Chunky had his plans all made up before he enlisted with David. He wanted to become a doctor, and the war could be his steppingstone right into medical school. When he was not practicing or playing in the company band, he volunteered to work in the hospital. His giant stature in size and character was a blessing to all he worked with. His big broad smile always supported his handlebar mustache. Somehow, he was able to find some good everywhere.
Civil War Field Hospital
He gave exceptional care to the wounded men. Chunky had earned the doctors’ trust and respect through the many hours he had worked directly together with them. Twenty-four men of Company D were wounded and seven killed, and Chunky was acquainted with all but two of them.
Bringing the wounded after battle
War does not take all the victims with a gun. Hunger, disease, lack of clean drinking water, and infections kill more soldiers than bullets. Chunky was one of the men who foraged for corn when men and animals were destitute of food at the encampment of Stafford Court House.
Chunky remembered a sad case of a soldier who, in great desperation for food, asked permission to eat corn from the mess the teamster was about feeding to his team. The man ate so ravenously of the raw whole corn that he died from the effects in three hours. Chunky also remembered an incident of men in a half-starved condition eating meat taken from the head of an animal, which had many days before been killed for food. Just the skeleton of the carcass was left.
While Chunky was around the hospital assisting in the care of 1500 wounded, he strolled out back of the barn. He wholly unexpectedly found his friend John lying under a shelter of a few boards which had one end laid on a fence. It was alongside the barn. He was thrilled to see Chunky, and his case was pathetic. He had been wounded in the chest, and a great profusion of blood had saturated his clothes, pocketbook, and all.
John requested that Chunky send his money home. There were $60 in bills so covered with blood that they required soaking and washing. He laid them out on the boards, with some pieces of garments, also, to dry. Sergeant John Seiple died of his wounds. He was in the ward of the barn and died near where Chunky was in attendance. He suffered intensely from lockjaw, and when Chunky saw that he could not live, he thought death was preferable as he witnessed him breathing his last. Chunky wrote his family a short letter. And along with John’s life savings, this was all that went back to his home.
Civil War medical chart for amputation
When Chunky was not on duty playing in the band, Dr. Neff was teaching him nursing in the 9th Corps hospital. Chunky told the men often, “I carried Dr. Neff’s instrument case in and out of battle carried it out more rapidly than I carried it in. I did it successfully, however, by making good use of my legs.”
Dr. Neffo felt that Chunky needed to learn all he could from him to become a good doctor someday. Combat surgeons learn very fast about human suffering during the war. Chunky witnessed and helped assist holding men during too many amputations of arms and legs. The remains were stacked like cordwood outside the hospital barn. No one would shake their hand or kick them anymore.
Stacked like cord wood
During a heavy rainstorm, Chunky spent a night of the most awful heart strain that he had ever experienced. A young soldier lay under the eaves of the barn during a torrent of rain with but slight covering, surrounded by hundreds of others. His cries for help were indeed the most heart-rending one could listen to. His shrieks became unendurable. Chunky hunted about to learn from what direction the calling came and finally found him under some boards which had been hastily laid up for shelter.
Giving comfort to the dying
Chunky asked him where he was wounded, and the man could not tell, except that he had significant pain between his shoulders. With great care, he removed his shirt to ascertain the location and character of the soldier’s wound. By the dim light of an old lantern, he succeeded in finding a battle injury between the shoulder blades.
Stabbed in the back
It had the shape of the incision that is precisely that of a bayonet. From the size of the hole, the weapon must have pierced deeply into his body. The man died shortly after, and his silence was a deafening reminder that life could end in an instant.
Death comes slow
Cherries were ripe and very plentiful in this place, and the boys did not object to “pick cherries.” Chunky and a couple other men took a walk through the trees staining their fingers red with the juice of the fruit. As sweet as the cherries were to the tongue, the red color was not so pleasing to the eyes. It reminded them of something else red all over their hands. No one said anything, but they all knew what each other was thinking.
