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Samuel Henry Eells.

Hospital Steward 12th Michigan Vols. (Infantry), February 7, 1862; Assistant Surgeon February I, 1863; died at Detroit, Mich., January 31, 1864, of disease contracted in the service.

Samuel Henry Eells was the son of Rev. James Henry and Maria Antoinette (Fletcher) Eells, and was born in Oberlin, Ohio, August 19, 1836. A few months after his birth, his father was drowned in attempting to cross the Maumee River. Ten years later the family removed to Boston, and young Eells was placed at the Brimmer Public School. Thence he was transferred to the Quincy School, where he received a Franklin medal; and thence entered the public Latin School, where he was fitted for college. In 1854 his mother died, and he came under the guardianship of his uncle, George N. Fletcher, Esq., of Detroit, Michigan.

His college life was quiet and uneventful, and most of his classmates knew him very little. Yet he always looked back with warm affection upon this period and its associations; as was shown by a very cordial letter which he wrote from Arkansas to the Class Secretary, three months before his death, in which was enclosed a liberal contribution to the Class fund.

He wrote in the ‘Class Book,’ just before graduating:—

My plans for the future are yet somewhat undecided. I think, however, of studying medicine. There has been a great number of clergymen in the Eells family; and my relations on my father's side have been anxious that I should follow the example of my father, grandfather, great-great-grandfather, and greatgreat-great-grandfather, besides a number of others not in the direct line. But for myself, I have been uniformly opposed to the idea, and am still of the same opinion.

Accordingly, after graduation, he went to Detroit, Michigan, and began at once the study of medicine with Dr. C. H. Barrett of that city, residing meanwhile in the family of his guardian. [390] He attended also the medical lectures of Michigan University, at Ann Arbor, during the winter of 186-62; but before his course of study was completed, the war changed all his plans.

On February 7, 1862, he enlisted as Hospital Steward in the Twelfth Michigan Volunteers (Infantry), then in camp at Niles, Michigan. He took part in the battle of Shiloh, where he was made prisoner,—an experience which is graphically described in one of his letters.

my dear friends,—I have not heard a word from you since I left Niles. Don't you write, or do the letters fail of coming through? I presume it is the latter. At any rate, I presume you would like to hear from me, and to know that I am alive and uninjured after this great battle. Well, I am so; but I got my share of the bad luck of last Sunday, for I have been a prisoner among the Secesh until last night, and had rather a hard time of it; but have got back safe to our lines, and mighty glad I was to do so too.

The papers will give you the details of the battle better than I could do, but I will tell you all I know about it in brief. Our pickets had been skirmishing two or three days previously; but our commanders do not seem to have known of the enemy's advance in force. We had no artillery in the front, either, nor any strong force on picket duty. On Sunday morning, about two o'clock, the attack began on our camp. The pickets had been driven in within a mile of the camp, and our men then went out to reinforce them. You must understand that the attack began along the whole line about the same time; but the camps were disposed irregularly, and ours was the first attacked at this point. The camp was not intrenched at all, and the trees in front of it not even cut down. The first that I saw of the fight was the line of our men drawn up a little way in front of the tents, and firing at the enemy, whom I could not see. The Rebels greatly outnumbered us, but we were in hopes our men could hold them at bay until reinforcements should arrive. None came, however, and our men were gradually forced back. They retired slowly, fighting as they went, and doing splendidly for green troops, until they came to the camp. Then the enemy began to come in at the sides as well as in front,—flanking is the technical term,—and our men were forced to run to escape being surrounded. [391] All this time I was in the hospital tents, helping to dress the wounded; but I managed to run out once in a while to see the fight.

The wounded came in pretty fast, and soon filled up the hospital, and then they were laid down on the ground outside. We were all hard at work, and only just begun at that, when the rout began. Everybody else was running off as fast as possible; but the surgeons resolved that they would not leave their wounded, and I was not going either when my services were most required. Most of the hospital attendants ran away, but some remained, and we continued our work of attending to the wounded, though the bullets began to come unpleasantly near and thick. One passed through the tent, and within three inches of my head, as I was dressing a wounded man, smashing a bottle of ammonia liniment that stood on a box beside me, and sending the fluid right into my face and eyes. Very soon the Rebels came pouring in on all sides. We, of course; made no resistance, and they did not fire upon us, though some levelled their guns at us, and we rather expected to be shot than otherwise. I know I expected every moment to get hit, for the balls were flying all around, though I do not think they were meant for the hospital or any of us there. The ground outside was covered with the wounded all around, and the yellow flag was over the tent. I did not know but what I should get frightened in the first battle; but I believe I did n't. I was too busy; and, if I had been ever so much scared, I don't think I could have run off and left our wounded crying for help. It was a pitiful sight, I can tell you. I hope never to see the like again. Such groans and cries for help, and especially for “Water! Water!” all the time. We could not attend to them half as fast as they needed, though we worked as hard as we could. Soon after the first appearance of the Rebels, General Hindman, of Arkansas, rode up, and placed a guard over us, and assured us we should not be molested, though we must consider ourselves prisoners. Two Rebel surgeons came up too, and established their hospitals right by ours, and made liberal use of our medicines and hospital stores.

