Mrs Mary A. Brady
AN old Greek writer, in reflecting how his nation had been roused from luxury and stimulated to actions that made Greece heroic by the stress of the Persian invasion, exclaimed, in his enthusiasm, “War is the father of all things.”
In like manner, we of America, looking at all the latent heroism that was developed during those four years of national agony and national glory, may, in no accommodated sense, hail our great war as the father of a great national peace, before impossible, and the nurse of magnanimous acts, and lives of saint-like devotion to the good of others.
While, among those who composed our armies, there were men who fought from very different motives and incitements, — some for love of glory, some from hatred of national injustice, some for a splendid name, and some for an undivided nation, — so, among the heroines, some followed their husbands, and were ready to dare everything and suffer everything for them and their cause; others sought the field out of a generous rivalry not to be outdone in sacrifices by the sterner sex; others were incited by pure patriotism; while a few moved and acted from motives rarer and purer, perhaps, than all these - a simple and unmixed desire to alleviate human suffering, a philanthropic kindness of soul, and the swelling of a large-hearted charity, that was willing to labor anywhere, and in any manner, to relieve the wants of those who were suffering pain and privations in a worthy cause.
Prominent among this numerous class must be placed the record of the lady whose name is written at the head of this memoir.
Mrs. Brady was not an American by birth. She had no son, or brother, or husband in the war. Born in Ireland, in 1821, and having married, in 1846, an English lawyer, twelve years of quiet residence in this country had, no doubt, sufficed to impress her with American love and pride; but she had no such stake in the issue, no such incentives to do all and suffer all that woman can in such a struggle, as might have impelled the exertions of thousands who did far less than she.
What demand of mere patriotism could have made it her duty, as an American citizen merely, to forego all the comforts of her home in Philadelphia, leave a family of five little children, push her way through all embarrassments and delays, through all the army lines, and sometimes in spite of general orders, to the very front, or to those hospitals where the men were brought in with clothing red with the fresh-flowing gore of battle, and spend days and weeks at the field hospitals just in the rear of the great battle-fields, and return home only to restore her wasted energies, and start out again on her errands of tireless philanthropy? Yet such is the outline of Mrs. Brady’s life, and such the summary of her charities from the summer of 1862, when the sick and wounded from McClellan’s Peninsular army were brought to the northern hospitals, till the summer of 1864, when, by reason of her exertions, exposures, and excitements, the silver cord of life was strung too tightly, and in the midst of her labors, while planning fresh sacrifices and new fields of exertion, it snapped, and she ceased to live, except in the hearts ot survivors, and in the memory of thousands of soldiers, who
“Shall tell their little children, with their rhymes,
Of the sweet saint who blessed the old war-times.”
Up to the summer of 1862 the life of Mrs. Brady was unmarked by other than the domestic virtues and the charities of home. Her life was that of an industrious, kind-hearted woman, finding her chosen and happy sphere in the duties of wife and mother. She merited the eulogy which the Greek orator bestowed on that woman, who, most intent upon home duties, was least talked of abroad, whether for praise or blame.
It was on the 28th of July, 1862, that Mrs. Brady and a few others met at her husband’s law office, to take into consideration the condition of the soldiers who had been brought from James River, and were then languishing in various hospitals in and around Philadelphia, but principally at the Satterlee Hospital, in West Philadelphia, not far from Mrs. Brady’s home.
There alone was an ample field for all their labors, and objects to absorb all the contributions of charity and patriotism that could be made to pass through their organization as a channel of sanitary relief. Here were three thousand soldiers, a mutilated fragment of the grand army with which McClellan had advanced up the peninsula, and which had floundered in the mud and rain, and through the battles of the Chickahominy, and been reduced by the six hard fights of that terrible campaign. True, the worst cases of the wounded were in hospitals nearer the front, at Washington, or Norfolk, or on James River; but here were hundreds and hundreds languishing with that low, dull fever that overcame so many who shared in that campaign, and which was called in the army the “James River fever.” Here, too, were the mutilated men, nursing the painful stumps from which an arm or a leg had been amputated. The absolute physical necessities of these patients were, to a reasonable degree, met by the customary appliances of an army hospital. The patient had a bed, narrow and hard, indeed, but clean. His food was such as the hospital surgeon prescribed—now a plate of boiled rice, now a slice of beef, or a dish of soup. But moral and social restoratives he had none. To wrestle in grim patience with unceasing pain; to lie weak and helpless, thinking of the loved ones on the far-off hill-side, or thirsty with unspeakable longing for one draught of cold water from the spring by the big rock at the old homestead; to yearn, through long, hot nights, for one touch of the cool, soft hand of a sister or a wife on the throbbing temples, —this was the dreary routine of suffering and cheerlessness in the great hospital before Mrs. Brady and her associates commenced their labors of wise and systematic kindness.
