An accomplished and brilliant woman gives the following account of that noble institution in Philadelphia, the Volunteer Refreshment Saloon, in a letter dated October, 1861:
“On Thursday last I spent a day, that, if I live, I hope many a time to describe to my grand-nieces and nephews. Emily and I were sitting knitting by our cheery glass door, through which a warm October su was pouring a flood of red,a nd yellow, and purple light, when we heard two cannons fired. It was a signal that soldiers were to pass through the city. By the same impulse, Emily and I both proposed that we should go down and see them land, and be entertained at the Volunteer Refreshment Saloon. Off we started, on the spur of the moment, went down to Helen’s a recruiting–got her to join us–took the cars, and soon found ourselves at the corner of Prince and Front Streets, where the Refreshment Saloon stands.
“When we entered, we were met by a dapper, smart little man–a real handsom fellow–looking very much like—–, such beautiful features and bright eyes. He belonged to the class of mechanics, but, with our American facility, had picked up most excellent manners and address. We asked whether we had properly interpreted the signal of firing the cannons, and if a regiment were shortly expected. It appeared we had made a mistake, the firing we heard being in another direction, where they were trying the range of a new piece. However, a regiment was expected in the afternoon, and two during the evening. Our dapper friend invited us to look over the establishment. But let me stop a minute to give you some little account of what the Volunteer Refreshment Saloon is. When the war first broke out, and thousands and tens of thousands of soldiers were passing through our city daily, we found there was great deficiency of means of providing an immediate meal for them. Sometimes they would have to wait for hours, sometimes go away hungry. In Southwark, some dozen or so of the women joined heads and purses, and put up a little street corner refreshment place, just boards propped up against the sides of the houses, where they served hot coffee and other things, as they could afford it, free of charge to the soldiers, as they landed at the foot of Prime Street to proceed to the Baltimore depot. The thanks and blessings of the weary and hungry soldiers, who went away refreshed, incited these patriotic women to renewed efforts, and the thing has taken form and system. I will describe it to you as our little friend showed it to us, with many a bow and flourish, last Thursday. We entered a long, low room, rather poor-looking, and with marks of partitions having been knocked away to make it. In it were ranged, along the whole length, five long tables, about breast high, so that the soldiers might conveniently stand and eat. These were neatly spread with a white cloth, and set with plates, tin cups, castors, &c. At the upper end of the room were two rather handsomely laid tables for the officers. In this room they make a spread for five hundred at one time. The scrupulous cleanliness and neatness of the whole strike you. From the eating-room we went into the larder and cooking-room. In the larder we saw abundance of ham, corned beef, fresh mutton and beef, cheese, pickles, cold slaw, and most beautiful butter and bread, sweet potatoes, tomatoes–in short, all the vegetables of the season. Everything the very best of its kind. Up stairs is a retiring room, where they take any sick or wounded. There are comfortable lounges all around it, and in the middle a table with writing materials, and envelopes all ready stamped, if any one wants to despatch a letter. There is a bed or two, if any become sick and want to be nursed a day or two before rejoining their company. Now, remember this thing is wholly the work of the middleclass Southwark women. There are now about twenty men and twenty-five women who are actively employed in it. Only one person is a paid employee. All the others’ labor is voluntary. The young man, who was our guide, said that he had been at work since three o’clock in the night, and did not expect to get any rest until after midnight, as they had three thousand men to give supper to. It works on this wise: they take turns among themselves for one man and woman to remain all day on the spot. When they receive a despatch that a regiment is coming, a cannon is fired as a signal, and within half an hour every member is bound to make his appearance, or send a substitute, never mind what hour of day or night it is. Well! we were so interested and stirred up by the sight of so much patriotism, that we determined to return in the evening, and see a thousand New Hampshire boys take their supper. When we were going out, I said to our bright and hearty little guide, ‘Now you people must remember all you are doing, and write it down, for it will make an interesting page in history one day.’ ‘Why, miss, that is just what I’m thinking myself. When one thing or another happens, I say to myself, I’ll remember that, and maybe when I’m an old man, and they’re making books about it, I can help them to a thing or two.’ Then he went on to tell two or three incidents of some poor little boys in the neighborhood who set to work picking and selling chips till they had five dollars to give for the soldiers; and of a little five-year old boy, whose mother had given him a ten-cent piece for the Fourth of July. Five he laid out in irresistible fire-crackers, the other five he came and offered to feed the soldiers. The committee laid by that five-cent piece, and intend to keep it.
