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Martha (Hill) Sage.
A Bedford Woman’s Experience.
Billerica, Mass., Jan. 1, 1891.
Mr. Abram E. Brown.
Dear Sir,— Your letter is before me asking for some account of my army life in Washington. For two reasons, I feel that I should comply with your request. First, the time has already come when every incident of the war, connected with any one, however humble, has its value.
Second, so much sympathy and aid was given me in my sorrowful experience by Bedford people, that it seems fit that I should make mention of their “loving kindness.”
In my husband’s note book, I find the following:
“Tues., July 22, 1864. Chas. Webber and self went to Lowell; enlisted in Co. D., 6th Reg., Capt. Hart. Capt. H. came to Bedford in P.M. and enlisted others.”
“Thurs., July 14. Went to camp to-day. S. Sage, C. W. Webber, S. Lane, J. E. Monroe, E. Brooks, J. Brown. F. Robinson, T. Stone, W. Frost, H. Nourse, A. Dutton, F. Davis, G. Butters, F. Stearns.”
“Friday, 15th. E. Webber and J. Goodwin came in to-day. Stearns goes home, anxious to enlist, but does not pass the required measurement; Lieut, offers to take him as waiter. Tommy Stone increased the circumference of his chest by placing his tin dinner plate within his blouse. Companies come in fast, one or two mustered in to-day.”
Having reached camp. Mr. Sage was assigned to hospital duty; previous to this he had assisted Captain Hart as company clerk. I find this among my papers:
“Head Quarters, 6th Reg’t. Guard will pass Private Sage (hospital nurse) to quarters and return at all times till countermanded. W. Burnham, Surg., July, ’64.”
This is his last entry, short, but explicit.
“Mon., July 25. Caved in Sunday night, sick. Sick Monday.”
Mr. Sage was the only one of the “hundred days men” from Bedford who was in a hospital more than a few days at a time. From his last entry it will be seen that he was under a physician’s care four days after reaching the camp of the 6th Regiment, and so remained until his term expired.
On the morning of August 15, following, my neighbor. Mrs. Jonas Monroe, came into my home with an open letter in her hand, and — in that
motherly way ever so characteristic of her — said,
“I’ve just had a letter from Jone which he wishes me to read to you.”
It stated that my husband was growing worse, was suffering from great depression of spirits, caused by his disease, was lying on a board, with his army blanket for a bed, that their own hospital was just done, and he would soon be in an army cot; also that the surgeons of the 6th, Drs. Burnham and Bass of Lowell, had given their consent to my coming to him.
My little daughter Mary, seventeen months old, that had never been away from me, was taken over to grandmother Sage’s, to be under “Auntie Sage’s” care for nearly two months; at 3 P.M., with Mr. Stiles, who wished to see his nephew, Tommy Stone, I was on my way to Washington. Our minister, who will ever have a warm place in the hearts of many Bedford people, Rev. William J. Batt, came to the stage door, and extending his hand, said,
“My prayers and sympathies are with you and yours.”
One incident of my journey was the novel way in which I crossed the Susquehanna River at Havre de Grace, Md.; the railroad bridge had been destroyed by the late rebel raid, and the train passed over on a floating bridge, which seemed to me like a succession of farmer’s drags joined together by chains, shaking up and down by the weight of the cars in a strange way. A regiment of soldiers, at equal distances apart, on either side, guarded this bridge. The whole thing was so novel and unexpected, that, like the little old woman in Mother Goose, I had doubts of my identity and wondered “if this be I.”
Although I have been in deeper waters since, yet I shall never forget the previous hot night aboard the boat. I had left my little Mary, who, I knew, would miss her mother; and I knew not if I were to meet the living or the dead. My suspense was simply torture. Nor did it end here; although we reached Washington the afternoon of the 16th, yet, for want of a pass, we could not go to the camp of the 6th Regiment until the next forenoon, when Rev. J. F. Gleason, now of Needham, Mass., then in government employ in Washington, procured our pass for us and went with us to camp, kindly carrying my heavy basket. We crossed Aqueduct Bridge, which was guarded by soldiers, that articles “contraband of war,” liquor being such, should not be smuggled over. Rev. J. F. G. said to the guards,
“This is the lady’s basket, and contains pins, needles, thread, laces, etc.,”
which was all true, the “etc.” being a flask of brandy and a bottle of rum. I never took so long a walk on so hot a day.
