Hospital Sketches
Louisa May Alcott

Part 2 out of 2

doctors 'mazin' spry arter you nusses and folks is done. De
gen'lemen don't kere fer ter wait, no more does I; so you jes'
please ter come at de time, and dere won't be no frettin'

It was a new sensation to stand looking at a full table,
painfully conscious of one of the vacuums which Nature abhors,
and receive orders to right about face, without partaking of the
nourishment which your inner woman clamorously demanded. The
doctors always fared better than we; and for a moment a desperate
impulse prompted me to give them a hint, by walking off with the
mutton, or confiscating the pie. But Ike's eye was on me, and, to
my shame be it spoken, I walked meekly away; went dinnerless that
day, and that evening went to market, laying in a small stock of
crackers, cheese and apples, that my boys might not be neglected,
nor myself obliged to bolt solid and liquid dyspepsias, or
starve. This plan would have succeeded admirably had not the evil
star under which I was born, been in the ascendant during that
month, and cast its malign influences even into my " 'umble "
larder; for the rats had their dessert off my cheese, the bugs
set up housekeeping in my cracker bag, and the apples like all
worldly riches, took to themselves wings and flew away; whither
no man could tell, though certain black imps might have thrown
light upon the matter, had not the plaintiff in the case been
loth to add another to the many trials of long-suffering.
Africa. After this failure I resigned myself to fate, and,
remembering that bread was called the staff of life, leaned
pretty exclusively upon it; but it proved a broken reed, and I
came to the ground after a few weeks of prison fare, varied by an
occasional potato or surreptitious sip of milk.

Very soon after leaving the care of my ward, I discovered that I
had no appetite, and cut the bread and butter interests almost
entirely, trying the exercise and sun cure instead. Flattering
myself that I had plenty of time, and could see all that was to
be seen, so far as a lone lorn female could venture in a city,
one-half of whose male population seemed to be taking the other
half to the guard-house,--every morning I took a brisk run in one
direction or another; for the January days were as mild as
Spring. A rollicking north wind and occasional snow storm would
have been more to my taste, for the one would have braced and
refreshed tired body and soul, the other have purified the air,
and spread a clean coverlid over the bed, wherein the capital of
these United States appeared to be dozing pretty soundly just

One of these trips was to the Armory Hospital, the neatness,
comfort, and convenience of which makes it an honor to its
presiding genius, and arouses all the covetous propensities of
such nurses as came from other hospitals to visit it.

The long, clean, warm, and airy wards, built barrack-fashion,
with the nurse's room at the end, were fully appreciated by Nurse
Periwinkle, whose ward and private bower were cold, dirty,
inconvenient, up stairs and down stairs, and in every body's
chamber. At the Armory, in ward K, I found a cheery, bright-eyed,
white-aproned little lady, reading at her post near the stove;
matting under her feet; a draft of fresh air flowing in above her
head; a table full of trays, glasses, and such matters, on one
side, a large, well-stocked medicine chest on the other; and all
her duty seemed to be going about now and then to give doses,
issue orders, which well-trained attendants executed, and pet,
advise, or comfort Tom, Dick, or Harry, as she found best. As I
watched the proceedings, I recalled my own tribulations, and
contrasted the two hospitals in a way that would have caused my
summary dismissal, could it have been reported at headquarters.
Here, order, method, common sense and liberality reigned and
ruled, in a style that did one's heart good to see; at the Hurly
burly Hotel, disorder, discomfort, bad management, and no visible
head, reduced things to a condition which I despair of
describing. The circumlocution fashion prevailed, forms and
fusses tormented our souls, and unnecessary strictness in one
place was counterbalanced by unpardonable laxity in another. Here
is a sample: I am dressing Sam Dammer's shoulder; and, having
cleansed the wound, look about for some strips of adhesive
plaster to hold on the little square of wet linen which is to
cover the gunshot wound; the case is not in the tray; Frank, the
sleepy, half-sick attendant, knows nothing of it; we rummage high
and low; Sam is tired, and fumes; Frank dawdles and yawns; the
men advise and laugh at the flurry; I feel like a boiling tea-
kettle, with the lid ready to fly off and damage somebody.

"Go and borrow some from the next ward, and spend the rest of the
day in finding ours," I finally command. A pause; then Frank
scuffles back with the message: "Miss Peppercorn ain't got none,
and says you ain't no business to lose your own duds and go
borrowin' other folkses;." I say nothing, for fear of saying too
much, but fly to the surgery. Mr. Toddypestle informs me that I
can't have anything without an order from the surgeon of my ward.
Great heavens! where is he? and away I rush, up and down, here
and there, till at last I find him, in a state of bliss over a
complicated amputation, in the fourth story. I make my demand; be
answers: "In five minutes," and works away, with his head upside
down, as he ties an artery, saws a bone, or does a little needle-
work, with a visible relish and very sanguinary pair of hands.
The five minutes grow to fifteen, and Frank appears, with the
remark that, "Dammer wants to know what in thunder you are
keeping him there with his finger on a wet rag for?" Dr. P. tears
himself away long enough to scribble the order, with which I
plunge downward to the surgery again, find the door locked, and,
while hammering away on it, am told that two friends are waiting
to see me in the hall. The matron being away, her parlor is
locked, and there is nowhere to see my guests but in my own room,
and no time to enjoy them till the plaster is found. I settle
this matter, and circulate through the house to find Toddypestle,
who has no right, to leave the surgery till night. He is
discovered in the dead house, smoking a cigar; and very much the
worse for his researches among the spirituous preparations that
fill the surgery shelves. He is inclined to be gallant, and puts
the finishing blow to the fire of my wrath; for the tea-kettle
lid flies off, and driving him before me to his post, I fling
down the order, take what I choose; and, leaving the absurd
incapable kissing his hand to me, depart, feeling, as Grandma
Riglesty is reported to have done, when she vainly sought for
chips, in Bimleck Jackwood's "shifless paster."

