Today in History:

Little Willie

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One sultry day in June, 1865, as I was passing through the wards of the Berry House Hospital, in Wilmington, my attention was attracted by a pair of bright eyes, which fol­lowed me from cot to cot with a hungry eagerness. Sup­ posing it was the lemonade, which I was distributing according to the direction of the nurses, which attracted him, I inquired of the man who had charge of hint if he could have some. He replied in the affirmative, and I placed the glass to his burning lips. He was a mere boy, only fifteen. His dark eyes and curly brown hair contrasted fearfully with his pale cheeks, while the thin white hand, with which he clasped the glass, told sadly of wasting disease.

I longed to speak words of cheer to the poor boy, but could not stop then, as there were many feverish men waiting for the icy draught I was carrying. The eyes haunted me; and, as I went from one to another, I could not help glancing back at Willie's cot; and every time I met the same entreating look which first attracted my attention.

My duties called me to another part of the hospital; and, as I was passing him to go out, he called out, in a faint voice, "Lady, dear lady, please give me a kiss--just one kiss before you go. My mother always kissed me." I kissed him, with tears in my eyes--for who could refuse such a request from a dying child, far away from every friend and relative. He closed his eyes, murmuring, "You are a good woman--thank you. If you will sit down and hold my hand I think I can sleep; I am so tired." The nurses were very kind, and the surgeons remarkably so; but disease had undermined the frail structure, and we daily watched our Willie sinking to the grave.

One day I entered the ward, and found that the nurse had placed a chair by his cot for me, as usual; but he was sleeping, and I requested the nurse not to awaken him. "O, miss," said the man, "he cries and takes on so dread­ fully when he wakes and finds that you have passed through, that I have promised always to wake him." To do this was no easy matter: the eyes opened slowly, and shut again. I leaned down, and whispered, "Willie! Willie! "Yes, yes," he replied, "I was afraid they would not wake me, and I should not see you." He then began to cry like a grieved child, and begged me not to go North until he was well enough to go with me. "Promise," said the nurse, "for he will not live many days more." "No, Willie, I will not go until you are better," I said, and with the kiss he never failed to ask for, left him. The next morning the doctor came to me and said, "Willie is gone."

The coffin was placed upon two chairs, in the dispensary, and we stood and gazed long upon the marble face and folded white bands--white as the Cape Jasmine blossoms which they clasped. Then I learned his history as he had told it. A man of wealth had been drafted, and had bought the boy as a substitute of a heartless step-father. He had never carried a gun. Once from under his mother's watch­ful care, the overgrown boy had sunk beneath the hardships of camp life, and the spirit, pure as when it first entered the clay casket, returned to God who gave it. O Willie! those were not tears to be despised which fell upon thy coffin--soldiers' tears for a comrade lost. And though upon the well-contested field you never fought in deadly combat, the good fight of faith has been yours; and now, while your example lives in our hearts below, you wear an undying wreath of victory in our Father's kingdom.

Our work in this hospital was more satisfactory than in any other with which I was connected. There were only three wards, and we visited and talked with each patient every afternoon. A surgeon or the ward-master went with us to assist in giving out the lemonade which we always took with us. We also carried a portfolio, and took from the men outlines of the letters they wished us to write. Some of these were very original and amusing, and I regret that I did not preserve them.

As we had no "diet lists," we took down on a slip of paper every afternoon what articles of food each man thought he could eat. There was very little grumbling, and many thanks. While at work, the convalescents would gather in the corners of the kitchen and at the windows, and relate amusing anecdotes of their journeyings and fights.

I regret to say that sham marriages of the soldiers with pretty girls belonging to the "poor white trash" were not uncommon.

Much has been said of the ignorance of these people; but such miserable, vile, filthy, cringing wretches I never saw. Half his not been told of them; and truly it would require the pens of many ready-writers to do it. The "swamp fever," which carried off many of our soldiers, was even more fatal among them. While in Wilmington, the death of Mrs. George, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, made us more careful of our health. The surgeon advised us to change every article of dress, and take a thorough bath, before resting after our visits to the wards. This we did; and although we were exposed to small pox, and fevers of all kinds, we returned to the North in as good health as when we went South.

Wilmington life is with the memories of the past, as is all our hospital work. But through we "rest from our labors," "our works do follow us" in occasional letters from a thankful one, to whom we administered when we and they were strangers in a strange land.

 

HOSPITAL No. 1, NASHVILLE, July 14, 1864

I have read of things terrible and heartrending, but never heard anything to equal the sounds which a rebel in the third story sends forth. I was sitting by my table, reading, when a sharp cry of pain startled me, followed by earnest pleadings for mercy from our divine Father. Then, in a few moments, shouts of praise, cursing, raving, shrieks, fiendish laughs, growls like an enraged animal, and every feeling it is possible to express with the voice, followed each other in quick succession.

Our room is just across the street, and while I write night is made terrible by the poor delirious wretch. I can hear the sick men in the wards below wishing him removed so they can sleep. There! at last he is quiet. A lady nurse came in, and told me that it was a very wicked man in the rebel ward, who was "frightened out of his senses" because two men, in the most fearful agonies of death, were lying beside him. Finding it impossible to quiet him, the surgeon in charge had him gagged. It is a revolting necessity to treat him so. A thousand sick, wounded, and dying would be annoyed all night by him if they did not.

