Mrs. Cordelia A. P. Harvey
Among the women whom the Civil War brought to the front as leaders, such as Louisa Lee Schuyler, Dorothea Dix, and Anna Dickinson, Mrs. Cordelia A. Perrine Harvey from Wisconsin, deserves a place.
In some respects she was a national flgure, one of the great army-nurses whose work was not limited by state lines.
The early life of this remarkable woman did not
differ from that of other Wisconsin women of her day, who spent their lives in small
towns, busy with the daily routine. She lived for many years in Kenosha, where her
father's family, the Perrines, were prominent in the decade of the forties.
The Perrine's were Huguenots that had settled in New Jersey and earlier generations had fought in the Battle Of Monmouth during the Revolution as it was fought on their farm.( Rev. K. L. Schaub)
There she taught school, and there she was married to a school-teacher, Louis P. Harvey. In 1845, the young couple moved to Clinton Junction where Mr. Harvey kept a country store. Thence they removed their home to Shopiere in Rock County, where they remained until 1859, when Mr. Harvey's election as Secretary of State made his presence in Madison necessary. Mr. Harvey was a person of strong personality and political sagacity, and in 1861 the people of Wisconsin elected him Governor. From the day of the firing on Fort Sumter both he and his wife showed a deep interest in the Civil War. A company of volunteers were named for the Governor, the "Harvey Zouaves; " to each of its members Mrs. Harvey presented a Bible and a Testament; with additional remembrances for the officer.
In the busy days which followed the first call for troops, Mrs. Harvey entered with enthusiasm into work for the soldiers and their families. She was enabled to give her time, because she and her husband were boarding, and she was not ecumbered with household duties.
Governor Harvey's Death
Governor Harvey went to the South in the spring of 1862 in order to learn whether the sick and wounded Wisconsin men were well cared for. He stopped at Cairo, Mound City, and Paducah, in each case making visits to hospitals, where the sick of Wisconsin regiments were located. The Governor's deep sympathy is shown by the following comment in one of the reports from the front:
'It would have moved a heart of stone to witness the Interviews between the Governor and our wounded heroes. There was something more than formality about these visits, and the men knew it by sure instinct.
At Pittsburg Landing the same was even more evident:
The news of the Governor's arrival spread as if by magic, and at every house those who could stand clustered around him, and those who had not raised their heads for days, sat up, their faces aglow with gratitude for the kind looks, and words and acts, which showed the Governor's tender care of them. At times these scenes were so affecting, that even the Governor's self-control failed him, and he could not trust himself to talk.'
When he had done everything in his power for the Wisconsin men, he went to Savannah, seven miles away, his heart filled with well-earned satisfaction as a result of his labors. From there he wrote to his wife: "Yesterday was the day of my life. Thank God for the impulse that brought me here. I am well, and have done more good by coming, than I can well tell you." At Savannah, Tennessee, as he was about to pass from one boat to another, his foot slipped, and he fell into the water and was drowned, before help could be secured. While this tragic event was taking place, his wife, totally unconscious of the shocking incident, was busily engaged in collecting money for the relief of soldiers' families. When the dispatch containing the distressing news was received by Adjutant-General Gaylord, Mrs. Harvey was at the Capitol, securing subscriptions in order to aid a destitute family in the city. An attempt was made to get her to her boarding house, before the contents of the dispatch were made known, but Mrs. Harvey understood at once,by the faces of the men present, that some bad news had been received. Her friends tried to accompany her home, and Mr. Gaylord told her that a rumor had been received, which gave him some anxiety in regard to the Governor.
While they were attempting to conceal the full extent of the calamity, she stopped and said, "Tell me if he is dead!" Mr. Gaylord evaded a direct reply, but she read the fatal news in the expression of his face and fainted.
She was taken home, where for a short time her grief unsettled her mind.
She was not a woman to spend her life in mourning, however, and when the intensity of her grief had somewhat lessened, she began to ask herself what her duties in life were to be. While in this state of mind, she came to realize the whole import of her husband's character, of which his last letter to her was but an index. This feeling took such a strong possession of her, that a settled conviction possessed her that her duty in life was to finish the work which he had left undone. With a woman of her temperament, to will was to act. She soon therefore began to inquire where and how she could be most helpful to Wisconsin soldiers.
An extract from a letter of Judge Howe, dated August 27, 1862, shows what plans her friends made for her:
"Mrs. Harvey is visiting us. You can imagine something how she suffers from the loss of her husband. Her friends desire that she should find employment with which to occupy her mind. But what employment can a woman find? She is urged to try a school for young ladies, but she fears the derangement of the times will forbid success, and so do I. She has thought of a hospital, but you know General Hammond is taking them under his own care exclusively, and her strength will not warrant her in contracting for day labor. This morning I suggested to her the idea of being appointed allotment commissioner in place of Mr. Holton. It pleases her. It is a kind of missionary labor, to which she is fully equal, and in which she will be, I am confident, very successful. I know no one more energetic than she is in whatever interests her. You know how deeply she has interested herself In the welfare of the army. She could plead the cause of a soldier's family to the soldier himself, I think, with great effect."
letter of Judge Howe to Judge Doolittle (Green Bay. Aug. 27, 1862).
