Engraving by Adolf Vollmy (1889)
In the night skies of November 12, 1833 a glorious sight was observed in what is now known as the “Great Meteor Shower of 1833”. It is estimated that a quarter of a million meteors were seen over North America that night.
It was also the same night that in a small farming town located in what is now known as the “Northeast Kingdom -NEK” of Vermont, that Amanda Matilda Coburn was born in West Glover.
Her father was a farmer, and she along with her brother, worked on her family farm. It was claimed that the discipline and hard physical work was what enabled as she served as a Civil War Army Nurse for the entire duration of the war.
She married when she was 23 and would from then on be known as Mrs. Farnham. I assume her husband may have died, for in the summer of 1861, she returned home to her family. Her brother Henry had joined the 3rd Vermont Regiment. She left her small son with her parents and joined her brother, and on July 5th 1861 she journeyed to St. Johnsbury, VT to enlist in the 3rd Vermont as a hospital matron.
Following the same trip as the “Sleeping Sentinel” from Groton, VT, (it should be noted that she knew William Scott as a child and when he was killed, she would assist in his burial), She arrived in Washington, D.C., and later travelled to Camp Lyon near the Chain Bridge, and on September 8th, would cross into Virginia.
She was constantly busy during this time, however, in December of ’61, she was dropped from the 3rd Vermont, as the role of hospital matron had been eliminated, but she never let this stop her in her service.
In 1862, she marched with her men. From Lee’s Mills, Williamsburg, Golding’s Far, Savage Station, Glendale and Malvern Hill, and into the “seven days” retreat from Richmond back to Harrison’s Landing, she was always willing to help her men and was even known to give up her seat in the ambulance for weary soldiers to ride for awhile. She was always ready and willing to go with any regiment that had need of her services.
She would see action with the Army of the Potomac and stayed there until the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. Before a battle, many Green Mountain Boys would hand her their valuables, including their money, for their trust in her was unshakeable. It was said at Chancellorsville she carried so much money that she kept a revolver handy in case anyone dare come into her tent with nefarious intent. She once took a pair of sharp button-hole scissors, to pinch a mine ball with her thumb and finger out of a shoulder to help her soldier.
She walked from the Rappahannock to Gettysburg, and in one day she marched 34 miles in the hot sun. At Gettysburg she tended to the wounded of Sickles Corps. She left with the army on Lee’s retreat, but at Funkstown, the Vermont Brigade was hit hard, and one soldier killed was an old acquaintance so she got permission to take his body and 2 others home.
This was identified as one of the field hospitals she was assigned.
Civil War Army Nurse
When General Grant came east in May, 1864, she was prepared to accompany the army, but Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued an order that “no women, no matter who they are, should be allowed in the army longer”. A petition from her boys was submitted to Stanton, but it came back with his decree on the back: “Mrs. Farnham’s request has the highest recommendations, but is incompatible with the public service.”
At this point, she returned to Fredericksburg to serve as a “regular army nurse”. She was discharged in June, 1865.
Her First Interview With Miss Dix & Finally Assigned Ward Duty
What is remarkable is the relationship she developed with Miss Dix, who came to respect her despite an interesting first interview.
“From the time she entered the army, Mrs. Farnham had worn a dress similar to the ladies’ cycling costume of the present, - full pants buttoning over the tops of her boots, skirts falling a little below the knee, and a jacket with tight sleeves. This dress she had on when she called to present her papers and request. Miss Dix glanced at the papers, then looked Mrs. Farnham over from head to foot, under the situation was becoming embarrassing. Finally she arose, saying: “Mrs. Farnham, the dress you wear is abominable, a most abominable dress, and I do not wish any of my nurses to dress in that manner; but you came highly recommended, and I have long known of your work, but I didn’t know you wore such a dress. However, you can wear it is you choose.” Then she wrote an order for her to report at Fredericksburg. From that time until after the war closed she was one of Miss Dix’s trusted nurses, and was charged with duties and commissions at the front that she would trust to no one else; and though they met many times when Mrs. Farnham wore the same dress, it was not mentioned again.”
This was told by her husband after his wife had died.
A Woman of Firsts
She would be among the first to wear the bloomers as a Civil War Nurse (although this photo is not Mrs. Farnham - it was “her” look)
Photo courtesy “Our Army Nurses”
She was also among the first to recommend washing all clothing and bedding used by the wounded instead of burning them as supplies were sometimes late in arriving.
She occupied a position that no other army nurse held in that she didn’t do “ward duty”, but travelled around from regiment to regiment serving as needed, until forced into ward duty by Edwin Stanton.
Her Later Years
Sometime during the war, Amanda fell in love with a hospital steward, Marshall Felch with the 4th Vermont, Company H. They were married on December 16, 1865. They would eventually settle in a town near Denver, Colorado, The had at least 4 children, only 2 would live to adulthood. She filed for a pension in 1888, and in March of 1891 she was awarded $12.00. She died on December 31, 1893 and is buried in Greenwood Pioneer Cemetery near Canon City, Colorado.
Photo - Find A Grave - Mary Ann Thomas
One comrade would write of Mrs. Farnham:
“Day or night it made no difference, she always responded to the call, and would stay until the crisis passed, or death had relieved the patient of his suffering. But it was to the boys, like her brother, that her heart went out with greatest sympathy. Writing letters for such was a daily practice, and when there was no hope she would record the dying request, and take care of some keepsake to be sent to friends at home.”
Amanda Matilda Coburn Farnham Felch, a woman born in the NEK on the night of a million lights, was a trailblazer. Mrs. Farnham was determined to give the best care she could for her wounded soldiers and fight for what she thought was appropriate to do her best work. She marched with her soldiers, served the duration of the war, and then went on to live the rest of her life. She got her "fortitude" living in the beautiful NEK and she is truly a NEK Warrior Princess.
"You have given your boys to die for their country; now you can give your girls to nurse them."
(Mary Stinebaugh - Army Nurse - to her father in 1863)
Our Army Nurses, by Mary A. Gardner Holland, pages 282-290.