Later that afternoon, Chaplain Melick came in camp with a great loaf of bread about seven by sixteen inches. He had also scavenged three pounds of fresh butter. Chunky asked him where he got them, and he said he bought them. The men wondered where did he get the money, for they knew he had none, and he answered that he borrowed it. They never found out how he came by it, but of course, they had their own opinions. Still, they never believed that any member of their mess would take anything and not pay for it or at least promise to pay.
Chunky told the men, “Let me state right here, that was the best bread and butter that I ever ate.”
Time to chow down
The Chaplain told the men, “I believe two-thirds of the boys would re-enlist.”
He did not know if he would go home at all. He said that he thought peace measures could have settled the matter of the war. But now, he believed the South did not want peace.
Dr. Neff playfully said, “The Chaplain is all right, but he is a Democrat.”
“Yes,” said the Chaplain, “But I am not a Copperhead.”
In the 1860s, the Copperheads comprised a vocal faction of Democrats in the Northern United States of the Union. They opposed the American Civil War, wanting an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates. Republicans started calling the anti-war Democrats “Copperheads,” likening them to the venomous snake. Those Democrats accepted the label, reinterpreting the copper “head” as the likeness of Liberty, which they cut from Liberty Head large cent coins and proudly wore as badges. Democratic supporters of the war, by contrast, were called War Democrats.
By following the wishes of Chaplain Melick, the men built a temporary enclosure of logs and pine boughs around a tent for a chapel service. They fitted it up in good style and called it “Chapel Grove.”
They held their first meeting in the new church, May 29, 1863. On the evening of the 31st, General O. O. Howard attended the meeting, and he made an address that greatly encouraged all present. The company band played, and Chunky sang an old hymn. His voice was loud and heard by all listening as something of beauty in the middle of a really big ugly.
After this, Chunky met with the Chaplain, and he was very anxious to know how he was getting along. As the water in the canteen had given out and Chunky was very thirsty, he told him that, “Water was scarce and hard to get, and I thought a great big drink of beer would be a good help to move a fellow along.”
He was thinking of his father Jonah’s excellent and fresh German brewed beer back home. But instead of agreeing with him, Chunky lost the friendship of the Chaplin as he turned his back and walked away, mumbling something to himself.
Ah.. fresh German beer
One evening an incident arose over the Chaplain’s refusal to take a social glass with the officers, who, along with him, had been invited to the Colonel’s tent. As the drinks were served, a popular custom among the officers, the Chaplain refused to accept the extended hospitality. After that, he was invited to take a glass of water. But this he also declined. His reasons for declining were sufficient but provoked resentment. No one wanted to argue among themselves; it was hard enough fighting the enemy. They all agreed that the invitation was an act of courtesy, and the refusal was also proper.
Act of courtesy
At this time, the regiment was still on the south side of the Rappahannock. The crossing was at the United States Ford. Chunky assisted in carrying the wounded. A hefty rain fell toward the evening soaking everyone.
The regiment was still on the south side of the Rappahannock
United States Ford
He was all day of the 6th on the road with the ambulance loaded with wounded. They arrived at Brooks Station Hospital, and he remained with them that night. The hospital joined the band tent. Chunky changed his roles between nurse and band member as quick as duty called.
Removing the wounded from the battle field
The removal of the wounded from the battlefield began on the 4th. A temporary hospital was set up in a brick house on the left side of the road from Chancellorsville House to United States Ford. On Sunday, May 17, it was reported that Stonewall Jackson died last Sunday. The intelligence reached us through Dr. Jenkins from a neighboring regiment. The doctor was a brother-in-law of the deceased.
The removal of the wounded from the battlefield
There was a man in the Company who thought he was sick. The rest of the Company thought he was playing off ill and was trying to get into the hospital off duty. He was a regular out-and-out hospital bum. He reported to the doctors, was examined, and returned to the Company with a gun and a cartridge box ready to fight. The doctors had treated him with Blue Mass, which was a dose of milk sugar, rose oil, honey, and one grain of mercury. This concoction guaranteed a sure-fire case of the “backyard trots.” This treatment was enough to cure up any man in short order.
