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Baltimore, Maryland 1863
Emily Elizabeth Davis stood in the dark, narrow corridor between the hospital wards and prayed for strength. Weary as she was, she wanted to remain strong for the sake of her friend and fellow nurse, Sally Hastings. The poor woman had given way to tears. Emily couldn't blame her. She was near tears herself.
For days now the wounded soldiers had been arriving, thousands of them, train after train, crammed in like cattle. They were dying of thirst, of infection and despair. When word reached Baltimore that General Lee's forces had met the Army of the Potomac in the farm fields of Pennsylvania, the entire city held its breath. Would Maryland soon behold her sons in liberating glory or by the horrors of the casualty lists? For a state divided between Federal and Confederate sympathies, it turned out to be both.
Emily and the other nurses had anticipated the soldiers' arrival, but it didn't make caring for them any less painful.
"I thought I could do this," Sally cried, "but I don't think I can."
This was not the first time the pair had nursed wounded men. Following the battle of Antietam, one year earlier, they had gone down to the office of the U.S. Christian Commission and volunteered. They were subsequently placed in the West's Buildings, a cotton warehouse on Pratt Street that had been converted to a U.S. Army General Hospital. Emily and Sally had cared for scores of bleeding men, Confederate and Federal alike, but this time the task was more difficult. The men they presently nursed were their own schoolmates and neighbors.
The members of the Maryland Guard, once so dashing in their butternut uniforms, now occupied these bleak, crowded rooms. Although Baltimore was their home, the Confederate men were held by armed guards, deemed prisoners of war.
Sally wept upon her shoulder. "First Stephen now this "
Sally's brother, Captain Stephen Hastings, had been listed as missing in the great battle at Gettysburg, and, only moments ago, the man she hoped to one day marry had lost his left arm.
"Oh, Em, I am absolutely wicked."
"No, you are not," Emily said gently. "Why ever would you say such a thing?"
"When the stewards returned Edward to his bed, all I could think of was, 'He will never waltz with me again.'"
Emily blinked back tears of her own, sympathizing with her friend's pain. Edward Stanton had danced the farewell waltz with Sally at the last ball before the Pratt Street Riot, the day Federal soldiers had come to Baltimore and opened fire on innocent civilians. It was the first bloodshed of the war. Outraged at the soldiers' attack, Edward, and many others, had headed south to enlist right away.
The days of silk dresses and white-gloved escorts had given way to months of broken bodies and bloodstained petticoats. Mirth and merriment surrendered to weariness and worry.
"Try not to fret," Emily said. "Edward will dance with you again."
At least she prayed that would be the case. It was only one of the numerous petitions she had whispered during her time at the hospital. As a believer and a volunteer nurse, Emily desperately longed to bring comfort to those she came in contact with. She wanted to be a light in this dark, battle-weary world.
"Remember, God is the great physician. He can"
The door to the opposite ward pushed open, hitting the wall with a forceful thud. Evan Mackay, a newly arrived Federal doctor from Pennsylvania, glared at them.
"Rebels!" he said, angrily spitting the word. "Shouldn't you women be tending to them?"
The man was as tall as Abraham Lincoln himself, with shoulders as broad as a ditchdigger's. Although he spoke with a Scottish accent, which Emily thought was a dialect straight out of poetry, she was severely disappointed. Evidently not all Scotsmen were as noble or heroic as the men Robert Burns had written about. She couldn't imagine Dr. Mackay had ever even stopped to look at a red, red rose much less compare his love for his sweetheart to one.
I seriously doubt the man even knows the meaning of the word love.
Of all the physicians in this hospital, he displayed the most hostile attitude; he had an open disdain for the Confederate men. Emily felt it her duty as a Southerner to protect the wounded from Dr. Mackay's wrath.
She felt it her duty to protect Sally now.
"We were just returning," she said politely. "Were we not, Nurse Hastings?"
Sally quickly wiped her eyes, her back now ramrod-straight as though she herself were a member of the Federal army. "Yes, indeed."
Dr. Mackay crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. "Aye," he said slowly. "Then do so directly."
"Yes, Doctor," the women said in unison.
The army physician moved by them and into the next room. Emily caught Sally's eye as the tornado blew past. Both were tempted to make a remark concerning the rude bluecoat, but they did not indulge in the luxury.
