of souls famished for glimpses of the dear
spot, around which all of life's joys and hopes are
forever grouped. The spirit of the song seemed, on
the instant, to fill all the place, and every maimed
and suffering hero, who in the battle's face had
been stern and pitiless as death, melted at the
touch of the familiar melody. Bandaged hands
stole to eyes unused to weeping; heads that no
calamity could have bowed bent under the soft
pressure of old home-memories. To how many
souls, think you, came glimpses in that moment
of homes far away—homes on busy city streets,
homes on green hill-sides dotted with apple-trees in
bloom, homes in pleasant villages with gardens ly-
ing all around them; homes in which a vacant
chair awaits the father's or son's return, and sweet-
faced children, clambering to the mother's knee,
prattle in their innocence of the dear one exposed
to the battle's storm, while unto them the May
skies float down only blossoms, song, and fragrance?

The music ceased at last, and for a little time all
was still. Then, suddenly, from a far corner of the
gallery, came a voice: “Now give us `Yankee
Doodle;'” and with that a gust of feeble cheers flut-
tered up from the ghostly pews, and, obedient to the
call, the organ pealed out, full and strong, the na-
tion's hymn, supplementing it with “Hail Colum-
bia!” and other stirring airs, to all of which the vet-
erans cried, again and again, Encore. We walked
away with their faint cheers sounding in our ears;
and we say to ourselves hourly, as we remember
that soul-lifting scene, “With such men to fight our
battles victory must be ours.”

Many other scenes deepened the impression that
no more magnificent courage ever animated any
army than that which nerves and sustains the sol-
diery of General Grant. Every hour or so regi-
ments of fresh troops, marching to the front, passed
through Fredericksburg. As they moved forward
to the sound of inspiring music, groups of wounded,
standing on the corners and sitting on the piazzas
and in windows of the hospitals, saluted them with
round after round of cheers. That was the wel-
come of men who had been through the fire to
men, as noble as themselves, who were panting
and straining for the same glorious baptism. For
every cheer from the limping, smitten spectators,
they returned—these fresh, clean, courageous com-
ers—salutations of double volume, cheering with all
the strength of lusty manhood, flags dipping and
fluttering over all as if with royal benedictions.
The wounded, under the inspiration of such grand
moments, forgot all the dangers of the field, all their
personal pains and sacrifices; they thought only of
the Cause, remembered only that these stout fel-
lows marching to the front would fill their places
and help achieve the overthrow at last of the still
defiant foe; and that thought brought a welcome to
every lip, and made every heart eager for the fray.

An excellent illustration of the prevailing tem-
per of the men was given by a Pennsylvania cap-
tain, who had been wounded in the thigh and or
dered to Washington. “I wouldn't have minded
my hurt,” he said, with a sort of savage despair,
“if I had only been able to do something before re-
ceiving it. But that was denied me. I had just
got my men into line and their pieces loaded, and
was about to give the order to fire, when a bullet
came whizzing straight into my leg, and I fell with
the order forming on my lips. Oh, if I could only
have delivered a single volley! But here I am,
disabled, and without the consolation that I have
done a single thing for the cause.” Another brave
fellow, chatting with the surgeon while his wounds
were dressed, said it “was too bad he had been hit,”
he “wanted so much to remain in the ranks;” and
with that broke into sobs because he couldn't at
once return to the front and share in the perils of
coming battle-days.


The feeling of all the Confederates with whom
we were able to converse was one of unqualified
discontent with the Confederacy and its rulers, and
of hearty weariness at the prolongation of the war.
All admitted that popular freedom at the South had
been destroyed; that the army was only kept to-
gether by harsh and arbitrary measures; and that
the people would welcome gladly the restoration of
peace and order, even under Federal rule. Many
of these men had been kept in the service by force
after the expiration of the terms for which they
enlisted; and they all manifested the utmost sat-
isfaction at their deliverance from the grip of the
Confederate authority. They seemed, for the most
part, surprised at the kind treatment they received
at the hands of our surgeons and nurses, and were
even more amazed at the evidences every where
presented of the unfailing resources and prosperity
of the North. The appearance of these prisoners,
ten thousand of whom we saw in camp, was any
thing but prepossessing. None had complete uni-
forms; many were barefooted; many without hats;
and their faces were to the last degree expression-
less and stolid.