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Samuel Sage. [*1]
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Mary Hill Sage. [*1]
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Samuel Sage. [*1]
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The hospital was a long one-story building of rough boards, and externally resembled a farmer’s unpainted woodshed. There was an open dining-room at one end, and the front door opened directly into the hospital. Reaching it, Mr. Gleason and Mr. Stiles paused to remove perspiration from their faces, and use the fans they had brought from the city. Heat was a secondary matter to me. The anxiety of the previous four weeks had been so great that I could scarcely lift my feet over the threshold. Looking in, I counted thirteen army cots; entering, I turned to the left, resolved to look in each one in order till I found the face I wanted. In the first bed I saw the thin pale face of a sick boy. Anxious though I was to see my husband, I could not leave this poor lad without a word. The wretchedness of the whole thing flashed before me. There was some mother’s dear child, sick and away from home and kindred. Placing my hand on his hot forehead, I asked his name. If I remember correctly, he said he was Alfred D. Cutler, from Lexington, Mass., and seventeen years old. He was a brother of the late Mrs. Lewis Spaulding. He seemed pleased when I told him that he did not seem quite a stranger, for his sister once taught our district school. The next cot was in a corner, empty, a chair by it, on which was a plate containing food, and a tumbler of liquid, around which a platoon of flies was “keeping guard”— everything military here. A nurse was making the bed; I asked who occupied it, and he said,
“A fellow whose name is Sage,”
and, pointing to the chair, said,
“There’s his breakfast now, and he won’t eat, and he won’t drink.”
My husband was bolstered up in a tipped back rocking-chair. I copy from my note-book.
“Wed., Aug. 17. Reached the hospital at Arlington at 11 A.M., unprepared to find Samuel so much depressed. His first words were, ‘Sorry you came, you can’t do me any good, nobody can, nothing can.’
Good Dr. Burnham has given up his room to me, for he says there is no other place for me. There are two Ohio regiments encamped here, besides the 6th Massachusetts, and I am the only ‘daughter of the regiment.’
Aug. 18. I lodged at Mrs. Hooker’s — in Dr. Burnham’s room — she says her husband is Capt. in the 2d N.Y. Regiment. Slept on a lounge with a government blanket for a spread, in a lower front room, with a door from it opening directly on the sidewalk, the door open all night because of the heat, and sentinels walking back and forth all night.
Mrs. Hooker complacently remarks that I will soon get used to this state of things. She
is about half a mile from the hospital. I ride to and from in an army wagon. Dined in the dining-room adjoining the hospital to-day with Dr. Burnham and some others; one course only, fried salt pork, hasty pudding and molasses. The ‘service’ was tin plates, quart tin dippers, and generous sized, stout, iron knives and forks. Sam Lane and Jone Munroe watched with Samuel, who slept but little.
Fri., Aug. 19. The noise in the hospital has worried Samuel, and Dr. Burnham has had him moved on a stretcher to a little log house of two rooms near by, built by soldiers encamped here in 1862. It is primitive in construction, but my room has a beautiful carved mantel, confiscated from some dwelling,— a striking contrast to the rest of the building. I shall stay here all the time now.
My bedstead to-night will be an empty watering trough, to be exchanged to-morrow for an iron army one. Dr. Burnham has given us a rubber water-pail, dipper and candlestick, requesting me not to burn it late, as we are in Virginia. Jone, or some of the others, brings me food from camp on a tin plate; it never burns me. I witnessed dress parade of our regiment to-day, and went into Fort Smith. The gunners told me the names of the different kinds of guns, and showed me how they were raised and lowered. Little blackboards on the wall beside them had printed directions in regard to kind and quantity of ammunition to be used, and instructions in regard to angle of elevation, etc.
Capt. Hart, Lieut. Pendergast and the surgeons were the highest in rank of any I had spoken with until yesterday, when, standing by my small open window, I noticed a splendid black horse coming towards me, bearing a rider in rich uniform, finer than anything I had before seen. Stopping before my hovel, and lifting his hat, he said with dignity,
‘Madam, by whose authority are you here?’
Slipping my hand into my pocket for my pass, and reaching it towards him, I said,
He bowed and rode away. I have been told to-day that he was Maj. Gen. Auger himself.
Sat., Aug. 20. Saw a ‘rebel’ for the first time this morning. I was early at my window, enjoying the rain, a corporal knocked at the door and asked if I had seen any one pass recently. I said I had just seen a tall, pale, red-haired man, smoking a corn-cob pipe, walk slowly by. The corporal stated that the man was an escaped prisoner from the guard-house, the corporal hav-
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ing turned his head to get his overcoat to shield himself from the rain.
