Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Women in the Civil War

 

By Mrs. John A. Logan

The preparation of this brief introduction to the part of this volume devoted to the women who dedicated their lives to the arduous duties devolving upon the women at home, in the field, and in the hospitals during the Civil War awakens vivid recollections of experiences that time cannot efface.

Residing between the border states of Kentucky and Missouri and in a community composed largely of southern born people, or those whose ancestors were southerners, and whose sympathies were strongly with their kindred south of Mason and Dixon's line, the inevitable horrors of war were greatly enhanced.

Recollections of pathetic scenes sweep over me with all the vividness of yesterday's events, the parting of sweethearts, husbands and wives, parents and their soldier sons; the speedy news which followed their departure of the misfortunes and calamities of war which had overtaken many of them, and all too often of their death from sickness, wounds or on the field of battle; the agony of waiting for the tardy reports after a battle; the scanning of the long lists which appeared in the papers of the casualties after every sanguinary engagement to see if the name of some loved one was among the killed or wounded; the being summoned to houses of mourning because of death in the families of the absent soldiers or sailors, and their efforts to comfort the members of stricken homes who had heard of the death of a husband, father or son far away in the Southland. The memory of the suffering of those left behind and those who had gone to the front comes back with all of its overwhelming force.

The western troops who were in the expeditions up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers and subsequently in the siege and capture of Vicksburg, and later in the Atlanta campaign, were our friends and neighbors; their grief and misfortunes were ours. They rendezvoused at Cairo, and I remember vividly the delicate women who worked as did the brave women of the South, almost night and day, preparing sanitary stores which could not otherwise be obtained, and who later flocked to the hospitals all over the North and South to care for the sick, wounded, convalescent and emaciated soldiers and sailors who, as the war progressed, were being constantly sent North to be restored to health and fitness to return to the service.

It seems only yesterday that I saw dear Mother Bickerdyke carrying in her strong arms poor, sick and, perhaps dying, boys in the hospitals at Cairo. It was in the autumn of 1861, after the battle of Belmont, the first baptism of blood of the volunteers of the West. She had left her home in Galesburg, Illinois, and joined the first troops who were mobilized for the war at Cairo. She was a remarkable woman in many senses, her frame was that of iron, her nerves as steady as a sharp-shooter's, her intellect as quick as an electric spark, her knowledge of human nature phenomenal, her executive ability wonderful, her endurance limitless. In all emergencies, she knew what to do, when and how to act. Her heart was full to over-flowing with patriotism and loving kindness. She had the keenest possible intuitions, could detect fraud, deception, disloyalty, dishonesty and hypocrisy quicker than an expert detective. She was a law unto herself in supporting the cause in which she was enlisted. Neither the general commanding nor any subordinate officer in any way interfered with her. A surgeon whom she had once detected in some questionable conduct appealed to General Sherman. The sturdy old soldier replied: "My God, man, Mother Bickerdyke outranks everybody, even Lincoln. If you have run amuck of her I advise you to get out quickly before she has you under arrest."

Behind the bluff and unceremonious manner she was all love and tenderness in her great mother heart. An unworthy employee of the hospital corps appeared before her one day fully dressed in the clothing of the Sanitary Commission, of which she was in charge. She said nothing, but stepped up to him, unbuttoned the collar, lifted the garments one by one over his head, until he had nothing but the trousers. She then said: "You can, for decency's sake, keep them on until you can run to your tent, take them off, put on your own and send these to me; do you hear me?" A crowd of soldiers stood near her to protect her. Their shouts and jeers were punishment enough for the unhappy culprit. She rarely had occasion to administer rebukes to offenders more than once, as they soon discovered there was no way of escaping her vigilance.

At the head of the women nurses she followed General Logan's command through all the campaigns from Cairo to the grand review in Washington at the close of the war, and was one of the most conspicuous figures in that review. She took charge of the female nurses who from time to time joined her in her heaven-born work of ministering to the soldiers in camp, in the hospitals and on the battlefield. She had her hospital tents and supplies and quartermasters' wagons, which she pushed to the rear of the lines. She paid no more attention to whistling bullets or booming cannon than did the gallant commanders and dauntless army. She nursed thousands and thousands of officers and men, all of whom have called her blessed.

We have included the biographies of all the patriotic, self-sacrificing women of whom we could obtain any data. We regret that it was not possible to include the name of every woman who laid on the altar of her country her best endeavors for the relief of the sufferers from the inevitable calamities of war.

The refugees from the South and the families of the soldiers added to the burdens and hardships of the women at home more than to the men, as the majority of the able-bodied men North and South were either in the Army or the Navy.

The author is glad that she has been able to get the biographies of a partial list of the splendid women of the South who made such heroic sacrifices for the soldiers, sailors and unfortunates of the Confederacy. The imaginary line which divided the two sections made no difference in the nature, womanly tenderness and righteous impulses of the women or their devotion to their loved ones engaged in the defense of a cause they believed to be right and just. It would be difficult to find in history parallels of moral courage, self-denial and self-immolation equal to that displayed by the women North and South during the long and bloody Civil War in the United States.

The women of the South are entitled to credit for a longer period of endurance through the unspeakable trials during the years of reconstruction which followed the treaty of peace at Appomattox, which event ended in a degree the agonies, anxieties and labors of the women of the North.

The experiences of the people of both sections brought out at a fearful cost all the nobler instincts of their natures, and inspired them to higher purposes in life and more earnest efforts for the progress of civilization and Christianity. The few in both sections who have tried to stand in the way of human betterment and adaptation to the conditions of the world's advancement have had to suffer the consequences of their rash-ness and be dropped from the rolls of the promoters of the nation's welfare.

Union of interests and union of ambitions for the highest attainments in Christianity, humanity, education, philanthropy and national pride have borne rich fruit since the abolition of slavery and the close of the fratricidal war, and will, doubtless, place the United States in the lead of all Christian nations of the earth.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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