Archive for June, 2011

The Charge At Fort Hell: A wife’s point of view

Posted by Jessica Jewett No Comments »
Fanny Chamberlain in the Civil War.

In my last blog, I posted Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s account of how he was shot and almost died while leading his men on foot outside of Petersburg, Virginia. It’s important that you read his own words about what he endured before you read my own words about what I endured. I was his wife in my previous life at that time. That’s me in the picture on the left. I’m not here today to provide proof of reincarnation or who I was back then, so you might as well skip this blog if you’re just here looking for credibility or to discredit me. Frankly, I don’t care who believes and who doesn’t believe. It doesn’t change the truth. Some things are true whether you believe in them or not. I’m here to talk about that terrible summer in 1864 and what I went through and how it still affects me today.

It took most of my present life to get into a peaceful place where I could actually talk about the things I witnessed back then. I started having nightmares and flashbacks about it when I was a small child before I even knew who these people were, where these places were, or even being in a developed position to understand wars, combat and bloody wounds. There were several times as a little girl in which I woke up sobbing and terrified but I didn’t have the words at that young age to explain what I was seeing in my nightmares. I was also ashamed and couldn’t talk about it even after I figured out I was having Civil War nightmares. I talk about all of this in greater detail in my book, Unveiled: Fanny Chamberlain Reincarnated.

The initial nightmare was of being inside an army tent and watching as a handful of men performed a horrifyingly painful procedure on a man lying on a cot. When we remember things we saw as children, everything seems a lot more exaggerated than it really was, and I remember my initial nightmares being ridiculously bloody and the men being sadistic and torturous. The reality was one of them was a doctor and they were probably putting a metal catheter in him (Lawrence), which was supposed to allow his bladder to empty while the wounds were healing, but I still don’t know exactly what I saw because I couldn’t see everything.

19th c. diagram of inserting a catheter.

Catheterizing people was new and experimental in the Civil War. Lawrence’s wound trajectory passed through his pelvis in such a way that the bullet damaged his bladder and urethra, so not only was he bleeding from the entrance wound at his hip but urine was leaking from his bladder through the entrance wound as well. When he was transported to Annapolis for medical care, Dr. Vanderkieft was the head surgeon there who basically thought – well, he’s going to die anyway, so why not experiment with this new catheter system. There was no such thing as plastic in the Civil War, which meant that the catheter was metal, and inserted through the penis to the bladder. Deposits from chemicals in the urine attached to the catheter and eventually blocked the flow after three or four days and the painful process of pulling out old catheters and inserting new catheters for weeks and weeks on end created a fistula. A fistula is a hole in tissue, usually near genitalia, that does not heal and causes incontinence, infection and so forth. He went through a few surgeries long after the war to try and close the fistula but the damage was done. I’m certain the catheter experiments did more damage to his body than the actual gunshot did. He was no longer able to father children, he suffered from periodic incontinence, almost constant pain, various infections, illnesses, swelling, etc., for the next fifty years until his death of urisepsis. Certainly Lawrence would have suffered because of his wounds regardless of how they healed but the areas that Dr. Vanderkieft didn’t mess with much healed naturally and were much less of a problem in his elderly years than the areas on which were experimented.

See what I did? I got uncomfortable with talking about it in personal terms and jumped right into historical facts about the situation rather than get into my feelings. It’s a coping mechanism. I think I get so into historical research as a direct result of my trauma – because I’m somehow trying to understand why it happened at all. It has been easier my entire life to approach it as a historian and spit out cold facts at people rather than risk exposing my own wounds. These things don’t just go away when we die. Trauma takes multiple lifetimes to heal and there were only 77 years between my death as Fanny and my rebirth as Jessica. In spiritual terms, that’s a blink of an eye. It’s all still quite fresh and raw to me even though I have made great strides in making peace with what happened. I was not shot in combat but he was such the love of my life that witnessing his suffering was like going through it myself. Not only did I care for him for months in the hospital but I saw other men cut to pieces, dying, suffering and enduring their own wounds. I cared for some of them too. I was also pregnant at the time.

Of course I don’t recall everything about the summer of 1864. Nobody can remember everything about past lives. People who claim to know everything about their past lives are likely embellishing or not telling the truth at all because past life memories are typically spontaneous, uncontrollable, brief and sporadic. In my case, I had flashbacks to the Annapolis hospital very early in my life because trauma carries with you stronger than any other emotion. There are just a few scattered memories that repeat themselves periodically in my life like a loop of film going around over and over again. I got a decent grip on it in my early 20s though because it was giving me such anxiety that it was affecting my ability to function in my everyday life. Past life flashbacks can be extremely vivid and stick with you for months or years. If you don’t get control over it, learn what you’re supposed to learn from it, cope with it, and let go of the negativity associated with it, you will get stuck in the past and fail at your present life. I have seen people get so stuck because they can’t control it that they fall into serious depression and some have become suicidal. I know one woman who attempted suicide three times because she couldn’t release the trauma of her last life. Luckily, she found a therapist who understands past life trauma and she is much better now.

Woman taking care of wounded Civil War soldiers.

The reason why this war and my husband getting shot was so traumatic for me was because I was told he was going to die from the moment news got to me. I was just beginning to realize that I was pregnant when it happened and I had two other small children at home. When a woman is told her husband is going to die, there is almost no time for shock or grief. As a mother, I had to frame my mind around this loss and figure out what to do with my life to provide for these children. Lawrence was shot on June 18 and I left Maine for Annapolis by about June 20. Time was off the essence. I was trying to reach him before he died so I could say goodbye to my husband. Instead of him dying within days, we were jerked back and forth between hope and despair for weeks and he went through delirious fevers, agonizing pain, medical experiments, and knowing that he should have been dead. The psychological damage when you watch someone you love suffer like that for weeks upon weeks, waiting at any moment for death to come but never does, is almost impossible for me to describe. I spent three months when I was writing my book trying to describe those feelings but I realized people simply cannot understand if they haven’t been through it.

