Pelham Women Assisted Union Troops and Confederate Prisoners on David's Island During the Civil War
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-- An Anonymous Letter to the Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Written September 23, 1862 and Describing the Volunteer Efforts of Women from Pelham and Other Communities as They Assisted Sick and Wounded Union Troops on David's Island.
Early in the American Civil War, women volunteers from Pelham and other local communities were aptly described as a "noble army of sympathetic and kind-hearted women" who ministered to the needs of sick and wounded Union soldiers at a local U.S. military hospital located on David's Island off the shores of New Rochelle and Pelham. The "noble women" of Pelham soon had to expand their volunteer efforts as the Union Army began holding Confederate prisoners on the same island.
I have written before, though briefly and with little context, about the significant volunteer efforts of Pelham women to minister to sick and wounded soldiers on David's Island. See Fri., Jun. 03, 2005: David's Island Off the Coast of Pelham Manor During the Civil War. Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog is intended to expand that story and, more importantly, to document research that may help others tell the story with more vigor.
On April 13, 1862, Simeon Leland leased David's Island to the United States Government for five years for $2,000 a year with a purchase option that could be exercised for $38,500. See Westchester County Records of Land Conveyances, Liber 495, Folio 380. With the Civil War raging, the U.S. Government immediately began to build what became the nation's largest military hospital complex of its day on the island.
It seems that nearly immediately, military authorities sought to incorporate local women volunteers to oversee kitchens expected to supplement the pedestrian and potentially life threatening "ordinary" menu used to support island patients. In fact, the main military kitchens on the island provided a "usual fare" consisting merely of "roast beef or stewed beef and boiled potatoes." Volunteer kitchens overseen by local women were intended to supplement such fare with what were called "delicacies."
Within months, "the ladies of Pelham" announced in an important and well-placed advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune that they already had raised necessities to support "their Ladies' Kitchen, at the Government Hospital, on David's Island." The title of the advertisement was "MATT. 10, 42." -- a reference to the New Testament verse of Matthew 10:42: "And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward."
Among the necessities that the ladies of Pelham announced they had raised "towards the starting and the support of their Ladies' Kitchen at the Government Hospital, on David's Island, where are now gathered nearly 2,000 sick and wounded soldiers" in their announcement published on August 22, 1862 were the following: (1) a refrigerator; (2) a lot of kitchen utensils; (3) a barrel of sugar; (4) various donations of $5, $2, $1, and $1. The same announcement asked for "contributions of money, articles, tin-plated or china, or material, such as flour, crackers, butter, eggs, chickens, apples, wine or brandy, suitable for making the right nourishment needed for the sick."
Research seems to make clear that the "ladies of Pelham" were led by the Rev. M. M. Dillon, Rector of Christ Church in Pelham Manor. Rev. M. M. Dillon served as Rector of Christ Church from 1861 until 1864. That fact alone suggests that at least some of the women volunteers from Pelham, if not most, were associated with Christ Church in Pelham Manor, though no list of such volunteers has yet been located.
It seems that the concept of a "Volunteer Department" with local women overseeing supplemental kitchens for the benefit of the sick and wounded was planned from the very outset of the construction of the hospital complex. Though there were difficulties in establishing spheres of responsibility among volunteers, government workers, and the physicians treating the soldiers, such difficulties soon were worked out as the volunteers became an integral and important part of the treatment regime. According to one report: "Soon after the hospital was established, and before accommodations had been completed for the convenient working of volunteer associations, there was some clashing between the Government employes and the volunteers, but now each have their appropriate quarters assigned to them, as well as their appropriate sphere of operations, and the utmost harmony prevails."
By early September, 1862, the "Pelham Kitchen" was up and running on David's Island. A news report published in the September 11, 1862 issue of The New York Times noted that three such volunteer kitchens were operating on David's Island: "One of these kitchens is occupied by an association of ladies from Yonkers, another by the ladies of New-Rochelle and Glen Cove, and the third by the ladies of Pelham, Brooklyn and New-York."
The three volunteer kitchens arranged donations of all foodstuffs. From the very outset, the undertaking was monumental. In the very first weeks of the operation of the "Pelham Kitchen" and the two other volunteer kitchens, the food preparation projects were monumental. According to one report, on a single day in September, just ONE of the three volunteer kitchens prepared and served the following as "supplements" to the sick and wounded troops in the hospital:
"Toast, 400 plates; jelly, 18 plates; baked apples, 100; roast beef, 35 plates; roast chicken, 40 plates; beef tea, 30 bowls; chicken broth, 18 bowls; tea, 202 cups; bread pudding, 70 plates; rice pudding, 28 plates; custard, 10 plates; corn bread and mush, 14 plates; gruel, 14 bowls; scalded milk, 8 bowls; crackers, 12 plates; biscuit, 120; hash, 26 plates; squash, 10 plates; corn-starch, 20 plates; peaches, 20; oranges, 25; lemons, 12; pears, 10; stewed do., 30; clam broth, 8 bowls; bread and milk, 8 bowls; potatoes, 10; milk punch, 200 tumblers; pickles, 12."
