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 16 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 31 and 32. Just a couple weeks left and we’ll be finished with the book! (Or have you already read ahead?)
At Point of Rocks Hospital (see last week for details), Nurse Bucklin took care of soldiers from the Army of the James. The hospital was set up at a former plantation and included the usual wards for the sick and wounded and separate area—she called it “log stockades”—were soldiers were initially places for immediate aid, washing, and changing clothes before admission to the wards.
In contrast to the previous troubles at a City Point hospital, here the doctor in charge organized the system of federal and private supply chains and did not allow for state preferences or racial inequality toward the patients in the hospital. With plenty of basic supplies and specialty food items in the large cookhouse, the nine government nurses and other staff worked in a well-run facility.
This is the first time I’ve seen Ginger Tea mentioned so specifically in a Civil War medical memoir. It sounds like they were making a hot version of sweet tea since she mentions adding so much sugar that it was like a thin syrup. Ginger can have health benefits, but whether the doctors and nurses were aware of them or simply making something sweet and warm for the chilled soldiers isn’t quite clear. One of ginger’s benefits is reducing nausea; perhaps the sick and wounded were suffering from motion sickness from water transport or ambulance swaying?
The arrival of cold weather reminded Bucklin that she had a stove and winter clothing waiting for her at City Point. When she went to retrieve the items, the pesky guard wouldn’t let take the stove with the clothing stored inside because it had all been accidentally addressed to Miss Dix. Other soldiers and a doctor who knew Bucklin came to her aid and finally let her take the items as long as she promised to write and make sure it was okay with Miss Dix. Apparently, it was. Miss Dix never wrote back.
With her stove and winter clothing secure at Point of Rocks hospital, Bucklin continued her work in the wards. She recorded that the wards were not segregated, and all soldiers suffered terribly from the cold. The freezing temperatures added new dangers for those still on the battle lines, including severe frostbite.
In her spare time, Bucklin taught African American soldiers to read and wrote about her interactions with them:
I was exceedingly interested in these men many of whom had just been liberated from bondage, and were ?ghting to retain for themselves and children the newly acquired boon of liberty. They were universally polite and deferential to me, ‘again and again expressing their gratitude, for the good care which Northern women gave them, by the remark, “Jest as if we had white faces, missus.” I often heard singing and praying, as I came into the ward, but could not see a single face. Putting my ear down to the beds, I found the voices were those of the occupants, who, with their heads entirely enveloped in .the blankets, were performing their devotions in bed.
I found it interesting that Bucklin did not record a special meal or activity for Thanksgiving (a traditional celebration for the North), but she did leave a glimpse of Christmas 1864 and New Years Day 1865 at Point of Rocks Hospital:
On Christmas and New-Year’s day we had turkeys, chickens, and oysters, and an extra meal was provided for all. The convalescents dined around a beautiful table, in the great dining-room, which accommodated nine hundred persons, while the patients were served in their wards.
The opening pages of this chapter focus mostly on stories about Nurse Bucklin’s patients. Unfortunately, she did not include their names. She wrote about the death and burial of a USCT soldier, advocating for a black soldier to get a furlough, and hearing that a freed couple had named their new baby girl Sophronia after their favorite nurse!
The nurses helped the soldiers appeal for furloughs, explaining, appealing on their behalf, or assisting with navigating the process to get them time at home. One soldier returned from furlough with a tragic story for one of his fellow patients who had not been able to travel yet. The friend had found the soldier’s family in desperate circumstances, particularly since the soldier had not been paid in 11 months.
His family had been turned out of the house in which they had lived and were tenanting a miserable room, to pay the rent of which his wife took in washing when able, while the children begged in the streets for bread. Her health, never very good, had broken down under these trials. After his return, he seemed to be always brooding over their situation—but the fortunate closing of the war, in the spring, sent him back to his family with two strong hands to work for their comfort.
Released prisoners started arriving at Point of Rocks hospital at the start of their journey northward. Their stories of suffering and their appearances led Bucklin to conclude it was better to die on the battlefield.
It was enough to draw tears from eyes unused to weep to look upon these unfortunate heroes with shattered minds and skeleton frames. Thin faces told of days and weeks and months of torture—of starvation—of exposure to the sun through almost intolerable heat—of nakedness while covered with the dews of night, and of every grade of suffering.
The war would end within a few months, but Bucklin wondered how the prisoners and her patients would survive and cope with their experiences and war memories.
To be continued next weekend…