Our Army Nurses.
Nurse Matilda E. Morris.
Interesting sketches, addresses, and photographs of nearly one hundred of the Noble Women who served in hospitals and on battlefields during our civil war.
Complied by Mary A. Gardner Holland.
(Written by Matilda E. Morris)
EARLY in the war I conceived the plan of going into some hospital as a nurse; but my friends would not listen to my plan, saying there was work enough to do at home. In spite of this, I could not feel that making shirts, bandages, etc., was all I ought to do.
My mother finally gave her consent, and I wrote to David Todd, then Governor of Ohio, to see if I could get a pass. In about a week came a reply, containing pass and transportation to Washington, D. C. I was not long in making my preparations, yet it seemed a great undertaking, as I was not accustomed to traveling alone.
It was one morning in August, 1862, that I left my home in Randolph, Ohio, leaving my two dear little daughters in the care of their loyal grand- parents, who bade me Godspeed in my undertaking, — though it was a sad parting, for God alone knew whether we should meet again on earth.
I took the train at Atwater, Ohio, Aug. 20, 1862, and at Wheeling, W. Ya., our trouble began. A dispatch had been received before our arrival, warning the officers not to start any train for Washington until further notice was given, as the rebels were making a raid on every train on the B.&O.R.R.
One thousand soldiers were sent to clear the way, and the next morning word came that the train could start. We knew it was still a perilous undertaking, yet we were 391
glad to take some risk rather than wait any longer. Here I had been befriended by a family of Quakers, who were waiting for the same train.
The gentleman had been over the road a great many times, so he could point out all the places of interest. He had been employed by President Lincoln as a scout all through those mountains, and was only taking his wife and sister to Baltimore, then would start on another scouting expedition. He gave much valuable information, and a letter of introduction to some friends of theirs in Washington. We did not see anything of the enemy, but heard occasional firing, and of course knew what that meant. We parted at Annapolis, never to meet again; and that evening I arrived in Washington, but it was too late to see my husband, who was wounded and in a hospital there. I was very tired, and glad of a good night's rest at the hotel.
When I awoke I could scarcely believe that I was at the Capital of the United States (or, rather. Divided States,just then). At nine o'clock I went to Armory Square Hospital, and found my husband's wound much worse than I had expected. I will not try to tell you how we felt, to meet again after so long a time, although under such trying circumstances.
When the surgeon came to make his morning call I told him why I was there, and what I wanted to do, and learned that there would soon be need of more nurses. The next morning I reported to Doctor Bliss, and we had a long talk, which ended by his engaging me to begin my duties as soon as more patients came.
He told me to remain until he needed me, but I was not idle very long.
One day I saw Doctor Bliss coming up the walk in great haste. "Ladies," he said, "it* you have anything in particular that you wish to have done, do it now, for your ward will soon be full, and there will be plenty of work for us all. The enemy are coming this way, and there will be a big fight to keep them from entering the city."
This was August 27th. Then came the Second Battle of Bull Run. The excitement in Washington was intense. We could hear the cannonading constantly. There were only a few patients left in our wards, and we put everything in readiness.
We were near both of the river depots, where the wounded would be landed. Soon we heard a great commotion outside, and, looking, I beheld what I never wish to see again. A sadder sight one could not imagine than those loads of wounded men. That day my life as a hospital nurse commenced. Our hearts and hands were full, tending to so many. Some died before they reached the building.
Each ward had fifty beds and two nurses; but at home we think it hard work to care for one patient. It was a hard day for us all. First we gave each a drink of cold water, as that was their only cry. I shall never forget one poor fellow who was lying near an old building.
He looked as if he were dead, but I stooped to make sure, and thought I saw Ms lips move. The man who was carrying the pail cried : " Come along he is dead, fast enough." "No, wait a minute," I replied, and began to wet his lips.
Very soon I had him revived so much that he could drink out of my cup. He was a NewYork Zouave. The next time I saw him he was on his way to his regiment. After water had been given to all we went around with bread and butter and coffee. Oh, how the poor hungry fellows did relish it! I had many a "God bless you " that day. A great many had been carried into the wards while we were working outside, and we next procured washbasins, soap and water, and went to washing the blood from their faces — a work that was very grateful to the men. This occupied the time until midnight.
I might write volumes about what happened in this one hospital, but shall have to pass over a great many events.
