Visitors since October 20, 1999:
The following is
a two-part article which originally appeared in the Honolulu Commercial
Advertiser, December 31, 1863 and January 7, 1864.
WEEKS AT GETTYSBURG.
What we did at Gettysburg.
What we did at Gettysburg, for the three weeks we were there, you will want
to know. "We," are Mrs.-----, and myself, who, happening to be
on hand at the right moment, gladly fell in with the proposition to do what
we could at the Sanitary Commission Lodge, after the battle. There were
of course, the agents of the Commission, already on the field, distributing
supplies to the hospitals, and working night and day among the wounded.
I cannot pretend to tell you what was done by all the big wheels of the
concern, but only how two of the smallest ones went round, and what turned
up in the going.
Twenty-four hours we were in making the journey between Baltimore and Gettysburg,
places only four hours apart in ordinary running time; and this will give
you some idea of the difficulty there was of bringing up supplies when the
fighting was over, and the delays in transporting wounded. Coming toward
the town at this crawling rate, we passed some fields where the fences were
down and the ground slightly tossed up: "That's where Kilpatrick's
cavalry men fought the rebels," some one said, "and close by that
barn a rebel soldier was found day before yesterday sitting dead;"
no one to help, poor soul, "near the whole city full." The Railroad
bridge broken up by the enemy, Government had not rebuilt as yet, and we
stopped two miles from the town, to find that, as usual, just where the
Government had left off the Commission had come in. There stood their temporary
lodge and kitchen, and here hobbling out of their tents came the wounded
men who had made their way down from the Corps hospital expecting to leave
at once in the return cars.
This is the way the thing was managed at first: the surgeons left in care
of the wounded three or four miles out from the town, went up and down among
the men in the morning, and said, "Any of you boys who can make your
way to the cars, can go to Baltimore." So off start all who think they
feel well enough , anything being better than the "hospitals,"
so called, for the first few days after a battle. Once the men have the
surgeons' permission to go, they are off; they are off; and there may be
an interval of a day, or two days, should any of them be too weak to reach
the train in time, during which these poor fellows belong to no one, the
hospital at one end, the railroad at the other, with far more than chance
of falling through between the two. The Sanitary Commission knew this would
be so of necessity, and coming in, made a connecting link between these
For the first few days the worst cases only, came down in ambulances from
the hospitals; hundreds of fellows hobbled along as best they could in heat
and dust, for hours, slowly toiling, and many hired farmers' wagons, as
hard as the farmers' fists themselves, and were jolted down to the railroad,
at three or four dollars the man. Think of the disappointment of a soldier,
sick, body and heart, to find, at the end of this miserable journey, that
his effort to get away, into which he had put all his remaining stock of
strength, was useless; that "the cars had gone," or "the
cars were full;" that while he was coming others had stepped down before
him, and that he must turn all the weary way back again, or sleep on the
roadside till the next train "tomorrow!" Think what this would
have been, and you are ready to appreciate the relief and comfort that was.
No men were turned back. You fed and you sheltered them just when no one
else could have done so; and out of the barrels of good and nourishing things,
which you people at home had supplied, we took all that was needed. Some
of you sent a stove (that is, the money to get it,) some of you, the beef
stock, some of you the milk and fresh bread; and all of you would have been
thankful that you had done so, could you have seen the refreshment and comfort
received through these things.
As soon as the men hobbled up to the tents, good hot soup was given all
round, and that over, their wounds were dressed,----for the gentleman of
the Commission are cooks, or surgeons, as occasion demands,----and, finally,
with their blankets spread over the straw, the men stretched themselves
out and were happy and contented till morning, and the next train.
On the day that the railroad bridge was repaired we moved up to the depot,
close by the town, and had things in perfect order; a first rate camping
ground, in a large field directly by the track, with unlimited supply of
delicious cool water. Here we set up two stoves, with four large boilers,
always kept full of soup and coffee, watched by four or five black men,
who did the cooking, under our direction, and sang (not under our direction)
at the tops of their voices all day,
"Oh darkies hab you seen my Massa,"
"When this cruel war is over."
Then we had three large hospital tents, holding about thirty-five each,
a large camp-meeting supply-tent, where barrels of goods were stored, and
our own smaller tent fitted up with tables, where jelly pots and bottles
of all kinds of good syrups, blackberry and black currant, stood in rows.
Barrels were ranged round the tent walls; shirts, drawers, dressing-gowns,
socks, and slippers (I wish we had more of the latter,) rags and bandages,
each in its own place on one side; on the other, boxes of tea, coffee, soft
crackers, tamarinds, cherry brandy, etc. Over the kitchen, and over this
small supply-tent we women rather reigned, and filled up our wants by requisitions
on the Commission's depot. By this time there had arrived a "delegation"
of just the right kind from Canandaigua, N.Y., with surgeon dressers and
attendants, bringing a first-rate supply of necessities and comforts for
the wounded, which they handed over to the Commission.