In describing the importance of providing such supplemental fare, an anonymous letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle said it best:
"Roast beef or stewed beef and boiled potatoes, which are the usual fare on the island, may very profitably in many cases be exchanged for, or supplemented by, more delicate soups, or more toothsome meats and more various vegetables. Tea and coffee made by the barrel-full, and distributed by the pint measure, is by no means, the same thing with a cup of coffee or of tea made by a lady, and given at the bed-side by her own hand; and puddings, jellies, preserved fruits, fresh fruits, smoked meats, oysters, chickens, and a thousand other delicacies which the Government of course cannot undertake to furnish, but which are eagerly desired and sought for by the men -- especially by those who have been accustomed all their lives to comfortable homes and the constant care of mother or wife, and who are now just feebly rallying from the exhaustion of fever or the weakness of wounds -- all these must be furnished, if furnished at all, by private benevolence."
Though food preparation was an important task of the women volunteers, it was by no means the most important task. The women actually ministered to the sick and wounded as though they were nurses. They also collected and distributed clothing to the troops. They arranged donations of, and distributed, books, newspapers, pamphlets, writing materials, and more. They were engaged with the troops and sought to cheer them. Indeed, according to one report: "in their personal intercourse with the men, which is frequent, they seek in every way to cheer and profit them."
As the complex expanded and the number of men treated there grew, the need for donations likewise became major. One published request for donations beseeched the public as follows:
"It need hardly be said that these volunteer associations require large and constant supplies in the way of contributions, and that they appeal in the strongest language to the public for aid. The women are doing their part, and more; and it is for the benevolent male public to see that they do not lack for material. Arrangements are about being made by which all contributions for either of the associations can be left at the officers of WESTCOTT'S City Express, whence they will be dispatched to the island. The Government boat, the Washington Irving, leaves the Battery from the north side of Castle Garden every morning at 9 1/2 o'clock, and, when it is convenient, articles may be sent to the boat by the donor from 8 1/2 o'clock to the hour of starting."
Within a year, the nature of the women's volunteer efforts began to change -- though not the substance of their beneficence. The hospital complex began treating sick and wounded Confederate prisoners of war as well. According to one account published on August 23, 1863, the Confederate prisoners were "allowed the priviledge [sic] of the Island, and are walking, lying or sitting around at will, apparently perfectly contented. Some are dressed in white -- cotton shirt and drawers; others wear a dressing gown -- few a coat or pants."
The women of the Pelham Kitchen and the other volunteer kitchens ministered to the Confederates as well as the Union troops. There are interesting accounts of debates among the women and their Confederate charges over the nature of the epic struggle, whether foreign nations might intervene, and the rationales underlying the decision of the South to secede.
There are touching stories involving the volunteers. In one instance, as a volunteer sat to rest the following took place:
"a prisoner came in and stated a sick comrade wanted 'something good -- some fruit.' One of the ladies was just about eating a saucer of raspberries, and turning to the messenger she handed them to him, saying: 'Take these to him, and tell him they come from a good Union lady, who deprives herself of them to give them to a Confederate soldier.' In a short while the messenger returned with the saucer, bearing the following message from the recipient of the lady's kindness: 'He wished they were united.'"
Though it appears that the Volunteer Kitchens operated on David's Island for the duration of the war, little can be found that describes their operations after 1863. Moreover, the Rectorship of the Rev. M. M. Dillon at Christ Church ended with his resignation in 1864 after some sort of falling out with Rev. Cornelius Winter Bolton of Pelham Priory in 1864 who preferred charges of "immorality" against Rev. Dillon before an Ecclesiastical Commission appointed by the Episcopal Church.
In any event, the few references that remain today of the efforts of the women of the "Pelham Kitchen" on David's Island are touching and indicative of the noble volunteerism that continues to exist among Pelhamites even today -- more than 150 years later.
* * * * *
Below is the transcribed text of a number of articles that relate to the women volunteers of David's Island during the Civil War. Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.
"MATT. 10, 42. -- The ladies of Pelham would acknowledge, with thanks, the receipt of the following articles towards the starting and the support of their Ladies' Kitchen, at the Government Hospital, on David's Island, where are now gathered nearly 2,000 sick and wounded soldiers; Mr. Baseford, a refrigerator and lot of kitchen utensils; Mr. L. Sage, a barrel of sugar; Mrs. Nichol, $5; Mrs. Morgan, $2; Mrs. Fowler, $1; Mrs. Gibson, $1. Further contributions of money, articles, tin-plated or china, or material, such as flour, crackers, butter, eggs, chickens, apples, wine or brandy, suitable for making the right nourishment needed for the sick, are most urgently called for, and will be most gratefully received and acknowledged. Direct, 'Rev. M. M. Dillon, Pelham Priory, Westchester County, N. Y.'"
Source: MATT. 10, 42, New-York Daily Tribune, Aug. 22, 1862, p. 8, col. 6.
