Civil War Hospital Ship

The U.S.S. Red Rover, a captured Confederate vessel, was refitted as a hospital ship.

Evolution of Civil War Nursing

The evolution of the nursing profession in America was accelerated by the Civil War.

The Practice of Surgery

Amputations were the most common surgery performed during the Civil War.

Army Medical Museum and Library

Surgeon-General William Hammond established The Army Medical Museum in 1862. It was the first federal medical research facility.

Civil War Amputation Kit

Many Civil War surgical instruments had handles of bone, wood or ivory. They were never sterilized.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Searching for Anna Lowell: The Mystery Behind a Civil War Nurse's Photo Album

By NMAH, July 13, 2011.

Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series featuring additional context about "So Much Need of Service": The Diary of a Civil War Nurse, a joint exhibition with the National Library of Medicine that documented the experiences of those who contributed to the Civil War effort, such as nurses Amanda Akin and Anna Lowell.

A couple of months ago, I went for a walk here in Washington, D.C. My destination was 1228 N Street NW, just two blocks south of Logan Circle. My mission was to stand before the building described in a Washington Post article as a "plain three-story brick house ... with a lawn of velvety grass [and] the words 'School of Cookery'" lettered on the western façade. But when I arrived at my destination and saw instead a hulking apartment building and no lawn, I realized that wishful thinking—or, rather, the relentless passage of time and perhaps even demolition cranes—had gotten the better of me.

In fact, the aforementioned Post article is dated May 3, 1896. The quaint house at 1228 N Street and the School of Cookery no longer exist. In 1906, the school’s founder Anna Woodbury (née Lowell) died in her home several blocks from the school at 1319 Massachusetts Avenue—another house that I later confirmed on the same walk is no more.

I've been drawn to Anna Lowell and inspired to take walks like this in search of her story after encountering an artifact from her life that, unlike the School of Cookery, still exists. At the National Library of Medicine, one can view a photographic album  presented to Lowell in 1864 by a group of attendants in D.C.'s Armory Square Hospital. In 1862, having recently been trained as a nurse, Lowell had traveled from Cambridge to D.C. and immediately gotten to work. Lowell—niece of the famous poet and critic James Russell Lowell—initially served as a nurse on a hospital ship, the Daniel Webster, and, for the remainder of the Civil War, volunteered in Ward K of the Armory Square Hospital.

I have had the good fortune of spending some time with Lowell's album. I enjoy showing the album's lovely inscription to groups touring the NLM’s historical collections. Photograph albums were common gifts among people during the period, and in Lowell's, one finds 142 cartes de visite (card photographs), including scenes from the Civil War, images of monuments, and portraits of individuals ranging from military figures like General George Custer to royalty like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. All of the photographs in Lowell's album are available for view in the NLM's Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) database.

In addition to her work as a nurse in Ward K, Lowell was in charge of the hospital's special diet kitchen. (Take a moment to read about Akin's run-ins with Lowell about special diets in Akin's published memoirs; see page 240, for example.) The museum's joint exhibition with the National Library of Medicine features issues of the hospital's newspaper, Armory Square Hospital Gazette, whose final issue, dated August 21, 1865, lists the hospital nurses, including Lowell. While Akin left the hospital before the end of the war, Lowell stayed until the institution closed in the summer of 1865.

Why did the Ward K attendants, in the midst of a war, gift Lowell with a photographic album? I wondered, was it her birthday? Was it a farewell gift?

With a little sleuthing, I came upon what I believe to be the answer. I discovered that both of Lowell's brothers, James Jackson Lowell and Charles Russell Lowell, Jr., died in service during the war, in 1862 and on October 20, 1864, respectively. Anna learned of Charles' death two days after, directly from General Custer, another brigade leader at the Battle of Cedar Creek where Charles had been mortally wounded. Anna met with Custer at Secretary of State Edwin Stanton's offices, where she had gone in search of news about her brother.

Armory Square Hospital could not spare Anna Lowell, even in her grief, and she could not attend her brother’s funeral in Cambridge with the rest of her family. Charles' death was announced in the October 29, 1864 issue of the Armory Square Hospital Gazette (Anna is not mentioned). I re-checked the date the album was presented to Anna Lowell, November 24, 1864, and it all clicked. The album—and the photograph of Custer, in particular—all at once took on a new light for me. I no longer view the album as a random gift; rather, I see it as a moving tribute and a kind gesture made in light of the personal loss borne by Lowell as she stayed in the overwhelmed Armory Square Hospital wards, with the rest of her family mourning in Cambridge.

