“Mother, can’t you get me some soft bread? I can’t eat this hard-tack.”
He was young, scarce more than a boy; had large, dark eyes, a good head—tokens of gentle nurture—and alas! a thigh stump. He told me he was of a Mississippi regiment, and his name Willie Gibbs. I bathed his hot face, and said I would see about the bread; then went to another part of the deck, where our men were very closely packed, and stated the case to them. There was very little soft bread—it was theirs by right; what should I do? I think they all spoke at once, and all said the same words:
“Oh, mother! give the Johnnies the soft bread! we can eat hard-tack!”
I think I was impartial, but there was a temptation to give Willie Gibbs a little more than his share of attention. His face was so sad, and there was so little hope that he would ever again see those who loved him, that I think I did more for him than for any other one on board. His companions came to call me “mother,” and I hope felt their captivity softened by my care; and often rebel hands supported me while I crouched at work.
When we approached Washington, I proposed rewarding the cook for the incalculable service she had rendered, but she replied:
“No, ma’am, I will not take anything from you ’cept that apron! When we get to Washington, you will not want it any more, an’ I’ll keep it all my life to remember you, and leave it to my children! Lord! there isn’t another lady in the world could ‘a done what you’ve done; an’ I know you’re a lady! Them women with the fine clothes is trying to pass for ladies, but, Lord! I know no lady ’u’d dress up that way in a place like this, an’ men know it, too—just look at you, an’ how you do make them fellers in shoulderstraps stand ’round!”
Her observation showed her Southern culture, for whatever supremacy the North may have over the South, Southern ladies are far in advance of those of the North in the art of dress. A Southern lady seldom commits an incongruity, or fails to dress according to age, weather, and the occasion. I do not think any one of any social standing would have gone among wounded men, with the idea of rendering any assistance, tricked out in finery, as hundreds, if not thousands, of respectable Northern women did.
The apron which I gave to my friend the cook, was brown gingham, had seen hard service, and cost, originally, ten cents, and half an hour’s hand-sewing; but if it aids her to remember me as pleasantly as I do her, it is part of a bond of genuine friendship.
TRY TO GET UP A SOCIETY AND GET SICK.
After two days in bed at home, I was so much better, that when Mrs. Ingersol came with a plan for organizing a society to furnish the army with female nurses, I went to see Mrs. Lincoln about it. She was willing to cooperate, and I went to Secretary Stanton, who heard me, and replied: