CHAPTER XV: PRISON LIFE IN I867, CONTINUED - RAVAGES OF YELLOW FEVER - MY FATHER ASSSUMES CHARGE OF THE HOSPITAL AT FORT JEFFERSON.
[Note: "Frank" is Mrs. Mudd's family nickname, from her middle name Frances.]
[Note: "Frank" is Mrs. Mudd's family nickname, from her middle name Frances.]
New Orleans, September 1, 1867.
I received a letter from Jere last week containing note from Merrick stating Governor Black of Pennsylvania and himself would attend to Sam’s case, but he would need one thousand dollars for Governor Black. I wrote to Jere and told him I had five hundred dollars which was at his disposal, and to call on his father for the balance. Let me know if they are doing anything for Sam, or if his “praying friends” can raise five hundred dollars.
We are having a deal of yellow fever, I will write to you soon, and answer questions asked in your letter.
Your brother, T. O. DYER.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, September 3, 1867.
My darling Frank:
I wrote you last on the 28th of August. Since then three more cases of yellow fever have proved fatal, and a number of new cases have been admitted to the hospital. To prevent the spread of the disease, one of the companies has been removed to one of the adjacent islands, and a hospital erected on another, where the patients are carried as soon as taken. One of the officers is now sick with the disease and not expected to recover; quite a panic exists among soldiers and officers. The prisoners, as a rule, seem to feel no alarm. The outbreak of fever ought to furnish a reasonable cause for our removal to a more healthy locality. As it has made its appearance here and in so malignant a form, it will most likely become epidemic or confined here for an indefinite period, for we have no frost here, and the climate does not vary much with the season; besides every soldier and prisoner is provided with a blanket or two, and as his clothes are all woolen, will serve as retentatives of the poison or miasma. It is likely a report will be made by the commanding officer to the War Department concerning the true condition of affairs, and the extent of the epidemic. You can advise with friends, and act as seems most fit. Humanity, apart from every other reason, ought to prompt our removal.
Let me know whether a petition signed by the officers of the Post would be of any avail. I have thought over the matter, and think that under present circumstances, the public mind might justify some ameliorating action upon the part of the President. Write immediately in answer and give all news.
Your fond husband, SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, September 8, 1867.
My dear Jere:
I wrote to you on the 6th and acquainted you with the true condition of affairs at that time. I spoke of the illness of Dr. Smith and wife. He died last night. Mrs. Smith will likely recover; they leave two nice little children. Nearly every man now on the island is infected with the disease. The hospitals are all full, and the greatest consternation prevails. Dr. Whitehurst arrived last night from Key West. He will relieve me. The two days I have had the management of the hospital no deaths have occurred, and all have improved that were taken in time. The mail is leaving.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, September 13, 1867.
My darling Frank:
It is now nearly eleven o’clock at night, and though tired and worn from constant attention upon the sick and dying, having buried two to-day, I cannot refrain from letting you share the gloom which surrounds this seeming God-forsaken isle. Although three-fourths of the garrison have been removed, the epidemic seems to increase with unabated fury. The first three or four days of my attendance in the hospital we were not visited with a single death. Since then the number has largely increased, the most experienced nurses have been seized with the disease. It is impossible to obtain suitable nurses to bestow the attention required, and seven unfortunate beings have been ushered into eternity, without a kind word or ministering angel of religion, Our hospital being insufficient to hold the numbers, a second, then a third, and yesterday a fourth, were provided, and they are all filled. We have scarcely well ones enough to attend the sick and bury the dead. They are not suffered to grow cold before they are hurried off to the grave.
Dr. Whitehurst, who was expelled from the island in the beginning of the war, on account of the sympathies of his wife, is now an incessant laborer from Key West. He is quite an old man, but has endeared himself to all by his Christian, constant, and unremitting attention at all hours, even when duty seemed not to require. I remain up every night until eleven or twelve, and sometimes later. He is up the balance of the night, and there never was greater accord of medical opinion. He did not arrive here for several days after the duties of physician of the Post had devolved upon me by the illness and lamented death of Dr. Smith, and I assure you I felt much gratified when my conduct had met with his approval, being almost without any experience in the treatment of the disease, and having nothing to govern me other than the symptoms which the dread malady presented. By this accident I am once more restored to liberty of the island at all hours, day or night. Every officer of the Post is down with the disease, and but one remains to perform all the duties. He is a newcomer from Baltimore, and recently married. His name is Lieutenant Gordon. Little or no guard duty is performed, and but little difficulty presented to those who might be disposed to escape. I have resigned myself to the fates, and shall no more act upon my own impulse. Not one of the prisoners has as yet died, and those that take the disease pass through it without any apparent suffering.
