“Spaulding,” May 21.
Dear Friend, — We are just where we were, — swinging at anchor under the elm-tree, and doing nothing. This galls us a little; but, after all, we women are but a drop in the bucket of relief, every one on board, except us, being worked to his very utmost,—Mr. Olmsted in organizing the work and endeavoring to get the medical authorities to fall into some kind of system; Mr. Knapp in getting up and issuing supplies; Dr. Ware and our young men in putting a receiving-hospital ashore in something like decent order. It started last night with one hundred tents, twenty-five men in each; ambulances coming in every hour, and nothing for the men hut the bare tents, unfloored. Our gentlemen have been there all day; and Mr. Knapp has sent up straw, bed-sacks, bedding, food, and clothing. Mr. Olmsted declines to let us women go there; I don’t know why. A few wounded men came down to-day, and were taken on board the “Elm City,” where Mrs. Strong, Miss Whetten, and Miss Gardiner take care of them.
Mr. Olmsted gave me to-day a draft of the “Rules” which he has drawn up for the regulation of the service on board our ships. I inclose a copy, as it will give you a fair idea of our interior system after the men come on board, and until they are landed at their destination. It reads very well on paper, and you may be sure that it is carried out, with Mr. Olmsted at the head of affairs: his are no paper orders. But there are hidden rocks and snags under that smooth surface which make, in fact, the anxiety of our female lives. For instance: our boats belong to the Quartermaster’s Department; the captains and crews object, as a general thing, to being used in hospital service, and have to be forever coaxed and conciliated. The kitchen arrangements are a never-ending plague. The cooks and the galleys are not looked upon as being for the use of the hospital, and yet there is no way of getting others; so they must be persuaded to do the work which we have no absolute power to make them do. The twenty or thirty bucketsful of soup daily for the “house diet” (the sick food we prepare ourselves) are an achievement if they are forthcoming at the right moment. We order, make ready, prepare; and then it is hard to find that the instant our backs were turned everything came to a standstill, and that dinner for the sick men can’t be ready at the right moment without some superhuman exertion on our parts. As for hot water (about which you may observe a delicate reference in the “Rules”), our lives are made a burden to us on that subject, and we might as well be in it at once, — if it could be got. You will see from my letters that we women do more than is set down for us in the programme; for, in fact, we do a little of everything. We of the “staff” are specially subordinate to Mr. Olmsted; and though we are not his right hand — Mr. Knapp and Dr. Ware are that — we are the fingers of it, and help to carry out his ideas. The duties of the men and women of the staff are chiefly as follows: to superintend the shipping of the sick or wounded on board the boats which return from the North for fresh loads; to fit up those boats, or others coming into the Commission’s hands; to receive at the landing, to sort and distribute according to orders, the patients who are sent down from the front; to feed, cleanse, give medical aid and nursing to all these men, and otherwise take care of them, until the ships sail again for the North; and, finally, to be ready for all emergencies.
I think I have not yet described our “Chief” to you. He is small, and lame (for the time being only) from a terrible accident which happened to him a few months ago; but though the lameness is decided, it is scarcely observable, for he gives you a sense that he triumphs over it by doing as if it did not exist. His face is generally very placid, with all the expressive delicacy of a woman’s, and would be beautiful were it not for an expression which I cannot fathom, — something which is, perhaps, a little too severe about it. I think his mouth and smile and the expression of his eyes at times very beautiful. He has great variety of expression: sometimes stern, thoughtful, and haggard; at other times observing and slightly satirical (I believe he sees out of the back of his head occasionally); and then again, and not seldom, his face wears an inspired look, full of goodness and power. I think he is a man of the most resolute self-will, — generally a very wise will, I should think; born an autocrat, however, and, as such, very satisfactory to be under. His reticence is one of his strong points: he directs everything in the fewest possible words; there is a deep, calm thoughtfulness about him which is always attractive and sometimes—provoking. He is managing the present enterprise (which is full of responsibility, without having any rights) with the largest views of what is best for the army, and compelling the acquiescence of the Military authority in his plans, while he scrupulously keeps within the understood position of the Sanitary Commission as subordinate to it. You may also see how carefully he attends to details by the sketch of them which he has given in the “Rules.” He is a great organizer— as the past history of the Central Park and the Sanitary Commission will show — and he is a great administrator, because he comprehends details, but trusts his subordinates: if they are good, he relies on them; if they are weak, there’s an end of them.
As for Mr. Knapp, he is our delight. A thin, bald-headed man, with a flowing brown beard and a very fine, sweet, energetic face; always overwhelmed with work; caught at here,, there, and everywhere by some one who has important business, yet able to give and take any saucy drollery that comes up between us. It is not easy to say positively what he is, for he is never still, and he has certainly not been for five consecutive minutes under my observation; but there’s one thing which my mind is clear about: it shines out from every point of him, —he is a philanthropist without the hateful aspects of that calling. He is in charge of the supply department, — the commissariat of the Commission, as it may be called. The entire business of ordering and receiving supplies from the North, and issuing them, when on hand, either to our own vessels or upon the requisition of brigade and regimental surgeons for camp and field hospitals, is an outline of his work. He is always in a hurry; he forgets our names, and calls us everything that we are not, but says it is “a system;” he is lain in wait for at all corners by some one with, a tale of distress and a prayer for stimulants, beefstock, straw, sheets, bandages, or what not, all of which is duly given if the proper requisition from a United States surgeon is forthcoming. He is in a chronic state of worry about “transportation,” — I declare I think I hear that word oftener than any other, except “brandy” and “beef-tea.”
The railroad is open to-day to within ten miles of Richmond: so says Colonel Ingalls. The cars and locomotives came up the river yesterday. This enables them to send forward supplies with great ease. Hitherto, everything has depended on wagon-trains, half of which stick in the mud and clay of Virginia roads. The one question asked by everybody is: “Where’s McDowell?”