I find Dammer a well acted charade of his own name, and, just as
I get him done, struggling the while with a burning desire to
clap an adhesive strip across his mouth, full of heaven-defying
oaths, Frank takes up his boot to put it on, and exclaims:

"I'm blest ef here ain't that case now! I recollect seeing it
pitch in this mornin', but forgot all about it, till my heel went
smash inter it. Here, ma'am, ketch hold on it, and give the boys
a sheet on't all round, 'gainst it tumbles inter t'other boot
next time yer want it."

If a look could annihilate, Francis Saucebox would have ceased to
exist; but it couldn't; therefore, he yet lives, to aggravate
some unhappy woman's soul, and wax fat in some equally congenial

Now, while I'm freeing my mind, I should like to enter my protest
against employing convalescents as attendants, instead of strong,
properly trained, and cheerful men. How it may be in other places
I cannot say; but here it was a source of constant trouble and
confusion, these feeble, ignorant men trying to sweep, scrub,
lift, and wait upon their sicker comrades. One, with a diseased
heart, was expected to run up and down stairs, carry heavy trays,
and move helpless men; he tried it, and grew rapidly worse than
when he first came: and, when he was ordered out to march away to
the convalescent hospital, fell, in a sort of fit, before he
turned the corner, and was brought back to die. Another, hurt by
a fall from his horse, endeavored to do his duty, but failed
entirely, and the wrath of the ward master fell upon the nurse,
who must either scrub the rooms herself, or take the lecture; for
the boy looked stout and well, and the master never happened to
see him turn white with pain, or hear him groan in his sleep when
an involuntary. motion strained his poor back. Constant
complaints were being made of incompetent attendants, and some
dozen women did double duty, and then were blamed for breaking
down. If any hospital director fancies this a good and economical
arrangement, allow one used up nurse to tell him it isn't, and
beg him to spare the sisterhood, who sometimes, in their
sympathy, forget that they are mortal, and run the risk of being
made immortal, sooner than is agreeable to their partial friends.

Another of my few rambles took me to the Senate Chamber, hoping
to hear and see if this large machine was run any better than
some small ones I knew of. I was too late, and found the
Speaker's chair occupied by a colored gentleman of ten; while two
others were "on their legs," having a hot debate on the cornball
question, as they gathered the waste paper strewn about the floor
into bags; and several white members played leap-frog over the
desks, a much wholesomer relaxation than some of the older
Senators indulge in, I fancy. Finding the coast clear, I likewise
gambolled up and down, from gallery to gallery; sat in Sumner's
chair. and cudgelled an imaginary Brooks within an inch of his
life; examined Wilson's books in the coolest possible manner;
warmed my feet at one of the national registers; read people's
names on scattered envelopes, and pocketed a castaway autograph
or two; watched the somewhat unparliamentary proceedings going on
about me, and wondered who in the world all the sedate gentlemen
were, who kept popping out of odd doors here and there, like
respectable Jacks-in-the-box. Then I wandered over the "palatial
residence" of Mrs. Columbia, and examined its many beauties,
though I can't say I thought her a tidy housekeeper, and didn't
admire her taste in pictures, for the eye of this humble
individual soon wearied of expiring patriots, who all appeared to
be quitting their earthly tabernacles in convulsions, ruffled
shirts, and a whirl of torn banners, bomb shells, and buff and
blue arms and legs. The statuary also was massive and concrete,
but rather wearying to examine; for the colossal ladies and
gentlemen, carried no cards of introduction in face or figure;
so, whether the meditative party in a kilt, with well-developed
legs, shoes like army slippers, and a ponderous nose, was
Columbus, Cato, or Cockelorum Tibby, the tragedian, was more than
I could tell. Several robust ladies attracted me; but which was
America and which Pocahontas was a mystery; for all affected much
looseness of costume, dishevelment of hair, swords, arrows,
lances, scales, and other ornaments quite passe with damsels of
our day, whose effigies should go down to posterity armed with
fans, crochet needles, riding whips, and parasols, with here and
there one holding pen or pencil, rolling-pin or broom. The statue
of Liberty I recognized at once, for it had no pedestal as yet,
but stood flat in the mud, with Young America most symbollically
making dirt pies, and chip forts, in its shadow. But high above
the squabbling little throng and their petty plans, the sun shone
full on Liberty's broad forehead, and, in her hand, some summer
bird had built its nest. I accepted the good omen then, and, on
the first of January, the Emancipation Act gave the statue a
nobler and more enduring pedestal than any marble or granite ever
carved and quarried by human bands.

One trip to Georgetown Heights, where cedars sighed overhead,
dead leaves rustled underfoot, pleasant paths led up and down,
and a brook wound like a silver snake by the blackened ruins of
some French Minister's house, through the poor gardens of the
black washerwomen who congregated there, and, passing the
cemetery with a murmurous lullaby, rolled away to pay its little
tribute to the river. This breezy run was the last I took; for,
on the morrow, came rain and wind: and confinement soon proved a
powerful reinforcement to the enemy, who was quietly preparing to
spring a mine, and blow me five hundred miles from the position I
had taken in what I called my Chickahominy Swamp.

Shut up in my room, with no voice, spirits, or books, that week
was not a holiday, by any means. Finding meals a humbug, I
stopped away altogether, trusting that if this sparrow was of any
worth, the Lord would not let it fall to the ground. Like a flock
of friendly ravens, my sister nurses fed me, not only with food
for the body, but kind words for the mind; and soon, from being
half starved, I found myself so beteaed and betoasted, petted and
served, that I was quite "in the lap of luxury," in spite of
cough, headache, a painful consciousness of my pleura, and a
realizing sense of bones in the human frame. From the pleasant
house on the hill, the home in the heart of Washington, and the
Willard caravansary, came friends new and old, with bottles,
baskets, carriages and invitations for the invalid; and daily our
Florence Nightingale climbed the steep stairs, stealing a moment
from her busy life, to watch over the stranger, of whom she was
as thoughtfully tender as any mother. Long may she wave! Whatever
others may think or say, Nurse Periwinkle is forever grateful;
and among her relics of that Washington defeat, none is more
valued than the little book which appeared on her pillow, one
dreary day; for the D D. written in it means to her far more than
Doctor of Divinity.