Evening. I am in sore trouble and anxiety again! Just settled in this hut, where it is quiet, and where I had hoped I was to remain for a time.
At 8 P.M. to-night. Drs. Burnham and Bass came in together, and said that I must quietly make every preparation to leave in the morning; the regiment is ordered to Fort Delaware, and that Samuel will have to be taken to some hospital in Washington. The Drs. have both been kind to us, and Dr. Burnham was fatherly and sympathetic as he bade me good-bye, said he pitied me, and if he and Samuel both lived till the war was over, he will surely come to our home to see us.
Since the war, a woman unattended is regarded with distrust at a hotel in Washington, besides, if it were not so, it is too expensive, as I may have to stay many weeks.
I don’t know where I can put my head. Edward Everett Hale‘s ‘A man without a country’ never felt worse than I do to-night. All the other wives and mothers, combined, of the ‘hundred days men from Bedford’ have not had the anxiety I feel, for none of theirs have been very sick.
Sun., Aug. 21. This morning an ambulance, with a driver and the hospital steward, came to the door. Samuel was lifted in on a stretcher, beside another soldier from Middleton, Mass., suffering from sciatica. Poor Samuel says he wishes we would let him die, without shaking him around so. All the others in the 6th hospital are able to go on with the regiment, I crawled into the ambulance beside the sick men. I had a fan in one hand, and a teaspoon and a bottle of brandy and water in the other, for moistening their lips. Samuel made no sound, the other man groaned at every lurch. There was no worn road; seemingly, we went any way, across the hot sand, among low bushes and stunted pines, and over gullies with small logs placed across them, I saw quite a number of dead mules and swine by the wayside. As we neared the city, the rough pavements were a change. We stopped at the Armory Square Hospital, near the Smithsonian building. This hospital building is owned by the U.S., and used as an armory in time of peace.
The grounds are beautifully laid out, and Sur. Gen. Bliss has his headquarters here. I waited without while the sick men were being taken within, the steward going by them as the nurses carried them in: the driver chatted with some half sick soldiers sitting on a bench by the door.
When the steward came down stairs, he missed his army overcoat from the seat. He asked the men at the door about it, and then came to me, and in a hesitating way asked if I could tell him where it was; said he was told by some of the men that I might know something about it; that he would not have asked, only that he supposed the regiment would remain in the Baltimore depot that night and he would need it badly, I wonder what will happen to me next! This hospital is always full of many of the worst cases, because it is nearest the boat landing. There are now here nearly 3000 sick and wounded. There are tents numbering from A to Z and from 1 to 29, that I have seen. Samuel is in the Armory, ward 1. The building is three stories high. There are two rows of large pillars in the room; around them, in time of peace, double rows of guns are stacked; large cases are around the walls of the room, for ammunition and other army supplies. The lower ward is occupied by those who are able to walk around. In this and the room above are 200 beds, all having spreads alike, gray linen checked with red. A framed card on each headboard tells the name, age, rank, regiment, disease and date of entrance of each patient. The physician in charge is Dr. Ruffin, of Philadelphia,— a gentleman despite his name. [*2] Each ward has a hospital steward, ward-master, head nurse, and four assistant nurses, all men. The lady nurse is Gen. Hawley‘s wife of Connecticut.
Tues., Aug. 23. I can enter here at 8 A.M. and remain until 6 P.M. I think I shall not come again until 9 o’clock, for more than half in this room have lost a limb, quite a number more than one, and I cannot bear to hear the groans when they are dressed. This is done by a ‘contract doctor,’ as the nurses call him, who comes in every morning for this alone.
A boy in the bed next Samuel’s interests me much, has had typhoid fever, and now cannot sit up. He looks as I imagine a famished grey wolf may look. The gaunt face, eyes, and hands all have a grey tinge, his hair inclines that way, and his dressing-gown is that color. He is seventeen years old, and belongs to the 2d Penn. Provisionals; was three weeks in the rifle pits at Petersburg, night and day; these had been occupied before by the Confederates. The poor boy seems so grateful for his care here, says he was sick while in the pit, that it was infested with body vermin, and he smiled as he said that they were so old that they
‘had plumes on their heads, a grey stripe down each leg, and C.S.A. on their backs.’
