From the Phoebe Pember and Phillips-Myers Collections, UNC. Reprinted and
annotated in A Southern Woman’s Story (1959), Bell I. Wiley, ed.
Richmond, Vir. 30 Jan. 1863
I received the chemise russe, dear
Sister E., for which receive my thanks. The missing sleeve was replaced by a
piece of my shawl which I preferred cutting up, as there was no black merino in
Richmond. I cannot add to my other obligations by letting you pay the express,
small as that sum is compared to the value of the body, [?] so enclose the
money, you know a person must begin to pay somewhere and I may as well commence
here. It fit beautifully and looks nicely with a homespun skirt I got from North
I wrote a note to Henrietta Lay
asking the questions you wanted answered, and forgot to send it – however I gave
it to Col. Gilmer yesterday to hand to Judge Campbell who is in the War
Department where he goes every day, and will en close her answer.
I can give you some little information
myself which is reliable, as I got it
from the lips of Mrs. Swan of Baltimore who has just come over in the flag of
truce boat from Washington. Sally Carroll married Griffin of the Army -her
brother was killed in one of the battles before Richmond. Old Gaultier,
disgusted with the black Republican government, has shut up shop and gone to
live in Paris – the Rev. Mr. Elliott,
I think, am Episcopal minister in Washington, Prayed for Jeff. Davis openly in
church on Christmas day, and these are the only items I remember at present
Poor Mrs. Lay seems to have made
an unfortunate match both as to character and position. I hear the officers
laughing very much at Lay, who appears to be a good matured but, hardly ever
sober. He holds no commission since Virginia turned over her troops to the
Confederate government & they say wrote a very good article on the defences of
Mobile which nobody wanted, and which if needed would have been meritorious.
Of the fashionable world I can
tell you nothing. I am living out at Chimborazo Hospital in a whitewashed board
house through the planks of which I can see the stars and the snow too. It is
divided into three parts: the first my parlor and chamber in one. The second my
kitchen and the third my Laundry. I am sitting all alone writing, for everybody
but the sick soldiers and the nurses have gone away, and the nearest house to me
is fifty yards off. I have little sliding windows like the cabin of a slip, and
when it rains I put my straw mattress in the center of my room as it comes
through the planks. At all hours of the day and might you can see me around the
wards with my greatest treasure: Miss Amanda's shawl over my lead and a bowl or
cup in my land, and I never see a human being but the sick. Each man either
receives what is needed if mot from my lands from under my eyes, and nourished
by it gets well or dies with the consciousness that there is someone by his
pillow that is doing all that can be done. Towards evening my duties are
lighter, and I take a little rest but at might I either write for the magazines
or copy writing for the Department, as Congress made a ridiculous appropriation
for the matrons, only forty dollars a month and fifteen for commutation, making
fifty-five dollars and washing is over three dollars a dozen and every expense
in proportion. I wrote out a memorial for increase in pay and sent it to my
friend old Foote who I knew would be glad of any opportunity to bear himself
talk on any subject However I am perfectly happy, lave more than sufficient
[means] for my small wants, and thrown upon myself for occupation attend more
thoroughly to my duties than I possibly could under other circumstances.
Sometimes a stray visitor comes
out to see the “Hospital on the Hill” as was the case of Mrs. Garnett of
Washington. She told me that Mrs. Mallory had been very anxious to know of my
whereabouts and begged me to send her my card.
My assistant matron Miss Ball went to Mrs. Jeff.
to get a place in the Treasury note signing room for her sister, and Mrs. Jeff.
who is growing very fine said that “places were hard to get, some of the first
ladies in the country had applied for the position of housekeeper to her among
them Judge Berman's daughter, Mrs. Barton, but said Mrs. Jeff. how could I give
to her – the President could not sit at table with my housekeeper.” I go to
town to buy delicacies for my sick very often, in my own ambulance, which I call
my Volante from some distinction of ideas and the black boy who drives me,
“Miss Hensler’s Avalanch.” I met Benjamin and Lt. Martin but they did mot
recognize me, as I was holding the reins and bargaining for apples which by the
by are three for a dollar. If you want any letters sent to the North I have no
difficulty in getting them there, as some one goes every week. Mrs. Lawton whose
husband was shot at Fredericksburg went to him through a pass from Gen.
