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 Carolina.

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.[1] 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.[2] My as­sistant matron Miss Ball went to Mrs. Jeff.[3] 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[4] “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. George Walker[5] - (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[6] 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[7], 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].


[1] Jeremy F. Gilmer, Chief Engineer of the Confederate Army, was promoted major general Aug. 25, 1863. John A. Campbell, of Alabama, Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, 1853-1861, was during the Civil War Assistant Secretary of War in the Confederacy.

[2] Mrs. Stephen F. Mallory, wife of the Confederate Secretary of Navy.

[3] Mrs. Jefferson Davis.

[4] Philip Phillips, Phoebe's brother-in-law. The title apparently was honorary.

[5] Possibly the wife of Maj. Gen. John G. Walker of Missouri. Mrs. Lovell was the wife of Gen. Mansfield Lovell, who had been in command at New Orleans before the fall of that city.

[6] Mrs. Arthur F. Hopkins, Confederate nurse, who pioneered the organization of the Alabama unit at Chimborazo and who was wounded at Seven Pines. She and her husband are said to have contributed $200,000 for the care of the sick, wounded and needy.

[7] [MDG note] Probably the Crenshaw Mills, which were very briefly used as a hospital

Page last updated on 02/12/2008