Spiritualists Write Home from the Front

“Soldiers in the Hospital. Letter from Miss Ballou,” Herald of Progress, March 21, 1863.

        Overton Hospital
            Memphis, January 7, 1863.

Brother [A. J.] Davis:

The bundle of papers were gratefully received by me yesterday, and I hasten a reply, as so long a time has passed since writing you—days of anxiety and toil, and yet how quickly passed!

It has been a sad pleasure to me to stand beside the couch of the agonized and dying, and minister in many ways to their several wants.  Since writing my previous letter to you, I have been engaged on one of the hospital-boats which left Memphis the last of December.  The fleet consisted of four steamers, which contained about one thousand sick soldiers, crowded together with all forms and stages of disease, from the dying to the convalescent, who often seem the embodiment of indifference.  How many who left, but a few months ago, happy homes and warm hearts—with patriotic cheerfulness, high determination, and bravely hoping that with every new call for troops the death-knell of the rebellion might be sounded—have perished!

Where are they now?  The widespread battle-fields on the Potomac, at Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Vicksburg, Perryville, and many others, raise the cry: “Here!”  The moan of anguish, or the hollow cough that echoes through the damp walls of army hospitals, answer: “Here!”  The pale faces, emaciated forms, and crippled bodies, that greet us in the broken family-circles, faintly echo: “Here!”  The groups of tents clustered on every hillside, the drum beating the step for so many feet to tread the southern soil, the cannon booming over the ocean-spray, boldly thunder: “Still we come!”  On, on to death!  How long, O monster fiend! and yet how long, wilt thou send carnage and death to destroy the happiness of the thousands whose innocence cannot save them from sharing the wrongs heaped upon them?

I have just left a room where four lay dying.  There was one to whom my sympathies were strangely drawn.  He was taken quite suddenly with congestion of the lungs two days ago, and has required my constant care.  His words were hardly audible, and cost him a great effort, but while bathing his face and smoothing his beautiful brown hair, he always smiled so gratefully, pressing my hand, and thanked me in so many ways!  “How his mother would bless me!  How he hoped to get well, to go home to his widowed mother in her loneliness!”  Dear boy! those clear, intellectual eyes will never see again the morning light, and that mother’s heart is left desolate.  Peace has come to thee!  I shall know thine and many others’ smiles over the river—where you tell me I am still remembered.

My Brother, you will known my feelings when I tell you I am truly recompensed for all the hard and laborious efforts made by me in the hospital, in feeling that I am engaged in one of the most noble missions that ever befell woman.  As some say, “only just to see the flutter of a woman’s dress—how it cheers me! and then, to feel her soft hand on my burning temples, seems so like my mother, my wife, or sisters!  To hear a woman’s voice—oh, it is so home-like!”  One said to me, while dressing a terrible wound, as we were passing up the river: “How tenderly you touch my arm!  I never had it done so nicely!”  And one thought he could bear without flinching a terrible operation, if I would stand by him to cheer him.

One of the convalescents in the ward where I am at present acting, met me in the hall this morning, and asked me if I was from Wisconsin.  I told him I was.  “Oh, I am so glad!” said he; “I heard you was last night, and could hardly wait to speak to you, for that is my State, and I felt so proud to think you were from there, too.”  I thought his eyes grew brighter when I told him that the Wisconsin boys ranked among the bravest, and I was proud of them.

Well, I am robbing Nature of her repose, and, perhaps, fatiguing you, and will close by telling you that I had the satisfaction of giving joy to some, who were hungering for something to read, by distributing some numbers of the Herald the next time there was a call for “old papers.”

Thanking you for your kindness, and giving you my highest regards, I am yours truly,

Addie L. Ballou

Adeline Lucia Hart Ballou, poet, artist, and essayist, was also a healing medium and trance lecturer.  She was given a commission as a nurse in the 32nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry by Surgeon General Erastus Bradley Wolcott of Milwaukee, “and was with them in the field until overtaken by sickness, after a very severe campaign during a protracted epidemic.”  After the war she and her family moved to Colorado and then to San Francisco.