There are a smattering of flashes, images, emotions, sounds and even smells from that time throughout my life which I have tried to articulate with words before but it never comes out right. Sometimes there were flashes of looking down on the body of a bearded, dirty, feverish man and I used to think they were images of a dead man until I understood it was Lawrence in the worst moments after the gunshot when I first got to him. I used to wonder why he was so dirty until I studied the war better and realized that cleanliness was not the priority when someone was sick or wounded. The hospitals were always short staffed. It would have been up to me to clean him up and make him more comfortable, which I did most certainly. Another time, I have a vague recollection of him being more lucid. It felt like nighttime and I was leaning over him talking quite seriously but what I said escapes me now. He pressed his hand to my cheek and said quietly, “You shall have to be their mother and their father.” It was like being punched in the stomach and having the rug yanked out from under my feet all at the same time. There was a brief time when we both truly thought he was going to die.

He survived by the grace of the divine and was home in time for the baby to be born. She was our last child and I thought he was home for good but he left not long after her birth to rejoin the army. Five months after he was shot and came as close to death as I’ve ever seen anyone get, he couldn’t even mount a horse but he was eager to see the end of the war. I was not very happy with the decision. He developed post-traumatic stress disorder (although the condition was unknown back then) and we struggled for years to hold our marriage together. As much as I study the war now and feel pride for his service to his country, I have a lot of resentment toward the war also. That war and every war before and since then destroys the greatest men of their generations one way or another.

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The Charge At Fort Hell

Posted by Jessica Jewett No Comments »
On this day in 1864, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was shot through the pelvis while leading his command on a charge that he knew was going to be a disaster. His pelvis was shattered, his bladder and urethra nicked by the bullet. The following is his verbatim account of the battle in which he should have died but survived by a miracle. He wrote this account on his typewriter as an old man. Everything is as he wrote it, including typos.

It is astounding to see not only his premonition that he would die but also the resiliency that made him return to his command just five months after being told he was going to die. He carried around the bullet and his obituary in his wallet well into his golden years and suffered with chronic bladder infections, kidney infections, periodic incontinence and impotence, a fistula on his genitalia, etc. It is widely believed that he was one of the last soldiers to die of complications due to the wounds he received in the war.

Tomorrow I will blog about my point of view of this experience as his wife at the time. For now, take in his account and think of how you would have coped in his position.

We made a forced march over the James, and to the Petersburg front; but we wasted the whole day, so that we lost the end for which this severe march was inflicted on the men — cheerfully carried through by them out of their loyalty and hardiness.

My brigade was a splendid one; given [or made up especially for] me and consideration of my losing my old, Third Brigade through my misfortune at Rappahannock Station, where after the heat of the assault I had taken and night’s bivouac on the bare ground and under an open sky, in a damp, driving snow storm.  Returning from Georgetown Seminary Hospital, I found my brigade in [the] command of General Bartlett of the Sixth Corps.

This First Brigade, however, made up to me the loss.  It was composed of five regiments from the old First Corps, remnants of Chapman Biddle’s and Roy Stone’s Brigades, of Doubleday’s old Division, and the splendid new regiment, the 178th Pennsylvania; six regiments as good as ever took arms.  Veterans, in fact, the five old regiments, having passed through untold hardships and slaughter at Gettysburg, and in truth, some of them looked upon as somewhat shorn of their honor there as well as of their numbers, by reason of not holding on after all was lost — or perhaps for holding on until one of them lost their colors.  At any rate, I found them somewhat disheartened when I took them, after Cold Harbor, and I set to work to restore their spirit, and discipline, and assured them I would recover their prestige in the first battle we went into.

On the night of the 17th they all lay out on the ground before the outer works of Petersburg – 2,500 or 3,000 men — waiting for the fierce attack we were expecting to make in the morning on the enemy’s defensive works, now well strengthened and manned the end of line

I had a strange feeling that evening, premonition of coming ill.  I walked down through the ranks of my silent or sleeping men, drawing a blanket more closely over one, and answering the broken murmurs of another; with a unreasoning yearning over them, thinking of what was before them, and wishing I could do what no mortal could do for them.  Having passed all through the deep spreading ranks, and went to my quarters and dropped into an unaccustomed mood.  A shadow seemed to brood over me, dark wings folding as it were [or a pall] and wrapping me in their embrace.  Something said; “You will not be here again.  This is your last.”  I had not the habit of taking a dark view of things; although for twenty seven days and nights together we had been under fire, more or less, never secure from danger for two hours together.  I had a buoyant spirit — not light, and far from making light of things — but resolved and ready for my fate, meaning to face it, and not flinch.  But this night, the premonition became oppressive, unbearable.

I went out to speak with some of my most intimate friends who were near.  Among others I remember, Captain Twitchell, of the 7th Maine Battery Then to my own colonels; and finally to General Griffin.  I bid them all a cheerful good evening, and went on to turn my greeting into a goodbye.  Most of them took it as ordinary exchange of courtesies; we had got used to sudden farewells, and fate too sudden for farewells; and I do not think much impression was left on any minds.

But when I said to General Griffin; “I feel like thanking you, General, for more kindnesses than I can recount tonight.  I have appreciated them all; but have had no opportunity to speak to you about them before.”

He looked up and said, “It seems to me this is a queer time for opportunities to pay compliments.  We have other things to think of now.  You are worn out.  You had better turn in and go to sleep.  We shall be awake early enough in the morning.”

“General, this is my last night with you.  You must let me thank you.  I wish you to know my love for you”.

“What do you mean,” he sharply ejaculates — unwilling perhaps to let me see that he was moved.

“I shall fall tomorrow, General; this is my good bye:”

“Why do you think so?” he asks.

“The dark angel has said it to me”.

“You have lost your poise.  These terrible strains have been too much for you.”

“No.  General; I have perfect balance.  You will see that.  You will not be ashamed of me.”

“My God,” he cries, “you are old wrong.  I will tell you now what I was not going to.  Warren and I have [been] talking things over.  It is decided.  You have done your full share of fighting.  You are not to be put in tomorrow.  You are held in reserve.  So there.”

“Yes, General; the reserve goes in when all is lost or must be saved by sacrifice.  Let me lead tomorrow.”

“Drop this; put away this feeling; we can’t spare you, and I will not let you be exposed tomorrow.”

“It will not be for you to say, General; Fate will cast the lot, or has cast it already.”

“Oh, go to sleep; we will talk about this in the morning, if there is anything to talk about.”

“Then, Good Night, General.”

Morning came with artillery at close range.  The enemy knew of course we were preparing to attack their lines, and we were using strong disuasives.  All was astir in both lines — Restless, feverish, (it seemed to me knowing only my own front) — unplanned, tentative, or resting on contingencies.

