Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

The Cruel Side of War – Katherine Prescott Wormeley

Newport, R. I., July 25.

Dear Friend, — I have slept in my own bed! or, rather, I did not sleep, — I lay awake thinking of a poor Southern fellow who said to me one morning: “I could n’t sleep, ma’am, for thinking how comfortable I was!”

We left Harrison’s Landing on Thursday in the “Daniel Webster,” with two hundred and thirty sick on board. At Fortress Monroe Mrs. Griffin came off from the “Euterpe”[1] to ask me to take her cousin, a captain in the regular army, to his friends in Newport. We had some difficulty in getting him on board, for the sea was running very high at midnight, when Mr. Olmsted put the “Webster” as close to the “Euterpe ” as he dared. The captain had typhoid fever, with a good deal of low delirium; but he did very well during the voyage, having a comfortable berth on deck under cover. When we reached New York I took him over to the Newport boat in an ambulance, hunted up Captain Brown, and made him establish my patient on his stretcher in the airiest part of the boat. It was rich to see the state of fuss into which that worthy man was thrown, and to hear him exhort me to “keep calm”! As soon as I could, I went below, and made the stewardess give me oceans of warm water, out of which I emerged a new creature. When I went back to my captain I found a lady sitting by him,—his mother, who happened to be going to Newport on that boat! So I gave up my last patient into better hands, — though at night, when I found him moved out of the fresh air, so essential to him, into the close cabin, I wished I had held command over him till we landed, and sighed over the follies of private nursing.

I met several friends on board. Mr. Tweedy gave me his stateroom, and Mr. Edward King took me down to supper, — an excursion I never made in my civilized existence; but now (think of it!) the lights, the flowers, the feast, seemed to me delicious and magnificent,— an Arabian Nights’ entertainment! No one will accuse us of having “eaten up the gifts of the people” on board the “Small.” If they do, I shall make Dr. Bigelow give us a testimonial about it. He owes it to us in return for all the grumbling which he did over our bad food. The last I saw of him was at the best restaurant in Washington, where we left him on the 5th of July; but he tells me in a subsequent letter that he went to see Dr. Bellows, President of the Sanitary Commission, and that, owing to his strong representations of the horrors on board the “Wilson Small,” “a cook, a cooking-stove, and something to eat” were to be sent down at once. “I told him,” he adds, “that in all probability no one on board that boat woold live to get home; but that a few puddings, if administered immediately, might save one or two: and I gave him six excellent recipes.” Can’t you imagine them?

The Hospital Transport Service is ended. We left the “Elizabeth” well supplied, and moored to the long wharf at Harrison’s Landing, where the surgeons and chaplains and quartermasters can get at her with ease. Dr. Jenkins and Dr. Douglas remain to superintend the issue of stores and inspect the condition of camps and regiments; but the transports are given back to the Quartermaster’s Department: our reign is over. I wonder who’ll succeed to my cabin on the “Small,” and hang his clothes on my gimlets (used for pegs), and inherit my other little inventions of that nature?

Georgy and Mr. Olmsted and I sat up the greater part of our last night on the “Webster,” talking as people will who know that on the morrow they are to separate widely. Did I say somewhere that Mr. Olmsted was severe, or something of that kind? Well, I am glad I said it, that I may now unsay it. Nothing could be more untrue; every day I have understood and valued and trusted him more and more. This expedition, if it has done no other good, has made a body of life-long friends. We have a period to look back upon when we worked together under the deepest feelings, and to the extent of our powers, shoulder to shoulder, helping each other to the best of our ability, no one failing or hindering another. From first to last there has been perfect accord among us; and I can never look back to these months without feeling that God has been very good to let me share in them and see human nature under such aspects. It is sad to feel that it is all over.

The first thing Mr. Olmsted did on arriving in New York was to send down a cargo of vegetables to check the scurvy, that enemy having appeared in force. Mother was greatly amused by my reply to her inquiry: “What shall be done with that last hundred dollars?” “Oh, spend it in onions!” I cried, enthusiastically. The last I saw of Mr. Olmsted he was disappearing down the side of the “Webster,” clad in the garb of a fashionable gentleman. I rubbed my eyes, and felt then that it was indeed all over. I myself had risen to the occasion by putting on a black-lace tablespoon [such were the bonnets of the period], in which I became at once conventional and duly civilized.

