Civil War and Reconstruction 1861-1876
Learn More about nursing During the Civil War and Reconstruction Eras in North Carolina
- Mary Phinney von Olnhausen (1903) Adventures of an army nurse in two wars.Little, Brown, and Company: Boston.
- Mary Phinney von Olnhausen was a Union nurse who worked in hospitals in New Bern and Southport, North Carolina during the Civil War. This is a link to a free online edition of her book describing her work.
- The Special Collections Library at Duke University Library holds the following manuscripts about nursing in North Carolina during the Civil War.
- Amy Morris Bradley Papers, 1806-1921. Wilmington, N.C.Correspondence, diaries, and records document New Englander's duties as a nurse at U.S. Sanitary Commission convalescent camps during the war and her efforts to establish free schools for blacks and whites in Wilmington, N.C. directly following the war.
- Jenkins, Gertrude. Papers, 1859-1908. 1 vol. (104 p.). Williamsboro and Winston-Salem, N.C. Typed manuscript entitled "Endurin' the War," compiled by Gertrude Jenkins containing various Civil War reminiscences. The volume also contains the narrative of Margaret Elizabeth Clewell, describing her journey from Salem Female Academy, Salem, N.C., to Fauquier County, Va., to nurse the sick of the 21st North Carolina Infantry, the hospital and care of the sick at Thoroughfair Gap, and the battlefield at Manassas.
- Frank Moore Papers, 1865-1866. New York, N.Y. Author of Women of the War (1866), an account of northern women's service during the Civil War. Collection consists chiefly of letters from and about the women featured in the book who served as nurses or in a related capacity.
- Jacob Mordecai Papers, 1784-1936. Warrenton, N.C. The papers of a family of prominent educators in the South includes considerable correspondence among the women in the family as well as the journals of Isabel Mordecai, 1858-1861, in Charleston, S.C.; a secretary's report, 1861, of the Sick Soldiers Relief Society, in Raleigh, N.C.; and correspondence with Sally Vaughn Norral, a former slave.
- Pleasant Daniel Gold was a male Civil War nurse whose papers are in the Southern Historical Collections at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Information about Abby House, a nurse and "Angel of mercy to Confederate soldiers"
- Brunk, Q. (1994) Caring without politics: Lessons from the first nurses of the north and south.
- Nursing History Reiew. pp119-136. Information about Sallie Chapman Gordon Low of Wilkes County, NC who was the first nurse for the Confederacy.
- Pearson, R.L. (2002) There are many sick, feeble and suffering freedmen. The North Carolina Historical Review 79(2). pg 141-181. - A description of the Freedman's Bureau Hospitals, eight of which were in North Carolina.
- Pollitt, PA & Reese, C.N. (2002) When one goes nursing, all things must be expected Confederate Veteran Vol. 2 pgs 23-31. This article describes nursing in the Civil War in North Carolina including the establishment of "Wayside Hospitals". The work of Union and Confederate paid and volunteer nurses is described. (reprinted below)
- Pollitt. PA (1999) Jane Renwick Smedburg Wilkes: North Carolina nurse pioneer. American Associaition for the History of Nursing Bulletin 62 pgs 4-6. A biographical article about a Confederate Civil War nurse who went on to found the first civilian hospitals for whites and African Americans in Charlotte, North Carolina. (see biography section of this website).
- Information about the Way Side Hospital in Rowan County.
- Jane Wilkes, Civil War Nurse from Charlotte wrote a letter to the Historical Department of the Charlotte Observer on May 20, 1896 page 4, describing the Confederate Hospital in Charlotte.
- Civil War Nurses from NCpedia.
- Emeline Pigott Civil War Confederate nurse and spy.
When one goes nursing ... by Pollitt and Reese
"When one goes nursing ... all things must be expected" Mary Phinney von Olnhausen
The names and accomplishment of Ella King Newsome, Phoebe Yates Pember, and Kate Cummings are familiar to students of Confederate and Civil War nursing history. Newsome, Pember, and Yates were great nursing leaders, organizing and managing large hospitals or traveling with the troops from battlefield to battlefield. As important and interesting as each of these nurses are, their work is not representative of the work of the approximately 1,000 women who nursed for the Confederacy during the War Between the States. The majority of nurses during the Civil War worked in their own communities, slowly helping sick and wounded men toward healing or death.
