The Dying Soldier - The Last Letter from Home

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The Dying Soldier - The Last Letter from Home
Felix Octavius Carr Darley and John J. Cade
Page 211
Mary A. Livermore. My Story of the War: A Woman's Narrative of Four Years Personal Experience.  Hartford: A.D. Worthington and Company, 1889.
Engraving from a sketch
F 8344 .51
Newberry Library

In this illustration, artist Felix Octavius Carr Darley depicts a Cairo, Illinois, hospital scene.  Nurse Mary Safford tends to a dying soldier who clings to a letter and photograph of loved ones at home. Also at the bedside are Mary Livermore of the U.S. Sanitary Commission and a Union officer. Safford shares a prayer with the soldier and Livermore promises to write to his soon-to-be widowed wife. Other wounded soldiers can be seen in their hospital beds, and an African American porter stands carrying a large basket of food, supplies, and gifts for the soldiers.

Mary Livermore narrated the story of this scene in her book My Story of the War: A Woman's Narrative of Four Years Personal Experience.  Livermore worked for the Chicago branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.  As an inspector for the Sanitary Commission, Livermore visited hospitals throughout Illinois and the nation.  She described Mary Safford as one of most compassionate and beloved nurses in Cairo, and Union soldiers often called her “the Cairo angel.” 

Darley was one of the most famous book illustrators of the nineteenth century. He created more than 4000 drawings for novels, magazines, and even bank notes. In illustrating this moving scene from Livermore’s memoir, Darley paid careful attention to detail (see the man’s cavalry sword and cap on the wall), as well as to the important role of nurses who took it upon themselves to act as surrogate families to men who died in hospitals far from home.

Further reading:

Finding Aid for the Felix Octavius Carr Darley Collection, 1822-1887. The Winterthur Library.

Fischer, Leroy H. “Cairo’s Civil War Angel, Mary Jane Safford.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) 54, no. 3 (October 1961): 229-245.

Livermore, Mary Ashton Rice. My Story of the War: A Woman’s Narrative of Four Years Personal Experience as Nurse in the Union army, and in Relief Work at Home, in Hospitals, Camps, and at the Front, During the War of Rebellion. Hartford, Conn.: A.D. Worthington, 1889.

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago