Mercy in Schuyler’s Abattoir


In the hospital tent, Dr. Savage stood by the table that belonged to General Schuyler, but had now become his surgical table where more limbs were removed from wounded soldiers than bullets that caused them.

When the stretcher bearing the British officer arrived, Savage’s orders were to save the man at any cost. Simultaneously, bearers lugged the canvas sling fashioned to carry to the makeshift surgery young Thomas Borden from the field in front of Breymann’s Redoubt. The curiosity of the medical staff was set off not by the bullet hole in the Tryon County volunteer’s left shoulder. His shirt had been ripped to get a better view of the wound and that provided a surprising view of Private Borden’s breast, a breast belonging most definitely to a female.

Savage looked over the British Major, who someone said was a West Country noble called John Acland. He’d been shot through the hips and Savage’s inspection with his fingers and metal probe didn’t show any serious damage to bone or his lower gut. Savage packed the Major’s wounds with lint, knowing that was about all he could do for the man. All the while, Acland observed the doctor’s ministrations with quiet moans and wing looks at Savage. The doctor nodded to his assistants and then moved to Borden.

“Orders are orders, gentlemen, but this woman needs as much if not more care as our Redcoat officer here. Bartlett, give the Major a large dose of that rum and a dram of laudanum to keep the pain at bay and then join me over here with this…” Savage didn’t know what to call young Borden.

Pulling back the young woman’s linsey-woolsy hunting shirt, Savage saw the bullet wound she’d suffered. It was of a similar caliber as the large and heavy round fired from the British army’s Brown Bess musket.

“How did this girl get wounded?” Savage asked.

“I heard Colonel Van Wie shot her so she wouldn’t kill the wounded grenadier officer there, sir,” Savage’s aide said. .

“Well someone sure as hell did,” Savage said. “Now I’ve got to probe inside her for that ball. Leadbetter, give her shot of that corn whisky and Then you and Larabee hold her still,” Savage said to his cadre of aides. “Quite a waste. She’s almost a pretty thing,” he said. “And I know I’ve seen her before.”

From behind him, Savage heard Acland say, “Aye.”

After removing Bodden’s shirt, some of the aides, hardened by the surgery’s abattoir atmosphere, blushed with some semblance of Christian decorum.

“More light over here, Bartlett,” Dr. Savage said. He wiped some of the blood from Acland’s procedure off a metal probe and held it ready in his left hand as he pushed his red-stained index finger into the .69 caliber hole left by Van Wie’s pistol. The girl’s scream was no more nor less than that of any other soldier’s. The mirrored lantern revealed a steady pulsing of blood from her left shoulder.

Savage said, “You might be one lucky young Borden, or Miss Bodden, or whatever your real name is. Ball nicked your bone but didn’t shatter it. Went right on through without touching any major vessels. Nevertheless…”

“Is…is he dead? Did I kill him?” The girl, dressed as a Mohawk Valley farmer on an October hunt might, thrashed a bit to see if Acland was next to her, or just his body. She saw him staring at her.

“No, he’s alive, though it’s a grievous wound. Nevertheless, he’s watching you now,” Savage said. Then he turned to his assistant and said, “Tourniquet, Bartlett.”

“No,” came booming from the pallet where Major Acland lay. “You’ll not take the girl’s arm. Clean and bind her wound, give her rum and laudanum, but do not take her arm.”

“Delirium, sir?” Bartlett asked Savage. “Or the ravings from the opium and drink?” He held a leather strap which was slick with blood.

“No, I don’t think so. Sir, you’re neither a doctor or surgeon. You just lie back and let me do what must be done,” Savage said.

“You’re wrong there, sir,” Acland said through clenched teeth. “I studied with Hunter in London. I believe you’d be doing more harm than good from so drastic a procedure. Please do as I ask, I’m imploring you. The girl has as much or greater chance of dying from the amputation as the bullet wound itself. You have nothing to lose, sir,” Acland said.

“Hunter, eh?” Savage said. “I’ve read some of his studies. But we don’t have time here to debate theorem, sir. Only to cut, saw and burn. And my time for her seems to have been superseded by my need to tend to the next twelve men. I’ll leave her life to God and your conscience, then, sir. Take her off and do as the learned Major Acland said, Bartlett.”

With that, Savage turned and shouted, “Larabee, what by Jehovah are you standing there for? Bring on the next. Oh, with your august permission, Doctor Acland.”

But Acland couldn’t hear the rebel surgeon’s jeering retort. He’d finally succumbed to the shock of his wounds and the opium in his system. Leadbetter rolled him back onto his pallet and, with Bartlett, lifted another wounded soldier upon the table, where Savage removed the man’s leg just above the knee in but two minutes.

“Another, Leadbetter,” he said, rinsing blood from his hands in a basin of pink water. Then, to no one, he added, “War. Women. Madness.”

In response to another month-long Story a Day Challenge, I was supposed to write a story in 30 minutes. In it, I’m supposed to take a character and make him do the opposite of what you or he would ever think of doing. I decided to try writing a chapter of a novel that’s been nagging me for four years. It’s working title is “Stillwater,” and it’s the story of a girl from Somerset, England who comes to New York in the 1770s to escape the nobleman who she believe may instigated her father’s death and attacked her sister. But sometimes the obvious isn’t as it seems. This is by no means a finished piece. It’s a first draft speed write. But it has “good bones.


One thought on “Mercy in Schuyler’s Abattoir

  1. Really like this story. I knew there were women who dressed as males and fought in the Civil War, did not realize that the Revolutionary had their own “Daughters of Liberty.” You have piqued my curiosity…lots of questions without answers, such as where did Dr. Savage know her from. Also what prompted her to join up, to become a “soldier” in the first place. Hope that someday the story will be continued, or that she will find her way into that historical novel of yours that I am waiting for!!

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