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Amanda’s Special Role

            From January 1862 to May 1864 (the Overland Campaign), Amanda had a different position from other Army nurses. She was allowed to travel from one regiment to another, night or day, wherever most needed, whenever the call came; she was not relegated to ward duty.

—-Holland, Mary Gardner, Our Army Nurses, 1998 

            A February visitor to Camp Griffin, Langley VA,  a man named Ellis, gives us a good description of the camp site which was situated on a knoll covered with sapling pines, about thirty feet above a brook that flowed on three sides:

            “along the brow of the hogback knoll…is the main street of the encampment. In the middle of it and within thirty feet of each other, are ten cooking fires…Each company has one of these fires, near which is the cook’s tent.” The rifle companies were situated “at right angles with the main street” along “ten short streets, one for each company, whose tents, seven in number, are placed along the side of it in a row.”  The streets “are paved with the small pine poles that grew on the ground,-similar to a corduroy road–the water gushing up between the logs as you pass over it.”

—- Ellis, “A Visit to the Vermont 3rd Regiment,” The Vermont Journal, March 8, 1862, p. 4

         The Vermonters spent the winter in the camp, until March 1862, when they marched back through Washington, and on to Alexandria, VA, headed for the peninsula.  Amanda “Shared their hardships and fare.”

—-Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

The picture above is the camp of the Vermont 3rd at Camp Griffin.  It is from a book entitled “A Very Fine Appearance – The Vermont Civil War Photographs of George Houghton” by Donald H. Wickman and published by the Vermont Historical Society in 2011.   

2nd lieutenant Erastus Buck of the Vermont 3rd states the following about camp: 

“The weather is very cold for this climate.  We have a good many rains.  It makes it uncomfortable for us in those little tents.”  

The Peninsula Campaign

       When the Army of the Potomac left the vicinity of Washington in Mar. 1862 for the Peninsula Campaign, I went with the Vt. Brigade and was with that command, helping to nurse their sick and wounded at the siege of Yorktown and the battles of Lees Mills-Williamsburg-Gaines Mills, Goldings Farm, Savage Station and Malvern Hill. In all of the above named battles I worked on the field, and in the field hospitals with the sick and wounded—and through the campaign, ending at Harrison’s Landing ___ July 2nd 1862.  I marched with the soldiers.”

—-Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

            The Peninsula campaign began on March 17 when Union troops were transported by boat from Alexandria to Fort Monroe at the southern tip of the peninsula (the battle of Hampton Roads between the ironclads, the Monitor and the Merrimack, had taken place March 8-9 just off from Fort Monroe).  The logistics of getting McClellan’s Army of the Potomac to Fort Monroe were enormous; it was the largest expedition in American history, transporting 121,500 men, 44 artillery batteries, 1,150 wagons, more than 15,000 horses, and tons of equipment and supplies.

Lee’s Mills           

           Near Lee’s Mills, Confederate General Magruder held a line along the Warwick River, and ordered it strengthened.  General McClellan ordered Brigadier General “Baldy” Smith to hamper these improvements to the enemy’s defensive works, so on April 16, 1862, four companies of the 3rd Vermont crossed Dam No. 1, routed the Confederates, and occupied their rifle pits, but they were unable to obtain reinforcements, so when the Confederates counterattacked, the Vermonters were forced to withdraw back across the dam.  Several casualties occurred as a result of this retreat, including William Scott, a Groton, VT native, better known as the “Sleeping Sentinel.”  An article from the Lamoille County Newsdealer, 2 May 1862, tells of his fate:

       “A Thrilling Romance of Battle Near Lee’s Mills

The following sketch of the death and burial of Wm. Scott at the battle near Lee’s Mills, in which so many of our brave brothers bore testimony to their devotion to their country with their blood, is copied from the Philadelphia Review.          

Never until we stood by the grave of the Green Mountain Boys did we realize how much stranger is truth than fiction. Your readers will recollect last summer a private was court martialed for sleeping on his post near Chain Bridge, on the Upper Potomac. He was convicted, and his sentence was death; the finding was approved by the General, and the day fixed for execution. He was a youth of more than ordinary intelligence; he did not beg for pardon, but was willing to meet his fate. The time drew near; the stern necessity of war required that an example should be made of someone; his was an aggravated case.

But the case reached the ears of the President, he resolved to save him; he signed a pardon, and sent it out; the day came. “suppose” thought the President, my pardon has not reached him. The telegraph was called into requisition; an answer did not come promptly. “Bring up my carriage” he ordered. It came, and soon the important state papers were dropped, and through the hot boiling sun and dusty roads he rode to the camp, about ten miles, and saw the soldier was saved! He has doubtless forgotten the incident, but the soldier did not.          

When the 3rd Vermont charged upon the rifle pits, the enemy poured a volley upon them. The first man that fell, with six bullets in his body, was Wm. Scott of Co. K. His comrades caught him up and as his life blood ebbed away, he raises to heaven, amid the din of war, and the cry’s of the dying, and the shouts of the enemy, a prayer for the President, and as he died he remarked to his comrades that he has shown he was no coward and not afraid to die.          

