Character Sketches: Wedded to War
If you knew me before the war, I’m sure you would be shocked to see me now. My hoops and jewelry remain tucked in a corner of my dressing room in New York City. My wardrobe is much simpler now—a blue dress, or a grey dress, and an apron. A dirty, stained apron.
I’m a nurse with the Sanitary Commission in Washington City, and I’ve never worked harder in my life. My suitor, Phineas, tolerates my nursing, but I know he disapproves. So does Mother, whose only concern is marrying me off. Marriage can wait, I tell them. The time to serve my country is now.
The only one who understands my heart to serve is Caleb, our old family friend and a doctor for the Union army. But I’m not doing this to please any of them. I want to please my Father. This time, I must not fail.
Of course I’d never be doing any of this if Jacob hadn’t signed up for the war. We only just moved into our estate in Fishkill, New York. The very last thing I want to do is leave it—and especially to go to the seat of action!
I have servants to manage, a household to run. I just want to be safe, and I want those I love to be safe too. Instead, I’m living in Washington City with my older sister Charlotte to be as close as possible to Jacob.
I’m not like her. Where Charlotte is brave, I am timid. When she speaks her mind boldly, I blush and hide behind my fan. Women are the weaker sex. We were never meant to work in hospitals—that’s men’s work. A woman’s place is at home.
Mrs. Caroline Waverly
You can imagine how my heart ached to send all three of them to war: Alice and Jacob, and Charlotte. But it wasn’t my place to tell a grown man what he could or could not do, and how could I prevent Alice from following her husband? It is only fitting she would want to be with him. And Charlotte—well, I have never been able to persuade Charlotte about anything once her mind was made up. She is so like her father.
If Charles were here, she would have listened to him. But he is not here. He has been in the cold ground more than a decade and yet I still cannot put off my mourning clothes. He died from contagious disease he caught in a hospital—and now where does my daughter want to go? A hospital! Lord, I should never have let her go!
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell
I fought so hard to become the first woman to earn a medical degree in this country. But I’m afraid these ladies we’ve just trained to be the first female nurses are fighting even harder, not just against disease and injury, but against the doctors themselves. Just to stay and do their duty.
If I hadn’t lost my sight in one eye, I would be down there as a surgeon with the rest of them. But I suppose it wasn’t meant to be. So I stay here in New York City, and run the infirmary for women and children with my sister and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, as I have been doing for the last six years. I quietly do my part with the Women’s Central Association for Relief, and I send other women into danger.
I’m proud of my band of nurses. But I can’t help but worry.
Teaching law at the university and giving occasional lectures around the state is not enough to satisfy me. For all her independence, Charlotte Waverly has stolen my heart and run off to Washington with it. For the life of me, I can’t understand why she wants to nurse. It’s a man’s job! She should be in silks and satins, not getting her hands dirty, exposing herself to masses of half-naked men and putting herself in harm’s way. Even if she isn’t on the battlefield, contagion is just as deadly as a bullet. I need her back.
I’m putting up with her “adventure” because it’s surely just a phase. Then she’ll come back to her proper place—a life of wealth and ease, full of operas and dinner parties. With a wife like Charlotte on my arm, I’ll be the envy of every man in New York.
The war will be over by Christmas. We’ll be married then.
Dr. Caleb Lansing
The decision to leave my medical practice in Connecticut to be a surgeon for the Union army was an easy one. My country needs me. How could I say no?
But all my experience and education at Yale have proven to be no match at all for the human wreckage of a battlefield. My hands were trained to heal men, not cut them to pieces. But this is the reality of war. Minnie balls don’t just break bones. Broken bones I could fix. No, these little devils shatter bones and tear through tissues. I have no other option but to perform an operation I loathe.
This war will change me, I can feel it. It already has. It’s impossible to put it into words, but Charlotte understands.
Charlotte . . . if only I could see her again. But there is work to be done, by both of us.
Matthew’s off fighting the war, and I’ve not had a word or a dime from him since, I haven’t. Said it would be a new start for us, what with the regular paycheck, but where is the money, I ask you? And me bent over my needlework in our New York City tenement 18 hours a day, seven days a week. It still isn’t enough money to feed myself and pay the rent, both. I’ve almost nothing left to pawn.
This tenement is dark and crowded, but it’s better than what we knew in Ireland before the famine, that’s sure. I don’t want to leave it, but I’ve not got the rent.
Just what am I supposed to do, I ask you? Emma found a new way to survive, but I’ll not be going down that path. I’m a clean and decent woman, I am. But I don’t know how I’ll survive.
