“Jemmy, what shall I tell them at home for you?” “Tell them,” said he, “that there isn't hardly enough left of me to say ‘I,’ but — hold down here a minute — tell Kate there is enough of me left to love her till I die.” Jemmy got his furlough that night, and left the ranks forever. It seems to me that all true women must envy that girl's fate. Shot away all but his heart, that still beat true, who would not be the dead soldier's bride forever? O, there is nothing anywhere here to make you blush for human weakness: the rebel bullet is not moulded that can kill western manhood. I want to say here, in a paragraph by itself, that the surgeons should be compelled to report to the women; if they do their duty, they have to perform, in large measure, woman's work. They have to need more than skill and scalpels; they want woman's fortitude, tenderness, and faith. There are the noblest of men among the surgeons in the Army of the Cumberland, who do not halt at the letter of duty, but go on cheerfully to the spirit, and there are--God save the mark!--men among them for whom faithless is the mildest euphemism. I must tell one instance: a “contract surgeon” --if you know what that is — went out on a pleasure ride within the hour--three o'clock--that two hundred sick and wounded men came into his ward. He returned at sunset, and on being reminded of his neglected duty, flippantly replied, “0, I'll do them in half an hour!” What, think you, would “do” him, and do him justice. For one I should be quite content to trust his fate to the verdict of a jury of the loyal women of the North-west, to whom be glory and honor everlasting! Remember, I am writing only of the days after the battles of the Chickamauga — only of one scene in this tremendous tragedy. I have followed the wounded and the languishing to the surgeon's quarters at the edge of the field, and now comes that journey over the mountain roads to Bridgeport,--that beating every wound with hammers mile after mile. Watch me with the rocking, jolting, lurching train of three hundred ambulances, each with its sore, bruised burden, and tell me which is the more terrible, the whole strong regiment marching into the storm, or the broken mutilated column creeping away to shelter. You can hardly believe that one of all will survive the journey; that the folds of the waiting, empty tents, here and there and yonder, will ever swing back to receive them. Let me paint for you, if I can, one of those shadows, beside your sunshine there, with which I began this letter. It is a white, dusty ridge in Alabama; tall, slim oaks sprinkle it, and beneath them, in streets with a far-eastern look, stand the tents of those blessed cities of mercy, a field hospital. The sun pours hotly down; a distant drum snarls now and then, as if in a dream; the tinkling concert of a cloud of locusts — the cicada of the south — comes like the dear old sleigh bells chime, from a distant tree. “The loud laugh that tells the vacant mind” is unheard; the familiar sounds of closing doors and children's carol never rises there; the tents swell white and sad and still. Within them lie almost three thousand soldiers, marred with all wounds conceivable, wasted with pain, parched with fever, wearily turning, wearily waiting, to take up the blessed march, Ho! for the North! That is the word, the ever-abiding charmer, that “lingers still behind.” It is Stevenson, it is Nashville, it is Louisville, it is home, it is heaven! Alas, for it, how they falter and sleep by the way! And every one of these men was somebody's boy once; had a mother once, a wife, a sister, a sweetheart; “but better is a friend that is near than a brother that is afar off,” and there are only two here in person, but how many in heart and work! You have been thinking, my sisters, where is our work in all these scenes? That snowy roll of linen; that little pillow beneath the sufferer's head; that soft fold across the gashed breast; that cooling drink the rude, stalwart, kind nurse is putting to yonder boy's white lips; that delicacy this poor fellow is just partaking; that dressing-gown, whose broidered hem those long, thin fingers are toying with; the slippers, a world too wide for the thin, faltering feet; the dish of fruit a left hand is slowly working at, his right hand laid upon our Federal altar at Chickamauga, never to be lifted more. Your tree, my sister, bore that fruit; your fingers wrought, your heart conceived. “What do the women say about us boys at home?” asked a poor wreck of a lad as I sat by his side. That brow of his ached, I know, for the touch of a loving hand, and the “sound of a voice that is still.” At the moment he asked the question he was turning over a little silken needle-book that one of you laughing girls made some day, and tucked in the corner of a bag, labelled “U. S. Sanitary Commission.” On the cover of that book you had wrought the words, playfully perhaps, “My bold soldier boy.” I silently pointed to the legend: the reply struck home to his heart and he burst into tears. I assure you they were not bitter tears he shed; and as he wiped them away with a white film of a handkerchief you girls hemmed for him, his question was twice answered, and he was content. His eyelids closed down, his breathings grew regular, he had fallen asleep, and I thought it was the picture of the “Soldier's dream” over again. You hear of the mal-appropriation of your gifts; but never fear; one grain may fail, but two will spring up and blossom into forget-me-nots. Your work is everywhere. Go with me to that tent standing apart. It is the dead-house tent. Four boys in their brown blankets, four white wood coffins, four labels, with four names on four still breasts. Two of the four garments the sleepers wear are of linen from your stores, stitched by your fingers. Verily, the Ladies' Soldiers' Aid Societies should be named “Mary,” for are they not, like her old, the “last at the cross, and the earliest at the grave” ? “When can I go home, doctor?” is the question forever shaped by the lips and asked by the eyes as he goes his daily rounds. There was a train of cars at last,--box cars — cattle cars — if you like it better,--drawn up opposite the hospital at nine o'clock, as the four hundred poor
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Doc . 62 .-Hoisting the Black flag — official correspondence and reports.
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