Mrs. Stone, the wife of the Commandant, is quite sick with the fever. She is a patient of Dr. Whitehurst. He manifests some anxiety in her regard, and I fear the disease will overcome her and she be numbered among its victims. I am well acquainted with her. No deaths have occurred since yesterday morning. There are three very low, and their cases present a doubtful issue at this time. I am very well, and have no fears of the disease. My manner gives confidence to all around, and has a tendency to revive the flagging spirit. I am bravest in danger. I fear the boat may leave, so shall post right away.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, September 16, 1867.
My precious Frank:
The mail has not yet left since the date of the 13th. We have lost only two, both of whom died this morning, one being an officer, Lieutenant Orr. The infection is subsiding, only for the want of victims. I am not very well, though; feel badly, which I attribute to the loss of rest and constant attention to the sick, etc. I received yours of August 23d, day before yesterday, and Fannie’s of the 28th. Judging from these letters, matters look less favorable now than before the trial of Surratt. In the name of the Almighty, what can the American idea of law and justice be? I am sick of the words - law, justice. I feel almost like insulting any one who would advise recourse to it. If I am to wait here until the affair is settled by the Court, it may be unnecessary for the want of a subject.
The disease now prevailing here will not likely stop with the change of season, it will no doubt be confined here for an indefinite period, and when I am worn down with exhaustion and fatigue, I will be an easy prey to the infection. Thus far it seems to be the curse of the Almighty. No more honor is shown the deceased, be he officer or soldier, than to the putrid remains of a horse. They are buried to get rid of the stench and infection. We have no commander of the Post now, everything is in the hands of the physician.
Dr. Smith’s child, a boy about three years old, has the fever. He is a very intelligent child, and has amused me on several occasions. I fear he will not get over it. Mrs. Smith has recovered from the fever. A little daughter about seven years old remains exempt, having been sent to a different portion of the Fort. The little boy was very fond of me, and used to turn somersaults for me. I will write again tomorrow.
September 17, 1867.
My darling Frank:
The boat left this morning early for Key West for medicine, etc., consequently I could not get this off of the hasty scrawl previously written. Although many deaths have occurred, and no abatement up to the present hour, I feel no alarm, and you must not suffer any uneasiness.
I visited my little pet to-day, and found him, to my great sorrow, almost in the agonies of death. He had the black vomit, and not expected to live many hours. We have also a man in the hospital with the same fatal precursor, and he will not live to see morning. We have saved only one thus far after the appearance of the black vomit. The little boy is a patient of Dr. Whitehurst. I visited him to-day, at his request, in consultation. We have now over a hundred cases of fever in hospital, and the percentage of deaths is unprecedentedly small, taking the average mortality in other places where the disease has prevailed as an epidemic.
Arnold had it, and is now well. I kept him in our room. O’Loughlin has it now, and getting along very well. Should I get it, I will not have any one to attend my case other than Dr. W., who is very old, and is a little slow in his actions and treatment. The disease being quick, has to be treated vigorously from the start. Should I have time, I will endeavor to give to the world my theory and experiences of the disease, as confined to this island. The disease ends its course quick, and has to be taken in time and treated vigorously to get the patient through the first stage in order that a successful termination may be promised. You see I have, for the want of a subject, expended these three small sheets with matter which will likely never be of any concern to you, except so far as relieving your mind of further anxiety and concern on my account. Were our separation to be much longer prolonged, or no hopes of a speedy release, I could willingly resign now to the fate which we must all one day inevitably suffer. The future is unknown, and should I be carried away with this scourge, I have nothing to will you and our dear little children but my undying love and affection. The mail is expected in on the 19th so I will postpone until to-morrow further remarks. It is now twelve o’clock at night, and I have to visit all the patients before retiring, so good night.
September 18, 1867.
My darling Frank:
I have been so engaged to-day that I did not think of getting a pen. It is now 10 o’clock. I am in the dispensary and everything quiet as death, except now and then a new case is brought in for treatment. Two cases have come in since 9 o’clock. They are generally taken sudden and most frequently at night. We have had three deaths to-day. The little son of Mrs. Smith died at 3 o’clock this morning; poor woman, she has lost her husband and son - not being here more than six weeks. A little girl only survives; she will leave by the first boat for the North. Mrs. Smith was telling me yesterday that all her family reside in Montgomery County, Md. A Rev. Mr. Prout is an uncle of hers in Nanjemoy, Charles County, Md. The other two deaths were soldiers. An indescribable gloom pervades the garrison - many are conjecturing who will be the next. Only one officer still reports for duty, and he now shows evident symptoms of the disease; perhaps to-morrow I will chronicle him among the sick.