Chunky chuckled to himself, “Well, the fellow got a great send-off and made himself scarce in a hurry. Near as I can tell, he was cured.”
Comrade Hess was struck by a minie ball above the knee, and the ball went straight through, carrying the bone away and splitting the bone as it crashed through it. He was lying in a little tent and unconcerned and without pain.
When Chunky found him, he said, “Well, you must go to the hospital, to the Operating table, to have your wound examined.”
Chunky had hoped the ball had gone around the bone, but it looked terrible. The holes were opposite each other. Comrade Hess was afraid to go to the table for fear the surgeon would take off his leg, perhaps unnecessarily, so he wanted Chunky to speak to the surgeon about it. He cheerfully agreed to do so.
The doctors were busy in probing for balls, binding up wounds,
and in cutting off arms and legs, a pile of which lay under the table
The doctor gave him the heartiest assurance that he would do no wrong to the patient. After placing the man under chloroform, he ran his little finger into the wound. Taking a pair of pincers from his vest pocket, he pulled out a splintered bone several inches long. Showing that the bone was severely fractured, and in fact, carried clear away. Chunky took a long piece of the bone and showed it to Mr. Hess to show him that the amputation of the limb was an absolute necessity. He seemed to be satisfied, and the operation was performed.
About this time, Chunky saw the actions of a man that he could not understand. The soldier had his gun on his shoulder. The line of battle could not stop him; the provost marshal could not stop him. Chunky saw a cavalryman strike at him with his saber, which barely missed his head. It was warded off by the gun barrel on which the blow was struck. But this thing, in the shape of a man, did not wink or dodge. But marched through the guard as if there was nothing in his line of retreat. And for all Chunky knew, he was still retreating instead of going to the hospital. What happened to this soldier was as old as war itself.
The ancient Greeks called it “Divine Madness.” During the Civil War, it was called “Soldiers heart.”
Comrade William Taylor was wounded early on in the battle, and he lay for two days on the field. He usually carried a horn and played with Chunky in the band, but he carried a gun that day. He was picked up the third day by the ambulance corps and taken to the barn used by the Eleventh Corps for a hospital. Dr. Neff had loaned out Chunky to help them with removing the wounded men from the field.
After the Chief Surgeon looked over William, he thought there was little or no hope for him. So, the patient was left in the corner of the barn, alone, to wait for what comes next. He was just left there to die. That is where Chunky found him with a B-Flat horn case for a pillow, and his overcoat folded and placed under his head. A blanket was thrown over him.
But in the meantime, he had lost his coat out from under his head. And his blanket had slopped from him. Blood was running from the wound and his eyes and nose. His lips were so swollen he could not speak. But he was conscious. Conscious enough to recognize Chunky’s voice. By prying open his mouth with a spoon, Chunky fed him some soup. It was the first food this soldier had taken since he entered the battle four days before.
Chunky went to the Chief Surgeon, told him of his friend William, and that it had been supposed he would die. Chunky was very boisterous, and he was talking louder as he said, “But he did not die! And he ought to have medical attention now.”
The Chief Surgeon went with him and looked at William and added, “…that is a fascinating case. He is a bright, strong fellow. Maybe he can pull through,” or a word to that effect.
Chunky was not too sure what he had said. The Chief surgeon did not seem to be interested in anything Chunky said.
All his life, Chunky quickly made lifetime friends out of anyone that took the time to meet and talk with him. His massive size and big handlebar mustache made him look like a formidable character. But when he greeted all with that contagious big grin, you were glad to know he was on your side.
Since he was young, his papa had told him that his size could intimidate anyone, but he felt it was better to have a sound educated mind. Chunky was just trying to communicate with the Chief surgeon on his level, but he would not let him.
The poor fellow had been lying there on the field, without food, drink, or shelter. It had rained, and the cavity in his head was half full of water. Dr. Neff afterward told Chunky that probably the rain had saved his life, as it kept down the inflammation.
Chunky calmly and very quietly asked the Chief Surgeon, “Sir, what should I do with this man?”