One battle followed another, and each furnished wounded soldiers. I remained until after the battles of the "Wilderness and of Spottsylvania Court House. I have a little Testament that one of my boys gave me. He picked it up in the Wilderness. Poor fellow, he died on the way home. His father came for him, and stopped in Philadelphia to get another son who was so badly wounded that he was not expected to live many days. Another son was at the front. The father wrote to inform me of his boy's death, and he said that the mother's heart was almost broken. And so it was all through the war: fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, all suffering for the same cause.
After being in Armory Square Hospital a long time I was transferred to Findley Hospital, also situated in Washington, where I remained several months under Doctor Pancoast. We did not have much to do, and I made up my mind to go to the front. The doctor said he would like to have me stay, but finally made out my discharge papers. He also gave me a splendid recommendation. I feel very proud of these papers, as I do also those given me by Doctor Bliss.
In order to go to the front I had to enlist with Miss Dix. After going through with considerable red tape she employed another nurse and myself, and had us sent to Sandy Hook, near Harper's Ferry, where we reported to Surgeon Barnes, in October, 1864. He told us there was not much to do, as he had just sent away a lot of wounded men; but we had better stay, and perhaps there would be more in soon.
I said, "No, let us go farther down into the valley."
So he gave us passes and transportations toHarper'sFerry. They were made out to take us to Winchester, Va., but we could not go for several days, as General Sheridan was there with his cavalry. We all remember the battle, and the victories he achieved in the valley of the Shenandoah. In October, when things became a little more quiet, we started for Martinsbarg. We had not gone more than half way when we had quite a thrilling adventure.
Suddenly our train came to a standstill. The rebels had been there the night before and torn up the track for miles, and wrecked and burned the train ahead of ours. There we were in a barren country, not a house in sight, and with the enemy all around us. The rebels had made a mistake, and they were wild with disappointment. It was our train that had the pay-car attached, and that was why we had so many soldiers aboard.
Report said that a lady had been burned; and as Miss Evans and myself were walking- along the track, I found a piece of partly burned hair that surely had come from some woman's head. There was melted glass and iron all around — ruins everywhere; and we were glad when the road was repaired and we could leave that awful place, the sight of which made us nearly sick.
We reached Martinsville late at night, very tired and hungry. The next day we started for Winchester, and oh, how it did rain ! But we never stopped for rain in war times. At the station was an ambulance train to take us the remainder of the distance.
I think there must have been a thousand soldiers to guard the stores, for an officer "had said, " The rebs are thick as flies in August along that route."
General Custer was with us, and several other officers whose names I did not learn. It was a dreadful march. The boys waded through mud and water the livelong day, but not a murmur could we hear. At noon we halted at a place called Bunker Hill.
There was wood on one side and an open field on the other. It was a dreary-looking place. Soon after the train stopped we saw two men riding into the woods, and supposed they had gone as scouts. In a few minutes we heard a shot at no great distance, and soon saw the same men returning with a pig across the back of one of the horses. I never saw anything prepared to cook as soon as that pig. They did not stop to scald it, as the farmers do, but pulled off the whole skin, and in a short time the animal was in slices. In the meantime a fire had been started, and soon the coffee-kettles and frying-pans were on.
I told Miss Evans I was going to have some of that meat for our dinner. She skeptically inquired how I should get it. I took a can of condensed milk and some salt, and soon made a trade.
The boys seemed to enjoy the fun, and some of them carried us some coffee. It was a cold, dreary ride, but after a great many halts and skirmishes we arrived in Winchester about midnight. The next day Ave reported to Doctor Hayden, at Sheridan Hospital, which was composed entirely of tents, some so low that we had to stoop to enter; but they were all full of badly wounded men. If the scene at Armory Square was dreadful, this was a thousand times more so. Here the men lay on the bare ground, with knapsacks, boots, or any- thing for a pillow that would raise the head. Pas- sing along, I saw things that made me sick at heart. A young man not more than eighteen had both legs shot off.
He could not live, yet he seemed cheerful. We did what we could for them with our limited means; but finally our supplies gave out, and even hard-tack became a luxury. We were told to care for the Confederates as we did for our own, and we obeyed orders; but deep in my heart I could not feel the same.
We remained there until it was safe to move the men to Baltimore. 'We had hospital cars,which are a little wider than ordinary ones, and are placed on springs. They have on each side three tiers of berths or cots, suspended by rubber bands, and so arranged as to yield to the motion. I made two trips with this train, and the men said it went like a cradle. It was a pleasure to take care of so cheerful a company. My journey lasted two days and nights, and I think I never passed forty-eight hours so fraught with both sad and pleasant memories.