The duties of an allotment commissioner were to visit the different companies in order to ascertain what proportion of the soldier's wages he would send home in monthly or other installments. This money was to be placed at the disposal of the families of the volunteers.
Considering the soldier's temptation, this system was a very useful one; it apportioned part of his pay by his own act, in order to support his family.
This was not, however, to be her work. September 10, 1862, Governor Salomon appointed her sanitary agent at St. Louis, and for the succeeding four years she rendered acceptable service in the Southland for Wisconsin soldiers. It will be easier to understand the secret of her success in the South, if we realize what manner of woman she was. From all accounts she was not beautiful, although possessed of a strong, magnetic personality, and delightfully frank, yet charming manners. Her tact was unusual,therefore she succeeded in accomplishing things in which other people failed. United with this tact was an indomitable will and an untiring persistence. With such characteristics it might be imagined that she lacked in tenderness and sympathy. Such was not the case however. Her motherly heart and sympathetic nature caused the men to call her the "Wisconsin Angel." United to these qualities of character and temperament was her experience in social affairs; she knew how to approach those in high official positions as well as the humblest private.
Withal, she had a fine sense of humor, a fund of homely common sense, and a deep religious feeling, which expressed itself in deeds rather than in words. She was always modest and often said that every patriotic woman in Wisconsin deserved as much praise as she. In short, she was an extremely human, lovable person, of the highest type of womanhood, unselfish, unconsciously great, and Wisconsin can forever be proud of having the honor to claim her as its daughter. Early in the fall of 1862, Mrs. Harvey went to St. Louis as sanitary agent. Timidly and carefully she felt her way, at first seeking to comprehend the necessities of the situation, for other. intelligent and worthy women had failed when attempting what she was assigned to undertake. She found the medical department poorly organized, and hampered by many incompetent surgeons. Although she realized the delicacy of the situation she was firm in her opinion that conditions must be radically changed, even if the sacred red-tape of government rules had to be cut. She began by visiting hospitals, in order that she might find out where improvements were most needed. She stayed for several weary weeks at St. Louis, where she visited the hospitals at Benton Barracks and Fifth Street; these were crowded with men from the camps and battlfields of Missouri and Tennessee.
At Cape Girardeau
Afterwards Mrs. Harvey proceeded to Cape Girardeau, where hospitals were being improvised for the immediate use of the sick and dying, then being brought in from the swamps by the returning regiments, and up the rivers in closely-crowded hospital boats. These hospitals were mere sheds filled with cots, side by side; so close, there was scarcely room for a person to pass between them. Mrs. Harvey describes their conditions as follows: "Pneumonia, typhoid, and camp fevers, and that fearful scourge of the Southern swamps and rivers, chronic diarrhoea, occupied every bed. A surgeon once said to me, "There is nothing else there; here I see pneumonia and there fever, and on that cot another disease, and I see nothing else! You had better stay away; the air is full of contagion; and contagion and sympathy not go well together." One day a woman passed through these uncomfortable, unventilated, hot, unclean, infected, wretched rooms; and she saw something else there. A hand reached out and clutched her dress. One caught her shawl and kissed it, another her hand, and pressed it to his fevered cheek; another in wild delirium cried, "I want to go home! I want to go home! Lady! Lady! Take me in your chariot; take me away!" This woman failed to see on these cots aught but the human (beings] they were to her; the sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers of anxious weeping ones at home, and as such she cared for, and thought of them. Arm in arm with health, she visited day by day everyones's cot, doing, it is true, very little, but always taking with her from the outside world fresh air, fresh flowers, and all the hope and comfort she could find in her heart to give them." Although Mrs. Harvey speaks thus modestly of her labors at Cape Girardeau, her work there was really heroic, for the conditions with which she had to contend were more distressing than can be described. In the intensely warm climate, contagious diseases flourished. Mrs. Harvey found on her arrival that the body of a dead soldier had lain for hours unattended to, because those in charge had afraid to touch it. But Mrs. Harvey was not afraid; were with her own hands she bound up the face, and encouraged by her coolness the burial party was induced to coffin the body and remove it from the house.