He replied, “Put him wherever you can.” That meant a great deal, or it meant nothing, as every flat space was full.
Chunky got a stretcher and another soldier to help move him to a large tent going up about one hundred yards away. He remarked to his comrade, “I suppose that is an officers’ tent, but the Chief Surgeon says we shall put you wherever we can.”
They took the man right in and lay him down. Chunky thought to himself, “He is too badly hurt for them to throw him out. If they protest, we will tell them our orders.”
The officers tent
But the protest did not come from the officers in the tent. The Chief Surgeon could be heard, back at the barn, yelling at the top of his lungs, “Just where in the heck do you think you are going with that man?”
Chunky stopped dead where he stood. The outraged doctor ran up to him and got right into his face; well, at least up to his chest. The two men took a long stare at each other, anticipating their next move.
It came from Chunky, “Sir,” he said, “Sir, I enjoy working with you because there is so much I can learn from you that will help me become a good doctor someday.”
The Chief Surgeon shouted back at him, “You will never be able to do what you want. And you certainly cannot ever be a real doctor. They will never let you into my medical school because you are BLACK.”
Yes, Chunky was born Charles Washington “Chunky” Godfreed, a black man whose parents were both freed slaves.
Time stood still for both men. The Chief surgeon was not too sure if he was about to get punched. But all Chunky was thinking about was the stories his papa, Jonah, had told him long ago about when Jonah was a slave. He always told Chunky that he could be whatever he wanted to be because he was born a free man. Then he flashed back to a memory from his childhood.
free and slave states
Jonah as a slave
It was the longest day and the shortest night in June. That day was particularly hot and long. All who endured it yearned for the cooler night-time.
But the darkness did not always promise a good rest. Because of a long and wet spring that year, the bugs were in command of the night air this time of the season.
A fire was kept going all day, and the smell of meat cooking over an open pit had been teasing everyone around for miles. The meal was served, and all who enjoyed it were found to be too full to do too much of anything.
So, they all gathered around the fire pit to hide from the bugs in the smoke. Chunky made sure his father, Jonah, had a seat with a pillow on it, and he placed him in the warmest spot, next to the fire.
Most of the adults drifted away, leaving the children camped out around the heat. Just a few hours ago, they were all too hot. Now the night air had a little chill, so they grabbed their blankets and sat as close to the fire as they could without getting burnt. They had to keep rolling around like a pig on a spit, to keep all sides warm but not toast their fanny.
It was a voice heard from under a blanket that first broke the silence. This was what they all did in the summer next to the fire. They talked. They talked and listened to each other. They always had an interest in what someone else had done or experienced that day. This was a curiosity about someone they loved, their family. And you could share your feelings openly, without fear of being shamed. This was indeed a safe circle around the warm fire.
Jonah was asked again, “Tell us, what do you remember about slavery times.”
It took some time before he would let himself answer. His heart grew very heavy just thinking about that, far back time. That ain’t far back enough, as far as Jonah was concerned, he thought to himself.
With a very gruff voice, he shouted at the blanket person, and he growled, “The highest bidder gets you. He’ll carry you to his plantation.”
He snapped back and pointed with his finger as if to show how far away that was. Jonah said sharply, “Today, I’s a freed man, can do what I wants.”
Jonah hit on his pipe, gave a little spit, and continued, “Back then they’d, put another on up there, me highest bid.”
He pretended to be counting money when he told those listening to him so intensely, “Whichever one bid, gives the most, he carries you to his plant, that the white, in the South.”
As the flames from the fire began to die down a little, he mumbled to himself. No one understood what he said, and after a while, he repeated himself. It got really quiet, and it seemed like even the crickets and frogs were giving the storyteller 100% of their attention.
You could feel the pain in Jonah’s voice as he quietly spoke. “And they went to mistreating the, the colored. Getting children by the colored women. And all such as that, gett’in da colored.”
For someone that usually kept his thoughts to himself, this sudden eagerness to talk was out of character for him. The family had tried in the past to get Jonah to share his life experiences as a slave with them. They only knew him as a freed man. He never talked about it before.