They call me the Widow of Gettysburg because my husband was killed two years ago while fighting for the Union at the First Battle of Bull Run.
He would roll over in his grave if he could see me now. Battle opened a mile from my farm, and in no time, my home was converted into a Confederate field hospital. I had no choice in that. But I do have a choice about whether I help nurse the enemy back to life. I confess that part of me wants to sink into the earth rather than face the horrors that now surround me. Two days ago, I refused even to dress a chicken for dinner. Now I’m being asked to assist in amputations!
I don’t know how I’ll ever be the same after this. But I know I can’t live with myself if I don’t do all that is in my power to stem the tide of death that surges all over the land. I am just a young widow, you understand. There is little I can do. But what I can do, so help me God, I will.
The Rebels are here. My past has become my present. Dear God, let it not be my future, too.
I was born a slave, grew up under the whip somehow, until a chain of events too complicated to explain now led to my freedom. I’ve been living free in Gettysburg nearly twenty years, yet when I hear that Southern accent the scars on my back prickle with memory. This is not irrational fear. I watched Confederate soldiers march my neighbors, bound at the wrists, out of town already. If they had found me, I’d be on the auction block down South right along with them.
And now Liberty Holloway is asking me to not only show myself to Rebel soldiers, but bind their wounds as well. If she had asked me for my right arm, I would not have been more shocked at her request.
But then, she doesn’t know where I come from. She does not know where she comes from herself.
Billy Yank on the inside, Johnny Reb on the outside.
I hate what this war has done to me, but an oath is an oath. Nevermind that it wasn’t even my signature on the enlistment paper. I’m duty-bound as a Rebel scout. At least I don’t have to carry a weapon this way. I’ll never touch one again, not since. . .
What is the use of replaying in my mind the sin that haunts me? Yet it will not let me rest.
I need to concentrate. Jeb Stuart is still missing, and Liberty Holloway is in danger. My mission is to bring Stuart back to reinforce Lee’s army, but my desire to protect Liberty beats like a drum upon my heart. Thank God she does not recognize me. If she did, she’d not let me within spitting distance. All I want is for her to be safe, and happy. But who can be happy in times like these?
Who ever heard of a war correspondent who couldn’t handle covering the greatest battle this nation has yet fought in this war? I thought I’d make a name for myself on this story for the Philadelphia Inquirer, but I feel like I’m unraveling. The sights, the sounds, the smells. . . I just want to get away. I wouldn’t mind if I never covered another battle again.
I need a change of pace. A new story, just as powerful as war—a personal battle. I think I’m on to something. That lieutenant from Georgia recognized Bella and Liberty. Bella’s hiding something, and I’ll get to the bottom of it. If the story turns out to be half as good as my hunch, it will make me rich. And famous.
How do you like this? I come all the way from Ohio to bury my late husband in the same cemetery as my son, offer to be a mother to my son’s widow, Liberty, and the place is overrun with Rebels. The same army that murdered my son. And what does Liberty do? She helps them live.
One wonders, then, where her true loyalties lie. I, for one, have trouble understanding why the Widow of Gettysburg would devote herself to the enemy this way. Perhaps she is not who she said she was, after all.
Dr. Philip Stephens, CSA
Up since 2am, working until midnight four days in a row, carving men from limbs every eight minutes. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. They call me “old saw-bones,” the name for every surgeon. They see us as butchers, but they don’t understand that amputation is the only route for most of theses cases. Minie balls smash, tear, shatter. There is no hope for the patient except to cut off the mangled limb before infection proves fatal. Isn’t it better to lose a limb than life itself?
If only they didn’t feel it. God knows I hate inflicting pain, but using anesthesia when the injuries are days old would kill the patients. They simply would not wake up from it.
I can’t numb their pain. But I can numb my own.
Dr. Owen O’Leary, USCC
When I signed on with the United States Christian Commission in Philadelphia, my assignment was to distribute Bibles and other uplifting literature to soldiers passing through our city. It was my pleasure, of course. But when the opportunity came to travel to Gettysburg and relieve physical suffering as well, I jumped at the chance.
The fact these the patients here at the Holloway Farm are Confederates does not make them any less deserving of good medical care. When I arrived, I was shocked to find five hundred patients with only one surgeon to tend them—and he in a comatose state from an opium overdose. So I commenced my “healing on the Sabbath” with all my might.
The fact that I have never before performed an amputation need not be advertised to the patients upon whom I will gain my first experience.