Encounter With General Geary
Chapter 14 (May 15, 1863 - June 3, 1863)
The hospital was about one mile inland from the Potomac River and we could see down to the steamboat landing. I told Mr. Crossgrove that I would not be allowed to accompany him to the landing without a pass. I went to the Officer-of-the-day, who had charge of the hospital camp, and told him my circumstances. He said that he was not permitted to issue any passes. I then went to Dr. Earnest Goodman, our division Surgeon, and he told me the same as the Officer-of-the-day.
General Geary’s headquarters were some distance away. I went to headquarters and the guard directed me to the General. I told him that I would like to go with my brother-in-law, who was taking home the body of my brother for burial, and asked him to please give me a pass to go to the landing. To my surprise, in the gruffest way possible, he said, “No, I have no right to give you a pass.” I then told him where I belonged, the company and regiment, but to no avail, and I started to go away heartbroken.
One of his staff officers, Major Forbes, then jumped up and spoke to the General. They had their backs turned toward me but I knew that the Major was interceding for me.
The General then called me back and said: “The Major will give you a pass, but I don’t want you to desert.” I said, “General, if you desire it, I will report to you after the boat has gone.” He said, “When the boat has left you report to your regiment.” I went to the wharf and was hardly seated until a guard asked for our passes. Mr. Crossgrove had received his official pass at Washington which was all right. I showed him my pass from General Geary and the guard said it was no good and that I must leave the wharf.
Of course, I could not censure him for he had his instructions and was acting accordingly. I gave my brother-in-law good-bye and started away, sad and lonely, because just four months before I had lost brother Lewis at Dumphries, and next the Lieutenant, brother William, until now of the three brothers who enlisted I was left alone.
As I was leaving the wharf and going in the direction of the camp, I met a Lieutenant who was in charge of the guards. He stopped me and asked what was the matter. I told him my story and he said he could hardly believe that men could be so harsh and so unsympathetic. “You go with me. I’ll see that you get a place until the boat leaves,” he said, and he did. “The only thing,” said he, “that I ask of you is that immediately after the boat has gone you leave the wharf.” Thanking him over and over again I started to camp. The treatment of General Geary I never could forget, and when he was a candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, altho my old commander, I could not make up my mind to vote for him.
While making my trips to and from camp to the hospital, I had to pass the smallpox hospital. One day I saw a soldier standing in his tent door and he beckoned to me. I went over to him and asked what he wanted, when he asked me whether I would please fill his canteen with water. I said certainly I will. Let me have your canteen. He gave it to me; I filled it, returned and gave it to him. He was the only person I ever saw with smallpox. He thanked me very much, and said that when he was home he had the best of care and attention when sick and could have anything his heart desired. But now the surgeons would come in the morning and prescribe for him and if he needed anything during the balance of the time he would have to get it himself. If I knew at that time who he was and where he belonged, the lapse of 48 years has entirely obliterated from my mind his name and regiment.
A night or two before brother died the ambulance train came to the hospital loaded with wounded men who were brought from Chancellorsville and who had been lying on the battlefield for 11 days. They were brought on these ambulances about 28 miles, over rough roads. The hospital attendants had lanterns and the wounded were hauled about camp until a place could be given them. The wagons would sometimes strike a stone, run over a tree stump, and the poor fellow within would cry, curse and pray. Oh, such heart rending scenes.