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 18 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 35 and 36.
As this chapter opens, Nurse Bucklin detailed the military preparations for the attacks on Petersburg. An air of suspense hung in the area and soldiers and medical staff suspected the final battles of the war loomed ahead in the spring of 1865. But there would be more casualties before the conflict ended: “The ambulances and supply wagons had been thundering into our hospital camp for days, and stood in long lines, closely packed, ready to move at a moment’s warning.”
She wrote more about the stories she heard from Richmond’s fall than Petersburg in this chapter, particularly noting that the Union soldiers found the city in flames and and how the “boys in blue began to fight a new foe”: the fires.
The battles around Petersburg and Richmond brought more casualties to the Hospital at Point of Rocks.
Soon the wounded began to pour in. Rebel and Union, side by side, were borne in on the stretchers, from the boats, and all cared for alike. Freshly wounded men lay in the beds from which former patients had convalesced, and death was a frequent visitor in the wards. Our supplies were ample….
News filtered back to the hospital, and the news of Lee’s surrender was hailed by medical staff and soldiers in the hospital as the end of the war. Although they knew other Confederate forces were still in the field, they regarded Appomattox as the act that would finish the war with the other endings as epilogue. Interestingly, that’s the typical view found in history books today also. Still, the war deaths continued even as the news of surrender arrived:
One dying soldier, who had been brought in from the victorious field, and who heard the sound of the cheering, summoned all his energies, and lifting himself upon his elbow, cried out, “Glory to God! Thank God I lived to see this day! I can die satisfied, now!” – and soon after breathed his last.
On President Lincoln’s trip to Richmond, he visited Point of Rocks Hospital, and Nurse Bucklin remembered: “His plain, honest face lighted up with a winning smile as he talked to the boys of speedy release. Nor did he withhold the word of cheer from the rebels; they were assured they also should soon return to the bosom of their families. Little did we then think that in life we should never look upon his noble face again.”
The news of Lincoln assassination days later shocked the medical staff and hospital patients. In the midst of their grief, they worried that the president’s death would prolong the war. Eventually, they learned that would not be the case.
Our souls were lifted up out of the gloom and darkness and soldiers caught up visions of home and friends as they yet sorrowed for him [Lincoln] who had lived through all the din of the conflict, and home the weight of the Nation’s cares, to die when the dawn of peace was lighting up its horizon.
Between Lincoln’s assassination and Boothe’s capture, Nurse Bucklin had to go to Washington D.C. and the scene in the capital left an impression on her:
The Capital presented a scene long to be remembered. The streets everywhere were draped in mourning. The body of the assassinated President had just been taken from the Capitol. The gloom .was universal, and no one dared to whisper an approval of the horrible deed by which the nation was robbed of a loved chief, and the name of Abraham Lincoln was made synonymous with that of “ THE NOBLE MARTYR.”
This chapter holds the memories of a wide range of emotions as Bucklin tried to process the losses from the war, the joy of freedom that she saw, and how all the experiences of the last years had personally affected her:
Everywhere there was joy that the war was over. Black and white shared alike in the promises held forth to them in the surrender. I found only a few old friends in the white wards, who were now‘ convalescent, and were about to be . sent to their regiments, to be thence transferred home when the hour should come.
I walked to the Soldiers’ Cemetery to visit the grave of old Aunty Alexander. She had gone from Camp Stoneman on a brief visit to New York, and on her return was detailed for duty here. She had been a good nurse and had worked hard until sudden death overtook her. In compliance with her request she was buried with military honors amongst the soldiers who died in the hospital.
Back at Point of Rocks Hospital, Bucklin stood up to Southern women who came into the facilities and started complaining that the African American women working in the laundry talking too loudly. Bucklin ignored the complaints, suggesting that the visiting women could leave. Angry, they departed and complained to the hospital steward; he, in turn, told Bucklin he should slap the women in the laundry room for talking disrespectfully to white women. Bucklin stood her ground and refused, feeling that the contraband women had suffered under slavery and had a right to speak.
Meanwhile, the patients in the hospital waited anxiously to be sent North, looking forward to seeing family and friends now that the war was ending.
To be continued next weekend…