“Mrs. [Eliza] Farnham in the Army Hospital,” Herald of Progress, July 18, 1863

        Gettysburgh, July 7, 1863.

Dear friends of the Herald, both readers and editors, lend me your ears, hearts, and means for a little while.  We want all that you can spare that will minister to the physical comfort of thousands of suffering men, besides papers, pamphlets, and any other reading easy for feeble persons to handle.  We want old, clean, soft cloths, whether cotton or linen, sour fruits, jellies, jams, &c.  We are going this moment out to the field hospitals of the Second, Third, and Fifth Corps, where, as we understand, the condition is much worse than that we have seen in the hospitals of the town.  We arrived last evening.  In great haste,

E. W. Farnham.

[It is not necessary to add a word to the foregoing appeal.  The sister is working in the country’s cause, and especially among those who have fallen in the defense of Freedom.  Anything sent to our care, and to this office, for the comfort and happiness of the wounded, will be promptly forwarded to the proper destination.  ED.]

Eliza Farnham contracted tuberculosis during her service as a field nurse at Gettysburg, and died from it in 1864.  Andrew Jackson Davis posthumously published her book, Woman and the New Era, which argued not for womens equality with men, but for their superiority.

“Letter from N. Frank White,” Herald of Progress, August 15, 1863.

        Camp 27th Reg’t Mich. Inf’y Vols.,
            Vicksburgh, Miss., July 11, 1863.

Dear Herald: Days, weeks, and months have passed since I cast my lot the second time with the soldiers of “Uncle Samuel,” and commenced to draw my rations of “hardtack” and bacon.  As one after another they passed by, I thought to sit down and write you of our movements, but that wicked old thief, Procrastination, stole away, again and again, my spare time, and left the letter all unwritten.  This morning he is whispering to me, “Wait until it gets a little cooler,” but I have been in Mississippi long enough to know that the “little cooler time” never comes here, so I disregard his advice, and commence.

Well, it is hot, awful hot! and what makes it worse, there is no cessation to the heat; one pants day after day, hoping, but hoping in vain, for some cool moment when some of his exhausted energies can be restored.  (Please give me credit for writing in such an atmosphere as this, for I feel, in the expressive language of Miss Ophelia, “shiftless,” and every attempt at exertion calls for a very serious amount of determination, that should certainly be recorded in my favor.)

I will not attempt to give even an outline of my history since I joined the regiment of Col. Fox at Ypsilanti, Mich.; sufficient to say, I think I have had my share of the changes, the excitements, the fatigues and roughness of a soldier; the romance, if there was any, is all worn off, and I have settled down to the plain duties demanded from my position; I have learned to obey orders, whatever they are—whether to march or halt, to go with or without rations, to throw away or keep the little clothing I have, without a question; and that, you must allow, for a Yankee, is learning much.  It has become a matter of indifference to me whether I have a blanket over me and a couple of yards of shelter-cloth to crawl beneath, or whether I lay upon the green turf and wake in the night to look up at the blue sky and the constellated worlds above me; the rain soaks and chills, the sun scorches and bakes me, yet I complain not; the warm sun of Kentucky has browned me, and the hot sun of Mississippi has set the color, until my face would correctly represent a profile in bronze without any stretch of imagination; long and weary marches over the hills and through the valleys of Kentucky have calloused my feet to blisters and smarts; the thick choking dust of Mississippi gulleys has made my lungs a perfect miracle of toughness; I have quenched my thirst from the tepid rills that creep along the Yazoo and Big Black, until a draught from the muddiest pool of New England would be a priceless luxury, and my feet are tender from many a hunger-driven contact with invincible “hard-tack;” yet I survive (rather thin and the worse for wear, it is true,) and to-day sit down, nearly reduced in wardrobe to a “Mississippi uniform,” and from the porch of a cotton-planter, in front of which wave the “stars and stripes,” while one hand is busy in beating off the musquitos, fleas, bugs, and flies, attempt with the other to commune with you away off there in the big city of the continent, where ice-creams abound, and to whose comforts I hope in some future time to return.

