By Mrs. Sophia McClelland
It was in the early autumn of 1861; regiments of soldiers from the North and West were daily passing through Louisville, Kentucky, to points below on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. I drove down to the depot, and on passing out of the yard from the train of cars, noticed several of the soldiers lying on the platform, some of whom seemed very ill; I had them removed to some vacant rooms over a warehouse on the opposite corner from the depot, Broadway and Ninth Street : then, driving as rapidly as possible to my residence, gathered up as many blankets, comfortables, and pillows as the carriage could hold, and returned to the newly-improvised hospital. In the neighborhood I procured provisions for the men's supper, and candles to give them light for the evening.
This was the beginning, and the general impression seemed to be that in three or four months the trouble would be all over. But every day added to the numbers in the hospital. Regiments were continually marching through and leaving their sick; skirmishes were frequent on the Nashville Road, and there were those coming to be cared for who were disabled by wounds as well as sickness. We were obliged to depend on soldiers taken from the convalescent wards for nurses, who, though most kind, were unskilled and in most cases illy adapted for their duties, requiring patient training and drilling to render them efficient.
After the battle of Fort Donelson, we took down a party of physicians and clergymen and six ladies as nurses, also a quantity of hospital stores from the sanitary rooms, for the use of the wounded and sick. The expenses of this company were borne by private funds.
General Wm. Nelson had his headquarters at Evansville. Indiana. It was necessary to obtain from him a pass to enter within his lines, which extended to Dover, the point nearest reached to Fort Donelson. He refused an audience to our messengers, though backed by credentials from leis personal friend, Dr. Robert Murray, medical director of the department. They called again, when he consented to see them for a few moments, but sent this message: "You will say it is simply impossible to grant passes. I have refused every application, and mean to."
At this report I decided to make a personal appeal, although any friends made every effort to dissuade me, using for argument Nelson's ungracious speech and gruff manners. He was sitting at a table at one end of the long parlor of the hotel. I approached him, supported on either side by any friends, the two gentlemen with whom he had had an interview only a few moments before. General Nelson was a man of commanding presence; he seemed not only tall but very large. He had black hair and eyebrows, with piercing eyes, which he bent on me from the moment we glassed the sentry at the door. Indeed, his countenance was fierce and forbidding as if to intimidate.
After the introduction, he said, "Madam, call you tell me what you want?"
"Yes, general, I have come to ask you for passes."
"Speak louder. I am a little deaf."
"Passes for my little company within your lines; we desire to reach Fort Donelson. You have already been made acquainted with the object of our errand, to care for and healing the sick and wounded soldiers of Kentucky where they may have the attention necessary for their comfort and recovery."
"That is all very well, madam, but we leave no place for ladies," said the general.
"General," said I, "we have not come to be entertained, but on a mission of mercy. .. All we ask of you is; transportation and liberty within the lines to take, care of our wounded."
"But, madam, there are no conveniences, no rooms you can occupy. All these boats you see coming down the river are filled with soldiers, besides officers and crew.''
"General, we will only ask for a chair or two that we may place in some out
"Madam. there are no chairs. No doors to the rooms, nothing but men; everything has been taken out to lighten the craft."
"But, general, we can stand ---."
Then a fearful pause ensued, my heart heating audibly to my own ears, and I was trembling in every nerve so that I could scarcely stand. During this time General Nelson's face remained immovable, while he steadily and sternly gazed into my eyes. After what might have been a few moments of time, though it seemed ages, he said:
"Well, you are a determined woman, and the first one I ever saw who knew what she wanted, and could tell it in a few words."
He then turned to his private secretary, who was sitting at his table, anal made a remark in a low tone; then, recollecting for the first time his position as host, invited us to be seated. The secretary wrote a few lines on a sheet of paper, and placing it in a yellow envelope, touched a bell. The orderly, of making his appearance, was directed where to carry it. I received the pass, and was consigned to the care of one of the most courteous officers in the Federal service, Colonel Hazen, of the Forty-first Ohio.
In justice to General Nelson, I will say it was never my privilege to meet with greater consideration than he extended to our little company. During the two hours of waiting for our boat he seemed the graceful, polished gentleman; laughed and made merry over the sallies of wit and humor, and withal showed a sympathetic tenderness and solicitude for his sick soldiers that went far to remove the previous prejudice I had formed of his austerity. Poor fellow! His tragic death occurred a few months afterwards result of a quarrel with General Jeff. C. Davis. The circumstances of the difficulty are well known. We should judge leniently of those faults of character which, had they been curbed, might have been trained into virtues, and hold in remembrance only his lofty patriotism and undaunted courage.
We reached Smithland, Kentucky, but could get no boat to take us to the fort, nor could we obtain an overland conveyance of any description. We were looked upon with suspicion. Some even hinted that we were spies. We could not buy food. No one would sell to us nor give us shelter; even at the miserable place they called a hotel, they refused to allow us to sit down. We walked all over the town, followed by one or two persons, who, by a motion or sign, indicated their suspicions to any one who seemed disposed to favor it. Therefore, there was nothing for us to do but, to leave the place, and from the aspect of affairs, to do that as quickly as possible seems most prudent. We applied for admission on the government boat, "Silver Moon," and shortly reached Paducah.
What a scene was there presented! The river as far up as the eye could reach was covered by a fleet of steamers, with gay colors flying and bands of music playing, laden down to the water's edge, with soldiers. Each regimental band played its own favorite airs, but all had a note for "The Girl I Left behind Me."
General W. T. Sherman was then in Paducah, to whom I reported for duty, and from him I received orders to go to Mound City and Cairo, take from the hospitals there all the sick and wounded, and leave them at the points nearest their lines. This would make place for others who were expected soon, as a battle seemed impending. He also directed us to draw commissary stores and other supplies at Cairo, and report on our return to Paducah, where we would then take aboard all the wounded prisoners for whom we could find place.
"And now, my dear madam," said General Sherman, "I desire to say to you that the prisoners are to receive the same attention as our own men; no distinction is to be made in the management or treatment of the prisoners by the surgeons or nurses."
Then turning to Dr. McDougal, the venerable medical director, he inquired of him what quantity of medical supplies would be necessary for us to take for the use of 150 sick and wounded, for nine days.
[Copy of General Sherman's order:]
HDQRS. DISTRICT of CAIRO,
Feb. 22, 1862.
Mrs. Dr. McClelland, of Louisville, will take charge of two boats, "Hastings" and "Fannie Bullitt," going to Mound City for the wounded and sick. She will be assisted by Drs. J. H. Holister, Wm. Haydock, and T. McGregor, also Rev. F. M. Bushnell and a volunteer corps of five lady nurses. Male nurses will be taken from convalescent wards or from volunteers. These physicians will return immediately to their posts, or to their several homes as they desire. I am, etc.,
W. T. SHERMAN, Brig. Gen. Comd.
We were obliged to wait at Paducah for our boats. Every available craft was used ill the service, not only for the transportation of troops and supplies, but to convey a large number of people who were anxious about their friends, and also sightseers who had curiosity to visit the scene of battle. We busied ourselves for two days in aiding the surgeons and citizens, who were untiring in their efforts to relieve the suffering. Churches, stores, and school
I was becoming impatient and restless in waiting, therefore determined to take the boat that first arrived, and trust to chance to have the other one overtake us. We brought on board about sixty prisoners; half of them were wounded men, the others were suffering from the effects of measles and colds from exposure. They coughed almost incessantly, and there was not all ounce of opiate or sedative to be found this side of Cairo. It was in the evening and nearly dark when we reached Cairo. We had very few provisions and our needs were extremely pressing. In order to get our order on the commissary honored it was necessary to report at headquarters at once. The, to make matters still more desperate, our boxes of sanitary stores. containing bedding, clothing, and bandages, had gone astray; wehad been placed in such straits for the bandages that some of us had taken our underclothing and torn it into strips to bind up the wounds of the suffering soldiers.
A long line of cars from Chicago had just come in, and for fifty minutes continued drilling back and forth until it was quite dark. There were no lamps or lights on the wharf, save here and there what seemed a flaming torch of some resinous substance which only partially lighted all the vicinity. As soon as the cars stopped long enough, I climbed through and over them to the other side. The mire was knee deep. At every step, I was obliged to extricate one foot before I could plant the other down. I lost one congress gaiter in the mire, and was obliged to present myself at headquarters with one shoe ob and the of other foot covered with a badly soiled stocking. I received a pair of heavy army shoes, and endeavored to hunt up the representative of the Sanitary Commission of the Northwest. I worked all that Sunday morning.
Crowds assembled at the wharves of the several towns as our boats passed. and we were greeted with cheers. Deputations of ladies were allowed to come on, who brought many needed delicacies -- milk, fresh. butter, and home made biscuits. Oh, what a feast it was for the wounded and sick when the ladies distributed it to all. Federal and Confederate alike!
Surely it was a picture worthy of the skill of an artist of the realistic school. On reaching Louisville the military authorities took charge, and the sick were removed to the different hospitals.