Today marks the 154th Anniversary of the Battle of Monocacy. It is a battle I have written about frequently, and as for previous anniversaries, I wanted to make sure to post something to remember “The Battle that Saved Washington.” In the past, I shared an account of a civilian caught up in the crossfire, and today I wanted to post another letter, this time from a soldier who, while he fought at Monocacy, left an especially compelling account of his experience after the fighting.
Daniel Long hailed from Niagara County in western New York. When the Civil War began, he was already forty years old, nearly twice the age of an average soldier during the war. In the fall of 1862 Long joined the 151st New York Infantry and soon earned his corporal’s stripes. During the fighting at Monocacy, the 151st New York found itself at the battle’s crucible around the Thomas Farm. As the Federal lines broke, the Confederate onslaught cut Long off from the rest of his regiment. He hid in a stand of woods for two days before, on July 11, making his way back into Frederick. Finding the town back in Federal hands and his regiment long gone back to Baltimore, Long wasn’t sure what to do until a doctor assigned him as an attendant at the nearby General Hospital # 1. He would stay there for the next two months.
As a hospital attendant assigned to the hospital, Long did anything that could to help the patients. He wrote the following letter on August 14, 1864, and, though written a month following the battle at Monocacy, reveals how much work and how much suffering still continued in Frederick as a result of what happened on July 9:
August 14th 1864
As I am not very busy this afternoon, I will write you a few lines and let you know I am well. My appetite is as sharp as an old meat-ax, and I have plenty to eat. The victuals for the patients are all brought into the barrack and dealt out to them, so taking what is brought from the cook-house and what the citizens ring in, makes more than the patients can eat, and what is left the nurses get, although it is calculated that all detailed men should go to the cook-house to get their meals. Sometimes I go to the cook-house and get what they have there, and then fall back on what they have left in the barrack, so you see I have plenty to eat. There are from two to five soldiers buried every day, excepting today. I believe there is none today and think it is the first day since I have been here. I am getting so used to men dying I don’t mind it anymore. A person gets hardened to those things. We have one or two in our barrack now that I think can’t live. One man had a ball go through his knee, and the doctor tried to save his leg, and I think he will lose his life through it. Limbs that were taken off when they were first wounded are getting along nicely. A good many lose their lives because the doctors try to save the limb. If I am ever wounded in the joints, I will tell the doctor to saw it off at once. We haven’t many in the hospital now, and the work is not very hard at present, and if they don’t have any fighting around here we shall have easy times after a little. I hope the most of the fighting is done with. Judging from what little experience I have had in the hospital, there has been awful sight of human suffering caused by this war. I am on watch tonight from one o’clock until morning; I have to watch half of every third night. I don’t know where the corps is now, unless they are at Harpers Ferry.
I ever remain your affectionate husband.
Long’s letter reveals much to the historian. As a soldier suddenly thrust into the aftermath of combat, now tasked with saving lives rather than taking them, Long’s words reveal a man trying to cope with the differences. He has grown hardened after two years of service in combat, and his words about amputations are especially pertinent. Though the public perception of Civil War medicine is that it was little better than butchery, Long’s words about how amputation saved lives, and how he would even prefer it, show how in some cases it was the best option.
Daniel Long returned to his regiment in September, 1864. He survived the war and returned home to New York, where he died around the turn of the 20th century. His words remind us of the cost of what happened in the fields outside of Frederick 154 years ago.