In Hospital and Camp, A Woman’s Record of Thrilling Incidents Among the Wounded in the Late War by Sophronia E. Bucklin
It’s Week 13 of our read-along with extra historical notes and images. If you want to catch up on the chapter notes, just click here for the collection in the archive. This week we are looking at chapters 25 and 26.
After getting on the wrong boat, Nurse Bucklin and her fellow government nurses endured a rough voyage from White House Landing, then up river again to City Point. Along the river bank, Confederate sharpshooters on the Peninsula still aimed at the transport ships, adding additional danger. The weary travelers also discovered early in the trip that they did not have rations and nearly starved before they found food when they finally went ashore.
She described seeing the pontoon bridges at Charles City:
Our passage was resumed on the following morning, which was as glorious as the preceding one. At ten o’clock we came to a stand before pontoon bridges at Charles City, which had. just been swung across the river for the Grand Army of the Potomac to make the passage over. We watched the solid columns in long, apparently unending, lines constantly crossing, which, however, were eventually followed by wagons, cannon, cattle and all the immense paraphernalia of the safe-guard of the Republic.
When the ship arrived at City Point:
Here again were cannon, cattle, contrabands, rebels, and the boys in blue; The army supplies, heavily guarded, were also there, and while the women of the commissions and agencies went to seek Gen. Grant’s headquarters, we gathered in a little knot, apart from all others….
Similar to the situation near White House Landing, the first days at City Point had “organized chaos” for medical care and medical facilities were in the fields or the tents were erected literally as the wounded arrived for aid.
I have often, since those days, thought how strange it was that no feeling of home-sickness ever came over me whilst in the midst of these trying circumstances. I scarcely ever even stopped to think that if I had remained at home I should have been spared these privations. I seemed to be sustained by an almost unnatural courage, and strengthened to a remarkable degree.
Once again, Nurse Bucklin’s medical and field hospital details focus on the Army of the Potomac’s II Corps:
Soon I had charge of three hundred wounded under tents, with men detailed to dress their wounds, while I looked after their diet and the stimulants, dressing wounds the remainder of the time in the ?eld till the Second Corps was relieved and the Ninth took its place. At that time, beds and bedsteads began to be brought in both for patients and ourselves, and a tent was assigned to four of us.
And once again, bad food and scarcity of the bad food caused trouble. The wounded and sick felt angry that they marched, fought, and suffered for their cause, but then found that the U.S. government and army did not provide their rations to the hospitals in a prompt and orderly way. Eventually, the system at City Point and the other hospital locations around Petersburg would be be better organized and the supply chain would stabilize.
Since the army struggled to provide edible rations for the II Corps hospitals, the government nurses appealed to the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a separate organization which provided additional support and medical aid as civilians. However, in this case, the Sanitary Commission officials turned a deaf ear to the pleas from the II Corps nurses, claiming that they could not distribute food supplies without proper authorization from their organization.
At first it seemed like the final straw when Dr. Hammond arrived and greeted the nurses with a statement that he was “ugly” when things did not “go right.” The female nurses carefully avoided him, but one night Hammond asked Nurse Bucklin if she would converse with him. He was trying to figure out why the nurses didn’t like him and did not communicate with him. Bucklin explained, and then, at his insistence, detailed the situation with the poor and lacking food. Dr. Hammond listened and then started making the needed changes for the hospital. There are many negative accounts of doctors mistreating female nurses during the Civil War and refusing to acknowledge their opinions or expertise, but this example is a different look at the story of one doctor who listened to a nurse’s observations and decided to cooperate with the need for improvements.
Bucklin sailed north on one of the transport ships with the wounded. She found the conditions appallingly crowded and was startled by the number of deaths during the voyage. One particular death weighed heavily on her mind and offers a glimpse into the lack of knowledge about how war “unsettled” the mind and how to effectively assist a soldier struggling with post-traumatic stress.
During the night a heavy thunder-storm broke over us, and, while the waves were rolling and tossing our boat dreadfully, the cry of “A MAN OVERBOARD !” startled us all to our feet. The boat was under full headway, and, in the dense darkness, it was impossible to save him, therefore he perished in the waters of the Chesapeake. Bay. It was said that his mind was unsettled, and he had availed himself of the opportunity for self destruction, when he knew no efforts could save him after he had made the fatal leap.
Back in the north, Bucklin encountered another group of Sanitary Commission volunteers, including one man who was supposedly in charge. She managed to strongly hint at the problems with the agent who had declined to help her hospital. Privately, she reflected: Nurses and soldiers were supposed, by many of the officers, to be mere machines, incapable of thought, and unworthy of any attention beyond requiring them to be obedient, without questioning whenever their rights were infringed upon. To men and women accustomed to untrammeled thought and speech, who neither suffered from nor knew an oppressor, this was a difficult thing at times.
To be continued next weekend…