The object of their organization was declared to be to create committees, who, in turn, should visit the different wards of the United States Hospital, for the purpose of ameliorating the condition of the sick and wounded soldiers, and to establish a depot of sanitary supplies, whose location should be generally known; to have their organization officially recognized by the governor and the military and medical authorities of the United States; and eventually, that members of the association should visit the hospitals at Washington and the army in the field, to learn the wants of sick soldiers, and do all in their power to relieve them.
Mrs. Brady was elected president of the association; and from that day to the hour of her death — not quite two years after — her labors were unceasing, her devotion unbounded, and her discretion unerring in the great enterprise of the sanitary well-being of the soldiers of the republic.
For some months their labors were confined to the hospital at West Philadelphia. A committee of these ladies regularly, each day, went the round of the hospital wards, distributing the delicacies and the various articles of comfort that were now daily arriving in a steady stream at the depot for their hospital supplies on Fifth Street.
But the ministries of Mrs. Brady and her corps were not confined to the mere distribution of currant jelly, preserved peaches, flannel shirts, and woollen socks. They carried with them a moral cheer and soothing that were more salutary and healing than any of the creature comforts. The patient, suffering hero of Williamsburg or Malvern Hill was assured, in tones to whose pleasant, home—like accents his ear had long been a stranger, that his efforts in behalf of his country were not ignored or forgotten; that they too had a son, a brother, a father, or a husband in the field. Then the pallid face and the bony fingers were bathed in cool water, and sometimes a chapter in the New Testament, or paragraph from the morning papers, read, in tones low, but distinct, and in such grateful contrast to those hoarse battle-shouts that had been for weeks, perhaps, ringing through his feverish brain – “Column, forward — dress on the colors — aim low, and make your shots tell—file right, march!”
Then the painful and inflamed stump was lifted, and a pad of soft, cool lint fitted under it; and the thin, chalky lips would move slowly, and say that he “felt easier.”
Here a poor fellow, who had an armless sleeve, was enjoying the services of a fair amanuensis, who in graceful chirography wrote down, for loving eyes and heavy hearts, in some distant village of Vermont or Michigan, the same old soldier’s story, told a thousand times, by a thousand firesides, but always more charming than any story in the Arabian Nights — how, on that great day, he stood with his company on a hill-side, and saw the long gray line of the enemy come rolling across the valley; how, when the cannon opened on them, he could see the rough, ragged gaps opening in the line; how they closed up and moved on; how their general came along, and made a little speech, and told them to aim low and then give them the bayonet; how he rushed on at the command to “charge;” how this friend fell on one side, and poor Jimmy — on the other; and then he felt a general crash, and a burning pain, and the musket dropped out of his hand; then the ambulance and the amputation, and what the surgeon said about his pluck; and then the weakness, and the pain, and the hunger; and how much better he was now; and how kind the ladies in Philadelphia had been to him; that he didn’t care much about the loss of his arm, so far as he was concerned, only he couldn’t do as much for his father and mother as be had hoped; but he lost it in the line of his duty, and would lose the other one rather than have the government broken up.
Who would not sew, knit, make currant jelly, write letters for a hospital full of brave, patient battle heroes like that?
After their recovery and return, Mrs. Brady received numerous letters from those she had visited in the hospitals, thanking her and blessing her for her good deeds.
The following, from a Pennsylvania volunteer, is selected from a score equally interesting : —
CAMP NEAR BELLE PLAIN, VA., January 19, 1863.
Mrs. MARY A. BRADY.
Dear Friend: There is one of my comrades in the West Philadelphia Hospital (Ward H) by the name of Harry Griffin. I wish you would be so kind as to call and see him as you make your daily rounds.
You are engaged in a good work in visiting the afflicted, and by contributing to their wants; and surely you will reap your reward in good season, and God will bless you. Every true soldier you have helped shall remember you with respect and gratitude. I shall always remember you myself with deep feelings of gratitude, and I shall never forget the kindness bestowed on me by the ladies. “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” My arm is still sore.
Believe me to be, madam, yours truly,
JOSEPH A. WINTERS,
Co. B, 7th Reg. Pa. Vol.
Late in the fall, at the time of the annual Thanksgiving, Mrs. Brady and the other ladies determined that those who still remained — some sixteen hundred — should not lack the material supplies on which to celebrate the day.