The electric messenger heralds to you, far in advance of the slow-moving mails, the triumph of our arms, so I cannot give you news when I write you of the fall of Vicksburgh.  All through the veins of the patriotic men and women of America has gone, before this, a thrill of pleasure at that news, and while I write, every little while squads of paroled rebels go past the house.  “Where are you going, boys?” I ask them; and the light of joy flashes in their sunken eyes and colors up their haggard cheeks as they answer: “Home, and right glad are we, too.”  From Missouri, from Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee, they troop along, clothed in their dirty, ragged butternut suits, but all happy, for they are going home.  Poor boys—for some of them are mere boys—the leaders in this rebellion will have a fearful account some day to settle with them!

Upon our arrival here we were moved up the Yazoo, and to the rear of the city, to take care of Johnston and his threatening legions, who were advancing from Jackson to the rescue of the besieged; here we lay day after day, waking in the morning and falling to sleep at night to the music of Grant’s big guns thundering away at the huge earthworks that protected the rear of the rebel stronghold.  Now and then, to vary the sound of the heavy booming, would come rolling over the hills rattling volleys from the rifles of wary sharpshooters, telling of deadly doings.  It was my fortune to visit the extreme front upon a day of severe work, and I found myself, before I knew it, almost in the thick of a desperate contest.  Our line had worked its way through a succession of ravines, which are very deep and almost impassable, protected by their steep sides to the summit, and there by rapidly-dug “rifle-pits,” until we were within a few rods of their strongest earthworks—in fact, their last protections.  From this point, in Gen. Logan’s Division, a mine had been dug under a corner of their work, and exploded the night before my visit.  I found a line of our men gathered close under the heavy works of the enemy, which towered up ten and twenty feet above them; part were digging, while the rest were engaged in “popping” at any stray rebel head that chanced to appear.  In the breach caused by the explosion, and which was shaped like a horseshoe, was thrown a company—all the breach would contain—and here the strife was furious.  Near enough to see the very expression of their faces, under a show of balls that whistled overhead and through the embrasures of the battery-works where I stood, I saw for the first time in my life, war in real earnest; lying on their backs, on the inclined plane caused by the earth loosened and thrown up by the explosion, the men, who were relieved every half hour, loaded, and, raising their guns over their heads, fired over the parapet into the rebel works, from which, in return, came constant volleys, given apparently in the same way, as only the barrels of the rifles and hands were visible; not four feet of earth separated the combatants, yet so severe was the fire, no one could stand before it to storm the works; the heavy guns of the rebels were silenced by our unerring sharpshooters, but now and then a shell from our eighty-four pounders went screaming over our heads, passing the combatants at the breach, and tearing through the farther end of the fortification like some demon of destruction.  Now and then a hand-grenade from inside would be tossed over into the midst of the poor boys in the breach, an explosion would follow and then the stretchers bringing our wounded back to the hospital in the rear told of the sad work it had made.  It was a horrible sight, and I went back to camp at night familiarized with the sound of whistling bullets, it is true, but sickened by the sight of mangled flesh, saddened and weary of moans of anguish and shrieks of distress.  If ever I prayed in my life it was then—that justice should speedily triumph and this “cruel war” soon end.

On the morning of the Fourth of July we awoke to listen in vain for the sound of the booming guns, and a courier soon arrived with the glad tidings of the surrender of that noted stronghold.  We all rejoiced, for we felt that a mighty blow had been struck; and we also felt that our time of banishment from home, and friends, and comfort, must be shortened by it.

I have had no time yet to visit the city since its surrender, for the same afternoon Gen. Grant had us all in motion towards the Big Black, to pounce, if possible, upon Johnston before he could retreat.  We reached there, after some hard marching through a sweltering sun and clouds of dust, to find the boasting General had flown; the army was thrown across, and are now following up towards Jackson.  The climate and the toil, however, had done their work with me, and the peremptory order of Col. Fox and our surgeon sent me back to recuperate with the other invalids in our old camp.  A house near by has furnished me with shelter, and I wait with patience the return of our corps, which will probably be in a few days, when we expect to return to Kentucky, or some place farther north.  We shall not grieve to go anywhere away from here, for of all climates, this is the worst.  Its principle productions now are musquitoes, wood-ticks, fleas, red-bugs, lizards, and a variety of such interesting things, “too numerous to mention;” relieved from the annoyance of one, you are immediately called upon to pay your respects to another.  The little cotton planted this year was not cultivated, so will not amount to much; much of the fields (thanks to the advice of Jefferson D. Esq.) are filled with nice high corn, the ears of which furnish us many a meal, while our horses, roaming in the fields at will, luxuriate upon the fresh, green blades.  Blackberries, with which the woods are filled, we have feasted upon for weeks, and peaches are just beginning to be eatable, so we do not lack in the fruit line.  But in spite of all this, there goes up a unanimous prayer, from the Ninth Army Corps at least: “From such a country as this good Lord deliver us!

