There were three Hirst brothers in Company D of the Fourteenth Connecticut, Ben, Joe and John. Ben and John came through the Battle of Fredericksburg unscathed, but Joe suffered three leg wounds and was sent to a hospital in Washington.
Back in Vernon, Connecticut, Ben’s wife Sarah somehow quickly learned of her brother-in-law’s wounding, and having no children to care for, immediately travelled to Washington to visit Joe, in spite of her husband’s advice that she not undetake such a journey. Sarah was unable to locate Joe, but rather than return home, she tracked down her congressman and convinced him to write a letter to Secretary of War Stanton requesting that Sarah be granted a pass to visit her husband at Falmouth.
Ben wrote of this occasion: “Dec. 24th. I was surprised to hear someone calling my name and to be told that a lady was looking for me. I crawled out of my dog kennel pretty quickly and found my wife standing before me. I could not invite her to come in very well for want of room, so she told me to report with her at Gen. Sumner’s headquarters right away and that he had sent for me.”
Note location of Lacy House (Sumner”s HQ) at lower right. Ben and Sarah Hirst spent Christmas Eve at the Lacy House conversing with Gen. Edwin Sumner. The general was most interested in Ben’s views on the war and Ben was most willing to voice them. The general allowed Ben and Sarah to stay in the mansion Christmas Day and the day after, whereupon Sarah returned to Washington and Ben returned to his “dog kennel.”
Sarah Hirst was one cool and resourceful lady, but I have never been able to locate a photo of her. In all of my reading about the Civil War, this incident is truly unique. It is no wonder that Ben Hirst had great respect and affection for Gen. Sumner. Ben wrote of Sumner “that it was possible to be in the army and yet be a gentleman,” and that he was both a “gallant warrior” and “kind-hearted.”