Soon our batteries were advanced to reply to those annoying us.  The fire came back upon them fiercely.  The enemy seemed now contemplating an attempt to take our guns by a dash.

Then General Griffin wrote up and said “We wish you would look out for these batteries here.  They may try to take them.”

“Certainly, General; they shall not take them,” was the quiet assurance.  He then rode away.  I moved up close in rear of the guns, covering my men as I could by taking advantage of the ground.  But the cannonading was sharp; the shot and shell tore up the whole ground in front of us.  I had to ride along up & down the front of my men to reassure them; for many were falling, with no chance to strike back; and this is hard to bear.  I knew that something different must be done, and soon; and was rather nervous myself.  Then Griffin and Warren rode up to me; Griffin spoke: “It is too bad: I try to prevent this; but those batteries out there must be dislodged  General Warren asks if you will do it.”

“Does General Warren order this?”  I asked.  “I have a thought about it, and wish to know what the orders are.”

“We do not order it; we wish it, if it is possible to be done.  But it is a hard push up that open slope.”

“That was what I was planning about, General; Will you let me do it in my own way?  I think I can clear the batteries away — perhaps take them.”

“Well, I am sorry for this; you will not think hard of me in any way?”

“I am thinking hard, but not of you”, was the word as I rode up to my senior colonel and giving orders to take the brigade to the left, not towards the enemy, but on parallel line somewhat sheltered from the enemy’s fire, and mostly from their sight… and to gain a piece of woods on the right flank of the enemy’s guns and wait for me.

Then I turned and gave rein to my horse, and headed straight for the rebel batteries.  I had seen something which looked not quite right, between us and the batteries; something I could not understand, looking, however, like a line of rifle pits for infantry, in front of their guns.  I wished to see what this was, and there was no other way.  I was not going to push my brave men up to it, and possibly have them annihilated there.  I was riding, of course, at headlong speed.  Soon I was aware of a tearing Tartar overtaking me, and rushing up to my side.

“What in the name of Heaven are you going to do?” cries Griffin.

“I am just going to look at that strange ground there,” was the reply, without checking speed.

“Then I am going with you,” shouts Griffin.  Meanwhile the Rebels seeing the strange embassy had begun to burst shells right over our heads and almost in our faces.  We were aware that people from both armies were looking on, astonished, not knowing what circus-riding this was.

“There, you see, General, what I feared.  I was not going to put my men up here.”  It was a deep railroad cut, and earth thrown up high as a man’s breast just below the range of the enemy’s artillery.  Their shot would skim the crest and mow men down like reaping-machines.  We both wheeled like a flash, with a half smile, strangely significant; he to his place with the center of his other brigades — I to my clump of woods, first taking a line to the rear before bearing to my [division’s] left where my brigade was crossing the railroad track at level grade.

We followed a rough track up to the woods, and there formed in two lines, with two regiments as a flanking force to support me on the left.  I then instructed all the field officers what my plans were.  We were going to advance noiselessly as possible through the woods, and [on] emerging, fire there a volley & make a rush upon the flank of the rebel guns, and overwhelm them if possible before they could recover their wits.  The second line was to follow the first at a distance of 100 yards, till their line came to join with the first or replace it.  It was a situation where it the commander should lead; for quick action and change of action would be required.  So what the whole staff, flag flying aloft, and the splendid lines close pressing, we made for the guns.  Then a burst of artillery fire turned upon us with terrible effect.  Down went my horse under me, a piece of case shot going through him; down went every one of my staff, wounded or unhorsed; down went my red Maltese cross, flag of our brigade; but on went everybody, on for the guns.  Enfilading fire from great guns on our left, toward the earth before us, behind us, around us, through us; the batteries swung and gave us canister; & before we could reach them, limbered up and got off down the slope under cover of their main entrenchments.  We only got their ground, and drove away the guns.  I was mortified, greatly troubled.  But the enfilading fire was so heavy we had to get a little below the crest we had carried, and prepare to hold it against attempts to recover it.

Pondering and studying the situation, I saw that we could use artillery to advantage.  I sent back to Griffin or Warren, a mile, I should think — for some artillery, meanwhile setting my pioneers to taking platforms just under the crest of the hill, making level ground for the guns to be worked on when they should arrive.  Before long, up came Bigelow with the 9th Massachusetts, and Hart of the 15th New York, followed by another, Barnes’ 1st New York.  Mink was across the [railroad] cut firing in [to] the Ice House to my right front.  We helped the guns up into the places I had made for them, laying their muzzles in the grass close to the earth, so that nobody could suspect we had artillery there.  We were so far advanced from the rest of the army that I did not quite like to give the enemy a chance to study up plans to capture our exposed guns; but I put two good regiments, the 150th [PA], and [?]  regiments, to guard the exposed left flank, and busied myself in strengthening our position.

In the midst of this, a staff-officer came out, much excited with his difficult journey, and gave me the order: “The General commanding, (he did not say which general, but it was either Meade or Grant; it was not an officer I had seen before), desires you to attack and carry the works in your front.”

“Does the General know where I am?”  I asked.  “Let me show you!  They are the interior works, the main works at Petersburg, and am I to attack alone?”

“I gave you the order”, he says, “that is all I have to say.”

“Very well, Colonel, you are Colonel ########### are you not?”

“I am, sir.”

“Will you kindly take a written message from me to the General?”

“Certainly, if you wish; I see that there may be occasion for it.”

“There is,” I said.

And I took out my field-book and wrote as follows: “I have received the order to assault the enemy’s main works in my front.  The General commanding cannot possibly be aware of the situation here.  From where I write this I can count ten or twelve pieces of artillery behind the earthworks, so placed as to give me a cross-fire, and a line of works with not less than 5,000 infantry, easily sweeping the slope down which I must advance, not less than 300 yards from this point.  A large Fort is on my left and perfectly enfilades with heavy guns the whole in my front.  It will be only slaughter for men to charge upon this front, unsupported.  Fully aware of the responsibility I assume, my duty to veteran soldiers compels me to ask to postpone this charge until the General can be informed of the circumstances.  In my opinion, if an assault is to be made, it should be by not less than the whole of the Army of the Potomac.”  I thought it likely that it was not known at head quarters that I had carried this crest.  The order might have meant this [crest].

