...though I had a worrying ache and inward tremor underlying all the outward play of the senses and the mind, yet it is the simple truth that I did look out of the car- windows with an eye for all that passed, that I did take cognizance of strange sights and singular people, that I did act much as persons act from the ordinary promptings of curiosity, and from time to time even laugh very much as others do who are attacked with a convulsive sense of the ridiculous, the epilepsy of the diaphragm.
His descriptions of the battlefields and hospitals brought home to the Northern readers a bit of the reality of the war:
We followed the road through the village for a space, then turned off to the right, and wandered somewhat vaguely, for want of precise directions, over the hills. Inquiring as we went, we forded a wide creek in which soldiers were washing their clothes, the name of which we did not then know, but which must have been the Antietam. At one point we met a party, women among them, bringing off various trophies they had picked up on the battlefield. Still wandering along, we were at last pointed to a hill in the distance, a part of the summit of which was covered with Indian corn. There, we were told, some of the fiercest fighting of the day had been done. The fences were taken down so as to make a passage across the fields, and the tracks worn within the last few days looked like old roads. We passed a fresh grave under a tree near the road. A board was nailed to the tree, bearing the name, as well as I could make it out, of Gardiner, of a New Hampshire regiment.
At one point he visits a Union camp and speaks with some Confederate prisoners of war:
I put the question, in a quiet, friendly way, to several of the prisoners, what they were fighting for. One answered, "For our homes." Two or three others said they did not know, and manifested great indifference to the whole matter, at which another of their number, a sturdy fellow, took offence, and muttered opinions strongly derogatory to those who would not stand up for the cause they had been fighting for.
After numerous attempts to find the Captain, traveling hundreds of miles and at times being so close but missing each other, the two finally share a reserved reunion and head home to Boston:
I saw my Captain; there saw I him, even my first-born, whom I had sought through many cities.
"How are you, Boy?"
"How are you, Dad?"
Such are the proprieties of life, as they are observed among us Anglo-Saxons of the nineteenth century, decently disguising those natural impulses that made Joseph, the Prime Minister of Egypt, weep aloud so that the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard, nay, which had once overcome his shaggy old uncle Esau so entirely that he fell on his brother's neck and cried like a baby in the presence of all the women. But the hidden cisterns of the soul may be filling fast with sweet tears, while the windows through which it looks are undimmed by a drop or a film of moisture.
* Jessica Bussmann is the Education and Volunteer Coordinator at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. is buried.