The Death of a Soldier
By George Powell Clarke1
The writer was send to Lauderdale Springs2 and consigned to the hospital at that place about the first of June, 1862. I remember very little of the trip from Rienzi to Lauderdale Springs, being very sick, half delirious most of the time. I was very sick for a long time, but my sickness was cheered by occasional visits from my father3 who brought acceptable delicacies from home. Ah! How sweet is thought of home to a sick soldier. Although his messmates and nurses may do all they can for him, yet it is not like the loving attention of friends and relatives at home.
But enough of this. I will not weary the patience of the reader with a full description of all the ups and downs of a long spell of sickness. But I want to detail some facts for the benefit of those who may in the future have imposed upon them the duty of taking charge of a hospital. There are many poor soldiers sleeping in the dust near Lauderdale Springs, who might today have been adorning the walks of life had some things been different. In the ward to which it was my unfortunate lot to go, was presided over by a beardless young fellow, claiming to be a doctor; and who did not know the difference between copperas and quinine. He was killing up the soldiers as fast as his drugs could do it, when fortunately, he was ordered away, and an old surgeon of some knowledge was placed in charge of the ward. Speaking of soldiers dying, it was no usual sight to see eight or ten borne by my window on the way to the dead house in one day. It is said that about seventeen hundred died there. But the change came to be noticed after the advent of the old doctor spoken of, for the death rate began to decrease as soon as his method of treatment had time to take effect. I remember yet the substance of the first conversation he had with me. He was very choleric when he came into the room, and in a brusque kind of way said, “Well, what’s the matter with you”?
“I don’t know”, I replied.
He went through the usual ceremony of examining tongue and pulse, and said more kindly, “Well, you are pretty sick, ain’t you?”
I told him I thought I was.
“What are you taking”, said he.
I replied I did not know, but the top was off one of the containers on the table, so he could examine it to see. He took up a bottle, applied it to his nose and threw it out of the window, saying that was the first time he had ever known cod liver oil given for typhoid fever. He threw away the balance except for some quinine. After venting his wrath a little, he prescribed for me and under his treatment I began to improve at once.
Thousands of soldiers were murdered during the War by incompetent medical treatment. I will have something more to say on this subject later.
Convalescence was very slow and tedious, the hospital diet unpalatable, even to one in good health, and of course much more so to one who is sick. Finding that I was gaining very slowly, I made application to the commander of the post to be allowed to go out to the camp of the Provost Guard, where I had many acquaintances, feeling that I would regain my health much quicker there than in the hospital. After some parley, and the use of a little red tape, the request was granted. Much of this was due to the intervention of an officer of our company, who was in command of the Provost Guard, and whose memory I love. On or about the 8th of August, 1862, I bid farewell to the hospital, emaciated to the extent that I was only a shadow of my former self, and with my mind laden with sad memories, I went out to the camp, which was about two miles from the hospital.
Before describing life at the Provost Guard Camp, I must go back to the hospital for a time. I have stated that my mind was laden with sad memories, and even after this long lapse of time unbidden tears spring up when I call to mind some scenes that I witnessed during my lone confinement there. I would fain pass them over, but in order to make my narrative complete I must bring them in.
Far back in the recess of my boyhood’s memory I can dimly trace the figure of a rollicking boy4. We were boon companions; went to school together; went in swimming together; rambled over the woods together; in fact were inseparable when not at work. We grew up to young manhood together, and when the War cloud burst over the country, we agreed that when it came time for us to enlist, would go together. We did so, and of course were messmates, sharing each other’s blankets, each other’s burdens, each others joys and everything else.
Time passed on and we were both sent to the hospital at Lauderdale Springs, he only a little puny, I very sick. For a few days he was at my bedside often. After some time I missed his cheering presence. Making inquiries, I ascertained his room, which was only a few steps distant. I was greatly shocked to see that he must soon cross over the river. He seemed cheerful and resigned, and was much cheered at seeing me again. He realized his condition, and seemed willing to leave the results in the hands of an all wise Providence.
On the next day I called again at his room, and before I left, his mother and I stood by his bedside and saw him bid farewell to earth. With what seemed to be a smile on his face, his genial spirit took its flight, as I believe, to the climes of everlasting bliss. To the land with orange blossoms shaded, where summer ever lingers in the air. It is within a few days of thirty years since then, but I can yet see his genial face and hear his rollicking laugh. Dear old comrade, farewell. On this morning of the 8th of May, 1896, my memory salutes you.
1. This story is an excerpt from Reminiscence and Anecdotes of the War for Southern Independence by George Powell Clarke, Sgt., Company C, 36th MS Infantry, Harper Reserves, published by George Avery Smith, Decatur, Mississippi. The author begins the story after just having been in military action at Rienzi and the Battle of Corinth. The original has been edited for clarity only.
2. Lauderdale Springs, northeast of Meridian, Mississippi, was a resort area in the early days of the county, but the facilities were adapted for medical care after the outbreak of the Civil War. The soldiers who died at this facility are likely buried in the Marion Confederate Cemetery, a short distance from there.
3. Rev. Nathan L. Clarke.
4. Henry W. Day, and later, his mother, Mary Eliza Wroten Day.