When the hostilities broke out between the North and the South in 1861, the word “nurse” had vague meaning. There was no standard training or credentialing required before one could use the title of nurse. Caring for the sick, along with cooking, cleaning and child care was generally considered a domestic duty that all women were expected to perform.
By 1861, the accomplishments of Florence Nightingale were well known in this country. Nightingale's Notes on Nursing had been published in the United States in 1860, and sold quite well. Her exploits during the Crimean War of the 1850’s had been widely reported in numerous American newspapers and magazines. However, in the United States, in 1861, despite a growing awareness of the advantages of an educated and organized nursing force, only a small number of people were trained and experienced in hospital nursing.
Because of the geography of the state of North Carolina, with Virginia as a northern border, Tennessee as a western border, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, North Carolina was rarely the scene of major battles during the Civil War. Additionally, it did not produce nationally known nursing leaders during this era. However, hundreds of women across the state met the challenges of aiding suffering troops. These women worked in makeshift buildings with inadequate equipment and homemade supplies. Relying on folk remedies, and Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing, these women gave their time, talents, money, and occasionally their lives to their cause. By the end of the War, they had established new institutions, initiated new organizations and ultimately helped create professional nursing, a new career for women.
American nursing was perhaps at its most multicultural during the Civil War. War time nursing staffs were composed of males, females, whites, and African Americans, both enslaved and free. Faced with over 600,000 deaths and 10,000,000 cases of illness and injury in a four year period, anyone who could help, did help. Male nurses, who were almost always enlisted men, served a vital role during the War Between the States. They outnumbered female nurses who were almost always volunteers, by at least five to one in Confederate Hospitals.
In the spring of 1861, at the outbreak of Civil War, there were no trained nurses, nursing schools, or general hospitals in the state of North Carolina. During this time, the leaders of the Confederacy were busy organizing a new government, establishing foreign relations and fighting the War. A common misconception held by those involved in this new Confederate government was that the War would be quickly and easily won. Because of this error in judgment, the deficiencies for providing for the care and rehabilitation of the soldiers were overlooked. Early deadly epidemics of measles, malaria, fevers and the like swept through the camps of the soldiers. Additionally, extensive causalities on the battlefields of Virginia in 1861-62, shocked many women of the new nation of the Confederate States of America into action.
Without government sanction, women in Virginia, Mississippi and Tennessee, where most of the early Civil War battles occurred, took it upon themselves to open hospitals for the sick and wounded soldiers. The first recorded Confederate nurse, Sallie Chapman Gordon Law, a North Carolinian by birth, was living in Memphis when the War began. Women from each state in the Confederacy traveled to these states to establish hospitals and to nurse soldiers from their own home states. They usually paid their own way and often supplied part or all of their supplies. Soldier’s Aid Societies, organized by women in many towns of the South, sent food, clothing, and medical supplies to battlefield hospitals housing “their” boys. Several North Carolina women, including Catherine Gibbons of Charlotte, Abby Horne House of Franklin County, Mrs. Kennedy of Wilmington, Miss M.L. Pettigrew of Raleigh, and Mrs. Beasley of Plymouth served as nurses in North Carolina hospitals located in Virginia as early as the summer of 1861. Margaret Elizabeth Clewell of Salem, North Carolina left a rare, unpublished first person account of these early attempts at nursing the troops. Her memoir titled A Volunteer Nurse reads in part:
I remember that day September 19, 1861, when I left Salem with a party of volunteer nurses, to go to Fauquier County, Virginia where the 21st North Carolina Regiment was in camp… We were given the use of a fine old Virginia Home, Blantyre, which we soon made as comfortable as possible, and as many sick soldiers were brought in as the house could hold. We had carried many things with us, knowing we could get nothing in the way of supplies when we reached the camp. One thing I remember was a large box, containing a barrel of good whiskey packed in dry fruit. Both whiskey and fruit were of great benefit to us, the former, of course being used only when requested in the way of medicine… Our hospital was about twelve miles from the battlefield (Manassas)… but during our, stay at Blantyre we had only patients to care for who were sick, no wounded ones. In November following, the regiment was ordered away, to some other place where we could not move our hospital, so we closed up and came home November 20, 1861, I resuming my duties at Salem Female Academy…
The War continued and casualties mounted. In March 1862, in response to these unanticipated circumstances, the women of Columbia, South Carolina initiated the first Wayside Hospital. Schools, churches, barns and other large buildings near train depots were quickly converted into facilities to care for ailing soldiers. When word was received in towns along the railroad lines that solders were coming through, women of the town would meet the trains with hot food, fresh water, clothing, shoes, bandages and medicines. Soldiers too ill to continue their journey would be cared for at a Wayside Hospital until they recovered sufficiently to either travel home or to a more suitable Confederate General Hospital or until they died.
