"...."rebel angel," got her back up at the coolness of the doctor, and she gave him a piece of her mind "
Trooper George Peck, 4th Wisconsin Cavalry is back. Why Ladies Tea? Because he is re-paid for a kindness to a female spy, by kindness from a ' Rebel angel '. This kindness theme keeps spinning through Peck's war- what he makes of it is some of the best reading, hand's down, I've come across. There are certainy dreadful stories of what happens when civilians and armies collide. This isn't one of them.
It's another LONG ( long ) narrative, fair warning. If those threads are annoying maybe stop reading now. Pre-Covid, I probably wouldn't post such a long story but thought it might make good reading for those of us at home.
In the last thread, Trooper Peck’s female smuggler decorated a dreary stage, the curtain closed on her husband’s empty sleeve . But it wasn’t over.
Like a lot of men, George contracted yellow fever. Picking up his narrative as his buddy Jim attempts to nurse him.
"Jim, for God's sake don't smoke. I am at death's door, and I don't want to smell of tobacco smoke when St. Peter opens the gate."
"What, pard, you ain't sick," said Jim, putting his pipe outside of the tent, and coming to me and putting his great big hand on my forehead, as tender as a woman. "Great heavens! you have got the yellow fever. You won't live an hour."
That was where Jim failed as a nurse. He made things out worse than they were. He, poor old fellow, thought it was sympathy, and if I had let him go on he would have had me dead before night. I told him I was all right. All I had was a severe cold, on my lungs, and pneumonia, and rheumatism, and chills and fever, and a few such things, but I would be all right in a day or two. I wanted to encourage Jim to think I was not very bad off, but he went out of the tent and called in the horse doctor.
The horse doctor was a a mighty good fellow, He felt of my fore leg, looked at my eyes, rubbed the hair the wrong way on my head, and told Jim to bleed me in the mouth, blanket me, give me a bran mash, and rub some mustang liniment on my chest. I didn't want to hurt the horse doctor's feelings by going back on his directions, but I told him I only wanted to soak my feet in mustard water, and take some ginger tea. He said all right, if I knew more about it than he did, and that he said he would skirmish around for some ginger, while Jim raised the mustard, and they both went out and left me alone.
Pretty soon Jim came in with a camp kettle half full of hot water, and a bottle of French mixed mustard which he had bought of the sutler. I told him I wanted plain ground mustard, but he said there wasn't any to be found, and French mustard was the best he could do. Jim suggested that he take a mustard spoon and plaster the French mustard all over my feet, and then put them to soak that way. He said that prepared mustard was the finest kind for pigs feet and sausage, and he didn't know why it was not all right to soak feet in.. The old camp kettle was greasy, and when the hot water and French mustard began to get in their work on the kettle, the odor was sickening, and I do not think I was improved at all in my condition.
I told Jim I guessed I would lay down and wait for the ginger tea. Pretty soon the horse doctor came in with a tin cup full of hot ginger tea. I took one swallow of it and I thought I had swallowed a blacksmith's forge, with a coal fire in it. I gasped and tried to yell murder. The horse doctor explained that he couldn't get any ginger, so he had taken cayenne pepper, which, he added, could knock the socks off of ginger any day in the week. I felt like murdering the horse doctor, and I felt a little hard at Jim for playing French mustard on me, but when I c'ome to reflect, I could see that they had done the best they could, and I thanked them, and told them to leave me alone and I would go to sleep. They went out of the tent and I could hear them speculating on my case.
Jim said he knew I had diabetis, and lung fever combined, with sciatic rheumatism, and brain fever, and if I lived till morning the horse doctor could take it out of his wages. The horse doctor admitted that my case had a hopeless look, but he once had a patient, a bay horse, sixteen hands high, and as fine a saddle horse as a man ever threw a leg over, that was troubled exactly the same as I was. He blistered his chest, gave him a table-spoonful of condition powders three times a day in a bran mash, took off his shoes and turned him out to grass, and in a week he sold him for two hundred and fifty dollar. I laid there and tried to go to sleep listening to that talk .
