Gentlemen and Ladies —
I come before you to-night both willingly and cheerfully —
More than willing to render my account for the unmeasured kindness received of the American people, and the great confidence reposed in me by the officers and men of the army, during the trials of the past few years.
If I have been allowed to perform a work, among the armies of my country, withheld from many others, and have thereby learned facts unknown to them, it is my duty to state them when required.
If I have been permitted to stand by your loved ones when the trial hour came and their brave lives went out amid the din and smoke of battle
Or when they lingered, pining in distant hospitals — or by the way side — and the last look was turned upon my face — instead of yours —
The last words addressed to me, when they would have been gold, and precious stones to you, the knowledge is not mind, it belongs to you – to all my country-men if they demand it.
In 1861, the first great blows of organized war fell upon our land.
The nation woke from its dream of peace, at the thunder of wave-washed Sumpter,
And the 19th of April found the few loyal citizens of the national capitol — your humble speaker among the number — thrilled and bewildered – by the made atrocities of Baltimore and straining our gaze across the Potomac, to the very door of Robert Lee.
But say you, this is an Eastern woman and we are the West — the great West — whose warriors darkened every mountain — valley — and river from Minnesota to the Coast of Florida.—
We never heard of this woman in our armies — and doesn’t she know that the Western ladies, not only thronged, but created hospitals.—
Stood on fields she never saw — and accomplished great work she never thought of attempting.
Oh: yes: she knows it well — when when you did it — and her heart went out to you every hour. She read with admiration of your Christian deeds, at Cairo — Port Hudson — Shilo — and Chattenooga. She knows your bright brave record, and her heart bounds with womanly pride, as she recalls it.
But not only did your sabers gleam and bayonets flash on the fields of the North and West — but in the East —
The first great blows of organized war fell there — the nation woke from its dream of peace at the thunder of wave-washed Sumpter and from the steps of the National Capitol in 1861 — we were straining our gaze across the Potomac to the very door of Robert Lee — for the flash of the guns on Arlington Heights.
These never came — but while we watched in our weakness — and prayed in our helplessness — the scene shifted — the curtain rose on the other side — and there poured in the armies of the North and West —
There stood, not only Penn – New York — and New England — But Ohio — Michigan — Indiana and Illinois.
There, all unused to war — from homes never invaded — they had hastened all those weary leagues — and stood — a bulwark of defence for a nation life — and when the old army of the Potomac sprang into existence, they were of it.—
Year after year facing the frowning battlements of Petersburg — Richmond and Charleston, and the flower of the Rebel army.
There I saw them fight and die — and there, with their Eastern comrades, there bones whiten in the sand.
The fields of Virginia are rich with their blood — and the rivers rolling to the Eastern sea murmur their ceaseless himn [sic] of rest there — a little later — there curls of gold, and locks of yel [sic] — with the cursed Southern dews were lost.
Then starved in Andersonville — there — side by side — we found their graves — and marked the spot for you.
There, so far away, so pitiful and alone, I laid my hand softly on the sacred earth — and almost felt the mother’s great heart beating underneath — for I knew — tho the blood of her own veins still forced its valves — she had buried it there, in that little grave — a holocaust to love and freedom.
I dropped a tear for her who could not go — blessed the grave in the South she could not see, and come to tell you.
Be patient with my little story — cast aside all that pertains to myself — remembering only the brave men of whom I speak — and when I have done, I will go back, quietly as I came — sorry — that I bring only so little to you who have given so much.
But friends, my chief difficulty tonight will consist — not so much in what I shall say — and how say it — as in omitting what I cannot say —
Oftentimes the events of one day would occupy and hour in the recital — and how shall I condense and related to you — in this little evening, the labors and losses — the pleasures and pains of four years of such life?
If I attempt to cover the entire ground, I shall fail to give you a distinct idea of anything.
I will therefore limit myself to two or three fields — selecting among the earlier — before relief societies were rendered efficient, and before the two great and noble commissions, with neither of which was I ever connected, found their way directly to the front — that you may the better appreciate the necessity and worth of your own quiet home labors during those first great days of trial.
War came upon us hasty and terrible — then you and I, and all of us rose up and asked what we could do. I was strong — and I thought I ought to go to the rescue of the men who fell.
But I struggled long and hard with my sense of proprieties — with the appalling fact — that I was only a woman whispering in one ear — and the groans of suffering men, crying like dogs — unfed and unsheltered, for the life of the very institutions which had protected and educated me — thundering in the other.
I said that I struggled with my sense of propriety — and I say it with humiliation and shame — before God and before you I am ashamed that I thought of such a thing.
But when our armies fought at Cedar Mountain, I broke the shackles and went to the [?].
Five days and nights with three hours sleep — a narrow escape from capture — and some days of getting the wounded into hospital at Washington [?] Saturday Aug. 30th and word that Genl Pope was fighting on the old Bull Run Battle ground — had 8000 killed — they said — and the Battle still went on.
That night was spent in packing supplies, which at day-break in the midst of a heavy rain were placed in freight cars — and with 2 ladies and my attendants I found a place to stand — while we steamed and rattled out of Washington.
Our coaches were not elegant nor commodious — they had no seats — no windows — no platform — no steps — a side door on the side was the only entrance and this often higher than my head —
For my manner of attaining my elevated position I must beg you to draw upon your own imaginations — and show me the labor of re-producing the boxes barrels — boards — and rails — which in those days — served to help me up and on in the world —
At 10 oclock Sunday our train drew up at Fairfax station —
The ground — for acres — was a thinly wooded slope — and among the trees on the leaves and grass — were laid the wounded, who were pouring in by scores of wagon loads — as picked up on the field under flag of truce — all day they came — and the whole hill side was covered — Bales of hay were broken often and scattered over the ground like littering for cattle, and the sore famishing men were lain upon it: and when night-shut in, in mist and darkness about us — we knew — that standing apart from the world of anxious hearts, throbbing over the whole country — we were a little band of almost empty handed workers literally by ourselves in the wild woods of Virginia with 3000 suffering — dying men crowded upon the few acres within our reach.
