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Excerpts from Louisa May Alcott's Civil War Journal—Journal

Many people keep journals or diaries to write about their lives. Reading a journal that someone kept in the past helps in understanding the way people lived and the history they experienced. The excerpts below are from a journal kept by Lousisa May Alcott, a famous American author.


Primary Source

January 1863
Union Hotel Hospital, Georgetown, D.C.
Monday, 4th … .

Till noon I trot, trot, giving out rations, cutting up food for helpless “boys”, washing faces, teaching my attendants how beds are made or floors are swept, dressing wounds, … dusting tables, sewing bandages, keeping my tray tidy, rushing up and down after pillows, bed-linen, sponges, books, and directions, till it seems as if I would joyfully pay down all I possess for fifteen minutes' rest. At twelve the big bell rings, and up comes dinner for the boys, who are always ready for it and never entirely satisfied. Soup, meat, potatoes, and bread is the bill of fare. Charley Thayer, the attendant, travels up and down the room serving out the rations, saving little for himself, yet always thoughtful of his mates, and patient as a woman with their helplessness. When dinner is over, some sleep, many read, and others want letters written. This I like to do, for they put in such odd things, and express their ideas so comically, I have great fun interiorally, while as grave as possible exteriorally. A few of the men word their paragraphs well and make excellent letters. John's was the best of all I wrote. The answering of letters from friends after some one had died is the saddest and hardest duty a nurse has to do.

Excerpted from Louisa May Alcott, Her Life, Letters, and Journals Ednah Dow Cheney, ed. Copyright Little, Brown, and Company, 1924, pp. 143-144: Boston.


Background

Louisa May Alcott became a Civil War nurse in 1862. She worked at the Union Hotel Hospital in Washington, D.C., where she cared for hurt or sick soldiers. Later, she wrote about her experiences at the hospital and became a well-known author. One of her most famous books is called Little Women.