Recollections of a Varied Career
                                                      General William F. Draper
                                                                  Chapter XI
                                                              The Wilderness

    When wounded in the Wilderness, I fell unconscious. A blow as though I were struck with a club on
    the left breast, a feeling of surprise that I was hit at all, (I had begun to believe in my star), and the
    certainty, from the location of the blow, that I was killed, was all that I felt. If consciousness had not
    returned it would have been death, and my mental sensations would have been no different. Neither
    my sins nor my friends – what I was to leave here or hoped for hereafter – even flashed through my
    mind. I simply realized that I was shot and thoroughly believed my name would be among those of
    the killed in the next morning’s report. The bullet struck me where the neck joins the left shoulder,
    and, passing through the body, was arrested by one of the spinal vertebrae, which it shivered more
    or less, as it did another bone or two in its passage.

    When I recovered consciousness two men were carrying me back in a blanket, we being between
    the rebel line, which we had taken and lost, and our re-formed line, perhaps twenty rods back.
    Bullets were flying in both directions, and I had a new fear which had not troubled me before, --
    namely, that one of them would hit me. When our line was reached I was deposited on the ground,
    and I told my bearers to go back to the ranks, where they were needed, -- that I should die soon. A
    moment later, however, I got a finger of my right hand into the wound; found it above the heart; and
    told them that perhaps I was worth saving, after all, and that they might carry me back until we met
    men with a stretcher, -- which they did, handling me most tenderly. When a stretcher was found I was
    carried back a mile or more farther to the field hospital, where I was set down among hundreds of
    others to await my turn. It came in a short time, as I was of comparatively high rank; and I was spread
    upon an improvised operating table and my coat, vest and shirt cut off, leaving me naked to the waist
    and leaving also my belt and pistol. My sword had dropped from my hand when the bullet struck me. I
    am not sure whether my hat was left or not, but I think not. The surgeons gave me a tumbler full of
    whiskey and rolled me over to cut; then examined the wound, consulted a little, and decided to wait.
    The swelling was so great that they feared to cut in the wrong place, and I was again placed on a
    stretcher to await a more careful examination.

    There I lay an hour or two, when the noise of battle came nearer and nearer. Our right was being
    driven in, and stray bullets began to drop among us. Pretty soon the attendants began to leave; then
    the wounded men who could walk commenced to hobble away; and finally one of the surgeons
    came to me and said: “Colonel, you had better get out of this if you can; you will certainly die if you are
    taken prisoner.” I said: “How am I to get out?” He replied: “I don’t know, but we are going and I came
    to give you warning.” Sergeant-major Morse, of the 29th assigned to us, was near to me and not
    seriously hurt, and I asked him to see what he could do. Meantime the supply train and the
    ambulances and all the camp followers had taken alarm and were making their way past us, away
    from the enemy’s attack, as rapidly as possible. Among this crowd Morse fortunately discovered
    Quartermaster Tuttle of the 36th, trying to save his wagons and supplies. He called him and told him
    of my plight, and the two of them, with the help of George Phelps (an old schoolmate, then it the
    quartermaster’s department), started to carry me away on a stretcher, - two carrying me and the other
    leading the quartermaster’s horse.

    This lasted till they gave out. Phelps has told me since that he would not carry his own father as far
    again under similar circumstances. Meantime darkness had come on, and in the confusion they did
    not know where to find another hospital. Finally they adopted another expedient, - laying me on my
    face across the saddle of Lieutenant Tuttle’s horse, with head and arms hanging on one side, and
    feet and legs on the other, - and this we made our way until they found a 6th Corps hospital and
    found also a stretcher for me, on which I lay till morning. The hospital had a few tents, already full,
    and hundreds like myself lay around in the open air. I have forgotten to mention that a boy about
    fourteen years old, named “Mike,” – he was Lieutenant Brigham’s servant, - attached himself to our
    party, either at the first hospital or on the road.

    I slept some, - in fact, I had not begun to suffer much pain. Perhaps the blow on the spine deadened
    my sensations. The next morning the sun came out hot and I felt more discomfort from the heat upon
    my unprotected head and naked body than from my wound. About eight a surgeon got around to me
    and after examination said he did not dare to cut for the bullet, and passed on to others. The heat
    increased, and seemed unbearable (we often magnify the minor incidents of life in comparison with
    the more important), but relief was coming. Mike, who was on the lookout, saw Dr. Prince of the
    Colored Division, whom I have mentioned as surgeon of the 36th, riding by. Although he had left the
    regiment because of personal differences with me and was one of the last men from whom I would
    have asked a favor, I knew that he was a skillful surgeon, and I was glad to see him when Mike
    brought him to my stretcher. “This is pretty serious,” he said, as he examined the wound. “That bullet
    must come out soon, or there will be no chance for you.” I told him that the surgeons so far had not
    dared to cut. “It is the only chance, he repeated. “All right, cut,” I said.