September 19, 1867, 10 A. M.
My darling Frank:
The boat arrived this morning as anticipated, bringing me yours of September 4. I see nothing encouraging. I see that we are still styled the “assassination conspirators” in the President’s amnesty. If it go upon fact, it has no reference, but the name is sufficient - “Give a dog a bad name and you may as well kill him.”
We had one death this morning; we will not likely have any more to-day. All the patients now in hospital are doing well. O’Loughlin is improving. I attend him in our room.
September 19, 1867.
My precious Frank:
My letters come to hand now unopened, and you need have no fear to make known what action is contemplated. If it is not immediate and bids fair for my release, I would have nothing to do with it, because it will be only loss of time and money, a source of aggravation and mutual anxiety. I would much prefer nothing to be done so long as such infernal scoundrels have the control of the courts and access to the public treasure to suborn perjury. The best thing you can do is to cause our removal to some Northern bastille, where the laws are in force. A sufficient excuse now offers itself - the presence of the epidemic of yellow fever, etc. The mail is being made up by the post-master, so I must conclude. My undying love to all.
Many of the deaths reported have not occurred here, but on an adjacent island where we have erected a hospital; more than half sent there have died. I claim the credit of having broken up this establishment, and having inaugurated an entirely different system of treatment. Dr. Smith admitted, before his death, that he had never seen a case of it before, and acknowledged his incompetency to treat the malady. He never consulted with me upon the subject, and the fate he suffered may be the consequence. We had several cases in the Baltimore Infirmary during the epidemic that prevailed at Norfolk in 1855. I became acquainted then with the pathology of the disease, but have acted here entirely upon my own theory, and with unprecedented success. I can say with truth that none have died that have been seen in time and had proper attention and nursing. I am universally respected by all the soldiers, and they seem ever ready to shower compliments and favors.
Major Stone has kindly promised to make known my services to the authorities at Washington, but unless they have the magnanimity to release me, their word of praise will be of no consequence. I am very well and feel much better to-day than yesterday. I truly grieve to hear of the unfortunate death of Billy Bowling.
Kiss our dear little children, and as ever,
Your fond and devoted husband, SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, September 21, 1867.
My dear Jere:
I wrote yesterday to Frank. The mail will leave at 10 o’clock; it is now eight.
I wrote to you a few days ago, and gave all particulars of the fever then raging here. Since then several have died, among them the little son of Mrs. Dr. Smith; Lieutenant Orr and Mrs. Stone, wife of the Commandant. Arnold had it and is now well.
O’Loughlin was taken day before yesterday, and was getting along very well up to late yesterday evening, when, owing to the imprudence of some visitor giving account of the recent deaths, he became excited, sank into a collapse, and with difficulty we could save his life up to the present. He has revived considerably, but is yet in a critical condition. Our attention is unremitted; and assure his friends he shall suffer for nothing. We have now by his side all the delicacies the island can afford.
Mrs. Stone died last night, and was buried this morning. Major Stone will leave at ten for the North to take his little son, an only child. I had a talk with him this morning, and gave my views of the situation. I told him plainly there was no abatement in the disease; that, instead of becoming milder, it was evidently more malignant. I told him in a short time the garrison would be without officers, and it would be death to any unacclimated officer who would be sent here; also that in this climate the disease was likely to continue an indefinite period, owing to the fact that there is not much change of temperature with the season. He promised to see General Grant in person and represent the matter. You can form no idea of the gloom that pervades this God-forsaken place. I have just been called to O’Loughlin; will finish when I return.
O’Loughlin had a convulsion a few minutes ago. My heart almost fails me, but I must say he is dying. God only knows who will be the next. There will be likely two or three more deaths during the day. Arnold received the box sent by his friends. Why don’t you write sometimes? Good-by.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, September 23, 1867.
My darling Frank:
I wrote to you day before yesterday. The mail came this morning and will return immediately, so I have to hurry. I received no tidings from any one to-day. I have written to Jere, and have sent some trifling articles to him to be distributed among you all. O’Loughlin died this morning. We did all that was possible, but our efforts were in vain. We prolonged his suffering life for two days by constant nursing and attention.
