Enlisting as Army Nurse by Louisa M. Alcott
WANT something to do."—This remark being
addressed to the world in general, no one in
particular felt it his duty to reply; so I repeated it
to the smaller world about me, received the following
suggestions, and settled the matter by answering
my own inquiry, as people are apt to do when very
much in earnest.
"Write a book," quoth my father.
"Don't know enough, sir. First live, then
"Try teaching again," suggested my mother.
"No, thank you, ma'am; ten years of that is
"Take a husband like my Darby, and fulfil your
mission," said Sister Jane, home on a visit.
"Can't afford expensive luxuries, Mrs. Coobiddy."
"Turn actress, and immortalize your name," said
Sister Vashti, striking an attitude.
"Go nurse the soldiers," said my young neighbor,
Tom, panting for "the tented field."
Arriving at this satisfactory conclusion, the
meeting adjourned; and the fact that Miss Tribulation
was available as army nurse went abroad on
the wings of the wind.
In a few days a townswoman heard of my desire,
approved of it, and brought about an interview with
one of the sisterhood I wished to join, who was at
home on a furlough, and able and willing to satisfy
A morning chat with Miss General S.—we hear
no end of Mrs. Generals, why not a Miss?—produced
three results: I felt that I could do the
work, was offered a place, and accepted it; promising
not to desert, but to stand ready to march on
Washington at an hour's notice.
A few days were necessary for the letter
containing my request and recommendation to
reach head-quarters, and another, containing my
commission, to return; therefore no time was to
be lost; and, heartily thanking my pair of friends,
I hurried home through the December slush, as
if the Rebels were after me, and, like many
another recruit, burst in upon my family with the
An impressive silence followed. Tom, the
irrepressible, broke it with a slap on the shoulder
and the grateful compliment,—"Old Trib, you're a
"Thank you; then I'll take something,"—which
I did, in the shape of dinner, reeling off my news
at the rate of three dozen words to a mouthful;
and as every one else talked equally fast, and
all together, the scene was most inspiring.
As boys going to sea immediately become nautical
in speech, walk as if they already had their sea-legs
on, and shiver their timbers on all possible
occasions, so I turned military at once, called my
dinner my rations, saluted all new-comers, and
ordered a dress-parade that very afternoon.
Having reviewed every rag I possessed, I detailed
some pieces for picket duty while airing on the
fence; some to the sanitary influences of the wash-tub;
others to mount guard in the trunk; while
the weak and wounded went to the Work-basket
Hospital, to be made ready for active service
To this squad I devoted myself for a week;
but all was done, and I had time to get powerfully
impatient before the letter came. It did arrive,
however, and brought a disappointment along with
friendliness; for it told me that
the place in the Armory Hospital that I supposed I
was to take was already filled, and a much less
desirable one at Hurly-burly House was offered
"That's just your luck, Trib. I'll take your
trunk up garret for you again; for of course you
won't go," Tom remarked, with the disdainful
pity which small boys affect when they get into
I was wavering in my secret soul; but that
remark settled the matter, and I crushed him on
the spot with martial brevity,—"It is now one;
I shall march at six."
I have a confused recollection of spending the
afternoon in pervading the house like an executive
whirlwind, with my family swarming after me,—all
working, talking, prophesying, and lamenting
while I packed such of my things as I was to take
with me, tumbled the rest into two big boxes,
danced on the lids till they shut, and gave them
in charge, with the direction,—"If I never come
back, make a bonfire of them."
Then I choked down a cup of tea, generously
salted instead of sugared by some agitated relative,
shouldered my knapsack,—it was only a travelling-bag,
but do let me preserve the unities,—hugged
my family three times all round without a vestige
of unmanly emotion, till a certain dear old lady
broke down upon my neck, with a despairing sort
of wail,—"O my dear, my dear! how can I let
"I'll stay, if you say so, mother."
"But I don't; go, and the Lord will take care
Much of the Roman matron's courage had gone
into the Yankee matron's composition, and, in spite
of her tears, she would have sent ten sons to the
war, had she possessed them, as freely as she sent
one daughter, smiling and flapping on the door-step
till I vanished, though the eyes that followed me
were very dim, and the handkerchief she waved
was very wet.
My transit from The Gables to the village depot
was a funny mixture of good wishes and good-bys,
mud-puddles and shopping. A December twilight
is not the most cheering time to enter upon a
somewhat perilous enterprise; but I'd no thought
of giving out, O, bless you, no!
When the ingine screeched "Here we are!" I
clutched my escort in a fervent embrace, and
skipped into the car with as blithe a farewell as
if going on a bridal tour,—though I believe brides
don't usually wear cavernous black bonnets and
fuzzy brown coats, with a hair-brush, a pair of
rubbers, two books, and a bag of gingerbread
distorting the pockets.
If I thought that people would believe it, I'd
boldly state that I slept from C. to B., which would
simplify matters immensely; but as I know they
wouldn't, I'll confess that the head under the
funereal coal-hod fermented with all manner of
high thoughts and heroic purposes "to do or die,"—perhaps
both; and the heart under the fuzzy
brown coat felt very tender with the memory of
the dear old lady, probably sobbing over her army
socks and the loss of her topsy-turvy Trib.
At this juncture I took the veil, and what I did
behind it is nobody's business; but I maintain
that the soldier who cries when his mother says
"Good by" is the boy to fight best, and die
bravest, when the time comes, or go back to her
better than he went.