1. Welcome to the CivilWarTalk, a forum for questions and discussions about the American Civil War! Become a member today for full access to all of our resources, it's fast, simple, and absolutely free!
Dismiss Notice
Join and Become a Patron at CivilWarTalk!
Support this site with a monthly or yearly subscription! Active Patrons get to browse the site Ad free!
START BY JOINING NOW!

Angels of the Battlefield: Catholic Sisters as Civil War Nurses

Discussion in 'Medical Care of the Civil War' started by JohnW., Mar 6, 2017.

  1. JohnW.

    JohnW. First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2016
    Messages:
    1,033
    Location:
    Missoula, Montana

    By Renee Standera, 12-15-13
    Consolation.jpg

    'They comforted the dying. Nursed the wounded. Carried hope to the imprisoned. Gave in his name a drink of water to the thirsty."-Inscription on the Nuns of the Battlefield Monument, Washington, D.C.

    When civil war divided the United States, among those answering the call to serve were nearly 600 Roman Catholic sisters, many of them new residents of the young nation.

    War broke out before governments on both sides made detailed arrangements for hospitals and medical care for their soldiers.

    Among some of the sisterhoods who brought their nursing skills to their new communities in the United States were the Sisters of Mercy.

    "The Sisters of Mercy fulfilled a very important role with the military on both sides during the Civil War because there were very few trained nurses in those days," said Myra Joines with the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

    Some of the European sisters learned nursing skills while serving in the Crimean War alongside nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale. For centuries in Europe, members of religious communities visited the sick in their homes. American communities established as many as 28 hospitals in the United States before war broke out.

    "One of the focuses of the Sisters of Mercy since their inception in Ireland was to care for the sick," said Joines.

    Officials from both the Union and the Confederacy were hesitant to use female nurses, but they, including President Abraham Lincoln, requested help from the Catholic sisterhoods. In the South, it was considered inappropriate for women to be involved in the physical contact that nursing duties required.

    About 9,000 secular women nursed for the Union Army. The Confederacy recorded the service of about 1,000 women. The catholic sisters served soldiers from both sides, many times under the same hospital roof.

    "They simply did what was needed and without complaint," said Joines. "And they didn't ask for very much in return. Their needs were very basic. They worked extremely hard and extremely long hours and did whatever it took, whereas women from other walks of life, first of all, were not used to that type of discipline, those types of demands."

    When diseases such as smallpox broke out, even doctors refused to help patients. Some sisters sacrificed their lives to nurse soldiers suffering from contagious diseases. Others died from exhaustion.

    Sisters of Charity from Cincinnati were among the first medical teams to arrive by steamboat at the battle of Shiloh. The first U.S. Navy hospital ship, Red Rover, was staffed by Sisters of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame, Indiana as the first Navy nurses. Two days after the Battle of Gettysburg, the Daughters of Charity of Emmitsburg, Maryland traveled the 20 miles from their motherhouse to the battlefield to serve the wounded. Throughout the war, they asked for nothing other than food and supplies to help the soldiers.

    Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy in Charleston, South Carolina, were sent to Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, to manage a hospital there. Those left behind visited soldiers held as prisoners-of-war. After the war, the Charleston sisters returned home to find their Queen Street convent and school destroyed.

    The sisters' war experience led to breakthroughs and innovations in medicine.

    "The sisters learned a great deal on the battlefield," said Joines. "One of the things they picked up from nursing the wounded as well as nursing the economically poor was the importance of cleanliness, and that so often what killed people was not so much the wound, but infection from unsanitary conditions."

    They also established new roles for women in America's changing society.

    "Sister Mary Collette O'Connor, who was Superintendent of Douglas Military Hospital in Washington, D.C. and apparently was not only an extraordinary nurse, but an extraordinary administrator at a time when you didn't find women in those roles," said Joines. "She was so honored by the military that they gave her the rank of Major in gratitude for what she had done on behalf of the soldiers."

    Although the nation's Irish population was familiar with the works of the Catholic sisterhoods in the mid-19th century, they were sometimes the victims of anti-Catholic prejudice. The sisters' service to the sick, wounded and dead, no matter their race, religion, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or the uniform they wore, helped alleviate some of the prejudice that victimized them.

    "It was very unpleasant for a number of Catholics in this country," said Joines. "But because of the compassion they showed to the soldiers, whether the soldiers were Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, had any religious affiliation, that touched the hearts of a lot of those men, as well as the hearts of their families."

    "When the ministries were established in the 1800's, no one was doing that kind of work," Joines said. "So it was extraordinary for anyone to do it. It was unbelievable pioneering for women to do it."

    After the war, the surviving sisters returned to their communities. Some continued nursing in hospitals, some returned to teaching, some headed west to establish new communities, and some cared for the widows and orphans of the soldiers they nursed.

    "To Bind Up the Wounds", Catholic Sister Nurses in the U.S. Civil War by Sister Mary Denis Maher was used as a resource for this story.

    Image: John Hauser's copy of painting, "Consolation," commissioned by Abraham Lincoln to Florence Meyer (Source: Myra Joines)

    Courtesy of Civil War Rx
     

  2. (Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
  3. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Lt. Colonel Forum Host

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2012
    Messages:
    12,249
    Location:
    Central Pennsylvania
    Ah! Very nice call, there just isn't enough to say about our Sisters. Thanks so much for posting! Pat Young writes of them, too, unsurprisingly, since he tends to keep memories fresh of those who gave humbly. What I loved, reading of their work at Gettysburg, was any man's idea they could be ordered to do anything. The Sisters were a little hysterical that way. Unstoppable.