"The Soldier's Hospital on David's Isle
ITS LOCATION, DIMENSIONS, AND GENERAL MANAGEMENT -- PERFECT HARMONY BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENTAL AND VOLUNTEER DEPARTMENT -- ACCOMMODATIONS PRESENT AND PROSPECTIVE -- WHAT IT HAS, AND WHAT IT NEEDS -- EXPRESS ACCOMMODATIONS, ETC., ETC.
The Government Hospital for sick and wounded soldiers, established during the past season on David's Island, is getting to be an institution of such magnitude and importance as to deserve a more extended notice than it has yet received from the public Press. Already the largest in the United States, its accommodations are rapidly increasing, and its location sanitary advantages, and general management, are such as to justly entitle it to the distinction of being in every respect a model institution of its kind.
David's Island (named after its owner, Mr. DAVID,) is located in Long Island Sound, opposite the village of Flushing, and about twenty-five miles from New-York. It contains, at high tide, about eighty-five acres, and previous to being leased to the Government, was used as a pasture ground, and had upon it only one dwelling -- a spacious country mansion, now occupied by the military commandant, surgeons and doctors. It has a rocky foundation, affording abundance of pure water, its air is salubrious, and the surrounding scenery is unsurpassed in beauty.
In April last the Island was leased to the Government for five years, at an annual rent of $2,000, and on the 23d of May preparations were completed for the reception of soldiers, at which date 200 invalids were removed thither. From that time to the present the accommodations have been rapidly increased, until there are now some 2,500 soldiers on the Island, and preparations are nearly completed to receive 1,100 more. The Government has spent about $200,000 in the erection of buildings, draining, digging wells &c.; and a careful inspection of the numerous structures, and the large amount of work performed, would satisfy the most testy grumbler that the money had been economically expended. The buildings are arranged in rows, with ample streets between, ,and are all painted white, with green blinds, presenting a neat, comfortable, and tidy appearance. There are 20 hospitals, or pavilions, as they are called, and 10 mess-rooms -- the latter standing at intervals between the pavilions. The pavilions are 250 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 20 feet high, with ample ventilation at the top. The mess rooms are 85 feet long, and of the same width and height as the pavilions. At one end of each mess room is a kitchen capable of cooking for 160 persons, and in addition to these is a general kitchen, capable of cooking for 2,000 persons, and a bakery which can turn out 3,000 loaves of bread per day. Besides these, are three other kitchens for the volunteer associations, of which more anon. A large centre building is also being erected and nearly completed, for the accommodation of the officers in charge of the Island, surgeons, apothecaries, clerks &c. In addition to these buildings, which are all well built substantial structures, are 250 hospital tents with board floors, each accommodating 10 patients.
The military commandant of the Island is Capt. R. C. MORGAN, of the regular army, and the hospitals are under the charge of Dr. J. SIMONS, also of the regular army, who is Surgeon-in-Chief, and Dr. E. BEN JONES, of the volunteer service. Each hospital or pavilion also has its separate doctor, and the entire medical corps is composed of men skilled in their profession, and constant and faithful in their attendance.
Thus much for the Government provisions for the welfare of the sick and wounded soldier; but there is another feature in the hospital none the less comforting to the poor invalid, and for which he is even more grateful -- a feature which redounds to the credit of our common humanity, while it reflects the highest honor upon the noble army of sympathetic and kind-hearted women who originated and still carry it forward. This is the volunteer department of the hospital, and its labor is a labor of love. As before stated, there are three volunteer kitchens from which delicacies are furnished to the patients, such as no Government, however generous it may be, has ever yet put down in the soldiers' bill of fare. One of these kitchens is occupied by an association of ladies from Yonkers, another by the ladies of New-Rochelle and Glen Cove, and the third by the ladies of Pelham, Brooklyn and New-York. Soon after the hospital was established, and before accommodations had been completed for the convenient working of volunteer associations, there was some clashing between the Government employes and the volunteers, but now each have their appropriate quarters assigned to them, as well as their appropriate sphere of operations, and the utmost harmony prevails. Both of the surgeons in command, as well as the doctors, freely express their obligations to the ladies who conduct the volunteer department, and the happy smiles and cheerful looks which light up the countenances of the poor soldiers as these ministering angels pass through the hospital wards, show plainly enough how fully and how gratefully they appreciate their services.
The articles from the volunteer kitchens are dispensed only on the written orders of the surgeons and doctors, so that there can be no complaint of interference with the physician's regimen, or that the patient was killed by too much 'stuffing.'
To show what crafts the doctors find it convenient to make upon the ladies' larder, we give below a list of dishes dispensed from the Yonkers Kitchen on Sunday last:
Toast, 400 plates; jelly, 18 plates; baked apples, 100; roast beef, 35 plates; roast chicken, 40 plates; beef tea, 30 bowls; chicken broth, 18 bowls; tea, 202 cups; bread pudding, 70 plates; rice pudding, 28 plates; custard, 10 plates; corn bread and mush, 14 plates; gruel, 14 bowls; scalded milk, 8 bowls; crackers, 12 plates; biscuit, 120; hash, 26 plates; squash, 10 plates; corn-starch, 20 plates; peaches, 20; oranges, 25; lemons, 12; pears, 10; stewed do., 30; clam broth, 8 bowls; bread and milk, 8 bowls; potatoes, 10; milk punch, 200 tumblers; pickles, 12.
