Partly autobiographical, the sketches describe Alcott's experience as a nurse during the Civil War. After substantial hardship in trying to obtain a spot, she travels through New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore en route to Washington D. C. Immediately after her arrival, she attends to the wounded from the Battle of Fredericksburg. Her first assignment is washing them before putting them to bed. She converses with the various wounded soldiers, including an Irishman and a Virginia blacksmith. The blacksmith's death in particular touches her deeply.