Pember, Phoebe Yates, “Reminiscences of A Southern Hospital. By Its Matron.” The Cosmopolite, Serialized: Vol. I., No. II. February 1866, pp. 203-215; First page of memoir has it copyrighted 1865 by T. C. DeLeon in Maryland.



While hospitals were still somewhat unorganized, soldiers were brought in from camp, or field, and placed in divisions irrespective of rank or State, but soon the officers had better quarters provided for them, apart from the privates, and separate divisions were also appropriated for men from different sections.

There were so many good reasons for this change, that explanations are hardly necessary. Chief among them was the ease through which, under this arrangement, a man could be quickly found by reference to the books of any particular division. Schedules of where the patients of each State were quartered were published in the daily papers, and besides the materials furnished by government, States and associations were thus enabled to send very large quantities of food and clothing for private distribution. The immense contributions coming weekly, from such sources, gave great aid, and enabled us very often to have a reserved store when the Government commissary failed to supply us.

To those who were cognizant of these exertions and their results, it appeared as if the old men and women of the Confederacy had worked as hard, and exercised as much self-denial at home, as the soldiers in the field. There was an indescribable pathos lurking at times at the bottom of those heterogeneous home boxes, put up by anxious wives, mothers and sisters; a sad and mute history shadowed in the making of rude, coarse homespun pillow cases, or pocket handkerchiefs, adorned even amidst the turmoil of war and poverty of means, with an attempt at a little embroidery, or a simple fabrication of lace for trimming. The silent tears that dropped over these tokens will never be sung in song or told in story. The little loving expedients to conceal the want of means which each woman resorted to, thinking that if her son failed to profit by the care, other mothers' might reap the advantage, is a history ill itself.

Piles of sheets, the cotton carded and spun at home in the one room where the family perhaps ate, lived and slept, in the back woods of Georgia. Bales of blankets-called so by courtesy, but only the drawing room carpets, the pride of the heart of thrifty housewives-perhaps their only extravagance in better days, but now cut up for field use. Dozens of pillow slips, not made of the coarse product of home looms, which would be too harsh to the cheek of the invalid, but of the fine bleached cotton of better days, suggesting under-clothing sacrificed to he sick. Boxes of woolen shirts, that looked like Joseph's many colored coat, created from almost every dressing gown, or flannel skirt, in the country.

A thousand evidences of the loving care and energetic labor of the poor patient ones at home, told an affecting story that knocked hard at the door's of the heart, were the portals ever so firmly closed; and with them often came letters written by those who had no knowledge of how to direct communications to the absent.

These letters, making inquiries concerning patients from anxious relatives at home, directed to my office, and not my name, came in numbers and were queer mixtures of ignorance, bad grammar, horrible spelling, and simple feeling. However absurd the style, the love that filled them chastened and purified them. Many are stored away, and though irresistibly ludicrous, are too sacred to give to the public for amusement.

In them could be detected the prejudices of the different sections. One old lady in Georgia wrote a pathetic appeal for attention for her son she called me “my dear sir,” while still retaining my feminine address and though hoping for her son's restoration to health, entreated, in moving accents, that in case anything occurred by which his life could not be saved, that he should not be buried in “Virginny dirt;” rather a derogatory term to apply to the sacred soil of the Old Dominion. Almost all told the same sad tale of destitution of food and clothing-even shoes of the roughest kind being too expensive to be indulged in. For the first two years after the commencement of the war, privations were lightly dwelt upon, and courageously borne; but when want and trouble pressed heavily, there was a natural longing for the stronger heart and frame to bear part of the burden. Desertion is a crime and meets generally with the same contempt as cowardice: and yet how hard for the husband or father to remain inactive in winter quarters, knowing his wife and little ones were literally starving at home-not even at home; for how many homes were left?

