May 1862

“Every thing reminds me of Arthur”: Mourning a lost friend

Lieutenant Arthur L. Bailhache of Springfield, adjutant of the 38th Illinois Infantry, died of disease at Pilot Knob, Missouri, on January 9, 1862. His body was sent to Springfield for burial.

Bailhache’s death left a void in many lives, including that of Anna Ridgely. The daughter of Springfield banker Nicholas and Jane Huntington Ridgely, Anna kept a journal into which she poured her anxieties, as well as accounts of her life’s enjoyable moments. Anna’s journal provides a poignant look at how one young woman in Illinois dealt with a painful wartime loss.

In late 1861 Anna was a nineteen-year-old, struggling to build her Christian faith. Spiritual crises were a recurrent theme of her writing. She was often conscience-stricken and certain that she did not measure up to the standards of a true Christian. As her family members were not believers, she sought help from a Presbyterian minister but found him to be of little help—”He generally talks of his affairs and never mentions my own.”

The opening of the war seems to have had little practical effect on Anna’s life. Her position as daughter of a leading Springfield family kept her in the social whirl, “yet still feel that it has not been very profitable-it seems so selfish to be doing for our own pleasure all the time when there is so much to be done for others.” It appears that church work for the city’s needy served as her outlet. The war did come prominently to her mind in October 1861, with the military defeat and death of one-time Springfield resident Edward D. Baker at Ball’s Bluff, Virginia. The defeat raised difficult questions, which Anna quickly put to rest with the knowledge that “God who directs all things knows what is best for us and we must pray for resignation and trust in him.”

As 1861 came to an end Anna dwelled especially on her spiritual state, worrying about what she saw as her ingratitude to God. “I have so many mercies, such continued health a perfect body and sound mind.” She feared that she must rebuild the relationship “or God will send upon me a real trouble a real sorrow.”

A “real sorrow” came days later when Anna learned of the death of her friend Arthur Bailhache. “I went slowly up into my own room, locked the door and sat down perfectly stunned. I could not believe it… I sat thus all evening. tears would not flow. I could not weep no only groan and moan and think of Arthur. I fell asleep and thought of him all the time and awaked often in the night saying it cannot be it cannot be.”

Anna visited Arthur’s remains at the family home in Springfield. The tears finally came to her “as we gazed upon that sweet face.” On returning home she “staid up in my room all the evening thinking, thinking.” “[I]t was some comfort to look upon the cold and silent face. I could imagine he slept and bent over his lifeless form and implore him to speak to me. but now he is put way out of my sight and I must live on without him… every place remind me of my lost friend.”

Arthur’s funeral at the Episcopal church was an impressive affair, his casket covered with an American flag atop which lay his sword and military cap. At the cemetery a military honor guard fired three volleys over the new grave. Anna “felt as if I should die. it was so awful to leave Arthur there all alone in the cold ground, and we wept and moaned so bitterly…” Still, within days Anna worried “that I will soon forget Arthur.”

It was a foolish fear. In fact, she found it difficult to see many faces and places because they reminded her of her lost friend. In February Anna wrote of visiting Arthur’s father. Seeing him “reminded me of a gentle face I had last seen cold and silent == oh will this aching sadness ever leave me. every thing reminds me of Arthur. where ere I go I think of him and sometimes I am so rebellious yes rebellious toward so kind a Father-but I do miss him so much…I long to be with him once more.”

Anna’s inability to forget Arthur continued. Several weeks later she wrote, “some how to day I feel very unhappy. I do not know the reason unless it is… my unattractiveness-and then I think of Arthur. How he loved me with all and was interested in all I did and then comes the painful thought that he is gone never, never to return and I reflect how little I valued his friendship how little I appreciated him whom I now would give worlds to see…” She quickly turned away from such thoughts, her faith telling her to trust providence even when she could not understand it-“all this is wrong and shows a stubborn unregenerate heart. what shall I do, where shall I turn for a loving friend. oh for a kind christian friend to help me.”

It appears that Arthur’s death may have awakened Anna to the dangers faced by soldiers. In February she for the first time attended a meeting of the Springfield Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society, formed the previous August. Her journals indicate that Anna began to make regular visits to the society’s rooms to sew, knit, or make bandages to be sent to Illinois soldiers in the South. At the same time she began to reengage with the social “duties” she so feared would cause Arthur to leave her consciousness.

On September 16, 1862, Anna Ridgely wrote the last lengthy mention of her great wartime loss. “I have thought a good deal of Arthur lately—perhaps I have grieved away the holy Spirit in mourning for him, but I miss him so much. so many things recall his dear memory I am just beginning to realize his loss-to feel that he is really gone-but has not the Lord removed him, and ‘shall not the judge of all the earth do right.’ God forgive me and oh be merciful.”

Interested in learning more?
After the war Anna Ridgely married James L. Hudson. The wartime journals of Anna Ridgely Hudson can be read in the Manuscripts Department of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. A book that uses hundreds of diaries, collections of letters, and journals like Anna’s to learn about American’s attitudes regarding issues including faith and death is Lewis O. Saum, The Popular Mood of Pre-Civil War America. Two recent books dealing with American attitudes toward death during the Civil War era are Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the Civil War, and Mark S. Schantz, Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America’s Culture of Death.