These sketches were originally letters published in a Boston newspaper but they have been presented here as fiction based on her experiences. I saw that she had written Hospital Sketches, and me being a nurse and enjoy books in the Civil War Era I ordered it through the library. On the 24th Anna's second boy was born, at half-past three in the morning,—Lizzie's birthday. The first quarter of the book is taken up with her journey to the hospital in Washington. Regarding the admission of friends to nurse their sick, I can only say, it was not allowed at Hurlburly House; though one indomitable parent took my ward by storm, and held her position, in spite of doctors, matron, and Nurse Periwinkle. Travelling by train and boat and then train again in 1860 something sounds both exciting and difficult. The girls romped with their dusky sweethearts, or tossed their babies, with the tender pride that makes mother-love a beautifier to the homeliest face.
I had not been there a week before the neglected, devil-may care expression in many of the faces about me, seemed an urgent appeal to leave nursing white bodies, and take some care for these black souls. Variety being the spice of life, a small pinch of the article would have been appreciated by the hungry, hard-working sisterhood, one of whom, though accustomed to plain fare, soon found herself reduced to bread and water; having an inborn repugnance to the fat of the land, and the salt of the earth. I trot up and down the streets in all directions, sometimes to the Heights, then half way to Washington, again to the hill, over which the long trains of army wagons are constantly vanishing and ambulances appearing. On the 25th my first morning-glory bloomed in my room,—a hopeful blue,—and at night up came my book in its new dress. In period detail and prose, Alcott tells of her motivations and trepidations. Now this feeling could be united with her patriotic zeal and her strong love of active life, and it was inevitable that she should long to share personally in the dangers and excitement of the war.
With that addition, my picture was complete; and I often longed to take a veritable sketch of a Hospital Sunday, for, despite its drawbacks, consisting of continued labor, the want of proper books, the barren preaching that bore no fruit, this day was never like the other six. Nor was that all; he might as well have asked me to catch a hummingbird, toast a salamander, or call on the man in the moon, as find a Doctor at home at the busiest hour of the day. From a photograph of Miss Alcott taken about 1862. Way-side encampments made the fields and lanes gay with blue coats and the glitter of buttons. This comical tableau produced a general grin, at which propitious beginning I took heart and scrubbed away like any tidy parent on a Saturday night. Our chimney-piece was decorated with a flat-iron, a Bible, a candle minus stick, a lavender bottle, a new tin pan, so brilliant that it served nicely for a pier-glass, and such of the portly black bugs as preferred a warmer climate than the rubbish hole afforded.
The story is short, roughly 85 pages. With many, there was much reading of Testaments, humming over of favorite hymns, and looking at such books as I could cull from a miscellaneous library. Louisa May Alcott her short-lived experiences as a nurse in a makeshift Yankee hospital to convey her thoughts and feelings as well as some of her patients' travails. The amputations were reserved till the morrow, and the merciful magic of ether was not thought necessary that day, so the poor souls had to bear their pains as best they might. The book was hastily got out, but on the whole suited me, and as the inside was considered good I let the outside go.
They were not good, and though they sold the paper, I was heartily ashamed of them, and stopped in the middle, resolving never again to try to be funny, lest I should be rowdy and nothing more. Our six entertainments made twenty-five hundred dollars for the Fair. The book, priced at 50 cents, earned the author five cents in royalties for every copy sold, with an additional five cents donated to children orphaned by the war. Considering she went to a new city, to learn a new job, on the eve of Fredericksburg, and remained less than 2 months, I find it rather impressive that she was able to capture what she did in her letters. The only books of hers I've read are the ones from the Little Women series. The boat is new, but if it ever intends to blow up, spring a leak, catch afire, or be run into, it will do the deed to-night, because I'm here to fulfill my destiny.
There is something about Alcott's style. Some of these gentlemen affected painfully tight uniforms, and little caps, kept on by some new law of gravitation, as they covered only the bridge of the nose, yet never fell off; the men looked like stuffed fowls, and rode as if the safety of the nation depended on their speed alone. As no two persons see the same thing with the same eyes, my view of hospital life must be taken through my glass, and held for what it is worth. She did not see the factory worker women largely woc kidnapped, raped over many days, and then abandoned hundreds of miles from home with nothing. The historical mule was a melo-dramatic quadruped, prone to startling humanity by erratic leaps, and wild plunges, much shaking of his stubborn head, and lashing out of his vicious heels; now and then falling flat and apparently dying a la Forrest : a gasp—a squirm—a flop, and so on, till the street was well blocked up, the drivers all swearing like demons in bad hats, and the chief actor's circulation decidedly quickened by every variety of kick, cuff jerk,and haul.
It is a lightly fictionalized account of her six week service as a nurse at a Georgetown hospital during the Civil War. I liked that so much, that the quiet, brown-eyed Doctor was my especial admiration; and when my own turn came, had more faith in him than in all the rest put together, although he did advise me to go home, and authorize the consumption of blue pills. But, remembering through what fear and tribulation I had obtained them, I curbed Satan's promptings, and, clutching my prize, as if it were my pass to the Elysian Fields, I hurried home. The two ladies wear funny velvet fur-trimmed hoods; are done up, like compact bundles, in tar tan shawls; and look as if bent on seeing everything thoroughly. Saw Booth again in Hamlet and thought him finer than ever. Mixed with the lighthearted tone of the book is a profound respect for the wounded soldiers -- even a Confederate soldier in her care -- and the gravity of war.
Next day I went to Boston and saw L. The circumlocution fashion prevailed, forms and fusses tormented our souls, and unnecessary strictness in one place was counterbalanced by unpardonable laxity in another. Sewall's; had a sort of fit; they sent for Dr. But I would definitely urge it on Veteran Administration hospital officials and politicians dealing with wounded warriors and their healthcare. Why I was sent to a steamboat office for car tickets, is not for me to say, though I went as meekly as I should have gone to the Probate Court, if sent. Father lectured and preached a good deal, being asked like a regular minister and paid like one. Feeling delicate about depriving him of such valuable relics, I accepted the earrings alone, and was obliged to depart, somewhat abruptly, when my friend stuck the warming-pan in the bosom of his night-gown, viewing it with much complacency, and, perhaps, some tender memory, in that rough heart of his, for the comrade he had lost.
At five o'clock a great bell rang, and the attendants flew, not to arms, but to their trays, to bring up supper, when a second uproar announced that it was ready. Pigs also possessed attractions for me, never having had an opportunity of observing their graces of mind and manner, till I came to Washington, whose porcine citizens appeared to enjoy a larger liberty than many of its human ones. Toddypestle informs me that I can't have anything without an order from the surgeon of my ward. On her 30th birthday on November 29, 1862, she made up her mind to do more. Reading her letters and other accounts one gets the feeling she suffered a form of post traumatic stress syndrome after her six weeks at the Union Hospital. At the urging of others, she prepared them for publication, slightly altering and fictionalizing them. I did not forget my patient patient, meanwhile, and, with the first mugful, hurried back to him.