Our Hospital had till now, for over a year, been appropriated to Georgians, when an order came to transfer them and make it entirely Virginian. The cause of this change was unknown to me, but was highly agreeable, for the latter were the very best class of men in the field-intelligent, manly and reasonable, with civilized tastes and some knowledge of what was conducive to health. Besides this, they were a hardier race, and were more inclined to make up their minds to live than die-a very important matter in a hospital; and when there was no fighting going on, the wards, for this reason, would be very empty. The health of the army had improved wonderfully when the soldiers had become accustomed to field life, and learned to take proper precautions. Time was now left to me for winter operations, and curiosity carried me around to see how my neighbors managed their duties and responsibilities. While on the search for improvement, I found a small body of Marylanders who, having no distinct hospital of their own, were sent wherever circumstances made it convenient to lodge them.

There had been much petty criticism, privately and publicly expressed, on the conduct and bearing of the Marylanders in the Confederacy, and a great deal of ill-feeling engendered. Sister States are never amicable, but it was not until my vocation drew my attention to the fact, that I became aware of the antagonism existing. The Virginians complained that the Marylanders had come South only to install themselves in the comfortable clerkships, and take possession of the lazy places; while those filling them, defended their position on the ground that honest and efficient men were required as strictly in the Departments as in the field, and that their capacity, as clerks, was recognized without any desire on their part to shun field duty. They labored, also, tinder the disadvantage of harboring, as fellow citizens, every gambler, speculator, or vagabond, anxious to escape military duty, who managed to procure, always in some way, the exemption papers proving him a native of some portion of their State. This adverse feeling to them, report said, extended to the hospitals through which they were scattered: and, with the aid of one of Maryland's warmest friends, every effort was made to induce the Surgeon-General to consent to the inauguration of some building for their use. But Dr. Moore was averse to any arrangement of the kind-not from unkind feeling-but from a conviction of the expense and trouble of small establishments of that nature.

Failing in effecting this, a personal application was made to the Surgeon-in-Chief of our own hospital, to allow me to have a certain number of wards apportioned for Marylanders, and with the ready courtesy and kindness always displayed by him, he immediately gave his consent.

In the decided objections expressed by the surgeons, generally, to having charge of the Marylanders, there was something more amusing than offensive, and the dismay exhibited by the head of our division, when he heard of this arrangement, was ludicrous in the extreme; but our opinions were hardly reconcileable in this matter, from our different standpoints. To a woman, there was a touch of romance in the self-denial exercised, the bravery displayed, the hardships endured by a body of men, who were fighting on an abstract question, as far as they were concerned. (No one with any reflection, ever supposing Maryland in any event, could ever become a sister State of the Confederacy.) Besides this, the majority of them were very young men, and, in many instances, had been accustomed to the luxuries of life; well born, well nurtured, and well bred serving contentedly to the end as privates, when other men, who had commenced in the ranks, had long since made interest and risen, more through political favor than personal bravery. Luxuries that came from all other States for their soldiers, which, though trifling in themselves, were so gratifying to the recipients, never came to them; the furlough – the El Dorado of the sick soldier-was like the cup held to the lips of Tantalus, for the water could not be quaffed. There was no home waiting them; even letters, those electric conductors from heart to heart, came sparingly, after long detention, and told, perhaps, of the loss of the beloved at home, months after the grave had closed over them.

In antagonism to this feeling, were the strong objections of the head surgeon to this new arrangement, and they were reasonable enough. The very fact of there being an unusual amount of intelligence and independence among these men, made them more difficult to manage, and less submissive to orders. They knew what they were entitled to in food, surgical attendance, and general attention; and were not afraid to speak openly, and often loudly, of any neglect or incapacity; so that, whether ragged, or helpless, or sick, they bore a striking resemblance to Hans Andersen's leather soldier, who, though lame of a leg, minus an eye and an arm, a mashed head, all the gilt rubbed off his back, and lying in the gutter, had his own opinion, and gave it on all occasions. This made them awkward customers, and the result was a pretty general objection to them as patients. I might whisper, an aside, very low and very confidential, of sick men, who should have followed the wholesome old rule of “early to bed and early to rise,” taking their physic quietly in the morning, and disappearing after sun set – “dew in the morning and mist at night:” and also tell of passes altered, and furloughs lengthened – all very wicked, but nothing unmanly or dishonorable. They never lingered around the hospital when there was field work calling them away, and their record needs no additional tribute from my humble pen; praise, when not necessary, is an impertinence. When petty sectional feelings have died away, and the history of the Confederate struggle is written, they will find their laurel leaves fresh and green.

