Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Profiles - Nurse Pember's Whiskey War - December 4th, 2004
Posted on 12/03/2004 11:21:04 PM PST by snippy_about_it
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During the Civil War, Phoebe Pember had come to tend the sick and comfort the dying. but she ended up fighting violent alcoholic patients over control of the medicinal whiskey.
By Mary C. Meskauskas
From atop Chimborazo Hill on the western outskirts of Richmond, Virginia, Phoebe Yates Pember, matron of Chimborazo Hospital Number Two, looked down upon "a scene of indescribable confusion." A few months earlier, the collapse of the Confederacy had been only a whispered rumor. Now, on the afternoon of April 2, 1865, that depressing prospect had become a shocking reality. With Federal troops fast on their heels, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, his cabinet, and other government officials were scampering out of town by train, carriage, and any other available form of transportation.
Surgeons, nurses, and stewards followed their example and skedaddled from the Chimborazo complex. After bidding her fleeing friends farewell, Pember turned away from the turbulent scene and walked through her nearly empty wards. Night was setting in. As she later wrote, "Beds in which paralyzed, rheumatic, and helpless patients had laid for months were empty. The miracles of the New Testament had been re-enacted. The lame, the halt, and the blind had been cured."
Pember had arrived at Chimborazo Hospital, a complex of long, single-story, whitewashed buildings sprawled atop Chimborazo Hill, on December 18, 1862. Chimborazo was at the time said to be the largest military hospital in the world, and Phoebe would be its first matron. She had accepted the job from Mrs. George Wythe Randolph, wife of the Confederate secretary of war, mainly to escape unhappiness and inactivity at the Yates homestead in Marietta, Georgia, where she had gone to live after the death of her husband the previous year.
In a November 29, 1862, letter to her sister, Eugenia, Pember admitted she was a little anxious about her decision: "You may imagine how frightened and nervous I feel concerning the step I am about to take and how important in this small way it will be to me, for I have too much common sense to underrate what I am giving up." In the same letter she also wrote proudly that she was to have "entire charge of my department, seeing that everything is clean, orderly and all prescriptions of physicians given in proper time, food properly prepared and so on."
Though she had no professional medical training, Pember had run a large household and cared for her husband, who had suffered from tuberculosis. She considered herself an efficient and educated woman well up to the challenge of heading one of Chimborazo's five hospital divisions. Nevertheless, the conditions she encountered at the hospital would challenge her efficiency and her patience. The challenge began with her living space. The surgeon-in-charge had made no preparations for his female nurses, so Phoebe set to work converting a vacant building into her own quarters, an office, parlor, laundry area, pantry, and kitchen.
As Pember's confidence grew so did her use of authority. She was responsible for procuring supplies and food for her patients' special diets and she soon insisted upon total control of luxuries such as coffee, tea, and milk. Still, her position seemed little more than that of a chief cook until the surgeon-in-charge, Dr. James B. McCaw, found her peeling potatoes one day. McCaw initiated a thorough study of hospital rules that resulted in the organization of a full staff under Pember's jurisdiction. She was provided with an assistant matron, cooks and bakers, and two laborers to perform menial tasks.
Pember soon had her first major skirmish with traditional male authority at the hospital, over a problem that nearly proved her undoing. Each hospital division received its own monthly barrel of whiskey for medicinal purposes. Pember noted that "the monthly barrel of whiskey which I was entitled to draw still remained at the dispensary under the guardianship of the apothecary and his clerks, and quarts and pints were issued through any order coming from surgeons or their substitutes, so that the contents were apt to be gone long before I was entitled to draw more, and my sick would suffer for want of the stimulant."
There was a wide discrepancy between Confederate law, which dictated that all spirituous liquors required by hospitals should be entrusted to the matrons, and how whiskey was actually dispensed at Chimborazo. Thoroughly familiar with the hospital bill passed by Congress, Pember made a formal request to Dr. McCaw for total jurisdiction over the monthly whiskey ration. The surgeon-in-charge protested, but then reluctantly released the barrel to the matron's care. Flushed with victory, Pember wrote, "I nailed my colors to the mast, and that evening all the liquor was in my pantry and the key in my pocket."
Pember's triumph heralded the beginning of trouble. She soon felt what she called "the thousand miseries of my position." Staff members flooded her office with countless petty requests. Pember's all-consuming passion--the care of the sick, wounded, and dying--kept her going. "My duty prompted me to remain with my sick, on the ground that no general ever deserts his troops," she wrote. She eventually found some respite from her responsibilities by renting a room in town, to which she returned at night.