“In the afternoon, Doctor and Sallie, Matty, Emily, and myself, made a party, and went down there again. What a hive it was, to be sure! Nice young girls, and plump, hearty materfamilias bustling about with meat and cheese, and all good things, a real tempting meal. And O! the coffee: the delicious aroma almost brought tears to the eyes of us outsiders, who had to content ourselves with the smell alone.
“By and by, after a half hour’s waiting, a signal gun was fired, and the cry, ‘They come! They come!’ went forth from mouth to mouth. Sarah, I can’t give you any idea of the intense excitement and enthusiasm of that moment–the tapping of the drum; the tramp, tramp, tramp; the ringing order, “Halt;” and then they began filing in, company by company, in perfect quiet and order, ranging themselves along the table, till the great room was one dense mass of soldiers; unless you were here, and had caught the enthusiasm of our war spirit, you cannot know how the sight of a thousand armed men moves one. I wanted to embrace the whole regiment. I wanted to put my hands on their heads and bless the. I wanted to beat the drum, and sing, ‘Hail Columbia.’ I wanted to turn myself inside out, generally, and not being able to do any of these things. I shed some tears on my bonnet strings, much to their detriment, and rushed off and gave five dollars, that I don’t know how I can possibly spare. Sarah, they were a magnificent lookign set of men. Never tell me the Yankees are an ugly race, after seeing those five hundred handsome New Hampshire boys. They were mostly farmers, and scarcely a small man among them. You never saw so quiet and orderly a meal; no indecent haste or snatching, no raised voice or word of swearing; perfect courtesy to the women, in most cases turning to thank them before leaving. They were supplied with newspapers, while eating, and it was remarkable to see how many made haste to finish and have a few minutes to read their papers. I do not believe there was ever such an intelligent army int he world as ours. Our farmers, our mechanics, the very bone and sinew of our nation, are going forth, intelligently and determinedly, to fight the cause of freedom against slavery, liberty against tyranny, civilization against barbarism.
“Let me wind up my rather g description by saying that these people have fed one hundred and twenty thousand soldiers, and that it takes one hundred dollars to each thoua and supported entirely by voluntary subscription. One more remark and I have done. I never wished more heartily than at that blessed moment to be a mother, and then I wished for six beg sons, that I might send them all to fight their country’s battles. I even gave vent to the sentiment in a way that shocked some of my auditory. i had been looking long and admiringly at a very handsom six-foot youth, an officer. He was very like —– —–, only even handsomer, with a clear, pure, truthful face. He ate with a hearty, manly appetite, and when risen from the table, shook hands with two or three common-looking Southwark dames, in a respectful, courteous way, just as gracefully as —– —— would have done it, saying, ‘I thank you, ladies; I thank you for your hospitality.’ I could not help exclaiming, ‘I wish that boy were my son.’ I am glad that I am living history. It is a fine thing to read it, but a far better thing to live history. I am going toooooooooooooooverything I can, and connect myself as much as possible with what I believe to be a great era in our history. I should be disappointed to die before I saw it through. They are going to open the Girard House as a hospital here, and if I can possibly get ——— to accede to it, and I can make satisfactory arrangements, I shall go as a volunteer nurse. In Baltimore the nurses have a uniform,–a black or brown merino dress, tight sleeves, no hoops, tiny linen collar and cuffs, and a white tarleton cap. Wouldn’t that be ‘cute’? Imagine my flying around with a little tarleton cap on, reading and doing the sentimental part of the nursing–soothing their brows– and grapes–and jelly–and talking about their mothers, and so on.
