Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott

The author of Little Women left her quiet life in Massachusetts to serve as a nurse in Washington for several months in the middle of the war. After typhoid ended her nursing career, she wrote a tremendously popular memoir of her experience, Hospital Sketches.

The Call to Serve

“A townswoman heard of my desire to become a nurse and brought about an interview with one of the sisterhood which I wished to join. A morning chat produced three results: I felt that I could do the work, was offered a place, and accepted it, promising not to desert, but stand ready to march on Washington.”

A New Life

“It was dark when we arrived. Though I’d often been told that Washington was a spacious place, its visible magnitude quite took my breath away. The White House was lighted up, and carriages were rolling in and out of the great gate. I would have liked a peep through the crack of the door. We stopped before a great pile of buildings, with a flag flying before it, sentinels at the door, and a very trying quantity of men lounging about. My heart beat rather faster than usual, and it suddenly struck me that I was very far from home.”

The Death of a Rebel

“One evening, I found a bed occupied by a large, fair man, with a fine face, and the serenest eyes I ever met. As John lay high upon his pillows, no picture of dying statesman or warrior was ever fuller of real dignity than this blacksmith. He seemed to cling to life, as if it were rich in duties and delights. I wrote the letter which he dictated. As I sealed it, he said, ‘I hope the answer will come in time for me to see it.’…

“Now John was dying, and the letter had not come. I had been summoned to many death beds, but to none that made my heart ache as it did then. As I went in, he stretched out both hands: ‘I knew you’d come! I guess I’m moving on, ma’am.’ He was. I sat down by him and waited to help him die. He stood in sore need of help—and I could do so little.…

“He never spoke again, but to the end held my hand so close that when he was asleep at last, I could not draw it away. As I stood looking at him, the ward master handed me a letter, saying it had been forgotten the night before. It was John’s letter, come just an hour too late. I laid the letter in his hand. Then I left the brave Virginia blacksmith, as he lay serenely waiting for the dawn of that long day which knows no night.”

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