Isabella Fogg had already encountered the horrors of war when the slaughter known as Antietam took place on Sept. 17, 1862. Then Fogg discovered the hell that is war.
Surnamed Morrison, her parents had emigrated to New Brunswick from Scotland before Isabella’s birth in 1823. Practically a child bride when she married William Fogg of Calais in 1837, Isabella crossed the St. Croix River to live in Maine and have three children, including a son named Hugh Morrison Fogg. Ironically, he was born in New Brunswick.
Widowed by 1860, Fogg apparently doted on Hugh, possibly her only child to survive. Mother and son likely watched as Calais-area militiamen formed Co. D, 6th Maine Infantry Regiment. Electing Joel Haycock as captain and Reuel Furlong and Henry Waite as lieutenants, the Calais boys — including 18-year-old Private Hugh Fogg — boarded the steamer “Queen” at Calais on Tuesday, May 21 and sailed downriver to Eastport to join other Washington County militia companies headed to war with the 6th Maine.
With no familial ties to Calais, Isabella Fogg “felt that she was called to leave her home and minister … to the comfort” of Union soldiers, authors Linus P. Brockett and Mary C. Vaughan wrote in “Woman’s Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience.” Contacting Gov. Israel Washburn, Fogg volunteered “to serve the State without compensation as its agent for distributing supplies to the sick and wounded soldiers of Maine,” the book reveals.
In September 1861, Isabella Fogg and Ruth Mayhew arrived in Annapolis, Md., where spotted fever “was raging with fearful malignity” in an Army hospital, according to Brockett and Vaughan. “There was great difficulty in finding nurses who were willing to risk the contagion.”
Fogg and Mayhew volunteered. “Anxious to benefit the poor fever stricken sufferers,” the women remained “at their post … every day and often through the night for week after week” until late 1861, Brockett and Vaughan wrote.
Working for the United States Sanitary Commission by the next spring, Fogg served aboard hospital ships handling Union casualties during the Peninsula Campaign. Disease, skirmishes, and the occasional violent tête-à-tête laid soldiers low in their thousands; the USSC sent Fogg and other nurses ashore in June to help establish a large field hospital at Savage’s Station, a way stop on the Richmond & York River Railroad.
Commanding the Army of the Potomac, Gen. George McClellan envisioned forcing the defending Confederate troops aside and capturing Richmond by midsummer. Then Gen. Robert E. Lee hurled the reconstituted Army of Northern Virginia at McClellan in late June, and Confederate infantry captured the Savage’s Station field hospital and its approximately 2,500 patients.
Fogg “remained at her post … until the last moment” while “ministering to the wounded until the last [wagon] load had been dispatched,” Brockett and Vaughan wrote. Then Fogg sensibly fled.
Returning to Maine and ending her affiliation with the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Fogg filed detailed reports about the primitive medical care the ill and wounded Maine men 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 at its commander. The agency set up shop at 273 F Street in Washington, D.C.
Fogg also gathered medical and relief supplies to send to Maine soldiers. That October, the Portland-based Maine Camp Hospital Association sent her and Harriet Eaton to Washington, but “they arrived without any assurance from … Maine that they would be able to serve its troops,” wrote Jane Schultz in “This Birthplace of Souls,” based on Eaton’s diary. The two nurses also encountered strong resistance from various men, including Hathaway, who “took a dim view of women traversing the wilderness” while visiting different Maine regiments, Schultz noted.
After Antietam, reports reached Hathaway that sick and wounded Maine soldiers suffered terribly from inadequate medical care. In late October he sent Eaton, Fogg, Charles Hayes, and Leonard Watson to Frederick, Md. to investigate the allegations. Cold weather already spilled across the region as the four Mainers visited known hospitals where Maine boys might be found.
Then Fogg wrote Hathaway a shocking report on Nov. 10.
Departing Frederick 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,” Fogg noted.
Crossing the Catoctin Mountains to Keedysville, a village near Sharpsburg and the Antietam battlefield, the MSRA members discovered “a painful contrast,” she wrote, emphasizing her point with an exclamation point. “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 received from Pennsylvania nurses, Fogg reported.
Referring to the hospital’s wretched sanitation, she informed Hathaway that “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.”
Many patients had not recovered. Hundreds, if not thousands of wounded Union soldiers had reached the Smoketown Hospital, set up as fighting still raged around Sharpsburg on Sept. 17. Men died daily; many now occupy graves in Antietam National Cemetery.
According to “Misery lasts long after Antietam battle,” published in the “Washington Times” on Sept. 22, 2007, “about 70 percent of deaths at Smoketown Hospital resulted from wounds received at Antietam, including shock from amputation. Many of these crude, ugly operations were performed by Chief of Surgery Bernard A. Vandergrift …”
The article quotes a 5th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment surgeon, Dr. William D. Childs, who wrote from Smoketown that “the dead appear sickening, but they suffer no more. But the poor wounded, mutilated soldiers that yet have life and sensation make a most horrid picture.”
That injured and sick soldiers, including the 30 Mainers, remained at the Smoketown Hospital more than six weeks since Antietam demonstrated the Army’s inability to provide adequate medical care. Departing Smoketown for other destinations, Fogg and her companions soon realized that the nightmare extended across the Maryland and Virginia countryside.
