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Military Hospitals


By a Jewish Soldier

Those, who have derived their ideas of female nurses from the character of "Sairey Gamp" as portrayed by Charles Dickens in one of his novels, will not be a little surprised to see what class of ladies act in that capacity in the Military Hospitals of this Department. Instead of the coarse, unfeeling and mercenary woman represented by that type of old-fashioned nurses, he will find ladies of culture and refinement, patriotic and religious, animated by the same heroic sentiment that impelled half a million of citizens to leave the peaceful pursuits of commerce and agriculture for the terrible duties of the battle-field, and which by woman could not be manifested in a more appropriate way than by ministering to the comforts of those who are sacrificing their lives on the altar of their country.

I am not sufficiently versed in history to give the exact date when the transition of the "Sairey Gamp" to the modern style took place, but I believe that in Military Hospitals, Florence Nightingale was the first to furnish the example during the Crimean war, and to her we are, therefore, indebted for this great contribution towards the comfort of the soldier. There can be no doubt, that, in all ages, there were high-minded women, who were prepared to devote themselves with untiring zeal to these the most charitable of charitable ministrations, but a false sense of propriety and an imperfect conception of woman's sphere, had to firmly rooted in the public mind the impression that her services ought to be devoted to her nearest relatives only, that any female who valued her reputation, could never venture to visit those scenes of suffering that lay beyond her family circle, much less military hospitals, which on account of that special class audience, were supposed to be below a decent person's to receive, that those services, which required great tenderness, were left to the vulgar and illiterate females. The more enlightened views, inaugurated by an advanced civilization, have done equal justice to woman, by enlarging her sphere of usefulness, and to the soldier, by offering him all that human efforts could bestow for the alleviation of his sufferings. And yet, this change in public opinion is of so recent date, that it is difficult to divest oneself of the original prejudices, and whenever I pass through the Hospitals to visit some wounded or sick comrade, the kind and assiduous attention of these nurses to the common soldier, seems like a great anomaly.

There is a lady who moves in the most respected circles of society; when at home, she scarcely condescends to converse with that man, and considers it a great honor for a general even to be entrusted with the execution of her commands. There is another lady, who used to pass her time in reflecting on her toilet, and could scarcely be induced to write on anything but pink paper, or blow her nose in a handkerchief that was not scented.

Yet these and many others of equally fastidious precedents, here stand by the side of rough soldiers, when disease is perchance contagious, speak kind words to them, attend to all their wants with such tenderness, that an officer assured me after his recovery, that, even during his delirium, he knew that a female hand smoothed his pillow, and he could not help laughing on recollecting the spasmodic efforts he made to upset the verses of Walter Scott, in commendation of female services during sickness, and of which he could only recall the concluding line "A ministering angel thou!" If war has actually the tendency of developing such ennobling qualities, and bringing high and low into such friendly relationship, then it is certainly not an unalloyed evil, and let us hope, that these sentiments, evoked in times of public danger, may not vanish with the visitation of peace.

Besides the camp hospitals, which are temporary tents or huts for the accommodation of those who cannot be removed or are slightly indisposed, there are in this vicinity twelve Hospitals, containing 1402 patients, viz.

Three Hospitals in:              Alexandria                         537
Union Hospital Georgetown 157
Seminary         " 127
Columbia College Washington 162
Circle         " 89
Kalorama         " 77
Patent Office         " 80
St. Elizabeth         " 102
Vander Worken         " 61
Fifth District School         " 10
Total 1402

The genius, that presides over the extensive establishments, is the well-known Miss [Dorothea] Dix, an old lady, about 60 or 65 years of age, whose pleasant countenance still bears signs of youthful beauty, and who, notwithstanding her advanced age, has still all the enthusiasm and energy of youth. For many years, she has been devoted to the care of the sick and infirm. At the time that Florence Nightingale was looking after the welfare of the soldiers in the Crimea, she had already established Asylums for the insane in Russia and Turkey. You can soon see that she is accustomed to this sort of work, by the way she goes from bed to bed, asking every patient how he feels, and speaking to each words of encouragement, now giving directions to the nurses, then giving her orders to the male assistants, but always dignified, kind, and self-possessed.

