Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Women Nurses of the Civil War

 

Introduction by Mrs. John A. Logan

The hospitals established by the Empress Helena in the fifth century were an evidence of Christian feeling; and it was the same Christianity and humanity which actuated Margaret Fuller and Florence Nightingale when in Italy and in the Crimean War they nursed the wounded soldiers. That same Christian spirit sent women, young and old, grave and gay, to the hospitals where our "Boys in Blue" needed their assistance. Bravely they wrought, and often bravely they fell by the side of those whom they nursed, martyrs to the cause of liberty as well as the men who fell in the defense of freedom and the Union. Rev. Doctor Bellows, referring to them and their noble work, said: "A grander collection of women, whether considered in their intellectual or moral qualities, their heads or their hearts, I have not had the happiness of knowing, than the women I saw in the hospitals. They were the flower of their sex. Great as were the labors of those who superintended the operations at home of collecting and preparing sup-plies for the hospitals and the fields, I cannot but think that the women who lived in the hospitals or among the soldiers required a force of character and a glow of devotion and self-sacrifice of a rarer kind. They were the heroines. They conquered their feminine sensibility at the sight of blood and wounds, lived coarsely and dressed and slept rudely; they studied the caprices of men to whom their ties were simply humane, men often ignorant, feeble-minded, out of their senses, raving with pain and fever; they had a still harder service in bearing with the pride, the official arrogance and the hardness or the folly, perhaps the impertinence and presumption, of half-trained medical men, whom the urgencies of the case had fastened on the service. Nothing in the power of the nation to give or to say can ever compare for a moment with the proud satisfaction which every brave soldier who has ever risked his life for his country ever after carries in his heart of hearts; and no public recognition, no thanks from a saved nation can ever add anything of much importance to the rewards of those who tasted the actual joy of ministering with their own hands and hearts to the wants of our sick and dying men."

It, nevertheless, is to our great regret that only the biographies of those nurses whose services were most conspicuous can be included in this volume. In place of the longer mention of each, which would bring this work to unreasonable length, the following list of these brave women is offered.

Mrs. Eliza C. Porter, of the noble band of western women who devoted kind thought and untiring exertion to the care of our country's defenders.

Mrs. John Harris, the wife of a Philadelphia physician, who was at the front all during the war, and who returned home an invalid for the rest of her life from the effects of a sunstroke, received while in attendance on a field hospital in Virginia.

Margaret Elizabeth Breckenridge, who said at the opening of the conflict, ''I shall never be satisfied till I get right into a hospital to live until the war is over,'' and who fulfilled this lofty ambition in her work in the hospitals in and around St. Louis during all the long and bloody conflict.

Mrs. Stephen Barker, wife of the chaplain of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, who went to the front with her husband and, for nearly two years, continued in unremitting attendance upon the regimental hospitals.

Amy M. Bradley who, having gone south to seek her own health, remained during the four years of the war, nursing her fellow-countrymen of the North.

Mrs. Arabella G. Barlow, of New Jersey, sealed her devotion to her country's cause by the sublimes sacrifice of which woman is capable, and after nursing her wounded husband until his death, remained to care for the other soldiers until she died of fever contracted while in attendance in the hospitals of the army of the Potomac.

Mrs. Nellie Maria Taylor who, though living in that part of the country which had borne the rank weeds of secession, proved her loyalty and patriotism in the care of Union soldiers at her own house.

Phebe Allan
Miss Blackmar
Mrs. S. A. Martha Canfield
Mrs. Harriet R. Colfax
Hattie Dada
Mrs. Sarah P. Edson
Miss Melcenia Elliott
Mrs. Elmira Fales
Miss Isabella Fobb
Mrs. E. E. George
Mrs. A. H. Gibbons
Miss S. H. Gibbons
Mrs. Edward Greble
Maria M. C. Hall
Susan A. Hall
Miss Cornelia Hancock
Mrs. Cordelia A. P. Harvey
Miss Jessie Holmes
Mrs. Wm. H. Holstein
Mrs. Sarah R. Johnston
Mrs. Mary W. Lee
Louisa Maertz
Mrs. Charlotte E. McKay
Mrs. Anna C. McMeens
Ellen E. Mitchell
Miss Morris
Mrs. Jane R. Munsell
Mrs. Lydia G. Parish
Emily E. Parsons
Mary Dwight Pettes
Mrs. John S. Phelps
Mrs. Fanny L. Ricketts
Anna Maria Ross
Mrs. E. J. Russell
Mary J. Safford
Mrs. Jerusha R. Small
Mrs. R. H. Spencer
Mrs. E. Thomas
Mrs. Adeline Tyler
Miss Cornelia M. Tompkins
Miss Vance
Mrs. Shepard Wells
Mrs. E. F. Wetherell
Mrs. Anna Wittenmeyer
The Misses Woolsey
Katharine Prescott Wormeley
Miss Clara Davis, (afterwards the wife of Rev. Edward Abbott, of Cambridge)
Mrs. Harriet Foote Hawley, (the wife of Brevet Major-General Hawley, late Gover-nor of Connecticut, and afterwards U. S. Senator from Connecticut)
Mrs. Mary Morris Husband, (Granddaughter of Robert Morris, the great financier of the Revolutionary War)

All these women are mentioned as heroic and efficient nurses in "Women's Work in the Civil War,'' and to that book the reader must be commended for further knowledge of them.