Being forbidden to meddle with fleshly arms and legs, I solaced
myself by mending cotton ones, and, as I sat sewing at my window,
watched the moving panorama that passed below; amusing myself
with taking notes of the most striking figures in it. Long trains
of army wagons kept up a perpetual rumble from morning till
night; ambulances rattled to and fro with busy surgeons, nurses
taking an airing, or convalescents going in parties to be fitted
to artificial limbs. Strings of sorry looking horses passed,
saying as plainly as dumb creatures could, "Why, in a city full
of them, is there no horsepital for us?" Often a cart came by,
with several rough coffins in it and no mourners following;
baroucbes, with invalid officers, rolled round the corner, and
carriage loads of pretty children, with black coachmen, footmen,
and maids. The women who took their walks abroad, were so
extinguished in three story bonnets, with overhanging balconies of
flowers, that their charms were obscured; and all I can say of
them is that they dressed in the worst possible taste, and walked
like ducks.

The men did the picturesque, and did it so well that Washington
looked like a mammoth masquerade. Spanish hats, scarlet lined
riding cloaks, swords and sashes, high boots and bright spurs,
beards and mustaches, which made plain faces comely, and comely
faces heroic; these vanities of the flesh transformed our
butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers into gallant riders of
gaily caparisoned horses, much handsomer than themselves; and
dozens of such figures were constantly prancing by, with private
prickings of spurs, for the benefit of the perambulating flower-
bed. Some of these gentlemen affected painfully tight uniforms,
and little caps, kept on by some new law of gravitation, as they
covered only the bridge of the nose, yet never fell off; the men
looked like stuffed fowls, and rode as if the safety of the
nation depended on their speed alone. The fattest, greyest
officers dressed most, and ambled statelily along, with orderlies
behind, trying to look as if they didn't know the stout party in
front, and doing much caracoling on their own account.

The mules were my especial delight; and an hour's study of a
constant succession of them introduced me to many of their
characteristics; for six of these odd little beasts drew each
army wagon, and went hopping like frogs through the stream of mud
that gently rolled along the street. The coquettish mule had
small feet, a nicely trimmed tassel of a tail, perked up ears,
and seemed much given to little tosses of the head, affected
skips and prances; and, if he wore the bells, or were bedizzened
with a bit of finery, put on as many airs as any belle. The moral
mule was a stout, hard-working creature, always tugging with all
his might; often pulling away after the rest had stopped,
laboring under the conscientious delusion that food for the
entire army depended upon his private exertions. I respected this
style of mule; and had I possessed a juicy cabbage, would have
pressed it upon him, with thanks for his excellent example. The
historical mule was a melo-dramatic quadruped, prone to startling
humanity by erratic leaps, and wild plunges, much shaking of his
stubborn head, and lashing out of his vicious heels; now and then
falling flat and apparently dying a la Forrest: a gasp--a
squirm--a flop, and so on, till the street was well blocked up,
the drivers all swearing like demons in bad hats, and the chief
actor's circulation decidedly quickened by every variety of kick,
cuff jerk, and haul. When the last breath seemed to have left his
body, and "Doctors were in vain," a sudden resurrection took
place; and if ever a mule laughed with scornful triumph, that was
the beast, as he leisurely rose, gave a comfortable shake, and
calmly regarding the excited crowd seemed to say--"A hit! a
decided hit! for the stupidest of animals has bamboozled a dozen
men. Now, then! what are you stopping the way for?" The pathetic
mule was, perhaps, the most interesting of all; for, though he
always seemed to be the smallest, thinnest, weakest of the six,
the postillion, with big boots, long-tailed coat, and heavy whip,
was sure to bestride this one, who struggled feebly along, head
down, coat muddy and rough, eye spiritless and sad, his very tail
a mortified stump, and the whole beast a picture of meek misery,
fit to touch a heart of stone. The jovial mule was a roly poly,
happy-go-lucky little piece of horse-flesh, taking everything
easily, from cudgeling to caressing; strolling along with a
roguish twinkle of the eye, and, if the thing were possible,
would have had his hands in his pockets, and whistled as he went.
If there ever chanced to be an apple core, a stray turnip, or
wisp of hay, in the gutter, this Mark Tapley was sure to find it,
and none of his mates seemed to begrudge him his bite. I
suspected this fellow was the peacemaker, confidant and friend of
all the others, for he had a sort of "Cheer-up,-old-boy,-I'll-
pull-you-through" look, which was exceedingly engaging.

Pigs also possessed attractions for me, never having had an
opportunity of observing their graces of mind and manner, till I
came to Washington, whose porcine citizens appeared to enjoy a
larger liberty than many of its human ones. Stout, sedate looking
pigs, hurried by each morning to their places of business, with a
preoccupied air, and sonorous greeting to their friends. Genteel
pigs, with an extra curl to their tails, promenaded in pairs,
lunching here and there, like gentlemen of leisure. Rowdy pigs
pushed the passers by off the side walk; tipsy pigs hiccoughed
their version of "We wont go home till morning," from the gutter;
and delicate young pigs tripped daintily through the mud, as if,
like "Mrs. Peerybingle," they plumed themselves upon their
ankles, and kept themselves particularly neat in point of
stockings. Maternal pigs, with their interesting families,
strolled by in the sun; and often the pink, baby-like squealers
lay down for a nap, with a trust in Providence worthy of human

But more interesting than officers, ladies, mules, or pigs, were
my colored brothers and sisters, because so unlike the
respectable members of society I'd known in moral Boston.

Here was the genuine article--no, not the genuine article at all,
we must go to Africa for that--but the sort of creatures
generations of slavery have made them: obsequious, trickish, lazy
and ignorant, yet kind-hearted, merry-tempered, quick to feel and
accept the least token of the brotherly love which is slowly
teaching the white hand to grasp the black, in this great
struggle for the liberty of both the races.