Many of those ladies, who so willingly obey her orders, are of wealthy families, all of them are well educated, and I have heard one speaking to the American, French, and German soldiers, with great fluency in their native tongues. Government must certainly appreciate their services, for they receive forty cents (!) a day, out of which they have to provide themselves with board, lodging, etc. so that a private may be said to have a most liberal income in comparison, but this very meanness in their pay has had an excellent effect, for it has rendered the office of nurse too unprofitable for the mercenary, and made room for the patriotic and philanthropic. These ladies, occupying, as they do, honorable positions in their own States and cities, naturally draw round them all the distinguished ladies and gentlemen from their homes, who happen to be in this city, but the duties in the Hospitals engross so much of their attention, that they have little time left for receiving at their private residences, their many polite and kind acquaintances. Yet, with that tact which distinguishes the true lady, they manage to attend to old as well as new friends, by holding occasionally receptions, which, it is true, are very rare, and at long intervals, but, nevertheless, the most pleasant soirees that are at present given in this city. Formerly, there was no lack of parties in the metropolis during session of Congress, but as the Southern ladies and gentlemen were the leading spirits of those entertainments, it is not surprising that with their secession, those fashionable meetings should have seceded too, and nothing left to supply their place beyond the levees and receptions of the President, the Speaker of the House, and Secretary Smith. These levees are, however, by no means edifying, especially those at the White House, which every one can attend, and no difference is made in the admission of well-dressed ladies, and unshaved laborers, all of whom can shake hands with the President, and promenade through the splendid suite of rooms. Although this equality is, in the abstract, a sublime idea, yet, from the many rough customers now in this city, it becomes positively a nuisance to a lady to pass through such a crowd, and, consequently, few ladies at present attend them, -- which has probably induced Mrs. Lincoln to give a party to a select circle of distinguished citizens, thus affording the ladies an opportunity to enjoy her hospitality. Of course, the secessionists residing in this city do not mix among those classes, but have certain hole-and-corner meetings of their own, the wreck of former Southern society, which, according to all accounts, must be of a very peculiar character indeed.

I have, of course, no chance of being admitted to these rebel circles, as a pair of loyal epaulettes are an abomination in their eyes, and my taste also leads me into a very different direction; but it is said, that they have stated receptions known to their sympathizers only, on which occasions, spies, rebels et id genus omne pass their time in getting up false reports about the administration and the army, and some of their wits actually pour forth their sentiments in strains of poetry. But such poetry! At the risk of shaking your nerves, I will give you a specimen of those effusions, lauded by them as a masterpiece of composition:

The Yankees wished to make men loyal,
A fleet would send to old Port Royal,
But when arrived, to their regret,
Found none but niggers and a drunkard left.

It appears to me, Mr. Secesh, that one important item has been forgotten by you, and that is: why they left? Perhaps, Mr. Poet, you will remember that they flew like hares before our guns. But if the loyal readers of this paper believe, that the above specimen is the worst production, let them digest, if they can, the following lines:--

Uncle Sam got in a fight,
Lincoln got the measles,
Richmond is not taken yet,
Pop goes the weasel!

But "to return to our muttons," as the French say. The receptions given by some of the ladies, who officiate as nurses, are, decidedly the most pleasant given in this city. Besides a brilliant assemblage of military men, an unusual spectacle in this country, there are generally some distinguished Union gentlemen from the South, who are the lions of the evening. Among these, I felt most interested in Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, a man with a frank and open countenance, a brilliant eye, and pleasing address, whose daring advocacy of the Government in the midst of the rebel States, proves him to be a man with a leonine spirit, such as is rarely to be met with in this age of materialism. His account of the sufferings he has undergone, and those still inflicted on his relatives in Tennessee, on account of their loyalty, is quite heartrending, and enlist in his behalf the most lively sympathies of all good citizens. Another great favorite, whom I was delighted to meet, was the well-known Editor of the Louisville Journal, George D. Prentice, who has done as much as any other man to save Kentucky from the vortex of disloyalty. The first impression he made on me was, by no means favorable. He looks sleepy, and talks lazily, as if he were of a dull temperament, but, by degrees his countenance begins to show that pleasant expression with which he is generally represented in the pictures exhibited in the stores, he pours forth witty sayings and humorous remarks, so that you can no longer doubt that he is indeed, the man who contributes weekly a column of "wit and humor," to the pages of the Ledger, who fills his own journal daily with pithy sentences, and, whose good sayings are repeated as "Prentice-anea." The South, however, cannot even claim him as a genius form on their soil, for he told me himself that he is a native of Connecticut. Our hostess was relating to him the case of an officer who had been admitted that day to the Hospital, and after having mentioned the circumstances under which he was wounded, she described it as having been "a terrible accident!" "No," replied he, "no accident can be terrible, that brought him into your hands." I agree with him, and should not be surprised, if, at the next battle, every officer will manage to get wounded.

Sketches from the Seat of War