Worse than all was the fact that the sick and wounded had nothing to subsist on but the common army rations. One of Mrs. Harvey's first acts was to telegraph to the president of the Western Sanitary Commission for hospital stores; such were sent immediately to her in liberal measure. Soon after returning to St. Louis, Mrs. Harvey came back to Wisconsin, where she did much to arouse enthusiasm among the women and to give direction to their work. In October she again revisted the hospitals, where she did all in her power to comfort the soldiers by writing to their friends and procuring discharges for those who were unfit for service. She returned to St. Louis on November 1, when the surgeon in charge of the hositais wrote to Governor Salomon, commending her efforts. During the same month General Curtis gave her permission to visit all the hospitals in his command, and he sent orders to quartermasters and transportation companies to afford her and her sanitary articles free transmission. So she started on a tour of inspection, which embraced all the general hospitals on the Mississippi River as well as the regimental hospitals for Wisconsin soldiers. On this tour she visited those at Helena, St. Louis, Rolla, Ironton, and Memphis. While on a steamer from Cape Girardeau to Helena, Mrs. Harvey heard a young major in the regular army coolly remarked that it was much cheaper for the Government to keep her sick soldiers in hospitals on the river, than to furlough them. Upon which she quietly remarked: "That is true, Major, if all were faithful to the Government, but unfortunately a majority of the surgeons in the army have conscientious scruples, and verily believe it to be their duty to keep these sick men alive as long as possible...... Don't you think, sir, that it would be a trifle more economical to send these poor fellows North for a few weeks, to regain their strength, that they might return at once to active service?"
Mrs. Harvey was prevented from hearing the Major's reply on account of the other officers' laughter. It seems that the Major was the medical director at Helena, where over 2,000 Northern soldiers lay buried. It was Mrs. Harvey's opinion that two-thirds of these men might have been saved if they had been sent North. Upon inquiry she learned from the surgeon in charge of the hospital that he had several times made out certificates of disability in order to secure furloughs for some of the men in his hospital; but when these were sent to the medical director for his signature, they had been invariably disapproved. He had also permitted the men, to submit their papers in person; only to have them severely reproved, and ordered back by the director, "and, " he continued with tears in his eves, "many of them never returned, for broken. hearted, they have lain down by the roadside and died."
Influence with Officials
Mrs. Harvey had one memorable experience in securing the discharge of a sick boy. His mother had succeeded in getting her son as far as St. Louis, where his papers were to be sent; but here she met with reverses, for the papers sent to the medical director were improperly made out, consequently his approval was not secured. The broken-hearted mother told her story to Mrs. Harvey that same night. She impulsively said, "Give me the papers," and off she went to the offlce of the medical director. "He was a man fully six feet high, over fifty years of age, [with] a beard like Oliver Cromwell's, a face as stern as fate, and of the regular army." She entered his office,seated herself and waited till he spoke to her. After a curt question or two the general went on writing; finally he turned and said: "May as well hear it now as ever, what is it?" Whereupon Mrs. Harvey stated the case as well as she could, interrupted only by the half-rude, half impatient remarks of the inspector. Finally he said, as if in self-defense, "We have army regulations; we cannot go behind them. You know, if I do, they will rap me over the knuckles at Washington." To this the quick-witted, earnest little woman replied, "Oh, that your knuckles were mine. I would be willing to have them skinned; the skin will grow again you know." "Where are these papers?" he said sharply. "I have them here in my pocket." "Let me see them." Mrs. Harvey took them out slowly and handed them over to him, blank side up. He turned them, and his face flushed as he said, "Why I have had these papers and disapproved them. This is my signature." Tremblingly she replied, "I knew it, but forgive me. I thought maybe when you knew about it, General, and the mother was weeping with the skeleton arms of the boy around her neck-I thought maybe you would do something or tell me something to do." "Suppose I do approve these papers, it will do no good. The general in command will stop them and censure me." "But you will have done all you could and have obeyed the higher law." She had won, for the remorseful man crossed out with a firm stroke of his pen "disapproved," and wrote "approved" upon the discharge, after which he said in a quick, husky tone, "Take it, and don't you come here again today." As Mrs. Harvey raised her eyes to thank him, she saw a scowl on his brow, a smile on his lips, but tears in his eyes.
Another story shows how Mrs. Harvey succeeded in securing the assistance she wanted. An erring boy of nineteen had deserted from a Minnesota regiment; later he had joined a Wisconsin regiment, from which he had been honorably discharged after having been wounded in a battle. In one of the lowest dens in St. Louis he had been drugged, robbed, and left lying on a filthy mattress. There he was found tossing from side to side, strcken by disease and in a delirious condition. Mrs. Harvey soothed him as best she could. Recognizing the hand of kindness on his burning brow, he cried "Mother." After a touching scene she left, promising to return in half an hour and take him away. This was easier said than done; the boy was at that time only a citizen and not a soldier, and therefore he could not be admitted to a military hospital. But he was dying, and in order to prevent his mother from knowing that he had died in such a state, Mrs. Harvey determined to make a desperate effort to get him admitted to the hospital.
So she went to her old friend the medical director, and told her story, saying, "General, write an order quick to the surgeon in charge of the Fifth Street hospital, that the boy may be received. I also want an ambulance, mattress, and bedding, and some men to help me to move him. Yes, yes, but listen, I have no right; I can't do" "I know-I know, but please do hurry-I promised to be back in half an hour, and the boy will expect me."
