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Figure 1: Emma French Sackett

Figure 1: Emma French Sackett

Emma Sackett, My Great Great Grandmother, was a nurse in the civil war. She contributed to a book in 1895 with Clara Barton about her experiences in the war, excerpted below.

Having a desire to minister to the needs of our suffering soldiers, I went from Denmark, Iowa,to Chicago,in company with Mrs.Colton, and reported to Mrs. Livermore, not knowing whether we should be sent to the front amid the battlefields, or where our lot would be cast. February 1, 1864, we were sent to Jeffersonville General Hospital, where I was assigned to Ward 18, which was crowded with sick and wounded, so there was no lack of work to do. And although sad the office we performed, our hearts were filled with pleasure in the work we were doing. It was ours to minister to the wants of mind and body; and when the poor soldier boy had breathed his last, to write to his parents, wife or sister, telling of his last hours, and giving the messages for loved ones at home. And as we folded the letter inclosing a lock of the dear one’s hair, we prayed that the white-winged messenger might break the news gently. In this way an interesting correspondence has been continued with those whom I have never seen, as they cling to every item, and long for more incidents of their dead.

I remember one boy, only fifteen years of age, who had his arm amputated. Gangrene set in, and he had to endure another amputation; then death relieved him of his suffering. Poor boy! You little knew what was in store for you when you enlisted. And poor mother! Your fondest hopes were blasted.

Another brave soldier from Minnesota had left one leg on the battlefield, and lay upon his cot day after day, mourning for home and loved ones, until his life went out.

A pale-faced lad, shot through one lung, lay ‘twixt life and death for a long time, then rallied, and the last I knew he was still alive.

One day a letter was brought to our ward for a former patient, who had been transferred to the gangrene ward. I carried it to him, and when his name was called he responded with uplifted hand, while the tears ran down his cheeks, so glad was he to get a word from home.

How bitter was the disappointment of a sister who came to the hospital to see her brother, only to learn that he had been transferred to Cincinnati, and that she must continue her search.

So one after another these incidents crowd upon the memory. Sad were the scenes when friends came to see their loved ones, to find that those they were seeking had been buried a few days before.

On the morning of the 15th of April, when we beheld the stars and stripes at half-mast, and the words “Lincoln is dead,” passed from lip to lip, all was hushed. The stillness of death prevailed, and we questioned, “What next?” for it seemed a terrible crisis. A few of the boys made disloyal remarks, and the guardhouse was the penalty.

As the war neared its close colored men were brought to do guard duty, and we held a freedman’s school for a few hours each day in a chapel near. So eager were they to learn, that it was a pleasure to teach them.

Our last work was filling out discharge papers for the soldiers, who were eager to get home, now that the war was over; and therefore when they were given that work, soon hunted up their own papers and were at liberty, leaving Uncle Sam to find new clerks, which he did among the army nurses.

Our services were appreciated by those among whom we labored, as testimonials held by more than one of my colaborers would prove. One day upon entering my ward I was halted, but instead of being confronted by sword or bayonet, a purse was put into my hand, accompanied by a nicely-worded address, as a token of the regard and gratitude of my patients. The original address is treasured among my keepsakes. I was always treated with respect and kindness while in the service, and those to whom I ministered seemed to me more like brothers than strangers.

I went by the authority of Miss Dix, and served under Miss Buckel for nearly eight months, then received my discharge Sept. 23, 1865, and returned to my Iowa home, having no regrets that I had been an army nurse.

Yours in F., C. and L., Mrs. Emma French-Sackett Middle River, Iowa