I am not feeling so well to-day, my head aches. It may be from sitting up so much, but fear it is the premonitory symptoms of the prevailing epidemic. Five were buried this morning, including O’Loughlin. The hospital is full, and scarcely nurses enough to attend the sick. I have been acting physician and nurse for a considerable time, until I am nearly exhausted. My heart sickens at the prospect which is before me. Were an enemy throwing shot and shell in here a more horrible picture could not be presented - a useless expenditure of life and money. Thousands of dollars worth of property has been destroyed as infected, clothing, etc.
Give my love to all, and believe me, ever fond and devotedly,
Your husband, SAM.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, September 26, 1867.
My dear Jere:
I send to-day, through the kindness of Captain Hamilton, as a present to you one crabwood cane and an unfinished cribbage board. I have sent a package or two of moss-cards, and some common shells. Tell M. C. to select what may please her fancy, and to send the balance, together with the box, to Frank to be divided between Fannie, Cecie and Em. There are five crabwood crosses - four were made by poor O’Loughlin, at the request of his sister, for Cousin Ann. Since his death it would be best to send them to his sister. The other I made myself. I intended making several more, but was taken from the shop. I am sorry I have nothing more worthy to send. The fever continues unabated. Lieutenant Gordon, of Baltimore, and Zulinski, a Polander, are now dangerously ill with the fever. There is but one other officer at the Post who is convalescent, and he unfit for duty. My health continues good.
I wrote your name on the stick for you. Should it be removed by any means, you can know it by its being much the largest stick of the bundle. It is very heavy and intended more to look at than for use. I am sorry I have nothing suitable to send to Pa or Ma. W'hen you write give me some idea what you think would please them.
The schooner Matchless has just arrived from Key West. Major Stone, on his way North, was taken sick and died there on the 25th. He promised to make known the services I have rendered to the Post. His death will prevent likely any mention of my name in connection with the present epidemic. Unless the patient is attended to immediately, it is almost invariably fatal. Thirty deaths in all from fever have taken place since the middle of August up to the present date. Two companies have been sent to an adjacent island, which thus far has remained quite exempt from the disease; a case now and then occurs among them.
Remember me to all. Write soon and give news of all that is going on.
Fort Jefferson, Florida, September 25, 1867.
My darling Frank:
When I wrote last I mentioned the death of little Harry Smith, son of Dr. Smith, and spoke of the illness of Mrs. Stone. With much sorrow I announce her death; she died on the morning of the 21st. Major Stone, her husband, became so alarmed (although he idolized her) he did not go to see her buried, but bundled up immediately and started with the intention of going North, taking his little son, an only child, about two years. Before reaching Key West he was seized with the fever, and died there on the morning of the 25th instant. He was very kind toward us, and had promised to make known to the authorities at Washington the service I had rendered the garrison during the recent epidemic, which he thought would have considerable weight in restoring me to liberty, and to my family. Now that he is dead there is no one here whom I can expect to take any interest in my behalf, and the future may not be so propitious with me.
In my last I mentioned the name and good health of Lieutenant Gordon of Baltimore. He has since been swept away by the disease; he was buried yesterday, twelve o’clock noon. He leaves a young wife to bemoan his loss. He was kind and courteous always. I am not acquainted with his wife. They have no children. The disease thus far has destroyed one family, Major Stone and wife, and made desolate three young wives, Mrs. Orr, the wife of Lieutenant Orr; Mrs. Smith, the wife of Dr. Smith; and Mrs. Gordon, the wife of Lieutenant Gordon. I attended Mrs. Smith through the active stage of her disease, and a nobler woman I never met. She left here the evening of the 27th for home, which is in Montgomery County, Md. The child of Major Stone was well when last heard from. Mrs. Orr was a missionary, and luckily left in May last on a visit home (Jefferson Barracks) to spend the summer.
When Dr. Whitehurst arrived, I yielded to his age and experience, and was relieved from further attention upon the officers and their wives, at my own request. My duties were then principally directed in the hospital. All those that have died in the official circle were patients of his and had all the advantages of his experience and knowledge. I feel much relieved that they did not die upon my hands, for likely another charge of murder, etc., would be brought upon my unsuspecting shoulders.
Since you last heard from me twelve deaths have occurred, eight only in hospital, which is a small percentage considering numbers and the facilities of treatment. I believe I understand the disease now thoroughly, and can treat it as successfully as any other disease, if taken in time.
