Thanks for giving me the go ahead on this. I think you'll be pleased
with the diversity of material that's available out there.
I've provided links to the materials below, along with some excerpts
from some of the sites. Much of the material is mere snippets of
interesting information, while other sources (like the Clara Barton
document) stand out as a real treasure-trove of information.
I trust that I've selected appropriate materials to match your
interests in this topic.
But before rating this answer, please let me know if you need any
additional information. Just post a Request for Clarification, and
I'll be happy to assist you further.
All the best,
[Female nurses made their "official" US appearance for the first time
in the Civil War]
THE CIVIL WAR, 1864-1865
AMERICAN MILITARY HISTORY
ARMY HISTORICAL SERIES
OFFICE OF THE CHIEF OF MILITARY HISTORY
UNITED STATES ARMY
Throughout the western world, the nineteenth century, with its many
humanitarian movements, evidenced a general improvement in the
treatment of the individual soldier, and the U.S. soldier was no
exception. The more severe forms of corporal punishment were abolished
in the U.S. Army in 1861. Although Civil War medical science was
primitive in comparison with that of the mid-twentieth century, an
effort was made to extend medical services in the Army beyond the mere
treatment of battle wounds. As an auxiliary to the regular medical
service, the volunteer U.S. Sanitary Commission fitted out hospital
ships and hospital units, provided male and, for the first time in the
U.S. Army, female nurses, and furnished clothing and fancier foods
than the regular rations. Similiary, the U.S. Christian Commission
augmented the efforts of the regimental chaplains and even provided,
besides songbooks and Bibles, some coffee bars and reading rooms.
[There's a substantial bibliography on the history of nursing in the
Civil War at this military history site. The sources themselves are
not available online, but the list gives you a good idea of the wealth
of materials that are available for further research]:
CIVIL WAR NURSES & NURSING
A Selected Bibliography of MHI Sources
[here are just a few of the resources I thought would be of interest]
Holland, Mary A. Gardner. Our Army Nurses: Interesting Sketches,
Addresses, and Photographs of
Nearly One Hundred of the Noble Women Who served in Hospitals and on
Battlefields During Our Civil War. Roseville, MN: Edinborough Pr,
1998. 306 p. E621H74.1998.
Reprint of 1895 ed.
Maher, Mary D. To Bind Up the Wounds: Catholic Sister Nurses in the
U.S. Civil War. NY:
Greenwood, 1989. 178 p. UM24.1961-65.M332.1989.
Smith, Nina B. ?The Women Who Went to War: The Union Army Nurse in
the Civil War.? PhD
dss, Northwestern, 1981. 183 p. E628S58.
U.S. Surgeon General's Office. The Medical and Surgical History of
the Civil War. 12 vols.
Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot, 1990. UM24.1861-65.A48.1990.
[The Navy considered nurses during the Civil War, but rejected the idea]
Nurse Corps History
"The Nurses whose number should be proportionate to the extent of the
hospital and the number of patients, should be women of humane
disposition and tender manners; active and healthy; and without vices
of any description. . .and are to attend with fidelity and care upon
all the sick committed to their charge."
So wrote Doctor William Paul Crillon Barton, a young naval surgeon who
later became the first Chief of the Navy Bureau of Medicine and
Surgery. In his "Treatise Containing a Plan for Internal Organization
and Government of Marine Hospitals, in the United States, together
with a scheme for Amending and Systematizing the Medical Department of
the Navy," prepared in 1811 for the Secretary of the Navy. Dr. Barton
wrote what is believed to be the first recommendation for nurses in
the U.S. Navy. However, his recommendation went unheeded - the Navy,
he was told, was for men only. So began a long effort to include women
in the Armed Forces.
During the Civil War (1861-1865), four Sisters of the Order of the
Holy Cross served as nurse volunteers aboard the first official Navy
hospital ship, the Red Rover, a confiscated Confederate steamer
outfitted as a floating hospital. Records indicate that their services
extended over a three-year period.
