AN AMERICAN HERITAGE ORIGINAL DOCUMENT
Edited and with an introduction
In the summer of 1861 a twenty-five-year-old resident of Natick, Massachusetts, by the name of Asa Smith set out to join the Union Army. It was not very easy to do this, because all the companies around Natick seemed to be full; eventually, on July 2, Smith managed to get into a company being raised at Watertown, and this company became part of the l6th Massachusetts Infantry. By the end of August the regiment had been moved to Washington; a little later it was sent to camp at Newport News, Virginia, where a federal troop build-up was in progress.
In the spring of 1862 the l6th Massachusetts was one of the units in the Army of the Potomac. Under General George B. McClellan it advanced to the environs of Richmond, fought through the Seven Days’ campaign, and joined in the retreat to Harnson’s Landing, on the James River. In the battle of Glendale, near the close of the Seven Days, young Smith (by now he had become a corporal) was severely wounded in the face. Eventually he made his way north, and after a long time he recovered his health; but his soldiering days were over, and by the end of July he had been given a discharge for physical disability. After the war, perhaps because of his experiences with army medicine (or lack of it), Smith became a doctor and was practicing in the Boston area as late as 1901.
Like so many other Civil War soldiers, Corporal Smith kept a rough journal, and after the war he put it into shape as a memoir. Outside of his immediate family, no one saw it; long after his death it came into the possession of Norman A. Hall, of Dover, Massachusetts, who transformed the original longhand copy into a typed manuscript. Through the courtesy of Mr. Hall, a portion of the manuscript is here given its first publication.
The part we have chosen has to do with Corporal Smith’s wound and with what happened to him afterward. Few documents reveal more vividly the hardships of the Civil War soldier’s life. Beset at best by inadequate knowledge, the army medical authorities were on occasion simply swamped by the number of wounded men they had to treat. If they came upon a man who seemed to be mortally injured, they often refused to treat him at all, saying that they had to limit themselves to men who could be patched up enough to be of more service later on. They were perfectly frank about it, and Corporal Smith was told bluntly that nothing could be done for him. His account of what happened then is one of the most amazing in Civil War records.
His narrative here is picked up with his recital of events in eastern Virginia on June 29, 1862, shortly after the Seven Days’ conflict had begun. —B.C.
We were awakened at an early hour, and strange sights met our eyes. We had been told that everything on the right was favorable to our arms, and had no reason to disbelieve it. On this morning the first thing I noticed was that the tents of the officers were cut into ribbons, then that the Quartermaster’s stores had been fired. Great piles of bread and meat were on the fire, men were busy banging the stocks of rifles against the trees and throwing the barrels into fires to ruin them. Barrels of sugar and whiskey were being emptied into pools of brackish water, in fact everything was being destroyed that could not be carried. There was an immense amount of property destroyed. We were ordered to tear our over-coats into four pieces and leave them. Then to sling knapsacks and fill our cartridge boxes, haversacks were replenished, and a hearty breakfast eaten.
As soon as possible we were marched into the entrenchments, where we found double the number of troops that usually manned them. I soon discovered that all the artillery had been withdrawn, not a piece being in sight.
It was strange to see the different ideas the men had as to what had happened; so great had been their faith in “Little Mac” [General McClellan, an idol of the enlisted men] that it was almost impossible for some of them to believe it could mean anything but a rapid pursuit of a retreating enemy. We actually thought we had been victorious on the right and were going to move forward. As for myself, as soon as I perceived the destruction going on around me, I felt that things were going wrong, and that it could only mean a withdrawal of our lines.
One thing was noticeable, that no one seemed at all disheartened or worried, everyone said, “We’ll make them skedaddle yet.” Everyone seemed to think that it was only a temporary affair, and that we might whip them during the movements that were to take place, and that we were fully able to do it.
It was a bit foggy for a while so that one could not see a great distance; but as it came daylight [the fog] cleared away, and far to the right and left the same conditions appeared.