He knew nothing from the time he was in the pit, until he was told he had
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been three weeks in his bed here. Was brought on the boat to Washington, and said to me,
‘I never had a boat ride in my life before, and didn’t know a thing about this one. Wasn’t it too bad?’
Every thing is very systematic, and all the arrangements are first-class throughout this hospital. Each morning the doctor writes against each patient’s name the food for each meal, the hospital steward copies the list and sends his order to the cookhouse, from which narrow gauge tracks are laid to each ward. The closed cars are fitted with shelves, and the waiters bring the specified food, hot and appetizing, to each man’s cot. Better baked beans and Indian pudding I never tasted.
Wed., Aug. 24. Mr. and Mrs. Gleason invited me to their home Sunday and Monday nights. Through their influence I am now in a fine looking confiscated residence, provided by loyal women of the city for women who have come to care for sick soldiers. There are to-day fifteen of these, of different beliefs and walks in life, supposed to be alike in their loyalty.
She is one of a type I have often read about but never before seen,— a Southern housekeeper. She carries her low willow basket of keys with her continually, and deals out to old ‘Mammy,’ the cook and maid of all work, the tea, coffee, sugar, etc., for each day, keeping drawers and closets locked. When we enter, she looks us over as though we were store packages, and arranges us where she judges we will ‘fit’ best. I have the honor to be placed in the best room for ‘transients,’ with four others,— a mother and daughter from Ohio, an Irish woman from N.Y. City, and a Mrs. Chadwick from Philadelphia, who keeps two servants when at home. We are in the third story, and above us they are still more crowded. The price for board is 37 1/2 cents a meal, to sit at the matron’s table in the dining-room, or 25 cents to eat in the basement, taking one’s turn in doing the cooking for all there and the kitchen work for the day. Mrs. Chadwick and I decided we would try the latter; but when we went below and found that the wood, four feet long, was to be cut and split by each one, that the old axe was very dull, that we must go up stairs and across the street for water, we concluded that the matron’s table would be the cheapest for us. The women below look upon us with disfavor, and no wonder, for
the greater the number, the less often comes each one’s turn for a hard day’s work. At the matron’s table the breakfast never varies. The coffee is good, and we have boiled salted herring, not freshened any, and biscuit. ‘Mammy’ kneads them, and tosses them, and pinches them, until it seems as if some of the black from her fingers must get into them, but they are so white and just delicious!
Fri., Aug. 26. Same thing every day for dinner! I can’t endure it any longer, the look is enough! The cooking at the camp of the 6th was better than this. Our meat is from the side of pork — such as we salt at home, — salted until it will take no more, and smoked till it will take no more, boiled and served in the water in which it is cooked, with long, large, strong, soggy potatoes, with a core in nearly every one, in the water also.
Sat., Aug. 27. Have had my first experience in this city at a restaurant to-day. Tea and coffee can only be had by the pot-full, price 20 cents. Asked for boiled eggs; the waiter said,
‘We have no hens’ eggs, ma’am, only keets’.’
I asked what kind of things ‘keets’ were, and if their eggs tasted like those of hens. He gave me a commiserating look and replied,
‘In what part of the country were you raised, that you don’t know guinea keets?’
I ate the eggs, and I don’t know whether they are like those of hens or not, it is so long since I tasted one. For dinner at the same place I had a small saucer of succotash; but as I had to pay 60 cents for it, I think it will be all I need.
Wed., Aug. 31. Mrs. Chadwick and I, wishing more variety, buy from the bake-shops, and get our own breakfasts, keeping tea, coffee, sugar, and coffee-pots in our trunks in the third story, and prepare and eat our food in the basement. Some of the women here have no love for us, particularly two, fair looking sisters from North Carolina. They are poor whites, often called ‘sand crackers.’
This morning one of them refused me water from the tea-kettle, and turning to her sister said, she
‘lowed Mass’chusetts was the meanest State in the Union.’ [*3]
After every meal they take out their snuff-boxes, tin salve-boxes, and with a wet match rub snuff on their teeth,— the first ‘snuff dippers’ I have seen.
Sept. 4. The matron amuses me, while I am a mystery to her. She invited me to spend last evening with her in her parlor. She was in Massachusetts once, at the laying of the corner-stone of Bunker Hill Monument, and saw no signs of poverty. She says I seem to be an intelligent woman, and she can’t understand how I’m willing to do my own housework.
