March 28

Sunday, March 28th.—Ditto.

It has been quite warm all day. The ladies started for home this morning but missed the train. We had a brigade review this forenoon, the first since we joined the Sixth Corps, and brigade dress parade in the evening which General Mead witnessed; picket in the morning.

March Twenty-Eighth

Nor less resplendent is the light
Of him, old South Carolina's star,
Whose fiery soul was made by God
To blaze amid the storms of war....
Orion T. Dozier

 

Wade Hampton born, 1818

 

 

March 28

March 28, 1881.--I cannot work; I find it difficult to exist. One may be glad to let one's friends spoil one for a few months; it is an experience which is good for us all; but afterward? How much better to make room for the living, the active, the productive.

"Tircis, voici le temps de prendre sa retraite."

Is it that I care so much to go on living? I think not. It is health that I long for--freedom from suffering.

And this desire being vain, I can find no savor in anything else. Satiety. Lassitude. Renunciation. Abdication. "In your patience possess ye your souls."

March 28

March 28, 1855.--Not a blade of grass but has a story to tell, not a heart but has its romance, not a life which does not hide a secret which is either its thorn or its spur. Everywhere grief, hope, comedy, tragedy; even under the petrifaction of old age, as in the twisted forms of fossils, we may discover the agitations and tortures of youth. This thought is the magic wand of poets and of preachers: it strips the scales from our fleshly eyes, and gives us a clear view into human life; it opens to the ear a world of unknown melodies, and makes us understand the thousand languages of nature. Thwarted love makes a man a polyglot, and grief transforms him into a diviner and a sorcerer.

164. John Adams

Philadelphia, 28 March, 1777.

"A plot, a plot! a horrid plot! Mr. A.," says my barber, this morning. "It must be a plot, first, because there is British gold in it; second, because there is a woman in it; third, because there is a Jew in it; fourth, because I don't know what to make of it."

The barber means that a villain was taken up and examined yesterday, who appears, by his own confession, to have been employed, by Lord Howe and Jo. Galloway, to procure pilots to conduct the fleet up Delaware River and through the Chevaux de Frise. His confidant was a woman, who is said to be kept by a Jew. The fellow and the woman will suffer for their wickedness.

March 28, 1864

Monday. Colonel B. didn't like the house we were in, and we all moved into another that he liked better. Moving day at home used to be a busy one, and so were several days before and after, but we have improved on the old order of doing such things. We just pick up what belongs to us, walk out of the old house into the new one and throw them down—and the job is done.

Lieutenant Bell and I were set at making out reports, and we managed to smuggle in a letter or two apiece. After that, Sergeant House from Company B came in and we all walked up the river as far as the Falls, as the rapids are here called. It was very interesting to watch the ironclads feel their way over the rocks into the deeper water above. The hospital boat, the Woodford, hit a rock and sprung a leak. She was run ashore on the opposite side and the gang plank run out. From the way the sick people hurried off I don't think they were very badly off. The boat began to settle down, as if the damage was serious.

March 28, 1863

Another fine day, and another trip downstairs. My legs behaved better this time. Am not near so tired. Now that I can write without getting tired I must put down some things I remember, but which I could not write at the time. I shall always remember them of course, but I want to see how near I can describe them on paper. First I want to say how very kind my comrades have been all through. I can think of many acts of kindness now that I paid little attention to then, but they kept coming along just the same. Whatever else I think of, the thought of their care for me and how they got passes and tramped miles to get me something to eat, always taking it to Dr. Andrus first to see if it would do for me—these thoughts keep coming up and my load of gratitude keeps getting heavier. Can I ever repay them? God has been good to me, better than I deserve. I was first taken to the room where I am now writing. I remember but little of what happened before I was taken out and put in the big hospital tent. It is a large affair, made up of several tents joined together endwise and wide enough for two rows of cots along the side, with an alley through the middle, towards which our feet all pointed.

