Louise Wigfall’s Recollections of a Trip on a Hospital Train During the Atlanta Campaign

Louise Wigfall was 14 years old in the spring of 1861 when the Civil War began. She was the daughter of Louis T. Wigfall, an ardent secessionist and former U.S. Senator from Texas. Louis T. Wigfall was present at Fort Sumter as an aide to General Pierre Beauregard, and later served in the Confederate Army as a Brigadier General until February 1862, when he resigned to serve as a senator in the Confederate Congress.

Louise Wigfall spent much of the war in Richmond. As the daughter of a prominent member of the Confederate government, she came in contact with many of the leading figures in the government and military and enjoyed life in Richmond’s high society. As the war progressed and the southern situation deteriorated, even those in the most prominent of social circles could not escape the war’s horrors.

In the summer of 1864, Senator Wigfall and his wife left Richmond to pay a visit to Texas, a journey that was increasingly hazardous with Union armies on the move and the Mississippi River under Federal control. With that in mind, 17 year old Louise and her 12 year old sister were left in the care of the wife of General Joseph E. Johnston, who was at that time commanding the Army of Tennessee and trying to stop General William T. Sherman’s campaign to capture Atlanta.

Mrs. Johnston had accompanied the general to Atlanta and was settled in a house in the city. Louise and her sister stayed with her until early July, when General Johnston determined that it would be safer if the girls left the city and went to Macon, Georgia.

The train trip to Macon was a real eye opener for Louise, who saw the grim realty of war for the first time. In her memoir written under her married name of Mrs. Daniel Giraud Wright and published in 1905, Louise recalled that event:

I shall never forget the horrors of that journey from Atlanta to Macon. We left in a hospital train, filled with wounded, sick and dying soldiers, in all imaginable stages of disease and suffering. My little sister and myself and one other lady were the only other passengers on the train, except the officer put in charge of us to see us safe to our journey’s end. I never imagined what a hideous, cruel thing War was until I was brought into direct contact with these poor victims of “Man’s inhumanity to man.” For this was no modern hospital train with scientific arrangements for hygiene and the relief of the suffering. There was scant supply of the common comforts, and even decencies of life–no cushions nor air pillows for weary heads; no ice to cool the fevered thirst; no diet kitchen for broths and delicate food for these half starved sufferers; no wine or bandy to revive the failing pulse and stimulate the weakened vitality; not even medicine enough to check the ravages of disease; not anesthetics nor anodynes to ease their agonies–for the supply of medicines and anodynes was daily diminishing, and they could not be replaced, as our foes had declared them “contraband of war!”  There was not even a place in that crowded car where the sick could lie down; but, packed in as close as possible on the hard uncomfortable seats, they made that journey, as best as they might, in uncomplaining martyrdom. I reached Macon sick at heart over the suffering I had witnessed and was so powerless to avert.

Mrs. Daniel Giraud Wright (Louise Wigfall), A Southern Girl in ’61:  The War-Time Memories of a Confederate Senator’s Daughter

 

 

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