The General imitating her voice, gave the order and continned, "Here is the paper; what else do you want? Henceforth we do what you wish and no questions asked. It is the easiest way and I guess the only way to get along with you.
Early in February, 1863, Mrs. Harvey went to Memphis from which place she sent a letter to the Governor of our State urging him to establish a hospital at that place. Here she also succeeded in procuring furloughs for men who would otherwise have died. In fact, her influence was so great that the poor and ignorant ones had a strange, almost superstitious reverence for her as one who used her great power for the good of the common soldier. The estimate formed of her authority by some of the more ignorant class showed itself sometimes in a ludicrous manner. For instance she received letters from homesick men, begging her to give them a furlough in order to visit their families; even deserters and men confined in military prisons, asked her to help them and set them at liberty, promising her that they would reform. A Wisconsin soldier who had been left in a convalescent camp at Memphis, gives a glimpse of Mrs. Harvey at her labors. He saw her at the camp several times, carrying fruits and wine in a basket; he saw her also at the general hospital, where she again carried her basket, full of delicacies. When the soldiers heard she was in the room, they used to raise themselves from their pillows and call her the "Wisconsin Angel." Each Wisconsin soldier received a treat from the basket,.and Mrs. Harvey was sorry when she was unable to dispense her charity to all the Union soldiers in the hospital. There was a surgeon from Wisconsin at this same hospital, who was proving untrustworthy on account of his fondness for drink; Mrs. Harvey was determined to have him removed. She sent for him to come to see her and informed him that she had written to the authorities at Madison, and that he was to leave at once, as he was unfit for duty."'
Brings Sick Soldiers to the North
After visiting Memphis, Mrs. Harvey inspected hospitals at Corinth, Jackson, and La Grange. She met General Grant at Vicksburg in March, 1863; here she succeeded finally in securing from him an order that patients who suffered from chronic dysentery should be sent to Northern hospitals, and that the convalescent camp at Memphis should be cleared out by discharging the men who were unfit for service, and by sending others to their regiments; that medical inspectors should he appointed for every army corps, and that they should have full power to discharge disabled men. Mrs. Harvey began her task at Memphis, where she found 100 men in a convalescent camp at Fort Pickering. These men could not live unless they were taken North. She accompanied them up the river to Cairo; from there they went by rail to St. Louis, where a transport awaited theIn the meantime Mrs. Harvey had not only secured transportation for the as they were needy and had not been paid, she procured a change of clothing for each one from the Western Sanitary Commission. The experiment was a success, for out of the whole number released from this camp only seven died.
In the spring of 1863, General Grant was making his approaches upon Vicksburg. At that time Young's Point,across the river, was the limit of uninterrupted navigation, and there much sickness existed caused by the high water covering the low lands. bout April 1, Mrs Harvey began her work at this point, but after a few weeks she was overcome by the miasma, and was obliged to return to the North, where after a few months of rest in New York and Wisconsin, she recovered her health. It was on her return trip from the North that she visited Washington and obtained from President Lincoln permission to establish a hospital in Wisconsin for convalescent soldiers.
Returning to the South Mrs. Harvey again visited all of the hospitals on the river, down as far as New Orleans, making Vicksburg the centre of her field of labor. Here her presence was in itself a power for good, so great was the reputation she had won in the army. Hospital officers and attendants were especially affected by her return; they knew how quickly she would find out and condemn any delinquency on their part, and they acted accordingly. During the summer of 1864, the garrison at Vicksburg suffered intensely from various diseases; the mortality was especially great among the men of the Second Wisconsin Cavalry. "Strong men sickened and died within a few days, others lingered for weeks, wasting by degrees, till only skin and bone were left." The survivors, as evidence of their appreciation of the services of Mrs. Harvey, presented her with an enamelled watch, set with diamonds. She disliked a presentation ceremony, but could not avoid it in this case; those present must have been astonished when observing the poor appearance she made in public. For this woman, who was "resolute, impetuous, confident to a degree, bordering on the imperious, with power of denunciation to equip an orator," seemed to lose all her power of effective speech on this occasion, and to be quite overcome by her feelings. Although Mrs. Harvey was the sanitary agent for Wisconsin, she paid little regard to state lines, and her work may truly be regarded as national. Wisconsin citizens consider her as the highest embodiment of womanly helpfulness and virtue which our State produced during the Civi War period.
