US Η Bickerdyke, Mary Ann Ball

Mary Ann Ball “Mother” Bickerdyke
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Mary Ann Bickerdyke, also known as Mother Bickerdyke, was a hospital administrator for Union soldiers during the American Civil War and a lifelong advocate for veterans.

Born: July 19, 1817

Birthplace: Knox County, Ohio

Father: Hiram Ball 1786 – 1847
(Buried: Secrist – Tarres Cemetery, Mansfield, Ohio)​

Mother: Annie Rogers 1794 – 1818

Husband: Robert Bickerdyke 1803 – 1859
(Buried: Linwood Cemetery, Galesburg, Illinois)​

Married: April 27, 1847 in Cincinnati, Ohio

James R. Bickerdyke 1850 – 1904​
(Buried: Bunker Hill Cemetery, Bunker Hill, Kansas)​
Hiram Ball Bickerdyke 1854 – 1909​
(Buried: Capitol Cemetery, Capitol, Montana)​


One of the first women to Attend Oberlin College​
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Occupation before War:

Botanic Medical Doctor using Alternative medicine herbs & plants​
Attended Congregational Church of Galesburg, Illinois​

Civil War Career:

1861 – 1865: Served with Medical Service in 19 battles​
Soldiers called her “Mother” because of her kind care for them​
Responsible for establishing 300 Field Hospitals during the war​
Leader with the United States Sanitary Commission​
Worked on the first hospital boat​
Rode at the head of XV Corps in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C.​

Occupation after War:

Worked at the home for the friendless in Chicago, Illinois​
Helped 50 veteran families move to Salina, Kansas​
Ran a hotel in Salina, Kansas with the support of General Sherman​
Attorney assisting Union Veterans with legal problems & Pensions​
Worked at the San Francisco United States Mint & Salvation Army​
President of Lyon Women’s Relief Corps in Oakland, California​
Received a pension of $25.00 a month from United States Govt.​

Died: November 8, 1901

Place of Death: Bunker Hill, Kansas

Cause of Death: Minor Stroke

Age at time of Death: 84 years old

Burial Place: Linwood Cemetery, Galesburg, Illinois

When his staff complained about the outspoken, insubordinate female nurse who consistently disregarded the army’s red tape and military procedures, Union Gen. William T. Sherman threw up his hands and exclaimed, “She outranks me, I can’t do a thing in the world.” They were discussing Mary Ann Ball Bickerdyke, a nurse who ran roughshod over anyone who stood in the way of her self appointed duties.

She was known affectionately to her “boys,” the grateful enlisted men in Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s and then Sherman’s army, as Mother Bickerdyke. When a surgeon questioned her authority to take some action, she replied, “on the authority of Lord God Almighty, have you anything that outranks that?”

Born in Knox County Ohio, Mother Bickerdyke became the best known, most colorful, and probably the most resourceful Civil War nurse. Widowed two years before the war began, she supported herself and her two half-grown sons by practicing as a “botanic physician” on Galesburg IL.

When a young Union volunteer physician wrote home about the filthy, chaotic military hospitals at Cairo Il, Galesburg citizens collected $500 worth of supplies and selected Bickerdyke to deliver them.

She stayed in Cairo as an unofficial nurse, and through her unbridled energy and dedication, she organized the hospitals and gained Grant’s appreciation.

Grant sanctioned her efforts, and when his army moved down the Mississippi, Bickerdyke went too, setting up hospitals where they were needed. Sherman was especially fond of his volunteer nurse who followed the western armies, and supposedly she was the only woman he would allow in his camp.

By the end of the war, with the help of the US Sanitary Commission, Mother Bickerdyke had built 300 hospitals and aided the wounded on 19 battlefields.
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NH Civil War Gal

Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Feb 5, 2017
I know she ordered some breastworks to be burnt to keep men alive during a freezing cold night, AFTER a battle had taken place when no regular officer could order it. Someone threatened her over it and she threatened them back and backed them right down.

I sure wish I had her incredible hardiness and health genetics! She never got sick with anything out in the field!

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
In some ways, Mother Bickerdyke's post-war activities were as striking as her wartime service.
From: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, 1912, vol. I, pp. 178f:

Bickerdyke, Mary Ann, familiarly known as "Mother Bickerdyke," army nurse and philanthropist, was born near Mt. Vernon, Ohio. July 19, 1817. Her father, Hiram Bell, was a descendant of the Pilgrims, and her mother of one of the first families of New York. Her childhood was spent upon a farm, where pure air and plenty of out door exercise developed her into a woman strong in both mind and body. She entered Oberlin College, but was compelled by illness to leave just before graduating. Her first experience as a nurse was in the Cincinnati hospital during the cholera epidemic of 1837, and liking the work she continued in it for several years. On April 27, 1847, she became the wife of Robert Bickerdyke, in 1856 they removed to Galesburg, Ill., where her husband died about two years later, leaving her with two sons (James R. and Hiram) to support. Again she took to nursing, and it seems that she also practiced medicine, for the Galesburg directory for 1861 gives her occupation as physician.​
When the Civil war broke out she was one of the leaders among the Galesburg women in providing necessities for the soldiers at the front. Later, when a physician in the Twenty-second Illinois infantry wrote home of the illness and lack of suitable care among the soldiers, Mother Bickerdyke's friends offered to care for her children if she would volunteer to go to the front as a nurse. With $500 worth of hospital supplies she reported for duty at the regimental hospital at Cairo, Ill. After the actions at Belmont, Fort Donelson and Shiloh she was in the field hospitals; followed the army in the Corinth and Atlanta campaigns; frequently went over battle fields at night, with lantern and simple remedies, searching for any wounded that might have been overlooked. Gen. McCook said she was "worth more to the Union army than many of us generals," and she was a great favorite with Gens. Sherman and Logan. In March, 1866, she was relieved from duty and returned to her home in Galesbnrg.​
Her work in behalf of the soldiers was not ended, however. Thousands of men discharged from the army thronged the cities in search of employment. Mother Bickerdyke visited Kansas, where she found the conditions favorable for many of these men to obtain homes. She next appealed to wealthy friends for aid in carrying out her project. Jonathan Burr, a wealthy banker, gave her $10,000, and C. B. Hammond, the president of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad, promised free transportation for soldiers and their familes for two years. Gen. Sherman, then in command at Fort Riley, allowed her the free use of government teams to transport the veterans and their goods to their homesteads, and between 1866 and 1868 over 300 families were settled in Kansas through her efforts. She also decided to make this state her home and settled at Salina, where she opened a hotel, popularly known as the Bickerdyke House.​
After the Indian raids of 1868 she was active in behalf of the settlers, and it was due to her efforts that the war department issued rations for 500 people for ten months. She was also influential in securing the appropriations from the state for the purchase of seed grain for the settlers who had suffered from drought. In 1874, after spending four years in New York, she returned to Kansas to make her home with her sons on a ranch near Great Bend. That year and the next she made several visits to Illinois to solicit aid for the grasshopper sufferers. Her incessant labors undermined her health, and she spent two years in California. After her health was restored she secured employment in the United States mint at San Francisco.​
Mother Bickerdyke was instrumental in securing pensions for more than 300 army nurses, her own being the mere pittance of $25 a month, and it was not granted until years after the close of the war. She was deeply interested in the work of the Woman's Relief Corps; belonged to the Order of the Eastern Star; and was an honorary member of the Society of the Army of the Tennesee,[sic] Mother Bickerdyke died at Bunker Hill, Ellsworth county, Nov. 8, 1901, but was buried at Galesburg, Ill., beside her husband.​