Then, some of the boys who had heard that I was sick, came along and inquired how I was, and I listened to the remarks they made. One of them wanted to go and get some burdock leaves, and pound them into a pulp, and bind them on me for a poultice. He said he had an aunt in Wisconsin who had a milk sickness, and her left leg swelled up as big as a post, and the doctors tried everything, and charged her over two hundred dollars, and never did her any good, and one day an Indian doctor came along and picked some burdock leaves and fixed a poultice for her, and in a week she went to a hop-picker's dance, and was as kitteny as anybody, and the Indian doctor only charged her a quarter. Jim was for going out for burdock leaves at once, for me, but the horse doctor told him I didn't have no milk sickness. He said all the milk soldiers got was condensed milk, and mighty little of that, and he would defy the world to show that a man could get milk sickness on condensed milk.
That seemed to settle the burdock remedy, and they went to inquiring of Jim if he knew where my folks lived, so he could notify them, in case I was not there in the morning. Jim couldn't remember whether it was Atchison, Kan., or Fort Atkinson, Wis., but he said he would go and ask me, while I was alive, so there would be no mistake, and the poor fellow, meaning as well as any man ever did, came in and asked for the address of my father, saying it was of no account, particularly, only he wanted to know. I gave him the address, and then he asked me if he shouldn't get me something to eat. I told him I couldn't eat anything to save me. He offered to fry me some bacon, and make me a cup of coffee, but the thought of bacon and coffee made me wild. I told him if he could make me a nice cup of green tea, and some milk toast, or poach me an egg and place it on a piece of nice buttered toast, and give me a little currant jelly, I thought I could swallow a mouthful.
Jim's eyes stuck out when I gave my order, which I had done while thinking of home, and a tear rolled down his cheek, and he went out of the tent, saying, " All right, pard." I saw him tap his fore head with his finger, point his thumb toward the tent, and say to the boys outside:
" He's got 'em! Head all wrong! Wants me to make him milk toast, poached eggs, green tea, and currant jelly. And I offered him bacon. Sow belly for a sick man ! There isn't a loaf of bread in camp. Not an egg within five miles. And milk! currant jelly! Why, he might as well ask for Delmonico's bill of farel But we have got to get 'em. I told him he should have 'em, and, by mighty! he shall. Here, Mr. Horse-doctor, you stay and watch him, and I and Company D here will saddle up and go out on the road to a plantation, and raid it for delicacies."
You bet your life," says the Company "D" man, and pretty soon I heard a couple of saddles thrown on two horses, and then there was a clatter of horses' feet on the frozen ground. I have thought of it since a good many times, and have concluded that I must have dropped asleep. Any way, it didn't seem more than five minutes before the tent flap opened and Jim came in.
"Come, straighten out here, now, you red-headed corpse, and try that toast," said he, as he came in with a piece of hard-tack box for a tray, and on it was a nice china plate, and a cup and saucer, an egg on toast, and a little pitcher of milk, and some jelly.
"Jim," I said, tasting of the tea, which was not much like army tea, "you never made this tea. A woman made that tea, or I'm a goat. And that toast was toasted by a woman, and that egg was poached by a woman. Where am I ? " I asked, imagining that I was home again.
"You guessed it the first time, pard," said Jim, as he threw the blanket over my shoulders, as I sat up on the bunk to try and eat. "The whole thing was done by the rebel angel."
"Rebel angel, Jim; what are you talking about? There ain't any rebel angels," and I became weak and laid down again.
" Yes, there is a rebel angel, and she is a dandy," said Jim, as he covered me up. "She is out by the fire mak ing milk toast for you. You see, I went out to the Brown plantation, to try and steal an egg, and some bread, and milk, but I thought, on the way out, as it was a case of life and death, the stealing of it might rest heavy on your soul when you come to pass in your chips, so I concluded to go to the house and ask for it. There was a young woman there, and I told her the red-headed corporal that captured the female smuggler, was dying, ( if you read the last thread about Peck, he'd captured and released a female smuggler ) and couldn't eat any hard-tack and bacon, and I wanted to fill him up on white folks' food before he died, so he could go to heaven or elsewhere, as the case might be, on a full stomach, and she flew around like a kernel of pop-corn on a hot griddle, and picked up a basket of stuff, and had the fellers saddle a mule for her, and she came right to the camp with me, and said she would attend to everything. She's a thoughbred, and don't you make no mistake about it."