The above is only one of the volunteer kitchens for one day, and is exclusive of the large number of articles of clothing that are distributed daily.
The amount of good accomplished by these volunteer associations, acting systematically and under proper regulations, and harmoniously cooperating with the Government officers in charge, as they now do at this hospital, is incalculable. Much might be said, and deservedly, of the self-sacrificing labors of the noble women who spend their days and nights for weeks together, in superintending their several departments and administering to the wants of the poor soldiers; but, to such as they, deeds of charity bring their own reward and need no trumpeting. Suffice it to say that they are ladies who move in the best society of their respective localities, and who cheerfully leave homes of comfort and ease to carry gladness and joy to the feverish couch of their country's defenders. From the prayers of the dying soldier in their behalf, and from the blessings of the living, they receive their reward.
It need hardly be said that these volunteer associations require large and constant supplies in the way of contributions, and that they appeal in the strongest language to the public for aid. The women are doing their part, and more; and it is for the benevolent male public to see that they do not lack for material. Arrangements are about being made by which all contributions for either of the associations can be left at the officers of WESTCOTT'S City Express, whence they will be dispatched to the island. The Government boat, the Washington Irving, leaves the Battery from the north side of Castle Garden every morning at 9 1/2 o'clock, and, when it is convenient, articles may be sent to the boat by the donor fro 8 1/2 o'clock to the hour of starting.
Yesterday, the patriotic fruit dealers of Washington Market sent up fifteen or twenty baskets of peaches, which were distributed among the soldiers by Rev. Mr. J. S. HOLMES, of the Pierrepont Baptist Church, Brooklyn, who has spent his entire Summer vacation on the island, administering to the wants of the soldiers, and to whom the citizens of Brooklyn can apply for full information as to the character of [Page 2 / Page 3] the volunteer department of the hospital, and the kind of contributions needed. Donors can rely on their contributions being faithfully and economically dispensed.
There is one thing greatly needed at the island, and the want of which, if it is suffered to continue, may yet result in terrible disaster. There is no fire-engine of any description on the island, and the buildings being entirely of wood, there is imminent danger of a conflagration, which, if it should take place, must inevitably result in great loss of life. It is the duty of the Government to supply this want, and we were glad to hear yesterday that steps were to be taken immediately to procure a steam fire-engine.
Another think lacking on the island is music. The soldiers frequently express a desire to her some of the patriotic airs which they were accustomed to hear in the field. If some of our City bands would make an occasional excursion to the island, and give the poor fellows a serenade, they would find an audience of eager and grateful listeners, to whom they would render a patriotic services."
Source: The Soldier's Hospital on David's Isle ITS LOCATION, DIMENSIONS, AND GENERAL MANAGEMENT -- PERFECT HARMONY BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENTAL AND VOLUNTEER DEPARTMENT -- ACCOMMODATIONS PRESENT AND PROSPECTIVE -- WHAT IT HAS, AND WHAT IT NEEDS -- EXPRESS ACCOMMODATIONS, ETC., ETC., N.Y. Times, Sep. 11, 1862, p. 2, col. 6 & p. 3, col. 1 (NOTE: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
"A Visit to the Wounded on David's Island.
The Way the Patriotic May Aid the Defenders of the Republic.
To the Editor of the Brooklyn Eagle:
BROOKLYN, Sept. 23, 1862.
Will you allow me to say a few words through your columns, to the citizens of Brooklyn, concerning the military hospitals lately established by the Government on Davids' Island, and the modes in which the benevolent and patriotic among us may render to the sick and wounded soldiers there assembled important assistance? I am the more bold to ask your permission to do this, since many private inquiries have been addressed to me on the subject, indicating that a general though somewhat vague interest is extensively felt in it. Indeed, how can any of us help feeling an interest most keen and urgent in these institutions? TWENTY FIVE HUNDRED MEN are collected at one point within twenty-five miles of us -- and arrangements are already nearly completed for doubling the number, bringing to the same point FIVE THOUSAND MEN -- every one of whom is suffering from sickness contracted, or from wounds received and mutilation incurred, in the service of our country, in fighting our battles, and not merely his own -- and seeking to establish on solid foundations our liberties and our childrens' for all time to come. We must be unworthy the names of men if such a fact does not appeal to our deepest sensibilities.
David's Island, which has been leased by the Government for several years, and devoted by it needed to hospital purposes -- is in all respects excellently well adapted to this use. It lies five or six miles above Fort Schuyler, in Long Island Sound, just opposite the village of New Rochelle. Resting upon a rocky base, it contains, probably, eighty or ninety acres, and is at the same time high enough to secure pure air, fresh breezes, and a pleasant outlook over the waters, while near enough to the shore to be in some degree sheltered by it from the severity of storms. The buildings erected upon the island are of wood, and have been hastily built, but they are well arranged, ample in dimensions, well lighted, well ventilated, and sufficiently substantial; and with paint and green blinds on the outside, and a copious outlay of whitewash within, they are as neat and attractive to the eye as they are in all other respects, inviting and commodious. There are not yet enough of them to accommodate all who are on the island; and those who have more lately reached it are therefore, for the present, provided for in tents. But new buildings are rapidly going up, and it is expected, as I have intimated, that sufficient room will ere long be furnished in the houses for five thousand beds, in addition to all the other buildings which are needed for mess-rooms, kitchens, store-houses, officers' apartments, etc., etc.