We are not yet forgotten on the James; at least I am assured of it in two letters, — one from the Great Mogul, the Medical Inspector General; the other from that United States Officer who did more than any other to make our work successful. They are characteristic. One writes: “How I miss the dear ladies of the ‘Wilson Small’ and their freshening drinks, — animal that I am! but how can I forget that which comforted me?” The other says: “The departure of the ‘Wilson Small’ has left a sad blank in these waters. It always had a humanizing effect upon me to go on board, if only for a moment. I trust that when this weary war is over I may meet the friends I have made here under happier skies.”

There! my story is done. A short three months ago I wrote to tell you it was beginning; but what a lifetime lies between now and then!

[1] Sister-ship to the “St. Mark.” She was used as a receiving hospital in Hampton Roads. Mrs. Griffin took charge of the women’s department on her for several weeks.

“Wilson Small,” July 12.

Dear Mother,—I wrote this morning by Dr. Ware, who left us on the mail-boat, that I should start for home to-morrow morning. Meantime our plans are changed. A flag-of-truce came down to-day to the “Maritanza,” requesting us to go up and get our wounded who were left along the line of march, — four thousand of them, it is said. So the whole hospital fleet is to run five miles up the river, under convoy of the gunboats, to Haxall’s or Carter’s Landing. We are all ready, and waiting the order to start.[1]

Captain Sawtelle paid us a visit to-day, — the first for a week. He is promoted to Colonel Ingalls’s position; Colonel Ingalls to that of General Van Vliet; while the General is on his way to Washington for unknown honors, — all this in just acknowledgment, I suppose, of their admirable management at White House. Captain Sawtelle thinks our losses have been greatly over-estimated, as a very large number of stragglers have come in this week. He places the number of killed, wounded, and missing at twelve thousand. The artillery corps of one hundred and fifty-six guns lost one hundred and forty-three men, — not a man to each gun. He told us that almost the last thing he did at White House was to order the engines upon the railroad to be run, with all the cars, to the end of the track and precipitated into the river. Just as the order was being executed, the train almost in motion, he recollected that a gunboat had gone up beyond the bridge, and that the train would block the river. He then ordered the cars and the engines to be piled up and fired, which, together with the White House, made the great blaze which we saw; the White House was fired by a drunken soldier.

I never felt the slightest desire to witness a battle until I listened to the accounts they all give of the battle of Malvern Hill, where our whole artillery was massed on the hill-side and hurled back a column of thirty thousand men as it debouched with three heads. I listened to the guns; and even where we were it was a mighty thunder.

I have had one pleasant day, or part of a day. I was sitting alone, the rest were out rowing on the river, when I heard the regular beat of man-of-war’s oars, and presently a trig captain’s gig came alongside, and Captain George Rodgers, of the “Tioga,” ran upstairs.[2] I was delighted; it is really so much to see an old friend here. He urged me to go on board the “Tioga,” and promised to take me first to the “Monitor,” and then down the river to shell out a battery which was troublesome. I forgot I was tired and ill; I felt a momentary pang at my dirty dress: but I put on a clean white apron, and went off with alacrity. Things did not turn out quite favorably. When we reached the ” Monitor” the men were bathing, and we had to give up our visit. And we had scarcely reached the lovely “Tioga,” when a clumsy brig got foul of her, tearing away part of her paddle-box; and we did not get free till half-past ten at night, when there was nothing for me to do but go back at once to the ” Small.”

The “Tioga” is a picture, — just out of dock, lovely in model, and brilliant in paint and brass. She carries eight guns, — one a ten-inch Dahlgren, the other a ten-inch rifled Parrott. Captain Rodgers gave me a piece of the only Confederate balloon (captured on the “Teaser “), made of ladies’ silk dresses of every pattern and color. The piece I have is partly a brown stripe, and partly a green chini.

The other day as we came up the river, returning from Washington, we were ordered by the gunboat on guard to go single file past some wooded bluffs. The “Juniata” was ahead of us, when a shot; went through her pilot-house and hit the bell-wire, making the signal to stop. The engineer obeyed it and stopped the boat, when a second shot fell between us, — otherwise the “Small” might have caught it. Captain Rodgers told me he was convoying us, and had just left us, as he thought, beyond all danger from Fort Powhatan, when the shots were fired. He ran up immediately; but before he could get a gun sighted, the fellows had limbered up, and were off. It was a light four-gun battery. These batteries give a great deal of trouble, but, so far, have done very little damage. The men make breast-works of felled trees behind other trees which conceal them. Our gunboats keep up a constant straggling fire into the woods to prevent the enemy from settling in one spot. It was to dislodge one of these batteries, which seemed to have taken up a position near Fort Powhatan, that the “Tioga” was ordered down the river, when, unfortunately, she collided with the brig.