I wrote to Dr. Dent a few days ago, and gave him the mode of treatment pursued with such happy effect, when in time and practicable. Sometimes the poor creatures are struck with delirium from the beginning, and are perfectly wild and unmanageable; some die the same day they are taken, but most live to the third day. More die for the want of proper nursing and care than lack of medical attention. I am up all day until twelve o’clock at night. Dr. Whitehurst comes around between that time and day. I sleep until five or six o’clock in the morning and return at seven, The number in hospital has diminished somewhat recently, but only for the want of victims. Nearly every one in the garrison has had the disease, many a second time. The cases that come in now are of the most malignant form, which shows that the principle of the disease is still active. Colonel Grenfel is quite sick with the disease; he was taken yesterday. I will do all that is possible to save him. He has been acting as nurse upon many of the officers recently.
The mail boat came in late yesterday evening, bringing some medical supplies, but no mail.
A Dr. Thomas has been assigned to this Post as medical director, and will be here to-morrow. Dr. Whitehurst will leave immediately after his arrival, and will take Mrs. Gordon in charge on her way home. She will stop with the Doctor at Key West until a steamer passes northward bound. I shall vacate my position as soon as he leaves. I shall miss him a great deal. He makes no charge for any service rendered, which shows his unselfish spirit, and the motive which actuated him to come to us in our greatest need. There are but two officers left; one is convalescent, and the other is lying at the point of death, but may survive with good nursing. You can’t imagine the gloom and indifference which pervades the whole garrison. No more respect is shown the dead, be he officer or soldier, than the putrid remains of a dead dog. The burial party are allowed a drink of whiskey both before and after the burying, which infuses a little more life in them. They move quickly, and in half an hour after a man dies, he is put in a coffin, nailed clown, carried to a boat, rowed a mile to an adjacent island, the grave dug, covered up, and the party returned, in the best of humor, for their drinks. Such are life and scenes in Tortugas. But ten men appear at roll-call, and not more than twenty fit for duty in garrison. Two companies have been sent away, which thus far have escaped the disease. They will not return until the infection is declared at an end, which will be some time yet.
My health has been very good up to the present. I sometimes feel a little indisposed, but attribute it to sitting up late and loss of usual rest. You will no doubt see full accounts of the disease here in the papers, so I shall defer until my next, further comments. Try and give me some satisfactory news when you write.
Your husband, SAM.
10 o’clock at night, September 29, 1867.
My darling Frank:
Lately I have been holding on to the letters I write you until I know definitely when the mail leaves in order that you may hear from me at the latest period. I concluded this hasty scrawl early this morning, fearing the boat would return immediately to Key West. Learning she would not, delayed until to-morrow. I now proceed to give a detail of the day’s occurrence. We lost one man to-day about noon. He had the fever, which ended fatally to-day. Lieutenant Zulinski (a Polander), the officer I mentioned in the foregoing as being very ill with the fever, is rapidly sinking. I have not seen him to-day. His nurses represent him in a critical condition. Should he die, it will make five out of six officers, a remarkable fatality. We have admitted six new cases to-day. This is a decline of less than one-half the usual number for many days past, being generally fifteen or sixteen. I am in hopes the boat, which is expected in to-morrow, may bring a mail, and that I may hear you are all equally well as myself, and may disclose something definite and reliable as to my stay here. I do not like to act upon conclusions of my own, but would do so, if matters bid fair to be protracted, and an easy mode of escape offered. I will likely conclude this sheet to-morrow should I have time before the mail goes out; if not, I bid you a reluctant good night and pleasant dreams.
September 30, 1867, 9 o’clock P. M.
The mail boat did not leave to-day owing to the non-arrival of the one expected from Key West. No deaths have occurred to-day, although there is one not likely to live until morning. I was interrupted a few minutes ago, and told that he was breathing his last, by his nurse. I went to him, and with the application of a pitcher or two of cold water to the head he was relieved of the convulsion, and is now doing as well as can be expected. With good and proper attention he would get over it, but that is impossible here. The nurses are ignorant and careless, and I can’t act both the physician and nurse. Lieutenant Zulinski is in status quo, no appreciable change for the better yet observed. Colonel Grenfel is quite sick; his case is doubtful. More were admitted in hospital to-day. The reason is, there are not more than a dozen on the island yet to have it. We will call them up to-morrow, and learn the reason why they did not have the disease. I suggested the idea to the Doctor this evening. I will write again to-morrow. Good-by.