Having been warned not to be too rampant on the subject of
slavery, as secesh principles flourished even under the
respectable nose of Father Abraham, I had endeavored to walk
discreetly, and curb my unruly member; looking about me with all
my eyes, the while, and saving up the result of my observations
for future use. I had not been there a week before the neglected,
devil-may care expression in many of the faces about me, seemed
an urgent appeal to leave nursing white bodies, and take some
care for these black souls. Much as the lazy boys and saucy girls
tormented me, I liked them, and found that any show of interest
or friendliness brought out the better traits which live in the
most degraded and forsaken of us all. I liked their cheerfulness,
for the dreariest old hag, who scrubbed all day in that
pestilential steam, gossipped and grinned all the way out, when
night set her free from drudgery. The girls romped with their
dusky sweethearts, or tossed their babies, with the tender pride
that makes mother-love a beautifier to the homeliest face. The
men and boys sang and whistled all day long; and often, as I held
my watch, the silence of the night was sweetly broken by some
chorus from the street, full of real melody, whether the song was
of heaven, or of hoe-cakes; and, as I listened, I felt that we
never should doubt nor despair concerning a race which, through
such griefs and wrongs, still clings to this good gift, and seems
to solace with it the patient hearts that wait and watch and hope
until the end.

I expected to have to defend myself from accusations of prejudice
against color; but was surprised to find things just the other
way, and daily shocked some neighbor by treating the blacks as I
did the whites. The men would swear at the "darkies," would put
two gs into negro, and scoff at the idea of any good coming from
such trash. The nurses were willing to be served by the colored
people, but seldom thanked them, never praised, and scarcely
recognized them in the street; whereat the blood of two
generations of abolitionists waxed hot in my veins, and, at the
first opportunity, proclaimed itself, and asserted the right of
free speech as doggedly as the irrepressible Folsom herself.

Happening to catch up a funny little black baby, who was toddling
about the nurses' kitchen, one day, when I went down to make a
mess for some of my men, a Virginia woman standing by elevated
her most prominent features, with a sniff of disapprobation,

"Gracious, Miss P.! how can you? I've been here six months. and
never so much as touched the little toad with a poker."

"More shame for you, ma'am," responded Miss P.; and, with the
natural perversity of a Yankee, followed up the blow by kissing
"the toad," with ardor. His face was providentially as clean and
shiny as if his mamma had just polished it up with a corner of
her apron and a drop from the tea-kettle spout, like old Aunt
Chloe, This rash act, and the anti-slavery lecture that followed,
while one hand stirred gruel for sick America, and the other
hugged baby Africa, did not produce the cheering result which I
fondly expected; for my comrade henceforth regarded me as a
dangerous fanatic, and my protege nearly came to his death by
insisting on swarming up stairs to my room, on all occasions, and
being walked on like a little black spider.

I waited for New Year's day with more eagerness than I had ever
known before; and, though it brought me no gift, I felt rich in
the act of justice so tardily performed toward some of those
about me. As the bells rung midnight, I electrified my room-mate
by dancing out of bed, throwing up the window, and flapping my
handkerchief, with a feeble cheer, in answer to the shout of a
group of colored men in the street below. All night they tooted
and tramped, fired crackers, sung "Glory, Hallelujah," and took
comfort, poor souls! in their own way. The sky was clear, the
moon shone benignly, a mild wind blew across the river, and all
good omens seemed to usher in the dawn of the day whose noontide
cannot now be long in coming. If the colored people had taken
hands and danced around the White House, with a few cheers for
the much abused gentleman who has immortalized himself by one
just act, no President could have had a finer levee, or one to be
prouder of.

While these sights and sounds were going on without, curious
scenes were passing within, and I was learning that one of the
best methods of fitting oneself to be a nurse in a hospital, is
to be a patient there; for then only can one wholly realize what
the men suffer and sigh for; how acts of kindness touch and win;
how much or little we are to those about us; and for the first
time really see that in coming there we have taken our lives in
our hands, and may have to pay dearly for a brief experience.
Every one was very kind; the attendants of my ward often came up
to report progress, to fill my wood box, or bring messages and
presents from my boys. The nurses took many steps with those
tired feet of theirs, and several came each evening, to chat over
my fire and make things cozy for the night. The doctors paid
daily visits, tapped at my lungs to see if pneumonia was within,
left doses without names, and went away, leaving me as ignorant,
and much more uncomfortable than when they came. Hours began to
get confused; people looked odd; queer faces haunted the room,
and the nights were one long fight with weariness and pain.
Letters from home grew anxious; the doctors lifted their
eyebrows, and nodded ominously; friends said "Don't stay," and an
internal rebellion seconded the advice; but the three months were
not out, and the idea of giving up so soon was proclaiming a
defeat before I was fairly routed; so to all "Don't stays" I
opposed "I wills," till, one fine morning, a gray-headed
gentleman rose like a welcome ghost on my hearth; and, at the
sight of him, my resolution melted away, my heart turned traitor
to my boys, and, when he said, "Come home," I answered, "Yes,
father;" and so ended my career as an army nurse.

I never shall regret the going, though a sharp tussle with
typhoid, ten dollars, and a wig, are all the visible results of
the experiment; for one may live and learn much in a month. A
good fit of illness proves the value of health; real danger tries
one's mettle; and self-sacrifice sweetens character. Let no one
who sincerely desires to help the work on in this way, delay
going through any fear; for the worth of life lies in the
experiences that fill it, and this is one which cannot be
forgotten. All that is best and bravest in the hearts of men and
women, comes out in scenes like these; and, though a hospital is
a rough school, its lessons are both stern and salutary; and the
humblest of pupils there, in proportion to his faithfulness,
learns a deeper faith in God and in himself. I, for one, would
return tomorrow, on the "up-again,-and-take-another" principle,
if I could; for the amount of pleasure and profit I got out of
that month compensates for all the pangs; and, though a sadly
womanish feeling, I take some satisfaction in the thought that,
if I could not lay my head on the altar of my country, I have my
hair; and that is more than handsome Helen did for her dead
husband, when she sacrificed only the ends of her ringlets on his
urn. Therefore, I close this little chapter of hospital
experiences, with the regret that they were no better worth
recording; and add the poetical gem with which I console myself
for the untimely demise of "Nurse Periwinkle:"

Oh, lay her in a little pit,
With a marble stone to cover it;
And carve thereon a gruel spoon,
To show a "nuss" has died too soon.