The needs were so great and the concept so appealing that Wayside Hospitals sprang up all over the Confederacy. North Carolina women in the railroad towns of Weldon, Goldsboro, Greensboro, High Point, Tarboro, Salisbury, Wilmington, Fayetteville, and Charlotte opened Wayside Hospitals. Few documents exist describing these unique institutions.
In an article in Confederate Veteran, Mrs. C.B. Welborn recounts some of the history of her parent’s Barbee Hotel which was converted into a Wayside Hospital, in High Point North Carolina, from 1863-65. The Hospital opened on September 1, 1863. The first patient was I. Ragan of Co. F, 17th NC Regiment. Although High Point in the 1860’s was only a village, the townspeople cared for 5,795 soldiers, with only 50 deaths. After major battles, the Barbee Wayside Hospital could not house all the casualties sent there. Overflow soldiers were cared for at the High Point Female Academy as well as at the town’s Methodist and Presbyterian churches. As patients improved, they were generally sent by rail to the General Confederate Hospitals in Goldsboro, North Carolina or Richmond or Petersburg, Virginia. Mrs. Welborn wrote about one particularly brave nurse, Laura Wesson. “The good women of the village nursed the sick and wounded, and when that most dreaded of all diseases, smallpox, broke out among the sick, one noble girl, just 18, followed the small pox patients to what was then known as the “pest house,” and remained with them until the last patient had died or was dismissed as cured and then she succumbed to the same disease.
Mrs. Jacob H. Smith of Greensboro recalled her days working in her town’s Wayside Hospital this way.
Weary, footsore and needy soldiers were daily passing through town (on the Greensboro to Danville, Virginia Railroad) who needed to be clothed, fed, and comforted and whenever the Danville train came in with Greycoats aboard, it set out all the milk, buttermilk, and sorghum one could lay hands on…sometimes dozens would file in, occasionally some with unhealed gunshot wounds…But it was on March 19,1865, the date of Battle of Bentonville, that the war in stern and startling reality came to our very doors. On that memorable night without warning or preparation, the wounded were brought to Greensboro in such numbers as to fill the Courthouse and every available space in town. To that clarion call the women of Greensboro responded with one accord. All else was forgotten as with eager hands and tender hearts they sought to make the poor fellows comfortable…
Jane Wilkes of Charlotte, who, after the War went on to found two hospitals in Charlotte, the first for Whites and the second for African Americans and who was instrumental in establishing nursing schools at each of these hospitals, got her start in hospital work at the Wayside Hospital in Charlotte. She modestly wrote about the War years this way.” All through the years 1861-65 the War went on. Friends and neighbors were involved, death and disasters were frequent. All this time, too, the women at home worked in Aid Societies, Hospital Associations, and every way women could help, knitting, sewing, feeding the hungry, nursing the sick, and in all I bore a part.
Weldon, in eastern North Carolina, was serviced by two railroads. In the winter of 1861-62, many soldiers were brought to Weldon from the battlefields of eastern Virginia. A small wooden Methodist church became the Wayside hospital. When necessary, sick and wounded men were also cared for in private homes. By the time the War was over, 150 men had died and were buried in the Soldiers’ Burying Ground in Weldon.