    These threads in no way reflect anything I discovered. Members here always pointed the way towards these healers, opening the pages of History to stories cherished by the men these women touched. Have to point out Father Bernadino, too, of Gettysburg ilk, throwing himself heart, soul and cassock into saving wounded, North and South. At least half of these threads are other members, struck by their selflessness.

    http://civilwartalk.com/threads/satterlee-hospitals-sisters-from-gettysburg-to-philadelphia.131688/
    http://civilwartalk.com/threads/nur...aritys-history-in-blue-and-gray-blood.121179/
    http://civilwartalk.com/threads/some-of-our-sisters-sisters-of-mercy.108805/
    http://civilwartalk.com/threads/angels-of-mercy-civil-war-service-of-the-sisters.93231/
    http://civilwartalk.com/threads/catholic-religious-sisters-and-the-civil-war.84844/
    http://civilwartalk.com/threads/sisters-of-charity.70908/
     
  4. 7th Mississippi Infantry

    7th Mississippi Infantry Major Forum Host

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2013
    Messages:
    9,784
    Location:
    Mississippi
  5. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater 2nd Lieutenant Member of the Month

    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2014
    Messages:
    2,806
    Location:
    Due west of the Free State stronghold of Lawrence
    That's what always goes through my mind: Those diseases were contagious. You were definitely risking your life when you took care of those patients. (In our own time, think of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.) I always think of Fr. Damien of Molokai, caring for the lepers, and of course he eventually died of leprosy himself.
     
  6. Irishtom29

    Irishtom29 Corporal

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2008
    Messages:
    280
    Location:
    St. Augustine
    I lived in Resurrection parish on the West Side of Chicago and went to the parish grade school, we had the Sisters of Mercy.
     
  7. TomP

    TomP Private

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2015
    Messages:
    122
    Very nice!
    For Women's History Month we have a temporary exhibit on the different orders which served as nurses in Corinth following the battles of Shiloh and Corinth.
     
  8. KansasFreestater

    KansasFreestater 2nd Lieutenant Member of the Month

    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2014
    Messages:
    2,806
    Location:
    Due west of the Free State stronghold of Lawrence
    Where is this exhibit?
     
    lelliott19 and JohnW. like this.
  9. TopRailMess

    TopRailMess Cadet

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2017
    Messages:
    1
    The exhibit is at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center. 501 West Linden St. Corinth, MS 38834
     
  10. TomP

    TomP Private

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2015
    Messages:
    122
    Thanks Top RailMess!
     
    KansasFreestater and JohnW. like this.
  11. TomP

    TomP Private

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2015
    Messages:
    122
    Thanks TopRailMess!
     
    JohnW. likes this.
  12. lelliott19

    lelliott19 Sergeant Major Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2013
    Messages:
    2,268
    Welcome to Civil War Talk @TopRailMess Very happy to have you aboard!

    If you havent already done so, I invite you to post a quick introduction in the New Recruits Meet & Greet forum located here http://civilwartalk.com/forums/new-recruits-meet-greet-area.6/ It's a great way to meet the members and let them know a bit about your specific interests. Thanks for posting in the Medical Care forum!
     
    TomP, donna, JPK Huson 1863 and 2 others like this.
  13. David Moore

    David Moore First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2014
    Messages:
    1,187
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    There is a memorial in Washington DC to the nuns who served in the Civil War. It is front of St Matthews Cathedral in downtown D.C. The following link provides a number of photos of the memorial but there are other informative sites about it that one can find on the internet.
    https://www.theclio.com/web/entry?id=15412
     
  14. donna

    donna Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

    Joined:
    May 12, 2010
    Messages:
    20,871
    Location:
    Kentucky
    Lovely painting. The sisters were very brave and kind.
     
    lelliott19 likes this.
  15. donna

    donna Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

    Joined:
    May 12, 2010
    Messages:
    20,871
    Location:
    Kentucky
    Four orders of Catholic Nuns participated in caring for the sick and wounded during the Civil War. They were the Sisters of Charity, Sisters of St. Joseph, Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of the Holy Cross.

    See article:
    http://setonpath.com/civilwar.html

    When I was in grade school I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph.
     
    lelliott19 and KansasFreestater like this.
  16. Pat Young

    Pat Young Colonel Forum Host

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2013
    Messages:
    15,544
    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    In several first-hand accounts that I have read, the sisters were sometimes the only medical staff willing to work with contagious patients.
     
    lelliott19 and KansasFreestater like this.

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Loading...
Similar Threads Forum Date
"The Angels of the Battlefield" Medical Care of the Civil War Jul 29, 2013
"Battlefield Angels" New Review Book & Movie Review Tent Aug 29, 2012
Catholic News Service Reviews "Battlefield Angels" Book & Movie Review Tent Mar 16, 2012
Battlefield Angels: The Daughters of Charity Work as Civil War Nurses Book & Movie Review Tent Feb 21, 2012
Angels of the Battlefield Civil War History - General Discussion Jun 5, 2011

Share This Page


(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)