Following the war, Lowell married a prominent D.C. physician, Henry E. Woodbury, but the marriage quickly soured. Dedicating herself to charity work, she founded in 1879 the first mission school of cooking, which included among its students African Americans—a fact that piqued my interest in Lowell. She later published a cooking manual that would be used in D.C. public schools. Lowell's obituaries in the Washington Post and the New York Times extol both her work as a nurse during the war and the school she worked tirelessly to maintain and develop.

I didn't need to venture out and walk very far, after all, to get a deep sense of Anna Lowell's story. That's the beauty of historical artifacts and the many powerful stories they can tell us when we let them to speak for themselves.

Dever Powell is Rare Book and Early Manuscript Librarian at the National Library of Medicine.

Image: Presentation page of Anna Lowell Photographic Album, 1864. Courtesy of National Library of Medicine.

Learn more about Civil War hospitals and nurses at www.CivilWarRx.com.

The Diary of a Civil War Nurse: Hospital Routine and Turmoil

From: americanhistory.si.edu

On most days Amanda Akin’s routine began at 6 a.m. with the sounding of reveille and ended at 9 p.m. when the night watch took over. Official duties included administering medicines and distributing the special diets prescribed for injured and ill soldiers. After dinner at noon, the nurses usually had several hours off to rest or go for walks. Much of their remaining time was filled with nonmedical tasks, writing letters for the men and attending to the many hospital visitors. Evenings were spent entertaining the patients, usually by singing and playing music.

Hospitals received an influx of patients following major battles, putting greater demands on all staff and confronting nurses with the severe wounds caused in conflict. On June 14, 1863, Akin wrote several entries in a letter to her sister, as soldiers from the fighting at Chancellorsville, Virginia, poured into Armory Square Hospital.

“It seemed to me this evening, as I sat at my table adding to the list of medicines—writing down name, regiment, list of clothing, etc., of the new arrivals, calmly looking at the poor maimed sufferers carried by, some without limbs, on a ‘stretcher’—that I had forgotten how to feel, … it seemed as if I were entirely separated from the world I had left behind.”

“Oh dear me, the cry is ‘Still they come’ and we are overflowing; they come now without order, and are received with but little ceremony.”
—Amanda Akin, 1863

Tokens of Remembrance
After a little over a year of service, Amanda Akin returned to her home in Quaker Hill. Before departing she purchased a cartes-de-visite photo album similar to the one shown here. These albums were intended for display within the home, and for sharing among friends and family.

Collecting carte-de-visite photographs (small studio portraits) became very popular in the 1860s. The relatively new medium of photography proved especially meaningful to people separated from their loved ones by the war. While at the hospital, Akin exchanged cartes-de-visite with coworkers as well as with those under her care. The images served as a remembrance of the many people who briefly shared in the community of the hospital during the years of conflict.

“July 20, 1864. The day has at last arrived to bid adieu to my ward and its absorbing duties, now realizing, reluctantly, how my life has been rounded within it….” 
—Amanda Akin

During the Civil War, hospitals sometimes published their own in-house newspapers, similar to the Armory Square Hospital Gazette. The Gazette was printed by two patients and edited by Mrs. Henrietta C. Ingersoll, a former nurse at the hospital.

The “soldier paper” consisted of contributions from staff and patients, as well as communications from distant friends. Amanda Akin submitted several pieces, including accounts of religious services and concerts, a verse on spring, and death notices for some of the patients patients under her care.

The Gazette was read in-house, also available by subscription, and sent to other publishers in exchange for their papers. During the war, newspapers of all kinds provided a way to keep up with the latest developments in the conflict and with news from home.

“The hospital is an episode in a soldiers life—sometimes a painful termination of it, which has many an event worthy of a chronicle. Such we propose this paper to be.”
—first issue of Armory Square Hospital Gazette, January 6, 1864

Image: Decorated Hospital Ward
Nurses worked to make their wards more cheerful and to provide special entertainments. At Armory Square, Akin noted: “Ward F was decorated with flags, evergreens, and hanging baskets of flowers” for the hospital’s first anniversary, similar to the ward shown here.

