Nurse describes the scene at Gettysburg’s train station
Background post: Gettysburg wounded soldiers entrained for York army hospital
“On the day that the railroad bridge was repaired (July 7) we moved up to the depot, close by the town, and had things in perfect order; a first rate camping ground, in a large field directly by the track, with unlimited supply of delicious cool water. Here we set up two stoves, with four large boilers, always kept full of soup and coffee, watched by four or five black men, who did the cooking, under our direction, and sang (not under our direction) at the tops of their voices all day.
Then we had three large hospital tents, holding about thirty-five each, a large camp-meeting supply-tent, where barrels of goods were stored, and our own smaller tent fitted up with tables, where jelly pots and bottles of all kinds of good syrups, blackberry and black currant, stood in rows. Barrels were ranged round the tent walls; shirts, drawers, dressing-gowns, socks, and slippers (I wish we had more of the latter,) rags and bandages, each in its own place on one side; on the other, boxes of tea, coffee, soft crackers, tamarinds, cherry brandy, etc. Over the kitchen, and over this small supply-tent we women rather reigned, and filled up our wants by requisitions on the Commission’s depot. By this time there had arrived a “delegation” of just the right kind from Canandaigua, N.Y., with surgeon dressers and attendants, bringing a first-rate supply of necessities and comforts for the wounded, which they handed over to the Commission.
Twice a day the trains left for Baltimore or Harrisburg, and twice a day we fed all the wounded who arrived for them.”
“Things were systematized now, and the men came down in long ambulance trains to the cars; baggage-cars they were, filled with straw for the wounded to lie on, and open at either end to let in the air. A government surgeon was always present to attend to the careful lifting of the soldiers from ambulance to car. Many of the men could get along very nicely, holding one foot up, and taking great jumps on their crutches. The latter were a great comfort; we had a nice supply at the lodge, and they travelled up and down from the tents to the cars daily.
Only occasionally did we dare let a pair go on with some very lame soldier, who begged for them; we needed them to help the new arrivals each day, and trusted to the men being supplied at the hospitals at the journey’s end. Pads and crutches are a standing want, pads particularly. We manufactured them out of the rags we had, stuffed with sawdust from brandy boxes and with half a sheet and some soft straw Mrs.——made a poor dying boy as easy as his sufferings would permit. Poor young fellow, he was so grateful to her for washing, and feeding him. He was too ill to bear the journey, and went from our tent to the church hospital and from the church to his grave, which would have been coffinless but for the care of—–, for the Quarter Master’s Department was overtaxed, and for many days our dead were simply wrapped in their blankets, and put into the earth. It is a soldierly way after all, of lying wrapped in the old war-worn blanket, the little dust returned to dust.
When the surgeons had the wounded all placed, with as much comfort as seemed possible under the circumstances, on board the train, our detail of men would go from car to car, with soup made of beef-stock or fresh meat, full of potatoes, turnips, cabbage, and rice with fresh bread and coffee, and, when stimulants were needed, with ale, mil-punch, or brandy. Water-pails were in great demand for use in the cars on the journey, and also empty bottles to take the place of canteens. All our whiskey and brandy bottles were washed and filled up at the spring, and the boys went off hugging their extemporized canteens, from which they would wet their wounds, or refresh themselves till the journey ended.
I do not think that a man of the 16,000 who were transported during our stay, went from Gettysburg, without a good meal—rebels and Unionists together, they all had it, and were pleased and satisfied. “Have you friends in the army, madam?” a rebel soldier, lying on the floor of the car, said to me, as I gave him some milk. “Yes, my brother is on—–‘s staff.” “I thought so, ma’am. You can always tell; when people are good to soldiers they are sure to have friends in the army.” “We are rebels, you know, ma’am,” another said; “Do you treat rebels so?” It was strange to see the good brotherly feeling come over the soldiers, our own and the rebels, when side by side they lay in our tents. “Hello, boys! this is the pleasantest way to meet, isn’t it? We are better friends when we are as close as this, than a little farther off.” And then they would go over the battles together: “we were here,” and “you were there,” in the friendliest way.
After each train of cars daily, for the three weeks we were in Gettysburg, trains of ambulances arrived too late, men who must spend the day with us until the 5 P.M. cars went, and men too late for 5 P.M. train, who must spend the night till the 10 A.M. cars went. All the men who came in this way, under our own immediate and particular attention, were given the best we had of care and food. The surgeon in charge of our camp, with his most faithful dresser and attendants, looked after all their wounds, which were often in a most shocking state, particularly among the rebels.
Every evening and morning they were dressed. Often the men would say, “That feels good. I haven’t had my wound so well dressed since I was hurt.” Something cool to drink is the first thing asked for after the long, dusty drive, and pailfuls of tamarinds and water, “a beautiful drink,” the men used to say, disappeared rapidly among them.
Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Honolulu, December 31, 1863