We reported again to Miss Dix, who sent us back to Findley Hospital, where I remained until April, 1865; then went into the city to stay with some friends named Edson. One of them was (Miss) Dr. Susan Edson, who with Doctor Bliss were prominent figures during President Garfield's sickness.
One day I saw an immense crowd gathered in front of the War Department. Secretary Stanton was reading a dispatch from General Grant,— " Richmond and Petersburg are ours. "
This caused great rejoicing, which deepened when the news of the capitulation of the rebel army was flashed over the wires. The next night we went to the White House, to hear the President speak. I shall never forget how his face lit up with joy. But ah, this was his last speech! A few brief days of wild rejoicing followed; then the bright future was suddenly overcast as Treason guided the assassin's hand in its deadly work. The mighty had fallen, —Abraham Lincoln, the noblest of martyrs, to a noble cause!
While I was at Armory Square Hospital he visited it several times. And how the boys would rally if we told them "Uncle Abraham" was coming. would go down one side of the ward and up the other, shaking hands with every one, and speaking a kind word. He would shake hands with me and ask me about my work and my home, and charge me to be good to “his boys”.
I have often seen the tears roll down his careworn cheeks while he was talking with some wounded soldier.
After the funeral I went with friends to Richmond, and visited many places of interest.
Among them, that terrible death-trap, Libby Prison, and do not understand how any of our men came out alive. I saw the basement floors paved with cobble stones, and a little straw was thrown here and there. The floor was so slimy we could hardly walk; yet here our men had to eat and sleep.
I saw Sheridan's army pass through the place on its way to Washington. The men had many strange pets on their shoulders. Some had owls, others coons, and one had a bantam rooster, that crowed several times in my hearing.
It took two days for them to pass, and we carried barrels of water for them to drink. so many left to go home.
The Secesh were surprised to see so many left to go home. I was talking with one of Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry men, and told him that was only a small branch of our army.
He replied, "Madam, we are beaten, but not conquered."
May 18th I started for Washington. I reached the boat in good season, and supposed I was all right, but a colored man soon came to me and said, "How came you on this boat ?''
I told him and showed my pass.
" Oh, you are all right, madam, so far as that goes; but we never carry passengers on General Grant's private boat."
I said I was exceedingly sorry for the mistake, and he could put me off
at the next landing. During the conversation a military-looking man had seated himself near us, and seemed to be reading; but I knew he heard every word, and I also knew very well who he was.
He soon laid down his paper, saying, " Sam, what is the matter?"
"This lady is on your private boat, sah."
He came to me and said, "Madam, will you please to tell me all about it? "
I did so, and he answered: "I don't see anything very serious about this mistake; there is room for us all. Make yourself perfectly at home. We only go to City Point, but you can change boats there.”
Then turning to the waiter he told him to " make the lady comfortable while she remains on board."
This gentleman was our good General Grant.
At City Point we shook hands, he bade me good-bye, and I thanked him again for his kindness, then continued my journey. In the meantime my husband had secured his discharge papers, and we bade adieu to our associates.
Peace reigned once more. All that remained to be done was to go home and make glad the hearts of those from whom we had been parted so long. father was at the same station where I left him almost three years before. Soon we met mother, sisters, and our own dear little girls.
This was a great many years ago, and those girls have children of their own now, and we are grandpa and grandma. They often coax me to tell a story of the war. My father and mother have long since gone to the home to which we must soon follow; but it is a pleasure to recall the fact that I had a part in the beneficent work in which it was woman's peculiar privilege to serve her country. I feel abundantly rewarded by the knowledge of having done something to alleviate the suffering of those who gave health and worldly prospects, ties of home, and even life itself in the perilous service.
Sweet flowers and tender plants creep over the graves that were made so long ago on many a field and hillside; and thus tender memories arise to enwrap the gaunt figure, and veil the grim visage, of "War, that must forever stand a central object upon the canvas that portrays the history of those memorable years.
I thank God for all his mercies and blessings during all these years. It was He who led us through; and if we love and obey Him, He will take us unto Himself, where all will be joy and peace, forever.
112 Harbor Street, Cleveland, Ohio.
Matilda E. Morris.
I selected Matilda E. Morris because my mother’s grandmother was Mary Lee Morris born August, 09, 1865. Matilda’s husband would be Mary Lee’s distant cousin.
Larry Schliessmann (AKA Marlowe Black)