Sarah S. Sampson
Nurse, United States Army
gravestone in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery reads:
of Lieutenant Colonel Charles A.L. Sampson,
tablet is dedicated in loving memory of Sarah S. Sampson
SAMPSON, SARAH S
Courtesy of the State of Maine:
Sarah S. Sampson
This redoubtable lady came to Washington, D.C. to be near her husband, Lieutenant Colonel Charles A.W. Sampson of the 3rd Maine. She occupied her time first by visiting wounded Maine boys in Washington hospitals, but soon was venturing far afield, bringing supplies, food and medicines to troops on the James River. She was often in some danger. On one occasion, she was on board the Steamer Molly Baker and while writing to the Adjutant General, interrupted herself to tell him: "We are going down under guard of the gun-boat Galena as the Steamer which came up this morning was fired into by rebel batteries. There is considerable excitement on board." She went on with her letter, but included, with her customary aplomb, this postscript: "Later - I am told by the Capt. we have been fired at by quite a number of guns but as yet none has struck us."
In July 1862, Lieuenant Colonel Colonel Sampson had resigned due to ill health and Sarah accompanied him home to Bath, Maine. but not for long. By September she was back in Washington, this time as a salaried worker for the Maine Soldier's Relief Agency, which was headquartered on F. Street.
She spent the rest of the war bringing supplies, medicine, food and other necessities gathered by the Agency to Maine troops in field hospitals. Her long account of dealing with the wounded from The Wilderness who were brought in to the hostile city of Fredericksburg is harrowing.
After the war she returned to Maine where she founded and served as first Matron of the Bath Military and Naval Children's Home - an orphanage for the children of Civil War veterans.
She eventually gravitated back to Washington where she worked in the U.S. Pension Office.
If you know where to look, you'll find a monument raised in her memory in Arlington National Cemetery! Here is one of her reports from Gettysburg.
Here is a transcript of one of her reports about Gettysburg. We tried to scan in the original document, but her handwriting is so fine, it just wasn't readable.
Maine Soldiers Relief Association. 973 F Street, Washington, D.C. September 15th, 1863
Dear Sir: I am rather late in sending you this
list of "soldiers in our hospitals the first of the month" but have done
so with as little delay as possible, as it seemed necessary for me to attend
to other duties while obtaining the Report. My
I spent four weeks with our wounded at Gettysburg and returned to Washington only reluctantly though there were others here who had a claim on my attention. From frequent letters in reference to some of our soldiers who are still unable to be moved from Gettysburg, I am thinking to go on again for a short time, in a few days. The agent from New Hampshire has returned and reports that the boards that mark the graves of our soldiers, are many of them displaced by the heavy rains , etc. and need attention. He had carefully replaced all those from his State. I shall be glad when all the members of our association return so that a meeting may be called to make these & other arrangements. I shall visit all the burial grounds & report while I am there.
There is a vacancy at Fairfax Seminary Hospital for Miss Owen of whom you wrote if she desires it.
Very Repectfully &c.
DEAD AND ALMOST DISSECTED
The Wonderful Story of a Maine Ex-Soldier Tells
From the Lewiston, Maine, Journal, January 7, 1885
One of the good deeds of Mrs. Sarah Sampson, of Bath, to whom Congress is asked to give a pension, was the nursing back to life of a soldier boy, who now is a prominent business man in a Maine city, well known politically and socially throughout the State, and a favorite everywhere. This gentleman had had an experience through which few men have passed. He literally has attended his own funeral. He told me the following remarkable story upon the condition that I would withhold his name:
“When the war broke out,” said he, “I was a puny boy of 17 year, one of the sickly kind not worthy of their feed. I lived in Waterville, and enlisted with the famous Waterville College Company. I was so inferior a fellow physically that they set out not to take me, but I was bound to go and 11 others said they would go if I went and would stay at home if I did not go. So I went to the front with the Third Maine Regiment of Infantry, and November 1861 found me in Camp Howard, Alexandria, Virginia. The camp was named for General O. O. Howard, who commanded the regiment.
“You can judge of what kind of youngster I was from the fact that at the first battle of Bull Run the First Lieutenant of my company loaded my gun for me.
“Well, one day while we were in camp at Alexandria, we were ordered out to Fairfax Court House on a short expedition and I took cold. I aggravated it b lying on the damp ground after my return, and the next thing I was stricken with diphtheria. Some of my chums had me removed to the hospital tent and told the officers that I must have all done for me that care and money could do.
“They were very good to me, but I grew worse. A great sac formed on my throat. It grew so large that I could see it as I lay in my cot, and it protruded from under my chin. I became speechless, and remained in a sort of stupor. I could hear and was dimly cognizant of what was going on around me. My face at last swelled so that I could not use my eyes, and was practically blind. The surgeons, Dr. McCrurer, of Bangor, and Dr. Hildreath, of Gardiner, told me I must die. I took a ring off my ringer and told my comrades to send it home to my mother. I sent a dying message to her and awaited death. I was reconciled, and in my semi-unconscious state, quite comfortable. I suffered no pain. My limbs grew cold and I sank deeper into the stupor. I heard them say I was dying. I had lingered along until it was now in January 1862. Dr. McCrure took hold of my wrist one day, threw it down after trying to feel my pulse, and I heard him say: ‘The boy is dead; his pulse has stopped, Take him out.’
“I could not make a sign or noise, but I had sense enough remaining to think of my jack knife. I thought they would wrap me up in my blanket and bury me, and it popped into my head that I might dig my way out with my jack knife, although how I was to do it, not being able to move a muscle, I can’t tell you.
“My friends gathered around me and I heard their expressions of grief. The time was set for my funeral. The company was drawn up and the Chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Leonard, who preached in Bangor before and after the war, prayed and made brief remarks. The ceremony was not enjoyed by me, but my mind was so much dulled that I did not fully realize the danger of my situation.
“They took me down into the dead house and laid me down. Soon the doctors came around and took out their knives. I knew what that meant. They were going to dissect me before I was buried in order to find out something about this enormous sac on my throat. I had to silently face the prospect of being carved alive.
“’Doctor, I guess you had better operate,’” said Surgeon Hildreath to Surgeon McCrure.
“Dr. McCrure bent over me, lancet in hand. I made a desperate effort to move, to speak, to let them know by some sign that I was yet alive, but all my horror and despair could not even make a nerve twitch. Dr. McCrure thrust his lancet into the sac at my throat. A stream of foul matter rushed out. The skin on my face relaxed, and as he bent over me he saw my eyes open and saw me wink. The thought that I was alive thrilled him to the marrow. I saw his face grow pale and heard him confer with the other doctor. They carried me back to the hospital tent. I met Dr. McCrure many times afterward and he told me that he never in his life received such a start as he did when my eyes opened that time.
“Mrs. Sampson was the wife of the Lieutenant Colonel of our regiment. She took a kind interest in me, and her nursing saved my life. She watched over me and fussed with me like a mother. I was only one of her charges. The other invalids as well as I, received her attention, and I tell you she seemed like an angel to all of us.
“I was a long time rallying. Weeks passed before I could speak. They took me out on the field to see a brigade drill one day. The movements excited me so that I felt something give way in my throat, and I yelled. It startled those about me. It seemed like a voice from the tombs, they said. I could only make one sound, and I kept that going till it make the others in the hospital almost crazy – I was so tickled to think that I could speak, you see. I had to begin anew and learn to talk all over again. I was weak for a year, but made a complete recovery. It did me good. I have been more robust and healthier every way. I have not had any kind of a humor since. I have outlived nearly all the boys who were my chums and took such good care of me. Major Small, of Oakland, and Mrs. Sampson are about the only survivors of the participants in the scenes I have tried to describe to you. Dr. McCrure, Dr. Hildreath and the Rev. Mr. Leonard are dead. Every time Mr. Leonard saw me between the close of the war and his death the tears came to his eyes and he spoke of having preached my funeral sermon. Mrs. Sampson wrote me a letter just after I was married and told me to tell my wife that she wouldn’t have had me but for her. I guess that’s so.”
Photo By M. R. Patterson, July 2002
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