After gathering up every available implement or convencence [sic] for our work — our domestic inventory stood 2 water buckets — 5 tin cups — 1 camp kettle — 1 stew pan — 2 lanterns — 4 bread-knives — 3 plates — and a 2 quart – tin dish — and 3000 guests to serve!!
You will perceive by this — that I had not yet learned to equip myself — for I was no pallas-ready armed — but grew into my work by hard thinking and sad experience.
It may serve to relieve your apprehension for the future of my labors if I assure you that I was never caught — so again — for later I became a notable housekeeper, if that may be said of one who had no house to keep — but lived in fields — and woods — and tents — and wagons with all out of doors — for a cooking range mother earth for a kitchen hearth — and the winds of Heaven for a chimney.
You have read of “adverse winds” — to realize this term in its fullest sense – you have only to build a camp fire – and attempt to cook something by it – every soldier will agree with me when I say, that go whichsoever side of it you will, the wind will blow the smoke and flame directly in your face —
Notwithstanding these difficulties, within 15 minutes from the time of our arrival we were preparing food and dressing [?] you wonder what — and how prepared — and how administered without dishes — you, generous thoughtful mothers and wives — have not forgotten the tons of nicely packed delicacies ever rolling to the front – Huge Boxes of these stood beside that Railway track — every can — jar — bucket — bowl — cup — or tumbler — when empty — that instant became a vehicle of mercy to convey some preparation of mingled bread and wine — or soup — or coffee, to some helpless famishing sufferer — who partook of it with the tears rolling down his bronzed cheeks, and divided his blessings between the hand that fed him and his God —
But the most fearful scene was reserved for the night – I have said that the ground was littered with dray hay — and that we had only 2 lanterns — but there were plenty of candles — The wounded were lain so closely that it was impossible to move about in the dark the slightest misstep brot [sic] a torrent of groans from some poor mangled fellow in your path —
Consequently there were scores of persons — of every grade — form the careful man of God who walked with a prayer upon his life — to the careless driver — hunting for his lost whip — each wandering about — among this hay with an open flaming candle in his hand.
The slightest accident, the mere dropping of a light would have enveloped in flames this whole mass of helpless men.
How we watched and plead, and cautioned — as we worked, and wept that night.
How we put socks, and slippers on their cold damp feet — wrapped blankets and quilts about them, and when we had no longer these to give how we covered them in the hay and left them to their rest.
The slight naked chest of a fair-haired lad caught my eye, and dropping down beside him I bent low to draw the remnant of his torn blowse [sic] about him. — when with a quick cry he threw his left arm across my neck and wept like a child at his mothers knee.
I took his head in my hands and held it until his great burst of grief should pass way ——
“and you don’t know me,” he said at length — “I am charley Hamilton, who used to carry your satchel home from school..
My faithful pupil — poor Charley! That mangled right-arm will never carry a satchel again.
About 3 oclock in the morning I observed a surgeon with his little flickering candle in hand approaching me with cautious step far up in the wood.
“Lady” — he said — as he drew near — “Will you go with me” —
Out on the hill is a lad mortally wounded and dying whose piteous cries for his sister, have touched all our hearts — and none of us can relieve, but rather seem to annoy him by our presence —
By this time I was following him back over his bloody track — with the great beseeching eyes of anguish on every side — looking up in our faces — saying so plainly — “Don’t step on us” — “He can’t last half an hour longer,” said the surgeon as we toiled on — he already quite cold — shot thro- the abdomen” — a terrible wound — by this time his cries became faintly audable [sic] to me.
Mary — Mary: sister Mary: come oh come: I’m wounded — Mary. I’m shot: I’m dying — Oh come to me — I’ve called you so long — and my strength is almost gone. Don’t let me die here alone. Oh Mary, Mary — come.
Of all tones of entreaty to which I’ve ever listened — (and certainly I’ve had some experience of sorrows—) I think there — sounding thro that dismal night: the most heart-reaching.
As we drew near, some 20 persons — attracted by his cries — had gathered around and stood with moistened eyes — and helpless hands — waiting the change which would relieve them all.
And in the midst stretched upon the ground, lay a scarcely full grown young man — with a graceful head of hair, tangled and matted, thrown back from a forehead and face of livid whiteness —
His throat bare — his hands bloody red, clasped above his Breast — his large bewildered blue eyes turning anxious by in every direction — and ever from between his ashen lips — pealed forth that piteous cry — of — “Mary. Mary Come”
I approached him unobserved — and motioning the lights away, knell by him alone in the darkness — shall I confess that I intended if possible to cheat him out of his terrible death agony?
But my lips were truer than my heart — and would not speak the word Brother. I had willed them to do.
So I placed my hands upon his neck — kissed his cold forehead — had laid my cheek against his —
The illusion was complete — the act had done the falsehood. My lips refused to speak — I an never forget that cry of joy.–
Oh Mary. Mary. Have you come? I knew you would come if I called you.— and I’ve called you so long —— I couldn’t die without you Mary —— don’t cry darling— I’m not afraid to die —— And you’ve come to me — Oh! Bless you, Mary—: —
And he ran his cold blood-wet hands about my neck — passed them over my face — and turned them in my hair — which by this time — had freed itself from fastenings — and was hanging, damp and heavy about my shoulders—
He gathered the loos locks in his stiffened fingers — and holding them to his lips — continued to whisper thro them “Bless you — bless you — Mary.”