No sooner had this hasty message left my control than I began to reflect on the presumptuous character of giving my unasked opinion about the assault.  I was not commanding the Army of the Potomac, and my last remark was uncalled for and highly censurable.  Whatever might be said of an officer, in any manner refusing to attack the enemy when ordered to do so, this pert advice about the Army of the Potomac being the only proper agent of an assault was unpardonable.  How could I have been such a fool, passed my understanding, & [I thought] my premonition about this being my last day in the field would soon be realized.  I expected nothing less than an “arrest” and an order to the rear for charges of the most serious kind known to the service.  I began to think what influence I could bring to bear upon the President, through Pitt Fessenden, Henry Wilson, Charles Sumner, and Lot Morrill, to secure a pardon before sentence.  I called my Colonels up and told them I expected soon to be taken away.  I did not tell them how.  I gave them however my general ideas of the situation, and that the best manner of making an assault when ordered.  It is needless to say that I was in a very distressed state of mind — shame above all, taking the “pith” all out of me.  In about half an hour I saw the same staff-officer coming up the rear slope of the crest.  I was ready to give up my sword.  I was a pitiful thing — I worn thin, burnt brown, taxed and tasked beyond my powers by severe service.  I had unflinchingly and uncomplainingly rendered, and having just achieved a good piece of work for which I knew I deserved praise — to be seen disarmed, disgraced, sneaking to the rear, with not even the dignity of a lamb led to the slaughter, but more like a dog kicked away from decent company.  (It never occurred to me – not having the opportunity to secure counsel, to plead insanity.)

[I was] in the lowest pit of dejection, [as] the staff-officer approached.

“Yes, Sir, I am ready,” was my first word, spoken before he came to a stand.

“The General says you are quite right in what you say about the assault.  The whole army will attack.”  I felt as if I were on the wings.  Life, death, had no terrors.

“But,” and here came in the balancer, the “twist” pretty fairly getting even with me for my pertness, “from the position of things, you being advanced as you are, it will be necessary to guide on you.  You will be the ‘battalion of direction.’ The General wishes to know the precise minute when you will be ready to attack.”

“Now!”  I greedily answered, glad to gulp down any medicine, as a punishment for that sin of foolishness, for which no provision seems to be made in the [economies] of nature or grace.

“Oh, no,” he responds, “that will not give time to get the order to all the commands.  But we want an hour fixed, for simult[an]eous movement.”

“Very well, sir, how much time will it take?”

“Perhaps an hour,” he replies.

I took out my watch, and compared it with his; “I will attack at 3 o’clock, precisely” was my final word.

No more dejection now.  It was projection.  And lively at that.  The artillery had meanwhile been getting up and into the platforms I had partly prepared.  This suited me well.  The muzzles would be laid right in the short grass on the crest when pushed into action, but were protected when loading after the recoil.  I went along the rear of the guns advising with the commanding officer about getting a slant fire on the enemy’s guns in the works before and slightly below us, so as to knock them off of their trunnions if possible, and be ready to give case shot or canister when demonstrations of the enemy should offer good effects.  My chief solicitude was lest this fire which I directed to open only when my men were well down in front below the line of their fire, should demoralize or injure my men, by the stripping lead of the band of shell or too premature bursting of case shot above their heads.  I also gave particular instructions to my colonels, especially to the two senior colonels likely to succeed me.  I did not conceal from them my expectation of not long surviving; for I resolved to lead the charge in person.  I held my watch in hand, and when the minute hand was on the mark for 3 o’clock, I told the bugler to sound the ‘charge.’

Up rose my brave men; past the batteries they press; closing in in front of them; down the slope ago; muskets on the shoulder; bayonets fixed; for I had instructed on no account to commence firing in front of the enemy’s works, this would distract their attention from the main purpose, which was to go over the works, and taking them any way hand to hand.  As I had determined, I led the movement with my whole staff, dismounted — the horses had all gone down under the fierce fire we encountered in carrying the crest at first.  I had a color-bearer following me, also on foot.  At this outburst of men after a moment’s astonishment, the enemy opened with every kind of missile man had invented.  My men being below the line of fire of our own artillery, this began too, with whatever it could best use — solid shot, first, shell short-fused — the distance was from 200 yards to 400 according to the objects needing engagement — and what I dreaded, case-shot — from which some explosions troubled my men — or possibly, the stripping lead and sabots.  Now rose such a fury of fire as never was concentrated on one small space before; crowned by the heavy fire of Fort Mahone on our left, which as soon as we got fairly in front of our own guns had perfect enfilading range, & used it “well” — in their estimation, no doubt.

I had formed two lines three regiments in the front line and the 187th in the second, a “new” regiment, full ranks, and stout hearts; with two regiments skilled marksmen as a special column on the left to guard that exposed flank in whatever way should be necessary.  This now seems to me not the best formation; for it gave my new regiment the awful spectacle of the havoc made in my first line; my reason for this was, however, that none but experienced soldiers should try to go over works with the bayonet.  And the two gallant regiments I had placed in column, (they were small in numbers) on the left, were a good — bad — mark for all the demons that had [them] at their mercy, front and flank.  But I had thought it necessary to guard strongly that unsupported flank, especially as an attempt would be made I thought it likely, to capture my artillery, which had no chance to get out except right in the face of some batteries now disclosed on my left.  A very exposed to dangerous position for them, unless strongly supported, which I saw, from my advanced ground when clear of the crest, had utterly failed to make effective demonstration.  I cannot say there was any “surprise” anywhere; I had perfectly comprehended all that happened, before I moved a step, and had so told the staff-officer bringing me the orders.  For some reason I do not now feel able to say I had no confidence that the expected “support” promised me would amount to any thing.  It proved true; that was all.  So I do not know that I was at fault in my dispositions, however severely they exposed my command.  My main business was to take the works in front.  What kind of a situation we should be in then, with Mahone pouring its great shot down on us, unless the miracle should be wrought of our other troops carrying or silencing it, I hardly charged myself with thinking; that was for my superiors, “commanding the Army of the Potomac.”

