Company nurses were firsthand witnesses to the carnage of the Civil War. The letter below provides a glimpse of that experience and the frame of mind it required. To do the work, the nurse wrote, “I have to harden my hart.”
By the time he wrote this letter during the siege of Petersburg in June 1864, Pvt. George Murdough of the 3rd New Hampshire Volunteers had served as a nurse at Fort Wagner in July of 1863 and in other battles. Most recently he had set up with the regimental surgeon at Drewry’s Bluff near Richmond, where 49 of his comrades were killed.
“When I tell you that I have seen wounded men by the thousand or that I have seen them laying around by the Acher, I am only telling you as it is,” he wrote his brother Edwin.
Murdough, a native of Acworth, N.H., had enlisted in August of 1861 at the age of 42. He was assigned to Company H. During battles he was often called upon to work for makeshift regimental and corps hospitals.
He closed his letter by saying he was counting the days until his three-year hitch was up. During those weeks the 3rd New Hampshire continued to lose men at a rapid rate (though not at the rate the letter suggests). In the July 30 battle after the Mine Explosion at Petersburg, 22 members of the regiment were killed.
Murdough indeed made it to the end of his tour, mustering out on Aug. 23 and heading north to settle in West Manchester.
The letter is addressed to Edwin R. Walker in Boston. Edwin, who may have been Murdough’s half-brother, worked for Burrage Brothers, a wholesale woolen house on Franklin Street in Boston.
June 14, 1864
I will improve upon moments in scribeling a few hasty lines to you. It is about eight weeks since we with the rest of the tenth Army have left Floriday and South Carolina for the Sacred Soil of Virginia. We landed here some six weeks ago and have been with General Butler since. Of his doings, you have seen through the papers perhaps quite as well as I can tell you. We have had hard marches hard fiting, & hard fare I can ashure you and ar still having them. Nether can I see the end yet but of one thing I hope & pray that God will in His good Providence bless this effort and that Richmond may be taken and this cruel war be closed up.
Pen cannot discribe nor imagination picture what I have seen since I come here. When the Armey goes into a fite, there is a place selectid at some safe and convenient place where a Hospital is established for each Army Corps and surgeon appointed to operate and dress the wounds. Our surgeon was one of the operators for this core and I was detailed to assist him and when I tell you that I have seen wounded men by the thousand or that I have seen them laying around by the Acher, I am only telling you as it is. It was enough to make an Angel weap but I have to harden my hart and go to work at these times. We have to work day and nite. I have only had my clothes of[f] to change them for six weeks — only my coat and shoes. [I] lay down anywhere and get rest whenever I can.
Our Regt. has lost heavily both in officers and men. Perhaps you may have seen some account of the (Fighting Third). We have lost some four hundred in killed wounded and missing. Only a small number ar amongst the missing. We ar now laying in front of the enemy where they can throw shells into our camp any time, liable to be called out any moment. The men have either been on picket outsid of our intrenchments or laying in the trenches with their Armes in their hands every night but too for the last fourteen. It is telling on all of us I think and unless we get som rest soon we shall get worn out.
I hope in ten weeks from today if the good Providence of God spares my life to get out of the army. I shall be verry thankful I can assure you, hoping to see this war nearly closed up by that time.
I must close. Please remember me to your Father Frank & all my old friends there when you see them. Write soon. Direct to me, 3rd Regt. NHV, 10th Army Core, Virginia, and it will come all rite and accept this from your friend and brother as ever