We were commanded to make no noise, and in a short time the troops began to withdraw, toward the Chickahominy. After falling back some distance, the brigade left the road and filed into a field on the left. As we marched I saw that there were many guns in position on the edge of the wood on our right, and large numbers of men behind them.
Soon we were brought to a front in a place where timber had been cut but not carried away, there being several trees lying on the ground. We were ordered to lie down in position, the brigade being formed left in front, bringing the i6th in the front line.
The ground in our front rose gradually for a short distance, and a railroad cut ran nearly at right angles with our line. On the edge of the cut were three batteries of artillery (eighteen pieces) so placed as to nearly enfilade it, and we were to support them.
About the time we got into position, we heard the rebel yell as they came upon our abandoned works, and knew that they would soon be upon us. Soon artillery and musketry fire began up the line of the railroad, nearer to Richmond, and very quickly came toward us; and shell began to come in our direction. We remained here under this fire for about an hour and a half, and did not see a rebel soldier, as the infantry in the neighborhood were trying to advance down the cut, thus being entirely out of our sight.
The infantry fire became quite heavy, and remained so for at least an hour. Quite a number of unexploded shell and shrapnel came over, but only one did any damage. I saw this one coming straight for us, but it was a little high and struck in the lines of the Pennsylvania 26th, killing a man. As he was lying on the ground it tore off one arm, one leg, and the foot from the remaining leg. The victim gave one shriek and died in a few moments.
After a time the firing ceased, and we were marched to the rear at a lively pace.
The roads were crowded with troops of all arms, making it hard work to move; but we were pushed unmercifully. After some time we reached Savage Station on the railroad, and found troops marching; through the village toward the James River. Every road was full, and all were hustling lively.
Great quantities of supplies were being destroyed here, one large warehouse being filled with clothing. All were burned.
On we went toward White Oak Swamp, through the narrow roads, through a growth of tall pine which shut out the breeze, while the sun’s rays beat upon us fiercely. The air was full of dust, so that it was impossible to tell the color of anyone’s hair or of his uniform. The pace was hurried, and we found ourselves getting short of water and becoming exhausted.
I staggered in the ranks, but did not fall out as did many. At last when it seemed as if I could go but little farther, I was refreshed by a swallow of vinegar kindly given me by a comrade, and struggled along until we reached the swamp, where in company with hundreds of others I got down upon my hands and knees and drank from the rut in the road, where men, horses, mules, guns, etc., had been passing all day.
No time was given us to fill canteens, and we pushed on through the swamp and over White Oak Creek, not coming to a halt till sunset, when we bivouacked in a field on the right of the road, the opposite side being occupied by the nth U.S. Infantry. Orders were issued to lie behind the stacks, and without tents, just unrolling a blanket, and holding ourselves in readiness to march at two minutes’ notice. As soon as relieved, I started after water for my tentmates as well as myself; taking canteens and dippers while they made ready to get supper, gathering wood, etc.
After going some distance I found a well near a house, but was unable to get water as the Headquarters Cavalry Escort had control of it, and no one else could get near it. Hearing of a brook at some distance ahead in a piece of woods I pushed on, and found it; but also found several hundred soldiers washing their feet in it. I followed their example; and after filling my canteens and dippers returned to the regiment just in season to find out that we should have to content ourselves with hardtack and cold water, as General Grover [Brigadier General Cuvier Grover, commander of the first brigade in Major General Joseph Hooker’s division of the Third Army corps] came along and ordered all fires out, saying that they would cause us to be shelled out within a half hour. (As I look back upon this day I do not see how we could have gone through it with so few stragglers. It was a terrible march.)
We lay all night behind the stacks, ready to move at a moment’s notice, and at daylight June 30 were aroused and ordered to get breakfast. So I skirmished around and traded some sugar for coffee, and we soon had hot coffee and hardtack for a meal. Shortly after eating, we were ordered to fall in, and were sent through the fields to where the Charles City road was crossed by one leading down from Richmond, and found the road filled with wagons headed for the James River, which were hurrying along as fast as possible. They were in single file, and no wagon was allowed to pass another. If anything broke about wagon or harness, the mules were detached from the wagon and it was pulled out of the line and burned, together with its contents. This procession was passing nearly all day.
