In Service to Soldiers

by Debbie on May 23, 2015

Civil War soldiers memorial, Old North Burial Ground, Providence, RI.

Civil War soldiers memorial, Old North Burial Ground, Providence, RI. © Debbie Hadley

Several years ago, I discovered a remarkable woman named Charlotte Burr Field Dailey in my family tree. In 1842, Charlotte Burr FIELD married Albert DAILEY, a lumber merchant in Providence, RI, who was the brother of my 3rd great grandmother Julia Heston DAILEY. Family Tree Maker tells me that Charlotte is the “wife of my 3rd great grand uncle.” So though she’s not a particularly close relation, she’s turned out to be a fascinating figure and I can’t help but want to learn more about her life.

What makes Charlotte Dailey so fascinating? During the Civil War, she was appointed by Governor William Sprague to investigate the conditions of the wounded Rhode Island soldiers. In December 1862, she was appointed to a special commission, and given the following tasks:

1st. To procure from the Secretary of War an order for the removal of sick and wounded Rhode Island soldiers to the United States Hospital at Portsmouth Grove,—similar to that given to Assistant Surgeon James Harris, dated July 5th, 1862, and directing the transfer of invalid and wounded soldiers to Providence.

2d. To visit the United States Hospitals in and around the city of Washington, and especially that in Alexandria ; and, also, the hospitals in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Baltimore, and wherever else Rhode Island soldiers may be situated, with the particular object of finding out their condition, and make a report of each case to this Department, to be presented to the Legislature at its coming Session.

3d. The Commission is particularly charged with the transfer to the hospital at Portsmouth Grove, of all wounded and invalid soldiers belonging to Rhode Island regiments, from the different hospitals as above directed ; and is ordered to perform this duty with the greatest care, having in view the comfort and welfare of the disabled.

4th. To procure the discharge of every soldier found to be unfitted for farther service ; and, also, to cause the removal to said hospital of all those cases where health can be better restored within the State, and whose services will become sooner available to the Government.

Upon receiving the appointment, Charlotte Dailey traveled immediately to Washington, DC, arriving on December 17, 1862. She spent nearly 6 weeks visiting wounded soldiers and assessing their treatment and care, while her husband Albert stayed in Providence, taking care of the household and their four children. By the time Charlotte – Lottie, as she was called by those closest to her – returned home to Providence on January 24, 1863, she had managed to visit 61 military hospitals in Washington, Baltimore, York, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Newark, and New York, as well as 5 military camps.

In her report to the Rhode Island General Assembly, dated February 2, 1863, Charlotte summarizes the conditions of the 408 wounded Rhode Island soldiers she met on her journey:

General debility describes the condition of a great proportion of our soldiers. Some are reduced by disease, and many only by exposure and fatigue. They are discouraged and disheartened by lingering so long in hospitals or the prospect of it.

Two years ago, when I first learned of Charlotte Dailey’s role in helping Rhode Island soldiers during the Civil War, I tried to find more information about her journey to visit them. I was thrilled to discover the Providence Public Library maintains an archive of Civil War documents, and that the collection included Dailey family letters from Lottie’s time on the road. I bookmarked the Providence Public Library’s Special Collections page, hoping I’d get to visit in the future and see the letters for myself.

Charlotte Dailey is buried in the Old North Burial Ground, not far from the Civil War soldiers she served. © Debbie Hadley

Charlotte Dailey is buried in the Old North Burial Ground, not far from the Civil War soldiers she served. © Debbie Hadley

Last month, I finally made the trip to Providence, and spent a day tucked away in a corner of the Providence Public Library, surrounded by old books and maps. The archivist retrieved a box full of letters for me, and I was soon engrossed in the exchange between Lottie and Albert. I photographed every page of correspondence after skimming each letter quickly, and I’m now slowly transcribing them as I find time.

Lottie was, I think, a brave woman who felt a duty to serve her country, no different than the men who took up arms and left their homes to fight. I admire her determination to provide a thorough and accurate account of each soldier’s condition and needs. An excerpt from Lottie’s first letter home, dated December 18, 1862, details her first encounter with the wounded men.

From accounts that I am hearing all the time, I think perhaps it is well I did not go [to Fredericksburg]..Oh! it is perfectly horrible down there, and here to now, for they are sending the wounded here as fast as possible. W. Gardiner was here on Thursday evening & he attempted to tell me of seeing them taken out of the ambulances, but stopped short, choked by his feelings, he said it was impossible to be there and prevent the tears trickling down the cheeks. I saw the train of ambulances & some of the soldiers faces, some were on the seat with the driver completely covered with quilts & blankets. I was riding to where Miss Southwick stays when I passed them & when I arrived there they told me that one of our soldiers had been brought there, a Lieut. Hopkins, his foot shot off; his attendant had brought the trunk of some one by the name of Briggs, who was so shockingly wounded in so many places that he could not bear the agony, so shot himself.

Just a few days later, she writes Albert again, recounting the battlefield experiences the hospitalized soldiers share with her as she interviews them.

Oh Albert it is perfectly horrible to see these men, they are mostly rom the 7th. reg. So many of them speak of Col. Bliss, he went in with his overcoat on & as one soldier said, if the others had done so they would have stood a better chance; but Col. Bliss was every thing could be asked; one man said he saw him in front of his regiment, sword drawn & cheering them on in glorious style, several told me of his catching up a gun & going right in with the men.

One man said he saw Col. Sayle’s head entirely off. One man said they had to go over a fence where they were so awfully cut up that they were laying as high as the fence, he had to walk over them. Oh! the poor 7th. & to think they had only a little old rag of a flag which they have picked up somewhere but I told them of the beautiful one they are to have.

Letter from Charlotte to her husband Albert, Christmas Day, 1862. Providence Public Library Special Collections.

Letter from Charlotte to her husband Albert, Christmas Day, 1862. Providence Public Library Special Collections.

Throughout her letters home, Lottie voices a deep respect and concern for the soldiers. She also confides in her husband that there are some soldiers who might not deserve such respect. I was amused by her comments on Major Cyrus Dyer of the 12th Regiment, who she saw just after he was reportedly wounded in the Battle of Fredricksburg.

What a pity about our 12th. Reg., Major Dyer is not wounded. Do not say it from me but he most certainly has not retrieved his character, he is reported wounded slightly, but I hear from several sources that was–to say the best, just the same as ever.

This Memorial Day, I’ll remember the soldiers who’ve given their lives on the battlefield, of course. But I’ll also remember my 3rd great grand aunt Charlotte Burr Field Dailey, who worked so hard to help the wounded men who made it off the battlefield.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mom (Sallie Clampffer Hadley) May 23, 2015 at 11:37 pm

In reading these bits of the letters, I’m so happy that soldiers that went through that hell had people that cared so much about their welfare. Now, we can just turn on the TV and learn about almost any part of the world, heck those of you that have the phones with gadgets can run your life from them. Charlotte went SO many places in such a short amount of time. If we think how hard she had to work, move, pack and move on, all the time thinking of what she had just heard or seen…………..it is amazing how she did it. I wish there was someone as caring for all the Vietnam veterans that came home to such rudeness from people. We need caring people like Charlotte all the time. I can’t wait to hear more. Thank you for finding her in our family tree Debbie.

Reply

Leigh Holmes December 6, 2016 at 2:42 pm

Hi Debbie,
I’m doing research on the women cofounders of the Providence Art Club. Charlotte F Daily or her daughter Lottie help found it.
Do you know how/why Charlotte F. Daily was chosen by Governor William Sprague to investigate the conditions of the wounded Rhode Island soldiers? Or anything else about Charlotte or Lottie?
Thank you for any help you can provide. My email is leigh.holmes.14@gmail.com

Reply

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