[1] The enemy sent down only four hundred men, keeping the rest as prisoners. The former were shipped on board the “Spaulding” and another vessel.

[2] Captain Rodgers was killed in the turret of the monitor “Catskill” which he commanded before Charleston, S.C., in 1863. He was passing a U. S. A. General Hospital where I was stationed, the day after he received his appointment to her. He landed, and ran up to my quarters to tell me of it. I congratulated him. “Yes,” he said, ” I am appointed to my coffin,” —alluding to the build of the vessel.

“Wilson Small,” July 10.

Dear A., — This morning I went ashore with Mrs. Barlow (Arabella, wife of the General) without orders and, indeed, without permission. But Mrs. Barlow offered to take me, Mr. Olmsted was not on board, and I was so anxious to see for myself the state of things that I could not forego the chance. The hospital occupies the Harrison House, called Berkley (how familiar all those names are to you and me!), and a barn, out-buildings, and several tents at the rear, containing, or I should say able to contain, in all, about twelve hundred men, — perhaps more, at a pinch. About a third of those now in hospital will be fit for duty after a week or two of rest.

The influence of the new Medical Director is already manifest. It would be too much to say that all the wants of the sick and wounded are met as they would be on our own boats, where the men are as well cared for as in a city hospital, — it would be absurd to expect as much as that in a temporary hospital hastily arranged, and especially after such an exhausting march as the army has just made; but I am quite satisfied that the men have every essential care; the situation is the healthiest to be found about here, there are surgeons enough, and an excellent hospital-steward, with properly appointed ward-masters and nurses. I told the hospital-steward how much we depended on beef-stock and milk-punch, because they are so quickly and easily prepared; and I promised to send him (I felt as if I were making a will) my spirit-lamp and kettles, and to get our commissary to give him an ample supply of Muringer’s beef-extract, and condensed milk. I have just filled two pillow-cases for him with all the odds and ends that remain to me, — fans, pads, handkerchiefs, towels, bay-rum, cologne, bandages, flannel, pins, needles, tapes, buttons, paper and pens, etc., and ray precious lamp, with all its adjuncts.

We stayed about three hours with the men, writing letters for them. Such letters are often very funny. Some few told the horrors of the march; but as a rule they were all about the families at home. Did you ever notice how people of limited education seem unable to relate anything that is happening about them? They go over a string of family details quite as well known to their correspondent as to themselves.

I am glad I went ashore, for now I am quite content to go home. Our work — I mean the women’s work — is over, except on the ” Webster” and the “Spaulding,” which must still make two or three trips in the service of the Commission. All that now remains to be done for the army on the James is the regular work of inspecting camps and issuing from the store-boats such supplies as may be needed. [1]

I did not go on board the “Monitor” on “Wednesday, after all. The others went, but I had fallen into a weary and disconsolate condition, in which the effort seemed too great. Commodore Rodgers had tried to keep the President, who paid him an early visit, long enough to meet us; but Mr. Lincoln said: “No, he had promised to be with Georgy at nine o’clock, and Georgy must not be kept waiting.” I liked the story; it seemed to picture such happy relations between the President and the General.

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On Mr. Olmsted’s return from Harrison’s Landing he sent down, as the most pressing need of the army (the shadow of scurvy was hanging over it) a vessel freighted with vegetables. A cargo of ice had preceded it. These vegetables proved of invaluable service, and were distributed to all the regiments at Harrison’s Landing.

“Wilson Small,” July 8.

Dear Mother, — For the last two hours I have been watching President Lincoln and General McClellan as they sat together, in earnest conversation, on the deck of a steamer close to us. I am thankful, I am happy, that the President has come, — has sprung across that dreadful intervening Washington, and come to see and hear and judge for his own wise and noble self.