In five minutes’ time my flag-bearer was shot dead.  I took the flag from his dying hands, without a look at the poor fellow, and pressed on.  My staff were being disabled — some with wounds, some sent to watch or help the various points of greatest danger, especially my left.  The very earth was plowed and torn to pieces by the shot directed at my troops, a clear mark on the side hill for the whole force of the enemy from every quarter.  The great shot from the fort on the left sent the turf and stones through our ranks, filling the air with tornado debris.  The musketry was like a boiling sea.  Suddenly I found myself on the borders of a marsh or bog, which men could not well pass.  This must not catch my men, I thought, and made a half face to the left and gave the command, “Incline to the left.  To the left.”  Nobody could hear a word — any more than at the bottom of Hell.  I raised the flag, the red Cross, high as I could and waving this in one hand and my saber with the other towards the left, continued shouting and signaling, “To the left.  To the left.”

In the hiss and roar and blinding, flying earth, standing and so signaling I felt a sharp hot flush that seemed to cut the spinal marrow out of my back-bone.  A twelve-pound shell or case-shot at exploded right behind me as I was faced, and the pieces came thrumming by my ears.  My thought was that I had been shot in the back — in the middle of the back, below the belt.  This was all I could think of for a moment, and the shame of it was worse than death.  To be shot in the back, in the face of the enemy!  This was worse than refusing to attack.  I was lost, dead or alive, and better dead!  I had not fallen.  That was strange for the blow was strong.  But I was well braced as I stood waving my two emblems of command; and braced also in mind, had not fallen.  Perforce I dropped flag-staff and saber to the ground; holding them up right, however, without claiming much heroism for that, as I had need of both for my staff and stand.  But I put on an extreme straightness of posture, wishing to countervail the appearance of cowardly turning my back to the enemy and getting proof of it in the telling shot.  It never occurred to me that an officer leading his men in a charge might properly have to face aside to give effect to a command.  I remember and always shall, the looks on the faces of my men as they came up to me in line — dear, brave fellows — their writhing line stiff and strong as the links of a chain-cable, as the broke file [and] gave way to the left “to pass obstacle.”  A minute has not passed, when as I turned to look sharply at my second line, my noble new regiment coming up so grandly into this terrible test…

I felt in my sword hand a gush of hot blood.  I looked down then for the first time.  I saw the blood spurting out of my right hip-side, and saw that it had already filled my long cavalry boots to overflowing, and also my baggy reinforced trousers, and was running out at both pocket welts.  Not shot in the back then!  I do not think I was ever so happy in my life.  My first thought was of my Mother, my Huguenot-blooded mother; how glad she would be that her boy was not shot in the back!  “Had he has wounds before?”  Then it is well.  I found that I had been shot through by a minie ball — the round hole was plain — from hip joint to hip joint — from right to left, just in front of the joints.

I was already faint with loss of blood.  I sank first to my knees, then leaning on my right elbow.  One of my staff ran up now — Major Funk — and fell distracted with grief on my very body, begging me to let him go for a surgeon, or have me taken to one.  I knew either to be impossible, and useless.  “No”, I said, “my dear fellow; there is much better for you to do on this field.  I saw a movement from the enemy’s lines just as I was struck, to take the batteries on the crest.  Run to the 150th Pennsylvania and tell them to take care of those guns at all events.  And tell Bigelow or Hart to prepare to give canister in his front, but look for our men and not fire into them.  We will take care of his left flank.”  Then came up Major Osborne Jones, inspector on my staff — agonized.  “Tell Colonel [Irvin] that he is in command of the brigade,” I said.  “The assault is checked; I can see that.  Get the men where they will not be destroyed.  Don’t let them try to stand here under this fire.  Either over, or out!”  I would not let him try to get me away.  It would not be worth the cost.  I could see that my assault had failed, and that a counter-charge was preparing; men were already coming over their works beyond our left, and forming for attack.  This must be attended to.  That was my chief thought.

I lay now straight on my back, too weak to move a limb; the blood forming a pool, under and around me — more blood than the books allow a man.  I had not much pain.  It was more a stunning blow, a kind of dull tension, my teeth shut sharp together hard, like lock-jaw.  So I lay looking, thinking, sinking, the tornado tearing over and around.  Dull hoarse faint cries in the low air; cases, spatters, thuds, thunderbolts mingling earth and sky, and I moistening the little space of mother-earth for a cabbage-garden for some poor fellow, black or white, unthinking, unknowing.  I had lain there for an hour, perhaps, when I was aware of some men standing over me, with low-toned voices debating with themselves what to do.  I spoke to them.  They brightened up, and said they were sent to bring me off the field.  I told them it was of no good; I was not worth it, emphasizing this in such terms that they replied that they had positive orders.  I told them I would give orders for them to go back.  “Begging pardon,” he said “but you are not in command now.”  This rather roused me, which only seemed to prove to them that I was worth saving.  I told them they could not get up that slope without getting killed, every one of them.  But they took me up, put me on their stretcher, and started.  [We were] not 20 yards away when came one of those great shots from the Fort on the left [Ft. Mahone] striking in the very spot from which they had lifted me, and digging a grave their large enough for all of us, scattering the earth and gravel all over us, with rather unpleasant force.  The next minute a musket ball broke an arm for one of my carriers.  Another took his place, and they steered for the right of the batteries, around which they managed to pass and set me down behind the batteries, below the range of shot skimming overhead.  Captain Bigelow gave me all the attention possible, which was more relief to him than practical avail to me, a limp mass of bloody earth.

After awhile an ambulance came galloping up to the foot of the hill, and I was put into it, and galloped through rough stumpy fields to a cluster of pines where our Division had a rude field hospital.  Most of the surgeons there had been or were attached my headquarters, and I knew and love them, for they were noble men.  The first thing done was to lay me upon a table improvised from a barn-window or door, and examine the wound.  I remember somebody taking a ram rod of a musket and running it through my body — it [the wound] was too wide for any surgeon’s probe — to discover the bullet, which they did not at first observe sticking up with a puff of skin just behind my left hip joint.  This they soon cut out, and closed the cut with a bandage.  Some slight dressing was put upon the round hole on the right side, and I was gently laid on a pile of pine boughs.  Several badly wounded officers both of our army and the Confederate were [around me].  On my right, his feet touching mine, noble Colonel Prescott of the 32 Massachusetts, with a bullet in his breast; on the other side, a fine-faced, young Confederate officer, badly wounded and suffering terribly.  The whole little space was strewn thick with such cases as these.  As the shadows grew thick, a group of surgeons stood not far off earnestly discussing something, looking at me now and then.  I knew what it was.  One of them said to another; “You do it.”  “No.  I can’t” was the reply.  But I beckoned one of them to me and said, “I know all about it.  You have done your best.  It is a mortal wound.  I know this, and am prepared for it.  I have been for a long time.”  “Yes, there is no possible chance for you.  We could not tell you.  You can not live till morning.”  “So be it, you can’t help me.  But you can save poor Prescott; look at him.  We won’t leave you, Prescott,” I turned to say — with voice rather feeble such a stout proffer of aid.  “And here is this poor fellow, this rebel officer, suffering much.  Help him all you can.  He is far from home.  He is ours now.”

