Remembering Our Black Nurses, From Tennessee To Georgia To Forever

JPK Huson 1863

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ship tenn two women.JPG

This image, a snip taken from one of LoC's massive tifs has always fascinated me. Tennessee. When you see women on these transports it's always interesting- these two women could easily be nurses or relief workers either remaining on board or en route elsewhere. We'll never know, wish so much we did.

Beyond a handful of well-known names from the past we tend to not pay particular attention to the nurses and doctors without whom the war's death toll would have been even more staggering.That statement will be thought arguable but it's not. Said this before- we have a good if rough idea how many horses and mules were lost during the war. Nurses? Nope- yet one diocese alone list hundreds of Sisters who died while serving between 1861-1865. I don't think doctors are included either. Army Medical Corps did their best, there just were not enough- docs sometimes operated around the clock with an assistant whose job it was to keep them awake should they nod off around hour 20.

We hear even less of the medical staff who were black. From across all the social strata making up black society 150 years ago, doctors and nurses sure were there. Goodness. It's difficult because ' hospital worker ' across the board could mean ' nurse ' despite having been on the record as cook or laundress. Susie King Taylor recalled she ' did very little of it ', meaning laundry. That would be because Susie was helping glue shattered men together. Sojourner Truth is best known for her famous speech and anti-slavery work but she rolled up her sleeves when the shooting began-as a nurse.

I've encountered this image, as in snipped from the larger tif elsewhere- and didn't swipe it, honest! It's from LoC, snipped it myself- these women's ' uniforms ' indicate a nursing, as in hospital, capacity. It's Washington, DC, somewhere in the massive Sanitary Commission.
uniformed nurses black women san comm.JPG



Ann Stokes, the first woman to receive a pension from the Navy worked aboard our best-known hospital ship, Red Rover.I can't find how many worked with Ann Stokes only that the Sisters trained this group of tireless women and they took it from there. Although only 400 black nurses, both enlisted and contract are recorded, it's awfully clear the number was far greater than that. The Sanitary Commission for instance, wrote of black women ( and some reports include men ) serving as nurses in ' contraband ' hospitals, hospitals outside the Army's record keeping. If anyone follows the gargantuan, sprawling Commission you could see where it would be ridiculously difficult ascertaining how many nurses would have served.

Sorry to do it again but who can see the Red Rover too many times? Where Ann and her fellow nurses, and our Sisters ( of Mercy? ) raised their hands.
red rover stokes.JPG


There's a wonderful memorial on Find A Grave to Emma Stephenson, a nurse in the Union hospital buried in the USCT section at Marietta National Cemetery. Born enslaved, Emma decided otherwise and chose to become a nurse for wounded men. Like so many of our nurses Emma died of disease July 16th, 1864.

Here's something else- black women and men were nurses in southern hospitals. No, that does not make this a ' slavery ' thread it continues as a medical staff thread. What's remarkable is their nameless status while doing the same work as every, other nurse during the war- and it wasn't just here and there. Lacking the ability to form massive relief organizations like the north, where smaller church, town, city and state organizations could work with and within the Sanitary and Christian Commissions, ( in general ) southern hospitals had to operate within smaller confines. Advertisements went out for citizens to er, donate, laborers- nurses - to the rapidly filling hospitals. They did it, too, I mean worked as nurses.

From beginning to end- first is from 1861, Tennessee, second from Virginia, 1864.
black nurses wanted conf 1861 tenn.JPG


black nurses virgina 1864.JPG

That's the multi-building Chimborazo we can never get a decent look at in images. Best I could do!
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Read a very good theory based on ( sourced ) hospital record keeping in Georgia that nearly half of the hospital staff was black- and please make no mistake. That's nursing as well as other duties.

It's a huge topic, far too much for one thread but a terrific day to commemorate those who served and remember those we lost. There were doctors too, of course there were- from what I can find twelve black men took their medical degrees to war. Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta qualified in 1860 and was commissioned in 1863 , serving as surgeon in the 7th USCT. Dr. Rebecca Lee headed to Richmond in April, 1865, taking part in relief efforts there. I'm terrible with researching in the medical areas, wish I could find more names.

One more I've always found intriguing. The usual group of officers in the usual poses- and a black man and woman- there's a child kneeling near the officers. The thing is, too easy feeling she was perhaps employed as laundress or cook. See the open tent, a bed and a head on a pillow, another man seems to be sitting by the bed? I've always wondered if she was a nurse and for some bizarre reason the photographer caught both hospital tent and a clump of officers.
woman in camp.JPG


Thank you, Emma Stephenson. For every Emma, we'll never know how many more sent men home who would not have made it without you.
 

