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The Overland Campaign – 1864

             President Lincoln had appointed General Ulysses Grant as Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States.  General Grant envisioned a strategy that was different from the previous generals, having a “coordinated overland offensive by three separate Federal armies operating in tandem”.  The Army of the Potomac would strike overland towards Richmond in order to force the Army of Northern Virginia into a decisive battle in the open,while at the same time two other Union armies would seize control of the Shenandoah Valley, and move up the James River toward Richmond.  This ‘Overland Campaign’ of the Army of the Potomac would prove long and costly for the Old Vermont Brigade. 

—–Robert Poirier, They Could Not Have Done Better, 2003, pg 129


        Praying I Might Go

         Throughout the winter, Amanda expected to go to the front with the soldiers, in the spring campaign, just as she had before, but orders were issued in May, 1864 from the War Department for all women then in the army at the front, to leave it and go to the rear.  Secretary of War Stanton, who two years earlier had given an order for Amanda to receive a medical wagon and team, now ordered: 

“no women, no matter who they are”, should be allowed in the army longer.

         From Amanda’s pension record, it appears that Lt. Major Andrew Brazee was the officer who told Amanda about the order to leave: “I communicated to her the order for all women to leave that army a few days before the campaign of 1864 began.”

            “Many of the most prominent officers of the 6th Corps signed a petition ….  praying I might be allowed to remain and keep my team and delivered it to Secretary of War Stanton.”  He wrote the following on the back of the petition.   

“Mrs. Farnham’s request has the highest recommendations, but is incompatible with the public service.” 

           “I was obligated to go, having to sell my team at a great sacrifice and abandon many articles of use and value, for want of time and transportation to take them with me.”  So ended all her preparations of the winter for the summer’s campaign. 

           Hardly three days of grace remained in which to dispose of her team and other personal property so it was at great personal loss that she left the army about the 1st of May 1864. 

—–Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

A Most Abominable Dress

        A few days before the Overland Campaign was unleashed, Amanda was ordered to report to Washington D.C. and specifically to Dorothea Dix who was in charge of all the female nurses.  Amanda found a ride to Washington D.C. and to the house of Dorothea Dix on 15th Street around the corner from the White House. 

       Ms. Dix had well known strict standards for female nurses. They had to be between the ages of 35 and 50 and she insisted they be “plain looking” to avoid tempting the male soldiers and doctors. She forbade her nurses from wearing jewelry, makeup, curls, bows, or hoop-skirts. Skirts had to be black or brown dresses.  Army doctors and nurses were known to refer to her as “Dragon Dix” or the “Dictator in a Petticoat.” 

        Amanda was well kept, but had been in the field for almost three years.  From the time she entered the army, Mrs. Farnham had worn a dress similar to the ladies’ cycling costume of the present [1895], – full pants buttoning over the tops of her boots, skirts falling a little below the knee, and a jacket with tight sleeves. This dress she had on when she called to present her papers and request. 

      Amanda used to like to tell of her first interview with Miss Dix…

        Miss Dix glanced at the papers, then looked Mrs. Farnham over from head to foot, until the situation was becoming embarrassing. Finally she arose, saying:

“Mrs. Farnham, the dress you wear is abominable, a most abominable dress, and I do not wish any of my nurses to dress in that manner; but you came highly recommended, and I have long known of your work, but I didn’t know you wore such a dress. However,  you can wear it if you choose.”

      Then Ms. Dix wrote an order for her to report at Fredericksburg.  From that time until after the war closed, she was one of Miss Dix’s trusted nurses, and was charged with duties and commissions at the front that she would trust to no one else; and though they met many times when Mrs. Farnham wore the same dress, it was not mentioned again.”

—–Holland, Mary Gardner, Our Army Nurses, 1998, pg 100

The image above is from ​a website focused on Civil War Nurses.  The website section “how they dressed” contains the image and defines this image as a “bloomer costume”.    The image is not Amanda Farnham.  The website text states the following about the dress. 

Amanda Farnham was known to wear the “Rational Dress” or “Bloomer Costume” when she worked, consisting of “full pants buttoning over the tops of her boots, skirts falling a little below the knee, and a jacket with tight sleeves.”

The undated picture to the left is Amanda Farnham as she was known throughout the war. When she arrived she was wearing a bloomer, or an abominable dress, as Dix described it, but those days were over and she was on the official role now. It would have been a logical practice to take pictures of new nurses as part of the record keeping and the official looking buttoned down appearance of her clothing makes sense for such a picture.  At official functions over the next year and a half she would have work something like this. 

Amanda was thirty years old at the time she went to work for Dorothea Dix but appears to be much older. In the book “Debris of Battle: The Wounded at Gettysburg” by Gerard Patterson“, Patterson includes two quotes that illustrate how the war would age someone.  