The management of the hospitals by the officers in charge is intelligent, careful, and admirably systematic. Each hospital, or 'pavilion,' as it is called on the Island, is a building two hundred and fifty feet in length, by twenty-five in width, and twenty in height. It is divided into several wards, with a nurse and dresser for each; and to each pavilion is assigned its own physician and surgeon, while all collectively, are under the constant supervision of Dr. Simmons, the physician-in-chief, and his assistant. Capt. R. C. Morgan, of the regular army, a courteous and intelligent gentleman, and evidently an indefatigable worker, has charge of the supplies, and exercises a general oversight and authority over all on the island. The supplies of food and clothing furnished by the Government, as well as the buildings with their equipment and furniture, seem to be entirely ample and liberal; the men look bright, cheerful, and well-cared for, and express themselves without exception as satisfied and gratified with the attention paid to them, and with the generous arrangements made for their comfort. Several whom I conversed with, who had been for weeks in the Richmond hospitals and tobacco warehouses, could hardly express strongly enough their exceeding relief and delight at the change. One of them said to me, 'When I got to this place Sir, and into this delightful bed, after having slept for weeks on the wet and filthy floor at Richmond, and when I saw the breakfast they brought me, after having had the little allowance of hard and poor bread which the rebels gave us, I tell you Sir, it seemed as if I had got so near to heaven, that the next step would carry me into it!'
At the same time, however, that the Government does so much for these men, and aims to meet its obligations to them so fully, it is obvious that there are many things delightful to a sick man, and even important to his rapid recovery and complete convalescence, which can only be provided for him by private assistance. Roast beef or stewed beef and boiled potatoes, which are the usual fare on the island, may very profitably in many cases be exchanged for, or supplemented by, more delicate soups, or more toothsome meats and more various vegetables. Tea and coffee made by the barrel-full, and distributed by the pint measure, is by no means, the same thing with a cup of coffee or of tea made by a lady, and given at the bed-side by her own hand; and puddings, jellies, preserved fruits, fresh fruits, smoked meats, oysters, chickens, and a thousand other delicacies which the Government of course cannot undertake to furnish, but which are eagerly desired and sought for by the men -- especially by those who have been accustomed all their lives to comfortable homes and the constant care of mother or wife, and who are now just feebly rallying from the exhaustion of fever or the weakness of wounds -- all these must be furnished, if furnished at all, by private benevolence.
To meet this want, therefore, three voluntary 'Kitchens,' so called, have been established on the Island; one of which is carried on by ladies from New Rochelle, another by ladies from Yonkers, and the third by ladies from Pelham, assisted by friends from New York and this city. This Voluntary department moves on in entire and happy harmony with the general Governmental administration of the hospitals; and through it any who wish may contribute effectively to the comfort and benefit of their inmates. The 'Kitchens' are buildings erected for the ladies by the Government; and the office of those who have charge of them respectively is to furnish -- on the order of the attending surgeons, and not otherwise -- such delicacies as I have mentioned, to those who need and will be benefited by them. They distribute also books, papers, pamphlets, writing materials, and clothing when it is needed; and in their personal intercourse with the men, which is frequent, they seek in every way to cheer and profit them. Too much honor cannot be awarded to these refined and cultivated ladies who have left their homes -- some of them remaining all the time on the Island -- and have devoted themselves to the by no means holiday-task of ministering in the general modes I have suggested to the wounded and sick. One hardly knows which is the grander sight: the rows of beds occupied by men who have periled their life and almost lost it in the cause of their country, or the Kitchens, in which these delicate women toil and plan to minister to their comfort. Either spectacle ought to make the veriest misanthrope think better of his kind.
Having said thus much concerning the island and its capacious hospitals, and especially concerning this Voluntary department which is connected with the hospitals, let me earnestly solicit from the benevolent contributions of such articles as I have mentioned as being constantly distributed by the ladies, -- under the direction, be it understood, of the physicians and surgeons. Books, papers, pamphlets, stationery, apples, pears, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, preserved fruits, sage, farina, rice, coffee, tea, sugar, butter, hams, tongues, oysters, wines -- none of these can be sent without being directly, discreetly, and effectively used; and if directed to the 'PELHAM KITCHEN, David's Island,' and entrusted to Westcott's Express company, or sent to the Quartermasters office, No. 6, State street, New York, they will go at once to their destination, without danger of damage and without expense. Contributions of money, too, may be sent to Rev. Mr. Dillon, of Pelham, with the certainty that it will be wisely expended.