I remember the head medical man coming through every day or so and the doctors would take him to certain cots, where they would look on the fellows lying there and put down something in a book. I soon noticed that most always such a one died in a short time, and I watched for their coming to my cot. One day they did, and I remember how it made me feel. Dr. Andrus was so worked down that a strange doctor was in charge, but under Dr. Andrus, who had charge over all. When he came through I motioned to him and he came and sat on the next cot, when I told him I would get well if I could get something good to eat. "All right," said he, "what will you have?" I told him a small piece of beefsteak. He sent one of the nurses to his mess cook and he soon came back with a plate and on it a little piece of steak which he prepared to feed me. But the smell was enough and I could not even taste it. The doctor then proceeded to eat it, asking if I could think of anything else. I thought a bottle of beer would surely taste good and so he sent to the sutler's for it. But he had to drink that too, for I could not. He laughed at me and though I was disappointed, it cheered me up more than anything else had done for a long time. When I got so I could eat, I surely thought he would starve me to death.

A poor fellow across the tent opposite me got crazy and it took several men to hold him on his cot. The doctor came and injected something in his breast which quieted him for the night, but when it wore off he was just as bad and he finally died in one of them. On my right lay a man sick unto death, while on my left lay another whose appetite had come and who was begging everybody for something to eat. His company boys brought him some bread and milk which he ate as if famished. The next morning when I awoke and looked about to see how many faces were covered up I found both my right and left hand neighbors had died in the night and their blankets were drawn up over their faces. The sights I saw while I was able to realize what was going on were not calculated to cheer me up and how I acted when I was out of my head I don't know. At any rate I got better and was brought back to this room, where I have since been.

March 28, 1917

Well, all quiet on the hilltop again—all the soldiers gone—no sign of more coming for the present. We are all nervously watching the advance, but controlling our nerves. The German retreat and the organized destruction which accompanies it just strikes one dumb. Of course we all know it is a move meant to break the back of the great offensive, and though we knew, too, that the Allied commanders were prepared for it, it does make you shiver to get a letter from the front telling you that a certain regiment advanced at a certain point thirty kilometres, without seeing a Boche.

As soon as I began to read the account of the destruction, I had a sudden illuminating realization of the meaning of something I saw from the car window the last time I came out from Paris. Perhaps I did not tell you that I was up there for a few days the first of the month?

Of course you don't need to be told that there has been a tremendous amount of work done on the eastern road all through the war. Extra tracks have been laid all the way between Paris and Chelles, the outer line of defenses of the city—and at the stations between Gagny and Chelles the sidings extend so far on the western side of the tracks as to almost reach out of sight. For a long time the work was done by soldiers, but when I went up to Paris, four weeks ago, the work was being done by Annamites in their saffron-colored clothes and queer turbans, and I found the same little people cleaning the streets in Paris. But the surprising thing was the work that was accomplished in the few days that I was in Paris. I came back on March 13, and I was amazed to see all those miles and miles of sidings filled with trucks piled with wood, with great posts, with planks, with steel rails, and what looked the material to build a big city or two. I did not wonder when I saw them that we could not get coal, or other necessities of life, but it was not until I read of the very German-like idea of defending one's self on the property of other people that I realized what all that material meant, and that the Allies were prepared for even this tragic and Boche-like move. I began to get little cards and letters back from the 118th on the twenty-third. The first said simply:

Dear Madame,

Here we are—arrived last night just behind the line,—with our eyes strained towards the front, ready to bound forward and join in the pursuit.

Of course I have seen the Americans—a doctor from Schenectady and forty men, almost all youngsters in their early twenties. In fact twenty-two seems to be the popular age. There are boys from Harvard, boys from Yale, New England boys, Virginia boys, boys from Tennessee, from Kentucky, from Louisiana, and American boys from Oxford. It is a first-line ambulance corps,—the boys who drive their little Ford ambulances right down to the battlefields and receive the wounded from the brancardiers, and who have seen the worst of Verdun, and endured the privations and the cold with the army.

When a Virginia man told me that he had not taken cold this winter, and showed me his little tent on the common, where, from choice, he is still sleeping under canvas, because he "likes it," I could easily believe him. Do you know,—it is absurd—I have not had a cold this winter, either? I, who used to have one tonsilitis per winter, two bronchitis, half a dozen colds in my head, and occasionally a mild specimen of grip. This is some record when you consider that since my coal gave out in February we have had some pretty cold weather, and that I have only had imitation fires, which cheer the imagination by way of the eyes without warming the atmosphere. I could fill a book with stories of "how I made fires in war time," but I spare you because I have more interesting things to tell you.