The difficulties of adequately supporting a Wayside Hospital are vividly described in a broadside issued by the Salisbury Hospital Committee on May 7, 1863. It reads in full:
The best blood of our nation has been shed freely on the Rappahannock, and in addition to those who have fallen in death, there are thousands who are wounded and disabled from present service. These will seek their own quiet homes as soon as their wounds will admit their removal. At the Salisbury Wayside Hospital, 1200 soldiers have been fed, lodged, clothed, and nursed since last July. We need provisions, medicines, delicacies for the sick and money. Will you help us now to care for “your son or your neighbors sons and brothers and fathers who have so bravely fought and bled for us on the terrible fields of the Rappahannock? It is not the Hospital Committee that calls on you, it is the voice of the poor maimed and bleeding soldier that asks you to give him “food and five” in exchange for the blood he has shed for you.
Motivation caused by patriotism, loneliness, compassion, a desire for adventure, and male labor shortages on the home front, brought to the Wayside Hospitals, hundreds of women who worked outside their homes for the first time. They learned not only the arts and science of nursing, but also many management skills including procurement, accounting, recruitment, distribution of supplies and staff and public relations. No one will ever know the number of meals served, wounds treated, bandages and poultices applied or other acts of voluntary nursing kindness offered by hundreds of North Carolina women performed at the Wayside Hospitals during the Civil War. Using keen observation, they learned through trial and error the comparative benefits of different diets, treatments and environments on healing sick and wounded men. Unknowingly, they were laying a firm foundation for the profession of nursing that would emerge in the decades following the Civil War.
As the War continued, and the number of align soldiers mounted, the Confederacy took over all military hospitals. In May 1862, a centralized administration replaced the patchwork system of various state supported hospitals in numerous locations throughout the Confederacy. However, the care given in government hospitals was generally far worse than those run by female volunteers. During the second session of the First Confederate Congress, a committee on hospitals chaired by William Simms of Kentucky investigated the military medical system. The report issued by the committee proclaimed…”the superiority of female nurses as compared with males…” and citied statistics showing the mortality rate of patients cared for by male nurses was 10% compared to a mortality rate of only 5% among those nursed by women. The objections some raised regarding the appropriateness of women nursing men whom they were not related were best answered by Senator Semmes of Louisiana when he said “I will not agree to limit the class of persons who can affect such a saving of life as this.”
In September, 1862, the Confederate Congress passed legislation specifically designating positions for women in military hospitals. Each hospital was to have two matrons who were paid $40.00 a month to oversee “the entire domestic economy” of the hospital, particularly the food and medicine. Two assistant matrons, who were paid $35.00, were primarily responsible for laundering the bedding and clothing of the sick. Each ward was to have two ward matrons who were paid $30.00 to care for the individual soldiers. They were to feed, clean, dress and administer medications and treatments to each patient. Additionally they were to write letters home for the soldiers, talk and read to them and generally help them pass the lonely hours in the hospital. Finally, each surgeon was encouraged to hire nurses at $25.00 a month with “preferences in all cases to females where their services may best serve the purpose.”
North Carolina had 13 general hospitals by the close of the war. The first, Fairground Hospital opened in Raleigh on May 16, 1861. In official records this was General Hospital #7 (the numbering system was not instituted until the summer of 1862). The Confederate General Hospitals were: #1 Kittrell Springs, #2 Wilson, #3 Goldsboro, #4 and #5 Wilmington, #6 Fayetteville, #7 and #8 Raleigh, #9 and #10 Salisbury, #11 Charlotte, #12 Greensboro and #13 Raleigh. Several towns such as Raleigh, Goldsboro, Salisbury, and Charlotte supported both a Wayside and a General Hospital. In Kittrell Springs and Greensboro, the Wayside Hospitals became General Hospitals.
During the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of men died and millions more were sick or injured. Some 225,000 Yankees and 164,000 Rebels died from disease meaning more than 50 percent of Civil War fatalities were attributable to disease rather than battlefield trauma. These sobering statistics were also reflective of the North Carolina soldiers fighting for the Confederacy. Some 19,673 North Carolinians suffered death on the battlefields while 20,602 died of disease. Figures are not available for the 3,156 North Carolinians who fought for the Union cause. The most common diseases contracted by the Confederate soldiers were diarrhea, dysentery (also called blood flux), typhoid fever, erysipelas (an acute infectious disease of the skin and mucous membranes accompanied by fever and caused by streptococcus), pneumonia, measles, small pox, malaria, tuberculosis, and scurvy. This list reflects the poor sanitation, inadequate food and poor hygiene practices found in most soldier camps of the time.
