- Historic Sites
Asa Smith Leaves The War
AN AMERICAN HERITAGE ORIGINAL DOCUMENT Edited and with an introduction
February 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 2
I got into the hall and sat upon the front stairs for a long time, until some officer (if I recollect rightly) took me into the room and told me to sit upon the floor in one corner, so that I should sooner be taken care of.
I passed a terrible day, hungry, thirsty, and faint, watching the surgeons work without anesthetics, and at times seeing a display of brutality by one of them.
I earnestly hoped that I should not fall into his hands, and fortunately I did not. I was not reached until about 4 P.M. , when my wound was thoroughly cleaned, and a new piece of sponge moistened with turpentine inserted, a new bandage applied, and a cloth fastened so as to fall over the mouth and keep the flies from it. After this I went to the unfinished attic, where I found several wounded men lying on the floor.
I found a large dictionary, and taking it for a pillow lay down in front of one of the large chimneys, and hoped to get some sleep. After a little time Rev. Arthur B. Fuller, chaplain of the regiment (known by the boys as Glass-eye, owing to some peculiarity of the eyes) appeared, with a kettle of (what he called) beef tea, and inquired if there were any i6th Mass, men there. One of my company was the other side of the chimney and answered. The chaplain gave him some of the tea, whereupon others asked for it, and were told that he had but little and must give it to the wounded of his own regiment. As I could not talk and my companion did not think about me, the chaplain started to go downstairs, so I gave my comrade a pull and made signs that I wished for some, so he called the “Holy Joe” back and I was given a tin cupful; but owing to the conditions of the wound I could swallow but little.
Shortly after, I heard someone say that a boatload of wounded were to go down to the river that night, and knowing that unless I got to a hospital very soon there would be no chance for me, I roused up and went outdoors, where I found some surgeons with four hundred badly wounded men just ready to start for the boat landing.
I immediately attempted to fall in, but was prevented by a surgeon who said the number was already made up; but after looking at me for a moment said, “Follow us down, perhaps we can find room for you.” Upon reaching the landing I found a large crowd on the same errand as myself, and was much disappointed; but waited until the four hundred had been taken in boats to a steamer lying in the river. When the last of them were in the boat, the surgeon (who stood at the top of the stairs) looked in my direction and made motions with his hands at the same time saying, “Let that man with the cloth over his face come here.” I immediately went forward, and upon my arriving he lifted the cloth that hung over my mouth and chin and said, “Get right into the boat.”
Two days later, on July 4, Smith found himself, at last, in a hospital bed at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, which had been turned into a hospital. On board the ship conditions had been unsanitary, and somebody had stolen his shoes; but “quite a number of Sisters of Chanty” and several volunteer surgeons had done all they could for the wounds. Dr. R. B. Miles, who was in charge of his hospital ward, gave him little encouragement, but Smith was sure he would recover. Persistent hemorrhagmg in his mouth weakened him, several times to the point of fainting; but the surgeon said the blood vessel could not he tied off and persisted in treating it by applications of ice. When he was beginning to show marked improvement, the surgeon in charge ( Dr. Getty) received a letter from Dr. Henry I. Bowditch of Boston, asking him to furnish Smith with anything needed and send the bill to him.
A few mornings later Dr. Miles, after his examination, asked me if I wished to go to my regiment, and when I replied, Yes, if he thought I was able, he said, “I guess you can’t bite cartridges, nor eat hardtack,” and told me to report to the surgeon in charge for examination. At the proper time I reported and was notified that I would be recommended for discharge. … The following day, July 25, 1862, the document was given me, and I was ordered to be in readiness to start the next forenoon. … On the next morning Dr. Miles came in and chatted for a few moments with me, and then said, “Smith, if you had had the blues you would have been a dead man.”
Discharged in Baltimore, Smith made his way to New York, where he went with several other soldiers to a hotel and ordered breakfast, eating heartily even though he still was unable to take any solid food. Inquiring at the steamboat office in New York (Norwich Line) whether a special rate was available to soldiers, Smith got a free pass, saving him three dollars.
At night I took passage, arriving at Graniteville (now Wellesley Hills) shortly after 5 A.M. July 28, 1862. Having nearly three-fourths of a mile to travel to reach my father’s house, I started on foot, stopping to rest frequently, and after getting in sight of home sat down beside a stone wall for a short time, when a carriage came along, and the owner—Mr. James Gray, whom I had known for years—seeing a soldier, stopped to see what was the trouble. He did not recognize me until I told him who I was, when he put me into the carriage and carried me home.