The Confederate prisoners needed care.
Flickering oil lamps hung from the rafters as Evan stepped into the remaining ward. There were six buildings in this former cotton warehouse, 425 beds. Most of them were crammed with rebels. His mouth soured just thinking of it. Evan knew firsthand that the field hospitals in Gettysburg were bursting at the seams with brave boys in blue that deserved beds. Boys like Andrew.
He sighed. Yet even if there was room, I wouldn't bring our men here, not to this city. It is one full of barbarians trying to pass themselves off as loyal members of the Union.
His collar grew tight and his head warm. The reaction wasn't caused by the stifling July heat. It was the memory of his younger brother and the brief time he had endured in Baltimore. Evan had heard the story from Andrew's comrades, the men of the Twenty-Sixth and Twenty-Seventh Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, "The Washington Brigade."
"They simply surrounded us!"
"They cut us off from the rest of the regiment!"
"They were ready to tear us to shreds!"
Rioters and murderers, every last one of them, Evan thought. And now I must put them back together. The army could have kept me in Pennsylvania. They could have let me tend to our men. They need every surgeon available.
But Providence had not allowed him to remain in Gettysburg, and Evan had his suspicions why.
I am doing penance for my actions, in the worst possible way.
He cast a glance in the direction of one particular rebel, a major. He was a Maryland man. Evan had seen what remained of his butternut uniform when he'd first arrived. The Johnny's left arm had just been amputated because a vile infection had set in. Evan had performed the surgery. He had done his best to save the reb's life. His duty to God and his Hippocratic oath to do no harm compelled such. But he took no pride in the task. After discharge from the hospital, rebels like this one would be sent to prison, but upon parole many would return to their regiments only to fire upon U.S. soldiers again.
At least this one won't be picking up a musket, he told himself.
The major was still with fever and under the effects of the ether so he continued through the ward. Those prisoners who asked for water or voiced other requests he left to the nurses. That was their job. Most of them were rebel women anyway. Why his superiors permitted their presence in a U.S. Army hospital was beyond his comprehension. They had each signed oaths of loyalty, but it was rumored that several had altered the document. Finding certain lines disagreeable, they had supposedly crossed them out.
If loyalty to the government of the United States of America, to its Constitution, is so abhorrent, they have no business nursing prisoners of war. If Evan had his way, he would have all secessionist nurses tossed out to the street and the rebel wounded held in prison until the end of the war.
They deserved it after what they had done to his brother.
Emily drew in a deep breath, forcing herself to ignore the odors of blood, ether and rotting fish from the nearby docks. This massive warehouse had little means of ventilation, and the air grew more pungent by the day.
Sally had returned to her own section of the hospital. Emily now prepared to step into hers. She smoothed out her pinner apron. Though it pained her, she smiled. It would do the men no good to see a downcast face. They needed hope. They needed cheer.
Lord, help me to be a light. Help me to show Your love.
She had no intention of fostering romantic feelings among the soldiers, but a pretty smile and a little lilac water did wonders in the wards. Some men had been removed from sisters, mothers and sweethearts for so long that they had forgotten the fairer points of civilized society. Emily wanted to remind them there was more to life than this war. Whenever she wasn't assisting doctors or changing soiled bandages, she tried to do so.
She had written countless letters on behalf of men too sick to do so for themselves. She recited Bible verses and poetry. She also spent a great deal of time fanning the suffering, an effort to break the sweltering midsummer heat.
Emily's friend Julia Ward was doing so now. She was seated at her brother's bedside. Edward still slept heavily from his surgery. Looking at him, Emily sighed. He was once the most confident, dashing man of her neighborhood and had captured ladies' hearts with ease. Injury, illness and two years of war, however, had ravaged his chiseled face and muscular frame. Emily wondered just what Edward would think when he woke to find his left arm was no more.
Each man reacted differently to the devastating reality of amputation. Some cried out for their missing limbs; others simply turned in silence toward the wall. Whichever Edward's reaction, she hoped he would realize that his family and friends still cared for him. Emily moved closer to his bed. Julia looked up. Fatigue lined her eyes.
"Has there been any change?" Emily asked.
She could hear the discouragement in her friend's voice. Emily tried to reassure her. "Sometimes it takes quite a while for the ether to wear off."