Mrs. Harvey's Interview with Lincoln
Throughout Mrs. Harvey's narrative of her experiences in the early years of the war, runs a thread of criticism of existing conditions, especially of that military regulation which kept sick soldiers in Southern hospitals instead of sending them North, where the bracing atmosphere might restore them to health. To her the idea of military hospitals in the North seemed eminently practicable, and she could see no reason why the authorities should oppose such a project. She was not the only one who tried to secure such an arrangement; Governor Salomon had from the beginning of his term of office done everything in his power to further this matter, but his efforts were of no avail. "Finally Mrs. Harvey and Mrs. Eliza Porter proposed to Senator Howe that he draw up a petition praying for the establishment of such hospitals. This was done, and through the efforts of these two women and other friends of the enterprise, eight thousand signatures were secured." It was then proposed that Mrs. Porter should take the petition to Washington, for as Mrs. Harvey said:
"By sending it.... by this officer and that one, we began to feel that the message lost the flavor of the truth and got cold, before it reached the deciding power, and because it was so luke-warm, he spued it out of his mouth. It is always best, if you wish to secure an object.... to go at once to the highest power, be your own petitioner, in temporal as in spiritual matters, officiate at your own altar, be your own priest."
Seeing the President, Mrs. Porter having refused to be the bearer of the petition, Mrs. Harvey went instead. "By the advice of friends, and with the intense feeling that something must be done I went to Washington. I entered the White House, not with fear and trembling, but strong and self possessed, fully conscious of the righteousness of my mission."
When I first saw him [President Lincoln] his head was bent forward, his chin resting on his breast, and in his hand a letter, which I had just sent in to him. He raised his eyes, saying, "Mrs. Harvey." I hastened forward, and replied, "Yes, and I am glad to see you, Mr. Lincoln!" So much for Republican presentation and ceremony. The President took my hand, hoped I was well, but there was no smile of welcome on his face. It was rather the stern look of the judge, who had decided against me.
His face was peculiar - bone, nerve, vein, and muscle were all so plainly seen; deep lines of thought and care were around his mouth and eyes. The word justice came into my mind, as though I could read it upon his face - I mean, that extended sense of the word, that comprehends the practice of every virtue which reason prescribes and society should expect. The debt we owe to God, to man, to ourselves, when paid is but a simple act of justice, a duty performed. This attribute seemed the source of Mr. Lincoln's strength."
After he had read the paper introducing Mrs. Harvey and her mission, he looked at her with a good deal of sad severity and said: "Madam, this matter of Northern hospitals has been talked of a great deal, and I thought it was settled; but it seems not. What have you got to say about it?" "Only this, Mr. Lincoln, that many soldiers- in our Western army, on the Mississippi River, must have Northern air or die. There are thousands of graves all along our Southern rivers, and in the swamps, for which the Government is responsible; ignorantly, undoubtedly, but this ignorance must not continue. If you will permit these men to come North, you will have ten men where you have one now."
The President could not comprehend this forceful argument; he could not understand that by sending one sick man to the North, this North would produce in a year ten healthy men. Mrs. Harvey made her point clear, but Lincoln answered: "Yes, yes, I understand you; but if they are sent North, they will desert; where is the difference?"
"Dead men cannot fight, and they may not desert," she answered.
Interview with Stanton
Thus the war of argument ran on, Mrs. Harvey valiantly defending her position, the President attacking it. Finally both parties to the debate realized that they had reached a deadlock, and Mr. Lincoln said:"Well, well, Mrs. Harvey, you go see the Secretary of War and talk with him, and hear what he has to say."
I left him for the War Department. I found written on the back of the letter these words, "Admit Mrs. Harvey at once; listen to what she says; she is a lady of intelligence and talks sense.
Not displeased with this introduction Mrs. Harvey went to see the Secretary of War, who informed her that he had sent the Surgeon-General to New Orleans on a tour of hospital inspection. Mrs. Harvey knew that this procedure would practically have no effect on existing conditioris, whereupon she replied, "The truth is, the medical authorities know the heads of departments do not wish hospitals established so far away from army lines, and report accordingly. I wish this could be overruled; can nothing be done?" "Nothing until the Surgeon-General returns," Mr. Stanton replied. So the valiant woman left him, not at all disappointed with her day's work, because she felt that she had made a deep impression on both these earnest and conscientious men, and could afford to wait for the result of her interviews. On that memorable day she met a friend in the street, who said to her, "How long are you going to stay here?" "Until I get what I came after." "That's right, that's right; go on; I believe in the final perseverance of the saints."
The President Unconvinced
The next morning she returned to the White House full of hope, but no smile greeted her. The President had been annoyed and worried by a woman pleading for the life of her son, and was not the genial, open-minded man he had been the night before. Mrs. Harvey relates her interview as follows:
After a moment he said, "Well," with a peculiar contortion of the face, I never saw in any one else. I replied, "Well," and he looked at me a little astonished, I fancied, and said, "Have you nothing to say?" "Nothing, Mr. President, until I hear your decision. You bade me come this morning; have you decided?"