Meanwhile, her patients taught her something about courage. "No words can do justice to the uncomplaining nature of the Southern soldier," she wrote. "Day after day, whether lying wasted by disease or burning up with fever, torn with wounds or sinking from debility, a groan was seldom heard." In her war memoir, A Southern Woman's Story, Yates described a particularly remarkable example of a young soldier named Fisher.
Fisher had suffered a severe hip wound. One night, after months of hard and diligent nursing, he turned over in bed and cried out in pain. Pember examined him and discovered that a sharp edge of splintered bone had severed one of his arteries. She immediately placed her finger in the tiny hole to stop the gush of blood, and summoned the surgeon. After looking at Fisher's injury, the doctor shook his head and declared sadly that the poor man was beyond help.
Pember faced what she later considered "the hardest trial of my duty at Chimborazo." She told Fisher there was no hope for him, and the gravely injured man gave her directions on notifying his mother of his death.
"How long can I live?" he asked.
"Only as long as I keep my finger upon this artery," Pember replied.
Then, she later wrote, "A pause ensued. God alone knew what thoughts hurried through that heart and brain, called so unexpectedly from all earthly hopes and ties. He broke the silence at last."
"You can let go," Fisher said. Pember froze, unable to obey. The horror of the situation overcame her, and for the only time during her days at Chimborazo, she fainted.
To any and all medical personnel reading this thread, this old sailor SALUTES YOU!
I dated a nurse named Phoebe for a while, although she went by her middle name. Statuesque but shy blonde. (Sigh...)
Too high maintenance...or maybe I was.
Hah good news bump for Saturday's Freeper Foxhole. The boss said I could have a vacation day on Monday WOO HOO!!!
6 of 7 underway
Good morning, Snippy and everyone at the Freeper Foxhole.
Read: Psalm 119:97-112
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16
Bible In One Year: Ezekiel 47-48; 1 John 3
Some Christian families follow the practice of reading through the whole Bible. After evening meals, they read a chapter or two. They read from Genesis to Revelation, skipping nothing. Even the genealogies with their hard-to-pronounce names are read aloud.
We might question the relevance of such a method for small children, but it does acquaint all the family members with the entirety of God's Word. It also exposes children to the sinful depths and spiritual heights of which we are capable, and it teaches them right and wrong.
If you've never done so, why not embark on your own program of reading the Bible straight through? Try doing it as a family or for your personal devotions.
There are two persuasive reasons for resolving to undertake such a program. One is Paul's declaration that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). The other is the testimony of believers whose lives have been changed by following such a practice.
Read God's Word straight through and you'll begin to see the unfolding plan of God's redeeming grace, and that you were the object of His love even before you were born. Do it once, and you'll want to do it again. Vernon Grounds
On This Day In History
Birthdates which occurred on December 04:
1443 Pope Julius II, (1503-13), patron of Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael
1584 John Cotton, Puritan clergyman in Mass Bay colony
1795 Thomas Carlyle, Scotland, essayist/historian (French Revolution)
1822 Frances Crabbe, England, feminist founded Anti-Vivisection Society
1835 Samuel Butler, England, author (Erewhon, Way of All Flesh)
1861 Lillian Russell (Helen Louise Leonard) (singer, actress, famous burlesque beauty
1875 Rainer Maria Rilke, Austria, poet (Duino Elegies)
1892 Francisco Franco [y Bahamonde], Spanish Generalissimo/dictator (1936-75)
1903 Alfred Leslie Rowse, historian
1912 Pappy (Gregory) Boyington (aviator)
1915 Eddie Heywood, Jr. (pianist, composer: Canadian Sunset)
1922 Gerard Philipe, Cannes France, actor (Caligula, Le Diable au Corps)
1931 Alex Delvecchio (hockey: Detroit Red Wings: Most Gentlemanly Player [1966, 1969])
1933 Horst Buchholz (actor)
1934 Wink Martindale (TV host: Tic Tac Dough, Can You Top This?)
1937 Max Baer, Jr. (actor, producer: The Beverly Hillbillies, Ode to Billy Joe)
1940 Freddy 'Boom Boom' Cannon (Frederick Anthony Picariello)Singer-teen idol ("Tallahassee Lassie","Palisades Park")
1941 Marty Riessen (tennis champion: shares record for most US Open mixed doubles, won by an individual male )
1942 Chris Hillman (singer: group: The Byrds)
1943 Gary Sabourin (hockey)
1944 Dennis Wilson (musician: drums, keyboard; singer: group: The Beach Boys )
1949 Jeff Bridges (actor: The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Fisher King, The Last Picture Show, The Company She Keeps, American Heart, Sea Hunt; songwriter)
1952 Gary Rossington (guitarist: group: Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Phoebe Pember was one heck of a special Lady.
I wish my boss would let me have a vacation day. ;-)
Foggy and cold again this morning. I think winter is here to stay.
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