But to return to home affairs. The wards were prepared, and first occupied by the sick and wounded of the First Maryland Cavalry; and for the first time, during their stay did I experience the pleasure of ministering to the wants of grateful and satisfied soldiers. They brightened a short interval of a laborious and harassing labor of nearly four years, and left a sunny spot for memory to dwell on. After them, many of their State came and went, but there were still difficulties to smooth. It was almost impossible to give them their due share of attention, so great was the jealousy existing. If an ill man required special attention, and he proved to be a Marylander, though, perhaps, ignorant myself of the fact, many eyes watched me, and complaints were made to the nurses, and from them to the surgeons, till a report of partiality to them on my part, made to the Chief Surgeon, compelled his notice, and was followed by a command that all patients should be treated alike. There was constant bickering and dissatisfaction shown. Fearful that I might be in the wrong, I was careful at last not to inquire as to what corps an invalid belonged.

A courier of General A. P. Hill's, very badly wounded, had been a patient for some time, and by way of offering him some inducement to bear his fate patiently, I had asked him to dine at my office as soon as he could use his crutches. An invitation of this kind was often extended .to men similarly situated, not that there were any other delicacies retained in my kitchen than were sent to the wards, but the invitation was a courtesy, and the food was hot and more comfortably served. Unfortunately, he proved Maryland born, and that something had been reported was shown by an order attached to my window during the day, to the effect that none of the patients would be allowed to enter the matron's department under any circumstances, on penalty of certain punishment. This was galling and disagreeable, so hard to be borne that I carried my complaint to the Surgeon-in-Chief. No one ever applied to him in vain, for either courtesy or kindness. He naturally was unwilling to countermand this order, but told me significantly that, though the division was under entire control of the surgeon-in-charge, and subject to his orders, the private room that opened out of my kitchen was my room. As a woman will always sacrifice her comfort, convenience, pleasure and privacy, to have her own way, the result must be evident. My sleeping room became a dining room, and for the future I generally made use of it for that purpose, and returned home at night.

The next trouble was the entire disappearance of all the Maryland patients, the wards being found empty one day when I went through them, and “no man living could tell where they had gone.” The dinner hour had hardly commenced when a small group of the missing made their appearance with cup and plate at the window. They belonged to the infantry, and if even able to bear their exile, were not willing to give up the flesh pots of Egypt. This continued for a couple of days, the applicants increasing at each meal, till a second visit to Dr. M., with a representation of the impossibility of feeding men for whom no rations had been drawn, brought about the rescinding of the first order, and from that time till the end of the war they were not further molested.

Feminine sympathy being much more demonstrative than masculine, particularly when surgeons are in question – who, inured to the aspect of suffering, have more control over their professional feelings, – the nurses often came to me when only the Doctor was needed. One very cold night in December, while sleeping at the hospital, in, answer to my demand as to who was knocking and what was wanted, a nurse said that something was the matter with Fisher. Telling him to go for the Doctor, and putting on some clothing, for Fisher was an especial favorite, I hurried to the ward. He was a young man, hardly twenty years old, who had been wounded ten months previously, very high on the leg, near the hip; and who, by dint of good nursing, good food and plenty of whiskey, had been given a fair chance of recovery. The bones of the broken leg had lapped, and nature had thrown out a ligature between the severed parts; but his side curved out, and the wounded left leg was half a dozen inches shorter than its fellow. He had been the object of sedulous care on the part of all-surgeons, ward-masters, nurses, and matron; and the last effort to assist him was by the aid of an open cylinder of pasteboard, made at my kitchen, of many sheets of coarse paper, cemented together with very stiff paste. This was to clasp, by its own prepared curve, the deformed hip, and to be a support for it should he be able to use crutches.