I had got a leaf from a field order book and written with a pencil a brief letter to my young wife; telling her how it was; bidding her and our two little ones to God’s keeping, and folded my hands with nothing more for them to do.

It was a lurid, wild, cloud-driven sunset — like my own.  Griffin came over to me with Bartlett and I think Warren and some of Corps staff.  Griffin did not know what to say.  Indeed there was nothing to say, of the future, or of the present — and what avail now, of the past?  I think I spoke first, and it may seem strange in such circumstances that I should begin almost playfully; “Well, General, you see I was right.  Here I am, at the end.  And here you are, as I knew you would be.  But it is time to report.  I have carried the crest.”

“You are going to pull through” he says.  In spite of them all, you will pull through.  It will come out all right,” he says.

“Yes, but I would have had some things otherwise,” I answered.

“Do you know,” he eagerly returns, “Grant has promoted you!  He has sent his word!  He will write an order about it.”

“Has he?  That will not help me now.  But it will do good.  I thank the General.  I thank you, and all of you for this kindness.”

They spoke of my promotion and the manner of it.  They did not know how narrowly I escaped cashiering, as I did.  They all spoke gentle words, some praisingly.

But Griffin came near, took my hand and said: “Now keep a stiff upper lip.  We will stand by you.  Meade knows about it.  It will be all right.”

“Yes, General.”  — “Good Night.”  — “Good Night.”

But I saw in the glimmering twilight his hand drawn across his eyes and his shoulder shiver and heave quite visibly, even to my fading eyes.  Then I folded my hands again across my chest.

After a while of this stupor suddenly came a flood of tearing agony.  I never dreamed what pain could be and not kill a man outright.  My pity went back to the men I had seen helpless on the stricken field.  The pain wore into a stupor.  Then through the mists I looked up and saw dear, faithful Doctor Shaw, Surgeon of my own regiment [the 20th Maine] lying a mile away.  My brother Tom had brought him.  He and good Dr. Townsend set down by me and tried to use some instrument to establish proper connections to stop the terrible extravasations which would end my life.  All others had given up, and me too.  But these two faithful men bent over their task trying with vain effort to find the entrance to torn and clogged and distorted passages of vital currents.  Toiling and returning to the ever impossible task, the able surgeon undertaking to aid Dr. Shaw said, sadly, “It is of no use, Doctor; he cannot be saved.  I have done all possible for man.  Let us go, and not torture him longer.”  “Just once more, Doctor; let me try just this once more, and I will give it up.”  Bending to his task, by a sudden miracle, he touched the exact lost thread; the thing was done.  There was a possibility, only that even now, that I might be there to know in the morning.  Tom stood over me like a brother, and such a one as he was.  True-hearted Spear with him, watching their lack guardians over the cradle amidst the wolves of the wilderness.

After midnight I became aware of some one fumbling about my beard, trying to find my mouth.  The great iron spoon made its way along the uncertain track made by his trembling hand.  I opened my eyes and there knelt Spear, his red beard in the gleam of a lurid campfire making him look like a picture of one of the old masters.  He had been turning the spoon bowl as he thought in the right place, but had missed it by an inch, which was down my neck and bosom outside.  “Now.  please give me some,” I plaintively murmured, taking a little cheer, if I can be believed, in making a joke of it.  The tears were running down his cheeks, and I thought, into the black tin dipper; but he smiled through them — and taken all together, it was a good porridge.  At times the agonizing pains would get the better of my patience.  But sufferings of those lying around me, particularly of the poor forlorn southerner close to me, were some counterpoise.  “A fellow-feeling makes us wonderous kind.”  At dawn dear brave Prescott was dead, and I alive.  Griffin had been stirring.  Meade had sent its structure and 8 men to carry me 16 miles to City Point, to be taken by steamer to Annapolis.  That was thought the only way to save me.  If I could be got into a tent by the seashore, with skillful treatment, and favorable surroundings, there might be a chance for me.  Friends gathered to see my “forlorn hope” move out.  It was a blazing day.  My bearers were none too many.  I felt Meade’s kind thoughtfulness.  This was probably Griffin’s doing, although the order for the detail came from Meade.  The great loss of blood had weakened me to the extreme.  The men tried to screen my face from the burning sun, and to relieve my faintness by moistened cl[oths] laid over it.  But it was a hard day for them — this 16 miles marched with this wearying load.  I wish I could have had the names of those men so as to follow them in life.

At City Point I was transferred to a steamer — my stretcher set down on the main deck.  I was told there were 600 badly wounded officers on board.  There was something in the air which testified this, both to the census and to the mysterious “inner sense.”  I felt the whole, as well as my part, of the mournful embassy.  The thought, too, of the “government” taking care of us stricken, broken bodies, was grateful.  But the journey was long, and the night and morning dreary.  The surgeon in charge had braced himself for his task a little too much, and came near going over backwards.  We — the people on my deck — suffered a lack of proper care.  We were in wretched condition — broken, maimed, torn, stiffened with clotted blood and matted hair and beard, dazed with that strange sensation of being suddenly cut down from the full flush of vigorous health to hardly breathing bodies.

We did not know what we wanted — nor did anybody else, apparently.  But by some fortunate accident Dr. Tom Moses, one of my old College boys who had charge of the upper deck, learned that I was below, and he lost no time in coming to my side; and he was virtually there all that dismal night.