HOSPITAL No.14, NASHVILLE, August 2.

When I first went through the wards of this hospital, I found a German woman sitting by her husband in ward one. This ward contains all the worst cases, and the smell of the wounds made me sick and faint before I was half through. But I learned that this woman had been sitting in her chair there, beside her husband, for two weeks, day and night. For recreation, she would walk out into the city, and buy some crackers and cheese, upon which she subsisted. Her face was colorless, and her eyes had a sunken, sickly look. I was carrying a bottle of excellent cologne and a basket of handkerchiefs. I saturated one with the cologne, and gave her husband, and left the bottle with her. She was very grateful, and told me that she was compelled to go out and vomit three or four times every day, so great was the nausea caused by the impure air. I arranged for her to sleep at the Commission Rooms, which are near here, on Spruce Street, and we gave her her meals from the kitchen. This is against the rules of the hospital; but the surgeon says he will shut his eyes and not know we are doing it, if we will not do it again. Until to-day we have had no doubt of his recovery; but to-night she came to me in great alarm, saying her husband had a chill. I have never yet known a person with an amputated limb to recover after having a chill. This man looks so strong and well, that I hope he may be an exception.

August 6, 1864.

The German in ward one is dead. On Wednesday morning, I went down very early to see him, and found the cot empty. I asked for his wife, and they said she had gone out in town. At the door I met her. She threw up her arms, and cried in piteous tones, "He's gone! O, he's gone! and I'm alone -- alone!" She supposed he would be buried that day, and walked out to the cemetery -- more than a mile -- and found he was not to be buried until the next day. She asked me if I would not go with her on Thursday. I complied, and accompanied her, with a delegate of the Commission and his wife. As the coffins were taken one by one from the ambulance, it was found that her husband's was not there. The chaplain kindly proposed to wait until the ambulance could return to town; and while waiting we went to a farm-house near by, and made a bouquet for each of us. As we stood, with bowed heads, looking into the graves while the chaplain read the funeral service, she grasped my hand convulsively, whispering, "It's so shallow! O, ask them to take him out, and make it deeper!" Our nostrils had evidence of the shallowness of the graves every time the breeze swept over them. The "escort" fired their farewell over the "sleeping braves," and as the smoke cleared away, the bereaved wife dropped her flowers upon the coffin, and we wearily returned, -- she to take the next train for the North, and we to our sad work.

August 10, 1864.

This evening, while busy preparing supper, we were startled by hearing a heavy fall on the pavement, outside of the window. We rushed to it, and found that a man had jumped from the third story porch. He was sitting up, looking about him with a bewildered look, when we reached him. The doctor says he has broken open an old wound in his side, and will not recover. He says he had been thinking all day how long he would have to suffer if he got well, and then thought he might suffer for weeks and months, and then die, and he determined to end his misery at one leap. The nurse caught him just as he was going over, but was not strong enough to hold him. He talks very quietly about it, and wishes he had not done it, or had succeeded in ending life and physical pain at once. He died two days afterwards.

"I wish you would take bed sixty-four, ward two, under your especial care," said the surgeon in charge to me. "We have just amputated his leg, and nothing but the closest watchfulness and most nourishing food will save him, and I doubt if they do."I went at once to my patient. He was a young man, with what had once been a very strong constitution. As he lay there, with his pale face, and lips quivering with agony, I could not help thinking how grand he must appear in the glory of healthy manhood. I could see that he clinched his nails into the palm of his hand to keep back the cry which he deemed unsoldierly. But it would not do; a groan burst forth in spite of him. He turned his fiercely- black eyes upon me, and asked, dropping the words slowly, one at a time, "Can't -- you -- do -- something -- for -- me?" I felt powerless, but prepared a stimulating drink for him, and then left him to attend to others.One day I was too busy to carry his dinner to him, and sent it to him by the nurse, postponing my visit to that ward until afternoon. Between three and four o'clock I went to see him, and found him weaker than usual, and his dinner on the stand beside him, untasted. I carried in my hand a pretty, delicate fan, which a friend had given me, and I noticed his eyes follow it backward and forward, up and down, as I fanned him. At last he asked to take it. He gave it a few feeble flourishes, and then asked me to exchange with him. "This palm-leaf is so heavy I can't lift it. When I get strong I will give it to you again." I gave it, and asked what he would have for supper. "Coffee! coffee, with cream in it! Nothing else!" was his answer. "But we have no cream," said I. "No cream! Why, my mother has milk pans big enough to drown me in, and the cream is that thick" -- indicating on his finger its thickness. "Mother! mother! mother!" he cried.Wounds and suffering had weakened body and mind alike; and the strong man was a child again, crying helplessly for "mother."A few mornings later a nurse brought my fan to me, saying, "'Sixty-four' died last night; and when he knew he was going, he told me to bring your fan to you, and thank you." The ambulance, bearing him in his coffin, had scarcely left the gate, when the mother for whom he had yearned came to the hospital.Poor woman! She bowed her gray head, murmuring, beneath the chastening rod, "Thy will, not mine, be done, O Father." 

 

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