I must have gone to sleep when Jim was talking about the girl, for I dreamed that there was a million angels in rebel uniforms, poaching eggs for me. Pretty soon I heard a rustle of female clothes, and a soft, cool hand was placed on my forehead, my hair was brushed back, a perfumed handkerchief wiped the cold perspiration from my face, and I heard the rebel angel ask Jim what the doctor said about me. Jim told her what the horse doctor had said about curing a horse that had been sick the same as I was, and then she asked if we had not sent for the regular doc- doctor. Jim said we had not thought of that.
She asked what had been done for me, and Jim told her about the French mustard episode, and the cayenne pepper tea. I thought she laughed, but it had become dark in the tent, and I couldn't see her face, but she told Jim to go after the regimental surgeon at once, and Jim went out. The angel asked me how I felt, and I told her I was all right, but she said I was all wrong. I thanked her for the trouble she had taken to come so far, and she said not to mention it. She said she had a brother who was a prisoner at the North, and if somebody would only be kind to him if he was sick, she would be well repaid. She said the last she heard of him he was a prisoner of war at Madison, Wis., and she wondered what kind of people lived there, away off on the frontier, and if they could be kind to their enemies. That touched me where I lived, and I raised up on my elbow, and said :
' ( Why bless your heart, Miss, if your brother is a prisoner in old Camp Randall, in Madison, he has got a picnic. That town was my home before I came down here on this fool job. The people there are the finest in the world. All of them, from old Governor Lewis, to the poorest man in town, would set up nights with a sick person, whether he was a rebel or not. Your brother couldn't be better fixed if he was at home. The idea of a man suffering for food, clothing, or human sympathy in Madison, would be ridiculous. There is not a family in that town," I said, becoming excited from the feeling that any one doubted the humanity of the people of Wisconsin, "but would divide their breakfast, and their clothes, and their money, with your brother, egad, I wish I was there myself. I will be responsible for your brother, Miss."
She told me to lay down and be quiet, and not talk any more, as I was becoming wild. She said she was glad to know what kind of people lived there, as she had supposed it was a wilderness.
In a few minutes Jim came back and said the doctor was playing poker with some other officers, in a captain's tent, and he didn't dare go in and break up the game, but he spoke to the doctor's orderly, and he said I ought to take castor oil. That didn't please the little woman at all, and she told Jim to go to the poker tent and tell the doctor to come at once, or she would come after him. It was not long before the doctor came stooping in to my pup tent. His idea was to have all sick men attend surgeon's call in the morning, and not go around visiting the sick in tents. He asked me what was the matter, and I told him nothing much. Then he asked me why I wasn't at surgeon's call in the morning. I told him the reason was that I was wading in a swamp, after the rebels that ambushed some of our boys the day before. "Then you've got malaria," said he. " Take some quinine tonight, and come to surgeon's call in the morning." The little woman, the "rebel angel," got her back up at the coolness of the doctor, and she gave him a piece of her mind, and then he called for a candle, and he examined me carefully.
When he got through, he said :"He is going to have a run of fever. He must be sent to the hospital. Jim, go tell the driver to send the ambulance here at once, and you, Jim, go along and see that this fellow gets to the hospital all right. He can't live here in a tent, and I doubt if he will in the hospital."
That settled it. In a short time the ambulance came, and I got in and sat on a seat, and the "rebel angel " got in with me, and we rode seven miles to the hospital, over the roughest road a sick man ever jolted over, and I would have died, if I could have had my own way about it, but the little woman talked so cheerfully that when we arrived at the great building, I should have considered myself well, only that my mind was wandering. All I remember of my entrance to the hospital was that when we got out of the ambulance Jim was there on his horse, leading the mule belonging to the angel. Some attendants helped me up stairs, and down a corridor, where we met two stretchers being carried out to the dead house with bodies on them, and I had to sit in a chair and wait till clean sheets could be put on one of the cots where a man had just died.
The little woman told me to keep up my courage, and she would come and see me often, Jim cried and said he would come every day, a man said, "your bed is ready, No. 197," and I laid down as No. 197, and didn't care whether I ever got up again or not. I just had breath enough left to bid the angel good bye, and tell Jim to see her safe home. Jim said, " You bet your life I will," and the world seemed blotted out, and for all I cared, I was dead,
*Breaking this up- next post..... If some of it doesn't make sense, I'm skipping a ton. Like I said, it's awfully long.