For most of 1863 and 1864, the Army of the Cumberland drifted slowly back and forth, through Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia, and Northeast Alabama. One expects the letters of this desperate war to be filled with battles, but they are not. The sound of gunfire, the night marches up and down the mountainsides, and mud and monotony, the homesickness are all there, but on the whole they are cheerful letters, full of camp incidents, of comments on the news from home, and descriptions of the wildly beautiful scenery and of the rural Southerners, who fascinated this young Ohio doctor. Letters are usually a reflection of the writer’s personality, and in these it is easy to see the inquisitive, cheerful man who made friends with everyone he met.
The first letter, dated “Triune, Tenn., April 1, 1863” we find there was a little military action, only skirmishing. On his black horse, David explored the countryside in his spare time, visited the surgeons of near-by regiments, and followed the back roads and “hollers”, stopping at farmhouses and mountain cabins, treating typhoid, measles and accidents, delivering a baby now and then, and lecturing the backwoods folk on their unsanitary habits. Evidently the people responded, for we read, “vaccinated two children. Played with the babies and got a bowl of bread and milk in return.”
There seemed to be a surprising number of Union sympathizers in the Cumberland region. Many of the women were alone with their children, their husbands in one army or the other. Sometimes Union and Rebel women would be living in the same house. Nearly all were facing danger and privation, sometimes on the edge of starvation. Local people came into the camps with vegetables to trade for flour, coffee, etc. In the more level lands there was considerable food to be bought. The doctors furnished their own food.
“Today I rode around the country to see what I could buy. Got 10 chickens, 8 dozen eggs, and a big ham. You would have laughed to see me riding along with the chickens strapped to one side of my saddle, the ham to the other, and the pail of eggs in front. I have a pretty good horse, not afraid of the firing of a gun nor the squalling of chickens, and he can run pretty fast.
“Battle Creek, Tenn. 8/30/’63
Dear Hattie: Today we stopped at a very well-to-do looking farm house. The family consisted of an old man named Bible, his wife, who had just had a baby, and three grown daughters, one of them wife of a lieutenant in Stones Cavalry, which is scouting after Rebels, the Lieut. commanding them. They make their headquarters here. There was another young woman there, wife of a poor man enlisted in our army, his wife having no place to go but with these people. I should say she would be having a baby in a few days, so, having an eye to business, I gave them my address and told them to call on me if they needed my medical service. There are no doctors about here, most of them being Rebs who put out before we came. There is much sickness. I asked for some mush and milk, and they made us some, but when it came, it was buttermilk, which spoiled my fun.”
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© 1961 by Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton. All rights reserved.