Notes pertaining to the dead at Kittrell Springs Hospital support the statistics showing microbes not Minnie balls caused most of the suffering during the War years. Before the War, the town of Kittrell Springs had grown up around some springs said to have healing properties. The large Kittrell Springs Hotel hosted many guests who came on the Raleigh and Gaston Railroads seeking cures for a variety of ailments. It was only natural for a general hospital to be located in this small town. The railroad could transport suffering men to a large hotel known for its curative environment. The Kittrell Springs Hotel became “North Carolina General Hospital #1, Kittrell Springs.” The Reverend James Ridley of Raleigh was the pastor for the hospital. He wrote brief statements about each solider he buried. His notes humanized the statistics of, the dead and wounded. Some of his entries read as follows: Paul A. Barringer, Co. E. 1st N.C. Calvary. Died April 12, 1865 of erysipelas to head… He seemed very pious man…ready to die… had no family… L.J. Gilstrap, Co. G. 6th S.C. Calvary. Died September 27, 1864. Baptized Methodist… he left several small children. Great suffering, ball lodged in his side and could not be found, lingered in great pain for several weeks… H.P. Privatt, Co. C. 3rd N.C. Junior Reserves. Admitted to hospital April 5, 1865, died April 10 of typhoid fever. Uncertain to his baptism as he was delirious most of the time.
North Carolina did not have pharmaceutical companies operating prior to the War and food and medicines were not permitted to enter the Confederacy because of the “Trading with the Enemy Act of 1861.” Therefore, Southern nurses, many times had to resort to homemade remedies when providing care to their soldiers. Some of these remedies included using cucumbers or balsam for burns, jimson weed for fever, rose geranium for diarrhea, wild yam for scurvy, and blackberry root for dysentery.
North Carolina’s capital city of Raleigh was the site of three Confederate hospitals. There were many reasons that Raleigh was the home to more hospitals than any other city in North Carolina. First, several railroads passed through Raleigh bringing soldiers from many battlefields to a central location for medical care. Additionally, a number of physicians had already set up their medical practices in the city prior to the War. Finally, several buildings existed there that were large enough to hose hospital faculties. The first General Confederate Hospital to open was located at the state fairgrounds and named appropriately, Fairgrounds Hospital. It was later renamed Confederate Hospital #7. It opened in June or July of 1861. By the following spring, there were enough sick and wounded men arriving in Raleigh to warrant opening a second hospital. On May 5, 1862, General Hospital #8 located on the Peace College Campus admitted its first patients. Nurses at #8 included Miss Jessie McCallum, Mrs. P.A. Crawford, Mrs. Stevens and Mrs. C.F. Campbell of Wilmington who succeeded Miss McCallum as Matron in January 1863.
As the War continued and casualties mounted the need for a third hospital became apparent. Pettigrew Hospital, the largest and only facility built to be a hospital, opened as general hospital #13 in the summer of 1864. There were 400 beds as well as a dispensary, bathhouse, laundry, guardhouse, and stable. Local Wake County historians recorded a forth general hospital in the county located in the main building at Wake Forest College. This hospital, however, was never numbered as an official Confederate General Hospital.
In addition to the three Confederate hospitals, located in Raleigh, during the Civil War, there was a Wayside Hospital known as “Ladies’ Wayside Hospital”. Mrs. Jonathan Heck recalled: “Every train brought hundreds of wounded soldiers…
It was a common occurrence for us to go to church and the pastor to announce that several cars of wounded soldiers would be in that day; there would be an intermission for all to leave who desired to prepare food and comforts for them.
