A first hand account of Camp Misery from a nurse working there
Numerous attempts had been made to improve the condition of the camp, but owing to the small number and inefficiency of the officers detailed to the command, it had constantly grown worse. The convalescents, numbering nine or ten thousand, were lodged, in the depth of a very severe winter, in wedge and Sibley tents, without floors, with no fires, or means of making any, amid deep mud or frozen clods, and were very poorly supplied with clothing, and many of them without blankets.
Under such circumstances, it was not to be expected that their health could improve. The stragglers and deserters and the new recruits were even worse off than the convalescents. The assistant surgeon and his acting assistants, up to the last of October, 1862, were too inexperienced to be competent for their duties.
….In December, 1862, while the men were yet in Camp Misery, Miss Bradley was sent there as the Special Relief Agent of the Sanitary Commission, and took up her quarters there. As we have said the condition of the men was deplorable. She arrived on the 17th of December, and after setting up her tents, and arranging her little hospital, cook-room, store-room, wash-room, bath-room, and office, so as to be able to serve the men most effectually, she passed round with the officers, as the men were drawn up in line for inspection, and supplied seventy-five men with woolen shirts, giving only to the very needy. In her hospital tents she soon had forty patients, all of them men who had been discharged from the hospitals as well; these were washed, supplied with clean clothing, warmed, fed and nursed. Others had discharge papers awaiting them, but were too feeble to stand in the cold and wet till their turn came. She obtained them for them, and sent the poor invalids to the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, en route for their own homes. From May 1st to December 31st, 1863, she conveyed more than two thousand discharged soldiers from the Rendezvous of Distribution to the Commission’s Lodges at Washington; most of them men suffering from incurable disease, and who but for her kind ministrations must most of them have perished in the attempt to reach their homes. In four months after she commenced her work she had had in her little hospital one hundred and thirty patients, of whom fifteen died….
On the 8th of February, 1864, the convalescents were, by general orders from the War Department, removed to the general hospitals in and about Washington, and the name changed from Camp Distribution to Rendezvous of Distribution, and only stragglers and deserters, and the recruits awaiting orders, or other men fit for duty were to be allowed there. For nearly two months Miss Bradley was confined to her quarters by severe illness. On her recovery she pushed forward an enterprise on which she had set her heart, of establishing a weekly paper at the Rendezvous, to be called “The Soldiers’ Journal,” which should be a medium of contributions from all the more intelligent soldiers in the camp, and the profits from which (if any accrued), should be devoted to the relief of the children of deceased soldiers. On the 17th of February the first number of “The Soldiers’ Journal” appeared, a quarto sheet of eight pages; it was conducted with considerable ability and was continued till the breaking up of the Rendezvous and hospital, August 22, 1865, just a year and a half. The profits of the paper were twenty-one hundred and fifty-five dollars and seventy-five cents….
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