He was a stout, fresh, hearty young man, interesting in appearance, and so gentle mannered and uncomplaining that all had learned to love him. Supported by the nurse, he had walked up and down his ward once or twice for the first time, this day, on his crutches, and all seemed well. That night he turned over and uttered, for the first time, an exclamation of great pain.

Following the nurse to his bed, the covering was turned down, when a small jet of blood spirted upward; the sharp edge of one of the splintered bones had severed the artery. I put my finger in the little orifice and awaited the surgeon. He speedily came – took a long look and shook his head. The explanation was easy; the artery was embedded in the fleshy part of the side, and could not be taken up. No earthly power could save him.

What could it avail for Dr. ___ to remain? He required his time and his strength, and I sat by the boy, himself almost unconscious that any particular accident had happened. The hardest trial of a woman's duty laid before me, the necessity of telling a man, in the prime of life, perfectly ignorant of the danger, that his life was ebbing away – that there was no hope!

It was done at last, and the information received patiently and courageously – some directions given to me by which his mother would be informed of his death, and then he turned his questioning eyes upon my face.

“How long can I live?”

“Just as long as I hold my finger on this artery.”

A long pause ensued. God alone knows what thoughts passed through that heart, called so suddenly – so unexpectedly from all earthly ties. He broke the silence at last:-

“You can let go –”

But I could not. Not if my life had depended on the action. Hot tears rushed to my eyes – a surging sound was in my ears, and a deathly coldness around my lips. The pang of obeying him was spared me-for the first and last time during my hospital sojourn, I fainted away.

No words can do justice to the uncomplaining nature of the Southern soldier. Whether it arose from resignation, or merely passive submission, when shewn in the aggregate, in a hospital, it was sublime. Day after day, lying wasted by disease, or burning up with fever; torn with wounds, or sinking from debility, a groan was seldom heard. The wounded wards were noisily gay with singing, laughing, fighting battles o'er and o'er again, and playfully chaffing each other by decrying the troops from the different States, each man applauding his own. One would think in listening to them, that the whole army, with the exception of a few men from the speaker's section of country, were cowards. The up-country soldiers, born in the same State, went farther, and decried “them fellows from the sea-board who let us do all the fighting.” The Georgians would tell how the Carolinians laid down at such a battle, refusing to charge, and how they charged over them. The Mississippians, of the backwardness of the Tennessee troops, who never would go into action unless led by their commanding general. The Virginians romanced of the rowdyism of the Maryland volunteers, who were always spreeing it in the city and “dancing attendance on the women;” and the North Carolinians caught it on all sides, though their record undoubtedly is a most gallant one. As a mass, the last certainly were rather forlorn specimens, and their drawl was insufferable. Besides this, they never in any instance would give me the satisfaction of knowing that they ever ate anything that issued from my kitchen. “Can I have some sweet soup?” whined a voice on one side, and “can I have some sour soup?” came from a neighboring bed. The sweet soup was stirred custard, the sour, a mystery as yet. Applying for the receipt, it was given in the following words: “You put a pot of buttermilk on the fire and let it git hot, and come to a bile; then mix up the yaller of an egg with some corn flour to make a paste; then punch off pieces of the dough and bile them with the soup and put salt and plenty of pepper.” The buttermilk, as it may be supposed, resolved itself in boiling into curds and whey. I took the saucepan to his bedside to show him the result of his directions. He merely shook his head, and said his “Mammy's soup did not not look like that !”

