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

    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 Massachusetts.

    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

    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.

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