In March of 1864, David had rejoined his regiment near Ringgold, Georgia, and the routine of the previous year began. He was to remain in this vicinity for many months, and it was here that he was known to the people as “The Little Doctor on the Black Horse.”
Smallpox had recently been added to the ever present dysentery and ague (similar to malaria). The soldier victims of smallpox were isolated away from the camps in “The Shanty” and David was assigned to care for them, going out each day from camp to care for them. He also, at the same time, continued his service to the local country folk, vaccinating all who asked for it.
“March 24/’64 – Ringgold, Ga., Dear Hattie, I am now detailed to the smallpox hospital. If not relieved, I shall be here a month or more. I wish you could send me some onion and radish seed. I mean to have a little garden out there. As soon as the roads are settled, I think there will be an advance, but am afraid I shall not be with it, as I shall be left with my patients. I suppose that will please you, but not me! My horse has gone lame for some unknown reason. I have promised to stay tonight with Mr. Brown, a prosperous farmer, whose daughter-in-law is expecting a baby right away. They want me to stay, and I shall, for it will be very handy while my horse is lame, saves a walk of 4 miles every day back to camp.”
May 8/64 – “My regiment has moved on and left me. I have now only 3 cases of smallpox in the “shanty.” The whole army is moving south, 500 wagons today, 1100 tomorrow. Even the woods are white with dust. It is said we have the biggest army ever seen in these parts, 100,000 men. I wish I were with them. I want to be in the front rank when we go into Atlanta.”
“May 29/64 – The army has got so far off now that we here don’t know what is going on. I feel ashamed to stay here with so few patients when I must be needed elsewhere. But orders are orders. I have many local patients around here, especially children. Dysentery is very bad. I am afraid Mr. Brown’s little grandson is going to die of it. Such a nice little boy. The flies are so bad.”
“June 2/64 – Day before yesterday, Mr. Brown’s little grandson died. I sat up with him all night before he died, giving his medicine. He would open his mouth for it just like little birds do when their mother feeds them. He was a year old. Yesterday, I went to the funeral about 5 miles, to a little place called Graysville. As I watched at his side that night, I thought of my own little ones at home and wondered if they were still alive and well. The graveyard was a desolate place out in the woods. Many of the graves were entirely obliterated. All the pens around the individual graves had been destroyed by fire. I thought of the lines, which you will remember, ‘it matters not. I’ve oft been told, where the body lies when the heart is cold.’ The flies fill my face and eyes so I can hardly see to write. My horse is entirely well now and I ride him around most of the time. Keep him on Mr. Brown’s clover.” (On several occasions, after he had gone on to the army, David writes of receiving letters from various of the Brown’s).”
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© 1961 by Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton. All rights reserved.