In 1898, 21 trained nurses were engaged by the Navy at Naval Hospitals
in Brooklyn, NY, Portsmouth, NH, and Norfolk, VA, to care for
casualties of the Spanish-American War. No formal agreement binding
them to the Navy existed, except for a verbal agreement for
compensation. After 50 days services, the nurses completed their duty
and were paid from a special fund.
The modern Nurses Corps began in May 1908, when Congress approved
legislation creating the Corps, to exist of a superintendent and as
many chief nurses, nurses, and reserve nurses as necessary. Although
legislation did not provide for rank. Official rank in the Nurse Corps
was not determined until1942.
The first Navy Nurses, later called the "Sacred Twenty," were a
superintendent, a chief nurse, and eighteen nurses who paid their own
way to Washington for examinations. These pioneers rented a house,
established their own messing facility, and began the duties which
were to be carried on by their successors in years to come.
[a few mentions of individual nurses on both sides of the conflict,
including the only woman awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor]
American Military Women:
Women Sustaining the American Spirit
The Civil War
--Two Union Nurses, May Tepe and Anna Etheridge were awarded the
Kearney Cross for bravery at the Battle of Chancellorville.
--Sally Louisa Thompkins was commissioned as a captain for the
Confederacy by Jefferson Davis.
--A large number of women volunteered as nurses with both the Union
and Confederate forces....
...Harriet Tubman, a well known abolitionist, also served as a nurse,
spy, scout and guide for the Union.
--Dr. Mary Walker is the first and only woman to be awarded the
Congressional Medal of Honor. She was a nurse and contract surgeon in
the Union army during the Civil War.
[...more on Mary Walker ]
Military Women Pioneering the Future
Ms. Ellen Embrey
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Force Health Protection and Readiness
Dr. Mary Walker was a true pioneer - the first woman doctor in the
U.S. Army and the only woman ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor. At
first word of the Civil War, she requested a commission. It was denied
her. While appealing her case through bureaucratic channels, she
served as a volunteer in a hospital established at the U.S. Patent
Office. Later she followed the battles, working in the surgeon's tent
at Manassas and Fredericksburg, Virginia - still a volunteer, still
unpaid for her services. She continued her volunteer service until
1863, when she was ordered to serve with the 52nd Ohio Infantry
Regiment. She was to replace a surgeon - a man, of course - killed in
the battle of Chickamauga. Although her medical superiors questioned
her credentials and competency, she stayed with the unit, riding daily
by horseback through the picket lines to attend to the sick - soldier
and civilian alike - around the war-ravaged Chattanooga. It was while
performing this service, crossing the picket lines, that she was
captured by the Confederates in April of 1864. She remained a prisoner
of war for four months, then gained her freedom in a prisoner
exchange. Researcher Jean Gillette says this about her: "It was always
a source of pride to (Dr. Walker) that she was exchanged ... 'man for
man.' " After being released, Dr. Walker received the grand sum of
$436.36 for her work and time in captivity. Her service before 1863
she had given as an unpaid civilian volunteer! And we remember.
[There were about 6,000 nurses in the Union Corps, earning about
$12/month -- one gets the sense there wasn't a great deal of
training/education of the nurses]
10 Jun 1861 -- Two months after the Civil War began on 12 April 1861,
the Secretary of War appointed Dorothea Lynde Dix, famed for her work
on behalf of the mentally ill, as Superintendent of Women Nurses for
the Union Army. Despite the impressive title, Miss Dix's authority was
vague and limited: "to select and assign women nurses to general or
permanent military hospitals, they not to be employed in such
hospitals without her sanction and approval except in cases of urgent
need." Miss Dix headed the list of about six thousand women who served
the federal forces. Some of the women, before reporting for
assignment, received a short course in nursing under the dedicated
direction of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a
medical degree in the United States.