And I felt the hot tears of joy, trickling from the eyes I had thought stony in death —
This encouraged me — and wrapping his feet — closely in blankets — and giving him such stimulants as he could take — I seated myself on the ground — and lifted him upon my lap — and drawing the shawl on my own shoulders — also about his. I bade him rest —
I listened, till his blessings grew fainter — and in ten minutes with the choicest of them upon his lips he fell asleep.
So the gray morning found us — my precious charge had grown warm and was comfortable.
Of course the morning light would reveal his mistake — but he was calm — refreshed — and able to endure it — and when finally he awoke — he seemed puzzled for a moment, and — smiling said”
I knew before I opened my eyes that this couldn’t be Mary. — I know now that she couldn’t get here — but it is almost as good you’ve made me so happy — “who is it? —
I said it was simply a lady, who hearing he was wounded, had come to care for him.
He wanted the name — and with childlike simplicity spelled it — letter by letter — to know if he were right —
“In my pocket” — he said, “you’l [sic] find mother’s last letter.— please get it, and write your name upon it — for — I want both names by me when I die” —
Will they take away the wounded he asked? Yes I replied — the first train for Washington is nearly ready now.”
I must go — he said quickly — “are you able”? — yes — and I must — I must go. If I die on the way — I’ll tell you why — I am my poor mother’s only son — and when she consented that I should go to the war — I promised her faithfully that if I were not killed outright — but wounded — I would try every means in my power to be taken home to her, alive or dead—
If I die on the train, they wont throw me off, and if buried in Washington she can get me. But out here in there [sic] Virginia woods — in the hands of the enemy — never. — I must go! —
I sent for the surgeon in charge of the rain and requested that my boy be taken.
“Oh impossible madam”: he is mortally wounded, and will never each a hospital. We must take those who have a hope of life.
“But you must — take him.” “I cannot—” Can you Dr guaranty the lives of all you have on that train?—
“I wish I could—” he said sadly — they are the worst cases — 50 percent must die eventually of their wounds and hardships” —
Then give this lad his chance with them — he can only die — and he has given good and sufficient reasons why he must go — and a woman’s word for it. Dr. you must take him — send your men for him.” —
Whether yielding to argument or entreaty, I neither knew nor cared so long as he did yeild [sic], nobly and kindly, and gathering up the fragments of the poor torn boy they laid him carefully on a blanket in the crowded train, and with stimulents [and food] and a kind-hearted attendant pledged to take him alive or dead to Armory Square Hospital — tell them he was Hugh Johnson of N.Y., and to mark his grave — the whistle sounded — and the death freighted train moved on.—
Although 3 hours of my time had been devoted to one sufferer among thousands — it must not be inferred that our general work had been suspended, or that my assistants had been equally ineficient [sic] — they had seen how I was engaged — and nobly redoubled their exertions to make amends for my deficiencies—
Probably not a man was lain upon those trains, who did not receive some personal attention at their hands — some little kindness — if it were only to help life him more tenderly — place a pillow, — or wisp of hay under some broken limb — or bruised head — fill his canteen with water — or place a few crackers beside him — and by these little acts, — the temper of this entire body of men was changed — and in the place of complaints, and imprecations were only thanks — and brave hopeful assurances that they should get along very well – – and as the words of grateful cheer rose up from that moving mass of suffering and doom — I bowed my head in penitence — and humble acknowledged the just rebuke upon all past ingratitude.
Still there were some bright spots along the darkened lines. Early in the morning the Provost Marshal came to ask if I could use 50 men. — he had that number who for some slight breach of military discipline were under guard, and useless — unless I could use them—
I only regretted they were not 500 — They came — strong willing men: and there added to our original force, and what we had gained incidentally made our number something over 80.— and believe me 80 men — and three women — will accomplish some work in a day.
Our 50 prisoners dug graves — and gathered — and buried the dead — bore mangled men over the rough ground in their arms — loaded cars — built fires made soup — and administered it — and I failed to discern that their services were less valuable than those of other men.
I had previously suspected — and have since become convinced, that a private soldier may be placed under guard — court-martialed — and even be imprisoned — without forfeiting his honor or manliness.
That the real dishonor is often upon the gold lace — rather than they army blue.
At 3 oclock the last train of wounded left — all day we had known that the enemy hung upon the hills — waiting to break in upon us — hoping to capture forage—ammunition [sic] — and prisoners.
At 4 oclock the clouds gathered, black and murky, and the low growl of distant thunder ran over our heads — and mingled with the rumble lightning which illumined the horizon—
The still air grew thick and stifled — and the very branches appeared to droop and bow as if in grief at the memory of the terrible scenes so lately enacted — and the gallant lives so nobly yielded up beneath their shelter —
This was afternoon of Monday. — since Saturday noon I had no tasted food — and had just arranged for that purpose — when of a sudden — the air-and earth — and all about us — shook with one mingled crash of God’s and man’s artillery.
The lightning played — the thunder rolled incessently, [sic] and the cannon roared louder and nearer each minute.
Chantilly: with all its darkness and horror, had opened in the rear —
The description of this battle I leave to those who saw and moved in it — as it is my purpose to speak only of events in which I was either a witness or an actor.
Although two miles distant — we knew that the battle was intended for us and watched the firing as it neared and receded — and waited minute by minute for the rush of the broken ranks —
With what desperation our men fought on, hour after hour in the rain and darkness — how they were overborne and rallied — how they suffered from mistaken orders — and blundered, and lost themselves in the strange mysterious wood — and how after all with giant strength and veteran bravery they checked the foe, and held him at bay — are all proud records of history.
