The Crimson Mantle
Carrie Norris wiped the sweat from her brow as she gingerly walked to the next wounded soldier on the battlefield to administer water and bandage wounds. Wherever she stepped there were pools of blood. Many of the wounded held up their hands pitifully begging for water and help. At first, the soldiers’ cries, screams, and bloody appearances frightened Carrie, but now three days later she had become somewhat accustomed to the sights, sounds, odors, and horrors of war. Her blue dress, almost covered with blood, represented a badge of allegiance for her service to these suffering human beings. Carrie, a twenty-two year old schoolteacher, lived with her parents in the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Her Christian upbringing had taught her to help all people, as Jesus said, "'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” (Matthew 25:40 NIV)
What had been a wheat field three days earlier had turned into a battlefield, which now held thousands of wounded, dying, and dead Union and Confederate soldiers. Today, July 4, 1863, should have been a day of celebration for the country but instead America was fighting a civil war, each side claiming to be patriots, killing one another. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a small town of 2,400 citizens, found itself overrun with 165,000 soldiers and in the middle of the deadly conflict. A crimson mantle covered the town and surrounding areas.
The Union doctors and soldiers soon arrived loading the wounded into wagons, which transported them to military field hospitals located a few miles away. Gettysburg had turned into one big hospital to care for over 50,000 wounded soldiers. The military posted red flags, denoting hospitals, on every church, private home, and building. Carrie looked around the field one more time before returning home. Bloated human bodies, blackened by the hot, July sun remained, along with hundreds of dead horses. Burial teams were already busy digging graves for these loyal soldiers.
The townspeople had been out everyday administering to the needs of the soldiers, giving them shelter in their homes, feeding, and nursing their wounds. They were also busy burying those who had died. Carrie and her parents were currently lodging, feeding, and nursing eight wounded soldiers in their home, confederate and union. One confederate soldier had died very early this morning. Before his death, Carrie read scriptures, sang hymns, and wrote a letter for him to his family. Her heart broke as she listened to this poor, emaciated, ragged soldier speak about his loved ones, knowing he would never again see them on earth.
Isaac Martin, from Virginia, was leaving behind a wife and eight children. He had never seen the youngest child, Luke, born two years ago. Carrie wrote to his wife that as Isaac lay dying, he had Lucy’s name on his lips. She included with the letter, a few locks of Isaac’s hair, and the small pocket testament he had carried.
July 4, 1863
Dearest Lucy and children,
I was in a fierce battle here in Gettysburg three days ago and a Yankee shot my left leg. One of the army doctors amputated the leg and then brought me to this blessed home to recuperate. I lost a lot of blood and infection has set in, the doctor says he cannot do anything more for me. The daughter of the house, Miss Carrie Norris, is writing this letter for me, as I am so weak I cannot hold the pencil. I am not long for this world and wanted to tell you all how much I love you. Children, help your mama and know that your papa loved you. Always trust in the Lord. Lucy, as soon as you are able, please come and take my body back to Virginia.
Your loving husband and father,
Months later, the armies and wounded soldiers left Gettysburg and Carrie went back to teaching school. President Abraham Lincoln arrived in November to present the Gettysburg Address and dedicate the National Cemetery. Lucy Martin arrived in May to take her husband’s body back to Virginia. One year later, Carrie gave up teaching and married one of the Union soldiers, Edward Stevens, whom she had nursed in her parent’s house. She raised seven children and lived to be eighty-four years old. Carrie Norris Stevens lies buried with her family in Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg.
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