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Should think I would ‘have no social position whatever.’ I really think she works much harder than I do; for when she is not carrying keys, locking and unlocking, she works continually with a sewing-machine, but then the door to her room is shut. The ostrich hides its head. She says that the valuable old Calvert library at her home has been robbed by both armies; and that Mazeppa, in one of Byron’s poems, was a real person, not fictitious, as many suppose. If she was a northern woman, I should wish to ask her authority for the statement; I do not think it best. She carries the keys.
Sept. 5. Old Mammy is very kind to Mrs. C. and myself, and gives us water for our tea every morning from the tea-kettle she uses. Her sick grandchild has long needed a pair of shoes, which she has been unable to provide, as she only gets her board and clothing for her work here. Mrs. Chadwick and I gave her the money for the shoes; and as I handed it to her I saw an instance of the poetic nature of her race. She stooped, and raising the front of my dress to her lips, kissed it, saying,
‘De good Lor’ bress you an’ Mis’ Ginr’l Banks, an’ may yo’ walk in de sunshine ob’ glory all yo’ life.’
I asked her why she placed ‘Mis’ Ginr’l Banks’ and myself together. She said she once washed for Mrs. B., who had been kind to her and given her many things, and she
‘reckoned all dem yer Mars’chusetts women are ‘like.’
Sept. 6. To-day looked on what I never saw before, and hope I never may again,— a slave-pen, where in times past slaves were sold at auction. It is a small yard enclosed with a wooden fence; the gate was locked, but through the palings I could see the high block on which many a trembling slave has stood. Even the sign over the gate was suggestive, ‘Price & Birch.’ It made me think of Cassey, Emeline, and Uncle Tom.
Sept. 7. Mrs. Hawley, the lady nurse, left some time ago for her vacation. I am the only woman in this ward, here most of the time till 6 P.M. I find many who are glad to have me read, write, or talk with them; occasionally I try to play games with some of the younger ones, but the prevailing opinion is that I am ‘remarkably stupid’ in regard to games.
A young dentist from Roxbury is in the ward above; he has asked me to come up and see him every day, and read to him from Rev. J. W. Dadmun’s collection of hymns. [*4] I told him to-day that I liked some of them very well, and he said that if he lives to reach home, he intends to marry Rev. J. W. D.’s daughter. There is a man in this ward from New Hamp-
shire who has compound fracture of the knee, is in some pain most of the time, but looks well, a contrast to all others here. He does not care to have me read or speak to him; Samuel and I call him ‘South Carolina’ because he wishes to be ‘let alone.’ [*5] This morning, as I took my usual walk down the aisle, this man looked very solemn, his head resting on his hands. I felt that he was homesick. I suppose I was daring, but my desire was to call him out of himself, if I could. Acting from the impulse of the moment, I said,
‘A penny for your thoughts, sir.’
To my surprise, he did not frown as before when I had spoken to him, but quietly said,
‘My thought is too foolish to tell!’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘I was just wishing that I could have some buttermilk biscuit for breakfast, like those the woman used to make with whom I boarded in New Hampshire.’
He told me her name and the town in which she lived. I said that I had never tasted her biscuit, but knew her to be a lovely woman, that she was my husband’s cousin, and came occasionally to my town, Bedford, to visit her sister, Mrs. Nathan O. Reed. This fact seemed to make him social, and he signified his intention of walking down to Samuel’s cot to see him as soon as he is able. I felt as though I had won a victory! [^1]
Sept. 8. Am having good suppers now; have bought a peck of sweet potatoes. One of the cooks bakes some for me every night, and puts a piece of government butter on the plate with them; they are brought up with Samuel’s supper and I eat them by his cot. I insist upon the cook baking some for himself.
Sept. 12. Went to church yesterday at the Epiphany; special services in all the churches, because of the fall of Atlanta. This afternoon went with a lady nurse, just from the front, to see the movement of the artillery horses when a hundred guns were fired because of this victory. The precision of the horses seemed wonderful to me. For this victory there was also a parade after I reached home. A letter from Mr. Gleason at that time is before me; referring to this, he says,
‘The torchlight procession was the grandest affair of the kind ever seen in these parts. Had you been here you might have heard the President make a speech and crack a joke.’
Sept. 14. Went this evening with Mr. and Mrs. Gleason to the Old Soldiers’ Home, some distance from the city, to see President Lincoln. The Home is his summer residence. He passed us riding to it in an open landau, with a body guard of men on horseback, six in front and
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six behind. We waved our handkerchiefs and bowed, and he bowed in return.
