Sunday, March 28, 2010

1864 Medical Reenactment

On March 27, 2010 there was a tremendous learning opportunity in Macon, Georgia at The Cannonball House, an 1850 city home. We transformed it (with approximately 30 reenactors)into an annex of the Floyd House Hospital of 1864. The following is an After Action Report for the day. Photos to be added.

27 March, 1864

The morning is bright and beautiful, right from the start. Just beyond the cast iron gate is a new ward tent being constructed. It, and others like it, will house the thousands of men, traumatized and diseased soldiers who are making their way from Atlanta hospitals. Some will arrive by train, others will come in by horseback, by cart and some will walk the distance if they are fit enough. General Sherman has invaded Georgia and the winds of war are blowing into Atlanta as we speak. An aroused guard snaps his gaze toward me at the sound of rust on rust but recognizes me as one of the staff.

Wisps of gray smoke, as gray as a well-worn sack coat, curl from the fire of the wash pot. Laundry maids are poking their warshin’ fork at bundles of white cotton in all shades from dingy to shade-your-eyes bright. The blood of brave men tinges the boiling pot but the lye in the soap will equalize the effect.

Inside the cookhouse I hear the hum of busy work, Mrs. Hallmark is busy setting about the foodstuffs that are provided by the dutiful women of Macon, Geo. There lay collard greens, baked sweet potatoes, butternut squash, biscuits, the last of the ham, condiments, green beans and other delights, a bounty from the Lord. Mrs. English, one of the hired-ons, is busily sewing a woven ticking into pillows and stuffing them with cotton donated by a broker over at Bainbridge Plantation.

In another room I hear the punching and groaning of wood on wood and I turn the corner to see a resident Apothecarian grinding herbs into healing. Thank God for the leaves for they will heal nations. How long must we wait before this nation is healed, Lord? Across the table from her a young volunteer works. Lint and charpie are being drawn from the linen and bandages are rolled on a clever device to the specifics of Floyd House Hospital.

Outside another maid is carrying water with the yoke but one of her dear buckets has a hole and she is getting as much on her feet as in her rinse pot. It reminds me of the life that is pouring out of many of our brave citizen-soldiers.

As I make my way up the back stair into the house I am reminded of the grisly war they call a ’civil’ war. Piles of legs and an arm peer from the edge of white linen gone red. A final resting place for appendages. Their owners must be inside.

Once in the opulent cocoon known as Cannonball House, I hear the sounds of the dying and the hopeful. The air is permeated with the smells of healing and the defeat of death. There lay a soldier whose battle wound is in the small intestine, he will not live another hour as his life‘s blood saturates a woolen pallet. Gentlewomen of Macon are responding to his every request for life. Another soldier, not much older than a boy sits in stunned silence as he picks up his trusted violin and begins to play a wistful Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound as the strains of the music waft through the open halls and corridors until it reaches a sick ward. This house has been commandeered as a healing post, an annex to Macon General Hospital. It houses but 5 of this wars soldiers but they are receiving the most excellent of care. One poor boy is wheezing communications of love,…and fear, to his mother. He has Diphtheria. Private John Folender, still a baby really, and he hasn’t been in the service long enough to receive government clothing. He dies and the wails of his mother are deadened by the wool of his trousers as the nurse gives his clothing to his mother. Next to him lay a man with golden hair, a vul sclopet in his lower leg but a successful surgery has removed the Minnie ball and his health is restored, yet his will is shattered. A few hours later in this rancid smelling lair and his compatriot succumbs to the dreaded scalds which have drained him of the fluid of his being. His Captain stands in a pitiful state, hat in hand, eyes bowed to bloodstained French carpets in a silent salute.

I am amazed and appalled when I see a mother bend over her son, 14 years old and dead at the hand of our northern brothers. An undertaker tries to draw her away toward the crepe covered mirrors but she recoils and falls onto her sons bloated and lifeless body. Pine and cedar smells scent the room but nothing can remove the odor of death, nor the pain of a mother‘s heart. Just beyond the doorway lay a cold black coffin, full of dashed dreams and youthful hopes for another man is called home to his reward. Wrapped in the comfort of a mother’s quilt his body awaits transport by rail to Augusta. Lucky man, he, for his family had the foresight to purchase the burial insurance when he signed up and thus received the proper and immediate embalming and travel homeward. Reverend Christian, how many more must die before this war will end? How many more can we reach for Jesus before they expire?

A guard watches me with his stone glare as I approach the dead and I hear the words next to me as a young woman writes,…

‘How long, O Lord! How long’; but we endeavor to possess our souls in patience. It is the baptism of blood, which we are undergoing, before the Confederacy can take a place in the community of nations.’

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