And the courage of the soldier who braved death in the darkness of Chantilly — let no many question.
The rain continued to pour in torrents and the darkness became impenetrable save from the lightning leaping above our heads, and the fitful slash of the guns — as volley after volley rang thro the stifled air and lighted up the gnarled trunks and dripping branches among which we ever waited and listened.
In the midst of this — and how guided no man knows — came still another wagon train of wounded men — and a waiting train of cars upon the track received them.
Now, nearly alone — for my worn out assistants could work no longer, I continued to administer such food as I had left — Do you begin to wonder what it could be? Army crackers put into knapsacks and haversacks, and beater to crumbs between stones, and stirred into a mixture of wine, or whiskey and water, and sweetened with coarse brown sugar — not very inviting you will think but I assure you always acceptable.
But whether it should have been classed as food — or like the Widow Bedott’s cabbage — a “delightful beverage,” it would puzzle an epicure to determine.
The departure of this train cleared the grounds of wounded for the night, and as the line of fire from its plunging engines died out in the darkness — a strange sensation of weakness, and weariness fell upon me — almost defying my utmost exertions to move one foot before the other.
A little Sibley tent had been pitched for me in a slight hollow on the hill side — but with nither [sic] ditch nor drain of any description — your imagination will not fail to picture its condition.
Rivulets of water had rushed thro it during the last three hours, still I attempted to reach it — as its white surface in the darkness was a slight protection from the wheels of wagons and trampling of beasts —
Perhaps I shall never forget the painful effort which the making of these few rods — and the gaining of that tent — cost me.
How many times I fell from compete exhaustion in the darkness and mud of that slippery hillside I have no knowledge —
But at last I grasped the welcome canvas — and a well-established brook, which rushed in on the upper side, and out at the opening that served as door met me on my entrance.
My entire floor was covered with water, not an inch of dry solid ground.
One of my lady assistants had previously taken train for Washington — and the other, worn out by faithful labor, was crouched upon the top of some boxes asleep.—
No such convenience remained for me, and I had no strength to arrange one.
I sought the highest side of my tent which I remembered was grass-grown and ascertaining that the water was not very deep, I sank down —
It was “no laughing matter” then — but the recollection of my position has since afforded me amusement —
I remember myself sitting on the ground. — upheld by my left arm my head resting upon my hand. — impelled by an almost uncontrolable [sic] desire to lie completely down. — and prevented by the certain correction, that if I did, the water would flow into my ears.
How long I balanced between my desires and cautions I have no positive knowledge = but it is very certain that the former carried the point, by the by the position from which I was aroused at 12 oclock. by the rumbling of more wagons of wounded men —
I had slept 2 hours — and Oh: what strength I had gained — I may never know 2 other hours of equal worth —
I sprang to my feet dripping wet, covered with ridges of dead grass, and leaves — wrung the water from my hair and skirts, and went forth again to my work —
When I stood once more under the open sky, the rain had ceased, — the clouds were sullenly returning — and the lightning ,— as if deserted by its boisterous companions, had withdrawn to a distant corner — and was playing quietly by itself —
For the great volleying thunders of Heaven and Earth had alike ceased, and the silence of the grave had settled down on the fields of Chantilly — and the forests of Fairfax.
And thus, the morning of the third day broke upon us — drenched weary — hungry — sore-footed — sad-hearted— discouraged — and under orders to retreat —
A little later, — the plaintive wail of a single fife — the slow beat of a muffled drum — the steady, tramp – tramp tramp of heavy feet — the gleam of ten thousand bayonets on the hills — and with bowed heads, — and speechless lips — poor Kearney’s leaderless men came marching thro.
This was the signal for retreat — all day they came — tired, hungry — ragged — defeated — retreating — they know not whither — they cared not whither.
The enemie’s [sic] skirting the hills, admonished us each moment that we must soon decide to go from them, or with them —
But our work must be accomplished — and no wounded men once given into our hands must be left – and with the spirit of desperation, we struggled on.
At 3 oclock an Officer galloped up to me with — “Miss Barton can you ride”? “Yes sir,” I replied — “But you have no ladie’s [sic] saddle” — “could you ride mine”? —
Yes sir — or without it if you have blanket and surcingle”
“Then you can risk another hour” — he exclaimed — and galloped off.
At 4 he returned at a break-neck speed — and leaping from his horse, said, “now is your time”
“The enemy is already breaking over the hills — try the train — it will go thro. Unless they have flanked, and cut the bridge a mile above us — In that case I’ve a reserve horse for you and you must take your chances of escape across the country.—
In two minutes I was on the train — the last wounded man at the station was also on.— The conductor stood with a torch which he applied to a pile of combustable [sic] material beside the track — and as we rounded the curve which took us from view we saw the station ablaze — and a troop cavalry dashing down the hill —
The bridge was uncut; and midnight found us at Washington.
You have the full record of my sleep from Friday night — till Wednesday morning — 2 hours — you will not wonder that I slept during the next 24.
On Friday — I repaired to Armory Square hospital to learn who of all the hundreds send, had reached that point.
I traced the chaplain’s record, and there upon the last page freshly written stood the name of Hugh Johnson.
Turning to chaplain Jackson, I asked, “Did that man live until to-day?”
He died during the latter part of last night, he replied.
His friends reached him some two days ago, — and they are now taking his body from the ward to be conveyed to the depot.
I looked in the direction his hand indicated,— and there, beside a coffin, about to be lifted into a wagon — stood a gentleman, the mother — and sister Mary
“Had he his reason?” I asked.