There we worked all day upon the Rebel wounded as well as our own, for there were a great number of them brought there. Towards night they commenced carrying the wounded away, and Dr. Kedgie and I were sent off with the first load that went of our men. During all the day we could hear the battle still going on between us and the river, which was about four miles off; and every [392] now and then a shot or shell would come crashing through the trees among us, but none of us happened to get hit. Our men were slowly driven back to the river, and many of them were made prisoners; but when they got to the landing, the gunboats on the river opened fire on the Rebels, and an immense battery of over a hundred guns, it is said, on the bluff assisted, and the enemy's advance was effectually stopped. This was about sundown, and next morning General Buell arrived with fresh troops, another fight took place, and the Rebels were driven back faster than they drove us the day before. We prisoners, however, knew nothing of this; for we were marched off with many of our wounded men, some walking and some in wagons, to a Rebel hospital about five miles from here.

He remained a prisoner but a few days, there being an agreement between the surgeons on both sides that the wounded in the joint hospitals should be allowed to return to their respective camps on recovery, and their hospital attendants with them. After his exchange, he took part in the battle of the Hatchie, in the siege of Vicksburg, and in the expedition into Arkansas, under General Steele. On February 1, 1863, he was promoted to be Assistant Surgeon on the recommendation of his medical superiors, in spite of his want of a diploma. A letter written later in the season, gives some account of the wearisome and exhausting service on which he now entered.

camp at Snyder's Bluff, Mississippi, July 25, 1863.

I wrote you last from the Big Black. We have returned from that interesting country, after staying long enough to more than treble our sick-list, and are back here in the old camp, but expecting every day to leave. I understand our division is ordered to Helena, Arkansas, and will leave as soon as transportation can be furnished us. Helena is not the most eligible place in the world to go to; but we shall be glad to get away from here, for we can hardly go to a worse place, unless it should be Vicksburg. That is now the hottest, dirtiest, most unhealthy, and in every respect the most undesirable place within our lines. The regiment marched back here, but I was put in charge of over a hundred sick and convalescents belonging to our brigade, to bring them around by railroad from the Big Black to Vicksburg, and from there to this place by boat, and a nice time I had of it. The heat was intolerable, and [393] the sand on the levee, over ankle deep, fairly scorched one s feet through boots. We had to stay there more than twenty-four hours before we could get a boat to take us on board, though there were half a dozen lying across the river, with steam up ready to go anywhere on the receipt of orders. We got off at last, however, and brought all the men safely through. Our sick-list is larger now than it has been for over a year, but there are very few serious cases. Intermittent fever is the prevailing disease; and as long as we can get quinine enough, we can manage that. We have not lost a man since we came here, which is more than any other regiment I know of can say; in fact, we have only lost one man by disease (and that was small-pox) since last November. The new regiments suffer most, as would of course be expected. . . .

I wish I could daguerreotype our camp for you. I have thought that very often you could have so much better an idea of our situation here than from any description. The position of the army here would be interesting too, I should think, to you folks at home. From the pictures in the papers of scenes that I know, I am satisfied they can seldom approach the truth, and are not at all trustworthy. If you could see the whole side of the high bluff covered with tents for miles,—tents now empty, for most of the soldiers that were here are out at the Big Black, or in that vicinity; the Rebel rifle-pits running all along the edge of the slope, and ours too, sometimes parallel, sometimes crossing theirs; the places for guns on every commanding summit; the Rebel ports partly grassed over now, with the charred remains of gun-carriages, shot and shell lying among the weeds and brush; the exploded magazines; the caves the Rebs lived in, dug in the side of the bluff! Then if you could go to Vicksburg, in the miles of captured works; the big guns that have killed so many of our brave soldiers, some dismounted, some still in position and guarded by blue-coats; then if you could go into the town, see almost every building torn by shot and shells, some with clean round holes through and through, some with great holes in the roof, and the interior knocked into ruins by the explosion of shell; the streets full of filth, mingled with musket-balls, grape, cannon-shot, and every species of missile; and above all, the old stars and stripes floating from the cupola of the proud old Court-House, the crown of the city, like the State-House at Boston; the gunboats in the river; the chartered transports, miles of them lying at the levee;—if you could see all these things, or if I could only give you a pen-picture of them, you would get [394] some idea of the war, of its magnitude, and how it is conducted, how much it is costing every day.

The results of these labors and exposures soon became apparent. In August he was attacked by chills and fever, followed by camp diarrhea, and still later by ulcerated sore throat, terminating in bronchial consumption. Early in December he obtained leave of absence, and returned to Detroit, very weak and unable to speak above a whisper, but still retaining his courage and hopeful of ultimate recovery. In the words of his guardian: ‘When he was told, a few hours before his death, that he could not live, he received it without a fear, and looked on death calmly as his spirit went out, even after he had ceased to move a muscle, being still conscious, seemingly to the last breath. He fully believed God would do rightly with him, and did not fear to trust him.’ He died on the last day of January, 1864.

He had previously written as follows, from the camp near Brownsville, Arkansas, September 5, 1863, to Dr. F. H. Brown of Boston, who was then collecting information as to the Harvard military record:—

I enlisted as Hospital Steward in February, 1862, and in February, 1863, was promoted to Assistant Surgeon. Being with the Army of the Tennessee all the time, I have had but little opportunity to learn what was going on at the East, and particularly in Cambridge. I shall be glad to get any information with regard to my Alma Mater and the doings of her sons, especially in the war, and shall be happy to pay any sum which may be necessary for this purpose.

Before the letter could be answered, he himself had added, in his own modest and silent way, another act of sacrifice to those noble deeds of which he wrote; and the sum which he contributed was his life.


James Jackson Lowell.

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