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.”
After mustering with the 5th Maine in spring 1861, Noyes had “seen the elephant” at Manassas in July, but fell into Confederate hands as Union troops fled the battlefield. Later exchanged for a low-ranking Confederate prisoner, Noyes rejoined his regiment and, after Antietam, cared for his wounded comrades.
Asked why he had not sought assistance from the U.S. Sanitary Commission agents at Bakersville, Noyes responded that “he had always found so many difficulties in obtaining” supplies “from this source” that “he preferred purchasing [supplies] himself,” Fogg reported. She had uncovered evidence of the reprehensible attitude that many USSC members held toward hospitalized soldiers —
— and Fogg soon encountered that attitude herself.
“We told him, we would go to the Commission; and have what he required put up for him,” Fogg wrote. She apparently gave the USSC agents a supply list; those agents did visit Noyes and his makeshift hospital, Fogg soon learned.
Traveling to Sharpsburg, the MSRA members found only five wounded Maine soldiers there. However, downriver at Harpers Ferry “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 “upwards of 50” sick soldiers from the 19th Maine Infantry, a regiment mustered into service only the previous August.
“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.
Did Fogg criticize him and his “ladies in Washington” with this comment? Her words hint that Hathaway praised his “ladies” for whatever duties they performed in Capitol comfort; Fogg clearly stated that the real work lay upriver where men endured “extreme suffering.”
Circumstances suggest that the Maine Soldiers’ Relief Agency had responded poorly in caring ill or wounded Maine men beyond the Washington, D.C. city limits. Persistent reports about suffering soldiers had reached Hathaway for weeks, but he waited some 40 days before even sending an investigative team to confirm the rumors.
After the MSRA members visited Harpers Ferry, Gen. Henry Slocum asked them to travel downriver 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.
If she believed the conditions bad at Harpers Ferry, Fogg discovered hell in the Loudon Valley, then a rich agricultural region. 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, 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.
Earlier that morning, the three Mainers — Watson had apparently departed to deliver his own report to Hathaway — had run into a U.S. Sanitary Commission contingent. “Fortunately, we had … obtained a few supplies from the Commission” agents,” but only “after much pleading, for they actually appeared as if they were contributing [the supplies] out of their own pocket and [that we wanted them] for our personal wants,” Fogg remembered.
Now she understand why Noyes would rather buy supplies than seek help from the USSC agents at Bakersville.
“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 three Mainers fed “every one who could not help themselves.”
After doing all they could for their Loudon Valley patients, 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, dropping a less than subtle hint to Hathaway to send relief supplies to Berlin. Fogg and Eaton, likely with Hayes as escort, took “a stroll through the town” and “searched every old school house, log cabin &c for the poor men who had been left behind, as our army moved on.
“In an old hut destitute of doors or windows and minus a part of the roof, we found 7 men, who had slept in the woods the night before, had crept in there, for the miserable shelter the place afforded,” Fogg revealed to Hathaway. Although the soldiers “were not from our State,” she and Eaton spoke with them — and soon realized that one soldier probably suffered from smallpox. The nurses swiftly reported their diagnosis to military authorities so that a quarantine could be established.
Then “in a dilapidated school house” that lacked 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 soldierly “knew not what to do,” Fogg reported.
Charles Hayes immediately started the paperwork to obtain the old soldier an honorable discharge.
At Berlin, Eaton separated from Fogg and Hayes, who partially retracted their steps by ambulance to see if soldiers were finally receiving better medical care. 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, referring for the first time to the weather. “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.
Did she cry at the memory as she put quill pen to paper? Exposure to the cold had led to a diphtheria outbreak at Smoketown; “in nearly every case it proves fatal,” she told Hathaway.
Fogg recalled from her first visit to Smoketown “one of our poor Maine boys” — himself ill — who had diligently sought “for us those [patients] belonging to Maine.” He “had been seized suddenly with diphtheria, caused by exposure, and lived but two or three hours.”
Fogg regretted not bringing winter clothing for the Maine boys. “I cannot describe what my feelings were that I had no articles of woolen clothing to distribute,” she wrote.
From Smoketown, Fogg and Hayes visited the 5th Maine Infantry hospital at Bakersville, where they found Noyes “grating corn on a grater he had made from an old canteen” so he could make corn gruel for his patients,” Fogg noted.
“Imagine our indignation to find” that the USSC had delivered only half the supplies requested a few says earlier, Fogg reported to Hathaway.
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 retracted 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.
The relief expedition ended at Berlin, which Fogg reached by Nov. 10; the Maine Soldiers’ Relief Agency contingent soon returned to Washington, D.C., and Fogg and the MSRA later parted ways.
She was not done caring for ill and injured Maine men: To her nurse’s resume Isabella Fogg would add assignments at field hospitals in Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. While criticized by many people — and definitely not befriended by Harriet Eaton — Fogg later included in her admirers such Union generals as Ulysses S. Grant, George G. Meade, and Maine’s one Joshua L. Chamberlain.
Brian Swartz can be contacted at email@example.com.