Oh: perfectly.— “And his mother and sister were with him two days.— “yes” —
There was no need of me — he had given his own messages. I could add nothing to their knowledge of him,— and would fain be spared the scene and the thanks— Poor Hugh, thy piteous prayers reached and were answered,— and with eyes and heart full, I turned away, and never saw sister Mary.—
There were days of darkness — a darkness that might be felt —
The shattered bands of Pope and Banks — Burnside’s weary legions — the men who had followed Fremont over the mountain paths — the reinforcements from West Virginia – and all that now remained of the once glorious Army of thePeninsula — had gathered for shelter beneath the redoubts and guns that girdled Washington.
The long maneuvering and skirmishing on the Rappahannock and the Shenandoah had yielded no fruit but this.
Pope had been sacrificed. And all the blood shed from Yorktown the Malvern Hill seemed to have been utterly in vain. Washington was filled with dismay — and all the North was moved as a tempest stirs a forest —
Maryland lay temptingly in view, and Lee and Jackson with the flower of the Rebel army marched for its ripening fields —
These, however are matters of public history —
But the minor keys, upon which I played my infintitesimal [sic] note in the great anthem of war and victory which rang thro the land when these two fearful forces met and closed, with gun-lock kissing gun across the rocky bed of Antietam are yet known only to a few — who it was that whispered hastily, on Saturday night, Oct 13th — “Harper’sFerry” — not a moment to be lost” I have never dared to name.
In 30 minutes I was timidly waiting the always kindly spoken — “come in” — of my patron saint major — now, major General Rucker.
“Major” I said — “I want to go to Harper’s Ferry” Can I go?”
“Perhaps so,” he replied, with a genial, but doubtful expression.—
Perhaps so — do you want a conveyance?
“Yes” I said —
“But an army wagon is the only vehicle that will reach there with any burden, in safety —
“I can send you one of these tomorrow morning” —
I said “I would be ready.” But here was to begin a new experience for me. I was to ride 80 miles in an army-wagon, and straight into battle and danger at that.
I could take no female companion — no friend, but the stout working men I had use for. —
You, who are accustomed to see a coach, and a pair of find horses, with a well-dressed, gentlemanly driver draw up to your door,— will scarcely appreciate the sensation with which I watched the approach of the long — high — white-covered — tortoise motioned vehicle, with its string of little frisky, long eared animals.— with the broad shouldered driver astride — and the eternal jerk of the single rein, by which he navigated his craft up to my door. —
The time, you will remember was Sunday — the place 7th St. just off Pennsylvania Avenue — Washington City.
Then and there, my vehicle was loaded with boxes — bags — and parcels — and last of all, I found a place to sit down with 4 men.
I took no Saratoga trunk, but remembered, at the last moment to tie up a few articles in a handkerchief.
Thus equipped, and seated, my chain of little uneasy animals commenced to straighten itself — and soon brot [sic] us into the center of Pennsylvania Avenue: in full gaze of the whole city in its best attire — and on its way to church.
Thus all day we rattled on, over the stones and dykes, and up and down the hills of Maryland.—
At nightfall we turned into an open field, and dismounting built a camp-fire, prepared supper,— and retired — I to my nook in my wagon.— the men, wrapped in their blankets, camped about me.
All night an indistinct roar of artillery sounded upon our ears. Waking or sleeping we were conscious of trouble ahead.
Before day-break, we had breakfasted, and were on our way.
You will not infer, that because by ourselves, we were alone upon the road.
We were directly in the midst of a train of Army-wagons, at least ten miles in length — moving in solid column,— the government supplies of amunition [sic] — food — and medicine for an army in battle.
As we passed on the residents began to tell us of a great — battle fought last night — they said — a few miles up the mountains.
Hastened by anxiety, and excitement, we were urging on, when suddenly: we found our wheels crushing the bodies of unburied slain —
Unconsciously and without searching, we had found a battle–field — for this ragged-range rising heavily on our right — is South–Mountain.
My poor words can never describe to you the consternation and horror with which we alighted and trod, there in that mountain pass, that field of death.
There, where we now walked with peaceful feet, twelve hours before the ground had rocked with carnage.—
There in the darkness, God’s angels of wrath and death had swept, and foe facing foe — freedom and treasongrappled, and the souls of men went out — and there, side by side — stark and cold in death mingled the NorthernBlue and Southern Gray.
To such of you as have stood in the midst or followed in the track of armies and witnessed the strange, mingled and dreadful confusion of recent battle grounds, I need not describe this field — and to you who never have — no description would avail.
The giant rocks hanging above our heads, seemed to frown upon the scene — and the sighing trees, which hung lovingly upon their rugged edge, drooped low, and wept their pitying dews upon the livid brows and ghastly wounds beneath.
Climbing hills and clambering over ledges, we sought for some poor for, in which life had still left the power to suffer — not one remained and grateful for this, but shocked, and sick of heart we returned to our waiting conveyance.
A mammoth drove of cattle designed as rations for our troops was passing at the moment. This officer in charge of which — attracted by our cheerful fire the night previous — had sought our company, and been our guest, —
I was scarcely seated in my wagon, when this officer rode up and said confidentially,— “Miss Barton,” that house, on the lower side of the road, under the hill, has been taken as a confederate hospital, and is full of wounded rebels. —
Their surgeons have come out and asked me for meat — saying that their men will die for lack of animal food. I am a bonded officer, and responsible for the property under my charge — what can I do”:
“You can do nothing,” I said. But ride on ahead — I am neither bonded nor responsible” —
He was wise, and a word was sufficient. He had a sudden call to the front of his train, and dashed forward.
