Bucklin’s Hospital & Camp: “Our hospital cares and labors made fast friends of many of us” (Part 17)

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 17 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 33 and 34.

Chapter 33

As previously described the hospital at Point of Rocks started in the plantation buildings and expanded into military tents. By winter 1864-65, wooden ward buildings were constructed and the patients moved into these shelters.

Religious services or entertainment lectures based on the concept of lyceums passed the winter weeks for the convalescent soldiers:

Many little incidents were enacted and laughed at. Amongst others was that of an earnest sober-minded convalescent named Fountain, who appeared in the doorway of the Church, as the officiating chaplain was reading the words of the hymn, “Come thou Fount of every blessing,” when he stalked in and distinctly said, “ Yes, I’m coming.”

The winter months also gave the hospital staff time to get better acquainted. One of the hospital stewards recounted his adventures, starting with his plight as a Union loyalist from western Virginia forced into Confederate ranks. Captured, he quickly enlisted with a New Hampshire regiment and returned to action. After some crimes committed by his fellow enlistees, he decided to summon the provost marshal, but on the way, was seized and charged with desertion. Three times he was sent to the firing squad with mishaps in the deadly ceremony occurring each time. The chaplain halted the final attempt by bringing a pardon from President Lincoln.

A corporal who worked as a cook at the hospital had a different brush with death. He “had been so badly wounded, at the battle of Malvern Hill, that they ticketed him with name and regiment, and laid him out on an old stretcher to die.” But he survived.

Unlike other hospitals where Bucklin had been sent, this facility had a well-run laundry room which turned out clean and ironed sheets every day and offered paid employment for newly-freed men and women.

One freed woman told Nurse Bucklin that she was planning to get married, and Bucklin offered to help prepare for a “real wedding.”

The event was agreed upon, and the linen-room was illuminated with chandeliers and some clusters of early ‘wild ?owers. I procured two kinds of cake, some apples, and a pail full of lemonade, and invited, as guests, the surgeons and their wives, the ward masters, cooks, women nurses, and Chaplain Hager, who was to officiate. At the appointed time the bride appeared, dressed in a snowy muslin robe, a beautiful white head-dress, with little knots of ?owers for ornaments. She was accompanied by Martha and Amelia—her bridesmaids.

Shortly after the wedding, Celia—the bride—came to Nurse Bucklin and announced that she was leaving. Her soldier-husband was getting sent with his unit to Texas, and she had determined to go with him.

Point of Rocks Hospital, Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ppmsca-33640)

Chapter 34

In the spring of 1865, the hospital staff planted “an immense garden on the rebel plantation.” Vegetable seeds sprung to life in the garden rows, covering one hundred acres.

In addition to creating a food supply for the hospital, the officers divided parts of the former-plantation into small acreages of farm fields and helped families who had originally been enslaved on the property to establish themselves and start farming or cottage industry. The man who had enslaved them reappeared after Lincoln’s assassination and announced that Lincoln’s death ended freedom. But “thank God, freedom lived and Rev. Jack Strong had no power to roll back its mighty tide.”

Point of Rocks hospital welcomed a regimental dog, to the delight of the recovering soldiers and others living at the medical wards:

A regimental dog in our hospital became an object of no little interest to all. He was a noble looking fellow, of the Newfoundland species, and was possessed of remarkable intelligence. His master had been detailed to work in the cook house, whence he would carry a basket of meat as faithfully as a man and with astonishing quickness and ?delity. He seemed to prefer the active service to a hospital life, and he again and again ran – away to the front, and joined the regiment, in which he seemed to be as well drilled as any of the soldiers. He enjoyed the crack of the ri?e, and the boom of the cannon, and had been thus far through the war without receiving injury.

There were still moments of conflict in the organized hospital, though. Bucklin recorded that some soldiers routinely appeared, faking illnesses as a way to escape from the front lines. She had little patience with them, especially when she discovered that one was stealing from the hospital supplies and selling the items.

To be continued next weekend…

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