Let me add a word more, to say that if any who read this article can make a trip to the Island themselves, they will be well repaid for their time and trouble. To the thoughtful eye, this Brigade of the Wounded seems to me more impressive than any number of marching regiments. And the most despondent must take fresh courage from the uniform hopefulness, and the bright classic buoyancy of spirit, which even those most sorely smitten by the blast of fever or the bolts of the battle-field there evince. If, in addition, the skies be as bright and the company as delightful as I enjoyed in going thither on Monday, the day devoted to this service of love will be one to be long and joyfully remembered.
Source: A Visit to the Wounded on David's Island -- The Way the Patriotic May Aid the Defenders of the Republic, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sep. 25, 1862, Vol. 21, No. 228, p. 2, col. 3.
A VISIT TO DAVID'S ISLAND.
A DAY WITH THE REBELS.
What Was Seen -- What They Say -- What They Do.
Armed with a 'pass,' signed and duly approved by Brig.-Gen. CANBY, commander of the United States troops in New-York City and Harbor, and Major L. KIP, A.D.C., and A.A. Inspector-General, passage was taken in the Government transport Thomas P. Way, for David's Island, where a large number of Confederate prisoners have been confined since the Battle of Gettysburg.
A quick and pleasant sail was had to Riker's Island, thence to Fort Schuyler, where a stop was made, and thence to Fort Schuyler, where a stop was made, and thence, rounding the fort, on to
There were a large number of relatives and friends of prisoners on board, and at the first sight of the Island, when it appeared but as a spec [sic], no little flutter and excitement ensued, which increased with the approach. The wharf extends some distance out and was lined with those anxious to see some friends -- to hear from home. Landing, and passing the sentinels on the dock, the Island is before one; rows of whitened barracks, neatly kept gardens, the headquarters, the tents, are all in view.
The Confederate prisoners are allowed the priviledge [sic] of the Island, and are walking, lying or sitting around at will, apparently perfectly contented. Some are dressed in white -- cotton shirt and drawers; others wear a dressing gown -- few a coat or pants.
The 'Post-office' and 'Oyster-house' are on the dock, and above them commences the two roads of the Island -- the one to the northeast, the other to the northwest. By the latter Headquarters, a neat Gothic structure, is reached. The Island is under the command of Surg. J. SIMONS, ranking Major, U. S. A. He is also the head of the Medical Department, in which he is assisted by twenty-one Surgeons. He has proven himself fully capable for a position of great responsibility, and has unceasingly occupied himself in making this Island, in every detail, a model for all others devoted to similar purposes. That he has succeeded in so doing is made manifest by a visit to it.
Thus is the encampment named; it consists of twenty pavilions -- large, airy frame houses, with four wards in each, which are for the sick and dangerously wounded; eleven divisions of tents -- hospital tents, each capable of accommodating ten men; headquarters, wherein is a drug store, printing press, etc., etc; Chapel -- 'St. Luke, the Beloved Physician' -- over which Rev. ROBERT LOWRY, Chaplain, U. S. A., presides, having services on Sunday, (twice a day,) Tuesday and Friday; Irving Library, in which are 2,500 volumes; kitchens, barber shop, engine house, stores houses, etc., etc.
A few of the Departments will be referred to, and first,
THE CULINARY DEPARTMENT,
is under the supervision of able hands. It has two large kitchens, near which are two long sheds, where the convalescent prisoners eat. Besides these -- which are pretty much the same as those elsewhere -- there is a
which comprises three kitchens, as follows:
The Pelham Kitchen, under the supervision of a body of benevolent ladies from Brooklyn and Pelham;
The Glen Cove, or Long Island Kitchen, (next in the row to the above,) is under the charge of ladies from Glen Cove;
The Yonkers Kitchen, which is supplied by the ladies of Yonkers.
These kitchens supply the delicacies that are not afforded in the regular department, where the diet is good, plain, substantial food. They cost the Government nothing. The ladies of the respective places furnish all the supplies, cooking and preparing everything themselves, in turn, some serving a week, some three days, as they are able.
AMONG THE SICK AND WOUNDED.
The pavilions are arranged in two rows on either side of a road or street. A small garden is attached to each, filled with flowers and vines. These pavilions are the work of the United States troops who occupied the Island last year. In some places a slope or mount is converted into a breastwork or fort. These miniature works are ingeniously constructed, and with guns mounted. Several summer-houses have been erected, enveloped in morning glories and honey-suckles, by those whose good taste suggests their comfort and beauty. In many places there are parterres, on which are florally represented the Shield of the Union, the Star, and in one an attempt was made on the 'Star Spangled Banner,' but nature is opposed to all regularity, and refused to acknowledge the patriotic gardener's skill; the words 'Constitution,' 'Union,' 'Victor,' 'One Country,' often appear. In some places the air is aromatic with the fragrance of thousands of roses. Each pavilion has a surgeon in attendance, and each is the perfection of neatness and comfort. Some of the occupants are severely wounded. 75 have died since their arrival here some two or three weeks since. In some of the buildings are good cuts of STONEWALL JACKSON, LEE and DAVIS.