On the twenty-sixth we were informed that we were to have the 65th Regiment cantoned on the hill for a day and a night. They were to move along a bit to make room for the 35th for a few days. It was going to be pretty close quarters for one night, and the adjutant who arranged the cantonnement was rather put to it to house his men. The Captain was to be in my house, and I was asked, if, for two days —perhaps less—I could have an officers' kitchen in the house and let them have a place to eat. Well,—there the house was—they were welcome to it. So that was arranged, and I put a mattress on the floor in the atelier for the Captain's cook.

We had hardly got that over when the adjutant came back to look over the ground again, and see if it were not possible to canton a demi-section in the granges. I went out with him to show him what there was—a grange on the south side, with a loft, which has already had to be braced up with posts, and which I believe to be dangerous. He examined it, and agreed: a grange on the north side, used for coal, wood, and garden stuff, with a loft above in fair condition, but only accessible by ladder from the outside. He put up the ladder, climbed it, unlocked the door, examined it, and decided that it would do, unless they could find something better.

So soldiers came in the afternoon and swept it out, and brought the straw in which they were to sleep, and that was arranged.

It was about seven the next morning when they began to arrive. I heard the tramp of their feet in the road, as they marched, in sections, to their various cantonnements. I put a clean cap over my tousled hair, slipped into a wadded gown and was ready just as I heard the "Halte," which said that my section had arrived. I heard two growly sounds which I took to be "A droite, marche!"—and by the time I got the window open to welcome my section I looked down into an Indian file of smiling bronzed faces, as they marched along the terrace, knapsacks and guns on their backs, and began mounting the ladder.

Soon after, the Captain's cook arrived with his market baskets and took possession of the kitchen, and he was followed by orderlies and the kits, and by the officer who was to be the Captain's table companion.

As Amélie had half a section cantoned in her courtyard she was busy there, and I simply showed the cook where things were, gave him table cloths and napkins, and left him to follow his own sweet will, free to help himself to anything he needed. If you remember what I told you about my house when I took it, you can guess how small I had to make myself.

I can tell you one thing—on the testimony of Amélie—the officers eat well. But they pay for it themselves, so that is all right. The cook was never idle a minute while he was in the house. I heard him going up to bed, in his felt shoes, at ten o'clock—Amélie said he left the kitchen scrupulously clean—and I heard the kitchen alarm clock, which he carried with him going off at half past five in the morning.

I had asked the Captain when the regiment was to advance, and he said probably the next morning, but that the order had not come. Twice while I was at dinner in the breakfast room, I heard an orderly come in with despatches, but it was not until nine o'clock that the order "sac au dos" at half past ten the next morning—that was yesterday—was official, and it was not until nine in the morning that they knew that they were leaving in camions—which meant that they were really starting in the pursuit, and the American division was to follow them.

The officers had a great breakfast just after nine—half a dozen courses. As they did not know when, if ever, they would sit down to a real meal at a table again they made their possibly last one a feast. As they began just after nine and had to be on the road at half past ten I don't need to tell you that the cook had no time to clear up after himself. He had just time—with his mouth full of food—to throw his apron on the floor, snatch up his gun and his knapsack and buckle himself into shape as he sprinted up the hill to overtake his company.

As for me—I threw on a cape and went across the road to the field, where I could see the Grande Route, and the chemin Madame leading to it. All along the route nationale, as far as I could see with my field-glass, stood the grey camions. On the chemin Madame the regiment was waiting. They had stacked their guns and, in groups, with cigarettes between their lips, they chatted quietly, as they waited. Here and there a bicyclist was sprinting with orders.

Suddenly a whistle sounded. There was a rattle of arms as the men unstacked their guns and fell into line, then hundreds of hobnailed boots marked time on the hard road, and the 65th swung along to the waiting camions, over the same route I had seen Captain Simpson and the Yorkshire boys take, just before sundown, on that hot September day in 1914.

As I stood watching them all the stupendousness of the times rushed over me that you and I, who have rubbed our noses on historical monuments so often, have chased after emotions on the scenes of past heroism, and applauded mock heroics across the footlights, should be living in days like these, days in which heroism is the common act of every hour. I cannot help wondering what the future generations are going to say of it all; how far-off times are going to judge us; what is going to stand out in the strong limelight of history? I know what I think, but that does not help yet.

Do you know that I had a letter from Paris this week which said: "I was looking over your letters written while we were tied up in London, in August, 1914, and was amused to find that in one of them you had written 'the annoying thing is, that, after this is over, Germany will console herself with the reflection that it took the world to beat her.'" It is coming truer than I believed in those days,—and then I went back to dishwashing.

