CHAIN OF DESTINY - Excerpt
A small group of four unescorted wagons slowly made their way east towards the outskirts of Washington, DC, during the early morning hours of 6 July. Stuffed within the transports were those Confederate soldiers still alive when captured by Buford’s men the day prior. Unabated, the wounded’s suffering continued. Few stops had been made and those that were made lasted only long enough to change horses and to offer some water to the anguished men. The little convoy of misery continued to creep quietly through the dark, very sluggishly grinding out the miles, the sound of the wheels muffled by the mud
produced by the ceaseless rain of the days and evening prior. Within, the debilitated and wretched human cargo made nary a sound, having far surpassed their limits of sanity and hunger to be left at death’s doorstep.
Mrs. Leslie Ann Matthews momentarily straightened amid a group of casualties to view the great human tragedy that surrounded her. While she had assisted the wounded of previous battles, those experiences had not prepared her, nor anyone else working around her for that matter, for the monumental agony and unfathomable suffering she found herself amidst. It was the most disheartening and appalling of sights. Horribly disfigured and mutilated men lay all about with many writhing in pain, deeply moaning and groaning, calling for relief which was yet to be made available to many of them.
As Leslie moved about, attending to the injured as best she could, she had noted how devastating and permanently disabling many of the wounds were. One man’s leg had been shattered by a cannon ball, the flesh torn, nothing but shreds of skin and protruding bone remaining. Another man lay on the ground, holding his arm which was almost completely severed from his body. Both were waiting for the blade of the surgeon’s cutting-saw or the scythe of the reaper’s gathering. Another young and once very handsome man lay still, shot through the head and face. His eyes were swollen shut, covered with a yellow, putrid matter draining from a bullet wound located above his right eye. His hair was clotted with blood, his jaw shattered, and both cheeks punctured by a bullet. Should he live, he would be frightfully disfigured for life. Mortally wounded lay another man with a ‘gut’ shot in the abdomen, intestines exposed. Only opium, if that, could provide a temporary relief to his excruciating agony as his life slowly and painfully withered away.
For those waiting to die there was little Leslie could do other than to spend a few moments with them, providing what comfort she could before moving on. For those waiting surgery, she offered words of encouragement. Moving about, she encountered casualties who had not hitherto received an initial evaluation or treatment from a physician. For those, she would pass word to the staff and see to their injuries as best she could. For many others who had been treated, Leslie changed the dressings from which blood still oozed or within which maggots dwelled. For all, she provided water and food, as unpalatable and scarce as the latter might be.
Leslie observed the four wagons as they made their way into the camp, the area deceptively immersed in soothing moonlight as the rain ceased and the clouds cleared for a few brief moments before the onslaught of the next squall. The arrival of the wagons was a scene she had viewed much too frequently the past day. Lifting her drenched mud and blood stained skirt to keep from tripping over it, she carefully made her way around the men on the ground to offer her assistance to the new arrivals.
Field medics and attendants from the camp had already begun the process of transferring the men from the wagons when Leslie arrived. As each Rebel was selected, a medic would make a quick assessment as to whether the man was dead, alive, or mortally wounded. Those alive were carried off as gently as possible to await their turn to be seen by a physician. Those judged mortally wounded were also gently carried off but to a staked out area within whose bounds no physician would tread, their time and efforts directed to those with a chance to survive.
Leslie arrived as they were unloading the third wagon.