War Recollections by a Former Southbridge Pastor

Today we bring you the story of one local man who served the Union during the U.S. Civil War. He story was first printed on the front page of the October 18, 1900 edition of The Southbridge Journal, a local newspaper that has been out of print for roughly one century. The following is a transcript of that article, word for word, and in the spelling of the original article.

Few can realize in our time the difficulty of obtaining release from duty in the army, when disease becomes chronic and no more service can be rendered. Because some feign ailments, and some purposly maim themselves to escape the fiery ordeal of the battle, it became necessary to be slow in granting “leave to withdraw.”

It was in June, 1863, that I learned the fact that a member of  the Globe Village church was suffering with cough, weakness and hemorrhage from the lungs, near Newbern, N.C., a soldier of the 51st Regiment. He had been ill since some time in March, and the most urgent, reasonable and pathetic pleading from father, physician and friends was unavailing to secure for him a furlough. The father, I think, even offered himself as a substitute for his son, if they would allow the latter to go home. But the serious condition of the soldier, the fact that he was and would be unfit for any valuable duty, and the anxiety of wife and parents, failed to move the surgeons and officials to release him.

A head surgeon in that department was a brother of my predecessor at the Globe, Rev. Thomas Morong.

This doctor had been appealed to, but for some reason that probably had force among the medical fraternity in that part of the federal army, the favor was denied. My sympathies were warmly enlisted. I had also known in earlier life, Dr. Morong, and I had two brothers, in General Foster’s department in the 45th regiment, one of whom, Swartz Richardson, was later, a resident of Southbridge for two years.

General Foster was quite urgent to have soldiers whose enlistment would soon expire, to re-enlist. I took advantage of this, and using what little skill I had for statement and argument, I wrote to General Foster the facts as I had gathered them, respecting the sick and disabled soldier, asking for his discharge. The surgeons and sub-surgeons, who were thoroughly acquainted with the seriousness of the sick man’s case, lifted up a bitter and angry wail about my letter. They said I had deceived, falsefied and lied. That there was no ground nor warrant for the assertions I made, though I carefully took them from those who were closely conversant with the young soldier’s history, family and physical antecedents. But the order of General Foster topped the authority of the doctors and defied their wrath, and the enfeebled husband and son arrived in Southbridge in late June. He was ignorant of the influence and means of his discharge, until he reached his sister’s home in Hartford, who revealed the matter to him. He seemed comfortable for a time, but, I think, was not equal to any active business.

On Friday, the 21st day of August, the members of the 51st regiment, who belonged to Southbridge and vicinity, were “paid off” at Southbridge centre. The sick soldier, G. Alfred Hanson, was there to greet his returning comrades and, I suppose, to receive his pay for service and suffering. At about the noon hour he was suddenly seized with bleeding from the lungs, and continued to spit blood during the ride of nearly a mile to his home. Of this attack, I was informed at 8:30 o’clock that evening. I immediately went to the house. It was a warm night. I somewhat timidly and fearfully sat in the room adjoining that in which the soldier lay. I might do him harm. I was not confident that I could render material help, but could extend my sympathy in the alarming case.

It was a startling fact that a vessel stood near the door of the sick room with well-nigh three pints of blood in it. The attendants, father and mother and brother were quiet and awed with the extreme gravity of the situation. The patient lay in motionless stillness, not a finger, muscle or lineament of the face was stirred, and scarcely a whisper, was ventured, to tell a want.

At ten o’clock, I said to the father, “I will remain through the night, and watch and care for Alfred, if you would like to have me.” He replied, “I am a good deal fatigued and I don’t care if you do.”

Orders were specially given in regard to the medicine to be administered and the means to keep the patient up in all small, but not unimportant ways. On no account was he to make any effort, or put forth the least exertion, and ice must be given him so he would never be without it. I shall not soon forget the scene, when left alone with this fearfully sick soldier. I had heard of hemorrhage from the lungs. Here was a dreadful case of it. This young man 21 years old, was stricken with this terrific attack. His arms lay by his side, his face was flushed, his eyes closed. In absolute stillness, his countenance, unmarked by any sign of alarm seemed to say, “I am fighting with a giant foe and I am going to win, if I can.” All night long I fanned him vigorously, not with a slow wafting kind of movement, but with swift, active motions that cooled and crowded the air to his breathing.

The thing to be done was to anticipate every want. But if a question must be asked, it was answered by the slightest nod of his head. A bit of ice was put into his mouth every two or three minutes, and my fanning was interrupted three or four times while I went to the cellar to get more ice.

And so the night wore away, but did not seem long, and was not specially wearisome, for the case was so serious, no one could help being intensely interested in it. Between five and six o’clock the parents rose and I went home.

The next Sunday night, August 23rd, just as I was about to retire, Edgar Hanson rang my door-bell and said, “Alfred is bleeding again and father wants you to come over.” I went. The patient had been carried to a chamber. As I entered the room, he was raising blood in fearful mouthfuls, but his voice was clear and strong, as he called for a member of the family. Dr. Curtis was sitting in the back part of the room and could give but slight hopes of the soldier’s recovery. But through his professional skill, and the means used to disarm the malady, it was stayed in its ravages and Mr. Hanson began to be stronger in a few weeks, and the persistent hemorrhage was brought under control.

On Tuesday night, after the above mentioned Sunday, Mr. Edward Armes, a comrade of the patient in the 51st regiment, belonging to Southbridge, was watching with me, he and I having never met before. Mr. Hanson was now easier and it was proposed that each of us watchers should rest an hour while the other watched. The most convenient place to lie down was the floor at the side of the room. When my turn came to sleep, my careless dress, my scrawing head, my sleeves rolled up, perhaps did not give a stranger much impression of the dignity and decorum of the ministry. Mr. Armes was curious, no doubt, to find out something of my history work in life, and so quietly inquired as I settled myself upon the hard floor, what my business was, what I was doing in the Globe. I replied that I was preaching at the Union church.

It was a surprise to him, as he, with a sort of incredulous and puzzled look, smiled self-excusingly for his very natural conclusion that an unconventional slip-shod every day sort of a fellow, was a clergyman. But his shocked and confused sense, as I dropped upon my welcome resting place, did not hinder or disturb my refreshing nap of a quick flying hour.

Shall be glad to say something more of Mr. Hanson’s recovery and how it was secured, in a future letter.

—Montague

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