    He used his authority to get me into a tent, and there raised me up so that I could place my arms
    across the shoulders of one of the party. He then cut into my back, near the spine, until he struck the
    path of the bullet. That done, he followed the path till he found the bullet, - extracted it with pincers, -
    and further, took out a piece of clothing that had been carried in with it. I was then glad to lie back on
    the stretcher, but had to turn for him to wash the wound and tied a bandage over it. He have me no
    ether or other anesthetic, and in fact, I don’t know that there was any to be had. If it had been within
    reach, however, I would not have asked him for it if he had cut me into inch pieces. When the wound
    was bandaged, he said: “colonel, I hop there will be no more hard feeling between us,” and I replied
    that if I lived I should remember only that he had saved my life and feel toward him accordingly.
    Naturally we were good friends afterwards, and I was glad on one occasion to be of service to him –
    but little as compared to what he did for me at this time. In leaving he said he would see me the next
    day, and he did, but not in the same place.

    By night my wound began to pain me seriously, and it was with no feeling of satisfaction that I
    learned from Morse that we were to be moved during the evening. Ambulances came up and were
    loaded with wounded officers from the 6th Corps, but I, being an outsider, was provided with the
    same transportation as the enlisted men, namely, an army wagon. I was lucky to get this, if the truth
    was told me, - that quite a large number of the most severely wounded, in which category I should
    have been included, were left for want of transportation to be called for later, or to die. Toward
    midnight I was placed in a wagon with nine other wounded men, who covered the floor completely,
    and we started. The wagon had been loaded with oats and had not been swept; and as I lay, half
    naked, on the wagon bottom, I had a horrible fear that the loose oats would get into my wound. We
    were so thick that we could hardly move, which was perhaps lucky; and a wounded arm lay across
    me from one side, and a wounded leg from the other.

    The night was horrible, - the most horrible I have ever known. Our wagon started, and got into the
    great line, or lines, or wagons carrying 12,000 or more wounded men on the road to Fredericksburg.
    The road proper was corduroyed with small logs, but they were frequently missing or out of place, sot
    that we sunk into holes every little while where one or two logs were missing, and were terribly
    jostled almost continuously. Wherever possible the line broadened into three or more wagons deep,
    the teams taking the side of the road and running in the dark through the swampy land and against
    stumps and trees. Other trains, too, were on the road, - provision trains, ammunition trains, empty
    wagons going back, each one intent on its own errand, and each wagon cutting in so as to get on
    wherever another wagon was stuck or opportunity offered. There was never much discipline
    amongst our teamsters. Like the mules that they drove, they were an obstinate, independent class,
    but much less under subjection than the mules. To crown all, a rumor spread that this was a retreat,
    and that we were being pressed by the rebels, - an absurd rumor, but absurdities have influence
    under such circumstances. This caused the teamsters to run their mules when they could, with
    corresponding collisions, wreckage, and extra shaking about of the occupants of the wagon.

    This may convey a general idea of the conditions, but it cannot reveal the facts. It was fortunate for us
    that we were closely packed, but even as it was, this jarring and throwing about of wounded men
    through the livelong night was terrible. There were screams, groans and curses, as wounds were
    wrenched open and splintered and broken bones crowded into the flesh, but neither screams,
    groans nor curses could do any good. Some men died or went crazy and all suffered torture. Some of
    the time I was “out of my head,” or so reported by Morse and Mike, who trudged along by my wagon.
    One event of the night I remember clearly, though most of it seems a confused horror. When the
    panic came our teamster whipped us his mules, in the effort to get forward as fast as possible, and
    we were thrown about worse than ever. After a terrible jolt, I realized that I might control matters
    somewhat. Calling to the teamster I told him that though I was pretty near dead I had a loaded pistol
    with me and strength enough to pull a trigger, and that if he forced his mules beyond a walk, so
    helping me God, I would send a bullet through him and give his team to Morse. Morse and Mike
    assured him that I would do this and that they would help me if necessary; and from that time he
    drove, so far as he could, at a walk, more afraid of me than of the unseen rebels. Luckily, the panic
    was calmed by learning from the rear that we were not being pursued. The next morning, at a
    clearing, Mike perceived Dr. Prince and an ambulance which he had obtained for me. He had
    learned of the move too late to find me at the field hospital, and his only chance of finding me lay in
    waiting for the train, as he did. I was transferred to the ambulance, which seemed a change from hell
    to heaven, covered – being still naked to the waist – with a blanket, and driven carefully to a
    temporary resting place, where the doctor washed and re-bandaged my wound. At this place, where I
    remained in the ambulance all night, were hospital stores and, strange to say, a woman, - an army
    nurse who had them in charge. I had eaten nothing but hard crackers since I was wounded, - and
    very few of them, - and when she gave me little cakes and a glass of wine, she seemed like an angel
    from heaven. I have no idea of who she was or how she looked, but her attentions went to my heart.