Besides those whose names have been published in books there were many more, school teachers, who spent their vacations in the hospitals, and women who were content to be the angels of mercy to the suffering soldiers, but whose names have not been scattered far and wide, though their labors were appreciated As someone has said: "The recording angel, thank Heaven, knows them all,'' and, "their labor was not in vain in the Lord." Surely the women of that portion of the last century given over to the war are women of whom the nation may well be proud, and whose memories should be cherished

When the war was over there was still work for the women to do in training the freedmen, and especially their children ; and the noble women who had been nurses, and many who had not, enlisted in this philanthropic and trying enterprise with the same zeal and self-sacrifice that had been shown by the women in the hospitals. They wrought also among the families of the soldiers and among the refugees who were homeless and destitute while war devastated the land. The niece of the poet Whittier was among them, bearing a name sacred to all lovers of freedom, because John G. Whittier's lyrics had so earnestly pleaded for the freedom of the slaves. Anna Gardner was a teacher of colored children on her native island of Nantucket when the Abolitionists were ostracized. She taught one of the first normal schools ever established for colored girls, and doubtless gave invaluable service in training the Negroes of the South to become teachers for their own race.

After long years of silence, the American Tract Society at last gave the meed of praise to Christian effort without regard to race or color, when it published its sketch of Mary S. Peake, a free colored woman, who was the first teacher of her race at Fortress Monroe.

Mrs. Frances D. Gage, a woman of Ohio birth, but of New England parentage, in her writings dealt powerful blows for freedom, temperance and other reforms. She had lived the life of a philanthropist, and when the war broke out she gave voice and pen to the right, speaking, editing and writing. When the Proclamation of Emancipation was issued she freed herself from other cares, and found her mission among the freed slaves. Four of her own boys were in the Union Army, and in the autumn of 1862 she went, without appointment or salary, to Port Royal, where she labored fourteen months. She returned North in 1863 and lectured on her experiences among the freedmen, rousing others to labor for the welfare of the colored race. Her name will live forever among the noble and faithful women who "remembered those in bounds as bound with them," and who cared for the soldier and the f reedman, to whom God had already said: "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

Mrs. Lucy Gaylord Powers was another true friend to the soldier and the freedman. Her last active benevolent work was begun in 1863. This was the foundation of an asylum at the capital for the freed orphans and destitute aged colored women, whom the war and the Emancipation Proclamation had thrown upon the country as a charge. But she was in feeble health, and died while on her way to Albany on July 20, 1863.

Maria Rullann, of Massachusetts, proved herself worthy of her kinship to the first secretary of the Board of Education in that commonwealth by her faithful service as a teacher and philanthropist in Helena, Arkansas, and afterward as a teacher in Washington and Georgetown.

Mrs. Josephine Griffin, always an advocate for freedom, was faithful in her nursing during the war, and afterward took charge of the good work in Washington. One of her philanthropic methods was the finding of good places for domestic servants, from time to time taking numbers of them to various northern and western cities, and placing them in homes. The cost of these expeditions she provided almost entirely from her own means, her daughters helping her as far as possible in her noble work.

There were great numbers of other women equally efficient in the freedmen's schools and homes, but their work was mainly under the direction of the American Union Commission, and it is impossible, therefore, to obtain accounts of their labors as individuals. It is all a tale of self-sacrifice and heroism. There were heroic women North and South, and if, as someone has said, "An heroic woman is almost an object of worship,'' there are many shrines today for the devotees of physical and moral heroism to visit in following the history of the good women of the Civil War.

The women of Gettysburg won for themselves a high and honorable record for their faithfulness to the flag and their generosity and devotion to the wounded. Chief among these, since she gave her life for the cause, was Mrs. Jennie Wade, who continued her generous work of baking bread for the army until a shot killed her instantly. A southern officer of high rank was killed almost at the same moment near her door, and his troops hastily constructing a rude coffin, were about to place the body of their commander in it for burial when, in the swaying to and fro of the armies, a Union column drove them from the ground. Finding Mrs. Wade dead, they placed her in the coffin intended for the officer. In that coffin she was buried the next day, followed to the grave by hundreds of tearful mourners, who knew her courage and kindness of heart. The loyal women of Richmond were a noble band, and they never faltered in their allegiance to the flag nor in their sympathy and services to the Union prisoners at Libby, Belle Isle and Castle Thunder. With the aid of twenty-one loyal white men in Richmond they raised a fund of thirteen thousand dollars in gold to aid Union prisoners, while their gifts of clothing, food and luxuries were of much greater value. Moreover, had we space, many pages might be filled with the heroic deeds of noble southern women who believed in the cause for which their husbands stood, and who sacrificed their homes and all that was most dear during the Civil War, and who worked prodigiously trying to contrive ways and means with which to relieve the sufferings which abounded everywhere in the southland. Their improvised hospitals were poorly supplied with the bare necessities for the relief of the sick and wounded. In and out of hospitals, the demands upon the humane were heartrending; but to the very last heroism characterized the women as well as the bravest of the men who fought and died in the cause of the Confederacy.

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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