Many would not eat unless they were furnished with the food to which they had been accustomed at home, and, as unreasoning as brutes, resisted nutriment and became weaker day by day; and whatever was new to the eye and taste was received suspiciously. Liquids in the form of soup, tea or coffee, they turned from with disgust, so that the ordinary diet of sick people was inefficient in their case. Buttermilk seemed specially created by nature for wounded patients; they craved it with a drunkard's thirst, and great, tall men have absolutely cried like children for sweet milk. We had a very short supply of this during the last year of the war, and I remember a Kentuckian, one of Morgan's men, insisting upon refusing everything but this, to him rare luxury. He had been on a raid far out of the Confederate limits, and had no idea of the want of forage that made our cows so dry. His pleading was really affecting, till at last, rallying, I told him – “why, man, the very babies of the Confederacy have given up milk, and here you, six feet two, are crying for it!” We heard no more about milk from him.

Little poetical effusions would sometimes be put under my cabin door, and notes of all kinds from patients; among them was a very prettily worded request from a young man, who was slightly indisposed with that most hateful of all annoyances to our soldiers, the “itch” - “that shirt of Nessus,” which, when once attached to the person, clings there forever. It begged me to call at his ward, when at leisure, giving his name and bed. He proved to be an educated man and a gentleman, from the upper part of Alabama, which had been, colonized by the best class of South Carolinians, and wanted to enlist any influence my position gave me to secure him a furlough. His story was interesting. Engaged to a young girl, the preparations all made, the ring even bought, (he wore it on his little finger,) and the marriage day fixed; they heard the first rumors of war, and patriotism urging him to enlist, the parents of his sweetheart refused to let them consummate the engagement till peace was restored. The desire to see her was almost unbearable and feeling sincere sympathy for the hardship of the case, I tried, but in vain, to get him a furlough. The campaign had opened, and every man was needed in the field.

The finale of the story was a sad one, as are almost all stories in time of war. He was killed in repelling the attack on Petersburg and the little history confided to me resolved itself into a romance, which that night found shape and form.


The bride's robe is ready, the bridesmaid s are bid,
The groom clasps the circlet, so cautiously hid;
For a home is now waiting a mistress to claim,
A lover, a wife for his house, heart and name.
There is peace in the homestead and mirth in the hall-
The steed idly stands at the rack and the stall;
The whole land is teeming with prosperous life,
For past are all memories of carnage and strife.
With rich golden harvests the ripe bills are blest,
And God's Providence stands revealed and confessed.

No priest blessed that union, no ring wed that band;
With anger and discord soon rang the whole land;
Through all its wide domains the dread tidings ran
Of bloodshed - the lover was first in the van.
My dearest! I leave thee, those fond arms unfold,
Would'st wed with the timid, the doubtful, the cold!
No union can bless till our country be free,
So onward for liberty, glory and thee!

Right bravely fought he, till sunlight lying low,
Discovered a field that had left him no foe;
But when in the flush of a victory gained,
Deep in thoughts of his love-his honor unstained
He wended his way to the home of his heart,
From her side ne'er to swerve, from her love ne'er to part:
Hastening on with the tidings he knew she would prize-
His heart on his lips and his soul in his eyes;
Laid low by a shot courage could not repel,
At the feet of a mightier victor-he fell!
And the bride that he left? What needs it to say,
Her doom was a woman's – to watch, wait and pray.
The heat of the struggle nerves man for the strife,
But bitter at home is her battle of life
When far from the conflict, unheeded, alone,
Her brain in a flame, but her heart like a stone-
She patiently waits to hear one life is won,
Or silently prays to say-God's will be done!