In the spring of 1865, Union General Sherman was marching through eastern North Carolina. Many men had been wounded in battle and because of these staggering numbers, even more facilities were needed in Raleigh to accommodate all the wounded men brought to that city. The First Baptist Church, The Bank of New Bern, the Guion Hotel, and many private homes were turned into makeshift hospitals. Pews in the Episcopal Church in Raleigh were used for hospital beds. One unnamed woman writing about this time was quoted as saying “Raleigh was now filled with wounded and disabled soldiers; the churches and every available place were turned into hospitals. I did what I could, but it seemed nothing; many poor men on benches, some in high delirium, some in the agony of death.”
Wilmington, like Raleigh, had physicians and hospitals in the antebellum era. On May 28, 1861, the Wilmington Daily Journal published a call for volunteer nurses. It read: To the ladies. Those ladies who are willing to devote a part of their time to nursing sick soldiers belonging to companies stationed at the Marine Hospital are respectfully requested to hand their names to the undersigned…” The Marine Hospital established by the National Government in 1857, to serve sailors using the port of Wilmington, became North Carolina General Hospital #4. The medical records of the 2nd North Carolina Regiment from 1862-1864 show 2,180 men used the services of this hospital.
In 1865, when the Union Army captured Wilmington this hospital was used for Union troops. Perhaps it was the site of the Union Hospital for Colored Troops established in Wilmington in February 1865. Mt. Tirzah Hospital became General Confederate Hospital #5. The Whitehall Soldier’s Aid Society under the directorship of Eliza DeRossett staffed Wilmington’s Wayside Hospital and helped supply and staff the General Hospitals. Anderson, noted while DeRossett’s six sons were fighting, she “assisted her husband in his medical work and nursed the sick, being keenly active to the needy.” Mary Ann Buie was particularly zealous in gathering and donating foodstuffs and items to the various hospitals in Wilmington.
Wilson was home to Confederate General Hospital #2 from 1862-65. This hospital was housed in the Wilson female seminary and faced the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad tracts. Soldiers could be easily transported from Virginia battlefields to the front door of this hospital. Some of the nurses who worked at the Wilson Hospital were Susan Clark, Zilpha Manning, Lydia Pritchard and Kate Rice. In September 1863, the staff at the hospital consisted of a surgeon, matron, 2 assistant matrons, 2 ward matrons, a ward master, a steward, a cook, and 23 nurses. Twenty of these nurses were enlisted men, three were women, and 15 were hired slaves.
On September 3, 1861, the women of New Bern organized a Soldiers Relief Society to care for sick and wounded Confederate troops. Mrs. Richard Taylor was president of this association. According to the New Bern Weekly Progress of October 1, 1861, soldiers from Co. D. NC. State troops in March 1862, and the work of the local women was never numbered among Confederate Hospitals.
Mrs. Annie Kyle, a frail women needing crutches to walk became the head nurse at the Confederate General Hospital in Fayetteville. Anderson described Kyle as a women with the…indomitable spirit of a lion, working untiringly from morning till light dressing wounds, nursing the sick, soothing and comforting the dying with holy prayers. Kyle left a short memoir of her experience as a Confederate nurse. She wrote:
They were bringing the wounded from Fort Fisher, Wilmington and other points. We already had one hospital but were establishing another…I went every morning at nine o’clock and stayed until one and I always went late in the afternoon to see that the wants of the patients were attended during the night. I always dressed all the wounds every morning and I soon found that my grief and sorrow were forgotten in administering to the wants of the sick…Often there were soldiers desperately sick with fever and other diseases. The Young Ladies Seminary on Hay Street in Fayetteville, was fitted up as a hospital where they could be cared for.. The three floors were arranged to accommodate the patients who were brought in from the different localities, many of them sick! Some convalescing from typhoid fever and some wounded. Each ward or floor was presided over by 4 ladies who attended to their wants giving medicine nourishment etc., also reading to them writing their absent loved ones and making them as comfortable as possible… the hospital became so crowded and another was fitted up and it soon became full of patients…
Mrs. Fatima Walker Worth of Fayetteville offered her plantation house, The Old Worth Place, as a hospital for Confederate soldiers. In addition, she converted 26 acres of her fields to opium production. The opium poppies were grown and the juice extracted from the seeds and leaves and then converted into powder. The powder was then distributed throughout North Carolina to ease the pain of wounded men.