It seemed to me sometime after the second midnight that I was set on the wharf at Annapolis Naval School, and left there a long time before my turn came, and then it was to be taken into a naked dreary tent.  There I lay entirely alone for hours.  The first disturbance I had was seeing the flap of my tent open and a kindly, earnest face looking in, and then the whole form of woman’s divineness came to me, with the question, “Who are you?”  If she had said “What are you,” it would have been justified.  A more uncanny looking being, I suppose, never stood across a human pathway.  “Booted and spurred,” blood-soaked and smeared, hair and beard matted with blood and earth, where I had lain on the earth amidst the flying turf and stones, pale as death and weak as water — I was a poor witness of what I was, or who.  But from that moment no tenderness that man or angel could show was left unfulfilled by this Boston girl, Mary Clark.  She interested Dr. Vanderkieft in my case, & he sent Welsh “Tommy” to serve me, and I had all the surgical skill that the French army or the United States could command, and all the care that divine womanhood could divine.  But it was a “far cry to Lochow.”  For two months wrestling at the gates of death, in agonies inexpressible, though direfully enough betokened, convulsions, death-chills, lashings, despairing surgeons, waiting embalmers — “rejected addresses” — and all this under the eyes of the dear, suffering wife, who had taken up her dwelling in the adjoining tent.  Through this valley of the shadow of death — in five months back at the front with my men!

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>Fire on the Mississippi preview

Posted by Jessica Jewett No Comments »


I promised I would post a snippet of my next novel, tentatively titled Fire on the Mississippi. It is the sequel to my first novel, From the Darkness Risen. If you have not read that novel yet, I should warn you that this snippet contains major spoiler alerts. If you don’t want to know what happened in the first novel until you actually read it, then you had better not read the snippet of the second novel.

You can purchase From the Darkness Risen by going to online retailers such as,,, iTunes, etc., and searching for my name – Jessica Jewett. Amazon sells both paperback and Kindle versions of the novel. iTunes sells a digital version compatible with iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches. Lulu sells paperback and PDF ebook versions.

So here is the preview of Fire on the Mississippi. Keep in mind that it will be edited before it is published.