You never saw such a looking kitchen as I found. Léon, the officers' cook—a pastry cook before he was a soldier—was a nice, kindly, hard- working chap, but he lacked the quality dear to all good house- keepers—he had never learned to clean up after himself as he went along. He had used every cooking utensil in the house, and such a pile of plates and glasses! It took Amélie and me until two o'clock to clean up after him, and when it was done I felt that I never wanted to see food again as long as I lived. Of course we did not mind, but Amélie had to say, every now and then, "Vive l'armée!" just to keep her spirits up. Anyway it was consoling to know that they have more to eat than we do.

The American corps had to leave one of their boys behind in our ambulance, very ill with neuritis—that is to say, painfully ill. As the boys of the American corps are ranked by the French army as officers this case is doubly interesting to the personnel of our modest hospital. First he is an American—a tall young Southerner from Tennessee. They never knew an American before. Second, he is not only an honorary officer serving France, he is really a lieutenant in the officers' reserve corps of his own State, and our little ambulance has never sheltered an officer before.

The nurses and the sisters are falling over one another to take care of him—at least, as I always find one or two of them sitting by his bed whenever I go to see him, I imagine they are.

The amusing thing is that he says he can't understand or speak
French, and swears that the only words he knows are:

Oui, oui, oui,
Non, non, non,
Si, si, si,
Et voilà,
Merci!

which he sings, in his musical southern voice, to the delight of his admiring nurses. All the same, whenever it is necessary for an interpreter to explain something important to him, I find that he has usually got the hang of it already, so I've my doubts if he has as little French as he pretends. One thing is sure his discharge will leave a big void in the daily life of the ambulance.

This is growing into a long letter—in the quiet that has settled on us I seem to have plenty of time—and the mood—so, before I close, I must say something in reply to your sad sentence in your last letter—the reply to mine of December regarding our first big cantonnement. You say "Oh! the pity of this terrible sacrifice of the youth of the world!! Why aren't the middle-aged sent first—the men who have partly lived their lives, who leave children to continue the race?" Ah, dear old girl —you are indeed too far off to understand such a war as this. Few men of even forty can stand the life. Only the young can bear the strain. They not only bear it, they thrive on it, and, such of them as survive the actual battles, will come out of it in wonderful physical trim. Of course there are a thousand sides to the question. There are hospitals full of the tuberculous and others with like maladies, but those things existed before the war, only less attention was paid to them. It is also a serious question—? getting more serious the longer the war goes on—as to how all these men will settle into civil life again —how many will stand sedentary pursuits after years in the open, and how they will settle back into the injustices of class distinctions after years of the equality of the same duty—fighting for their country. Still if the victory is decisive, and the army is satisfied with the peace conditions, I imagine all those things will settle themselves.

Well, Congress meets on Monday. There is no doubt in anyone's mind of the final decision. I only hope it won't drag too long. I have taken my flags down just to have the pleasure of putting them up again.

I had this letter closed when I got my first direct news from the front since the advance.

Do you remember how amused I was when I saw the Aspirant equipped for his march in January? I was told afterward that my idea of a light equipment for the cavalry in battle was "theoretically beautiful," but in such a war as this absolutely impracticable. Well I hear today that when the cavalry advanced it advanced in a "theoretically beautiful" manner. It seems that the order was unexpected. It caught the cavalry in the saddle during a manuvre, and, just as they were, they wheeled into line and flew off in pursuit of the Boches. They had nothing but what was on their backs—and ammunition, of course. The result was that they had forty-eight hours of real suffering. It was harder on the officers than on the men, and hardest of all on the horses. All the soldiers always have a bidon with something in it to drink, and almost invariably they have a bite or so in their sacks. No officer ever has anything on him, and none of them carries a bidon except on a march. For forty-eight hours in the chase they suffered from hunger, and, what was worse still, from thirst. As the weather was nasty and they were without shelters of any kind—not even tents—they tasted all the hardships of war. This must comfort the foot soldiers, who are eternally grumbling at the cavalry. However, the officer who brought back the news says the men bore it with philosophical gaiety, even those who on the last day had nothing as well as those who in forty-eight hours had a quarter of a biscuit. The horses were not so philosophical—some of them just lay down and died, poor beasts. I assure you I shall never laugh again at a cavalryman's "battle array."