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 19 and the concluding post 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 37 and 38.
The war in Virginia was over and though Point of Rocks Hospital stayed operational through the end of May 1865, Nurse Bucklin and others took short trips to see the battlefields. They started with a trip to Petersburg, and she recorded this about the fields and trenches where so many soldiers had been killed or wounded:
The rebel defences were ingeniously constructed. The four tiers of works and three rows of abattis seemed impregnable to any force which could be thrown against them. The sharpened stakes bristled up into the air, about three feet from the ground, and so close that a man could not pass between them. Torpedoes lay just under the earth between each one, and if by chance our men should succeed in passing one, another and yet another lay beyond, ready to explode under their tread. The evidences of hard contested battle lay on every hand as we entered the city. The streets on. the outskirts were sadly damaged every building had upon it the mark of a shot or shell. Bridges were broken, fences were burned to ashes, and’ trees with immense boughs were lopped off.
In the city of Petersburg, she met a southern woman whose views contrasted with the southerners she had interacted with in the previous chapters. This woman expressed joy that the war was over, her sons would come home, and slavery was finished.
Bucklin spent some time musing about slavery, and she felt that it prevented the Confederacy from having a righteously endorsable cause: “The Confederacy was built upon the sandy foundation of human bondage and could not stand. Blood could not cement it-—valor and enthusiasm could not hold it up. Any other and more righteous cause, than that of the iniquitous rebellion, could not have failed of success, if sustained with equal courage, fortitude and endurance.”
Given the opportunity to get a travel pass and visit Richmond, Nurse Bucklin seized the opportunity and took ship for Petersburg. From there, she and her traveling companions had a slow train ride to Richmond and finished journey by horse and wagon, noting the irregular time schedules for the trains along the way.
In Richmond, she visited Libby Prison, Castle Thunder, the state capitol building, and she witnessed Confederates taking the “ironclad oath.” While on the tour of Libby Prison, she was told about the escapes in February 1864 and saw the small tunnel.
The thrilling attempt was recorded by the Charleston Mercury on February 16, 1864 and gives more details:
At the base of the east wall, and about twenty feet from the Cary street front, was discovered a tunnel, the entrance to which was hidden by a large rock, which fitted the aperture exactly. This stone, rolled away from the mouth of the sepulcher, revealed an avenue, which it was at once conjectured led to the outer world beyond. A small negro boy was sent into the tunnel on a tour of exploration, and by the time Major Turner and Lieutenant LaTouche gained the outside of the building, a shout from the negro announced his arrival at the terminus of the subterranean route. Its passage lay directly beneath the tread of three sentinels, who walked the breadth of the east end of the prison, across a paved alley way, a distance of more than fifty feet, breaking up inside of the enclosure in the rear of Carr warehouse. So nicely was the distance gauged, that the inside of the enclosure was struck precisely, which hints strongly of outside measurement and assistance. Through connection once opened, the prisoners were enabled to worm themselves through the tunnel, one by one, and emerging at least sixty feet distant from any sentinel post, to retake themselves off, singly, through an arched gateway, to some appointed rendezvous. To reach the entrance of the tunnel it was necessary for the prisoners to cut through the hospital room and the closed stairway leading into the basement. All the labor must have been performed at night, and all traces of the work accomplished at night was closed up or cleared away before the morning light. The tunnel itself is a work of several months, being about three feet in diameter and at least sixty feet in length, with curvatures worked around rock.
The final chapter of Nurse Bucklin’s memoirs deals with the final scenes of her military service, but starts with her journey from Richmond, back to Point of Rocks with a quick stop at City Point. At City Point, she witnessed former Rebels begging for food, and the the U.S. Sanitary Commission and U.S. Christian Commission were doing their best to meet that supply need.
As the days passed, ships took soldiers, the last sick and wounded, and tons of supplies back north as elsewhere in the country, the mustering out process pushed forward.
We watched with deep interest all these signs of the breaking up of the Grand Army of the Republic—but own hearts beating anxiously as we thought of the rest which we too had won, and that no more brave ‘soldiers would be brought, in shattered condition, to our white hospital tents, from bloody battlefields.
The closing of the hospital caused some temporary challenges for Nurse Bucklin as she moved into a tent that did little to keep her or her belongings away from the elements of heavy rainstorms. However, she waited out the storms and looked forward to going home.
Home was now the beautiful port in view. It was the first time that I felt a willingness to seek its shelter during three long years. While battles were to be fought, I was ready and truly anxious to endure suffering, to be near the scene of conflict and to help minister to the bleeding heroes. I have even thought that imprisonment alone would have kept me from my country’s service after the way to enter into’ it had been opened up.
Among the sad memories of these years in hospital and camp, of some fast friendships formed when the dead lay around us, with the suffering and groaning on every hand, there remain some pleasant ones—the cherished of my life. In the silent watches of the night and the peaceful hours of the day they come to me as ministering angels to soothe my soul, when troubled with life’s many little perplexities, and awaken in me a charitable view of earthly affairs.
Like all who survived the Civil War, Nurse Bucklin left the scenes of war, death, and healing with memories that she could not erase. But she knew she had accomplished her desire to serve and make a difference for the sick and wounded she found on the battlefields, field hospitals, and base hospitals across Washington D.C. Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.