“They also serve, who only stand and wait”.
As the last line in John Milton’s Poem “On His Blindness”, he uses the phrase to point out that, despite his seeming disability, he has a place in God’s plans for the world.
Sarah S. Sampson also had a bar to serving her country: She was a woman. Born in Maine in 1832, she married Charles A.L. Sampson, of Bath, Maine, on Valentine’s day of 1855. Theirs was a happy, if childless, marriage, with Charles being noted as a sculptor of figureheads for sailing ships. One of his works still survives today in Mystic Seaport’s museum.
When war broke out in 1861, Charles was commissioned into the 3rd Maine Infantry, two of whose companies (A&D) were recruited from the city of Bath. The original Colonel of the 3rd was Oliver Otis Howard, later to command the 11th Corps and then the Army of the Tennessee on the march through Georgia. All that was to come much later, though.
Unwilling to be left behind, Sarah chose instead to accompany her husband’s regiment as a volunteer nurse. By all accounts she excelled at her duties, and came near to being captured at Savage’s Station, in 1862, by fast-advancing Confederate columns. She fled ahead of them, along with the medical staff and wounded who could be evacuated, but lost her trunk which she was forced to abandon.
Shortly thereafter, she secured a position as a field agent for the Maine State Soldier’s Relief Agency, whose purpose was to provide those articles and services to Maine soldiers which the Federal government either would not, or could not provide. Her service as such was well received and remarked upon by many. Constantly traveling from one battlefield hospital to another, from convalescent wards to General hospitals, she sought out Maine soldiers and sailors and did everything she could for them. Writing letters, seeing that paperwork was in order, helping to mend clothing , providing fresh fruits or other small foods, she exemplified the better angels of our nature.
In one of her many reports, she writes of caring for a soldier of the 3rd Maine who lay mortally wounded in a Federal Hospital. His only wish was to return to Maine so that he could die there, rather than in a distant hospital. The regiment had just been mustered out (4 June, 1864), and was on it’s way home. Knowing the route they must take, Sarah made arrangements for all the soldier’s paperwork and effects to be in order, and had the young man taken by ambulance down to meet the 3rd as it passed by. She describes the poignant scene as the little band of men, barely 100 strong, stopped and helped their comrade from the ambulance, and bore him on his litter along with them, slowly marching away towards the train station, there to board the cars that would take them all home together.
After the war, Sarah returned home and worked at what would later be known as the Bath Children’s Home, caring for orphans of soldiers and sailors. When her service there ended, she took a position in Washington DC, with the Pension Bureau, assisting applicants from Maine whose military service rendered them unable to gain employment.
When she passed away on 22 December, 1907, Sarah was laid to rest befitting her status, in Arlington Cemetery, alongside the soldiers for which she cared so much. Her gravestone, in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery is engraved:
Sarah S. Sampson, Volunteer Nurse, Civil War.
Wife of Lieutenant Colonel Charles A.L. Sampson, 3rd Maine Volunteer Infantry.
This tablet is dedicated in loving memory of Sarah S. Sampson by the 3rd Maine Regiment Association, Civil War.
We think of modern folks like “Soldier’s Angels”, the USO, and other service organizations, but theirs is but the latest in a long line of volunteers who did their part to help bring about victory, and to assuage the sufferings and privations of those who wore the uniform.
Sarah Sampson lived a life of service to others, a life which brought her into contact with both common soldiers, and the generals and politicians who led them. As such, she is an example of those ideals we seek to instill in our children, and one worthy of both recognition and emulation.