1862: “You Could Scarcely Believe The Number Of Wounded”

October 23, 1862 

…You could scarcely believe the number of wounded that have passed through & remained in Winchester since the Sharpsburg battle. Many, Many sick are dying here, I fear to say how many were buried today. The ladies are active in doing what they can…. My darling Bev is in town & has a miserable cold, but is not laid up. His location is not yet decided on. He will report to the proper person the day after tomorrow I expect, & then I shall know where he will be, & what he will have to do, dear Boy! The last of my younger children, & my heart is unspeakably anxious about him. Pray for him, my precious Child & for your old Cousin too, pray that I may be benefitted by sorrow, & more ready for my Heavenly Home.

How I wish I could see you all & wish I could write you a more respectable letter. This war & its miserable consequences are too absorbing for almost anything else to be written about. My Boy Randolph came to see me today. He is a fine looking young soldier, so tall & stout tho’ not deemed handsome you many remember. Our Army has been & is so near that occasionally my Grandchildren can come in. They are all three Lieutenants now. Tom Marshall is a Major, & is spoken of as Lieutenant Colonel, he belongs to the Cavalry.

The subject of evacuation & consequent return of the enemy is often conversed, & by many rather expected. I trust it may not be so, how I dread seeing those unclean birds flying round & round & showing their audacious impudence as they have done. My spirit generally rose as they approached me, & I faced them with a feerless [fearless] look & manner, but I may be helpless now, & I would be so glad if they did not come…

Ann C.R. Jones to Harriet Parkhill, October 23, 1862

The weathervane on Winchester’s courthouse. The courthouse was used as a hospital during the Civil War.

Winchester: A Hospital Town

Winchester, Virginia, sits at the northern end of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. About seventy miles west of Washington D.C. During the war and in history studies, the town gained fame (or infamy) for changing hands over seventy times as Union and Confederate forces fought over, around, and through this prime strategic location.

While Winchester history gets attention for its combative moments and the journals of the civilians who survived it all, it’s important to remember another aspect of the town’s war experience. Winchester was a hospital town. With its relatively easy access via a network of converging roads, solid brick buildings, and role as a headquarters or supply base for whichever army was in town, medical facilities were created or improvised to shelter sick and wounded soldiers.

After the Battle of Antietam, the Confederate ambulance trains headed for Winchester, overwhelming the civilians and facilities with wounded. The less seriously injured were sent farther south, often to the railroad line in Staunton and then to Charlottesville, Richmond, or other locations with large base hospitals. The wounded from Antietam who stayed in Winchester were critically injured or ill and unable to make the journey.

Thus, in the autumn of 1862, not only did the Winchester and local civilians had the challenge of caring for a town-full of hurting men, but they were left with the least likely to survive. The impact on the community was unforgettable.

A Consuming War

Ann Jones seems apologetic in her letter. She writes almost exclusively about the war and her family’s involvement in it.

Sketch of a Shenandoah Valley civilian woman (New Market Battlefield Museum)

While the Civil War affected families across the nation, it was particularly affecting in the “war zone” areas. Winchester and the entire northern end of the Shenandoah Valley can be considered a war zone with armies regularly moving through the area, patrols marching along the roads, stragglers or entire units descending on farms and homes, and battles or skirmishing occurring within sight or sound of the residences. And – creating even more tension – many of the Southern defenders of the Valley were its citizens, like Ann Jones’s sons and grandsons.

Taking the situation and setting into account, it’s not hard to understand how the war consumed her thoughts, letter, and actions.

Historical Musings

Recently, I’ve been reading journals written by civilians in the Shenandoah Valley. Primary sources written in “real time” (as events unfolded, not a recollection at a later time) are fascinating studies into human feeling and emotion.

Did you notice Ann Jones’s “name calling” toward the end of the excerpt? She calls the Union soldiers “unclean birds.” (That’s mild name calling for Yankees from a woman in this region of the Valley.) Yet, like other primary sources, there’s a hollowness to the words and bravado. In the same paragraph, Jones wonders if she will stay or refugee the next time the Union forces come to the area.

Is it possible that the “name calling” exhibited in this region masked the fear? It’s worth considering. Perhaps I should research it further.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I shared another letter excerpt by Ann Jones earlier this year. You can find that post and more biographical and family information here.

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