My Dear S.: -- As inquiries like your own have come to me from
various friendly readers of the Sketches, I will answer them en
masse and in printed form, as a sort of postscript to what has
gone before. One of these questions was, "Are there no services
by hospital death-beds, or on Sundays?"

In most Hospitals I hope there are; in ours, the men died, and
were carried away, with as little ceremony as on a battle-field.
The first event of this kind which I witnessed was so very brief,
and bare of anything like reverence, sorrow, or pious
consolation, that I heartily agreed with the bluntly expressed
opinion of a Maine man lying next his comrade, who died with no
visible help near him, but a compassionate woman and a tender-
hearted Irishman, who dropped upon his knees, and told his beads,
with Catholic fervor, for the good of his Protestant brother's
parting soul:

"If, after gettin' all the hard knocks, we are left to die this
way, with nothing but a Paddy's prayers to help us, I guess
Christians are rather scarce round Washington."

I thought so too; but though Miss Blank, one of my mates, anxious
that souls should be ministered to, as well as bodies, spoke more
than once to the Chaplain, nothing ever came of it. Unlike
another Shepherd, whose earnest piety weekly purified the Senate
Chamber, this man did not feed as well as fold his flock, nor
make himself a human symbol of the Divine Samaritan, who never
passes by on the other side.

I have since learned that our non-committal Chaplain had been a
Professor in some Southern College; and, though he maintained
that he had no secesh proclivities, I can testify that he seceded
from his ministerial duties, I may say, skedaddled; for, being
one of his own words, it is as appropriate as inelegant. He read
Emerson, quoted Carlyle, and tried to be a Chaplain; but judging
from his success, I am afraid he still hankered after the hominy
pots of Rebeldom.

Occasionally, on a Sunday afternoon, such of the nurses,
officers, attendants, and patients as could avail themselves of
it, were gathered in the Ball Room, for an hour's service, of
which the singing was the better part. To me it seemed that if
ever strong, wise, and loving words were needed, it was then; if
ever mortal man had living texts before his eyes to illustrate
and illuminate his thought, it was there; and if ever hearts were
prompted to devoutest self-abnegation, it was in the work which
brought us to anything but a Chapel of Ease. But some spiritual
paralysis seemed to have befallen our pastor; for, though many
faces turned toward him, full of the dumb hunger that often comes
to men when suffering or danger brings then nearer to the heart
of things, they were offered the chaff of divinity, and its wheat
was left for less needy gleaners, who knew where to look. Even
the fine old Bible stories, which may be made as lifelike as any
history of our day, by a vivid fancy and pictorial diction, were
robbed of all their charms by dry explanations and literal
applications, instead of being useful and pleasant lessons to
those men, whom weakness had rendered as docile as children in a
father's hands.

I watched the listless countenances all about me, while a mild
Daniel was moralizing in a den of utterly uninteresting lions;
while Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego were leisurely passing
through the fiery furnace, where, I sadly feared, some of us
sincerely wished they had remained as permanencies; while the
Temple of Solomon was laboriously erected, with minute
descriptions of the process, and any quantity of bells and
pomegranates on the raiment of the priests. Listless they were at
the beginning, and listless at the end; but the instant some
stirring old hymn was given out, sleepy eyes brightened, lounging
figures sat erect, and many a poor lad rose up in his bed, or
stretch an eager hand for the book, while all broke out with a
heartiness that proved that somewhere at the core of even the
most abandoned, there still glowed some remnant of the native
piety that flows in music from the heart of every little child.
Even the big rebel joined, and boomed away in a thunderous bass,

"Salvation! let the echoes fly,"

as energetically as if he felt the need of a speedy execution of
the command.

That was the pleasantest moment of the hour, for then it seemed a
homelike and happy spot; the groups of men looking over one
another's shoulders as they sang; the few silent figures in the
beds; here and there a woman noiselessly performing some
necessary duty, and singing as she worked; while in the arm chair
standing in the midst, I placed, for my own satisfaction, the
imaginary likeness of a certain faithful pastor, who took all
outcasts by the hand, smote the devil in whatever guise he came,
and comforted the indigent in spirit with the best wisdom of a
great and tender heart, which still speaks to us from its Italian
grave. With that addition, my picture was complete; and I often
longed to take a veritable sketch of a Hospital Sunday, for,
despite its drawbacks, consisting of continued labor, the want of
proper books, the barren preaching that bore no fruit, this day
was never like the other six.

True to their home training, our New England boys did their best
to make it what it should be. With many, there was much reading
of Testaments, humming over of favorite hymns, and looking at
such books as I could cull from a miscellaneous library. Some lay
idle, slept, or gossiped; yet, when I came to them for a quiet
evening chat, they often talked freely and well of themselves;
would blunder out some timid hope that their troubles might "do
'em good, and keep 'em stiddy;" would choke a little, as they
said good night, and turned their faces to the wall to think of
mother, wife, or home, these human ties seeming to be the most
vital religion which they yet knew. I observed that some of them
did not wear their caps on this day, though at other times they
clung to them like Quakers; wearing them in bed, putting them on
to read the paper, eat an apple, or write a letter, as if, like a
new sort of Samson, their strength lay, not in their hair, but in
their hats. Many read no novels, swore less, were more silent,
orderly, and cheerful, as if the Lord were an invisible
Wardmaster, who went his rounds but once a week, and must find
all things at their best. I liked all this in the poor, rough
boys, and could have found it in my heart to put down sponge and
tea-pot, and preach a little sermon then and there, while
homesickness and pain had made these natures soft, that some good
seed might be cast therein, to blossom and bear fruit here or

Regarding the admission of friends to nurse their sick, I can
only say, it was not allowed at Hurly-burly House; though one
indomitable parent took my ward by storm, and held her position,
in spite of doctors, matron, and Nurse Periwinkle. Though it was
against the rules, though the culprit was an acid, frost-bitten
female, though the young man would have done quite as well
without her anxious fussiness, and the whole room-full been much
more comfortable, there was something so irresistible in this
persistent devotion, that no one had the heart to oust her from
her post. She slept on the floor, without uttering a complaint;
bore jokes somewhat of the rudest; fared scantily, though her
basket was daily filled with luxuries for her boy; and tended
that petulant personage with a never-failing patience beautiful
to see.