The whiskey barrel, as I mentioned in a previous page, had been a bone of contention from the beginning, and as it afterwards proved, remained so to the end. Liquor commanded an enormous price in Dixie, and if even its lovers had the means to purchase, they had not always the chance of doing so, the hospital being some distance from the city. When first installed, the desire to conciliate, and the belief that I had to deal with men with some conscience, led me to yield to solicitation for drink from many quarters; but the demand increased fearfully. A reference to Dr. M. on the subject settled this matter in my own mind; would that it had had the same effect on the suppliants. The doctor said the liquor was exclusively for the use of patients, and should only be given by a prescription, and through a written order; also, that. I was responsible for the quantity confided to my care, and must each month produce the surgeons' receipts to balance with the number of gallons received from the Medical Purveyor. There were at different times about a half dozen surgeons and officials who absolutely made my life wretched, and yet who could not be gotten rid of except in a military way, by charges being preferred and proved against them. I had no recognized rank to make charges, and if I had, they were ludicrously petty in detail, though distracting as mosquito bites.

There were many modes adopted to outflank me – some of which can be recalled. A quart bottle of whiskey would be ordered for night use by the surgeon of the day, so that in case any of the patients should be taken ill, it would be at hand. The next morning, on inquiry being made, there had been no call for the surgeon during the night, but the bottle would be empty, and a complaint on my part would be met with an explanation that the rats, who were very troublesome, had knocked the bottle over. On refusing to honor the next demand of the same kind, the Surgeon-in-Charge was appealed to, heard both sides and took neither. This was just what I needed, for my first few months having been spent in, mental terror of violating any rule, however bad the results of obeying, during all the rest of my sojourn there I did as I thought right, and braved the consequences, preferring to be attacked to attacking. One mode of annoying me became particularly offensive – sending a negro boy with a cup and a request for so many ounces of whiskey. At first a polite written refusal would be the answer, but if this had been kept up a private secretary would have been necessary; so in time it was replaced by a decided “No.” A few minutes after this answer would be sent, the boy would again stand before me with the same message and same results, and this would occur half a dozen tunes consecutively. The boy could not be subjected to punishment, for he was compelled to obey; and sometimes, stung to irritation by this senseless pertinacity, I would write a note to the offending party, brief but sharp; the rejoinder was invariably the same foolish question so often put to me – did “Mrs. ____ consider herself a lady when she wrote such notes?” “No!” was always the perverse answer, “not so long as she was brought in contact with such elements.” It was strange that with so little self-assertion, dressed in a calico frock, sometimes the worse for wear, leather shoes, woolen gloves, and half the time with a skillet or pitcher in my hand, that all the common class around me should contest my right to a title to which I never aspired in words. The fact, which must have been patent to them from the active persecution it entailed, seemed to be a crying grievance. My life away from my sick was exclusive, both from inclination and prudence. Living alone, in a solitude that was unbroken after dark, it was better that no preferences should be shown, and in a place where Argus eyes were always watching, a woman could not be too careful.

Still, the wars of the whiskey barrel continued. One day the men of one of the lower wards sent for me, and in the absence of their wardmaster, complained that the liquor sent to them was never administered. All agreed as to the fact, and said the champagne bottle, in which it was received, was brought in and hid behind a certain vacant bed. A search, on my part, brought it to light, still full, though the hour for giving it had long passed. The ward-master was summoned, the full bottle exhibited – and expressing my surprise at the want of faith in one I thought so honest heretofore – I told him plainly, that the facts of the case should be reported to the Surgeon-in-Charge.

His protestations were so earnest, that he never drank, and had not tasted liquor for eighteen months, that I could hardly disbelieve him.

What, then, became of the quantity issued? “Had he sold it?”

The inquiry was met by indignant surprise.

The truth began to dawn upon this puzzling question. That he had been false to his charge and his patients, if even he had not drank the liquor, was undoubtedly true, and I told him calmly, that on the facts being represented to the proper authorities, he would certainly be sent to the field. An hour after this, the assistant surgeon of his ward entered my kitchen with rather a belligerent aspect.

“Did you say, Madam, that you intended sending my ward-master to the field?”

“I said I intended laying the facts concerning the disappearance of liquor before the Surgeon-in-Charge.”

“I consider myself responsible, Madam, for that liquor, after it leaves your kitchen.”