    The next morning I bade adieu to the doctor and nurse, and was driven in my ambulance to
    Fredericksburg, where I was left at the 9th Corps hospital. In the room with me were Colonel Carruth
    and Colonel Bartlett, wounded. Here I got a kind of loose wrapper to cover me, but as my diary written
    a little later says, “no attention except from our own servants and an opiate at night.” This does not
    mean that the surgeons did not dress our wounds, which had begun to need it sadly, but that there
    was a scarcity or absence of hospital attendants. Soon after being laid on my cot I fancied that I
    wanted something sour and sent Mike out to find it. He returned with some peculiar looking pickles
    which I swallowed rapidly. A little later, Mike came in and announced that the woman who sold him
    the pickles had been arrested for poisoning soldiers. The pickles made me violently sick, but I have
    no idea that they were poisoned. Neither the idea, not the violent retching, however, was pleasant at
    the time and under the circumstances.

    I remained here a day and a half, and the afternoon of the 11th I was placed in an ambulance, which
    was part of a train of seventy, loaded with wounded. Our destination was Belle Plain on the Potomac
    River, where we could be placed on a steamer for Washington. The distance was only twelve miles,
    if I recollect right, but the road was very bad, being muddy and having holes where mules sometimes
    went down out of sight. No better idea of it can be given than the fact that we were eight hours making
    six miles, - about half way. At this point, a little after midnight, we heard scattering shots, then the
    sound of many horses’ feet, then more shots, - and we were in the midst of a band of horsemen,
    Mosby’s Guerillas. Their leader happened to stop close to the ambulance where I lay, and I called
    out to him that his men were firing on wounded men. He replied that some of the drivers, or others,
    had fired on him; to which I said that at any rate that was all over. He gave the command to cease
    firing, and then examined the train systematically. He gathered together all the arms, drivers and
    unwounded men, and unhitched the horses. This done, they went through again and took out all the
    wounded men they thought able to walk and all the pocket books and watches they could find, - and
    left us, taking horses, prisoners, and booty.

    Our position was rather absurd, - wounded men, unable to walk, in ambulances stuck in the mud,
    without horses or drivers. However, it was not as bad as it seemed. A short time after the departure
    of the rebels both Morse and Mike reported at my ambulance. The former had forced his way into an
    ambulance at the time of the attack and groaned so horribly that he was supposed to be unable to
    travel; while Mike had simply taken to the bushes and hid himself until the affair was over. I told Mike
    to make his way as rapidly as he could along the road to Belle Plain and send relief, while Morse
    made himself as comfortable as he could on the driver’s seat of my ambulance. Before morning a
    company of cavalry arrived, as a result of Mike’s errand, and later in the day an empty provision train
    came along for a new load and our ambulances were attached to the wagons and thus hauled to our
    destination. Here Mike returned to Lieutenant Brigham, who was en route for the regiment, and
    Morse went home, his three years’ service having expired.

    I was taken on a steamboat and remember nothing more till I found myself in Armory Square
    Hospital, near the Smithsonian Institute, in Washington, having my wound dressed. It seems that I
    raved all the way up the river, and on being landed was left at the nearest hospital, rather than taken
    to the officers’ hospital, because it was thought that I could not live. How I did live through this wee,
    and particularly through that night in the army wagon, I do not know. I suppose it was because I was
    young, strong, and toughened by nearly three years of active campaigning.

    My wound was carefully dressed at the hospital and I slept till morning, when opening my eyes I saw
    my father bending over my cot. He had come on to Washington on seeing the report of my wound,
    and got by accident into the hospital where I was. He immediately telegraphed for my wife, who
    arrived promptly and watched over me till early in June, when I was thought able to be moved, though
    my wound was still open and discharging. Under her loving care, I then went to my home in

    A little episode en route is worth noting.  On the train Hon. James G. Blaine, then a representative in
    Congress, came to my berth and spoke to me, -- simply because I was a wounded soldier.  We
    talked a few moments, and it made a deep impression on me, as I considered a Congressman a
    great man, -- even though Mr. Blaine had not then made his great reputation.  Twenty-six years later,
    at a dinner given my second wife and myself on our wedding trip, by Hon. Henry Cabot Lodge, Mr.
    Blaine was one of the guests.  Over the cigars he asked: "General Draper, do you remember the last
    time we met?"  I replied: "Yes, but I had not supposed that you did."  He then recalled the incident I
    have narrated, and I mention it to show his wonderful memory of persons and details.

    I remained at home, under treatment for two months, when, my wound being nearly, but not
    thoroughly healed, I determined to rejoin my regiment, with which I had kept in close touch, both by
    letter and the calls of wounded officers and men who came to see me. August 7th I left for the front,
    and I joined the boys in the trenches August 9th, finding 12 officers, myself included, and 162
    enlisted men, for duty. William F. Draper, Recollections of a Varied Career, pp. 161 – 168.

                   Draper Menu              Wartime Wedding             Letters, 1861 - 1862              HOME