Speaking to two of my men, I pointed out a large white ox, slightly strayed from the drove, and attempting to graze. (He had been with Genl Pope’s army long enough to learn to live off the country). — and directed them to drive him to that house — inside the fence which surrounded it: put up the bars, and leave him there, asking no questions.
I need not say that it was all performed with wonderful alacrity and the last I saw of the white ox he had gone completely over to the enemy — and was reveling in the tall grass about the house.
Three years later as I stood among the 12,000 graves of Andersonville — filled with the skeletons of the martyrs of freedom,— the victims of deliberate starvation, I could not but think how ill that days generosity had been requited.
Our wounded, had been taken on to Fredericktown, where only the day before,
Lee marched over the mountain wall,
Over the mountains winding down
Horse and fowl into Fredericktown
Where Old Barbarie [?]
Bowed with her four score years and ten
Bravest of all in Fredericktown — took up the flag the men [?]
And the staff in her attic window set — To show that one heart was loyal yet.
I have already spoken of the great length of an army train,— and that we could no more change our position than one of the planets, unless we should wait and fall in the rear, we could not advance a single wagon.
And for the benefit of those who may not understand, I might explain the order of a train.—
First: amunition [sic], next food and clothing for well troops, and lastly hospital supplies.
Thus, in case of a battle, the needed stores for the wounded, according to the slow cautious movements of such bodies, must be from two to three days in coming up.
Meanwhile, as usual, our men must languish and die.— something must be done to gain time, and I resorted to strategy. — We found an early resting place — supped by our camp-fire, and slept again among the dews and damps.—
At one oclock — when everything was still, we rose — breakfasted — fed — harnessed — and moved on, past the whole train, which like ourselves had camped for the night.
At daylight we had gained ten iles,— and were up with the artillery in advance even of the ammunition.
All that weary, dusty day, I followed the cannon, and nightfall brot [sic] us up with the Great army of the Potomac.
80,000 men resting upon their arms, in the face of a foe of equal numbers.— sullen — straitened — and desperate.
Closely following the guns, we drew up where they did — among the smoke of a thousand camp-fires, men hastening to and fro. —and the atmosphere loaded with noxious vapor till it seemed the very breath of pestilence.
We were upon the left wing of the army, and this was the evening rest of Burnsides [sic] men.— to how many hundreds, it proved the last rest upon earth, the next-days [sic] record shows —
In all this vast assemblage, I saw no other trace of womankind. I was faint — but could not eat.— weary, but could not sleep — depressed but could not weep, so I climbed into my wagon.— lied down the cover.— dropped down in the little nook I had occupied so long.— and prayed God with all the earnestness of my soul, to slay the morrows [sic] strife, or send us victory.
And for my poor self.— that he impart somewhat of wisdom, and strength to my heart — nerve to my arm — and fill my hands for the terrible duties of the coming day.— and heavy and sad I waited it’s approach.—
Many of you may have never heard the bugle notes which call to battle.
“The Kerners Breath
Whose fearful blast would waken death.”
But if like us, you had heard them that morning,— as they rang thro those valleys —and echoed from the hundred hills, waking from one sleep, to hasten to another, they would have lingered in your ears, as they do in mine to-night.
With my attendants, I sought the hill tops.— and as the mist cleared away, and the morning sun broke over Maryland Hights [sic] it’s rays fell upon the dusty forms of 160,000 men.— risen like the old Scots form the heather.— standing face to face, in solemn sullen battle line
So Hero borne for Battle strife
Or Bard of Martial lay
‘Twer worth ten years of peaceful life
One glance at their array
The battle commended on the right,— and already with the aid of field glasses we saw our own forces, tho led by fighting Joe, overborne, and falling back.
Burnside commenced to send cavalry and artillery to his aid, and thinking our place might be there, we followed them around 8 miles — turning into a corn-field, near a house and barn— and stopping in the rear of the last gun which completed the terrible line of artillery in the rear of Hooker’s corps that day.—
A garden wall only separated us. The infantry was already driven back two miles, and stood under cover of the guns.
We had met wounded men, walking or borne to the rear for the last 2 miles and around the old barn, lay there, too badly wounded to admit of removal — some 300. Thus early in the day, for it was scarce 10 oclock.—
We loosened our mules and commenced work. The corn was so high as to conceal the house, which stood some distance to the right — but judging that a path which I observed must lead to it — and also that surgeons must be operating there.— I too my arms full of stimulants and bandages, and followed the opening.
Arriving at a little wicket gage, I found the door-yard of a small house — and myself face to face with one of the kindest and noblest surgeons I have ever met —Dr. Dunn of Conneautville Pa speechless, both for an instant, he at length threw up his hands — with God has indeed remembered us.— How did you get from Virginia here, and so soon, and again to supply our necessities.— and they are terrible — we have nothing but our instruments and the little chloroform we brot [sic] in our pockets —, have not a bandage, rag — lint or string — and all there shell wounded men bleeding to death.”
Upon the poarch [sic] stood 4 tables, with an etherized patient upon each, a surgeon standing over him with his instruments,— and a bunch of green corn leaves beside him for dressings —
With what joy, I laid my precious burden down among them.— and thought that never before, had linen looked sowhite.— or wine so red.
Oh, be grateful ladies, that God put it into your hearts to perform the work you did in those days.
How doubly sanctified was the sacred old household linen, woven by the hands of the sainted mother, long gone to her reward.
For you arouse the tender blessings of those grateful men which linger in my memory as faithfully tonight as do the bugle notes which called them to their doom.
Thrice that day was the ground in front of us contested, lost and won—, and twice, our men were driven back under cover of that fearful range of guns.