Mrs. Brady and Miss Lydia C. Price were the efficient committee on Thanksgiving Dinner. They appealed to the cities and towns around Philadelphia in behalf of the brave fellows, and Mrs. Brady showed her characteristic kindness and thoughtfulness by applying to Dr. Hayes for the release on that day of all the boys who for any indiscretion had found their way to the guard-house. The good surgeon granted her request, and Mrs. Brady had ready for them, at the appointed dinner hour, seventy-five turkeys, one hundred chickens, twenty geese, sixty ducks, eight hundred and fifty pies, eighty-five rice puddings, and fifteen barrels of eating apples. Two bakers’ establishments were placed at their disposal, and the food brought up warm to the hospital in covered wagons.
The number of patients in this hospital now rapidly diminished, and, in December, Mrs. Brady began to arrange plans for more extended and arduous labors for the soldier. At their depot there was a constantly increasing supply of various articles, such as the soldiers were supposed most to need.
Soldiers’ aid societies had sprung up all over the state, and Mrs. Brady was widely known as president of the mother society in Philadelphia.
Numerous boxes had been sent to her care, and she regarded herself as the authorized trustee of the charities of large communities.
She determined not to trust the distribution of these goods to careless or unknown agents, but after consultation with others of the association, it was decided that Mrs. Brady was to go to the field in person, and distribute the contents of the boxes from tent to tent, as she found the men in camp who most required them.
While at Alexandria she prepared and sent home to the association in Philadelphia a charming narrative of her journey and all its incidents, and how the contents of the boxes were given out, and how the boys received them, and how she could have distributed twenty times as much without giving to any who did not require aid.
When she went to Fairfax and the camps between the Potomac and the Rapidan our national fortunes were at ebb tide. It was the Valley Forge of the war. The Peninsular campaign had been magnificent, but a failure. Then Jackson, and soon after Lee with him, had advanced to the Potomac, driving Pope before him into Washington city. Then at South Mountain and Antietam the invading tide had been met and rolled back; but Lee was not pursued. Then Burnside had taken the army across the Rappahannock, and fought a superior force under able generals, on the worst ground he could have chosen, with such results as might have been expected. The army was greatly used up and demoralized, and the sick list was fearful.
Beyond Alexandria, in the direction of Falmouth, where the army lay, Mrs. Brady came upon one camp of twelve thousand six hundred convalescents; a little beyond, a sick camp of eight thousand, and in the forty military hospitals in and around Washington she visited thirty thousand sick and wounded. Of course the sixty boxes she took from Philadelphia were but a mouthful to a hungry man; but she gave out the articles herself, with true English thoroughness and perseverance, making numerous inquiries, and faithfully striving to give to those who were most in need.
While traveling among this army of the sick, she was overtaken one evening by a snow storm, and was obliged to fare like the soldiers, shivering all night under one gray blanket, in a tent without a fire, and listening to a dreary chorus of coughing, which suggested all the grades and varieties of pulmonary disease. But her thoughts were not on her personal discomforts, rather on the twelve thousand sick soldiers, in the midst of whom she was passing but a single cheerless night; and she hurried home to ply her needle, and stimulate by her pen the activities of others, and collect as soon as possible additional supplies. She only stopped to pay a flying visit to the sick in Washington, and describes, in affecting language, how, in every ward she entered, all who were not too sick or badly wounded would rise up in their beds in astonishment at seeing a lady visitor.
At several of the Alexandria hospitals the doctors and nurses told her no other lady had ever before called.
In about a month Mrs. Brady, and the other ladies of the association, had sixty large boxes full of flannel shirts, socks, butter, dried fruit, wine, jelly, preserves, farina, soap, towels, combs, and several packages of smoking tobacco, apples, and onions. Her second trip was much like the first, except that now she penetrated to the extreme front, and heard the rebel drums tattoo in the camps on the other side of the Rappahannock, and the church clocks striking in Fredericksburg.
Here she took a four-mule wagon, and went through the army, stopping wherever a little red flag indicated a sick tent. She saved a number of boxes for the Alexandria hospitals, and the convalescents would file by her stand, and receive each an apple, a lemon, a handful of smoking tobacco, or a pair of socks, and what was about as good, and cost nothing, a cheerful word, a smile, a pleasant joke, or a wish that she had more for each.
Returning home, the month of April was passed in active preparations for another trip. Yet her family was not neglected. In camp or on the cars she was knitting for them, or making a dress, and at home divided her time between the demands of her family and the army, working now on a child’s frock and now on a soldier’s shirt.
