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

The Cruel Side of War – Katherine Prescott Wormeley.

July 7, 2012

The Cruel Side of War - Katherine Prescott Wormeley

“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.

Previous post:

Next post: