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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Job of a Civil War Nurse

From: The Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum, an Indiana War Memorials Museum
Contributing Author Linda Grimes


There were five men for every woman nurse in the Union Army. Their pay was $11.00 to $12.00 per month. At the Indianapolis Military Hospital the pay was forty cents per day. Most nurses worked at a general hospital. Able-bodied patients performed many nursing duties there also.

Before a battle, Regimental Commanders assigned 30-40 soldiers to be nurses and litter (stretcher) bearers for field hospitals. Some of these soldiers were men who did not want to fight.

Toward the close of the war, training was set up for people who became nurses. Over 20,000 women on both sides worked in military hospitals. Up to half of these women served as nurses. Some of the well-known names in the Union Army were "Mother" Mary Bickerdyke, Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix, and Louisa May Alcott. Their backgrounds varied.

Dorothea Dix recruited only middle class, white women, (ages 35 to 50) who lived in the Washington, D.C. area. In Indiana and other states Ladies Aid societies enlisted local women. Many working-class women followed family members to camps and hospitals.

African American women, both contraband and free, performed various duties including nursing.

The Sisters of Charity were one order of Catholic Sisters who served as nurses during the Civil War. Often other orders were called by this name. Many surgeons requested their help because they had training in nursing the ill.

The work day for nurses began at six o'clock in the morning and went until midnight. The duties ranged from housekeeping and cooking to washing, feeding, and changing the bandages of soldiers. Women who could write sometimes spent one-fourth of their day writing letters for the patients.

The Military Agency at Indianapolis sent two hundred and fifty women as nurses to general and field hospitals during the Civil War. Mrs. Harriet R. Colfax, a widow from Michigan City, helped her mother nurse her invalid father. She served two and a half years in St. Louis, Jefferson Barracks, and on the hospital ship the Louisiana.

Mrs. E.E. George, of Fort Wayne, obtained supplies for the Indiana Sanitary Commission. She also served in hospitals in Tennessee and in Georgia. In Wilmington, North Carolina she both supervised the making of clothing and nursed the ill. While there, she contracted typhoid fever and died.

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