Say What Saturday: Words from those Who Dealt with the Horrors of War


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016

Illustration of the Field hospital (Second Corps) on the battlefield of Chancellorsville.

“Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in,
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground,
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital,
To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return,
To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss.”


A Ward in Armory Square Hospital, Washington, D.C.

“I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds,
I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable,

One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never knew you, {*}


“From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,
I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood,
Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv’d neck and side falling head,
His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump,

And has not yet look’d on it.” {*}


Isaac Kay 110th Pennsylvania Infantry in a letter to his wife, Catherine while serving in the Shenandoah Valley.

“I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep,

But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking,
And the yellow-blue countenance see.
I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound,
Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive,

While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and pail.” {*}


Dr. William T. Menderhall was from Richmond and served as a doctor serving in the Civil War with the Union Army. On January 7, 1863 he wrote a letter to his father giving us a glimpse of his service and struggles:

"Dear Father: This is the first opportunity to send mail since leaving Nashville, and in haste I send you a line. The great battle is over and everything is quiet at present. Although our forces have won the victory after several days fighting and our loss is great, our army (is) too much crippled to follow it up... On the second day of battle I was ordered to the hospital to the rear, where our wounded were being sent… Myself and three other surgeons with near a hundred wounded were surrounded by Rebel Cavalry, and taken to Murfreesboro as prisoners. We have been here ever since working day and night on injured and dying soldiers. We have five or six hundred patients to attend to. The Rebels do not pretend to hold medical officers as prisoners, but keep us to attend to the wounded and allow us free reign to save lives. I have always had a desire to talk with Rebel officers to find if they dared to express their true feelings on the war, and have very unexpectedly had the opportunity, and must say that Rebels are human beings of heart and feeling. In fact I have never been treated better by strangers anywhere as by C.S.A. (Confederate States of America) surgeons who divide their supplies with us, loan us instruments, and assist us every way in their power to save lives…. I will probably be kept here until the wounded can be sent home… I have worked five days and nights with hardly a moment’s rest extracting minnie balls – amputating mutilated limbs, and every other desperate measure resulting from lives in forfeit by the folly of war. I went out to the field on Monday to learn the results of my Wayne County acquaintances, but could not find many of the 57th Regiment.

Yours, Affectionately, W.T. Mendenhall”


“Thus in silence in dreams’ projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals,
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young,
Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad,
(Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested,

Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)” {*}

{*} Walt Whitman’s Poem “The Wound Dresser”
All Photos from Library of Congress