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

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.

0 responses to “The Charge At Fort Hell: A wife’s point of view”

  1. […] onto forever. What is your least favorite memory? The summer of 1864. Read about that here. – The Charge At Fort Hell: A wife’s point of view Have you ever had another lifetime with Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain? Yes. We are Twin Flames so we […]

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