THE HOSPITAL TENTS
are located on the Southern side toward the water. The men in them are mostly convalescent. They are visited by the ladies and nurses, who provide for them most bountifully. It was in one of these tents that the following conversation was had with a wounded prisoner who had been in the war since its commencement:
Visitor. -- 'But ultimately you must be defeated. You acknowledge that you expect no foreign aid. Every able-bodied man is in the service now. You have lost Stonewall JACKSON; LEE and JEFF. DAVIS are reported to be at swords' points. Your President and Vice-President, your ablest men, are in fast failing health. How are you to succeed? The North can withstand the attacks of tie as well as Mars, which the South certainly cannot do.'
Confederate. -- 'No; this is our quarrel. Neither France nor England has any business to interfere with it. Such, if permitted, would be an indelible stigma upon the Southern race. What! are we Americans not able to fight our own battle? Must we seek refuge from Northern vandals in the bosoms of English lick-spitties? No! I for one (and there are many like me) am willing to die in the cause. The reports about the disaffection of certain localities are utterly untrue. We were never so united as now. It is true JACKSON is dead. He fell by Southern, not Northern, bullets. President DAVIS and Gen. LEE act harmoniously. President DAVIS suffers from his eyes, but I never heard of his being in ill health. [Here a prisoner in the next cot interposed, and stated that he had seen President DAVIS some weeks sine, 'and I never saw him looking better, and I have seen him often.'] Make it, if you will, a war of extermination, and it will not end during this generation. We are satisfied with ourselves. We know our resources. We are confident of success. If the blockade were only removed, we would ask neither tithe nor title from the world.'
A few days since, as the ladies in one of the kitchens were taking tea, a prisoner came in and stated a sick comrade wanted 'something good -- some fruit.' One of the ladies was just about eating a saucer of raspberries, and turning to the messenger she handed them to him, saying:
'Take these to him, and tell him they come from a good Union lady, who deprives herself of them to give them to a Confederate soldier.'
In a short while the messenger returned with the saucer, bearing the following message from the recipient of the lady's kindness:
'He wished they were united.'
The Confederate soldiers assist in the cooking, and render all other assistance they can. In one of the kitchens there is one employed as a messenger, and who, since his stay there, has become quite conservative in his views. In the kitchen there is a small flag -- the National ensign -- on a stand which he greatly admires.
The prisoners, as a general thing, appreciate, and whenever they can, reciprocate the many little kindnesses shown them by the volunteer cooks, who act as semi-nurses. But there are some who will look on the dark side of the picture. An officer of high rank, for instance, when reminded by his brother, who was on a visit to him, of how kindly they were treated, indignantly exclaimed:
'Pooh, pooh, that is only a part of their programme to make us the oath of allegiance.'
This man, it may be well to state, is of northern birth.
A very interesting conversation was had with several prisoners, who had been residents of Richmond. They all devoutly wished it had been burnt to the ground, as the inhabitants signified their intention to do, whenever it was threatened by the Union troops. 'It is a perfect cess-pool -- the pest-house of the Confederacy.' Its beautiful streets, public squares and edifices are undergoing a slow process of destruction. The squares and parks are used as camps; Mills' Springs, a beautiful resort, is the headquarters of the Provost Guard. The waters, once so famous, are unfit for use, and the majestic trees thereabout have been either hewn down or so mutilated as to present only the shadow of what they formerly were. The stores with the exception of a few, such as the groceries, etc., have been opened as magazines and ammunition warehouses, and whenever a panic takes place, the few remaining open are closed, and the proprietors rush to the field. The public buildings once the pride of the micropolis, such as the Masonic Hall, the Armory, the Mechanics' Institute, the Capitol, are monopolized by the public functionaries. All of the respectable ale portion of the community abandoned their professions and business as soon as the war broke out, many of them sending their families further South. The streets are in the possession of the vilest of the army. Men parade the streets with several bowie-knives in their belts, threatening annihilation to say one who does not agree with them or interfere with them. [These are, doubtlessly, the men whom the Richmond papers have spoken so much about. Mr. POLLARD, in his work, 'The First Year of War,' says that atrocities are committed nightly by them.] There is a place on the outskirts of the city, called 'Camp Wyman,' from which few escape alive. It is here that the terribly wounded -- those whose doom is sealed -- are sent -- to die. All desperate cases are sent here, (which any number of them do, as they go weeks without changing their clothes,) he is sent to Camp Wyman.
HOW THE PRISONERS THINK AND FEEL.
The prisoners appear to favor war to the bitter end. A party of 300 are preparing to leave. As soon as they recover they are sent to Fortress Monroe, where they are exchanged. They state that if exchanged they will return to their regiments; if paroled, which they do not appear to desire, they will go home and await anxiously the moment they can fight again. The taking of the oath of allegiance regarded with bitterness. Some are severely denunciatory of spies, and one, when told that a Confederate spy had been captured recently, thanked God for it. They likewise have a contempt for the peace-men. It is very evident that by the cry of peace the Southern heart cannot be revived. They regard VALLANDIGMAN with much curiosity. The more intelligent portion of them look upon him as a 'quack,' to use their significant denomination. They did not seem to favor much his election; anticipated that he would be as troublesome to the South as he would be to the North. Messrs. SEWARD and LINCOLN are objects of bitter animosity. They pronounce President LINCOLN as weak; SEWARD is considered our smartest man. They give Gen. MEADE credit for being a good theoretical officer, but think it will be long ere he will be able to capably handle his men. Their Generals' chiefest end is to save their men, and this they claim is the truest and highest mark of good generalship. LEE and JACKSON inculcated this upon their officers from the first.
