The floor was very muddy and strewn with debris, principally of crackers. There was one hundred and eighty-two men in the building, all desperately wounded. They had been there a week. There were two leather water-buckets, two tin basins, and about every third man had saved his tin-cup or canteen; but no other vessel of any sort, size or description on the premises—no sink or cess-pool or drain. The nurses were not to be found; the men were growing reckless and despairing, but seemed to catch hope as I began to thread my way among them and talk. No other memory of life is more sacred than that of the candor with which they took me into their confidence, as if I had been of their own sex, yet ever sought to avoid wounding the delicacy they ascribed to mine.
I found some of the nurses—cowards who had run away from battle, and now ran from duty—galvanized them into activity, invented substitutes for things that were wanting—making good use of an old knapsack and pocket-knife—and had tears of gratitude for pay.
One man lay near the front door, in a scant flannel shirt and cotton drawers, his left thigh cut off in the middle and the stump supported on the only pillow in the house. It was six by ten inches, stuffed with straw. His head was supported by two bits of board and a pair of very muddy boots. He called me, clutched my dress, and plead:
“Mother, can’t you get me a blanket, I’m so cold; I could live if I could get any care!”
I went to the room where the men lay smoking on the blankets; but one of them wearing a surgeon’s shoulderstraps, and speaking in a German accent, claimed them as his private property, and positively refused to yield one. The other man was his orderly, and words were useless—they kept their blankets.
Going into a room behind that, I found a man slightly wounded sitting on the floor, supporting another who had been shot across the face, and was totally blind. He called, and when I came and talked with them, said:
“Won’t you stay with us?”
“Stay with you?” I replied, “Well, I rather think I will, indeed; I came to stay, and am one of the folks it is hard to drive away!”
“Oh! thank God; everybody leaves us; they come and promise, and then go off, but I know you will stay; you will do something for us!”
It was so pitiful, that for an instant my courage failed, and I said:
“I will certainly stay with you; but fear it is little I can do for you.”
“Oh, you can speak to us; you do not know how good your voice sounds. I have not seen a woman in three months; what is your name?”
“My name is mother.”
“Mother; oh my God! I have not seen my mother for two years. Let me feel your hand?”