I feel a glow of moral rectitude in saying this of her; for,
though a perfect pelican to her young, she pecked and cackled (I
don't know that pelicans usually express their emotions in that
manner,) most obstreperously, when others invaded her premises;
and led me a weary life, with "George's tea-rusks," "George's
foot bath," "George's measles," and "George's mother;" till after
a sharp passage of arms and tongues with the matron, she
wrathfully packed up her rusks, her son, and herself, and
departed, in an ambulance, scolding to the very last.

This is the comic side of the matter. The serious one is harder
to describe; for the presence, however brief, of relations and
friends by the bedside of the dead or dying, is always a trial to
the bystanders. They are not near enough to know how best to
comfort, yet too near to turn their backs upon the sorrow that
finds its only solace in listening to recitals of last words,
breathed into nurse's ears, or receiving the tender legacies of
love and longing bequeathed through them.

To me, the saddest sight I saw in that sad place, was the
spectacle of a grey-haired father, sitting hour after hour by his
son, dying from the poison of his wound. The old father, hale and
hearty; the young son, past all help, though one could scarcely
believe it; for the subtle fever, burning his strength away,
flushed his cheeks with color, filled his eyes with lustre, and
lent a mournful mockery of health to face and figure, making the
poor lad comelier in death than in life. His bed was not in my
ward; but I was often in and out, and for a day or two, the pair
were much together, saying little, but looking much. The old man
tried to busy himself with book or pen, that his presence might
not be a burden; and once when he sat writing, to the anxious
mother at home, doubtless, I saw the son's eyes fix upon his
face, with a look of mingled resignation and regret, as if
endeavoring to teach himself to say cheerfully the long good bye.
And again, when the son slept, the father watched him as he had
himself been watched; and though no feature of his grave
countenance changed, the rough hand, smoothing the lock of hair
upon the pillow, the bowed attitude of the grey head, were more
pathetic than the loudest lamentations. The son died; and the
father took home the pale relic of the life he gave, offering a
little money to the nurse, as the only visible return it was in
his power to make her; for though very grateful, he was poor. Of
course, she did not take it, but found a richer compensation in
the old man's earnest declaration:

"My boy couldn't have been better cared for if he'd been at home;
and God will reward you for it, though I can't."

My own experiences of this sort began when my first man died. He
had scarcely been removed, when his wife came in. Her eye went
straight to the well-known bed; it was empty; and feeling, yet
not believing the hard truth, she cried out, with a look I never
shall forget:

"Why, where's Emanuel?"

I had never seen her before, did not know her relationship to the
man whom I had only nursed for a day, and was about to tell her
he was gone, when McGee, the tender-hearted Irishman before
mentioned, brushed by me with a cheerful--"It's shifted to a
better bed he is, Mrs. Connel. Come out, dear, till I show ye;"
and, taking her gently by the arm, he led her to the matron, who
broke the heavy tidings to the wife, and comforted the widow.

Another day, running up to my room for a breath of fresh air and
a five minutes rest after a disagreeable task, I found a stout
young woman sitting on my bed, wearing the miserable look which I
had learned to know by that time. Seeing her, reminded me that I
had heard of some one's dying in the night, and his sister's
arriving in the morning. This must be she, I thought. I pitied
her with all my heart. What could I say or do? Words always seem
impertinent at such times; I did not know the man; the woman was
neither interesting in herself nor graceful in her grief; yet,
having known a sister's sorrow myself, I could have not leave her
alone with her trouble in that strange place, without a word. So,
feeling heart-sick, home-sick, and not knowing what else to do, I
just put my arms about her, and began to cry in a very helpless
but hearty way; for, as I seldom indulge in this moist luxury, I
like to enjoy it with all my might, when I do.

It so happened I could not have done a better thing; for, though
not a word was spoken, each felt the other's sympathy; and, in
the silence, our handkerchiefs were more eloquent than words. She
soon sobbed herself quiet; and leaving her on my bed, I went back
to work, feeling much refreshed by the shower, though I'd
forgotten to rest, and had washed my face instead of my hands. I
mention this successful experience as a receipt proved and
approved, for the use of any nurse who may find herself called
upon to minister to these wounds of the heart. They will find it
more efficacious than cups of tea, smelling-bottles, psalms, or
sermons; for a friendly touch and a companionable cry, unite the
consolations of all the rest for womankind; and, if genuine, will
be found a sovereign cure for the first sharp pang so many suffer
in these heavy times.

I am gratified to find that my little Sergeant has found favor in
several quarters, and gladly respond to sundry calls for news of
him, though my personal knowledge ended five months ago. Next to
my good John--I hope the grass is green above him, far away there
in Virginia!--I placed the Sergeant on my list of worthy boys; and
many jovial chat have I enjoyed with the merry-hearted lad, who
had a fancy for fun, when his poor arm was dressed. While Dr. P.
poked and strapped, I brushed the remains of the Sergeant's brown
mane--shorn sorely against his will--and gossiped with all my
might, the boy making odd faces, exclamations, and appeals, when
nerves got the better of nonsense, as they sometimes did:

"I'd rather laugh than cry, when I must sing out anyhow, so just
say that bit from Dickens again, please, and I'll stand it like a
man." He did; for "Mrs. Cluppins," "Chadband," and "Sam Weller,"
always helped him through; thereby causing me to lay another
offering of love and admiration on the shrine of the god of my
idolatry, though he does wear too much jewelry and talk slang.

The Sergeant also originated, I believe, the fashion of calling
his neighbors by their afflictions instead of their names; and I
was rather taken aback by hearing them bandy remarks of this
sort, with perfect good humor and much enjoyment of the new game.