"He isn't any cooler. At least not yet."
Emily felt Edward's forehead for herself. "It is still early."
"Would you bring me a basin and some cool water?" Julia asked. "I'll sponge his face and neck."
"That would be very helpful, but be careful not to overdo."
Edward's sister had faithfully attended him since his arrival yet she was not a nurse. Emily knew exactly why Julia had not volunteered. Although her sacque bodice and gored skirts concealed any evidence from the average passerby, Emily and her closest friends knew the truth. Julia was expecting a child.
"Em?" she asked. "Yes?"
"When Edward begins to stir will he be sick to his stomach or have strange visions? I have heard that some men do."
"Not necessarily, but we should keep watch. The best thing you can do for now is stay beside him. Alert me the moment he begins to wake."
Commotion at the far end of the ward caught Emily's attention. Dr. Mackay was barking orders to two of the Federal stewards.
"I told you to deliver him to surgery! Do so immediately!"
She swallowed back the lump in her throat and watched as the young men in blue scrambled to obey. The man in question had severe shrapnel wounds to his leg.
"Tell the surgeon to cut the leg now or he'll have another dead man on his hands!"
Emily gasped. The poor man about to undergo the procedure was so delirious with wound fever that he knew not what was about to happen, but everyone else in the room did. Their faces went pale. Even the stewards cringed at the doctor's harsh tone.
Forcing herself to continue, she found Julia a sponge and basin, then moved on. A soldier several beds down from Edward asked for a drink. Emily brought him a cupful of the freshest water she could find. His face immediately brightened.
"Bless you, Miss Emily."
"God bless you, Jimmy."
He drank his fill, then leaned back upon his pillow. Dark curls flopped about his forehead. "Is the surgeon really gonna take Freddy's leg?" he asked.
Freddy was Jimmy's comrade and unfortunately the subject of Dr. Mackay's recent tirade. Emily hoped her tone sounded encouraging despite the news.
"I am afraid so, Jimmy, but it is what is best for him, in order to save his life."
His chin quivered ever so slightly. Emily didn't know how old he was exactly, but he looked barely beyond boyhood.
"Me and Freddy come up together," he said. "All the way from Saint Mary's City."
Emily recognized the name of the southern Maryland town; she had once visited the place when her father, a lawyer, had business there.
"Is that where your family is from?" she asked as she straightened his bed coverings.
"Yes'um. Freddy's, too." His thoughts then shifted. "Reckon they will send us both to that new prison camp they've made? The one at Point Lookout?"
She would not allow herself to dwell on what would happen after these men were discharged from the hospital. More than likely, they would be sent to one of two Federal prison camps, either Fort Delaware or the one Jimmy had mentioned at the mouth of the Potomac River.
"I don't know where they will send you," she said honestly. "But I hope that your stay there will be short."
"Well, if I gotta go to prison, I hope it's Point Lookout. At least then I'll be closer to home."
She smoothed back his dark curls as a mother would do, tucking a small child in for the night. The gesture had a dual purpose, comfort for him and evaluation of potential fever. Thankfully, Jimmy's forehead was cool.
"It would do you well right now to try and dream of home," she said.
"Yes'um. I reckon it would. But before you go would you mind prayin' for Freddy? I know you bein' a lady and a volunteer from the Christian Commission Well, would you please?"
She was touched by his request and the concern for his friend which was so evident in his eyes. "I would be honored to do so."
He reached for her hand. Had they been conversing at dinner or a society ball, the gesture would be entirely too forward. Yet here in the hospital, Emily often cast society's rules aside for the sake of grace and compassion. She clasped his hand and prayed for Freddy. She prayed for Jimmy as well. When she had finished, she whispered, "Try not to fret. God already has looked after your friend, for Dr. Turner is now the surgeon on duty. He's a kind and capable man."
His face brightened somewhat. "Thank you, Miss Emily. That's right good to hear. Some docs are better than others 'round here."
She knew which doctor he was referring to, and although she probably should have defended Dr. Mackay's skills, she let the opportunity pass. She stood, pleased that the worry in Jimmy's eyes had faded.
"Rest well," she said to him.
He smiled and turned to his side. Emily straightened his coverings once more, then turned, as well, only to crash directly into the chest of the angry Scotsman.