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Layout of the army hospital on Penn Commons (Scott Mingus photo).

Letters from York U.S. Army Hospital in new book by James Moss, Sr. – Part 2

Here is part 2 of “McE’s” September 26, 1862, letter to E. H. Thomas, the editor of the Lancaster-based Church Advocate. Courtesy of author James Moss, Sr. The writer, an artilleryman also from Lancaster, was a patient at the York Army Hospital recovering from a severe bout of hepatitis. Click here to read part 1 of this lengthy letter.

“While I am writing, there is a temperance meeting in the full tide of operation in the hospital chapel. A strange clergyman is addressing it. The men are there in large numbers and seemingly very attentive to what he says. If ardent and enthusiastic Pat, and honest. lymphatic Deitrich [two of McE’s comrades at the hospital], can be converted to his theory, and thus be made to forego their whiskey, and their lager beer, then I will admit that the age of miracles is not past yet. I was, myself, asked to address this meeting, but not having, in my own judgment upon the subject, brought “forth fruit meet for repentance,” respectfully declined, believed that what I might say on the subject, like the rostrums of some of our army surgeons, would facilitate the destruction of the patient, rather than effect his cure.”

“I must content myself to remain in the rear, at least for some time to come, before I venture upon the platform of reformation, which requires cleanness of hands and purity of purpose to sustain it. Until the guardian angel of my destiny returns again with healing on her wings and words of promise to the ear, I will not make a temperance speech again.

The clergymen referred to, was followed by the Rev. James Allen Brown, at present acting as chaplain here, who is a fine, classical scholar and accomplished speaker. He is a native of Lancaster county, born in Drumore township, and was at the time of the breaking out of this rebellion, President of Newberry College, in South Carolina. Being a strong Union man, he was obliged to flee from that State to escape the application of the rebel Lynch law. He left a fine property behind him, a comfortable home and a lucrative position, and reached this place after a weary and dangerous travel, with his wife and five small children. He is a complete specimen of the Christian gentleman, a most estimable man and universally respected by the citizens of York, as well as the soldiers who are sojourning here. Nearly a quarter of a century ago, he was a teacher in the High School in Lancaster, and doubtless is well remembered by some of our citizens. He has the respect and confidence of all.

The army, after all, is not the place, as some persons take it to be, for the successful reformation of character. “He that is Holy,” when he enters it must be possessed of a strong repopulation and determined will, if he remains “holy still:” and “he that is filthy” is apt to remain filthy still. Hence the labors and responsibilities of a chaplain, if he would be successful, are of the severest and most self denying character.
There is an increasing recklessness of danger, death, and the realities of a future state, which make the men indifferent of their conduct, and that feeling is at times, wonderfully enlarged, by the marked partiality of Christians who are sent into our camps upon missions of mercy and the rude, secular conversations and obscene jests, which are too frequently indulged in by those who are entrusted with our spiritual care. Until these evils are remedied, it will be in vain to try to make the soldier anything else than a participant in the wild wandering and apparently lawless pursuit in which he is engaged.

Although death stares him perpetually in the face, sweeps by him in the blood stained ambulance, points to the nameless and countless graves, traces its fearful decrees upon the whitened tent, speaks potent eloquence in the whistling ball and the bursting shell, tracks him on his weary marches through the malarias swamp and sits a pale sentinel at the cheerless camp fire, the careless and prayer less soldier “cares for none of these things.” And yet the sin of the soldier is indifference and not crime.

No man professes a more enlarged humanity than he. He will share his last dime or his last biscuit with both friend and foe. He aims at no sordid or selfish pursuits. He expends his money as freely as he does his blood. I have seen them upon the bloody field, shed tears of pity and compassion over the fallen enemy, rebuke some excited companion, for hurrying them too rapidly into the grave. In short the finer impulses of his heart are only equaled by its daring and intrepid courage, and when his real motives come to be summed up, we find that he kills through necessity and not choice.”

McE would remain silent until the end of the year, when he sent a second letter describing the Christmas 1862 season at the York Army Hospital. I will post that letter in the future, perhaps closer to Christmas 2010.

Thanks again go out to my good friend Jim Moss for allowing me to post the above excerpt from his recently released Volume 2 of A History of the Civil War as Presented by the Church Advocate (Harrisburg, Pa.: s. n. 2010). The book contains more than 100 letters from Union soldiers in both the Eastern and Western theaters. There are also several references to York County in the two volumes issued to date.