Sept. 15. For exercise to-day I have been to the Capitol, as I often have of late. The room that impresses me the most is the President’s Reception Room. It is not so elegant as the Senate Reception Room, but it is suggestive of the history of the United States. Upon the walls are portraits of the first Cabinet, while the rest of it is a perpetual study, covered with paintings suggesting scenes in our country’s life. To the beautiful paintings on the ceiling. Law, Religion, etc., Constantino Brimudi, the Italian artist, has given the face of his wife. [*6]
To me the most amusing sight in the Patent Office is the collection of men’s dress, or fur hats,— wide and narrow rimmed, tall, short or bell-crowned, of various colors.
Among the earliest stoves, I hunted for the one on which my uncle, the minister, Josiah Hill, obtained a patent; my father and the other brothers all had one; the words, ‘J. Hill’s Patent,’ being on the hearth, which was a source of great delight to me when a very small child.
Sept. 16. With my help, Samuel has walked from his bed to the window to-day, the first steps he has taken for weeks. Some rebel prisoners from the front passed by, and he wished to see them. Their clothing seemed to be odds and ends of everything, not all butternut color by any means. Several had pieces of patchwork quilts for blankets.
Sept. 17. Samuel not as well to-day, in pain, and not out of his bed until 3 P.M., when the ward-master said he must go down stairs, because it is inspection day, and Dr. Bliss is the officer of the day: he decides who are able to go to the front. I have expostulated with the master in vain. [*7] He set his teeth firmly together, and said,
‘Madam, he’s got to go.’
The man is cross, and he is sick, too. His left arm has been amputated, and gangrene is in the stump. He was overbearing yesterday to Dea. Paul Haywood of Boxboro’; I think I shall tell the doctor to-morrow how things are. The master is in the regular army, and members of it, I notice, do not always like volunteers. One of the nurses had to help Samuel up and down the stairs. Everything Dr. Bliss said was,
‘Show your tongue, sir,’ and, ‘Go back to your bed!’
Sept. 19. Went this morning to the domestic quarters of the hospital to hear the colored washerwomen sing; a dozen in a row, all wearing turbans, their black arms moving up and down, and the white foam flying, how they did sing! A revival hymn they wailed in fine style; one verse was,—
An’ on dat da’ dar’ll be no hidin’ place,
An’ on dat da’ dar’ll be no hidin’ place,
An’ on dat da’ dar’ll be no hidin’ place,
De gate’ll be shut, an’ ye carn git in.’ [*8]
Then they changed to a pean of triumph, extolling those that had benefited their race. There were thirty-nine verses, all alike, excepting the name, beginning with Robert Small, the colored pilot, who was the means of bringing relief to Fort Anderson, and ending with Abraham Lincoln. [*9] The last verse was,—
‘Mars’ Linkum a settin’ in de tree ob life.
Mars’ Linkum a settin’ in de tree ob life.
Mars’ Linkum a settin’ in de tree ob life,
G-l-o-r-y in my soul!’ [*10]
A chapel with a bell is on the grounds here, and every afternoon at 2 P.M. the bugle sounds for funerals,— the bugle is used for everything here. I went to the service to-day,— all soldiers but myself; one played on the melodeon, and most of the others sang the hymns. Everything was orderly and solemn. A woman from Berks. Co., Penn., who stays in the basement, unlettered, ignorant, and unused to travelling, with a clay pipe in her hand, sat on the back stairs of the boarding-house to-night, and drew around her a larger audience than any other woman in the house could have done, for she has to-day had an interview with Abraham Lincoln, and we all drew around her to hear her tell it in her peculiar way. She told the President that her husband, a cripple, had died since the enlistment of their three only sons, two of whom had been killed in battle, and the last one was sick in a hospital here, and she wanted him to come home as she thought she could cure him; and she finished her account of the interview by saying,
‘I told the President I hadn’t got no person else, and he laid his hand on my shoulder and said, “Mother, you shall have your boy.”‘
Sept. 20. We have a new ward-master to-day. I go home this week, but I have a pleasant surprise for all in this room and the ward above. I have received a letter from one who has ever been the Lady Bountiful of Bedford, Miss C. M. Fitch, enclosing $5 each from herself, Mrs. Jenks, and Miss Rand for comforts for the sick here. Have been to every bed and got the list of their wants. One wishes a pair of new socks, the others something to eat, peaches mostly, a few desire apples, pears, grapes, or melons, while one wants currant jelly. I shall show my list to Dr. Ruffin, and, if he approves, these poor sick men shall be gratified.