The brigade was posted across the Richmond Road, and the division extended to the left with the ist Division (General Philip Kcarny’s) beyond that, while the 2nd Corps (General Edwin V. Sumner) joined us on the right. It did not appear that the officers feared an attack here, nevertheless about noon the line was advanced a short distance toward Richmond and posted on higher ground, the loth being in the advanced line of the division. It was understood that the Pennsylvania Reserves (Generals George G. Meade and George A. McCall) were in our front, and this was probably the reason for not expecting attack. General Hooker and stafl rode up an eminence in our rear, and after looking about, the General said, “This would be a good place for a battery; but I guess we won’t need it today.”
Here we stacked arms, and proceeded to make ourselves as comfortable as possible. There had been considerable fighting about two miles to the right of our position, where Stonewall Jackson was trying to cross White Oak Swamp, and shortly alter this the firing grew very heavy in that direction.
In the course of an hour or two, skirmishing commenced in front of McCaIl, followed very quickly by heavy firing of both artillery and infantry. In a little while it appeared to be nearer, and we were called to arms. VVe were formed behind a worm fence on a side hill, and in a few minutes a battery came galloping up and took the position previously noted by General Hooker.
Before long the Pennsylvanians began to approach us at a run, and attempted to break to the rear. We gathered in all that we could and reformed them (or part of them) in our rear. Very soon the enemy’s artillery opened and quickly got the range, the shells bursting in the air just in front so as to send the pieces directly among us. This continued for some time while the advance forces were being driven. Without any warning there came a sudden, sharp crack followed closely by others, and the screeching of shell from the battery in the rear. The guns were so near that it seemed as though our ear drums would burst; but in a few moments we became somewhat accustomed to the sounds, and minded them very little.
The enemy’s shell flew thick and fast, and there were some close calls. One piece came down and grazed the side of my left shoe, partly burying itself in the ground. As I stooped and got hold of it, the Captain saw it, and said, “A miss is as good as a mile, Corporal,” and I felt the same way about it.
About this time the enemy got into long rifle range, and began firing. From their position in the bush they could see us, while themselves hidden. The Colonel, wishing to hold his fire and keep the men steady, began to practice them in the manual of arms. (Some years after the war, I heard General Hooker tell the Massachusetts House of Representatives of this, saying that “he had never seen it better done on parade.”) The enemy began to climb the rising ground toward our position, and the Colonel ordered that no man fire until he gave the command, when the front rank was to fire, then the rear rank, after which we were “to load and fire at will.”
The men were at the highest pitch of excitement, but so well disciplined were they that this order was obeyed to the letter. Then the men began to cheer (the gray trousers could now be seen below the cloud of smoke, as they steadily approached), when the Colonel said, “Remember the State you come from,” whereupon the adjutant called for “three cheers for the old Bay State,” which were given with a will.
General Hooker approached the front and said, “Give them hell, boys,” and the fight was on.
The ground on the side hill in front was clear of trees for some little distance; but on the right of the road in front of the 2nd Corps the woods came well up to the line. On our left front was an orchard of apple trees (apparently), and sharpshooters were concealed amid the branches and had kept up a steady fire from the first.
The Johnnies climbed the hill with a rush, causing the line to waver for a moment, then it closed up and gave them a murderous fire.
Just as the shock came, I turned my head to the right to speak a word of defiance in the ear of Corporal William E. Eldridge, and before it was turned square to the front something hit me. It felt as though an immense timber had struck me end first, with great force. It was not painful; but seemed to partly daze me. I did not fall, but dropped my rifle and put my hand to my chin, and found that it felt as though torn to pieces. Lieutenant Meserve saw me and told me to go to the rear as soon as possible. From the direction that die ball came, I am of the opinion that it was fired by one of the sharpshooters in the trees.
