Abby Howland Woolsey to her sister, Eliza.
8 Brevoort Place, Saturday, July 5th, ’62.
My dear Eliza: Georgy’s and Charley’s letters from Harrison’s have just arrived, the last date being a postscript Thursday, July 3, which brings us into close correspondence again you see. These letters have relieved the painful anxiety that began to possess us, about Joe’s condition and whereabouts. We thought perhaps that if his wound were really slight, he had been tempted to rejoin the regiment, and had shared in that horrible battle of White Oak Swamp. . . . Mother says that if it is Charley’s desire to stay a little while longer, she consents; he is evidently so useful, that she should not have the heart to insist on his coming back. As for Georgy, if you leave her behind, we shall never forgive you. She must come. Mother cannot stand the anxiety much longer, nor can Georgy bear the constant strain. By-and-by, perhaps, if necessary, she could go back; now she must come home with you. We should be better pleased to have Charley and all once more together, at the end of this battle-year, and before we all begin on other years of separation and distress. Have C. come too. Poor, poor Colonel Marsh! mortally wounded at Gaines’ Mill. What a mercy it would have been had he been killed on the spot. . . We shall never know all that this week of desperate fighting has cost us; our dead and wounded being left behind, or crawling painfully along in the trail of the retreating army. Here and there an officer picked up in a passing ambulance, as Joe rescued the four you speak of. Our great, beautiful “Army of the Potomac,” dwindled down to an exhausted handful. . . . Fifty thousand in all destroyed by fever and wounds, in McClellan’s brief campaign! No wonder if the President has hesitated to send more troops to be used up in swamps, when so little was being done to show for it. . . . Any fool might have known that Beauregard and the bulk of his army had come to Richmond; but then our generals are not even fools, but something less if possible. . . . It may be God’s will to destroy this nation by inches. It is certainly the devil’s will to put dissension into the hearts of our leaders, and blundering darkness into their minds. God overrules all evil, even this, I suppose, to his own glory. I have no question that this and all other defeats are intended to drive us, as a nation, to a higher moral ground in the conduct and purpose of this war. As things stand, the South is fighting to maintain slavery, and the North is trying to fight so as not to put it down. When this policy ceases, perhaps we shall begin to have victory, if we haven’t already sinned away our day of grace.
I don’t know who kept Fourth of July yesterday; there was not much for public rejoicing, though many families had private mercies and deliverances, like ours, to be thankful for. Hatty and Carry went with the Bucks to Bedloe’s Island, with a tug load of ice cream and cake, and flowers, and flags, and a chest of tea, forty quarts of milk, and butter, and handkerchiefs, papers and books, to set out a long table and give a treat to two hundred in hospital there. To their distress they found that H—— B—— (malisons on him) had ordered away the day before, back to their regiments (via Fort Monroe I suppose), all who were strong enough to move about. They cannot possibly carry their knapsacks or guns, and must go into hospital again from relapse.
The forty convalescents left on the Island had a glorious feast, the doctor giving his full consent that even the twelve sick ones, in bed, should have as much ice cream as they wanted. Mr. Lasar, the singer, and one or two others, went about twice in the course of the day, from tent to tent, singing patriotic songs and hymns, winding up with “Lord, dismiss us,” by particular request of the men; and then the men escorted the whole party, after tea, back to the tug, with three cheers and overwhelming thanks. Each man had at least a quart of ice cream, Carry thinks, and each a glass of Catawba wine, and a good slice of cake, and no doubt there will be many made sick, and the ladies will be blamed as the cause.
If you have a hold on Hammond, do get him to look into the hospital rations in the hospitals here: Bedloe’s and David’s Islands. There seems to be no “special diet” provided—nothing but coffee (no tea), dry bread and stew, rank with onions and white with grease. I have written to the ladies at New Rochelle, begging them to take David’s Island in hand, and open a “ladies’ kitchen,” a “gruel kitchen,” as Sarah says theirs in New Haven is called. But they say the surgeon looks with disfavor on the visits of ladies, and they feel “satisfied that the men are well taken care of.” . . . They will find out by-and-by that surgeons and hospital stewards are not all angels in uniform. . . .
People kept coming yesterday, having seen Joe’s name in the newspaper lists, and to-day we have notes of inquiry from all directions. . . .
Edward Walker’s account of the fight at Gaines’ Mill agrees with the Tribune reporter’s —black masses of men coming upon our guns with orderly joy determined to take them, and falling under our fire in solid blocks, others pressing forward to fill the gaps.
The Daniel Webster was now filling up again with wounded and sick taken on at Harrison’s Landing,—J. H. [Colonel Joe Howland] among them,—and, with [his wife] Eliza as hospital nurse-in-charge, it sailed July 5th for New York. Charley and G. [Georgeanna] stayed on a little longer, till the army fell back towards Washington.