A little after noon the enemy made a desperate attempt to regain what he had lost.— Hooker Sedgewick — Dana — Richardson — Hartsuff and Mansfield had been borne wounded from the field.— and the command of the right-wing devolved upon General Howard.
The smoke became so dense as to obscure our sight, and the hot sulphurous [sic] breath of battle dried our tongues, and parched our lips to bleeding.
We were in a slight hollow, and all shell, which did not break among our guns, in front came directly among or over us. — bursting above our heads — or burying themselves in the hills beyond.
A man lying upon the ground asked for drink.— I stooped to give it and having raised him with my right hand was holding the cup to his lips with my left — when I felt a sudden twich [sic] of the loose sleeve of my dress.
The poor fellow spraing from my hands, and fell back quivering in the agonies of death.
A ball had passed between my body, and the right arm which supported him, cutting thro the sleeve — and passing thro his chest from shoulder to shoulder.
There was no more to be done for him, and I left him to his rest. At 2 oclock my men came to tell me that the last loaf of bread had been cut and the lack cracker pounded—, we had 3 boxes of wine still unopened — what should they do?
“Open the wine and give that I said — and God help us.”
The next instant an ejaculation from Sergeant Field, who had opened the first box drew my attention, and lo my astonished gaze, the wine had been packed in nicely sifted Indian meal.
If it had been gold dust, it would have seemed poor in comparison. I had no words — no one spoke.— in silence the men wiped their eyes, and resumed their work.
Of 12 boxes of wine which we carried, the first 9 when opened were found packed in saw-dust.— the 3 last — when all else was gone, in Indian meal.
A woman would not hesitate long, under circumstances like these —
This was an old farmhouse — six large kettles were picked up, and set over fires, almost as quickly as I can tell it and I was mixing meal, and water for gruel.
It occurred to us to explore the cellar.— the chimney rested on an arch.— and forcing the door we discovered 3 barrels and a bag. They are full said the sergeant, and rolling one into the light, found that it bore the mark of Jackson’s Army These 3 barrels of flour and a bag of salt had been stored there by the rebel army during its upward march.
I shall never experience such a sensation of wealth and competency again.— from utter poverty to such riches.
All that night my 30 men (for my corps of workers had increased to that number during the day) carried buckets of got gruel for miles down the line to the wounded, dying where they fell.
This time profiting by experience we had lanterns to hang in and around the barn – and having directed it to be done.— I went to the house, and found the surgeon in charge, sitting alone — beside a table, on which he rested his elbow, apparently meditating upon a bit of tallow candle, which flickered in the center.
Approaching carefully — I said — “you are tired Dr.?”
He started up with a look almost savage.—
“Tired: yes — I am tired — tired of such heartlessness. Such carelessness.”
Think of the condition of things. Here are at least 1000 wounded men.— terribly wounded — 500 of whom cannot live till day light without attention.
That 2 inches of candle is all I have or can get — what can I do.— how can I endure it.
I took him by the arm, and leading him to the door, pointed in the direction of the barn where the lantern glistened like stars among the waving corn.
What is that? He exclaimed. The barn is lighted I said.— and the house will be directly.
Who did it? — I Dr
Where did you get them — Brot them with me.
How many have you? All you want — 4 boxes.
He looked at me a moment as if waking from a ream, turned away without a word, and never after alluded to the circumstance — but the deference which he paid me was almost painful.
Darkness brot silence and peace — respite and rest to our gallant men.
But as they had risen, regiment by regiment from their grassy beds in the morning, so at night the fainting remnant again sank down on the trampled, blood-stained earth.
The weary to sleep — and the wounded, to die”
Tho the long star-lit night.
We wrought and hoped and prayed — but it was only when in the hush of the following day, as we gleaned over that vast Aceldama, that we learned at what a fearful cost the gallant Union Army won the battle of Antietam.
Friends — it would be difficult to close my narative, [sic] and not allude to the sad bereavments [sic] and gallant deeds of other fields.
There are fathers, here, mayhap, who saw the pride of their manhood + the hope of their declining years go bravely + cheerfully forth – and return no more forever.
Wives, who wept the farewell they could not speak — never to be broken till in the land that knows no parting.
And mothers — brave, spartan mothers who held quiet their great hearts — and mighty griefs, and received, as they came flashing back the terrible tidings, the first — the second — the last son — and yet she lives to weep —
Not for the Italian mother along sang our lamented Browning —
“One dead by the sea in the East —
One dead in the West by the sea —
when you raise a great shout for Italy Free
Let none look at me”
I remember 8 months of weary siege scorched by the sun — chilled by the wave rocked by the tempest.— buried in the shifting sands.— toiling day after day in the trenches.— with the angry fire of 5 forts hissing thru their forts during every day of those weary months.
This was when your brave old regiments stood thundering at the gate of proud rebellious Charleston.—
Charleston!! leader in the highest crime known to human law —
Charleston: whose first great act of treason startled every civilized nation upon earth.
Shocked every lover of freedom and human progress — and thrilled every loyal heart from Behrings Strait to the China Sea.
There, shamelessly frowning insolent defiance — with Moultrie on her left.
Johnson on her right.
And Wagner in front, she stood hurling fierce death and destruction full in the faces of the brave band who beleaguered her traitorous walls — Sumpter.
The watch-dog that crouched before her door — pierced with shot and torn with shell — lay maimed + bleeding at her feet the tidal waves lapping his wounds — still there was danger in his growl, and death in his bite.
One sumer [sic] afternoon, this brave little army was drawn up among the island sands, and formed in line of march.
