“A letter directed by a lady’s delicate hand:” A scene after the Battle of Gettysburg: 1863

Civil War hospital

Though it is difficult to discriminate where all are so brave, yet the bravest was a young Englishman, the color bearer of a New York regiment. He came to this country an orphan boy, was educated in our free schools, found friends who assisted him, had become prosperous in business, and when this foul rebellion endangered the liberties of our land, and the bells everywhere were calling together the sons of the Republic, he felt that for a country which had afforded him home and happiness, it was an honor and a privilege to suffer and to die. He volunteered with the hundreds of thousands of free men, and carried the colors of his regiment through all the battles fought by the army of the Potomac, until now, unhurt. All this he told me in broken sentences and added that “there was one on whom all his hopes centred, who made life precious and desirable to him,” and much more of a similar import, too sacred to relate.

To her I wrote a letter, telling of his sad state, how he had fallen, bleeding and wounded; and at his request, added, that though he had lost his leg, he was proud to tell her he had saved the regimental colors, and his own life too was still spared him, which was only made valuable by thoughts of her. This was surely enough to make any true woman feel proud that over so noble a heart, she alone held sway. His wound was doing remarkably well, and every day while attending to his wants, I would ask him pleasantly about the answer to our letter, remarking, that perhaps it was too full of sweet words to be seen by a stranger.

At last I found that all my cheerful words failed to rouse him from the despondent mood into which he had fallen, and I discovered his great anxiety at not receiving an answer to his letter. I begged him to be patient, and explained that the mail had been interrupted by the recent raid; all of which failed to re-assure him, and when going to him the next morning, I saw lying beside him on his pillow a letter directed by a lady’s delicate hand; I felt all would be well. Yes, the letter was delicately directed, delicately written, and delicately worded—but its meaning was not to be misunderstood.

It was a cool, calm regret that she could no longer be his; to which was added the fear that the loss of his limb might affect his prospects in life. He handed me the letter to read, with a look of fixed despair—buried his head in the pillow and wept like a child. To him she had been the embodiment of all that was true and lovely, and while others had mothers, sisters and friends, she was his all. The blow had been sudden, but sure. When he looked up again, his face bore the pallor of marble and I saw there was no hope. All day long, we gave him stimulants and tried by words of sympathy to rouse him, but in vain; he lingered two days, when the silver cord was loosed, and the golden bowl broken, he died, and his last words were “tell her I forgive her.” 

Hospital Scenes after the Battle of Gettysburg, July, 1863, Patriot Daughters of Lancaster (Pa.), 1864

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This is the 150th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg of the American Civil War. This affecting anecdote was taken from a slim volume telling of the work of a group of ladies nursing fallen soldiers just after the battle. Although the author expresses the proper anxiety over linen supplies and dainty food for her invalids, she is also righteously indignant over war profiteers and scathing towards certain other less-charitable organizations. If you are not acquainted with the book, it is well worth a perusal for its immediacy in the face of a monumental historical event.

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