Voice from the Past: “Ask Us to Marry Him”

Alexandria, February, 1863.

I must tell you about a little excursion we made on the 14th. Dr. S. gave us leave (Mrs. B. and me) to go down to Mt. Vernon with some of our men. He said we could take but twelve, — as the tug could get only within a mile of the shore, — and that we must row in a small boat. First we must take those who had been longest wounded and after that all the amputations. He gave us a little tug to go in, the best and fastest on the river, and I wish you could have seen us set off, seven pairs of crutches. It would have done your heart good to see how happy the poor fellows were; think! for six months some of them had been shut up and had hardly stepped on the ground. They were just as gay with us old nurses as if we had all been young. I told them, coming home, that the only omission, for St. Valentine’s, had been that nobody had asked us to marry him; so they all began at once. The one-legs had the best of it, for they are sure of eight dollars a month.

I thought I might be able to tell you a little of Mt. Vernon and my impressions, but that would be impossible. I’m convinced that one ought to be alone there, or at least with one’s best friend, everything seems so sacred. You feel that you stand in the presence of the spirit, at least, of Washington; and I could almost believe I saw him. It seemed wicked to speak aloud. The rooms are unfurnished and most desolate, and the old harpsichord sounds unearthly. The mantel-piece and hearth in the dining room are splendid. The carving is in strong bas-relief to represent agriculture in all its forms. Would you believe that some vandals have broken horns from cows, arms from milkmaids, and legs from dogs and boys to take away as relics? Is n’t it shameful? The view from the front of the house is splendid; such a beautiful river, with the fort and hills opposite.

– Letter from Mary Phinney, Baroness von Olnhausen, February, 1863 –

Source: Phinney, Mary, Baroness von Olnhausen, “Letter from Mary Phinney, Baroness von Olnhausen, February, 1863,” in Adventures of an Army Nurse in Two Wars edited by James Phinney Munroe (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1903).

Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, February 18, 1865.

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