Twice a day the trains left for Baltimore or Harrisburg, and twice a day
we fed all the wounded who arrived for them. Things were systematized now,
and the men came down in long ambulance trains to the cars; baggage-cars
they were, filled with straw for the wounded to lie on, and open at either
end to let in the air. A government surgeon was always present to attend
to the careful lifting of the soldiers from ambulance to car. Many of the
men could get along very nicely, holding one foot up, and taking great jumps
on their crutches. The latter were a great comfort; we had a nice supply
at the lodge, and they travelled up and down from the tents to the cars
daily. Only occasionally did we dare let a pair go on with some very lame
soldier, who begged for them; we needed them to help the new arrivals each
day, and trusted to the men being supplied at the hospitals at the journey's
end. Pads and crutches are a standing want, pads particularly. We manufactured
them out of the rags we had, stuffed with sawdust from brandy boxes and
with half a sheet and some soft straw Mrs.------made a poor dying boy as
easy as his sufferings would permit. Poor young fellow, he was so grateful
to her for washing, and feeding him. He was too ill to bear the journey,
and went from our tent to the church hospital and from the church to his
grave, which would have been coffinless but for the care of-----, for the
Quarter Master's Department was overtaxed, and for many days our dead were
simply wrapped in their blankets, and put into the earth. It is a soldierly
way after all, of lying wrapped in the old war-worn blanket, the little
dust returned to dust.
When the surgeons had the wounded all placed, with as much comfort as seemed
possible under the circumstances, on board the train, our detail of men
would go from car to car, with soup made of beef-stock or fresh meat, full
of potatoes, turnips, cabbage, and rice with fresh bread and coffee, and,
when stimulants were needed, with ale, mil-punch, or brandy. Water-pails
were in great demand for use in the cars on the journey, and also empty
bottles to take the place of canteens. All our whiskey and brandy bottles
were washed and filled up at the spring, and the boys went off hugging their
extemporized canteens, from which they would wet their wounds, or refresh
themselves till the journey ended. I do not think that a man of the 16,000
who were transported during our stay, went from Gettysburg, without a good
meal---rebels and Unionists together, they all had it, and were pleased
and satisfied. "Have you friends in the army, madam?" a rebel
soldier, lying on the floor of the car, said to me, as I gave him some milk.
"Yes, my brother is on-----'s staff." "I thought so, ma'am.
You can always tell; when people are good to soldiers they are sure to have
friends in the army." "We are rebels, you know, ma'am," another
said; "Do you treat rebels so?" It was strange to see the good
brotherly feeling come over the soldiers, our own and the rebels, when side
by side they lay in our tents. "Hello, boys! this is the pleasantest
way to meet, isn't it? We are better friends when we are as close as this,
than a little farther off." And then they would go over the battles
together: "we were here," and "you were there," in the
After each train of cars daily, for the three weeks we were in Gettysburg,
trains of ambulances arrived too late, men who must spend the day with us
until the 5 P.M. cars went, and men too late for 5 P.M. train, who must
spend the night till the 10 A.M. cars went. All the men who came in this
way, under our own immediate and particular attention, were given the best
we had of care and food. The surgeon in charge of our camp, with his most
faithful dresser and attendants, looked after all their wounds, which were
often in a most shocking state, particularly among the rebels. Every evening
and morning they were dressed. Often the men would say, "That feels
good. I haven't had my wound so well dressed since I was hurt." Something
cool to drink is the first thing asked for after the long, dusty drive,
and pailfuls of tamarinds and water, "a beautiful drink," the
men used to say, disappeared rapidly among them.
After the men's wounds were attended to, we went round giving them clothes;
had basins and soap and towels, and followed these with socks, slippers,
shirts, drawers, and those coveted dressing-gowns. Such pride as they felt
in them!, comparing colors, and smiling all over as they lay in clean and
comfortable rows ready for supper, "on dress parade," they used
to say. And then the milk, particularly if it were boiled and had a little
whiskey and sugar, and bread, with butter on it, and jelly on the butter---how
good it all was, and how lucky we felt ourselves in having the immense satisfaction
of distributing these things, which all of you, hard at work in villages
and cities, were getting ready and sending off in faith.
Canandaigua sent cologne with its other supplies, which went right to the
noses and hearts of the men. "That is good, now;"--"I'll
take some of that;"--"worth a penny a sniff;"--"that
kinder gives one life;"--and so on, all round the tents, as we tipped
the bottles up on the clean handkerchiefs some one had sent, and when they
were gone, over squares of cotton, on which the perfume took the place of
them,--"just as good, ma'am." We varied our dinners with custard
and baked rice puddings, scrambled eggs, codfish hash, corn starch, and
always as much soft bread, tea, coffee or milk as they wanted. Two Massachusetts
boys, I especially remember, for the satisfaction with which they ate their
pudding. I carried a second plateful up to the cars, and fed one of them
until he was sure he had had enough. Young fellows they were, lying side
by side, one with a right and one with a left arm gone.
The Gettysburg women were kind and faithful to the wounded and their friends
and the town was full to overflowing of both. The first day, when Mrs.-----and
I reached the place, we literally begged our bread from door to door--but
the kind woman who at last gave us dinner would take no pay for it. "No,
ma'am, I shouldn't wish to have that sin on my soul when the war is over."
She, as well as other had fed the strangers flocking into town daily, sometimes
over fifty of them for each meal, and one night we forced a reluctant confession
from our hostess that she was meaning to sleep on the floor that we might
have a bed, her whole house being full. Of course we couldn't allow this
self-sacrifice, and hunted up some other place to stay in. We did her no
good, however, for we afterwards found that the bed was given up that night
to some other stranger who arrived late and tired:--"An old lady, you
know, and I couldn't let an old lady sleep on the floor." Such acts
of kindness and self-denial were almost entirely confined to women.
-The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Honolulu, December 31, 1863
This is the end of part one of a two part article.
Go to Part Two.
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