May came, and with it Chancellorsville and its ten thousand wounded. This time she took forty-five packages, and they were filled with articles suited to the sick and suffering. With a view to immediate and practical efficiency, she took two cooking stoves, and proceeded at once to the great field hospital of the Sixth corps, where she soon had a tent pitched, her boxes piled around for a wall, her stoves up, and a little squad of the slightly wounded to get wood and water, open her boxes, and take her cooked articles to the different hospital tents.
Reporting to the division surgeons, and working under them, she received “requisitions” that looked almost appalling, as she saw the rapidly diminishing pile of boxes, and the two cooking stoves.
She writes to the association at Philadelphia that fifty dozen cans of condensed milk, a hundred dozen fresh eggs, thirty boxes of lemons, ten boxes of oranges, one hundred and fifty pounds of white sugar, two hundred jars of jelly, and twelve dozen of sherry are needed. “Everything is wanted,” she adds, earnestly. “Send us linen rags, towels, and some cologne; some red and gray flannel shirts, and limb pillows for the amputated.”
But her labors were not confined to her little extemporized kitchen. At night she could hardly sleep for the groans from the tents where the worst cases lay, and she often passed several hours, moving softly through those tents of pain, going to those who seemed to suffer most, and soothing them by words, and by little acts of kindness; fitting a fresher or softer pad under some throbbing stump, talking with some poor fellow whose brain was full of fever, and who thought the battle was not yet over; moistening lips, stroking clammy foreheads, and helping another soldier to find his plug of tobacco.
Then, at five o’clock, she had the fires started, and honored as many requisitions for rice pudding, blanc mange, custard, and milk punch, as the draught upon her boxes could supply. This life lasted till sometime in June, when the rapid invasion of Lee required corresponding movements on the part of Hooker, and the hospitals on Potomac Creek were broken up. Mrs. Brady had barely reached her home, and resumed for a little time the old and sacred round of domestic life, when she felt herself summoned to sanitary and hospital labors by a voice louder and nearer than any before — by the thunder of those five hundred cannon at Gettysburg, that for three fearful days piled the ground with bleeding wrecks of manhood.
Operating in her usual homely but effective and most practical manner, she at once sought a camping ground near a great field hospital, reported for duty to the division surgeon, and had a squad of convalescents assigned to assist her. Her tents were erected, the empty boxes piled so as to wall her in on three sides, and the stoves set up and fuel prepared; so that in two or three hours after reaching Gettysburg, the brigade and division surgeons were pouring in their “requisitions,” and the nurses were soon passing from her tent with tubs of lemonade, milk punch, green tea by the bucketful, chocolate, milk toast, arrowroot, rice puddings, and beef tea, — all of which were systematically dispensed in strict obedience to the instructions of the medical men. Whenever during the day she could, for a short time only, be relieved from these self imposed kitchen duties, and for many hours after nightfall, she was sure to be among the cots, beside the weakest and those who suffered most. Her frequent visits to the army had made her face familiar to a great number of the soldiers, so that she was often addressed by name, and warmly greeted by the brave fellows. “To see the face of a lady does us good, madam.” “We are very glad you are come.” “You cheer us up, Mrs. Brady.”
When she remarked how grateful the stay-at-homes ought to feel to the brave hearts that fought so gallantly for them, and drove back the rebel hordes from the great cities along the border, simultaneously a chorus of voices exclaimed, “Why, Mrs. Brady, we would all have died, to the very last man, right here on the battle-field, before we would have let the Confederates win, or move on Philadelphia.”
There we find the true reason of the national success at Gettysburg. It was not that Lee’s abilities were clouded; not that Stonewall Jackson was dead. The Confederate force was never greater, never more resolute, or wielded with more masterly vigor; but they had never before met an army that was raised to the heroism of martyrs by the determination to “die to the very last man right there,” rather than let the rebels win.
Speaking of her first day at these hospitals, Mrs. Brady says, We shortly found ourselves rubbing away the pain from mutilated limbs, and bathing the feet of others, speaking cheerful words to them all, which latter we believed to do good like a medicine. In the daytime we cook and fill requisitions for all sorts of things, and personally distribute our miscellaneous stores to the men with our own hands, conversing cheerfully with the patients. Thus we spend our days as well as our nights.”