While we were at dinner some one said, chancing to look through a window: “Why, there’s the President!” and he proved to be just arriving on the “Ariel,” at the end of the wharf close to which we are anchored. I stationed myself at once to watch for the coming of McClellan. The President stood on deck with a glass, with which, after a time, he inspected our boat, waving his handkerchief to us. My eyes and soul were in the direction of general headquarters, over where the great balloon was slowly descending. Presently a line of horsemen came over the brow of the hill through the trees, and first emerged a firm-set figure on a brown horse, and after him the staff and body-guard. As soon as the General reached the head of the wharf he sprang from his horse, and in an instant every man was afoot and motionless. McClellan walked quickly along the thousand-foot pier, a major-general beside him, and six officers following. He was the shortest man, of course, by which I distinguished him as the little group stepped on to the pier. When he reached the “Ariel,” he ran quickly up to the after-deck, where the President met him and grasped his hand. I could not distinguish the play of his features, though my eyes still ache with the effort to do so. He is stouter than I expected, but quicker, and more leste. He wore the ordinary blue coat and shoulder-straps; the coat, fastened only at the throat, and blowing back as he walked, gave to sight a gray flannel shirt and a — suspender!

They sat down together, apparently with a map between them, to which McClellan pointed from time to time with the end of his cigar. We watched the earnest conversation which went on, and which lasted till 6 P. M.; then they rose and walked side by side ashore,— the President, in a shiny black coat and stovepipe hat, a whole head and shoulders taller, as it seemed to me, than the General. Mr. Lincoln mounted a led horse of the General’s, and together they rode off, the staff following, the dragoons presenting arms and then wheeling round to follow, their sabres gleaming in the sunlight. And so they have passed over the brow of the hill, and I have come to tell you about it. The cannon are firing salutes, — a sound of strange peacefulness to us, after the angry, irregular boomings and the sharp scream of the shells to which we are accustomed.

All day we have had the little “Monitor” and the ugly “Galena” (flag-ship) and the “Maritanza” beside us, a stone’s throw off. Last evening Commodore John Rodgers, at present commanding on the James, came to see us, and rowed us up the river and round the “Monitor” and his own vessel, the “Galena.” Ugly as she is, I must confess the latter has the most fighting look of anything that I have seen connected with war; she reminds me of Rab in a dog-fight. But they say she is a failure, and a downright fraud upon the Government. She looks something like a Chinese junk, broad at the water-line, and running in from that. She has two large lumps on one side, caused by shots that have passed through her and lodged in the iron casing on the other side.

There is a funny little Rebel gunboat close beside us, captured on Friday by the “Maritanza.” A shell exploded in her boiler, tearing out her intestines, as it were, and doubling her up into the drollest little object. The “Teaser” they call her. The prettiest sight I see is the signalling,—flags by day, and lamps by night; the most incomprehensible, graceful thing that can be seen. The “Galena,” the “Monitor,” and the “Maritanza,” which went off this morning to prevent General Longstreet with twenty thousand men from attempting to cross the river, are just coming in to their evening anchorage, and beginning the pretty signals, which are being answered from the roof of the Harrison House.

Things are not as gloomy here as you fear. The tone and temper of the army are magnificent. If reinforcements are sent, all will be well. Everything depends on the Administration at this moment, — not on the army; that is now made up of veterans, and knows and rejoices in its strength.

Commodore Rodgers has just been to invite us on board his ship. We have accepted for nine o’clock to-morrow morning, though it is a chance if she is not on duty at that and every other hour. He offered also to take us over the “Monitor.” After that — having seen the “Monitor ” and McClellan — I wish to go home. There is no more work for a woman here. The Government is doing well by the sick and wounded. The Sanitary Commission may justly claim that it has led the Government to this; and it can now return to its legitimate supplemental work, — inspecting the condition of the camps and regiments, and continuing on a large scale its supply business. But as for us, we ought to go; to stay here doing nothing, is a sarcasm on the work we have already done.

“Wilson Small,” Harrison’s Landing,
Monday, July 7.

Dear Mother, — We reached Washington Saturday morning. Mr. Olmsted transacted his business, and we started on our return Saturday afternoon, bringing with us a cargo of tents for the army. This destroyed our blissful visions of a bath and bed at Willard’s.

I can’t tell you how Washington oppressed me. Its bitter tone towards McClellan fell strangely on our ears, which yet rang with the cheers of the army. We met Commodore Wilkes, who told us he had that moment received his appointment to the naval command on the James River.

