William Augustus Croffut, On Sudley Church Hospital During the Battle

24 11 2012

Mr. W. A. Croffut, communicates to the National Republican of the 26th the following graphic description of scenes at the hospital:

I was on the field of battle at Bull Run on Sunday, and am sufficiently recovered from the complete prostration which followed my march of sixty miles – from Vienna to battle and back to Washington – to be able to give a brief account of what I saw. I was but a civilian; my chief occupation was to help carry off the wounded, and minister, as far as possible, to their comfort.

I assisted to bear several to the hospital at the corner of the woods – near the battle field – perhaps 150 rods from the enemy’s batteries. Such a scene of death and desolation! Men, dying and dead, covered the floor and filled the yard with frightful misery. Civilians and soldiers turned surgeons, and amputated and bound up the wounds of the injured and dying. A shell from the enemy struck harmlessly near the front yard, and cannon balls flew over and around, with their prolonged “whish!” as if the sacred white flag above our heads, honored by all the people besides, was a special target for the hateful and insolent “Confederacy.” I learn that this hospital was burned soon after, with all is suffering inmates by the heartless and diabolical foe.

Soon after, a man was brought along on his way to the other hospital, and I assisted in carrying him thither. It was somewhat farther off, on the road of approach, and was extemporized from a church which we had passed just before reaching the battle-field. It was a scene too frightful and sickening to witness, much more describe. There were in it, scattered thickly on the floor and in the galleries, sixty or seventy, wounded in every possible way – arms and legs shot off, some dead, and scores gasping for water and aid. The pulpit was appropriated for a surgeon’s room, and the communion table of pious anarchy became an amputation table, baptized in willing blood, and consecrated to the holy uses of Liberty and Law! The road and woods, on either side and all around, are strewn with maimed and mutilated heroes, and the balls from the rifled cannon go over us like winged devils. There sits a colonel, with his arm bound up, asking to be put on his horse and led back to his regiment; here lies a captain with a grape shot through his head, and blood and brains oozing out as we touch him tenderly to see if he his dead; and yonder comes in a pale chaplain, cut by a canister, while, sword in hand, he led his brave little parish, in the name of Almighty God, to the fight. And again we enter the hospital with him. Oh, God! What a hideous sight! Step into this gory tabernacle. You may grow pallid and faint, and some even of the strong-hearted do, or you may find yourself cool and self commanding, as I do, against my own anticipations, amid such sights and scenes. I have known men who could walk up to a flashing wall of bayonets unblanched, who would faint at the sight of suffering. Look around you here. The grim chambers, where the deity of a strange despotism was worshipped, is turned into an altar of Freedom, and sanctified anew by the warm life of heroes. Fit choir, that in the galleries – the intermittent yells of the dying and the subdued groans of brave men! Eloquent preacher, in that pulpit so long defiled! Glorious burden on that sacramental tablet, splendid wine there flowing – where Christ has been so often crucified. Precious and acceptable Eucharist! And these are the services to day, in this chapel of paganism, once dedicated, with lying lips, to God. The house what Baal built rises over a holocaust of heroes. And this is the holy Sabbath day – the world’s White Day, so long kept as a blessed symbol of fidelity, purity, humanity, liberty, and peace!

That ghastly picture of carnage will be ever present before my eyes, and those half smothered sobs and groans, will always ring their dreadful chorus in my ears.

And now on, and on past us fly the panic-stricken troops. We are not beaten, but these think we are, which is just as bad for our cause to night. Good generalship and guarded baggage wagons would have saved us, we of the unmilitary corps think, but it is too late now. And so the whole nation is to suffer then, for the dark crimes of years – the South for its terrible guilt of commission, and the North for its moral debauchery which has betrayed it to such fearful complicity. Had we remembered the Divine decree “though hand joined in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished.”

May God purify the religion, and warm the heart, and quicken the conscience, and open the eyes of the nation! May we learn now the lesson which a few brave souls of the North have striven long to teach, and speedily wash our bloody hands and begin to do the righteous thing!

W. A. Croffut.

St. Paul Press, 8/2/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy








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