“Perhaps you may, but still it does not reach your patients; so I intend to make it my business to see, in future, that it does.”

“Do you mean to insinuate that my ward master has drank it? – That man has not tasted a drop of liquor for a year.”

“I know he has not,” I said, “and I also know where it has gone,” looking him full in the face.

He changed color, but would not give in; so quietly passing him, I walked into my sanctum-my own little room adjoining the office. To my astonishment, he followed.

“Doctor ____, this is my private room, in which only my friends are admitted; will you be kind enough to leave?”

“No, Madam, not till you explain what you mean,” and he threw himself at full length upon my little couch.

This was going rather far, so drawing out my watch, I placed it upon the table beside him.

“I give you five minutes,” I said, “to leave my room. If you are not gone by that time, commissioned officer, as you are, and gentleman, as you ought to be, I will send for a guard have you taken to the guard house, and then explain to the Surgeon-General why I have acted in this way.”

He waited about three minutes, during which time he soliliquised audibly, to the effect that I “fancied myself the Surgeon-in-Chief,” and “did not know my position,” but at last, made up his mind that discretion was the better part of valor, and left. Proper measures to punish such conduct were, no doubt, taken, for after a few weeks he disappeared, perhaps sent to that military Botany Bay - “the front.” He took leave of his associates, with hints that his talents demanded a larger sphere of action than a hospital.

But the tables were about to be turned. Not forever was I allowed to carry war into the enemy's country, to defend that friend, whom I had stood by and fought for. The whiskey barrel-was destined soon to be turned into a weapon of offence.

The bold man who ventured to declare hostilities, and by a coup de guerre change the whole nature of the warfare from defensive to offensive, had been bar-keeper in a Georgia tavern; afterwards apothecary in a hospital at Macon, to avoid the field. In Richmond he passed the Surgeons' Board by a process only known to themselves – a process which sometimes rejected tried and clever practitioners, and gave appointments to apothecary boys.

Fate sent him to _____ Hospital, where the brilliant idea struck him, of reforming abuses, and checking thefts in the feminine department. He commenced proceedings, by ordering a half pint of whiskey for one of his patients.

The etiquette of a hospital enjoined that no one should intefere with the surgeon's prescriptions, so I carried up the order to Doctor M., the chief surgeon, received his instructions not to give so much raw liquor, without a requisition signed by the Surgeon-in-Charge, and wrote to the assistant surgeon, a few lines, explanatory of my instructions. The matter being arranged I forgot all about it, but the next day the coup do guerre was struck, the following note being handed me

“_____ HOSPITAL, RICHMOND, Aug. 3d, 1863,

“CHIEF MATRON: - Is respectfully asked to state the amount of water used, as compared with amount of whiskey, in making toddy. If the strength of toddy has been uniform since the 1st of May, 1863. If any change has taken place in diluting the whiskey, in the within period.

“She will, also, please state what the change has been; also when the change has been made, and by whose authority.


“_____ _____,

“Assistant Surgeon-in-Charge.”

These questions were simply absurd. With a couple of hundred men having drinks ordered them each day, by different surgeons, each prepared to suit different stages of disease; no day bringing the same orders, how could any kind of a statement be made. And if, even, it could, by what authority had my little friend assumed the right to question? Perhaps, axle seemed so much in earnest, it would be better to turn the whole affair into a comedy, instead of a tragedy, so, the day being rainy, too wet to go to the wards, I answered in full-feeling, very charitably, that he was welcome to all the information he could extract from five pages of foolscap.

In this document, polite, officially formal and as officially obscure, I told my correspondent that, not only his questions, could not be answered satisfactorily, but that he had not the slightest right to ask them, Diplomacy was certainly a failure, for an hour's delay brought the following:

“_____ HOSPITAL, 3d August, '63.

“CHIEF MATRON: - Is respectfully called upon to state, what amount of whiskey has been given to each patient, when amount has not been expressed by Surgeon, or Assistant Surgeon, upon the rolls, but instead, “whiskey three times a day,” as ordered upon the rolls which, I send you.