These labors continued till August, when the field hospitals at Gettysburg were mostly broken up. For the remaining portion of the year 1863, as there were no battles in Virginia, Mrs. Brady remained at home, and continued her hospital labors in Philadelphia, and in receiving and preparing supplies for the approaching winter. She was now well known in Philadelphia, and became the almoner of numerous but private charities, funds being placed in her hands to be used according to her discretion in aiding soldiers or their families. The most of this money she gave in a private manner, but regularly, to the widows of those who had fallen in the great battles. On one occasion, as she entered a street car, crowded with passengers, she noticed that a soldier was looking very steadily in her face. His sleeve was empty. Presently the maimed warrior called out, with some emotion, Don’t you know me, Mrs. Brady?” “Really,” she replied, I can’t quite recollect you, I see so many of Uncle Sam’s brave boys.” “Not recollect me, Mrs. Brady?” said the soldier, his eyes now filling with tears: “don’t you remember the day you held my hand while the doctors cut my arm off? You told me to put my trust in God, and that I should get well over it. You said I was sure to recover; and here I am, dear madam, thank God!”
It seems that he had felt a natural revulsion when the amputation was suggested, but asked the surgeons to send for Mrs. Brady, and he would do just as Mrs. Brady said. She came, took the poor fellow’s hand, and spoke a few low, kind words. “Now put up the sponge,” said he to the surgeon; and the chloroform reduced him to insensibility as his pallid, bloodless hand still lay in hers. But, with the sensibility of her sex, she was obliged to turn away just as the operator took up the long, glittering knife.
Early in the year 1864, when Meade, in command, was maneuvering unsuccessfully against Lee for the occupation of the south bank of the Rapidan, in what is known as the Mine Run campaign, Mrs. Brady made her fifth and last visit to the front. She was now so well and so favorably known, that every facility was afforded her in the transportation of her boxes, and she penetrated to the front, and made herself useful in the primary field hospital that was established in consequence of the action at Morton’s Ford, on the 6th of February. Her ministrations were of the same nature with those described above, except that here she saw the wounded just as they were brought from the field, and shared in the deep excitements and agitations of battle. She was just in the rear of an engagement that threatened at one time to become general and bloody. Most of the time she could secure no better bed than a bundle of wet straw. As a natural consequence of such hardships and exposures, we find her reaching home on the 15th of February, “completely worn out.” An examination of her condition by physicians revealed the grave fact that rest and quiet alone could never restore her. An affection of the heart, which had existed for some time, but which, on account of her strong health and fine powers of constitution, had never before caused any uneasiness, had been rapidly developed by the last few weeks of uncommon excitement and fatigue.
Yet in March and April her health rallied somewhat, and she continued to collect and prepare the stores for another mission to the camp.
May now came on, and with it the grand advance of the army of the Potomac, now strongly re-enforced, and wielded by a fresh champion, just come from his great victories in the West; and the nation was tiptoe with expectation. Then followed the battles of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania, with their necessary and ghastly sequel, the long rows of hospital tents, acres of wounded, and suffering, and sick, with the demand for everything that can assuage pain, and reinvigorate the languid or exhausted currents of life. But Mrs. Brady could not respond to this call, as she had done when other battles were fought. Disease had seated itself at the fountains of her life. The abnormal action of the heart grew worse and worse, causing now the most acute suffering. Skilful physicians were summoned; but science was baffled, and the appalling announcement fell with unexpected and crushing weight upon the inmates of that home of which she was the centre and the sun, that no human skill could prolong that life, but within a few weeks those five little children must be motherless.
On the very day that sealed the fate of Virginia, — the 27th of May, 1864,—when Lee gave up the open contest with his too powerful antagonist, and fell sullenly back to his intrenchments at Petersburg and Richmond, she, whose mind even then was turned from the solemn surroundings of the death-bed, and the tearful faces of her children, to the suffering heroes of those great fights, — she was summoned away from all stormy scenes and arduous labors, into the kingdom of perpetual peace.
The burial of her remains took place on the 1st day of June. Hundreds of soldiers and officers of the army of the Potomac sent to the surviving members of the family their fervent tributes of the worth, beauty, and strength of her character, and expressions of gratitude for the kindness they had experienced at her hands.A very large number of sorrowing friends, and poor people, and widows of soldiers, and five ministers of that religion of love and charity which she had so eminently practised, were in attendance at her funeral, and paid abundant, yet not undue, honor to the memory of the dead; for, during the forty-two years of her earthly existence, as long as life and strength remained to enable her to labor for the good of others, had she not followed closely in the steps of Him who always went about doing good, and reproduced the virtues of that Scripture heroine, the woman that was “full of good works and alms-deeds, which she did continually”?