John Hartwell

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Estimates for the number of female nurses (US only) range from 3,000 to 10,000. That's one heck of a "ballpark." According to one source, official records document about 3,600 female army nurses. And, there were many times more male nurses than female. Only a handful of the latter ever made it to the field hospitals close to the front lines until well after the battle was over, most worked at the general hospitals to which the sick and wounded were sent after treatment in the field. At the big hospitals around Washington, too, most nurses were male, and assigned there as part of their military duty.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Estimates for the number of female nurses (US only) range from 3,000 to 10,000. That's one heck of a "ballpark." According to one source, official records document about 3,600 female army nurses. And, there were many times more male nurses than female. Only a handful of the latter ever made it to the field hospitals close to the front lines until well after the battle was over, most worked at the general hospitals to which the sick and wounded were sent after treatment in the field. At the big hospitals around Washington, too, most nurses were male, and assigned there as part of their military duty.

Agree, heck of a ball park and bet it's higher. I'm back to defining nurses? Georgianna Wade McClellen buried her sister, handed that famous baby ( Louis ) to her mother and headed for the Gettysburg hospitals. She wasn't trained as a nurse, Georgianna was a milliner, but became a nurse that day along with most civilians. I'll back up ' most ', too. After Letterman packed up she remained a nurse for the rest of the war. Family ended up pretty much hounded out of Gettysburg, publicity over ' The Jenny Wade Story ' was just too much but she stayed with nursing after becoming one on the spot.

That's the thing- Army nurses are at least easier to track, when it's possible to find anything. Yes, most had training. Some of the battles were such a shambles, anyone who showed up became a nurse, the real thing. I forget which child ( maybe Liberty? ) was told not to cry, just hold that man's shattered arm so her mother could stop the bleeding. My grgrgrandmother's ' public house ' poof- became a hospital post Bull Run, when Union wounded trickled into Washington, then flooded. I know she had no nurse training but nursed - they finally designated the place a hospital, assigned a few nurses but she and I guess the domestic workers were on their own for quite awhile.

This isn't meant as snark, at all. One of the memoirs out of the south speaks of one wealthy woman headng for those hospitals- she did work there herself. She also took quite a few enslaved of her household who did the same work, names we'll never know, whether these nurses were men or women we'll never know either because she doesn't say.
 

Ole Miss

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Then there was Mrs. Canant, the Confederate nurse buried in Friendship Cemetery. So many brave and giving women of all colors and on both sides who are forgotten and most likely received little if any appreciation. Except the nameless soldiers who all knew too well what the women did.
Regards
David
 

lelliott19

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So many brave and giving women of all colors and on both sides who are forgotten and most likely received little if any appreciation. Except the nameless soldiers who all knew too well what the women did.
I enjoy reading primary sources and am amazed at the number of accounts that include the names of women who provided care for wounded. Seems these men never forgot the name of a woman who had cared for them when they were sick or wounded.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Location
Central Pennsylvania
I can only imagine how many times these women were called "Mother" by delirious boys in their last moments.
Regards
David

That's an awfully poignant theme in account after account after account by nurses. Gives you chills. Between what the Sisters of Mercy and Charity reported, the Army nurses, civilian women- anywhere at all, that always, always comes up.

I enjoy reading primary sources and am amazed at the number of accounts that include the names of women who provided care for wounded. Seems these men never forgot the name of a woman who had cared for them when they were sick or wounded.


The vet reunions are the best. Those women would show up and reduce everyone to tears- and what's so amazing is how frequently the women would actually remember the men who'd been their patients, too. Hundreds if not thousands of wounded passed under their care and they'd actually remember them. I'm sure not every one, enough to make it astonishing.

Susie King Taylor worked as a nurse during the Civil War, probably the best known African American nurse. A fascinating account is Louisa May Alcott's "Hospital Sketches," about her service in a Washington DC area hospital.


What I love about Susie King Taylor is the fact she left us her account, talk about an historical treasure. We just don't get to hear the voice of so many women, hearing her speak of events as they happened and what she did fleshes out who she was. It's funny, Alcott carries you along those 6 weeks, you're as exhausted as she must have been by the end because it's such a clear image of caring for wounded in a DC hospital. Susie's voice is restrained but still as powerful- she wasn't a professional author but somehow gave us the same kind of narrative. It's very cool stuff.
 
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