Notable Visitors: Cordelia A. P. Harvey (1824-1898)
Cordelia A. P. Harvey was a one-time school teacher and the widow of Wisconsin Governor Louis P. Harvey. He died in 1862 – two months into his gubernatorial term when he slipped when crossing between two boats and drowned in Tennessee River. Mrs. Harvey picked up her husband’s concern for the welfare of Union soldiers wounded in battle and was appointed as a sanitary agent by her husband’s successor, Governor Edward Salomon. She became a leading champion of the creation of Union hospitals near the homes of Union soldiers where they could recuperate in more healthful environments than were possible near the war front.
Mrs. Harvey fell during this work in 1863 and needed to return to Wisconsin to recuperate. She became convinced that soldiers should share in her own experience. President Lincoln opposed her idea because he was afraid that once wounded soldiers got close to home, they would melt away back to civilian life. Years later, Mrs. Harvey gave a speech in which she detailed her visit to Washington to see President Lincoln in September 1863. She gave “the exact conversations between Mr. Lincoln and myself, as taken down at the time, for in no other way can I so well picture to you our much loved and martyred president as he then appeared at the White House. As I said before, the necessity for establishing military hospital in the North had long been an subject of much thought among our people, but it was steadily opposed by authorities.” Mrs. Harvey said:
By the advice of friends and with an intense feeling that something must be done, I went to Washington. I entered the White House, not with fear and trembling, but strong and self-possessed, fully conscious of the righteousness of my mission. I was received without delay. I had never see Mr. Lincoln before. He was alone, in a medium sized office-like room, no elegance about him, no elegance in him. He was plainly clad in a suit of black that illy fitted him. No fault of his tailor, however; such a figure could not be fitted. He was tall and lean, and as he sat in a folded up sort of way in a deep arm chair, one would almost have thought him deformed. At his side stood a high writing desk and table combined; plain straw matting covered the floor; a few stuffed chairs and sofa covered with green worsted completed the furniture of the presence chamber of the president of the great republic. When I first saw him his head was bent forward, chin resting on his breast, and in his hand a letter which I had just sent to him.
Secretary Stanton told Mrs. Harvey that he had sent the Surgeon-General to inspect the military hospitals along the Mississippi River. Mrs. Harvey cordially dissented that no good would come of this inspection tour and told Secretary Stanton: “any person with discernment, with a medium allowance of common sense and humanity, who is loyal, and has been throughout southern river hospitals, knows and feels the necessity for what I ask, and yet you say you have never received a report to this effect. The truth is, the medical authorities know the heads of department do not wish hospitals established so far way from army lines, and report accordingly. I wish this could be overruled; can nothing be done?” Mr. Stanton told her that no changes could be made until the surgeon-general returned. Mrs. Harvey took her leave.
Returning to Mr. Lincoln, I found it was past the usual hour for receiving and no one was in the waiting room. The messenger said I had better go directly into the President’s room. It would be more comfortable waiting there, and there was only one gentleman with him and he would soon be through. I found my way to the back part of the room, and seated myself on a sofa in such a position that the desk was between Mr. Lincoln and me. I do not think that he knew I was there. The gentleman with him had given him a paper. The President looked at it carefully and said, ‘Yes, this is sufficient endorsement for anybody; what do you want?”
Mrs. Harvey’s message was a hard sell to the President. She recalled that as spoke, “Mrs. Lincoln’s brow had become very much contracted, and a severe scowl had settled over his whole face. He sharply asked how many men Wisconsin had in the field, that is, how many did she send? I replied, “About 50,000, I think, I do not know exactly.”
“That means she has about 20,000 now.” He looked at me, and said, ‘You need not look so sober, they are not all dead.”At Mrs. Harvey’s request, President Lincoln ordered the hospital to be named after her late husband. She herself came to be called the “Wisconsin Angel.” Mrs. Harvey worked as a school teacher before she married her husband, who was also a school teacher at the time. After the war, Mrs. Harvey founded an orphanage in Wisconsin for children whose fathers had died in the Civil War.