In Salisbury, Mrs. Mary Wrenn was the head nurse of the Confederate General Hospital and her daughter Betty Wrenn worked there as a nurse. They sold their silver, jewelry, and clothing to buy food for their patients. In addition to the Confederate General Hospital, Salisbury had a prison which housed Union prisoners of War, Confederate deserters and common criminals. This hospital housed a prison which suffered from overcrowding, under staffing and lack of supplies and equipment. Mrs. Sloan Johnson, a loyal Confederate was the matron of the prison hospital and is credited with relieving the suffering of all the inmates as far as she was able.
The stories of these women are illustrative of the thousands of Confederate women who chose to become nurses, during the Civil War, often at great personal sacrifice. Some historians argue their work prolonged the War, thus creating greater suffering than if they had stayed at home. However as women of conscience, they could not let hurting people suffer and die without an attempt to provide what care they could.
Confederate women were not alone in nursing soldiers in North Carolina. In 1862, not long after the Union navy captured and liberated the coastal waters of North Carolina, Union women arrived to nurse their soldiers.
In 1862, the Union navy forces, won control of a slice of coastal North Carolina, including Hatteras Island, Morehead City, Beaufort, and New Bern. At least four Union hospitals were established in this area including; Foster General Hospital and Academy Green Hospital both in New Bern, Mansfield General Hospital in Morehead City and a small hospital in Beaufort, whose name has been lost to history.
Mary Monroe von Olnhausen, a Union nurse was stationed in both Morehead City and New Bern. She endured many hardships during her tenure, including, cockroaches, bedbugs, food shortages, and yellow fever. She expressed her frustrations with her circumstances when she recalled
At first I had some Rebels in my ward, but I made the doctor take them out and fill the ward with Union soldiers. The Rebels made me so mad, and are so presuming too. It was always “Madam, will you look at my wound?” Now I didn’t want to see their wounds, unless they were going to die from them…It makes me furious to see them treated just as well as our men. The only way I could spite them was to give them one less blanket than ours had.
Another well know Union nurse, Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke also spent a short time in North Carolina. In January 1865, the steamer on which she was traveling from Philadelphia to Savannah Georgia, stopped in Wilmington North Carolina. At the same time that the steamer stopped in Wilmington to take on freshwater, newly released Union prisoners from Confederate prisons at Andersonville, Georgia and Florence, South Carolina were waiting to board ships for their homes in the North. Baker, describes the men that Bickerdyke met. “Those who could walk were walking skeletons, repulsive with the ugly running sores of prison pox, a skin disease attributed variously to exposure, starvation diets and rat bites. The stretcher cases suffered the most graver ills, of which septic wounds were the most common… A shockingly large number were mental wrecks, tagged for the lunatic asylums of their home states.”
Once she saw the sad state of her Union soldiers, Bickerdyke changed her plans. The cargo of dried and canned fruit, clothing, crackers, tea, butter, cheese, sugar, condensed milk, tapioca, extract of beef, and tin cups were distributed to these suffering men that she saw. She helped get the soldiers fed, washed and into makeshift hospitals in private homes, churches and abandoned Confederate hospitals. A separate hospital, the Wilmington Hospital for Colored Troops, was established for African American Union soldiers.
By March of 1865, Mother Bickerdyke joined Sherman’s army in Beaufort, North Carolina. The long established Union hospitals in New Bern, Morehead City, and Beaufort became more crowded as Sherman’s men marched toward Raleigh. Several battles occurred along the way with heavy casualties on both sides. When General Lee surrendered to General Grant in Virginia on April 9, 1865, over 2,000 Union soldiers were hospitalized in North Carolina. Bickerdyke and the other nurses and doctors acted quickly to get the men home to their families. The presence of Union nurses in North Carolina was over by May of 1865.
Nurses, especially, female nurses played a crucial role during the War Between the States. Women from both the North and the South gave up their money, family treasures, homes, husbands, sons, brothers, and many even their own lives so that their soldiers would be cared for and not forgotten on far away battlefields and hospitals. Their heroism and bravery continue to be a source of inspiration for us all.