Calais nurse investigated Antietam’s hellish aftermath

By Brian Swartz, Special to the BDN
Posted Sept. 24, 2012, at 12:53 p.m.

Isabella Fogg discovered a hell on earth after the slaughter at Antietam.

Born in New Brunswick in 1823, Isabella Morrison married William Fogg of Calais in 1837. She lived in Calais and had three children, including a son named Hugh Morrison Fogg who went to war in May 1861 with Co. D, 6th Maine Infantry Regiment.

Widowed by now, Isabella Fogg contacted Gov. Israel Washburn and volunteered to serve as a nurse. That September, Fogg and another nurse, Ruth Mayhew, arrived in Annapolis, Md., to work in an Army hospital swept by spotted fever.

In late spring 1862, Fogg served as a nurse during the Peninsula Campaign. Returning to Maine, she filed detailed reports about the primitive medical care that Maine men had received in Virginia. Those reports, plus many letters received from surviving soldiers, led state officials to establish the Maine Soldiers’ Relief Agency and appoint Col. John Hathaway its commander.

After Antietam, reports reached Hathaway that sick and wounded Maine soldiers suffered terribly from inadequate medical care. In late October he sent Fogg, nurse Harriet Eaton, Charles Hayes and Leonard Watson to investigate the allegations.

Fogg wrote Hathaway a shocking report on Nov. 10.

Departing Frederick, Md., on Saturday, Nov. 1, Fogg and Eaton traveled with Hayes to Middletown, where they found hospital conditions “very comfortable, [the] men happy, said the [local] ladies were very kind” while working as volunteer nurses, Fogg noted.

Crossing the Catoctin Mountains to Keedysville near Sharpsburg, the MSRA members discovered “a painful contrast,” she wrote. “There we found several Maine men, in a church and three other buildings … laying on the bare floor with their coats for pillows. Their [food] stores consisted of hard bread, beef and coffee.”

Then “[we] went up to Smoketown Hospital, here we found 30 Maine men. This place is in a most miserable condition” and “the men complain very much” despite the medical care provided by Pennsylvania nurses, Fogg reported.

“The effluvia (stench) arising from the condition of these grounds is intolerable, quite enough to make a man in perfect health sick, and how men can recover in such a place is a mystery to me,” she wrote.

That injured and sick soldiers remained at the Smoketown Hospital more than six weeks since Antietam demonstrated the Army’s inability to provide adequate medical care. The failure was widespread.

At Bakersville, Md., Fogg and her companions discovered 25 patients from the 5th Maine Infantry “left in a schoolhouse in care of the steward (William Noyes from Saco) without supplies” and “making every effort to keep them (his patients) comfortable.”

Traveling to Sharpsburg, the MSRA members found only five wounded Maine soldiers. However, downriver at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., “the sick are in a fearful condition, in every old house and church and hundreds on the ground,” Fogg reported. She, Eaton and Hayes visited about 50 sick soldiers from the 19th Maine Infantry.

“You no doubt think your ladies in Washington are doing a great work, but I can assure you, if they were here, they would find the stern reality of want, privation and extreme suffering,” she wrote Hathaway.

Gen. Henry Slocum then asked the MSRA members to travel to the Loudon Valley in Virginia “to learn the condition of several hundreds, who had been sent [there] the previous day” without proper medical care being arranged for them, Fogg reported.

November cold already enveloped the valley, where “we found them (sick and wounded soldiers) lying on the ground, in all directions, many convalescent, but a great many very low,” Fogg wrote, her words suggesting that such men lay near death.

Dirty, ill-fed, and weakened by respiratory illnesses, hundreds of Union soldiers endured this medical hell; the federal government had literally abandoned these suffering heroes to their collective fates.

“At this time no surgeons, nurses or cooks were on the ground and hard bread [was] their only food,” Fogg wrote. Only civilians from the United States Sanitary Commission were ministering to the poor men.

“We went to work to administer to the wants of the sick,” Harriet Eaton “to wash and clean them, which they stood greatly in need of, while I prepared food for them,” Fogg wrote. Abandoned soldiers were famished; the Mainers fed “every one who could not help themselves.”

After doing all they could, the Mainers traveled north and crossed the Potomac River to reach Berlin, Md. “Here the misery and suffering beggars all description, the heart sickens at the sight,” Fogg wrote on Nov. 10 from Berlin (now Brunswick).

At the 10th Maine Infantry hospital, patients were “more comfortable than many others, but very much could be added to their comfort,” Fogg noted.

She and Eaton took “a stroll through the town” and “searched every old school house, log cabin [etc.] for the poor men who had been left behind, as our army moved on.”

“In a dilapidated school house” lacking a fireplace, Fogg and Eaton “found a man sick and old, who had enlisted in the Maine 12th [Infantry]. He was now 57 years old, had been left, injured in the spine” in the Virginia Tidewater earlier that year. Shunted between hospitals and finally “thrust into a New York regiment,” the elderly soldier “knew not what to do,” Fogg reported.

Paperwork was started to obtain him an honorable discharge.

From Berlin, Fogg and Hayes partially retraced their steps by ambulance. Fogg hoped for the best at Smoketown, “but how sadly we were disappointed.”

“How I wish I could introduce you, and the Washington Com.[mission] to Smoketown Hos.[pital] in the midst of this driving snow storm!” she wrote. “You could have seen the poor fellows huddled together, with their pallets of straw on the ground, their tents connected by flyes, the same as erected in the heat of summer, many without walls and no stoves.

“Those who were able to creep out of their tents were crouched over fires, built in the woods, their heads covered with snow,” and almost all the soldiers had only “thin muslin shirts on,” Fogg wrote.

The only good news to report came when, after traveling west to Hagerstown, Fogg and Hayes discovered a box shipped from Maine that contained “upwards of a hundred flannel shirts, with some other useful articles. Imagine now, with what pleasure we retraced our steps to Bakersville and Smoketown!

“Could you have seen the happy faces and heard the thankful expressions of gratitude” made by the Maine boys,” Fogg told Hathaway.

Brian Swartz may be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net or visit his blog at http://maineatwar.bangordailynews.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/09/24/living/blogs-and-columns-living/calais-nurse-investigated-antietams-hellish-aftermath/ printed on July 23, 2014