I started for the yd Corps field hospital, which was established in the Willis Church, a small building on the Quaker Road (so called) leading to Malvcrn Hill. It was but a short distance in the rear, and the nearest way was through the wood and was marked by small hospital flags at intervals. On my way I found two or three small, coarse towels which evidently had been thrown away by some soldier, and used them to try to staunch the hemorrhage, which was quite severe.
On arriving at the field hospital station, I found several surgeons busily at work, with men wounded in apparently about every conceivable manner. The operating tables were made from the seats of the church, placed upon empty beef or pork barrels.
I got a seat beside a young rebel who was shot in one foot and waited for a time, but as nobody came to my assistance I went outside and found D. Harris Clark of Co. B, who was on detail and was an old acquaintance. He found a young New York surgeon and prevailed upon him to attend to my case. Upon his coming (as I could not talk) I made him understand that I wished to know if I would recover, upon which he shook his head and said, “Doubtful.” And, after a short interval, “I have seen men recover who were hurt as badly as you are.”
This was not very encouraging; but somehow hope was strong and I made up my mind to try for it.
The surgeon took a bandage and, passing it under my chin, pinned the ends together on the top of my head, and said, “This is all I can do for you now.” Then he ordered Clark to take my equipment oil and get a board and lay me upon it alongside the church, which he did, using my cartridge box and haversack for a pillow.
I lay on the side nearest the field of battle, and so near that very often the bullets would strike the building, but I was not struck.
The fight lasted some two or three hours, during which time I remained in this position, and later got up and sat on a plank placed between two trees near the road.
During the evening the surgeon and assistant surgeon of the regiment (Drs. Jewett and Whiston) found me and looked me over as best they could under the circumstances, and Dr. Jewett told me that he would operate in the morning, saying, “Keep up your courage; we’ll make quite a man out of you.” I suppose he did not mean to intimate that I previously had not been one. At any rate, it gave me more hope. Then he told Clark to take me into the little schoolhouse where I could sleep on the floor with other wounded.
Then the surgeons started off, and in a moment Dr. Whiston came back and put his fingers into my mouth; then he called Dr. Jewett, saying, “Doctor, his jaw is dislocated on the left side.” Dr. Jewett came back, examined it again, and reduced the dislocation. After the dr’s. departure, Clark took me to the schoolhouse where I found a great many wounded, among others Lieutenant Colonel Meacham of the regiment.
I lay upon the floor, suffering severely for want of water, and feeling very faint. Someone called Lieutenant Colonel Meacham s attention to me, when he handed me a small flask containing brandy and told me to take a little, but be sparing as it was all he had. After a time I got easier and must have fallen into a doze, from which I was awakened about 2 o’clock A.M. by hearing a call, “Get up and skedaddle; the Johnnies will be here in half an hour.”
I got out and met Dr. Jcwett, who ordered Comrade Clark and another man to carry me on a stretcher. This they attempted to do; but soon found it was impossible, as the narrow road was filled with columns of infantry and artillery, marching side by side and being pushed to the utmost by their officers.
I got up on my feet, and seeing a Massachusetts regiment (15th) passing I got among the color guard and attempted to keep up with them. As I was very weak I must have bothered them some, and one of them told me to get out, upon which the color sergeant rebuked him, telling him that “he might be wounded some time,” and told me to “stay with them as long as I wished.”
In the early forenoon we came to open ground, and in front was rising ground, a long slope, with buildings at the top: the now well-known Malvern Hill. On the right as you faced it was a deep ravine through which ran a small stream (Turkey Creek). This hill was about three miles from the James River.
When we came in sight, our forces were marching in every direction about it and forming lines of battle as fast as possible. Under ordinary circumstances it would have been a spectacle well worth seeing. But I was in a terrible condition, and left the 15th regiment and started up the hill by the road toward the river. When I had gotten about one third of the distance, the lieutenant in charge of a battery just swung into position across the road saw me; he came and advised me to get away as soon as possible, as there would be a fight there. So I trudged along, hungry and thirsty, with no canteen or dipper, unable to eat if I had food and barely able to swallow any drink, if I had been possessed of any.
