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Doc. 9.-the women of the War.

B. F. Taylor's letter.

army of the Cumberland, October 22, 1863.
Before this letter reaches you, the splendid project of the women of the North-west will be blossoming in full beauty. They will have thronged to the city of the Great Lakes “like doves to their windows,” their hearts and offerings in. their hands; and art, eloquence, and song, the grand pageant, the classic tableau, the exquisite device, the glowing thought, will have been hallowed to the sweet uses of mercy. The lips of the marble images at Mecca were worn away, they say, by the kisses of the pilgrims, but how must the delicate touch of true and loving women smooth and beautify the iron fate of our glorious boys in blue!

Close beside the scene that brightens your city like a carnival, garlanded with flowers and glad with sunshine, I see a shadow strange and sad. I am not sure that the laughing girls, who make a Sharon of the Soldiers' Fair, discern how heavy the borders of that night whence comes the dawn they smile in. I am not sure I can do better than to give an unstudied story of the unseen side of that golden shield of theirs — no silver side, alas! but dark, dull iron. The Ohio, at Louisville, behind you, southward across Kentucky and Tennessee, you look upon a region in the rear of the army of the Cumberland, a breadth of three hundred and eight miles to the spurs of the mountains. That area, once so lovely, is dappled with those shadows strange and sad — the hospitals of the Federal army. At Chattanooga, at Bridgeport, at Stevenson, at Cowan, at Decherd, at Murfreesboroa, at Nashville, strown all along the way, are flocks of tents sacred to mercy and the soldiers' sake. I wish I could bring you near enough to see them, that I could lift aside a fold in ward A here, or ward B there; that you may see the pale rows, each man upon his little couch, the white sheet setting close to the poor, thin limbs like the drapery of the grave. It would wonderfully magnify, I think, the work you are doing, my sisters.

I would not take you to the surgeon's quarters when the battle is beginning; when he lays off the green sash and the tinselled coat, and rolls up his sleeves, and spreads wide his cases filled with glittering silver, and makes ready for work. They begin to come in, slowly at first--one man nursing a shattered arm, another borne by his comrades, three in an ambulance, one on a stretcher; then faster and faster, lying here, lying there, waiting each his terrible turn.

The silver steel grows cloudy and lurid; true, right arms are lopped like slips of golden willow; feet that never turned from the foe, forever more without an owner, strew the ground. The knives are busy, the saws play; it's bloody work. Ah, the surgeon, with heart and head, with hand and eye, fit for such a place, is a prince among them! Cool and calm, quick and tender, he feels among the arteries and fingers the tendons as if they were harp-strings. But the cloud thunders and the spiteful rain patters louder and fiercer, and the poor fellows come creeping in broken ranks like corn beaten down with the flails of the storm. “My God,” cried a surgeon, as, looking up an instant from his work he saw the mutilated crowds borne in; “my God! are all my boys cut down!” And yet it thundered and rained. A poor fellow writhes, and a smothered moan escapes him. “Be patient, Jack,” says the surgeon, cheerfully; “I'll make you all right in a minute.” And what a meaning there was in that “all right!” It was a right arm to come off at the elbow, and “Jack” slipped off a ring that clasped one of the poor, useless fingers that were to blend with the earth of Alabama, and put it in his pocket! He was making ready for the “all right.” Does “Alabama” mean “here we rest” ? If so, how sad yet how glorious have our boys made it,

Who sink to rest,
With all their country's wishes blest!

Another sits up while the surgeon follows the bullet that had buried itself in his side; it is the work of an instant; no solemn council here; no lingering pause; the surgeon is bathed in patriot blood to the elbows, and the work goes on. An eye lies on a ghastly cheek, and silently the sufferer bides his time. “Well, Charley,” says the doctor, .(he is dressing a wound as he talks,) “what's the matter?” “O, not much doctor; only a hand off.” Not unlike was the answer made to me by a poor fellow at Bridgeport, shattered as a tree is by lightning: “How are you now?” said I. “Bully!” was the reply. You should have heard that word as he spoke it; vulgar as it used to seem, it grew manly and noble, and I never shall hear it again without a thought of the boy on the dusty slope of the Tennessee; the boy — must I say it?--that sleeps the soldier's sleep within a hundred rods of the spot where I found him. And so it is everywhere; not a whimper, not a plaint. Only once did I hear either. An Illinois Lieutenant, as brave a fellow as ever drew a sword, had been shot through and through the thighs, fairly impaled by the bullet — the ugliest wound but one I ever saw. Eight days before he weighed one hundred and sixty pounds. Then, he could not have swung one hundred and twenty clear of the floor. He had just been brought over the mountain, and his wounds were angry with fever; they were lifting him as tender as they could; they let him slip and he fell, perhaps six inches. But it was like a dash from a precipice to him, and he wailed out like a child, tears wet his pale, thin face, and he only said, “My poor child, how will they tell her?” It was only for an instant; his spirit and his frame stiffened up together, and with a half smile he said, “Don't tell anybody, boys, that I made a fool of myself!” The Lieutenant, “sleeps well,” and, alas! for the “poor child” --how did they tell her?

A soldier, fairly riddled with bullets, like one of those battle flags of Illinois, lay on a blanket gasping for breath. “Jemmy,” said a comrade, and a friend before this cruel war began, with one arm swung in a sling, and who was going home on furlough, [193] “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 [194] boys, lame, bandaged, supported, carried outright, came over the hill to take the train. It was the wounded brigade, and three of every five wore some token of woman's remembrance — of your loving kindness. It was announced to them on the night before that they were to go at five, and there was no sleep for joy. Some of them had actually watched the night out in the open air, like the Chaldean shepherds, lest by some chance the train should go without them. But they were hopeful and heartful, for they would go by and by. That wounded brigade made my eyes dim as they came; no “pomp and circumstance” now, no martial step, no rustling banners and gleaming arms. I should have been less than human had I not swallowed my heart all day as I thought of that brigade, the grandest body of men I ever saw in my life. Well, the cars were floored with the sick and wounded, and we moved slowly away, and I must tell you that all the way along that weary ride of twenty hours to Nashville, it was the thoughtful gift of woman that kept their hearts up. Not on the field of Chickamauga, not in the woods of Alabama, not on the train in Tennessee could I get out of sight of the Sanitary Commission, the Florence Nightingales of the North-west. I want to describe that ride to-day, but cannot: how they waited hours till a Major-General's swift, commodious car should pass; how they crept along at the rear of everything alive. It is worth a chapter, and it shall have it. And so, my sisters, I have given you a hand's breadth of the shadow which that sunshine of yours has pierced and glorified like the coming of morning. When to the grand eternity of the historic page the scenes amid which we wait and labor have passed, the heart of the world will warm to the women of the North-west; soldierly daring and womanly deeds will be blended together forever; the kiss of the daughters will not stain the sword, of the sons; the violet, lily, and laurel will bloom immortal together, and the lost Eden of old will smile once more on the map of the globe.

B. F. T.

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Thomas M. Jack (2)
B. F. Taylor (1)
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