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Your letters were both received, and were indeed welcome. Don't mind my not answering them promptly, for you know what a wretch I am about such things. But you must write just as often as you conveniently can. Tell me all about your folks, especially the girls, and about Mr. A. Of course you won't forget Arthur, and always when you write to him send my love. Tell me about Mrs. U. and the dear little rogues. Tell Mrs. B. she ought to be here, hospital matron, only it is a harder pull than folks anticipate. You wrote about Emma; 3 she thinks she might and ought to come as nurse for the soldiers. Dear girl, I know it would be a blessed thing for the men to have her loving spirit and hand, and whoever of the poor fellows had them would indeed think it so. But, my darling, it is a dreadful thing you don't know these wounds, sickness, etc., the sad condition in which many of the men are brought here, and remain for days ; sometimes the wounds full of crawling corruption, etc. Down in the field-hospitals in front they have no proper care (can't have), and after a battle go for many days unattended to.
Abby, I think often about you and the pleasant days, the visits I used to pay you, and how good it was always to be made so welcome. O, I wish I could come in this afternoon and have a good tea with you, and have three or four hours of mutual comfort, and rest and talk, and be all of us together again. Is Helen home and well ? and what is she doing now ? And you, my dear friend, how sorry I am to hear that your health is not rugged but, dear Abby, you must not dwell on anticipations of the worst (but I know that is not your nature, or did not use to be). I hope this will find you quite well and in good spirits. I feel so well myself I will have to come and see you, I think I am so fat, out considerable in the open air, and all red and tanned worse than ever. You see, therefore, that my life amid these sad and death stricken hospitals has not told upon me, for I am this fall so running over with health, and I feel as if I ought to go on, on that account, working among all the sick and deficient ; and O how gladly I would bestow upon you a liberal share of my health, dear Abby, if such a thing were possible.
I am continually moving around among the hospitals. One I go to oftenest the last three months is " Armory-square," as it is large, generally full of the worst wounds and sickness, and is among the least visited. To this or some other I never miss a day or evening. I am enabled to give the men something, and perhaps some trifle to their supper all around. Then there are always special cases calling for something special. Above all the poor boys welcome magnetic friendship, personality (some are so fervent, so hungering for this) poor fellows, how young they are, lying there with their pale faces, and that mute look in their eyes. O, how one gets to love them often, particular cases, so suffering, so good, so manly and affectionate ! Abby, you would all smile to see me among them many of them like children. Ceremony is mostly discarded they suffer and get exhausted and so weary not a few are on their dying beds lots of them have grown to expect, as I leave at night, that we should kiss each other, sometimes quite a number ; I have to go round, poor boys. There is little petting in a soldier's life in the field, but, Abby, I know what is in their hearts, always waiting, though they may be unconscious of it themselves.
I have a place where I buy very nice homemade biscuits, sweet crackers, etc. Among others, one of my ways is to get a good lot of these, and, for supper, go through a couple of wards and give a portion to each man next day two wards more, and so on. Then each marked case needs something to itself. I spend my evenings altogether at the hospitals my days often. I give little gifts of money in small sums, which I am enabled to do all sorts of things indeed, food, clothing, letter-stamps (I write lots of letters), now and then a good pair of crutches, etc., etc.
Then I read to the boys. The whole ward that can walk gathers around me and listens.
All this I tell you, my dear, because I know it will interest you. I like Washington very well. (Did you see my last letter in the New York Times of October 4th, Sunday ?) I have three or four hours* work every day copying, and in writing letters for the press, etc. ; make enough to pay my way live in an inexpensive manner anyhow. I like the mission I am on here, and as it deeply holds me I shall continue.
October 15. Well, Abby, I guess I send you letter enough. I ought to have finished and sent off the letter last Sunday, when it was written. I have been pretty busy. We are having new arrivals of wounded and sick now all the time some very bad cases. Abby, should you come across any one who feels to help contribute to the men through me, write me. (I may then send word some purchases I should find acceptable for the men). But this only if it happens to come in that you know or meet any one, perfectly convenient. Abby, I have found some good friends here, a few, but true as steel W. D. O'Connor and wife above all. He is a clerk in the Treasury she is a Yankee girl. Then C. W. Eldridge 1 in Paymaster's Department. He is a Boston boy, too their friendship has been unswerving.
In the hospitals, among these American young men, I could not describe to you what mutual attachments, and how passing deep and tender these boys. Some have died, but the love for them lives as long as I draw breath. These soldiers know how to love too, when once they have the right person and the right love offered them. It is wonderful. You see I am running off into the clouds, but this is my element. Abby, I am writing this note this afternoon in Major H's office he is away sick I am here a good deal of the time alone. It is a dark rainy afternoon we don't know what is going on down in front, whether Meade's is getting the worst of it or not (but the result of the big elections cheers us). I believe fully in Lincoln few know the rocks and quicksands he has to steer through. I enclose you a note Mrs. O'C. handed me to send you written, I suppose, upon impulse. She is a noble Massachusetts woman, is not very rugged in health I am there very much her husband and I are great friends too. Well, I will close the rain is pouring, the sky leaden, it is between 2 and 3. I am going to get some dinner, and then to the hospital. Good-bye, dear friends, and I send my love to all.
- THE WOUND DRESSER A Series of Letters Written from the Hospitals in Washington During the War of the Rebellion, Walt Whitman, 1898