Sept. 21. Have been busy all day, and am happily tired to-night. Have taken a peck basket three times full from the market oppo-
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Susannah (Hill) Fitch.
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site, and distributed the luxuries provided by Miss Fitch. The nurses carried the basket up the stairs for me. Handed some lemons to the ex-ward-master; he has a cot now. ‘South Carolina ‘ would not take any fruit, but as he wished to write some letters, did take three postage stamps; if he gets paid before I leave, insists upon returning them. Mrs. Gleason has kindly consented to use the money left for the same purpose.”
After I went home, Mr. Sage remained in this hospital until his time was nearly out, when he was so earnest to return with his regiment that his doctor reluctantly consented to send him to them at Fort Delaware. For this purpose he was sent to Camp Distribution, near Alexandria,— not a place for the sick, only used for troops passing to and from the front, a terrible place, full of vermin, and often called “Camp Hell” by the soldiers. The train had just left for Fort Delaware, and here he had to remain over a week, for an officer was not furnished for one soldier. Here he grew worse, the food was unfit for a well person,— one thing was raw pork, which he thought seemed to be pickled in vinegar. When he could eat, he lived on crackers and milk bought from a sutler, until his pocket-book was stolen.
He begged or borrowed a stamp and envelope from a sutler, and wrote to me on the white edge of a strip of newspaper, asking me to send him twenty-five cents — and no more — every morning till “countermanded.” This I did for a week, when hoping to return with the others he wished no more to be sent. Not hearing for some days from him, I felt sure he would come with the others. If I remember aright, they came Saturday, October 22. I went up street to see them come to the Post Office, two stage loads, with their guns out of the windows and on top of the coaches, glistening in the afternoon sun.
I remember how happy and exultant I felt! I was doomed to disappointment. My soldier was not with them! No one had seen him, or could tell me anything of him; as one wrote afterward, it was
“all the good times, and I not in them.” [*11]
It had been arranged for the returned soldiers to attend church the next day in a body, special thanksgiving services having been prepared for the occasion by Rev. William J. Batt.
I had my bonnet and church clothing laid out in readiness. I sadly went to my lonely home and put them out of sight, feeling like the childless mother in Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s poem, “After news from Gaeta, 1861.”
“Ah, ring your bells low,
And burn your lights faintly!
If in keeping the feast,
You want a great song for your Italy free,
Let none look on me!” [*12]
Like the widow of the pine cottage in the National Reader I used to read from at school, I sat late that night by the glowing coals, but unlike her, for I had not her strong faith. She was in a story, I was in real life, a worn-out, troubled woman; and my thought was,
“I cannot have it so.”
I heard steps, and my name faintly spoken! I knew the voice, and rushed to the door. There, on the doorstep, exhausted with the long ride from Lexington, sat a nondescript individual, with a red silk handkerchief drawn closely over his army cap, a white one around his neck, and a long, large dressing-gown of strikingly wide purple and yellow stripes over his blouse. No one, who knew the man, will doubt the sincerity of his words as I opened the door,
“Thank God, I’ve got home at last!”
I never knew him to willingly allude to his army experience, in the years of suffering in which he remained to guide and comfort and bless his family. And the dearest place to him was ever his home.
Very truly yours,
Martha Hill Sage.
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) pp 71-77
- felt ∨ feel
- Samuel, Mary, and Samuel were, respectively, Martha’s husband, daughter, and son.
cf. (in this volume) II: p 30
- Sage is punning on the word “ruffian”.
- “‘lowed” (i.e., “allowed”): reckoned
- cf. Dadmun’s The melodeon (1860)
- cf. The address of the people of South Carolina (1860) p 16
- “Constantino Brimudi”: [ an error for ] Constantino Brumidi
- “expostulated”: remonstrated
- “carn”: can’t
- “Robert Small”: [ an error for ] Robert Smalls
- “Mars’ Linkum”: “Master” Lincoln
- cf. Winthrop’s Miss Roberts’ fortune  p 9
NB: This quotation is an adaptation of a sentiment repeated throughout an earlier work first published in 1863– shortly before Sage’s account of 1864.
cf. Whitney’s Faith Gartney’s girlhood (1865)
- cf. Browning’s “Mother and poet”
in Last poems (1862) pp 91-96