Sometimes I get almost discouraged when I listen to the conversation of many who are our leaders, and learn how little they care for the success of the great principle of Liberty.  Col. Fox, by his earnestness in the cause of human freedom, very soon incurred the ill-will of some over him whose sympathies were evidently of the pro-slavery order, and the result was an arrest, upon a trivial pretense, which continued for several weeks.  A peremptory order from some one higher still, however, has released him, and he is again in command, earnest as ever, and ready at all times to speak a word for the oppressed bondman, that too many, alas! in the army, are ready to abuse.  Our chaplain, too—S. S. Hunting, of Detroit, a Unitarian, a liberal man and true Reformer—has been dismissed the service for the same reason.  The regiment has lost in him a true man and I a good friend.  I say I am sometimes discouraged at all this, but this feeling does not last, for I see every day, in Mississippi as well as Kentucky, evidence that the great problem of Universal Liberty is being worked out successfully.  The military posts along the banks of the Mississippi garrisoned by colored men in the national uniform; intelligent eyes, that look out from under the visors of fatigue caps, flashing with thoughts of freedom in the future; crowds of “journeyers from Egypt,” old, middle-aged, and young, loaded down with beds, bundles, and every description of household furniture, toiling along under the broiling sun with songs of rejoicing that they have reached the protection of the “linkum soldiers;” the plantations of the oppressors deserted or occupied by the oppressed—all speak of a mighty change going on, and I feel content to endure the toil a little longer, satisfied that however slavery-sympathizers may plan, the right will—must come uppermost.  The family with which I am boarding until the regiment returns is about the only one in this part of the country that have not left their houses on our approach.  Mr. Jones—“mine host”—has taken the “oath of allegiance,” and claims to be a Union man.  I presume he is, as good as they average here, yet I am suspicious that most of his dislike of the Confederates comes from the fact that they burnt up all his cotton last year; for I find, after all, that “southern gentlemen” value money quite as much as “northern mud-sills.”  Many and loud are the complaints that go up from him that all but three or four of his “servants” have left him, and Mrs. Jones (a woman who says to her children, “If you don’t do this or that I’ll give you twenty-five,”) wonders that the “boys” could go away after they had been fed and clothed with such tender care for years!  Surprising, isn’t it?  Will some of our northern apologists for the “institution” give us the reason why the bondmen and women, who were “so well satisfied with their condition,” almost without exception leave their old homes and are electrified with new life at that little word, Liberty?  Such is a fact that cannot be ignored.  Please explain it, “South-side” D. D.’s and lovers of the patriarchal condition.  Mr. and Mrs. Jones do not receive much sympathy from me, and are almost horrified at our conversations, which are many, upon the subject; but free speech is above par and tar and feathers at considerable of a discount here just now, thanks to the insane rebellion of the South.

I am reminded that I am making this letter rather long, and will not add farther to it now.  Should anything of interest transpire, and my notes upon things in general not take too much space in your valuable columns, you may hear from me again, “as we go marching on.”  I find a wide field of labor open here, and trust, if I can endure the climate, that I may not be entirely useless in it.  To my friends, one and all, East or West, permit me to say, Though I may not have the time to write you personally, you are ever in my mind.  Should you, in the quiet of your homes, away from the din and turmoil of war, find time to write a few lines be they ever so few, they will be cherished by me, and serve to make lighter many a wearisome hour of a soldier’s life.

    Fraternally thine,
        N. Frank White.


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