Back of Fredericksburg, near the foot of the cel-
ebrated Heights, lies a cemetery, surrounded with
a heavy wall, and crowded with trees and shrub-
bery, with flowers fringing the ample walks, and
gray, weather-beaten tombs and green hillocks
marking the couches where weary pilgrims have
lain down to the long sleep. At the northern ex-
tremity of this cemetery are several rows of graves,
with plain boards at the head and foot of each,
where some hundreds of North Carolina, Arkansas,
Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, and Mississippi sol-
diers, who fell in the battle of Fredericksburg in
December, 1862, are buried. These graves have
been neatly kept; many are embellished with floral
tributes from some kindly hands; some have pots
of flowers leaning against the plain head-boards,
while upon all green mantles are folded lovingly, as
if to shield the still sleepers from all rudely-pelting
storms. On the opposite side of the grounds, as we
wandered to and fro, we found several graves, just
made, in which loyal soldiers, fallen in this cam-
paign, have been buried. On one of these graves
—that of a Maine soldier—some one had planted a
rose-bush, and grouped a handful of round white
stones in the form of a wreath. Beside these were
other graves, just opened, waiting occupants from
the hospitals a little distance away. Thus, how-
ever divided in life—with whatever eager passion
contending under hostile flags—the loyal and dis-
loyal sleep side by side at last in the bivouac that
only the long-roll of the Judgment shall break:
sleep side by side, with the same boughs whispering
over them, the same birds singing around them, the
same summer blossoms drifting fragrance through
their calm sleep, the same softly-stepping years
pacing past their graves, leaving shadows and wreck


It is wonderful how entirely the army confides
in General Grant. Every soldier's tongue is full
of his praises. No matter how severely wounded,
no matter how intensely suffering, if there is strength
enough in him to speak, every man in all these hos-
pital wards will tell you, if you ask him his opin-
ion, “He is one of us, this Unconditional Surren-
der General; and he will bring us through, God
willing, just as surely as the sun shines.” Then
they will tell you stories of the watchfulness and
care, the fearlessness and obstinate intrepidity of
this man whose plume they delight to follow; how
he is every where, by night and day, looking after
the comfort of his men, and quietly prosecuting the
strategic work of the campaign; how he rides, un-
expectedly, to the remote outposts, speaking a pleas-
ant word to the pickets if faithfully on duty, and
administering reprimands if not vigilant and watch-
ful; how he shuns fuss and show, going about oft-
en with only an orderly, instead of a dozen or so of
foppish, bedizened aids; how his staff, plain, earn-
est men like himself, get down at times from their
horses, that sick and wounded fellows, straggling
hospital-ward, may rest their weariness by riding
to their destination; how, in a word, he is an earn-
est, thoughtful, resolute, kind man, sympathizing
with the humblest soldier in his ranks, penetrated
with a solemn appreciation of the work given him
to do, and determined, by Heaven's help, to do it,
right on the line he has occupied. And when they
tell you this, these maimed heroes lying here in
these Fredericksburg hospitals, they add always,
with a magnificent élan—an energy which has a
grand touch of pride in it—“And we'll help him do
this work; we'll stand by him to the end, come
what may; we'll perish, every man of us, rather
than have him fail and the Cause dishonored; we'll
be proud of every scar won in fighting where he
leads.” What is it—can any one tell us?—that
makes two hundred thousand men put trust and
confidence so complete as this in this simple-hearted
farmer-General, who, three years ago, was husk-
ing corn or following the plow on far Western prai-

SPOTTSYLVANIA COURT HOUSE, VIRGINIA.—From a Sketch by A. R. Waud.—[See Page 382.]





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