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

Post image for The Cruel Side of War – Katherine Prescott Wormeley.

The Cruel Side of War – Katherine Prescott Wormeley.

July 12, 2012

The Cruel Side of War - Katherine Prescott Wormeley

“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.

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