War's Horror Knocks at the Door
As night began to fall here on, April 6, 1865, the hard fought battles of Little Sailor's Creek and the crossroads near the Marshall Farm draw to a close. Federal surgeons work by the little natural light that's still available. They are inside the main doorways trying to save as many of the wounded as possible from both armies. Hospital stewards prepare men for surgery and assist with the gruesome task of amputating limbs, bandaging wounds, and trying to comfort the wounded.
This house, built by Moses Overton in the early 1770's, is occupied by the James Moses Hillsman family. Hillsman, a former Captain in the 44th Virginia Infantry, was captured at Spotsylvania in May, 1864, while commanding a detachment of sharpshooters, and is still a prisoner of war as battle rages across his farm. His wife Lucy Blanton Hillsman and mother Martha Overton Hillsman, two children and eight servants are forced to reside in the basement warming kitchen during the fight. The home will be used as the Sixth Corps field hospital. The family will experience the grim realities of war as the floor in the entry hall becomes soaked with blood and they hear the cries of the wounded and dying above.
Once surgeries are complete, the amputated limbs will be thrown outside and men are either carried outdoors to recover or placed in one of the house's four rooms. Before evacuating Hillsman's home, the Federals will bury their own dead temporarily on the farm until removed to Poplar Grove National Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia. The Confederate dead will be left unburied. For those men there will be no glory in war. Former Hillsman slaves will bury them in mass, unmarked graves on the battlefield. Afterwards, Lucy Hillsman will leave this house with her family, never to return.
One of the wounded men, Lt. George Peck of the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, described what he saw when taken into the house.
"An hour later it began to rain, so Private Lincoln went to the house to secure, if possible, my removal thither, for every officer had been quartered there as soon as he was brought in. He returned with a litter on which I was taken to the house. I was then placed on the floor of a room in which there were two beds each occupied by two severely wounded officers, while in the third corner, on the floor, were at least a half dozen more.
The only place found for me was in front of these beds; my head so close beside the hall doorway, where stood the operating table, with surgeons working the entire night, my body forming the bound of a passage - way to the kitchen door in the fourth corner, whence people continually passed and repassed. Yet when my wet clothes had been removed ... and myself wrapped in a couple of army blankets, I slept quietly, happily, until daylight."