He was interred in the presence of his regiment, in a little grove about two miles to the rear of the rebel fort, in the center of a group of holly and vines; a few cherry trees, in full bloom, are scattered around the edge. In digging his grave a skull and bones were found, and metal buttons, showing that the identical spot had been used in the Revolutionary War for our fathers who fell in the same cause.

The chaplain narrated the circumstances to the boys who stood around with uncovered heads. He prayed for the President, and paid the most glowing tribute to his noble heart that we ever heard. The tears started in their eyes as the clods of earth were thrown upon him in his narrow grave, where he lay shrouded in his coat and blanket.          

The men separated; in a few minutes all were engaged in something around the camp, as though nothing had happened; but the scene will live upon the memories while life lasts; the calm look of Scott’s face, the seeming look of satisfaction he felt, still lingered; and could the President have seen him he would have felt that his act of mercy had been wisely bestowed. But the cannon’s roar is to be heard toward Yorktown, and we must be off to the scene.”

          William Scott had just turned 23 seven days earlier.  He was buried at Yorktown, and Amanda “assisted at his burial.”

 

—–Holland, Mary Gardner, Our Army Nurses, 1998

            Private Scott was just the first of the many casualties that Amanda would nurse, or bury, throughout the Peninsula campaign.

 

 

 

 

Photos to the right are pictures from some of the places talked about in this chapter. 

She Marched with the Troops

          Amanda marched with the troops throughout the Seven Days’ battles, shared their hardships and fare, was on the field with them at Williamsburg, Golding’s Farm, Savage Station, Glendale, and Malvern Hill, and then in the retreat back to Harrison’s Landing.  She not only walked in the rain from Malvern Hill to Harrison’s Landing, through mud knee-deep, but also helped soldiers along the way.

—–Holland, Mary Gardner, Our Army Nurses, 1998

Lt. Major Andrew Brazee, of the 49th N.Y. Volunteers, who would write a reference for Amanda in her pension application, recalled:

“I first saw her on the march from Yorktown to Williamsburg, Va., May 4th, 1862, frequently after that during the Peninsular Campaign and occasionally during the subsequent campaigns of the Army of the Potomac…… Mrs. Farnham always maintained a good reputation in the service in every respect.”

—–Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

Savage Station and the Seven Days Battles   

         On June 29, with Amanda and Marshall both working in the field, and in the field hospitals, they would come under fire at Savage Station.

            “The fighting turned into a bloody stalemate as darkness fell and strong thunderstorms began to move in. The Land Merrimack bombarded the Union front, with some of its shells reaching as far to the rear as the field hospital [the land Merrimack was a giant cannon mounted on a flatbed train car] . The final actions of the evening were by the Vermont Brigade, commanded by Colonel William T. H. Brooks, of Brig. Gen. William F. “Baldy” Smith’s division. Attempting to hold the flank south of the Williamsburg Road, the Vermonters charged into the woods and were met with murderous fire, suffering more casualties of any brigade on the field that day. The brigade as a whole took 439 casualties; the 5th Vermont regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. Lewis A. Grant, lost nearly half of its men, 209 of 428.  The battle was a stalemate at the cost of about 1,500 casualties on both sides, plus 2,500 previously wounded Union soldiers who were left to be captured when their field hospital was evacuated.”

—–Wikipedia contributors, “4th Vermont Infantry,” 

            The 3rd Vermont also suffered heavy losses at Savage Station with 6 killed and 18 wounded.  On July 1, an officer of the 3rd Vermont noted that the regiment had passed “three days and three nights without any sleep, most of the time.”  

     —-Robert Poirier, They Could Not Have Done Better, p. 57

          On July 2, 1862, a day after the battle of Malvern Hill, the Vermonters, having had to march through knee-deep mud, arrived at Harrison’s Landing, and camped at Ruffin’s Farm, two miles north. Several of the most severely wounded of the 3rd Vermont had had to be left at the field hospital at Savage’s Station. There were also difficult logistics to caring for the sick and wounded at Ruffin’s Farm, owing to the fact that 3rd Vermont’s medical tents and supplies had been either discarded or destroyed during the retreat.  Beds were created by putting hay or straw upon poles placed on the ground.           

         “Partly as a result of these conditions a number of the Third’s soldiers died from the effects of disease and wounds.  Company K’s Pvt. Peter M. Abbott described how members of the regiment were buried in the field—conditions permitting of course. ‘They have 4 men to carry the corpse then 10 marches behind with their guns under their left arms.  they have their guns reversed and their right hand behind their backs holding the guns.’  The band would then ’play the deth [sic] march going to the grave and then jest as soon as they have put them in and fired 3 salutes, they stick up a lively tune and march away.’  The bodies of the departed were rolled up in blankets and ‘they have no boards for a coffin.’  Inscribed wooden markers marked their final resting place.”

