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Not words, not music or rhyme I want, only the hum of your valvèd voice

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February 10, 1863

Chief Doctor Summers:

Sir, I respectfully submit my resignation from Mansion House Hospital, effective immediately. You may have already heard as much from Superintendent Dix; she has approved my resignation.

Word has reached me that my sister has died of a malignant fever in Boston. She leaves behind her two young children, orphans all but in name, as their father is a prisoner of war in Richmond and our brother is fighting with the Third Massachusetts Battalion. We three were orphaned at a tender age, and have no other relations but an elderly aunt and uncle near Concord, both infirm and ill-equipped to care for two small boys. I must go to Boston to be the mother that these two boys now lack; unfortunately their case is not unique in this cruel war.

I wish to thank you for your trust and esteem in me in this brief time that I served at Mansion House. It has been an honor to serve the Cause, and I only regret that I had such little time here.

Perhaps you might consider taking on Emma Green, a daughter of the family that owned the hotel, as a special ‘Confederate Nurse.’ She is brave, tender-hearted, and committed to serving her boys, as we are to ours. She may be amenable to working at the hospital, if a certain Loyalty Oath were overlooked. You may not know that Samuel Diggs, a free Negro working as a houseboy, is in fact a skilled nurse, having worked many years for a Doctor Berenson in Philadelphia. You will recall that the Hebrews, being an oppressed people, have not the compunctions of Gentiles towards the Negroes, and it is my understanding that this doctor taught Samuel as if he were an apprentice. Surely there could be a use for his skilled hands on the ward.

Should you need to get word to me, I may be reached in Beacon Hill, Boston.

Respectfully,

Mary Phinney
Baroness von Olnhausen


February 10, 1863

Mister Diggs:

I regret to inform you that I must leave Mansion House very soon. My sister has died and I must go to Boston to care for her two sons. As you have a loving heart, you will understand what the world can be like to children without their Mother.

If I you forgive me the liberty, I will write to Doctor Foster and strongly urge him to seek for you the position of Apprentice at Mansion House. I see no reason why Doctor Summers would disapprove of such an appointment, for he is an Abolitionist and a pragmatist, and after Squivers’ departure there are no medical cadets. As I have said, you are cleverer than most the doctors here, and twice as skilled.

I will think often of you and Aurelia and Gabriel; please read them my letter and let them know that I can be reached at Beacon Hill, Boston, near the ‘woman with the flower’. Aurelia will know what this means.

Most Sincerely,

Mary Phinney


February 10, 1863

Miss Emma Green:

With this letter I hope to convince you to take on a position at Mansion House Hospital. I know you are loyal to the Rebellion and will likely balk at the suggestion of joining the Federal Army, but please consider your position: without you, who here will care for the Confederate boys? I have written to Doctor Summers and asked him to consider you as a special ‘Confederate Nurse,’ in the case that he were willing to let slide the Loyalty Oath. He will speak to you, I am certain.

As for myself, I must leave in the morning for Boston, as my sister has passed away and leaves two young boys without either parent. You, who are brave and tender-hearted, will understand where a woman’s first Duty lies.

It may seem strange to you, who first knew this place as your family’s Hotel, to now see its walls stained with blood, but I know that there is Mercy here, and that God is with all who work within.

I will miss it here, and will think often of you and the others who care for our Men. Without breaking his confidence, may I ask you to care also for Doctor Foster, who fights his own war, and needs an ally in this mad place? He and the chaplain will be your friends, when I am no longer here.

You may write me in Boston, at Beacon Hill, should you have a spare moment for the enemy.

In peace,

Mary Phinney


February 10, 1863

Doctor Foster:

I am sor I write to tell you that my sister in Boston has died and her two sons have no one left to care for them save myself, as my brother is away with his battalion. They are very young, just five years and seven years apiece, and their father is a prisoner in Richmond. I must go to be with my nephews, and as such I am resigning my post at Mansion House.

You must

I am leaving tomorrow on the steamer to Washington City, and then to whatever ship or train will carry me North. So many are traveling that way now, so many full of hope for their Freedom, and I trust that I will make a safe journey back.

Please think of Samuel Diggs and Emma Green after I have gone. You will need assistance, and both of them are able practitioners. You might do more than talk to Samuel of apprenticeships and stir up his dreams – why not make that a reality now, at Mansion House? And Emma has the makings of a fine nurse, if she can learn to keep steady at the sight of blood. You could do worse than take them on. Despite yourself, you have a fondness for taking on lost causes, do you not? Otherwise I cannot account for our strange kinship.

You are a fine physician, Doctor Foster. Hale and Hasting will try to undermine you, they will try to find your weakness; they will bow to you and pretend you were never enemies. Do not believe them. And do not believe your mother, nor your brother; they do not see you for who you are and for what you have done for them, they see you for someone they wish you were, and thus they will always be disappointed in you. Do not be disappointed in yourself for the same reason. You must be strong now, Jedediah, stronger than they are if you are to last this war and make your life anew in California. You must be your own anchor, this you know already and do not need me to tell you. But though I am no longer at Mansion House, please know that you will always have a friend, should you need one, in Boston.

In Friendship,

Mary Phinney


Miss Mary Phinney,
Baroness von Olnhausen
Beacon Hill
Boston, Massachusetts

10 Feb Dec ‘63

Mar Nurse Phinney:

Would it surprise you to hear that I looked for you at the docks this morning, but the steamer had already left? You cannot know my des disappointment, to receive your note without having time thanking you  --But no, what is there to say? You have gone and, though you say I have a friend in Boston, it is a friend in Alexandria that I need (not in California, never there). You have left me most bereft, Nurse Phinney, and though I am mindful of the high regard you hold of Samuel and Miss Green, they cannot replace you at Mansion House or. You will view me as impertinent, but even a spaniel must nip at his chain from time to time. Yours was a chain I did not mind wearing.

Is it the morphine – or, rather, its absence – that makes me desperate, or is it that an other’s absence makes me desperate for morphine? Either way, I shall not have the poppy again and it is now clear that I will be alone in this not-having, in this cruel abstinence. I have not dosed myself in over three months, not since I cut off Ezra’s leg and my mother disowned me. You heard that conversation, I think, and judged rightly its effect on me, or you would not have known to look for me afterwards. Is it weak, do you think, to take so much to heart the words of an old, silly woman? (Eliza thought it unseemly I will strive, as you say, to be strong.

Doctor Summers told me where you were going and asked me if I would write to you; I told him he was a idiot to let you go and it was my own d--n business whom I chose to write to. To appease me, he offered me Samuel as my apprentice and Emma as my nurse, so you see, Baroness, how nicely you arranged things before you left. As for Hale and Hastings, he is a fool and she is a harpy; I would not concern yourself with them for my sake.

I ask only that I may hear from you, from time to time, from your high post at Beacon Hill. Write to me of your nephews (would it surprise you to know that I am fond of children?), write to me of your Abolitionist work and your Transcendentalists, and write to me of yourself.

Godspeed and good luck.

Your most loyal friend,

Jedediah Foster