For hours we watched them.— the tide ebbed and flowed —
The sun gave its last glare — slid slowly down the horizon, kissed the blushing billows and sank amid the foam —
A few stars struggled out — dim twilight came — then the darkness for which they had waited, with the gloom and stillness of death settled down on the gathered forces of Morris Island —
Then we pressed forward, and watched again — long lines of phosphorescent light streamed and shot among the waves ever surging on our right.
A little to the left mark that long dark line, moving steadily on. — pace by pace — across that broad open space of glistening sand.
On strait on toward that black mass, frowning, and darkling in the distance.
Watch — watch — with pulseless veins, and breathless lips.
On-on — God speed their steps.
Flash — flash — flash — Moultrie — Johnson — Sumpter — Wagner — and every black pile blazes, and the heavens are on fire.
Boom boom – boom [?] the grand old fleet as it circled into line and poured broadside after broadside till the heavens blazed again — on on on on pressed the little band passing to its doom — but dark no longer –
The foe is met — the muskets blaze — the dark line has changed to a trail of fire — pressing on, scattered now — we watch the flashing of their muskets,— as you the fire-flies on your meadows —
The walls are reached — the torpedoes, and the pikes —
Up up over the parapets — into the fort — hand to hand, foot to foot — hill to hill.
Does any man say that this war showed no bayonet wounds.— He did not scale the walls of water.
Hand to hand — and hill to hill they wrestle — the great guns of fort and fleet are still, and there in the darkness and mist wait they wait we the weary hour.
There, bearing the tall form of his rider, plunged the noble steed of Col J.J. Elwell of Cleveland—
Up the beech,— tho the surf and fire,— up— up— under the very walls of the blazing fort.— and rising in his saddle, his strong voice went u —
How goes the fight boys. What do you want? —
Begrimmed with smoke and scorched with flame — on the topmost parapet appears the form of the intrepid Putnan.
Reinforcements. Colonel — in God’s name get us re-inforcements — I can hold out 15 minutes longer —
Whirled the steed and rider, back, down the beech to head quarters — “Men. Genl more men your troops are strugling [sic] in the fort.— Take them.
Back again thro the surg and fire.— up once more with the welcome tidings.
Up Ha: what is that? The sides of the fort are black with men — are these the reinforcements?
As, would to God — Back. Out down. Over torpedo and pike — into moat and wave
Sinking — sinking. Fainting. Crawling. Dying.
Clan Alpine’s best are backward borne
Oh where was Rhoderick then?
One blast upon his bugle-horn
Were worth a thousand men.-
Slowly down the beach wends the long line of ambulances, and the sands about our hospital tents grow red with the blood of our wounded and slain.
And there side by side with those of fairer hue,
Lay the tawny hand of Africa, which that night for the first time in the history of all the ages — had been permitted to strike a lawful, organized blow, at the fetters which had aye bound him body and soul.—
That broad dark heaving chest, and struggling breath, that great patient eye and gapping [sic] wound — Ah, Sam that’s bad for you, — yes miss, I knows it — Dey’s too many for us dis time. I’me a going but tank God my childers free.
40 months had our ever accumulating fleet rose and fell upon the tide and tossed upon the billows of Port Royal Harbor.
Merchant ships had changed to men of war — and men of war to iron clads, and the pretentious little turrets of the monitor had peeped above the wave, till one continuous line of floating batteries circled the coast of Carolina.
And if ever in the night their thunders ceased, the strangeness of the quiet startled the camping soldier from his uncertain slumber, and seductive dream of home. But had all this conquered Charleston?
Sumpter had crumbled to a shapeless mass of stone and sand — Wagner was ours and the swamp–Angel hurled fire and destruction thro her deserted streets every hour of the day and night.
Still did she surrender.— was she humbled? — humbled!! — prouder than ever she sat under her palmetto and rattle-snake rag — with her haughty fac still turned to the sea —
While our weary armies fought on month after month — officer and men pouring out their blood like water for the holy cause which must not be abandoned — and the great heart cry of the whole country went up — How long — Oh God, how long — Suddenly — a whole army is missing — a mighty army gone from sight. An army that fought battles above the clouds —
Where can it be — not at Atlanta — not back at Chattenooga —
The country is electrified with alternate hope and fear —
It may be that Charleston deigns now an anxious glance — at armies as well as navies.
Hark: that strange mingled sound,— a heavy tramp — a clashing of steel — and a ringing rap at her western gate — one glance, and the proud dame recoils in horror and indignation, while far across the old time slave wrought fields of Carolina swept the wild march of Shermans [sic] men. Did people call them “Sherman’s boys” They might have been boys when the left home, but they are men now,— warriors, veteran warriors.
Ay: veiled and sable clad dame lay by your worthless dignity and look your conquerors in the face.—
Some kindly critic has said of me that I was visibly agitated when I rose to address my audience,— the critic was right — and why should I not be — when I remember who I am addressing.—
That among the upturned faces before me,— are the very men who did these things.— I too am humbled and abashed.
How can I speak — what can be added to the glory of a nation whose citizens are its soldiers — whose warriors armed and mighty, spring from its bosom in the hour of need, and peacefully retire when the need is over—
A nation which from its evil walks of life has furnished to its armies captains colonels — brigadier and major generals, and more than all, the great captain, the sainted soul that marshalled and sped our conquering hosts — till they wore the victors crown — and he the martyrs.—
When the civil North rises in her might, the shadows of her warriors darkens the land, and the bristling of her steel brightens the heavens — and when the ground shakes under the tred of her marching armies, well may rebellions cower and traitors tremble.
Source: Library of Congress, Clara Barton Papers (container 152). Manuscript Division. LC-MS-11973-12.