“_____ _____,

“Assistant Surgeon-in-Charge.”

No solemn five pages were sent this time. The rejoinder was short and to the point: -

“_______ HOSPITAL, 3d August, '63.

“The Chief Matron is too much occupied to make any more voluminous explanations, being, at the moment, up to her elbows in gingerbread.”

The next was certainly very alarming; the sleeping lion was roused.

“_______ HOSPITAL, 3d August, 1863.

“CHIEF MATRON: - Is hereby informed that if she willfully, or contumaciously refuses to give me such information as she is possessed of, and demanded by me, thereby obstructing the duty I have been called upon to perform, the responsibility must rest upon her own shoulders.


“_____ _____,

“Assistant Surgeon-in-Charge.”

    A serious but short rejoinder sent to this gentleman, to the effect that he had not the right or authority to propound those questions (which were in fact unanswerable) closed the paper war, and I had forgotten all about this foolish little episode; when the correspondence was returned folded in official style, and endorsed at the Surgeon-General's office, to the effect that it was “referred respectfully to the Surgeon-in-Chief,” through whose hands alone official etequette required all reports should pass to the head of the department. But not long did this document remain in my correspondent's hand. Having failed to interest the Surgeon General in his cause, he drew up a statement of the case accusing me of disrespect to my superior officer, and sent this with the obnoxious notes up to the office of the military governor of the department of Henrico, who read the correspondence with some curiosity, if, not interest. Back, however, it came without response in a few days, and by this time, some of the waggish surgeons having got wind of the matter, persuaded my disappointed friend to try the Secretary of War. Whether he ever did so I did not inquire, getting tired of the foolish business. My correspondent disappeared one day, the last I saw of him were his pantaloons of Georgia clay embrowning the landscape adown the hill.

    A better and more highly educated class of surgeons were sent soon after to fill vacancies, and this made my duties more agreeable. There would be nothing distasteful in such a life as mine was, if a proper discretion would be exercised, or rules enforced, so that no demands should be made upon the matron for what she has no right to furnish. These demands were the beginning and end of my troubles; for in all else I tried hard to keep within the bounds of my position, and succeeded so far that no temptation induced me to interfere with the medical treatment, even to giving the slightest alleviation to a suffering man. During the first month, when quite a novice, yielding to a poor fellow's prayer for something to wash his mouth with, I gave him a little myrrh in water to use for gums frightfully excoriated by calomel, and suffered the annoyance of seeing the pompous assistant surgeon throw it out of the window. From that time my mind was made up to resist all such impulses and persevere in such a course of conduct to the last.

    But this antagonism was not always the rule. There were many sensible, kind-hearted, efficient men among the surgeons, who gave all their time and talents to further the comfort and well being of their patients. Men who would let me work hand in hand with them, the nurse with the doctor, and listen kindly and respectfully to my suggestions, if ever they were irrelevant. As I said before, Dr. M., the Surgeon-in-Chief; was an unfailing refuge in times of distress, and whenever broken down by work and small miseries, I sought his advice and assistance, the first was not only the very best that could be secured, but unlike most of its kind palatable; and the last entirely efficient. The surgeon, too, of my own division, though eccentric and wanting much in decision of character, sustained me during sore trials as ably as he could, for the authority delegated to him was not great, and his dread of responsibility almost a disease. He never intended to be unkind or unjust, but self-examination and investigation of characters round him was not his forte. He certainly withstood a vast amount of complaint directed against his chief matron; and, while we had our Pleasant little differences occasionally, that we still preserved “amicable relations,” was due more to his amiable temper than my proper submission. I think he had many faults, but I am sure I had more, and if the popular remark, which has become a maxim, that “a man must be very clever to keep an hotel” be true, it certainly ought to apply to one that can govern a hospital.

[To be continued.]

Page last updated on 02/12/2008