Portrait of a Nurse: A Wartime Role for Women

From: americanhistory.si.edu

The large and prosperous Akin family had lived in the Quaker Hill community north of New York City for generations. The eighth of Judge Albro Akin’s ten children, Amanda was thirty-five when she left to join the Union cause in April 1863. She returned home after serving at Armory Square Hospital, and few details of the rest of her life are known.

Akin married Dr. Charles W. Stearns in 1879, was widowed in 1887, and apparently had no children. In 1909, at age eighty-one, she published an account of her nursing experience, The Lady Nurse of Ward E, under her married name of Amanda Akin Stearns. She died in February 1911 and is buried with her husband in Pawling, New York.

“My Dear Sisters: You are no doubt anxiously looking for a ‘sign of life’ from me, but I can tell you initiation into hospital life of such a novice is not lightly to be spoken of, and until my ideas ceased floundering and I could recognize my old self again, I could not trust myself with a pen”
—Amanda Akin, 1863

With no specialized medical training or preparation, Amanda Akin arrived at Armory Square Hospital on an April evening in 1863 to begin work. Nursing was not yet established as a profession, and most men and women who took on these roles were expected to learn as they went about their daily activities.

Female nurses were newcomers to military hospitals. Convalescent soldiers continued to fill most of the nursing positions, especially in field hospitals and in camp, where conditions were considered unsuitable for women. At Armory Square Hospital the female nurses shared their duties with male “attendants.”

During the war, the title of “nurse” was often reserved for white middle- and upper-class women. However, along with these “lady nurses,” as they were known, others from diverse backgrounds working as matrons, cooks, laundresses, or without title performed many of the same tasks.

“We pass up and down among these rough men without fear of the slightest word of disrespect. They feel their dependence upon us for comfort and entertainment, and the difference in the wards where there is no ‘lady’ shows how much can be done for them.”
—Amanda Akin, 1863

Image: Amanda Akin, April 1863
This photograph was taken at the time Akin set off to Washington, D.C., to become a nurse. She included it in her published book.

The Lady Nurse of Ward E

From: americanhistory.si.edu

“I meekly followed [the nurse] through the long ward, unable to return the gaze of the occupants of the twenty-six beds, … and with a sinking heart watched her raise the head of a poor fellow in the last stages of typhoid, to give him a soothing draught. Could I ever do that? For once my courage failed.” 
     —Amanda Akin, describing her first evening in Armory Square Hospital, 1863

In April 1863, two years after the outbreak of the Civil War, Amanda Akin (1827– 1911) journeyed from her home in Quaker Hill, New York, to serve as a nurse at Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C. She was one of several million men and women who left their families and communities behind to contribute to the war effort. Many departed to fight, while others took on civilian assignments to support the military campaigns.

During her fifteen months at the hospital, Akin wrote long letters to her sisters and recorded her daily experience in diaries. Years later, she drew on this correspondence and her journals to publish an account of her wartime role.

Like Akin, other hospital workers were often eager to share their experiences with distant friends and family, and to preserve memories of the people and events that defined their new situations. Letters, diaries, and published accounts helped fill this need. Today, these documents provide a glimpse into the lives of those who served and a touching record of the challenges of hospital life.

“I write anywheres, in ward or room, for the moment, with mind on many other things.” 
—Amanda Akin, 1863

Image 1: Amanda Akin’s Diary
This volume of Akin’s diary covers the period from May 6, 1864, when she returned to Washington, D.C., after a brief visit home, until the end of her nursing service in July 1864. Her entries are overwritten with edits for her published account. Akin’s letters and other journal volumes, if they survived, have not yet been found.

Image 2: The Lady Nurse of Ward E
In 1909, not long before her death, Akin published this description of her nursing experience; it includes material from her letters and journals. When writing for others, she expressed more of the emotional toll of the work than she noted in her private journals.

John Mosby's Crutches

From: americanhistory.si.edu

Physical Description: Hand-carved wood.