"No, but I believe this idea of Northern hospitals is a great humbug, and I am tired of hearing about it." He spoke impatiently. I replied, "I regret to add a feathers weight to your already overwhelming care and responsibility. I would rather have stayed at home." With a kind of half smile, he said, "I wish you had." I answered him as though he had not smiled, "Nothing would have given me greater pleasure; but a keen sense of duty to this Government, justice and mercy to its most loyal supporters, and regard for your honor and position made me come. The people cannot understand why their friends are left to die, when with proper care they might live and do good service for their country. * * *
"Many on their cots, faint, sick and dying say, 'We would gladly do more, but suppose that it is all right.'- I know that the majority of them would live and be strong men again, it they could be sent North. I say, I know, because I was sick among them last spring; surrounded by every comfort, with the best of care, and determined to get well. I grew weaker, day by day, until not being under military law, my friends brought me North. I recovered entirely, simply by breathing the Northern air.,'
While I was speaking the expression of Mr. Lincoln's face had changed many times. He had never taken his eyes from me. Now every muscle of his face seemed to contract, and then suddenly expand. As he opened his mouth, you could almost hear them snap, as he said, "You assume to know more than I do," and closed his mouth as though he never expected to open it again, sort of slammed it to; I could scarcely reply. I was hurt and tbought the tears would come, but rallied in a moment and said, "You must pardon me, Mr. President, I intend no disrespect, but it is because of this knowledge - because I do know what you do not know, that I come to you. If you knew what I do, and had not ordered what I ask for, I should know that an appeal to you would be vain; but I believe that the people have not trusted you for naught. The question only is, whether you believe me or not. If you believe me, you will give me hospitals; if not, not." With the same snapping of muscle, he again said, "You assume to know more than surgeons do."
To this Mrs. Harvey replied, that the medical authorities knew that Lincoln was opposed to establishing hospitals in the North, and that they reported so as to please him, and she continued:
"I come to you from no casual tour of inspection passing rapidly through the general hospitals, with a cigar in my mouth, and a rattan in my hand, talking to the surgeon-in-charge of the price of cotton, and abusing the generals in our army, for not knowing and performing their duty better, and finally coming into the open air, with a long-drawn breath as though they had just escaped suffocation, and complacently saying, 'You have a very fine hospital here; the boys seem to be doing well, a little more attention to ventilation is perhaps desirable.'
"It is not thus I have visited hospitals; but from early morning until late at night sometimes, I have visited the regimental and general hospitals on the Mississippi River from Quincy to Vicksburg, and I come to you from the cots of men who have died, who might have lived had you permitted. This is hard to say, but it is none the less true." During the time that I had been speaking Mr. Lincoln's brow had become very much contracted, and a severe scowl had settled over his whole face. He sharply asked, how many men Wisconsin had in the field; that is, how many did she send. I replied, "About fifty thousand, I think. I do not know exactly." "That means, she has about twenty thousand now." He looked at me, and said, "You need not look so sober; they are not all dead." I did not reply.
After some conversation of a more general nature Mrs. Harvey left the President with the understanding that she would receive her answer at twelve the next day.
Mrs. Harvey Successful
The next morning she arose with a terribly depressed feeling that perhaps she would fail in her great mission. She was nervous and impatient and found herself looking at her watch, and wondering if twelve o'clock would never come. Finally she went to the White House, where she was informed by a messenger that a cabinet meeting was in session, and that she was to await the adjournment. After three hours, during which she felt more and more certain of defeat, Mr. Lincoln came into the room where she was waiting. He came forward, rubbing his hands and saying, "My dear Madam, I am very sorry to have kept you waiting. We have but this moment adjourned." She replied, "My waiting is no matter, but you must be very tired and we will not talk tonight." But the President. asked her to sit down and said, "Mrs. Harvey, I only wish to tell you, that an order equivalent to granting a hospital in your State has been issued nearly twenty-four hours." Let Mrs. Harvey continue the story in her own words:
I could not speak, I was so entirely unprepared for it. I wept for Joy, I could not help It. When I could speak I said, 'God bless you! I thank you in the name of thousands, who will bless you for the act.' ....I was so much agitated, I could not talk with him. He noticed it and commenced talking upon other subjects....
I shortly after left with the promise to call next morning, as he desired me to do at nine o'clock. I suppose the excitement caused the intense suffering of that night. I was very ill, and it was ten o'clock the next morning before I was able to send for a carriage to keep my appointment with the President.