Chapter One
St. Louis, Missouri
December 1862
            Mrs. Thaddeus Grimm resigned herself to the life of an invalid, despite her valiant effort to lead a normal life. She sat in the attic of her new home staring at the two crates of Christmas decorations that needed to be carried down the narrow back staircase and debated the best course of action. She had managed to climb the stairs with her crutch under one arm and a hand braced against the wall, but she had not thought her plan through. It would require at least six arms to descend the stairs with the two crates. Eva gave up and slumped into a wobbly old chair by the window, feeling utterly sorry for herself.
            “Merry Christmas, indeed,” she muttered under her breath.
            Underneath the layers of her heavy wool and silk skirt, hoops and petticoats, the partial leg remaining attached to her body dangled without a foot to support her weight. She considered the entire limb a dead useless weight, a foreign creature that betrayed the rest of her body. Occasionally, she saw a soldier on the street with a missing arm or a missing leg and her eyes softened toward them, though shifted to iciness as soon as they passed. Her foot had been sacrificed to save her best friend’s husband but she saw none of the honor that wounded soldiers received. Only pity.
            The muffled bass of Thaddeus’ voice reverberated from the lowest level in their modest home. At least he could help her, she thought woefully. Despondency deepened the more she felt backed into the corner of depending on her husband for help. It was her duty to be the wife and care for him, or manage the servants in that care, if they had any.
            “Evie!” he called once more.
            “In the attic!” she answered.
            The sound of his boots creaking the floorboards comforted Eva in ways she did not yet know how to express as a newlywed. Thaddeus appeared, hunched and rubbing his hands together to spark the friction of heat in the cold attic.
            “What are you doing up here by yourself?” he questioned, concern in his voice matching the concern in his eyes.
            Eva pointed to the crates on the floor. “I had hoped to have the house decorated for when you came home from the university,” she said dejectedly. “I wished to surprise you, but…”
            His eye passed between the crates and Eva. Thoughtfully, he crouched before her and kissed her forehead. “We shall do it together then,” he said as he lifted the hem of her skirt. “How is your leg? Did you injure yourself?” With the swift care of a physician rather than a professor, he held the mutilated limb in a light grasp and peered at it through the silk stocking.
            “Thaddeus, I’m fine.” Eva averted her eyes.
            A quick flash of his skeptical blue eyes spoke the truth. “There is no shame in admitting you overdid it. It’s swollen. You will have to put it up for the night.”
            “It doesn’t hurt that much,” Eva protested. It wounded her heart to lie to her husband but old habits were not easily broken. Sometimes she did it compulsively without understanding why other than her old desire for self-preservation, not that she viewed her husband as a threat. She had no desire to appear weak.
            Thaddeus lifted her from the chair and made his way downstairs, careful to feel out each step as he went. “Where would you like to be? The sofa again?”
            “I have to cook supper.”
            “I shall handle it,” he said just as quickly, as if predicting the steps of a conversation played out many times before then.
            Eva’s eyes welled in frustration. Her defenses fell enough to bury her face in his neck as she sought the silent comfort of a wife from her husband. It simply was not right for Thaddeus to be forced into donning an apron and struggling in the kitchen because he married a woman who got her leg shot off in a prison escape instead of being a proper Carolina lady. The fire he loved in her had been put out the day she woke without her foot, she feared.
            Thaddeus never complained about playing the role of husband and wife while she grew accustomed to her immobilized existence. He placed her on the green velvet sofa, specifically chosen for the softness and overstuffed cushions. He lifted her legs and placed pillows underneath them, and then smoothed out her skirt, as if he understood that appearances still mattered to her even after everything. She knew she did nothing to deserve him but without him, she would never have survived.
            “Tea?” he asked in routine.
            “Yes,” she answered quietly.
            He sat on the edge of the sofa and bent to kiss her lips. Ever tender and receptive of her moods, he sandwiched her hand between his own and studied her for a long moment. “It’s simply going to take time,” he offered.
            “I know,” she replied with a nod.
            “It’s only been five months since the accident. The doctor says the pain and swelling will taper off as the year passes. When I advance my position at the university, I intend to have a false foot made for you and you could walk again without the crutch. I just need you to be patient a little longer.”
            His tone changed when he requested her patience. She looked up at him and felt guilt wrench at her stomach. “Do you think I’m cross with you for this?”
            “You’re alone all day while I teach,” he replied. He stood abruptly and moved about the room picking up empty cups, plates and clutter. “I cannot afford to hire help for you. This isn’t the life you should have.”
            “It is. I’m here because I married you. I knew what being your wife meant,” she said as sincerely as she could. “Thaddeus, I love you. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t so. My life is here with you.”
            “You can honestly sit there and tell me you don’t resent the fact that I can’t give you the life with which you grew up?” His tone sharpened but just as abruptly, he drew a breath and reeled in his disappointment. “I’m your husband. It’s my responsibility to give you the best life possible but my career forces me to disallow the employment of servants to help you with your day. I worry for you every day. What if you fall? What if there is a fire? I could never forgive myself if—“
            “—Nothing is going to happen to me. I’m careful.”
            He left the room and Eva heard the plates and cups clatter in the wash basin in the kitchen. Sighing, she leaned back on the sofa cushion and stared at the plaster and wallpapered ceiling. She had spent quite a lot of time admiring the deep green geometric edging around the ceiling in her time convalescing there on the sofa. She understood Thaddeus’ fears but she could not coddle those fears, otherwise he would drive himself mad. It was for his own good. In time, he would grow accustomed to her life as an invalid just as she had to grow accustomed to it.
            It was a far cry from her upbringing in South Carolina and she never envisioned herself being a professor’s wife in Missouri. Her mother had always planned for her to marry one of her father’s physician colleagues and her life would continue in the beautiful bubble of safety and comfort that was Charleston. A mansion on the Battery, perhaps a plantation in the country, and every household amenity provided by the Negroes she would have certainly inherited from her father.
            Life pulled Eva away from her best laid plans and placed her in the hands of the thoughtful scholar, Thaddeus Grimm. Had she not followed Isabelle to St. Louis to smuggle her husband out of a Union army prison, she would never have met Thaddeus and she undoubtedly would not have stayed in St. Louis. Marrying him threw so many lives into disarray. She broke off an existing engagement and she never even told her family until she was already married. A series of berating letters followed from her parents, who had placed all of their hopes in her after her brother was killed in the war. She refused to back down and after a month of silence, her parents slowly came around, albeit with pleas for them to abandon Missouri and establish a life in South Carolina, where she belonged, they said. She knew Thaddeus would never be welcomed in Southern universities as long as the violent sectionalism existed in the country, though. He was her provider and she understood that her duty was to go wherever he could provide. Generations of Southern women understood their duties toward their husbands — to allow them the belief of control while providing a livelihood, yet a real Southern lady found ways to make decisions for the betterment of her family.
            Eva did not have children. That was always Isabelle’s area of expertise. So much like sisters, Eva and Isabelle could not be more opposites, but then again, marriage had cooled much of Eva’s rebellion and she understood her friend in a new light. Isabelle had risked her life to save her husband from almost certain death in a military prison, which was something Eva failed to comprehend at the time, but when she looked at Thaddeus, she knew there was nothing she wouldn’t do to protect his life. She admired Isabelle in new ways that she never thought possible. She missed their closeness, especially after she took Robert back to Carolina to convalesce from his own gunshot wounds.
            Nightmares still plagued Eva from that night in Alton, just across the river from where she sat. Isabelle had been arrested and put into the same prison as Robert, leaving Eva to care for their son, Willie. She blamed herself for the arrest, having told a Union officer that Isabelle was doing espionage against the government. She thought they would banish Isabelle from St. Louis and they could go back to their own country, but they arrested her instead. When the opportunity came, Eva and Thaddeus stole a boat and sneaked across the Mississippi in the middle of the night. Guards discovered the escape before they got away and as Eva ran for her life to the boat, she was shot. She felt her ankle explode and the hell of her life took hold at that moment. Thaddeus made the decision to allow the surgeon to amputate above the ankle; otherwise she would have bled to death or succumbed to gangrene in a matter of weeks. He did his best to conceal it but Eva saw flickers of guilt in his eyes at times when he wrapped what was left of her leg, or helped her walk, or anything else she could not do for herself.
            Their home was not nearly the ostentatious three-story Italianate structure in which she had grown up on East Battery, but it was their home, and she adored the freedom of deciding how to furnish it and who to invite for supper. The brick structure stood two stories high on a modest street near St. Louis University so that Thaddeus could walk to and from his classes and save money on paying for a horse. Small, yes, the house was small compared to what she was used to but there was enough room for a baby if one ever came along.
            Occasionally, the girlish dreams of a prosperous life crept into Eva’s thoughts again. Sometimes it happened when she watched Thaddeus shovel out the chicken coop or when she noticed the roof leaking when it rained. She dare not go to the shopping district and observe ladies buying all the finery she used to buy without a flutter of a second thought. All of the fashionable St. Louisans lived in the private neighborhood Lucas Place on the western edge of the city or in the newly established neighborhood of Lafayette Square. Tree lined streets with large, comfortable Italianate, Federal and Greek Revival homes greeted her whenever she caught a glimpse. The ache for home pulled her heart into a dark place but the love she felt for her husband washed the darkness with light not so easily forgotten.
            Lucas Place would have to wait. Her mother began with her father living the life of a simple country doctor and rose through the ranks of society until they reached the crème of Charleston because of how hard he worked. If her mother could endure the thinner years faithfully, then certainly she must as well. It was her duty and duty felt much easier to fulfill when the result was seeing the smile on his face.
            Eva pushed herself up from the sofa and braced herself on pieces of furniture that she hobbled passed to reach her crutches against the wall. Her amputated limb ached and felt tight inside the stocking but she slowly learned more each week about enduring pain without complaint.
            The intermittent thump of her crutches hitting the floorboards as she made her way to the back of the house followed her like a foreign pair of legs. In the kitchen doorway, she waited a moment thinking surely Thaddeus had heard her approach. He leaned over a pot and studiously turned a wooden spoon through the liquid but he didn’t move otherwise. She hobbled into the room and leaned against the wooden table in the center of the room.
            Thaddeus craned his head to look at her behind him. “What are you doing off the sofa?”
            “I wanted to be with you,” Eva replied in a meek, sweet voice that sometimes possessed her when the way he looked at her struck her heart.
            With a subtle smile, Thaddeus left the pot to simmer and faced Eva, linking his arms around her waist. A sigh passed through her body. As happy as she was with the choice she made for a husband, she could never seem to shade the black void of foreboding that festered deep inside of her.
            “I plan to go out in search of a Christmas tree the day after tomorrow,” he said, breaking her thoughts. “It’ll be our first together. It must be perfect.”
            “Could I accompany you?”
            “I don’t think you ought to attempt trampling through the woods just yet. You could prepare the table with decorations.”
            And so it was, Eva thought. The curtain fell once more on her ability to lead a normal life.
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