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1864 May 14: Mrs. Cordelia A. P. Harvey Helping the Red River Wounded

May 20, 2014

The following letter from the former first lady of Wisconsin appeared in the May 14, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  The original letter (image below) is in the Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin. Governor, Letters and Papers of Mrs. Cordelia Harvey, 1862-1864 (Series 63).

Letter from Mrs. Harvey.

Scenes at Vicksburg—Arrival of Wisconsin Wounded—Feeling about the Fort Pillow Massacre.

The following is a letter from Mrs. C. A. P. HARVEY [Cordelia A. P. Harvey], State Agent for Wisconsin at Vicksburg, describing the scene on board the Hospital steamer Chenango, which arrived at Vicksburg April 21st, bearing the wounded from the Red River expedition.

MISS, April 24th, 1864. }

GOV. J. T. LEWIS, Madison, Wis.

Dear Sir :—You have doubtless before this received news from the Red River expedition.

On Thursday last the U. S. Sanitary Commission Hospital boat arrived here from below, with sick and wounded.  On board I found some of our soldiers from the 23d and 29th regiments.  Nathan Ellis wounded in the arm, from Co. D, 23d regiment, said that six from their regiment were killed, thirty-four wounded and forty missing ;  could give no names.

Sidney Smith from Co. B, 29th regiment, could give me no information concerning that regiment, as he was wounded in the beginning of the battle, and was brought away before the regiment left the field.

On this boat they were all comfortable.—We sent about forty from hospitals here to hospitals further North.

From this boat I went on board the Chenango which came in about two hours later directly from Red River.

The sights that met my eyes at every step beggar description ;  the lower part of the boat was filled with negroes almost naked, of every age, from babies a few hours old, to old gray-haired men and women.  I say filled, just like flies in and about a sugar bowl ;  it was almost impossible for me to get through this mass of human life, to the fainting, famishing and dying ones above.  The cabin, the gunwales, and the hurricane deck were all covered with our soldiers ;  some dead, some dying, all suffering for care.  One after another surgeons and officers that  I met said, “Mrs. Harvey come away, you can do nothing.  These men have had no care since they were wounded ;  it is terrible, come away.  They will be put into hospitals here and cared for as soon as possible.”

I asked if they had no supplies, no stimulants.  Nothing; nothing!  One of the nurses said— “Oh, Mrs. Harvey !  if you will only bring us some sponges, and small syringes to dress wounds, and some lint too.”

I hastened away, and soon returned with everything they needed—shirts, drawers, socks, lemons, sugar, wines, canned peaches, jellies, nice fresh crackers, pitchers, tumblers, wash basins, sponges, soap, towels, handkerchiefs, clothes, lint and syringes ;  these last I bought, as they had none at the commission rooms.  Last, but not least, a most excellent nurse, Miss Wiswall,¹ that could dress wounds equal to any surgeon.  I asked permission of the surgeon in charge of the boat, to come on board and go to work.  It was given very gratefully, and we did go to work.

The day was very warm.  The men were near burning up with fever from their wounds, or fainting from loss of blood.  Cold water was brought us, and we gave them lemonade and wine first.  Their faces and hands were bathed and wiped clean with towels.

I then opened cans of peaches, and gave each man a cracker and a peach.  The peaches were excellent.  Oh, that the ones who sent them could have seen the grateful, tearful eyes of the sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands, as I saw them that day, and heard the fervent “God bless you !” as I did.  How grateful I was, and am every day, that I am permitted to be the almoner of their bounty.

While I was doing this, Miss Wiswall was dressing wounds.   We labored until evening, when the ambulances came to receive them and take them to hospitals.

I know there were many Wisconsin men on board, but I could not ask for them ;  this you will think strange, but you would not if you were with me.  If you ask for men from any State it makes hearts so sad, that you do not ask for that often, having done it a few times.  You will stop it for humanity’s sake.

Many of them knew me, and said to me as I passed by them, “We knew you would come.”  Poor fellows ;  they wished help from every body.  We are living surrounded by horrors, and I fear the “reign of terror” to us is fast approaching.  Since the Fort Pillow tragedy our colored troops and their officers are waiting in breathless anxiety the action of Government.

The papers do not furnish half the horrors of the Fort Pillow affair.  Our officers of negro regiments declare they will take no more prisoners, and there is death to the rebel in every black man’s eye.  They are still, but horrible.  They will fight.

One poor fellow (black) from Red River had one arm shot off and the other shattered.  When the boat arrived here his arm had mortified, yet was alive with other life than his own.  He said to one of our officers, “If you think, massa, I shall die, I do wish to see my wife and children in Memphis once more.”  When told that it was doubtful if he lived, he said, “Bress de Lord !  I have done my duty fighting for my country and my brethren and I die a man and a free man ;  bress de Lord massa.”  He has been taken to Memphis, his arm amputated, and it is thought he will live.  The negroes know what they are doing.

State Agent.

1.  Like Cordelia A. P. Harvey, Hattie Wiswall got her own chapter in Woman’s Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience, by L. P. Brockett, and Mrs. Mary C. Vaughan (St. Louis: Zeigler, McCurdy & Co., 1867), chapter on Wiswall begins on page 725). Available in the UWRF Archives (E 628 .B76 1867), and digitally on the Hathi Trust.
Hattie Wiswall began her work on May 1, 1863, as a Hospital Nurse at Benton Barracks in Saint Louis, Missouri. In the fall of 1863 she went to Nashville, and after a short time to Vicksburg, Mississippi, to assist in conducting the Soldier’s Home. She remained there until the end of the Civil War.

Cordelia Harvey letter of April 24, 1864, from the Letters and Papers of Mrs. Cordelia Harvey, 1862-1864 (Series 63) in the Wisconsin State Archives, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

Cordelia Harvey letter of April 24, 1864, from the Letters and Papers of Mrs. Cordelia Harvey, 1862-1864 (Series 63) in the Wisconsin State Archives, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

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