More than fifty people were in the waiting room, so Mrs. Harvey turned to go; but a voice said, "Mrs. Harvey, the President will see you now." As she passed through the crowd, one person said, "She has been here every day and what is more, she is going to win." Mr. Lincoln greeted her cordially and gave her a copy of the order he had just issued. She thanked him for it and apologized to being late, whereupon he asked, "Did joy make you sick?" to which she answered, "I don't know, very likely it was the relaxation of nerve after intense excitement." Still looking at her he said, "I suppose you would have been mad if I had said 'no'?" "No, Mr. Lincoln, I should neither have been angry nor sick." "What would you have done?" be asked curiously. "I should have been here at nine o'clock, Mr. President." "Well," he laughingly said, "I think I acted wisely then. Don't you ever get angry?" he asked. "I know a little woman, not very unlike you, who gets mad sometimes." Mrs. Harvey answered, "I never get angry, when I have an object to gain of the importance of the one under consideration; to get angry, you know, would only weaken my cause and destroy my influence." "That is true, that is true, " he said decidedly. "This hospital I shall name for you." But Mrs. Harvey said modestly, "If you would not consider the request indelicate, I would like to have it named for Mr. Harvey." "Yes, just as well, it shall be so understood, if you prefer it. I honored your husband and felt his loss." After some further conversation Mr. Lincoln looked at her from under his eyebrows and said, "You almost think me handsome, don't you?" His face then beamed with such kind benevolence, and was lighted by such a pleasant smile, that she looked at him and said impulsively, "You are perfectly lovely to me now, Mr Lincoln," at which he blushed a little, and laughed most heartily.
As she arose to go, he reached out his hand - that hand in which there was so much power and little beauty - and held hers clasped and covered in his own. Mrs. Harvey relates further: "I bowed my head and pressed my lips most reverently upon the sacred shield, even as I would upon my country's shrine. A silent prayer went up from my heart, "God bless you, Abraham Lincoln!" I heard him say goodbye, and I was gone. Thus ended the most interesting interview of my life, with one of the most remarkable men of the age. My impressions of him had been so varied, his character had assumed so many different phases, his very looks had changed so frequently, and so entirely, that it almost seemed to me I had been conversing with half a dozen different men. He blended in his character the most yielding flexibility with the most unflinching firmness; child-like simplicity and weakness, with statesman-like wisdom and masterly strength; but over and around all was thrown the mantle of an unquestioned integrity."
It is almost superfluous to comment upon Mrs. Harvey's part in these memorable interviews, for the reader of her descriptions cannot but feel her power and strength of character. She was like a wise general who is not over-confident by apparent success, nor unduly depressed by apparent defeat. Moreover, in her was united a masculine grasp of a situation and a remarkable power of argument, with womanly tact and patience, which finally secured the victory. Wisconsin people may feel that in this interview with Abraham Lincoln, Mrs. Harvey rose to the situation with a greatness not below that of the President, whom she so truly called "one of the most remarkable men of the age."
As a result of Mrs. Harvey's intercession with President Lincoln, three convalescent camps or hospitals were established in Wisconsin - at Madison, at Milwaukee, and at Prairie du Chien. The Harvey United States Army General Hospital, as it was called, was established at Madison in October, 1863. After several buildings were examined, the Farwell house was chosen, a three-storied octagonal building near Lake Monona. Within a month Dr. Howard Culbertson was placed at its head, and his conduct of the institution was thus endorsed by Surgeon-General Wolcott: "I have frequently visited the Harvey Hospital, and it affords me great pleasure to bear testimony to the untiring zeal and ability of the Surgeon In charge, and the medical officers and sub-ordinates under him. The essential excellence of a Hospital consists in the successful results of efforts to restore the inmates to health, or the nearest approximation to it, if possible.
The general policy, hygienic regulations, orders, rules, etc., should all tend to this grand result. Viewed in this light, although there are many much more spacious and commodious, hospitals in the country, very few will be found superior to the Harvey Hospital. Remediable cases, whether requiring surgical or medicinal means or both, are seasonably and skilfully treated. ...Those of our gallant sick and wounded boys, who are so fortunate as to be inmates of the Harvey Hospital, have abundant reason for self-congratulation. Of such there are at this time about 630, including those at the Branch, Camp Randall."
This admirably conducted institution was in operation until the close of the war, when it was discontinued - its patients either discharged, or transferred to the Post Hospital at Camp Randall. The hospitals at Milwaukee and Prairie du Chien were established in 1864, the former being designed as an officers' hospital. The one at Prairie du Chien was known as the Swift Hospital; its buildings are now a part of the Sacred Heart Academy. There were five wards in its main building, and four regular nurses. As far as can be learned it was well managed.
Soldiers' Orphans' Home
During the last two years of the war. Mrs. Harvey had been considering the establishment of a home in Wisconsin for the orphans of soldiers. When she returned from the South in 1865, she brought with her six or seven orphans of the war, whom she had found there, not inquiring on which side their fathers fought. Having learned that the Government was about to discontinue the several hospitals in the Northern states, she thought the Harvey Hospital so well adapted for an orphanage, that negotiations were at once began with the owners of the property.
So liberal was the offer made by them, that Governor Lewis decided to send Mrs. Harvey to Washington in order to secure a title to the three wings that had been erected by the United States. The War Department had no authority to make such a donation, but upon investigation it was ascertained that these additions when torn down would have no value to the Goverment, except as old lumber. An arrangement was tbereupon made, by which the proprietors received the buildings in lieu of rent and repairs, on condition that the property should be used as a home for soldiers' orphans.