The day was very warm and my progress was necessarily slow, as I had to stop for rest at short intervals. Quite a number of ambulances passed me; but I was not allowed to occupy one of them.
After some time the fleet in the river opened fire through the creek so as to protect our left flank, and threw a great many 11-inch shells over my head. These shells were known to the soldiers as “dutch ovens,” and sometimes were called “blacksmith’s shops.”
Some time in the afternoon I met Sergeant Matthias Brigham of my company, who was a townsman of mine. He was in charge of a squad of eight men who had been to the river with a wagon train. In the squad were two men of the company (Privates Geo. W. Risley and Perrin H. Benton) and I walked up to them, but none of them knew me. Taking off my forage cap, I showed them the number of the regiment and letter of the company, upon which one of them said, “My God! It’s Smith.”
After a moment’s consultation, these two asked the sergeant if they could go with me to the river, and he said that they were very tired and he was afraid they would not be able to get up with the regiment before night; but they pleaded and he consented, and we started on with one of them on each side holding me up.
After a while we reached a boat landing near a large house, which I was told was Aiken’s. The grounds were fenced, so that it was impossible to get to the river, as a guard was set.
My companions inquired for a surgeon, and presently a young man appeared, but did nothing for me, as he was one of a lot of young surgeons sent down to assist in the emergency, and had no instruments as yet, nor any supplies. He thought that it would not be long before some one could attend to me.
As they could do no more and the sound told us that a battle was raging, they left for the front after expressing great sympathy for me. After proceeding a short distance, Benton retraced his steps and offered me his blanket and tin cup. I tried to persuade him to keep them, as I knew that I was unable to carry them, but he threw them down at my feet and departed, with tears streaming down his cheeks.
I remained here for a short time, when I heard that there were a large number of sick and wounded in a ravine some distance above, so I started and was fortunate enough to be directed to the place.
I found there some 1,500 (so I was told), mostly from the 3rd Corps, and began to look about for help. Finally I found Captain James Mason of Co. B, whom I had known before the war. He interested himself, and soon brought Brigadier Surgeon Richard Salter to see me.
Dr. Salter said that he could do nothing for me, telling the captain that I could not live 48 hours. The captain urged him, when he said that he was upon the sick list himself, and was not able for duty; that he had no anesthetics and no instruments with the exception of a small pocket case, and but few bandages, which he felt that he ought to keep as he might save someone’s life with them, while they would do me no good.
The captain then asked him as a personal favor to do what he could, saying the he had known me before my enlistment; upon which the doctor said he did not think I could survive the operation; but as the captain was persistent the doctor asked me if I thought I could stand it, and knowing that it was my only chance, [I] nodded my head as I was unable to talk.
He then told me to sit down on the ground with my back against a tree, and ordered Sergeant Hugh Boyd of Co. I and another man who (years after) I learned was John Scales of Co. G, Mass, ist Infantry, to hold my hands and head. My moustache had become matted with blood and was with difficulty cut away, and then before examining the wound he began to dissect out the small pieces of bone, stopping occasionally to ask me if I could “stand it.” Although it was terrible to bear, I nodded my head and he went on. After finishing the cutting, he began sewing up the wound in the chin and the holes through my cheeks, after which he moistened a piece of sponge with turpentine and inserted it in the lower part of the wound, which was left open for drainage.
When he had finished, he counted the pieces of bone and said there were eighteen; then after looking at me for a short time he said, “Young man, you have got more nerve than any man I ever saw.” He then wanted to know if there was anything in the way of nourishment to be had, and one of the soldiers replied that he had a little honey that I might have, whereupon they stirred some into a little warm water and tried to have me partake of it; but I could not, as it immediately set me to coughing so that I could not swallow anything.
Finally they found a little beef tea (so-called) and I got a very little of it down, the most of it having gone through the opening left for drainage. The surgeon then called for a knapsack, and on one being procured he caused it to be rilled with straw, and placed me face down with my forehead resting upon it. Then saying he would dress the wound in the morning, he departed.