3 Aug 1861 The Congress authorized the Surgeon General to employ women
as nurses for Army hospitals at a salary of $12 per month plus one
[Louisia May Alcott was among those who apparently worked as, and
recorded the work of the Civil War nurses]:
1861-1865 During the Civil War (12 April 1861-26 May 1865), many
women served as nurses in the hospitals of both the Union and the
Confederate Armies, among them a large number of Catholic sisters of
several religious orders. Some of the women who served in the Union
hospitals were not on the Army payroll but were sponsored by the
United States Sanitary Commission or by volunteer agencies. Women
served as nurses in many hospitals, but the work was largely limited
to preparing diets, supervising the distribution of supplies furnished
by volunteer groups, and housekeeping details. Nonetheless, nearly one
hundred years before development of the mid-twentieth century concept
of progressive patient care, one nurse wrote of separating patients
according to their needs:
"My ward was now divided into three rooms; and, under favor of the
matron, had managed to sort out the patients in such a way that I had
what I called my 'duty room,' my 'pleasure room,' and my 'pathetic
room,' and worked for each in a different way. One, I visited with a
dressing tray full of rollers, plasters, and pins; another, with
books, flowers, games, and gossips; a third, with teapots, lullabies,
consolation and-sometimes-a shroud."
Louisa May Alcott
Hospital Sketches, 1863
[The Library of Congress has a good collection of materials, some
available online -- including the Clara Barton document]
Health and Medicine: Civil War
When the Civil War broke out, pioneering doctors Elizabeth and Emily
Blackwell were involved in the establishment of the U.S. Sanitary
Commission and helped to select and train nurses for war work. As the
repository for more than a thousand Civil War collections, the
Manuscript Division holds extensive material relating to women's
medical involvement in the war...For example:
Letters from convalescent soldiers and from Alden M. Lander, the
superintendent of women nurses, are among the papers (515 items;
1856-67) of nurse-physician Esther Hill Hawks (1833-1906) [catalog
record], who after the war established schools and distributed
supplies for the National Freedman's Relief Association.
The papers of Sara Iredell Fleetwood (1811-1908), a teacher and nurse
who was superintendent of nurses at the Freedmen's Hospital in
Washington, D.C., are included among those of her husband Christian A.
Fleetwood (400 items; 1797-1945; bulk 1860-1907) [catalog record], a
free black soldier who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Catherine Oliphant (d. 1916) sought a pension for her services as a
laundress and nurse in her husband Benjamin F. Oliphant's regiment (22
items; 1864-1916) [catalog record].
Mary Ann Bickerdyke (1817-1901) [catalog record] was a nurse and agent
for the U.S. Sanitary Commission whose heroic service on the field and
in hospitals earned her the gratitude of countless Union soldiers.
After the war, ?Mother? Bickerdyke became an attorney assisting army
veterans in securing military pensions. Her papers (1,800 items;
1855-1905) cover both phases of her life and include files relating to
the Woman's Relief Corps of the Grand Army of the Republic, Mary A.
Livermore, and Lucy Stone.
Also an agent for the U.S. Sanitary Commission was nurse Lydia J.
Stull, who reviewed court-martial cases of Union soldiers held in
military prisons (23 items; 1865) [catalog record].
Many Civil War nurses and physicians later recorded their reminiscences.
Physician Harriette C. Keatinge (1837-1909) [catalog record] wrote
about the burning of South Carolina by Gen. William T. Sherman's
troops, her husband's capture by Union forces, and her experiences
traveling with Sherman's army to join her husband (3 items; 1903-9).
The papers (4 items; 1916-30) of Martha Elizabeth Wright Morris
(1832?-1919) [catalog record] contain an address she gave in 1916
describing her wartime activities, including her work with the U.S.
Sanitary Commission and her acquaintance with Confederate spy Rose
A biographical sketch (1 item; n.d.) of Carrie Eliza Cutter
(1842-1862) details her activities and death from fever while serving
as a nurse with a New Hampshire regiment during the war.
