Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Danger on the Imperial

By Ruth Sinnotte

I WAS COMMISSIONED BY MR. YEATMAN in Saint Louis, Missouri, as nurse at large, and sent on board the steamer Imperial, a hospital boat plying between Saint Louis and Pittsburg Landing; Dr. Gove, surgeon in charge, and Dr. Bixby, assistant surgeon. I remained on board the Imperial until the Tennessee River had fallen so low the boat could go no farther, and went out of the hospital service. I was then sent by the medical director on board the Ella, and remained on that boat until she went out of hospital service, and became a transport boat. Then Dr. Douglass, the medical director, sent me to Monterey, in Tennessee, the receiving hospital of Corinth, Mississippi, Corinth battlefield, in charge of Dr. Eaton; I think he was from New York.
While there I was sun-struck, and on the third day was attacked with yellow jaundice. I then obtained a furlough, and went home to Illinois. As soon as able, I reported to Governor Yates, who ordered me to go South with the 113th, or Board of Trade Regiment, Colonel Hoge.

The colonel put my name on the muster roll as matron for three years, or to the close of the war. I went to Memphis with the regiment, and we encamped at Camp Peabody, about two miles from the city. When they went on the Tulahoma raid, I accompanied them, by particular request of Colonel Hoge. The fourth day, was sent with all the sick to Holly Springs, Mississippi.

I was there a number of weeks, and before Bragg took the place, was ordered to Memphis. On the way I was told the troops had gone down the river, and General Wright advised me to keep on down to the fleet. I did so. While with the Vicksburg fleet, one day I noticed the boat I was on was dragging her hawser from the tree where she had been fastened. I reported to the captain. He said, "I know it." There was no steam on, and we were drifting down the river. The captain said we were going to Vicksburg, and were only a half mile from the line between the two armies. Among the sick was a captain of one of the companies of the 113th Illinois Regiment. I immediately went to him and reported the treachery on board of the boat. He could do nothing, as he was too ill to raise his head. He swore me, and gave me the necessary signal. I went on the hurricane deck; no one was there, no one on the pilot house. I gave the Signal as he told me. In a moment I saw it answered. Immediately the Von Pool came down and towed the boat to the upper end of the fleet, and put a stop to our going to Vicksburg. All of the crew, from the captain to the chambermaid, were so very angry they would have killed me had they known I was responsible for the change of programme.

We had several wounded officers among the load of sick and disabled men on my first trip from Pittsburg Landing to Saint Louis, Missouri. Our transport was the Imperial. Each officer had an orderly to wait upon him. The attendant of one, a colonel, came to me and said, "Are you afraid of the colonel?" I replied I was not. Then said he, "I wish you would see if you can do anything with him, but I really fear he will kill you." "Oh, no; I will go: where is he?" He pointed the way, keeping well out of sight of the officer.

When I came to the stateroom he occupied the door was ajar. I looked ill and said, "Good morning, Colonel." He answered, "What do you want here?" "I came to see if you have had breakfast." "No, and don't want any." But I said: "You must eat something. I will see what I can get that you may relish." I went to the kitchen, toasted a slice of bread, poached an egg, poured it over the toast, made a bowl of chicken broth, and a cup of green tea and apple jelly made up the breakfast. I put it on a waiter with a white napkin (these things were for officers only), went to his room, and said, "Now see what of this you can eat." "Can't I get rid of you? I wish I had something to throw at you, but I have thrown everything I can get at that Dutchman," meaning his attendant. I said, "You must eat; there is no other way for you." "I will tip over that cart of yours," and he made a spring toward the tray. I said, "Sir, stop such pranks, and take some of this food immediately." He then grabbed the toast, crammed it all into his mouth, the broth followed with a gulp, the tea and jelly in turn, all in less time than I am telling you. I said to him, "That was pretty good, wasn't it?" "Good enough." "Will you eat more if I get it for you?" "I suppose I can if I must." I prepared the same amount. He ate it all, using a knife and fork.

I then asked why he treated me so badly when I was only trying to help him. He told me this story: "I am from Marion County, Illinois. I was acknowledged to be the richest man in the county. I raised a whole regiment and equipped it. They chose me their colonel. I had a wife and child, a little girl. I settled all my business, made my will, appointed my wife administratrix and guardian of my child. I took my regiment, was accepted, and went to the front. As soon as I was gone, my wife sold everything I had and put the money in the Confederate cause, took my child and went to New Orleans, her former home. I was in the battle of Pittsburg Landing; had my leg shattered, and amputated at the hip. Now I have lost my property, my wife and my child, lost my leg, and what have I to live for?"

I waited a moment, then said, "You must live,

For the good that needs assistance, For the bad that needs resistance,
For the future in the distance, And the good that you can do."

He was all right to the end of the trip, and ate his food as I gave it to him. He was left at Saint Louis. I think he was put into Benton Barracks. We went back to Pittsburg Landing for another load of the mangled human freight. On our return to Saint Louis I learned the colonel was dead,--had died because he would not eat.

Mrs. Ruth Helena Sinnotte



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