'Am I to forgive the Yankees?'

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXV (9) start of chapter

'Oh, my God! what's that? what's that?' shrieked a poor Southern boy, when he first saw a Sister, as she leaned over his hospital pallet. His terror was equalled only by his genuine horror when he discovered she was a Catholic. Soon, however, his eyes would wander round the ward in search of the nurse with the sweet smile, the gentle voice, and the gentler word. Like many of his class, he was utterly ignorant of religion of any description; he disliked 'Papists,' and he thought that sufficed for every spiritual purpose. At length he wished to be baptized in the Sister's faith, and his instruction was commenced. He was told he should forgive his enemies. 'Am I to forgive the Yankees?' he asked, with indignant eagerness. 'Certainly,' replied the Sister, 'you must forgive everybody,' 'Ma'am, no—not the Yankees!—no, ma'am—not the Yankees!—I can't.' 'But you must forgive your enemies, or you can't be a Christian. God forgave those who put Him to death,' persisted the Sister. 'Well, Sister, as you ask me to do it, I will forgive the Yankees; but 'tis hard to do it though, I tell you.'

'Before we left Vicksburg to attend the hospitals,' says a Sister, 'many of the Irish soldiers returned dreadfully wounded from the battle of Shiloh, where our pastor, who had gone to assist their dying moments, said they had fought, "not like men, but like indomitable lions." We had many brave Irish patients, but our principal experience in hospital lay amongst Creoles, or soldiers from the country parts of the South, whose horror of Sisters at first (grounded on their ignorance), formed a strange contrast to their subsequent grateful affection.'

'They shrank from us with looks of horror and loathing, as if we were something full of evil,' remarked a Sister, whose name was famous for skill, and an energy that excited the amazement of those who beheld her in the management of a great hospital. Many a letter, replete with gratitude and veneration, came to that Sister from all parts of the States, North and South, and not a few from those who at first regarded her 'with looks of horror and loathing, as if she were full of evil.'

The doctors were not one whit behind the humblest soldiers in ignorant dislike of the Sisters.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America