Later it began to rain and conditions became very bad, the ground getting muddy, and it being very dark one was liable to be trod upon by others.
Being very much exhausted, I finally got asleep, but was suddenly awakened by a stampede of a large number of mules, who ran over and among us. Fortunately I was not hurt, and had dozed off again when the experience of the previous night was repeated as a squadron of lancers (“Turkey drivers”) rode up and ordered us to “skedaddle,” as the Johnnies were coming.
Once more I roused myself and started downstream (as we had been directed). It was a very dark night, and the road was narrow, with a column of infantry filling one side of it and artillery the other. The bushes that grew at the side of the road were pushed aside by the passing soldiers, and as they came back into position kept hitting my face, so that I was compelled to take to the fields for the greater part of this distance, which I was told was seven miles. The greater portion of the way it was uncultivated land, some wood; but there were quite a number of large wheat fields through which I made my way; being a great deal of the time halfway to my knees in mud.
Toward daylight the weather cleared, and shortly after sunrise I came upon the bivouac of a regiment of Connecticut infantry who were preparing their breakfast. Some of them took pity upon me and invited me to partake with them; but they had nothing that I could eat, so they gave me what hot coffee I could swallow (which wasn’t much) and wished me good luck; and I went on to the river at what I found was Harrison’s Landing.
I found a large, square, brick house with outbuildings, overlooking the river, and a long, pile wharf extending to deep water. The river was full of men-of-war, and vessels of every description with supplies for man and beast.
Troops were bivouacked in the mud all about, and were coming in rapidly. After looking about a little, I made my way to the house, as being the place most likely to be used by surgeons. I found two at work in what had been the best room, and wounded men in large numbers anxiously awaiting their turn.
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.
It was six o’clock; my mother had just arisen, while the rest of the family were in bed. It was a very happy reunion, all being present with the exceptions of my brother William W. (who was in the 22nd Mass. Volunteers, Co. B) and the youngest brother, George Homer, a student at Harvard.
For a few days it was incumbent upon me to keep quiet, and rest as much as possible, but the neighbors were curious and callers were plenty. As I could eat nothing but liquids, in their kindness they collected money and purchased a milch cow, and had it driven to the place as a present. … A few nights after my return I was surprised by a visit from the Natick Brass Band (composed of old acquaintances) who played several patriotic tunes.
Troubled for some time by hemorrhages and “small pieces of bone working through the tissues into the mouth,” Smith at Length began to recover rapidly.
While remaining at home, I was visited by Dr. Henry I. Bowditch (who was a personal friend of Governor John A. Andrew) and [he] asked me if I would like a second lieutenancy in the 55th Mass. Volunteers (colored), and [I] was told by him that I could have it if I desired.
I explained to him that it would be impossible for me to take the field with them, as I could not eat army rations. He was aware of it but thought I would like the honor of wearing shoulder straps, and said that the regiment was to be stationed on an island near Charleston, South Carolina, for drill and discipline while doing guard duty, and might never have to go into more active service.
I told him that I had been in service long enough to know how soldiers felt about having their officers leave them in such a manner, that what service I had performed had been honorable, and that to do as he suggested would be just the same as to resign in the face of the enemy, and I could not do it. After some talk he said that he thought I was right. I thanked him sincerely for the honor he intended to confer upon me; but never have regretted my refusal.
Smith shortly returned to work in his home town. The following winter he was made commanding officer (foreman) of Victor Engine No. 1 of the Natick Fire Department. In 1865 he was appointed deputy state constable, and in the winter of 1870-71 was appointed a messenger in the House of Representatives, and then night inspector at the Boston Customs House. During his service there he entered the Boston University School of Medicine, from which he received an M. D. degree in June, 1877; the following May he opened an office for the practice of medicine in South Boston, retaining his Customs House position until he should get established. In June, 1901, he removed to the Dorchester district, and there he happily raised his three sons and two daughters.