On my return here to-day I find your letters, Nos. 16 and 17; also one from the Mayor of Newport, telling me of the munificent gift of the churches, and asking how I should like to have it spent. I have replied, asking him to send half in supplies to us here, and half in money to the treasurer of the Sanitary Commission. How well Newport has done her part in the work! I am often reminded by different branches of the Commission that she was among the very first to send supplies. In Washington I heard it again. Even the particular character of the things she has sent has been praised to me. I wish you would let the community know that my last cases by the “Webster” arrived the night before we left White House. The Medical Director telegraphed Mr. Olmsted to send supplies for the wounded to Savage’s Station. The “Elizabeth” had been seized to tow something; but our other boats had plenty of everything except brandy, so I was delighted to have the cases to send. They went on the last train that got through, together with the cases marked “Miscellaneous.” Please let my generous friends know that coming when they did, their gifts were doubly blessed. Oh! if they could but form an idea of what those things were to those poor wounded, cut off from getting down to our care, and lying parched and agonized and necessarily abandoned by the army. The same day (the day before we left White House) I received a most kind letter from Colonel Vinton, calling my attention to his advertisement for bids, and offering me another contract. I answered gratefully, making proposals for one if I could begin it in September. The letter came, as usual, to Colonel Ingalls’ care; and its official appearance, on business of the Quartermaster’s Department, must have created some curiosity, for it was sent up in hot haste by special messenger.[1]

I had the dearest letter from A. to-day. She says, “Can such things interest you?” Why, nothing interests me so much. I shall come back sick of great events and armies. I want never to see a blue-coat or a gun or an ambulance again. I am glad my letter from Fortress Monroe reached you. To have you say that you get clear ideas from my letters, astonishes me. I write them as one in a dream.

We have come back to find that the army, which we left massed just here, has got into position, and is intrenched or intrenching. General headquarters is moved about a mile and a half inland. General McClellan says positively that he can hold the position. The wounded are all in, and either shipped or cared for on shore. When I say “all,” I mean those within our lines; the most severely wounded we shall never see. Forty of our surgeons are with them, scattered along the line of march; they are prisoners by this time. This is the worst horror of war, and one I cannot trust myself to think of. The Medical Department is doing well by the sick and wounded who have reached this Landing. Four thousand have been already transported on their boats and ours, which come and go with their usual regularity. The gentlemen of the Commission are busily at work issuing stores, and fitting out and sending off the vessels; but it is evident that our work (I mean that of the women at these Commission headquarters) is over. I feel this so much that I begged Mr. Olmsted to let me take the mail-boat as we passed Fortress Monroe last night. But he was unwilling; and in little things as well as in great things no one opposes his will.

We look and hope and pray for reinforcements. Immediate levies should be made, the recruits used in garrisons, and the older troops sent here. The whole question is, Are we in earnest? Is the nation in earnest? or is it the victim of a political game? For God’s sake, for the sake of humanity, let us strike one mighty blow now, and end this rebellion! Surely it cannot be that the nation can’t do this! Then let it be done; and oh! do not sacrifice this noble army. Let every man take arms that can take them, and fill the places of tried men who could come here. At this moment “a strong pull and a pull altogether” would end this rebellion, and send its wretched leaders to their just destruction. This is not my opinion only, it is the sum of all I hear.

The weather is intensely hot. My hand wets and sticks to the paper as I write. The thermometer at the door of my stateroom is 98.° We cannot put our faces out upon deck without blistering them in the fierce glare of sky and water. How I wish Ralph could see the great balloon which is just going up from headquarters!

[1] This, with the allusion on page 1, refers to a contract for the making of flannel army-shirts, given me by Deputy Quartermaster-General D. H. Vinton, U. S. A., for the purpose of giving employment to the families of volunteers and other poor women. During the winter of 1861-62 we made over seventy thousand. The Department paid me fourteen cents a shirt, and furnished the flannel and the buttons. I paid the women eleven cents a shirt (they could easily make four a day, without a machine), and the remaining three cents just covered the cost of linen-thread, transportation to and from New York, office and workroom expenses. The ladies of Newport helped me to cut the shirts.

Chesapeake Bay, Friday, July 4.

While I was writing the above letter Mr. Olmsted came out from a long interview with Dr. Letterman, the new Medical Director, in which the latter had urged him to go to Washington and see and advise the Surgeon-General about the state of things here. So Colonel and Mrs. M. were put on board the “Daniel Webster” (then loading to sail that night), we took Mrs. Trotter in exchange, Doctors Ware, Coolidge, and Jenkins were left on the “Elizabeth” to misery and business, and we came off at once. We passed the “Monitor,” roaring and whistling away, at one of the doubtful points of our position. I looked down upon her as we passed: she is literally nothing but a flat tray, a foot and a half out of water, with what looks like a small gasometer in the middle of her.