Perhaps the best known of all Civil War nurses was Clara Barton
(1821-1912)... who later founded the American National Red Cross. At
the war's outbreak, Barton was a forty-year-old Patent Office clerk in
Washington, D.C., who embraced the task of collecting much-needed
provisions and medical supplies for the Union army. Frustrated by
bureaucratic delays, she began to distribute the supplies herself and
also started nursing the wounded in military hospitals and
battlefields, earning the nickname ?Angel of the Battlefield.? Barton
became famous for her Civil War exploits mainly because of a series of
phenomenally successful postwar lectures she delivered about her war
experiences and her later efforts to identify dead and missing
soldiers. In preparing these lectures, Barton drew not only from
memory but also from diaries and notes she had kept at the time, which
are now part of her personal papers (70,000 items; 1834-1918).
[...and the previously cited Clara Barton speech]
[click on "View page images" to see the document]
...But the most fearful scene was reserved for the night. I have said
that the ground was littered with dry hay...and that we had only 2
lanterns. But there were plenty of candles
The wounded were lain so closely that it was impossible to move about
in the dark. The slightest mistep brot a torrent of groans from some
poor mangled fellow in your path.
Consequently there were scores of persons of every grade from the
careful man of God who walked with a prayer upon his lips to the
careless driver, hunting for his lost whip, each wandering about among
this hay with an open flaming candle in his hand.
The slightest accident, the mere dropping of a light, would have
enveloped in flames this whole mass of helpless men.
How we watched and plead, and cautioned, as we worked, and wept that night.
How we put socks and slippers on their cold damp feet -- wrapped
blankets and quills about them -- and when we had no longer these to
give how we covered them in the hay and left them to their rest.
The slight naked chest of a fair-haired lad caught my eye, and
dropping down beside him, I bent low to draw the remmant of his torn
blowse about him. When, with a quick cry, he thrw his left-arm across
my neck, and wept like a child at his mothers knee.
I took his head in my hands and held it until his great burst of grief
should pass away.
"And you dont know me" he said at leangth -- "I am Charley Hamilton,
who used to carry your satchel home from school."
My faithful pupil -- poor Charley! That mangled right arm will never
carry a satchel again.
[a picture of Clara Barton -- also from the Library of Congress
Collection -- is here:]
[The US Capitol served as a field hospital for a while]
For about six weeks in the fall of 1862 the Rotunda (as well as other
chambers and hallways) was used as an emergency hospital. Among the
nurses who served here were Dorothea Dix and Clara Barton, later the
founder of the American Red Cross.
[As was true with soliders, nurses also came from all segments of society]
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
PROUD TO SERVE:
AFRICAN AMERICAN ARMY
NURSE CORPS OFFICERS
African American nurses have served throughout our nation?s history.
During the Civil War, black nurses such as Sojourner Truth, an
emancipated slave, worked in Union hospitals caring for the sick and
wounded. Similarly, Harriet Tubman, when she was not serving as a
laundress, cook, scout, spy or guide for the Union Army, also nursed
soldiers. Like all Civil War nurses, Tubman did not receive a pension
until 30 years after the end of the war. As many as 181 black nurses,
both female and male, served in convalescent and U.S. government
hospitals in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina during the Civil
[If you're interested in more information on Dorothea Dix, you can
find it in the 1893 remembrance of her life at the link below. It
includes a picture of Dix, and covers her life in great (and rather
wordy!) detail, but it oddly sketchy on her work during the war]
[There is more information on Dix and Barton at this site, which puts
the number of nurses at 2,000 (North and South) rather than the 6,000
(North, only) cited above -- I don't know why there's such a
discrpeancy in the numbers]:
[Finally, there are some wonderful links on this topic in the answer
mentioned by my colleague, tispiegel-ga, in the comments below. I've
inlcuded the main ones here:]
Letters, Diaries, Reminiscences, and Manuscripts of New York Soldiers and Nurses
The Reminiscences of Anna P. Erving, a Union Nurse "On the Field at Antietam"
and a "must read":
Grappling with Death: The Union Second Corps Hospital at Gettysburg
Again, I hope this information fully meets your needs. Let me know if
there's anything else I can do for you.
search strategy -- Google searches on:
civil war nurses
civil war nurses site:mil
civil war nurses site:gov