When one nurse returned home after Gettysburg, her family wrote;  “At first we scarcely knew her, so worn and changed, so utterly exhausted with the sights of the battlefield and death bed scenes in the hospitals.  In truth, she was never the same joyous girl again.”  

And another nurse, Cornelia Hancock, before she returned to her family and her New Jersey home after Appomattox, she wrote to her family: “if I look as if I was ninety when I get home you need not be surprised, for all that has happened to almost all I ever knew.”(Patterson 1997)

The Battle of the Wilderness       

         The Wilderness would prove to be one of the most significant battles, and the deadliest, for the Vermont Brigade.  May 51864 was the deadliest day of the entire war for the Vermonters. The brigade would suffer 1,269 casualties, with 364 killed. 

          The wounded were moved to hastily established hospitals in Fredericksburg, but they were soon overwhelmed.

        Dr. Melvin Hyde, the surgeon for the 2nd Vermont, described the scene at Fredericksburg:

            “…the first day…I was ordered back to the field Division hospital where I had to operate all that day and nearly all night.  We put up 30 large hospital tents, which were crowded with the wounded while 1500 men lay on the ground around suffering the most heart-rending cries of agony.  We numbered 5 or 6 surgeons and it took us about 3 days to attend to them and then many had to be moved in army wagons and ambulances without having their wounds dressed at all! 

              All this time the ambulances continued to bring in the wounded of our Division and the cannonading and musketry was almost deafening.  O’ it was terrible to hear the poor fellows cry for water or in piteous tones cry out to any surgeon that chanced to pass near them for help.  The third night we left this place and moved on about 9 miles and established our hospital on the ‘Old Chancellorsville’ battlefield called Cherry Locust Grove 3 miles from Chancellorsville. 

           We staid here one day and a night with about 200 wounded on our hands…In the night all our wounded but 300 were sent to Fredericksburg and all the surgeons were sent on with them but I refused to go declaring I would never leave 300 wounded men behind without food or medical aid to perish, for there were many Vermonters among them.  I accordingly remained.”

—–Robert Poirier, They Could Not Have Done Better, 2005, pg 146


        “Between May 9 and May 26, 1864 more than 26,000 wounded Union soldiers flooded the town after the Union Army designated Fredericksburg as its evacuation hospital. Amanda arrived in Fredericksburg on the 9th, where twenty thousand Union troops were lying and for about the first time, she was a regular army nurse, appointed by Miss D. L. Dix.”

—–Holland, Mary Gardner, Our Army Nurses, 1998, pg 100

           It was here that Amanda would once again receive pay for her work, something that had not happened for two years, since December, 1861.  

      “From the front near Brandy Station I went to Washington, and in a short time was sent for by Miss D.L. Dix Supt. of Women Nurses Med. Dept. U.S.A. and by her ordered to report without delay to Sur. E.B. Dalton of the 6th Corps, at Fredericksburg, Va. where the wounded were being taken from the Wilderness and Spotsylvania battle grounds, and I remained there until the Field Hospitals were removed to White House on the Pamunkey in June 1864.”

—–Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

         When Amanda reported, she would have, at some point, received the news that her brother Henry had been wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness.  (His military records state that he was wounded on May 6, was sent home to the U.S. General Hospital in Brattleboro, Vermont, and mustered out on July 27, 1864.)  It is unknown whether Amanda actually saw Henry there in Virginia, or if he’d already been sent on, but again, she must have wished that she could have cared for him, and accompanied him home. 

         …..But she had necessary work to do, right where she was.   



The Ambulance Trains

         With such overwhelming numbers of wounded, only the most severe cases could get a ride in an ambulance, so most of the wounded, including some amputees, had to walk.  The first ambulance train, consisting of 488 ambulances and 325 wagons carrying 7,000 wounded, arrived in Fredericksburg on May 9, a full 3-4 days after the battle.

—–Robert Poirier, They Could Not Have Done Better, 2005, pg 147

         When news of this situation reached Vermont, Gov. Smith and twenty of the state’s doctors and surgeons headed south, arriving on May 16, to help with the wounded. 

White House on the Pamunkey

         The White House on the Pamunkey had been the plantation house of Martha Washington. At the time of the Civil War, the wife of General Lee was living there, but the Union Army took it over to use as a supply house and, later, a hospital.

         So Amanda followed the field hospitals, and her wounded soldier boys, to the White House on the Pamunkey, and it was here that she recognized that previous uniform practices were unsustainable and instituted one of her innovations.

