After considerable talk I learned that he had charge of the meat, and that none had been issued to that place, because no “requisition” had been sent. I had never written a requisition, but found blanks in that desk, filled one, signed it and gave it to the meat man, who engaged that the beef should be there next morning.
It grew dark, and we had two tallow candles lighted! May none of my readers ever see such darkness made visible—such rows of haggard faces looking at them from out such cavernous gloom! I talked hopefully, worked and walked, while mentally exclaiming:
“Oh, God! What shall I do?”
About nine o’clock Dr. Porter, Division Surgeon, came with Georgie, to take us to our quarters. These were but half a block away, on the same side of the street, but on the opposite side, and corner of the next cross-street, in a nice two-story brick house, with a small yard in front. An old lady answered his summons, but refused to admit us: when he insisted and I interposed, saying the lady was afraid of soldiers, but would admit us. We would bid him good night, and soon our lodgings would be all right.
She was relieved, took us in, cooked our rations for herself and us, gave us a comfortable bed, and was uniformly kind all the time we staid, and seemed sorry to have us leave.
I spoke the first night to Dr. Porter about blankets and straw, or hay for beds, but was assured that none were to be had. Supplies could not reach them since being cut off from their base, and the Provost Marshal, Gen. Patrick, would not permit anything to be taken out of the houses, though many of them were unoccupied, and well supplied with bedding and other necessaries. I thought we ought to get two blankets for those two naked men, if the Government should pay their weight in gold for them; and suggested that the surgeons take what was necessary for the comfort of the men, and give vouchers to the owners. I knew such claims would be honored; would see that they should be; but he said the matter had been settled by the Provost, and nothing more could be done.
It seems to me now that I must have been benumbed, or I could have done something to provide covering for those men. I did think of giving one of them my shawl, but I must have died without it. I remembered my Douglas Hospital letter, and knew that Gen. Patrick could order me out of Fredericksburg, and leave these men to rot in the old theater. Already their wounds were infested by worms, which gnawed and tormented them; some of those wounds were turning black, many were green; the vitality of the men was sinking for want of food and warmth. I could not forsake them to look after reform; would not fail to do what I could, in an effort to do what I could not or might not accomplish.
In the morning I saw that the men had something they called coffee, and found canned milk for it, which was nourishment; but a new difficulty arose. The men who brought the coffee would distribute it to those who had cups or canteens, and the others would get none. I had some trouble to induce them to leave their cans, until, with the two tin cups I could borrow, I could give about one-third the whole number the coffee they could not otherwise have.