Submitted to the Monitor by Elizabeth Fredal
July 1, 1863
As I open my eyes, I see the stained canvas of my tent. Soon, many more bodies will be coming from Gettysburg. They have only fought there for one day, but I hope the war will end soon. I am a nurse in a Southern field hospital. My name is Annabelle. After my husband died in battle, I have devoted all my time to help my husband’s old friends and new recruits. Even though I am a woman, I know I can help in my own way as a nurse, not a soldier.
As I open my tent just a slit to look outside, I can just feel all of the hot, July air rushing in. Groaning, I pull on my many layers of hot clothing. In all, I only have four dresses. Three of which I can wear for work. The other one is my beautiful ball gown. The dress I will be wearing today is brown with a white trim and waistline. It is very old and has mismatched brass buttons down the front. They shine in the sun and go from my collar to my white waistline. Once I finished dressing, I was dripping with sweat. I wiped my brow with my flowered handkerchief as I put on my floppy straw hat. After searching through my quilted bag,
I found a carrot and a piece of stale bread. After I finished my breakfast, I went outside in the blazing heat to go to the field hospital.
As I walked to the hospital, I could smell the scent of death. Just over the hill, I see the temporary field hospital. The huge tents were crowded with dying soldiers and smelled of bugs and rotting flesh. At times, I could hear the screams of patients when they had to get a limb amputated on the surgical table. It saddens me to see all these poor soldiers. We do all we can.
When I reached that tent I put on an apron and went to see Doctor Ben. He had to amputate a leg. A man was stabbed and his leg was infected. He strode off leaving nothing but a puff of dust in his wake. After watching him walk away, I decided to go see who needed my help. When I was halfway down the aisle, a man with a tomato-red face called me over. I spun around. He asked me to write a letter for him to his wife and children.
I took a seat on his small cot and got out a pencil and paper. He said to put in how much he loved them, and if he ever came home, that he would never leave them again for anything in the world.
As I walked away I could hear the cries of the man getting the amputation. At least we had some anesthetic, ether, left. Sometimes, our supply of the anesthetic is very low. At times we have none left. I can’t imagine the horrific pain. After the amputation was over, Dr. Ben told me to clean the wound and bandage it again.
The man was moaning and there were tears streaming down his face. The bloody stump that used to be a leg wasn’t infected, but I knew I must bandage it right away or it would get to be so. When I brought the soldier back to his cot I took off the old bandage and put on a clean strip of cloth. After wrapping the stump many times, I could wipe off the soldier’s sweaty face. When he felt the cool water on his face, he let out a sigh, thanked me, and fell asleep.
When I was walking away, I almost cried. Just about everyone I have treated have been cases like this, or worse. It makes me so sad to think about what they have gone through. Some of these soldiers are only sixteen years of age.
Editor’s Note – Elizabeth Fredal had an assignment in her language arts class that instructed her to write a story about any subject. She chose to write one about the Civil War in the form of a diary. She read several books and visited a few websites for research, and then she pulled all the information together for her story. She wrote 3 daily diary entries which will be published in this and the next 2 editions of the Monitor.