“What do you thing! —— —–; —– the elegant; ——of the club, and red mustache, has been doing. Forgive me —–, if I have ever done thee any injustice, even in my thoughts. I do revere thee now. Seriously, —— has been doing the work of a hero. You know he has a gem of a little house up in—–Place, so elegantly furnished, where he watches over his little children like a mother. Well, —–could not leave his little brood to go to the war; so all summer long he has sought out sick and wounded soldiers, taken them to his house, and there nursed them. All his beds have been filled, and during the summer he has nursed about a hundred men. There, who will say that war does not develop fine virtues? You have heard, of course, that I am taking care of my country’s toes, corns, and bunions, in the way of knitting stockings. I have sent ninety pairs to the Quartermaster, four knit by my own fingers. I have one hundred and ten pairs out, in process of being knit. I am going to accomplish four hundred before I begin anything else. Helen is employed in collecting luxuries for the hospitals–jellies, farina, gelatin, &c. She will despatch a large box to-morrow, and still expects enough material for another. So you see we are all, according to our ability, spending and being spent for our dear old mother country.
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“One word more for our country, and I have done. We are at orwits’ ends for blankets. With five hundred thousand men under arms in the Northern States, it is no easy thing to provide them all with blankets; and as this is no wool-growing country, there is no store or supply to fall back upon. Government has put forth stirring appeals to the loyal women to come to the rescue, and give or sell their hoards of household blankets to the army: you may be sure this was generously responded to; and yet there is great and pressing need. Many women, I know have cut up their druggest and half worn ingrain carpets, bound them, and sent them off. I do believe the generosity of this people, now and here, has no parallel in history. Helen sent two pairs of good bed blankets, and my sisters out at Darley (you know their limited means) sent ten–almost all they possessed. I mean to send some drugget. I can’t well send my only two pairs of blankets, as they are old rose relics. If the need continues, however, I shall make the sacrifice. You understand it is no little economy in Government. It is because there is not enough wool in the country. Money cannot get them; so they must be got for love. Now, my darling, you can perhaps perceive what my hobby is now. If you were here, you would be death on patriotism too. Dr. Boardman’s church is the very head of all good works for the country; you would find it would cost as much labor and money to keep up with them, as travelling among the Alps does. . . .Do you know, Sarah, it is fashionable here to be traitorous; not exactly to say, I am a secessionist, but to call one’s self a ‘peace man’–an anti-administration man–just as in the days of the Revolution it was fashionable to be Tories. It is the legitimate offspring of the spirit of trade, whose cry is, ‘Give us prosperity; or y give us prosperity in our day, and apres vous le deluge.’ It is willing that the South should pull our noses, and that all nations under heavenod spit in our faces for cowards, rather than have wealth and trade, ease and comfort, interfered with. It is only in the great cities, and among the wealthy, that you meet this demoralization. Throughout the country, and among the great middle classes, patriotism is warm and earnest. . . . We had a stirring talk last night at —– —–, on the times. We there all believed that the North was too backward about facing the subject of slavery. We have been in the habit so long of protecting it, and of so hating the word Abolitionist, that now we are afraid to face the great question that Providence is thrusting upon us. We are willing to kill our white brethren, if need be, burn their cities, and yet are squeamish about their slave property. We acknowledge it to be an evil, and a burden to the land; and yet, in this time of great uprooting and regeneration, we are afraid to say this thing shall be purged away Mr. ——- said he believed there was a special Providence in our panic at Bull Run; that if we had been victorious, and taken Richmond, and patched a hasty peace, we would have shirked the whold question–skinned over the cancer that would have broken out again. W—– said that he thought Providence had taken the whole matter out of the hands of man, and by showing the world the necessity of gowing cotton elsewhere, had given the death-blow to slavery. When the American cotton King is deposed, Cuffee is free.”