As we passed Fortress Monroe this morning we heard of the President’s call for three hundred thousand men. Very good; but we wish he would send fifty thousand here at once.

“Wilson Small,” Harrison’s Landing,
July 3.

Dear A., — As I write I glance from time to time at the Army of the Potomac, massed on the plain before me, —- an army driven from its position because it could not get reinforcements to render that position tenable; forced every day of its retreat to turn and give battle; an army just one third less than it was: and yet it comes in from seven days’ fighting, marching, fasting, in gallant spirits, and making the proud boast for itself and its commander that it has not only marched with its face backward to the enemy, but has inflicted three times the loss it has borne, and that the little spot of its refuge rings with its cheers.

And yet the sad truth cannot be concealed: our position is very hazardous. What I hear said is such as this: “Unless we have reinforcements, what can we do? Must McClellan fight another bloody battle in a struggle for life, or surrender? Give us reinforcements, and all is well. We have got the right base now. We could not have it at first; we made another; that other the Government made it impossible for us to maintain. Day by day we saw it growing untenable. We now have the true base of operations against Richmond. The sacrifice? Yes! but who compelled it? The nation must see to that. The army and McClellan have done their part, and nobly have they done it. Let them now be strengthened, and all is well, or better than before.” This is the one tone. No wonder that they feel in spirits, they have done their duty; and I look in their poor worn faces and feel that their deepest honor in life will be that they belonged to the beaten Army of the Potomac — and yet, not beaten ; everything that that is, except precisely the thing it is.

I am sitting on deck. Poor Miss Lowell, whose gallant brother was killed yesterday, is beside me. She belongs to the “Daniel Webster,” which is to load up this afternoon. We are lying a stone’s throw from a long wharf, and a little in-shore of it. My eye can follow the lines within which our army lies. The immediate prospect is a sandy shore, with a sandy slope behind it, up and down which the cavalry are ceaselessly passing to water and swim their horses in the river. At the head of the wharf are General Keyes’s- headquarters; to the right are General Franklin’s; and a little farther back, General Porter’s; while the eighth of a mile back upon the left, General Headquarters are said to be. The long wharf is a moving mass of human beings: on one side, a stream of men unloading the commissariat and other stores; on the other, a sad procession of wounded, feebly crawling down from the Harrison House and along the beach and wharf to go on board the transports. The medical authorities are doing well by them. The Harrison House is made into a hospital, and the men are comfortable (so say our gentlemen, who have been among them); the slight cases are lying on the lawn and under the trees. To-day — thank God for the great mercy! —is cloudy, without rain. I know nothing of them personally. We women are not yet permitted to go ashore, and I try to believe, as I am told, that it is impossible we should.

A new Medical Director of the army has been appointed, for which we are deeply thankful. He is now on board the “Small,” and has just stood near me for a few moments, talking to some one, so that I could observe him, —- one looks into faces so much here! His gave me a sad calmness. Such a worn face, — worn in the cause of suffering; full, it seemed to me, of a strong earnestness in his work. How much at this moment is fresbly laid upon him![1] I can’t tell you anything of my own knowledge about the wounded; but I judge from what I am told that there is not much suffering, and no privation among those who are here. They are chiefly slightly wounded and exhausted men. But where are the others? Alas! where? This is war, and there’s no more to be said about it.

But I was telling you what I see from the deck as I sit writing, — of course with countless interruptions and runnings below to give this poor surgeon or that poor chaplain as many comforts for their sick men as they can carry off in their saddle-bags, or tied up in pillow-cases. Now, suppose I tell you that I am seeing and hearing war at this moment in the shape of shells bursting within our lines directly in front of me! And there’s the wonderful little “Monitor” firing her great eleven-inch gun — there it goes, boom! and then the screwing, screaming, rushing sound of the great rifle-shell! Talk of wonders! there never was anything in that line like the “Monitor.” You don’t imagine what a little tray of a thing she is, — I did n’t. Why, the sides of her captain’s gig, which is towing aft, are higher than hers! She lay close by us for an hour this morning, and at first I conld not believe she was the real thing.

[1] Dr. Letterman. Soon after his appointment he reorganized his department, remodelled the medical corps, established a plan for division field-hospitals after a battle, and got an efficient ambulance system into good working order. Thus when the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, etc., occurred, the Medical Department, its surgeons and supplies, were well prepared, and nothing at all like the suffering after Fair Oaks occurred again.

Off Berkley, Harrison’s Bar, James River,
Tuesday, July 1, 1862.

Dear Mother, — We arrived here yesterday to hear the thunder of the battle[1] and to find the army just approaching this landing. Last night it was a verdant shore; to-day it is a dusty plain. The feelings with which we came up the James River I can’t describe, our anxiety, excitement, and breathless desire to know something were so great. Not a vessel was in sight after we left Newport News, except the “Canonicus,” Quartermaster’s Department boat, which was just ahead of us. No one could guess what knowledge any moment might bring to us.

We were just admiring a fine old colonial house, when some one standing in the bows cried out: “I see something white among the trees to the right!” and in a few minutes more we made them out to be army-wagons.

We had met our army! What next were we to learn? Never shall I forget the look of the first officers who came on board, — one a major, the other a chaplain. They were gaunt and haggard, their hair stood out from their heads stiffened with dust and dirt, their faces were nearly black, and to their waists they were literally moulded in Virginia clay. “Oh! what is this?” we cried. “Is it a defeat?” “Defeat! No; we have retreated, but we never turned our backs on them. We have faced and fought and beaten them for five days!”

Just as we arrived, General McClellan came down on the “Galena” to see Colonel Ingalls. Think what a relief it must have been to his anxious mind to learn the perfect success of our removal from White House, and to know that supplies were already here, and following us up the river, for his exhausted army! I saw the gunboat he was on, but I did not see him; and he was gone almost immediately.

The “Spaulding” has just come up the river and gone ahead of us (Miss Whetten and Mrs. Balestier on board); her iron sides can carry her safely past the rifle-pits which line the shore, and Mr. Olmsted thinks her stores may be serviceable higher up. Dr. Jenkins has gone with her to judge for himself. No one can tell what work there is for us; the wounded have not come in.

[1] Of Malvern Hill.

Off Norfolk, Sunday Evening, June 29.

We are coaling here to-night, and leave at daybreak for Harrison’s Bar, James River, where our gunboats are said to be. We hope to get farther up, but General Dix warns us that it is not safe. What are we about to learn? No one here can tell.

“Wilson Small,” Off Fortress Monroe,
Saturday, June 28.

Dear A., — You will see my letter to mother, which gives an account of the removal of the depot at White House. We left last evening at the last moment, and rendezvoused for the night off West Point. Captain Sawtelle sent us off early from there with despatches for Fortress Monroe. This gave us the special fun of being the first to come leisurely into the panic then raging at Yorktown. The “Small” was instantly surrounded by terror-stricken boats; the people of the big “St. Mark” leaned over their bulwarks to question us. Nothing could be more delightful than to be as calm and monosyllabic as we were, — partly from choice, and partly under orders from Colonel Ingalls. They knew nothing, except the fact that the enemy had possession of White House. It seems that General Van Alen, commanding at Yorktown, had telegraphed to Colonel Ingalls after we left White House, and received from our successors a polite request to “go to —”

We find no news here at the Fortress. We hoped to meet some from the James River; but, on the contrary, it is we who have brought all the news as yet. Our eyes are strained towards the James, and every time a black hull shows in that direction we are feverish with anxiety and hope. The universal feeling here is that this movement of McClellan’s is a grand stroke to wring a triumph out of adverse circumstances. I feel it is so. “What profit lies in barren faith?” was the thought I fell asleep with and dreamed of all night.

Meantime we are here in Hampton Roads, breathing life in the salt air. May I never see the pretty poisonous Pamunky again! Keep my room ready for me; I may be home any day. Oh, to sleep in a bed once more! It seems too great a rest ever to be reached. I am writing on the upper deck at 3 A. M., looking out upon the dawn, which slowly shows me, one by one, the places we have read of, — the Rip-Raps, Sewall’s Point, Craney Island, and the ruins of the old church at Hampton.[1]

[1] How well I remember the night when this letter was written, and the feelings which were not expressed in it! Our minds had been strained to the utmost, and the disappointment and uncertainty striking sharply upon them were more than we could bear. I remember well what a dreadful day we passed off Fortress Monroe. At night I could not sleep, but went out and sat on the deck and wrote by the light of my lantern, and wondered if my mind were leaving me, and whether it would right itself again.