“woman's devotion” --a Winchester heroine.
The history of Winchester
is replete with romantic and glorious memories of the late war. One of the most interesting of these has been perpetuated by the glowing pencil of Oregon Wilson
, himself a native of this Valley, and the fine picture he has made of the incident portrayed by him has drawn tears from many who loved their Southern country and the devoted women who elevated and sanctified by their heroic sacrifices the cause, which, borne down for a time, now rises again to honor all who sustained it.
That truth, which is stranger than fiction, is stronger too. The simple historic facts which gave Wilson
the theme of his great picture gain nothing from the romantic glamour his beautiful art has thrown about the actors in the story.
In 1864, General Ramseur
, commanding a Confederate force near Winchester
, was suddenly attacked by a Federal force under General Averell
, and after a sharp encounter was forced back through the town.
The battle field was near the residence of Mr. Rutherford
--about two miles distant--and the wounded were gathered in his house and yard.
The Confederate surgeons left in charge of these wounded men appealed to the women of Winchester
(the men had all gone off to the war) to come out and aid in dressing the wounds and nursing the wounded.
As was always the way of these Winchester
women, they promptly responded to this appeal, and on the----July more than twenty ladies went out to Mr. Rutherford
's to minister to their suffering countrymen.
There were more than sixty severely wounded men who had been collected from the battle field and were lying in the house and garden of Mr. Rutherford
The weather was warm, and those out of doors were as comfortable and quiet as those within.
Amongst them was a beardless boy named Randolph Ridgely
; he was very severely hurt — his thigh was broken by a bullet, and his sufferings had been very great — his nervous system was shocked and unstrung, and he could find no rest.
The kind surgeon in charge of him had many others to care for; he felt that quiet sleep was all important for his young patient, and he placed him under the charge of a young girl who had accompanied these ladies from Winchester
; told her his life depended on his having quiet sleep that night; showed her how best to support his head, and promised to return and see after
his condition as soon and as often as his duties to the other wounded would permit.
All through that anxious night the brave girl sat sustaining the head of the wounded youth and carefully guarding him against everything that could disturb his rest or break the slumber into which he gently sank, and which was to save his life.
She only knew and felt that a brave Confederate life depended on her care.
She had never seen him before, nor has she ever seen him since.
And when at dawn the surgeon came to her, he found her still watching and faithful, just as he had left her at dark — as only a true woman — as we love to believe our Virginia
women can be. The soldier had slept soundly.
He awoke only once during the night, when tired nature forced his nurse to change her posture; and when after the morning came she was relieved of her charge, and she fell ill of the exhaustion and exposure of that night, her consolation during the weary weeks she lay suffering was that she had saved a brave soldier for her country.
In the succeeding year, Captain Hancock
, of the Louisiana
infantry, was brought into Winchester
wounded and a prisoner.
He lay many weeks in the hospital, and when nearly recovered of his wounds, was notified that he would be sent to Fort Delaware
As the time drew near for his consignment to this hopeless prison, he confided to Miss Lenie Russell
, the same young girl who had saved young Ridgely
's life, that he was engaged to be married to a lady of lower Virginia
, and was resolved to attempt to make his escape.
She cordially entered into his plans, and aided in their successful accomplishment.
The citizens of Winchester
were permitted sometimes to send articles of food and comfort to the sick and wounded Confederates, and Miss Russel
availed herself of this to procure the escape of the gallant captain.
She caused him to don the badge of a hospital attendant, take a market basket on his arm and accompany her to a house, whence he might, with least danger of detection and arrest, effect his return to his own lines.
made good use of his opportunity and safely rejoined his comrades; survived the war; married his sweetheart, and to this day omits no occasion for showing his respect and gratitude for the generous woman to whose courage and address he owes his freedom and his happiness.