The prisoners are from almost every Southern State. Some few are of foreign birth. Their height is the subject of much comment with the Union soldiers. All are tall, but not, generally athletic or rugged; it is painfully apparent that early graves await many of them. Some of the prisoners are but fifteen years of age. They are all good types of the Southern race, but their hard and rough usage these last three years has told upon them.
HOW THE TIME IS PASSED.
David's Island covers an area of about 80 acres, mostly meadow-land. The spot is altogether one of the pleasantest that could have been selected. An almost constant breeze purifies and invigorates. The prisoners go fishing, and it is no uncommon thing to see the rocks along the shore lined with them in the cool of the afternoon. Their 'luck' is cooked for them by the ladies at the kitchen. They also have the privilege of bathing, and freely avail themselves of it. They generally spend the morning in bed, and the afternoon in roaming over the island. Some amuse themselves with making little articles of household use, and as a general thing they are very ingenious with their knives. Very many attend church regularly.
The New-York papers are daily received and read with eagerness and curiosity. They say the papers have uttered more falsehoods during this rebellion than had ever before been uttered by the whole nation. 'Indeed,' observed one of them, 'newspapers seem prone to story-telling, and with perhaps but a few exceptions the Southern papers are just as bad as your Northern papers are.'
TO BE EXCHANGED.
A number have been selected for exchange. When sent away they will be furnished with a new suit of clothing, with a change of undergarments -- in strange contrast to the condition in which they send Union troops home.
An order has been promulgated prohibiting the prisoners from receiving money from their friends and relatives, and requiring that the Medical Inspector shall examine everything brought by visitors. It has been found that in many cases the visitors have abused their privileges, and now it is quite difficult for one having relatives there to get a pass, even though his loyalty is above dispute."
Source: LOCAL INTELLIGENCE -- A VISIT TO DAVID'S ISLAND -- A DAY WITH THE REBELS -- What Was Seen -- What They Say -- What They Do, N.Y. Times, Aug. 23, 1863, p. 2, cols. 3-4 (NOTE: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
ECCLESIASTICAL INVESTIGATION. -- An Ecclesiastical Commission appointed by the Right Rev. Bishop of the Diocese of New York, has been holden at Trinity Church, for the purpose of examining into certain charges of immorality preferred against Rev. Mr. Dillon, lately of David's Island, by Rev. C. W. Bolton, of the 'Priory.' The investigation was, at the request of the Bishop of Maryland, ordered by the Bishop of New York, and was to ascertain whether the accusations against Dillon, (now under his control) were brought with malicious design. The Commission was composed of the following unexceptional members. Rev. R. U. Morgan, D. D., Chairman; Rev. John M. Ward, Rev. Samuel Hollingsworth, Hon. Edward Haight and Townsend Cox, Esq. After a session of several days, the Commission decided that the accuser was impelled by no other motive than to vindicate the purity of his profession, and preserve the Church from the suspicion of a world too prone to visit on it the misdemeanors of its members. The charges being pronounced legitimate, it remains to ascertain if they are true. -- New Rochelle Pioneer, June 18."
Source: New Rochelle -- ECCLESIASTICAL INVESTIGATION, The Statesman [Yonkers, NY], Jun. 23, 1864, p. 8, cols. 1-2.
* * * * *
The role of Pelham and its citizens during the Civil War remains largely unexplored. This author has collected some research on the topic, but much remains to be explored. For a few examples of such research, see:
Wed., Oct. 21, 2015: Ministering to Troops on Hart and Davids Islands During and Shortly After the Civil War.
Mon., Jul. 07, 2014: More About Pelham Residents Who Served Their Nation During the U.S. Civil War.
Thu., Jun. 12, 2014: Eyewitness Account of Prisoner of War Concentration Camp That Once Stood in Pelham.
Fri., May 21, 2010: The Announcement of President Abraham Lincoln's Assassination in Pelham, NY on April 15, 1865.
Tue., Mar. 30, 2010: Obituary of William McAllister Who Built Civil War Gunboats in Pelham.
Mon., Mar. 29, 2010: Nathaniel H. Bouldin, a Poor Confederate Prisoner of War Who Died in Pelham in 1865.
Tue., Nov. 03, 2009: Pelham Students Help Civil War Soldiers on Davids' Island in 1864.
Fri., Nov. 18, 2005: A List of Pelham Residents Who Served the Union During the Civil War.
Mon., Jul. 11, 2005: Pelham Cemetery on City Island.
Fri., Jun. 3, 2005: Davids' Island Off the Coast of Pelham Manor During the Civil War.
Tue., Apr. 12, 2005: Pelham and the Civil War Ironclad USS Monitor.
Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.