"Hallo, old Fits is off again!" "How are you, Rheumatiz?" "Will
you trade apples, Ribs?" "I say, Miss P. may I give Typus a drink
of this?" "Look here, No Toes, lend us a stamp, there's a good
feller," etc. He himself was christened "Baby B.," because he
tended his arm on a little pillow, and called it his infant.

Very fussy about his grub was Sergeant B., and much trotting of
attendants was necessary when he partook of nourishment. Anything
more irresistibly wheedlesome I never saw, and constantly found
myself indulging him, like the most weak-minded parent, merely
for the pleasure of seeing his blue eyes twinkle, his merry mouth
break into a smile, and his one hand execute a jaunty little
salute that was entirely captivating. I am afraid that Nurse P.
damaged her dignity, frolicking with this persuasive young
gentleman, though done for his well being. But "boys will be
boys," is perfectly applicable to the case; for, in spite of
years, sex and the "prunes-and-prisms" doctrine laid down for our
use, I have a fellow feeling for lads, and always owed Fate a
grudge because I wasn't a lord of creation instead of a lady.

Since I left, I have heard, from a reliable source, that my
Sergeant has gone home; therefore, the small romance that budded
the first day I saw him, has blossomed into its second chapter,
and I now imagine "dearest Jane" filling my place, tending the
wounds I tended, brushing the curly jungle I brushed, loving the
excellent little youth I loved, and eventually walking altarward,
with the Sergeant stumping gallantly at her side. If she doesn't
do all this, and no end more, I'll never forgive her; and
sincerely pray to the guardian saint of lovers, that "Baby B."
may prosper in his wooing, and his name be long in the land.

One of the lively episodes of hospital life, is the frequent
marching away of such as are well enough to rejoin their
regiments, or betake themselves to some convalescent camp. The
ward master comes to the door of each room that is to be thinned,
reads off a list of names, bids their owners look sharp and be
ready when called for; and, as he vanishes, the rooms fall into
an indescribable state of topsy-turvyness, as the boys begin to
black their boots, brighten spurs, if they have them, overhaul
knapsacks, make presents; are fitted out with needfuls, and--well,
why not?--kissed sometimes, as they say, good-bye; for in all
human probability we shall never meet again, and a woman's heart
yearns over anything that has clung to her for help and comfort.
I never liked these breakings-up of my little household: though
my short stay showed me but three. I was immensely gratified by
the hand shakes I got, for their somewhat painful cordiality
assured me that I had not tried in vain. The big Prussian rumbled
out his unintelligible adieux, with a grateful face and a
premonitory smooth of his yellow mustache, but got no farther,
for some one else stepped up, with a large brown hand extended,
and this recommendation of our very faulty establishment:

"We're off, ma'am, and I'm powerful sorry, for I'd no idea a
'orspittle was such a jolly place. Hope I'll git another ball
somewheres easy, so I'll come back, and be took care on again.
Mean, ain't it?"

I didn't think so, but the doctrine of inglorious ease was not
the right one to preach up, so I tried to look shocked, failed
signally, and consoled myself by giving him the fat pincushion he
had admired as the "cutest little machine agoin." Then they fell
into line in front of the house, looking rather wan and feeble,
some of them, but trying to step out smartly and march in good
order, though half the knapsacks were carried by the guard, and
several leaned on sticks instead of shouldering guns. All looked
up and smiled, or waved heir hands and touched their caps, as
they passed under our windows down the long street, and so away,
some to their homes in this world, and some to that in the next;
and, for the rest of the day, I felt like Rachel mourning for her
children, when I saw the empty beds and missed the familiar

You ask if nurses are obliged to witness amputations and such
matters, as a part of their duty? I think not, unless they wish;
for the patient is under the effects of ether, and needs no care
but such as the surgeons can best give. Our work begins
afterward, when the poor soul comes to himself, sick, faint, and
wandering; full of strange pains and confused visions, of
disagreeable sensations and sights. Then we must sooth and
sustain, tend and watch; preaching and practicing patience, till
sleep and time have restored courage and self-control.

I witnessed several operations; for the height of my ambition was
to go to the front after a battle, and feeling that the sooner I
inured myself to trying sights, the more useful I should be.
Several of my mates shrunk from such things; for though the
spirit was wholly willing, the flesh was inconveniently weak. One
funereal lady came to try her powers as a nurse; but, a brief
conversation eliciting the facts that she fainted at the sight of
blood, was afraid to watch alone, couldn't possibly take care of
delirious persons, was nervous about infections, and unable to
bear much fatigue, she was mildly dismissed. I hope she found her
sphere, but fancy a comfortable bandbox on a high shelf would
best meet the requirements of her case.

Dr. Z. suggested that I should witness a dissection; but I never
accepted his invitations, thinking that my nerves belonged to the
living, not to the dead, and I had better finish my education as
a nurse before I began that of a surgeon. But I never met the
little man skipping through the hall, with oddly shaped cases in
his hand, and an absorbed expression of countenance, without
being sure that a select party of surgeons were at work in the
dead house, which idea was a rather trying one, when I knew the
subject was some person whom I had nursed and cared for.

But this must not lead any one to suppose that the surgeons were
willfully hard or cruel, though one of them remorsefully confided
to me that he feared his profession blunted his sensibilities,
and perhaps, rendered him indifferent to the sight of pain.

I am inclined to think that in some cases it does; for, though a
capital surgeon and a kindly man, Dr. P., through long
acquaintance with many of the ills flesh is heir to, had acquired
a somewhat trying habit of regarding a man and his wound as
separate institutions, and seemed rather annoyed that the former
should express any opinion upon the latter, or claim any right in
it, while under his care. He had a way of twitching off a
bandage, and giving a limb a comprehensive sort of clutch, which
though no doubt entirely scientific, was rather startling than
soothing, and highly objectionable as a means of preparing nerves
for any fresh trial. He also expected the patient to assist in
small operations, as he considered them, and to restrain all
demonstrations during the process.