          It was at the latter place that I first put into practice a plan to which the changes of clothing of the wounded = then coming in by the thousands from Cold Harbor = could be washed and saved for use again, and not burned or destroyed as had been done at some former places, and some way by which the clothing and bedding of the wounded should be saved had become a necessity for supplies of this kind were nearly exhausted.

         “At this time there were many colored women-contrabands coming into White House Landing who had to be provided with food and quarters by the Quarter Master, and no means had as yet been found to make them other than a burden and hindrance, besides they were exposed to the soil influences of camp followers and others who crowded about the army supply depots and hospital grounds.

        “To accomplish the double purpose of finding employment for these unprotected women, and to save and wash the soiled bedding and clothing of the wounded, I had the women detailed by proper authority, and put under my charge, and then I obtained a supply of empty barrels from the depot Quarter Master from which wash tubs were made, and soon had made a beginning of what later on proved to be an important part of the field hospital service.”

—–Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

A group of “contrabands” 

Stereograph showing a group of former slaves including men, women and children gathered outside a building at the Foller Plantation in Cumberland Landing, Pamunkey Run, Virginia. Photographed by James F. Gibson. Part of Civil War glass negative collection. Library of Congress.

Entire Charge of this New Department     

         “On the final establishment of the army hospitals at City Point, I was appointed by Miss Dix upon the recommendation of Surgeon E. B. Dalton to take entire charge of this new department at the 6th Corps Hospital where I remained until the 6th Army Corps left City Point for the Shenandoah Valley under Gen. Sheridan in July, when I was ordered to report to Dr. McDonald of the 9th Corps Hospital at City Point, and here I organized and carried into effect the same laundry system as had been adopted by the 6th Corps previously.”

—–Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

          “The Depot Field Hospital at City Point was said to be able to accommodate 10,000 soldiers in its 1,200 tents and 90 log cabins….the seven hospitals at City Point, established in June 1864 as a base for the Army of the Potomac besieging Petersburg, employed 46 women.”

—-Jane E. Schultz, Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America1888 

        Each Corps had their own Sanitary Department with two wagons.

          “I had “been on duty with the 9th Corps but a few weeks when application was made by some of the medical officers of the 6th Corps for me to go and assist in that Dept. [“Valley of Virginia”] and I ask for and obtained leave to go, and remained with them until I was again relieved from duty and again ordered to report to Dr. McDonald for duty with the 9th Corps at City Point.”

——Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

         During a Skirmish 

           “She reported to me on the 21st of August 1864, during a severe skirmish at and near Pickets House west of and near Charlestown, Va., showing papers detailing her as Hospital Nurse and assigning her to duty with the 2nd Div. 6th Corps. I then directed her to the field hospital of that division where she did efficient service on that day under Surgeon Allen, Surgeon Chief of that division, and subsequently.

          Mrs. Farnham always maintained a good reputation in the service in every respect.

          Dated Denver, Colorado  Dec. 16th, 1888

                                                Andrew W. Brazee

                        Lt. Maj. 49th N.Y.V. and Prov. Mar. 2nd Div.

                                                            6th Corps —–A. B.”


——Pension Application: A.M.Felch, 1888

Overland and Marshall 

         Marshall continued to serve as the hospital steward with the Vermont 4th. Amanda was serving at Fredericksburg, the White House on the Pamunkey, and her first stint at City Point. They probably crossed paths more than once. 

         Beginning in early May and ending in early June of 1864 Marshall would have witnessed the most devastating six weeks of the war for the Army of the Potomac.  The Battle of the Wilderness was followed almost immediately by Spotsylvania and soon the horrible travesty at Cold Harbor. The Overland Campaign was essentially one long running battle in which over 80,000 men would end up dead, injured, or missing. 

          A couple of weeks after Cold Harbor, the Army of the Potomac including Marshall crossed the James River on pontoon bridges in a well orchestrated crossing. Grant’s Army was establishing a foothold on the west side of the James River at a place called City Point, a shipping harbor where they set up for the Siege of Petersburg. The siege started out rough for the Old Vermont Brigade on June 23 when a large number of Vermont soldiers were captured while tearing up railroad track during the first battle of Weldon Railroad.

          During the summer of 1864 there was a decision to send some Union troops back into western Virginia near the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley. The Old Vermont Brigade would be a part of that so naturally Marshall and later Amanda would soon be headed that direction. 

The Battle of Fishers Hill

Next Chapter:  Whiskey, Quinine, and Hot Rocks

Marshall and Amanda would both serve in the Shenandoah Campaign in the fall. The battle of Cedar Creek would be both a terrible and wonderful day for the Old Vermont Brigade. It would also result in a life long injury for Marshall. Amanda would serve out the remainder of the war in a leadership role at City Point. The Vermont troops would lead the way to the breakthrough of the Siege that soon ended the Civil War.