Specific History
These crutches were used by John Mosby during the Civil War. Mosby stated, “These crutches were made for me during the war by a slave named Isaac who belonged to my father. They were first used in August 1863 when I went home wounded. My mother kept them for me and I again used them in September 1864 & December 1864.” General Robert E. Lee once said to Mosby, after seeing him on crutches at his headquarters, “The only fault I have to find with your conduct, Colonel Mosby, is that you are always getting wounded.”

General History
John Mosby was wounded on August 24, 1863. He was shot through the side and thigh as he attacked the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, which had halted to water the horses at Billy Gooding's Tavern on the Little River Turnpike in Virginia. He was carried into the woods and was attended by Doctor W. L. Dunn. Due to the painful nature of his wounds, Mosby was slow to travel so he was carried into the pines and concealed as the pursuing federal troops passed through searching for him. Once clear of the danger, Mosby returned to the South to recuperate.

A Place of Refuge and Medical Care: Thomasville, North Carolina

From: thomasvilletourism.com

John W. Thomas, who represented the Thomasville area in the State Legislature in the mid-1800s, laid out the town of Thomasville in 1852 on the proposed route of the North Carolina Railroad. Three years later, this line was completed to the new town, and the first train passed through on January 20, 1856. By 1860 Thomasville was thriving with 308 residents, a female seminary and a shoe factory. During the war, two companies, including the renowned “ Thomasville Rifles”(Co. B, 14th NC Infantry), served in Confederate General Robert E. Lees’ Army of Northern Virginia.

In 1864, Gen. James Longstreet’s corps passed through Thomasville on the railroad in route from Georgia to rejoin Lee’s army in Virginia. Many of the soldiers who boarded trains (200 feet from the current Depot) later fell in the Seven Days’ Battles, at Sharpsburg (Antietam), Gettysburg, and in the wilderness. Thomasville grew during the Civil War at first because of the importance of its shoe factories (local factories produced shoes for the Confederate cause) and later because of the hospitals. The Union occupation of North Carolina’s coastal region in 1862 caused the 1st influx of civilian refugees and wounded soldiers. A smallpox hospital was located in Thomasville prior to the war; local churches were turned into makeshift hospitals during the war; and convalescent facilities for soldiers arose during and after the war.

A Place of Refuge and Medical Care: Thomasville provided a refuge for wounded and ill soldiers and civilians fleeing from war-torn eastern North Carolina. Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnson established hospitals in a tobacco warehouse and in the local Baptist and Methodist churches in March 1865, as his army of Tennessee retreated north. Confederate Surgeon Simon Baruch led the medical efforts. Local citizens ripped out church pews, gathered pine straw for makeshift beds, gathered food, drink and generally assisted in the care of wounded soldiers, both Northern and Southern.

Thomasville City Cemetery
One of a Kind While hospitals were established in a tobacco warehouse and in the local Baptist and Methodist churches in March 1865, all able bodied men, women and children in town ripped out church pews, gathered pine straw for makeshift beds, gathered food, drink and generally assisted in the care of wounded soldiers, both Northern and Southern. Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the hospitals were interred in Thomasville’s City Cemetery side by side. This is the only such grave site in the world. Three rows of 12 headstones have the names of the soldiers on them with the dates of 1861-1865 with the exception of the markers for unknown soldiers. The 36 soldiers are accounted for as such: Confederate soldiers- 28; Union soldiers- 4; and unknown soldiers- 4.

The City of Thomasville was founded in 1852 as a stop along the fledgling North Carolina railroad, and by 1855 burials were made in this cemetery. The City provided hundreds of soldiers to the Confederacy, and grew during the Civil War in part due to its important industries and later because of the location here of hospitals and convalescent facilities for soldiers. The Union invasion of North Carolina’s coastal region in 1862 caused the first influx of civilian refuges and wounded soldiers.

In March of 1865, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnson established hospitals in a tobacco warehouse and in Thomasville’s Baptist and Methodist churches as his army of Tennessee retreated north. Local citizens ripped out church pews, gathered pine straw for makeshift beds, gathered food, drink and generally assisted in the care of wounded soldiers, both Northern and Southern. (A CWT sign on Main St. where the churches were located, recounts this story.)

Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the hospitals were interred in Thomasville’s City Cemetery side by side. This is the only such grave site in the United States. Three rows of 12 headstones have the names of the soldiers on them with the exception of the markers for four unknown soldiers. (A CWT sign identifies the area within City Cemetery.)


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