Through the generosity of interested friends in Madison and other places the property was purchased for such a home. Repairs were immediately begun, and the building was ready by January 1, 1866, to receive soldiers' orphans. The personal exertions of Mrs. Harvey and the liberality of her friends, thus resulted in starting a charitable enterprise which was conducted as a private institution until March 31, 1866, when its maintenance was assumed by the State. The building contained dormitories, sleeping rooms, a schoolroom capable of seating 150 children, an infirmary, and a sewing-room. In April, 1866, the home housed eighty-five children with Mrs. Harvey in charge. As superintendent, she was "the chief executive officer of the home, to have control and authority over all assistants connected with the institution below the grade designated in the by-laws as officers; to employ or discharge as [she] may see fit, being responsible to the trustees -for the proper discharge of that duty."
The qualifications for admission to the institution were: "All orphans over the age of four and under fourteen years, whose fathers enlisted from the State, and who have either been killed or died while in the military or naval services of the United States, or of this State, during the late rebellion, or who have since died of diseases contracted while in such service, and who have no means of support, shall be entitled to the benefits of this institution, giving the preference to those having neither father nor mother, in deciding upon applications."
During the year that Mrs. Harvey was superintendent the institution was well established. She gave personal supervision to even the smallest details and took the trouble to learn the name of every child, although their number soon increased to 300. On May 1, 1867, she resigned, and from that time on the office of superintendent was filled by men whose wives acted as matrons, giving in all instances "their whole strength and energy and tenderest care to their work."
Women were always employed as teachers, and regarded their task as a labor of love, in which no effort was spared to supply the place of real mothers to the children. In 1872 Mr. and Mrs. R. W. Burton became superintendent and matron respectively. By this time some of the girls were approaching womanhood, and Mrs. Burton, like her predecessor, spared no pains in surrounding the children with elevating and refining influences. Many of the children having grown up and gone out from the home to find their places in society, the State in 1874, feeling the need for retrenchment, closed the institution.
The home was exceediny well managed during its entire eight years' existence; the sanitary condition was excellent, so that during the whole period but eight deaths occurred. There were often as many as 300 children residing within its walls, whose training, both in school work and in domestic science, was effective. Many of those who left the home, became teachers, or entered higher schools for further study. The State supported the institution generouly by all annual grant Of $25,000; and both the State authorities and the officials of the home made a special effort to impress on the children that it was not a charitable institution, but was accorded to them as a debt of gratitude by the State for the loss of their fathers.
The establishment of the Wisconsin Soldiers' Orphans' Home was a part of a national movement in the direction of such charities. Toward the close of the war soldier's homes, soldier's orphans' homes, pensions for veterans, and employment of veterans in the civil service, became important subjects in the public mind. The need for soldiers' orphan asylums was urged throughout the country, and many such state and institutions were erected.
(May 29, 1908, on the Madison site of this hospital and orphans' home a tablet was erected, the gift of the school children of the city, who attended the exercises in large numbers, and took part in the patriotic songs. An oration was delivered by Attorney-General Frank L. Gilbert, who bad himself been one of the boys reared in the home. The tablet reads: "On this city block, during the Civil War, stood Harvey Hospital, and later the Wisconsin Soldiers' Orphans' Home, both established through the influence of Mrs. Harvey, whose honored husband, Governor Louis P. Harvey. had accidentally been drowned in Tennessee River, near Shiloh battlefield, April 19, 1862, where he had gone after the battle, with supplies for the comfort of the sick and wounded Wisconsin soldiers.')
Wisconsin Women in the War, 1911
Mrs. Harvey was born December 7, 1824 in Barre,
Orleans Co., New York to John Perrine and Mary Hebard. She had 3 younger sisters and
2 half-sisters. The family moved to Wisconsin in 1842 and became a prosperous farmer in
the Southport (Kenosha) area. She was teaching school in the city when she met Mr. Harvey.
They had one daughter who died in infancy.
Leaving Wisconsin, she resettled in Buffalo, New York and returned to teaching, later marrying Rev. Albert T. Chester. After his death, she returned to Wisconsin and taught classes in Congregational Sunday School in Ft. Atkinson. One of her students remembered her as "a little woman with a sweet face.... a loving personality, quick, keen & jolly." She spent her remaining years in Clinton, Rock County, in the home she had shared with the governor and died there February 27, 1895 at age 70. She is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Madison with the governor.
The brief biography I was able to locate indicated the Clinton location for Mrs. Harvey's declining years. We have been lucky to be contacted by Rev. Kenneth L. Schaub of Lodi, WI, who is descended from one of her sisters and relates that Mrs. Harvey returned to Rock County, but to the home of his ancestors, the Bensons,outside of Clinton, her home in Shopiere with Louis having been abandoned when they moved to Madison.
(for Gov. Harvey's story, please see his page in our "People" section)