The surgeon in command of the station stood superintending the loading of oats while he looked at my pass, and said he could not possibly send us, adding: “Fredericksburg is no place for a lady. It is impossible to describe the condition of things there.”
“But, Doctor, I am not a lady! I am a hospital nurse. The place where men are suffering must be the place for me. I do not look strong, but you cannot think how much I can do.
“But, Madam, you forget that our army is cut off from its base of supplies, and must be furnished with subsistence, and that we have not half the transportations we need.”
“Doctor, you are sending bags of oats in ambulances! I do not weigh much more than one, and will be worth six when you get me there.”
He promised to send me that afternoon, but I doubted him; went to the Christian Commission tent, found a man who knew me by reputation, and told him they had better send me to Fredericksburg, or put me under arrest, for I was in a mood to be dangerous. He feigned fright, caught up his hat, and said:
“We’ll get you out of this in the shortest possible space of time.”
An hour after I was on the way, and Georgie a few moments in advance. I had seen bad roads in northern and western Pennsylvania, but this was my first ride over no road. We met a steady stream of such wounded as were able to walk, but comparatively few were brought in ambulances.
It was raining when we reached Fredericksburg, at four o’clock on Sabbath, and I went to the surgeon in command, reported, and asked him to send me to the worst place—the place where there was most need.
“Then I had better send you to the Old Theater, for I can get no one to stay there.”
He gave me my appointment, and I went to a Corps Surgeon, who signed it, and advised me not to go to the theater—I could do nothing, as the place was in such dreadful condition, while I could be useful in many other places.
THE OLD THEATER.
This building was on Princess Ann street. The basement floor was level with the sidewalk, but the ground sloped upward at the back; so that the yard was higher than the floor. Across the front was a vestibule, with two flights of stairs leading up to the auditorium; behind the vestibule a large, low room, with two rows of pillars supporting the upper floor; and behind this three small rooms, and a square hall with a side entrance. The fence was down between the theater and Catholic church, next door. I stopped in the church to see Georgie, who was already at work there, came and left by the back door, and entered the theater by the side hall.
The mud was running in from the yard. Opposite the door, in a small room, was a pile of knapsacks and blankets; and on them lay two men smoking. To get into the large room, I must step out of the hall mud over one man, and be careful not to step on another. I think it was six rows of men that lay close on the floor, with just room to pass between the feet of each row; they so close in the rows that in most places I must slide one foot before the other to get to their heads.