"Here, my man, just hold it this way, while I look into it a
bit," he said one day to Fitz G., putting a wounded arm into the
keeping of a sound one, and proceeding to poke about among bits
of bone and visible muscles, in a red and black chasm made by
some infernal machine of the shot or shell description. Poor Fitz
held on like a grim Death, ashamed to show fear before a woman,
till it grew more than he could bear in silence; and, after a few
smothered groans, he looked at me imploringly, as if he said, "I
wouldn't, ma'am, if I could help it," and fainted quietly away.

Dr. P. looked up, gave a compassionate sort of cluck, and poked
away more busily than ever, with a nod at me and a brief--"Never
mind; be so good as to hold this till I finish."

I obeyed, cherishing the while a strong desire to insinuate a few
of his own disagreeable knives and scissors into him, and see how
he liked it. A very disrespectful and ridiculous fancy of course;
for he was doing all that could be done, and the arm prospered
finely in his hands. But the human mind is prone to prejudice;
and though a personable man, speaking French like a born "Parley
voo," and whipping off legs like an animated guillotine, I must
confess to a sense of relief when he was ordered elsewhere; and
suspect that several of the men would have faced a rebel battery
with less trepidation than they did Dr. P., when he came briskly
in on his morning round.

As if to give us the pleasures of contrast, Dr. Z. succeeded him,
who, I think, suffered more in giving pain than did his patients
in enduring it; for he often paused to ask: "Do I hurt you?" and
seeing his solicitude, the boys invariably answered: "Not much;
go ahead, Doctor," though the lips that uttered this amiable fib
might be white with pain as they spoke. Over the dressing of some
of the wounds, we used to carry on conversations upon subjects
foreign to the work in hand, that the patient might forget
himself in the charms of our discourse. Christmas eve was spent
in this way; the Doctor strapping the little Sergeant's arm, I
holding the lamp, while all three laughed and talked, as if
anywhere but in a hospital ward; except when the chat was broken
by a long-drawn "Oh!" from "Baby B.," an abrupt request from the
Doctor to "Hold the lamp a little higher, please," or an
encouraging, "Most through, Sergeant," from Nurse P.

The chief Surgeon, Dr. O., I was told, refused the higher salary,
greater honor, and less labor, of an appointment to the Officer's
Hospital, round the corner, that he might serve the poor fellows
at Hurly-burly House, or go to the front, working there day and
night, among the horrors that succeed the glories of a battle. I
liked that so much, that the quiet, brown-eyed Doctor was my
especial admiration; and when my own turn came, had more faith in
him than in all the rest put together, although he did advise me
to go home, and authorize the consumption of blue pills.

Speaking of the surgeons reminds me that, having found all manner
of fault, it becomes me to celebrate the redeeming feature of
Hurly-burly House. I had been prepared by the accounts of others,
to expect much humiliation of spirit from the surgeons, and to be
treated by them like a door-mat, a worm, or any other meek and
lowly article, whose mission it is to be put down and walked
upon; nurses being considered as mere servants, receiving the
lowest pay, and, it's my private opinion, doing the hardest work
of any part of the army, except the mules. Great, therefore, was
my surprise, when I found myself treated with the utmost courtesy
and kindness. Very soon my carefully prepared meekness was laid
upon the shelf; and, going from one extreme to the other, I more
than once expressed a difference of opinion regarding sundry
messes it was my painful duty to administer.

As eight of us nurses chanced to be off duty at once, we had an
excellent opportunity of trying the virtues of these gentlemen;
and I am bound to say they stood the test admirably, as far as my
personal observation went. Dr. O.'s stethoscope was unremitting
in its attentions; Dr. S. brought his buttons into my room twice
a day, with the regularity of a medical clock; while Dr. Z.
filled my table with neat little bottles, which I never emptied,
prescribed Browning, bedewed me with Cologne, and kept my fire
going, as if, like the candles in St. Peter's, it must never be
permitted to die out. Waking, one cold night, with the certainty
that my last spark had pined away and died, and consequently
hours of coughing were in store for me, I was amazed to see a
ruddy light dancing on the wall, a jolly blaze roaring up the
chimney, and, down upon his knees before it, Dr. Z., whittling
shavings. I ought to have risen up and thanked him on the spot;
but, knowing that he was one of those who like to do good by
stealth, I only peeped at him as if he were a friendly ghost;
till, having made things as cozy as the most motherly of nurses
could have done, he crept away, leaving me to feel, as somebody
says, "as if angels were a watching of me in my sleep;" though
that species of wild fowl do not usually descend in broadcloth
and glasses. I afterwards discovered that he split the wood
himself on that cool January midnight, and went about making or
mending fires for the poor old ladies in their dismal dens; thus
causing himself to be felt--a bright and shining light in more
ways than one. I never thanked him as I ought; therefore, I
publicly make a note of it, and further aggravate that modest
M.D. by saying that if this was not being the best of doctors and
the gentlest of gentlemen, I shall be happy to see any
improvement upon it.

To such as wish to know where these scenes took place, I must
respectfully decline to answer; for Hurly-burly House has ceased
to exist as a hospital; so let it rest, with all its sins upon
its head,--perhaps I should say chimney top. When the nurses felt
ill, the doctors departed, and the patients got well, I believe
the concern gently faded from existence, or was merged into some
other and better establishment, where I hope the washing of three
hundred sick people is done out of the house, the food is
eatable, and mortal women are not expected to possess an angelic
exemption from all wants, and the endurance of truck horses.

Since the appearance of these hasty Sketches, I have heard from
several of my comrades at the Hospital; and their approval
assures me that I have not let sympathy and fancy run away with
me, as that lively team is apt to do when harnessed to a pen. As
no two persons see the same thing with the same eyes, my view of
hospital life must be taken through my glass, and held for what
it is worth. Certainly, nothing was set down in malice, and to
the serious-minded party who objected to a tone of levity in some
portions of the Sketches, I can only say that it is a part of my
religion to look well after the cheerfulnesses of life, and let
the dismals shift for themselves; believing, with good Sir Thomas
More, that it is wise to "be merrie in God."

The next hospital I enter will, I hope, be one for the colored
regiments, as they seem to be proving their right to the
admiration and kind offices of their white relations, who owe
them so large a debt, a little part of which I shall be so proud
to pay.

With a firm faith
In the good time coming,


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