When my aristocrat was elected, how should his luxury be applied? Would I put it under his head or mangled limb? I think I never realized our destitution until those little pillows came to remind me that sometimes wounded men had beds! Oh, God! would relief never come? Like the Scotch girl in the besieged fortress of India, I felt like laying my ear to the ground, to harken for the sound of the bagpipes, the tramp of the Campbells coming. It did seem that, without surgical aid or comforts of any kind, my men must soon be all past hope; but a surgeon came, and I hailed him with joy, thinking him the advance guard of the army of relief. Half an hour after his appearance I missed him, and saw him no more; and this was the fourth which left those men, after being regularly detailed to duty among them—left them to die or live, as they could.
Soon after this we had an official visit from one of those laundry critics, called “Medical Inspectors.” As there were no sheets or counterpanes to look after, he turned his attention to a heap of dry rubbish in the vestibule, which gave the place an untidy appearance, as seen from the street. To remove this eyesore he had one of my nurses hunt up a wheel-barrow, and two shovels—shovels were accessible by this time—and ordered him and another to wheel that rubbish out into the street. The wheel-barrow coming in the door called my attention, when I learned that we were going to be made respectable. I sent the wheel-barrow home, gave the shovels to two men to dig a sink hole back in the yard, and forbade any disturbance of the dry, harmless rubbish in the vestibule. I would not have my men choked with dust by its removal, and set about getting up false appearances. No medical inspector should white that sepulchre until he cleared the dead men’s bones out of it. He had not looked at a wound; did not know if the men had had any dinner. A man did not need a medical diploma to clear up after stage carpenters. If the Government wanted that kind of work done, it had better send a man and cart with its donkey.
In Washington, I had done nothing for any wounded officer, except a captain who was brought to our ward when all the others were taken away, and in Fredericksburg I began on that principle. I found twenty in the Old Theater, and had them removed to private houses, to make room for the men, and that they might be better cared for. Officers could be quartered in private houses, and have beds, most of those taken out of the theater were put into houses between it and our quarters, so that I could see them on my way to and from meals. Among them was the blind man, who still craved to hear me speak and feel my hand, and I kept his face in a wet compress until a surgeon was dressing it and found the inflammation so gone that he drew the lid of one back, and the man cried out in delight: “I can see! I can see! now let me see mother.” I stood in his range of vision, until the surgeon closed the lids, when he said: “Now, mother, I shall always remember just how you look.”