 

—-Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

Savage Station, Va. Field hospital after the battle of June 27. Photographed June 30, 1862 by James F. Gibson.  Wiki commons

White House on the Pamunkey           

         One of the places the troops would visit during the Pennisula campaign was the White House on the Pamunkey.  Amanda would return to this site in 1864.  The White House on the Pamunkey had been the home of Martha Custis Washington.  During the Peninsula campaign, Robert E. Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, was living in the house when General McClellan took White House Landing as a supply base.  He arranged for Mrs. Lee’s safe passage to Richmond.  McClellan’s troops burned the plantation house to the ground as they retreated during the Seven Days Battles.

We Became Acquainted

           Amanda met her future husband, Marshall Felch in 1862:  “I first became acquainted with Mr. Felch in front of Richmond in 1862, and saw him occasionally after that in service as an army nurse.” 

             At this time in the summer of 1862 Marshall was a corporal in Company H of the 4th Vermont.  He was driving an ambulance and cooking in the hospital.  He was working his way up to become a ward master which would have been an important promotion in a field hospital. 

—-Marshall Felch Pension 1890

Field Romances      

          “A number of hospital romances resulted in more permanent bonds. Dorothea Dix expressed alarm at the number of nurses marrying soldiers, surgeons, and coworkers lest the charge that women entered the service to find husbands prove true.  Nurses sometimes acted as matchmakers, arranging for the minister, wedding party, and cake when a couple wanted to tie the knot in camp.  Sophronia Bucklin did so for a contraband couple whose marriage took place in the candle-lit linen room at Point of Rocks Hospital.  Other ex-slaves took advantage of the opportunity to marry that had been denied them earlier: in 1863 Minerva Trigg and Henry Dillard—both kitchen help at Asylum General—said their vows.”  A footnote in the book reads: “Rebecca Pomroy noted this incident.  Dix may have been referring to Amanda Farnham, of Vermont, who fell in love with Marshall Felch in the summer of 1862 and married him immediately after the war.  The matchmaker was New York’s Adelaide Smith, who at City Point in 1864 did everything for the wedding of Annie Bain and Captain Robert C. Eden except marry the bride.”

—– Jane E. Schultz, Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America  p. 94

        Amanda would have been kept extremely busy throughout the rest of July and into August, caring for these sick and wounded men, but by mid-August, she would be on the move again: “In Aug. 1862 the sick were sent from Harrison’s Landing to hospitals in the north—and I was sent with a detachment to aid and nurse them while in transit, and at this time made a short visit to my home in Vt.”

 —–Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888        

         Following the disastrous Peninsula Campaign, President Lincoln had called for 300,000 more volunteers.  In Vermont, five new nine-month regiments were raised: the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th Vermont, all of which became the Second Vermont Brigade.         

My Own Medical Wagon

          Amanda had a month at home in Vermont before returning to the front, three days before the battle of Antietam.

         “Arriving in Washington on Sunday the 14th, and finding where the army was supposed to be, she tried to get a pass to the front that day, but failed.  The next morning Amanda went to Secretary of War Edwin M Stanton, and received not only her pass, but also an order for an ambulance.”  She immediately set out for the front.

—–Holland, Mary Gardner, Our Army Nurses, 1998, p.98

Image above is of Ambulance Wagons and Drivers at Harewood Hospital  – Washington, D.C., July 1863. Image available on multiple sites.  This image obtained courtesy of Civil War Photos.net

Button Hole Scissors

         “I rejoined the army on the 17th day of Sept. 1862 at Antietam, Md. while the battle was in progress, and not readily finding the Vermont Brigade, I went to the field hospital of French’s Division, assisting them through the day and most of the following night.”

—–Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

         It was here, at Antietam, where Amanda performed her first and only surgical operation. “A soldier had been struck in the right breast by a partly spent ball, but with force enough to follow around the body under the skin, stopping just below the shoulder blade.  Taking the only implement she had, a pair of sharp button-hole scissors, and pinching the ball up with the thumb and finger, she made a slight incision and pressed the ball out.”

—–Holland, Mary Gardner, Our Army Nurses, 1998

Public domain image entitled “Burial of the dead on the Antietam battlefield” from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper / Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army –

 

“After the Antietam Campaign was over I went with my old command to Hagerstown, Md. where we were in camp some six weeks, where I was as usual on duty with the sick, and in the next campaign which ended with the battle of Fredericksburg Dec. 13th 1862.  I went with the Vt. Brigade—and on duty among the wounded there of that battle.

 

—–Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

It was at Hagerstown “that she met, and promised to do all she could to see that the supplies they sent were given to the most needy.”

——-Holland, Mary Gardner, Our Army Nurses, 1998, p. 98

The army remained at Hagerstown throughout October, then started “on to Richmond” for the third time. “December 13th came Fredericksburg, with all its horrors, the Vermonters suffering severely, and Mrs. Farnham, who was stationed at the Bernard house, worked with the wounded without rest until getting back to the old camps at White Oak Church, where the winter passed very pleasantly.”

——Holland, Mary Gardner, Our Army Nurses, 1998, p. 99

Next Chapter:  Matron in Charge

Amanda is appointed Matron in Charge of the Second Division Hospital of the 6th Corps after the battle of Fredericksburg in the winter of 1862/63. The Division at this time would have had in excess of 10,000 men. It is an important recognition of the faith the commanding officers had in her abilities; something she would carry forward through Gettysburg and for the rest of her life.