Burnside. She was received by Gen. Summer and treated most kindly, found the
body of her husband embalmed, and his watch and valuables safely deposited
waiting for her. The ladies (southern) of Alexandria were devoted to her.
Thinking she had no Federal money they sent her all her mourning from her sloes
to her crape veil. She staid at Col. Gilmer's house on her return with her
husband's body, and we had a sad time. He was a young man of great promise.
I was very sorry that the
silk dress was unfit to send for the
poor girl’s sake who needed it She is the Miss Ball I have before spoken of,
perhaps you remember the constant mention after the battle of Manassas of the
burning of the Ball house. I have no means of disposing of such elegant dresses
as you name, although from what I hear they
would bring fabulous prices in Richmond. You might send me the lace; perhaps I
could sell that, or any collars or sleeves you have.
I hear very often from Mrs. Anzi, and she
rather puzzled me in her last letter when she said that Col. Phillips
“was much gratified at the successful issue
of his wife's visit to Marietta in making peace all round.” I don't know what
that means, and so I told her. Adele also wrote me quite an affectionate
letter, and I was much surprised by one from Mrs. Lovell telling me that Mrs.
- (Gen. Walker's wife) felt some delicacy in offering her services on a
short acquaintance but if I preferred to
sign Treasury notes, she could easily get me an appointment. Indeed every day
brings me some remembrance from people I hardly knew or spoke to last summer,
and though I notice you slur upon my pleasant manners taking strangers, believe
me the world is not easily gulled and seldom if their preference is founded upon
a person's manners, cares about them when away from their influence.
I had to stop here to go to one of my
Patients who sent to me to come and see if he was dying and poor fellow he could
only ask the question before he died. I sometimes wonder if I am the same person
who was afraid to look at a dead person, for I have no timidity and hardly any
sensibility left. I closed the poor fellow's eyes, took his name and money and
here I am again, all alone, never thinking of anything but for comfort of the
living. After the battle of Fredericksburg I stood by and saw men's fingers and
arms cut off and held the brandy to their lips, washing the wounds myself. It is
amusing to see their heads pop from under their clothing in bed the moment they
hear my name in the morning like turtles out of the shell, and still more
amusing to hear their wants as I go round with my slate, not only do they say
what they need, but how they wish me to cook it. Some of their receipts are most
atrocious, and only this morning I asked a man if he wanted the mixture of
bread, milk, pepper and salt to put upon his chest, or to eat.
I saw Mrs. Hopkins
a week ago – I went to the Alabama Hospital to ask her where she boarded if I
could get a room, living out at Chimborazo was so dull – she was full
however of herself and her duties and I did not stay long. Board here is a
hundred dollars a month, but when I told the surgeon general that I wanted to
take the Crenshaw Hospital,
not liking my present position he said that I might board anywhere, gave me an
ambulance but said I must not leave him – so I suppose my services are valuable.
However I cannot in conscience let him pay one hundred dollars for my board when
my pay is only forty. I staid nearly two months at Col. Gilmer’s where they had
a very pleasant mess, but he will not let me bear my share of the expenses. I
was almost afraid to ask him what I owed him with tea at twelve dollars a pound
and coffee at five.
I received a letter from Fanny, and have
tried hard to embroider a baby shirt for Lena but it is an impossibility, for I
have not only to be going all the time, but my hands are frill. I have not been
able to get a cook and everything for seven hundred sick men has to be cooked
under my eyes by two black imps of fourteen – as you may suppose my hands are
never clean – and I get so weary I cannot sew.
What can I tell you interesting? I hear very
often from sister and her family but you are not interested in what goes on
there and with an immense correspondence it is with people you do not care about
or know. The only book I have read has been Bulwer’s strange story, and if he
had called it a stupid story he would have been nearer the mark. I think your
picture of rural life very taking for those who like it, but I prefer where I
am and what I am doing, what good that is I leave report to tell you, and I
thank God every night for the courage He gave me to leave those who never cared
for me and I believe disliked me for the gifts He had given me. I bring
comfort, strength and I believe happiness to many sick beds daily and lie down
at night with a happy consciousness of time well and unselfishly spent – if as I
was told the children of these men will “rise up and call me blessed” I shall
have many blessings. Do give my love . . . [part of letter missing].
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