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Civil War Nurse's Letter - Harewood Hospital

Item MED-7751
November 10, 1864 Mary Brown


Original Civil War nurse's letter. 8 pages, written in period pencil.

Mary Brown

Harewood Hospital
10 November 1864

My Dear Mother,

As I wrote you before, I, with Miss Howard and Miss Velie, came to this place last week, Wednesday morning. Our wards were not assigned us till Tuesday of this week. We waited as patiently as we could but we were anxious to be at work. Three wards were assigned me. One with 14 men, one with 19 and the other with 8. In 14 and 19 there were not many very sick, most of them were able to sit up and walk about the room. Mrs. Babb went with me to the first of these and introduced me to the ward master. And having spoken with the patients there, he took me to the next ward and introduced me to the ward master. To the third ward, I went alone, opened the door and went in. Such a sight as met my eyes, I was quite unprepared for. This is the gangrene war. All such cases are brought from the other wards here so that it has the worst cases there are in the hospital. There were eight patients but they were almost helpless. Not one able to sit up. I thought I had seen suffering before, but I never saw anything that would begin to compare with what these men suffer. Two men to all appearances were dying. One of them seemed to suffer a good deal. His hands were cold. The perspiration stood on his brow. He could not speak so as to be understood. The other lay quietly, but looked as if death could not alter him.

The others all looked very sick. There was no one with them then but a half sick nurse who has fits. He had one yesterday morning when I was in the ward and another slight one tonight. The air of the room was very bad. Enough to make a well man sick. Some of the windows were let down. I soon had the rest open. I felt there was much to be done there but with the little experience I had had, I was quite unfit for the work. But the surgeon had sent me there and I determined to do the best I could. Remembering I had an almighty arm to lean on and that he had promised to give me all needed strength. I did not stop very long but often going into my other wards to attend to what I had to do there, returned strengthened for the work and ready to engage in it with all my heart. None of them had been washed that day. I washed their faces, hands, arms and ears. Combed their hair, talked with them and did what I could for them. They were very grateful for all I did. One man said I looked just like his sister. Another said he had not had a lady do anything for him before for more than a year. I have nothing to do with dressing wounds or giving medicine. In this ward, the doctor dresses all the wounds, in the others they have a wound dresser. In the course of the afternoon, the brother of one of these men that seemed to be dying, came to see him. He was from Philadelphia. He remained with him till toward night and then left taking what money he had, about seventy dollars. About nine in the evening, the sick man died. The other lived till morning and when I went in after breakfast, he lay on the stretcher cold and stiff. Just ready to be borne to the dead house. I thought of how dear he must be to someone and how they would feel when the news reached them. Two more patients were brought in there today. I have but little to do in my other wards, so I spend a great part of my time here. One of the men has got to have his leg amputated as soon as he is able to bear it. I was in yesterday morning when the doctor dressed the wounds. I do not think you would wish to be there.
The men are very patient but it is terrible when their wounds are dressed. Spirits, turpentine and something else I have forgotten what is syringed into the wounds and you may imagine how painful that must be. Though you cannot imagine anything half dreadful enough. You will see the chin quiver. Some groan sometimes, one will scream, some will cover their faces and try to conceal their emotion. But you can see intense agony in every feature. But such patience I never saw before. There is one Canadian, should not think he was more than eighteen. He says when he was at the front, he slept four months on a board, no bed and now his back and shoulders are so sore, he cannot lie on them at all. He lies on his stomach. His arms and legs are getting sore now. His back is better than it was but still very bad.

One has lost his right arm. He hopes to be able to go home by and by. His mother came to see him and he did not want her to go home till he was able to go. So she has gone to work in the linen room and comes in to see him every day. He is a pious young man and always likes to talk of serious things. He sent for the chaplain to come and see him a few days ago. He came a day or two after he sent for him. But he said he seemed to be in a great hurry. I wish he would attend the prayer meetings, but he never does. There are very few now that attend. Presume there will be more when the furloughed men return.

Friday evening. Walked over to the Columbian this afternoon. Found there a letter from Julia and one from Olive and soon after I got back another from Julie was brought in to me. I found my friend Mr. James at the Columbian better than when I saw him last. His wife is with him now and he hopes in a few days to be able to go home. He is a noble looking man and what is better he wants to be a Christian and is resolved to try and be one. There is another too in my ward of sickest men, who wants to be a Christian. Pray for such dear mother. While I am writing a beautiful bouquet of roses stands on the table picked today ou of doors. They are very sweet. The cold nights we have had has not seemed to affect them. I should like to have some such at home, but they are different from any we have. They seem more like the tea rose or some house rose. Someone gave them to Mrs. Babb. I told her I would gladly walk two miles to get some to carry in to may sick men.

The bugle blows and I must stop for all lights must be out soon or we shall be reported. I do not like to be obliged to go to bed at night for I often wish to sit up and write.

Saturday. Julia writes me that Mr. Dedman is here on furlough. Hope you will be able to send my watch by him for I want it very much. Don’t ever forget the key. It is either with the watch or with the watch case by my window. I wish you would send my fine comb which you will find in a box in the table drawer in my room. Send it in your next letter. I bought one but used to comb a soldier’s hair and so gave it to him. I have seven head to comb every day and fine combs need to be used. I can assure you I have had a miserable bed every night since I have been here. But this morning, the steward sent me a good straw bed. New double blankets, the one I had were very dirty and now I have a good one for I have a mattress to put on the straw.

I am very well. Do not be anxious about me. I like my business and am not at all home sick. And could you see how much need there is for females here, you would not wish me to come home at present.

Love to all,