Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

Union Hospital Dec. 26th [1862]

My Dear Miss Stevenson,

If I had not been sure that you knew better than I can tell you how little time one gets for letter writing in this big bee hive I should have reproached myself with broken promises, but as you probably have a very realizing sense of my employments I will make no apologies but tell what you were kind enough to express an interest in, viz. How I like hospital life & how I get on.

If I had come expecting to enjoy myself I should have paraded home again a week ago as an all pervading bewildement fell upon me for the first few days, & when Miss Kendall calmly asked me to wash and put clean clothes on some eight or ten dreary faced, dirty & wounded men who came in last week I felt that the climax was reached & proceeded to do it very much as I should have attempted to cut off arms or legs if ordered to. Having no brothers & a womanly man for a father I find myself rather staggered by some of the performances about me but possessing a touch of Macawber’s spirit – I still hope to get used to it & hold myself “ready for a spring if anything turns up.”

My ward is the lower one & I perade that region like a stout brown ghost from six in the morning till nine at night haunting & haunted for when not doing something I am endeavoring to decide what comes next being sure some body is in need of my maternal fussing. If we had capable attendants things would go nicely but sick soldiers being mortal will give out, get cross or keep out of sight in a surprisingly successful manner which induces the distracted nurse to wish she were a family connection of Job’s. I have old McGee whom you may remember & a jolly old soul he is but not a Mercury, my other helper is a vile boy who gobbles up my stores, hustles “my boys,” steals my money & causes my angry passions to rise to such an extent that he was this morning deposed & a mild youth much given to falling flat with soap bowls in his new-broomish desire to do well reigns in his stead.

My chief afflictions are bad air & no out of door exercise, bad odours are my daily bread so to speak & in the course of time I may learn to relish them, the other matter must take its chance & if I get hopelessly stupid by being roasted & stifled they must turn me out to pasture on the Heights, other people live without & I must learn this also.

I find Mrs. Ropes very motherly & kind, Miss Kendall the most faithful of workers, too much so for her own good I take the liberty of thinking, but now that her friend is with her she sometimes consents to rest. The other people are all more or less agreeable & friendly but they might be archangels & I not know it as there is no time for conversation or merrymaking of any sort. Our Christmas dinner was a funny scramble but we trimmed up the rooms & tried to make it pleasant for the poor fellows & they seemed to enjoy it after a fashion.

This is a very hasty scribble but half a dozen stumps are waiting to be wet & my head is full of little duties to be punctually performed so I write to a sort of mental tune that goes on all day – Skinners broth, Marble’s tea, Blister Swift, & write for Lee, Somethings wanting, so I see.

Please tell the sister who sent it that the pear was my water bottle all the way to Baltimore.

Everything here strikes me as very odd & shiftless both within & without, people, manners customs & ways of living, but I like to watch it all & am very glad I came as this is the sort of study I enjoy. If you find a minute in your busy life to send a few lines to the embryo nurse she will feel much honored for letters are our only excitement. Very truly yours,

L. M. Alcott

Louisa May Alcott in War Time

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