Monday, September 7, 2015

Helen L. Gilson Osgood, Civil War Nurse (1836-1868)


Civil War Nurse. Helen L. Gilson originally selected teaching for a profession, and she taught until 1858, when throat trouble made it impossible to continue. She then took a position as the governess to the family of Frank Fay, who was the Mayor of Chelsea, Massachusetts.

After the Union defeat at Bull Run, Helen and Fay went to Virginia to aid in treating the wounded and recovering the dead. They both devoted the next three years to traveling to the battlefields for this work. In 1864 Mayor Fay had to go to Baltimore and he directed Helen to go to Petersburg, Virginia and prepare for the expected battle.

At Petersburg over thirty black regiments were engaged, with heavy casualties. The wounded were taken to a temporary facility at City Point. A doctor would later state "It was in no sense a hospital, than a depot for wounded men".

Helen was appalled by the conditions and decided to do something about them. Without assistance she campaigned for the establishment of a hospital for the black soldiers. She was able to convince Major General Ambrose Burnside that this should be done, and the Colored Hospital Service was organized. There were a square mile of tents and hundreds of wounded blacks being cared for at the facility. The Army detailed soldiers to assist Helen at her hospital working as cooks and nurses, as well as many civilian volunteers from the north.

In temperature over one hundred degrees sickness and disease spread and Gilson soon contacted malaria, but she remained at her post until the fall of Richmond on April 2, 1865.

She left the Army and recuperated for awhile and then returned to work for Mayor Fay to assist him in operating an orphanage for three hundred black children.

She married E. Hamilton Osgood in Chelsea, Massachusetts on October 11, 1866. On April 20, 1868 she died in childbirth at Newton Corner Hospital. She apparently was too weak for childbirth due to never having fully recovered from the malaria she contacted during the war. Her child did not survive either.

Woodlawn Cemetery and Crematory
Middlesex County
Massachusetts, USA

Created by: William Sweeney
Record added: Apr 30, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 36562513

Image: Helen Gilson. Gilson served throughout the war and became a beloved figure in the hospitals. Katharine Wormeley said that Gilson was "part nun, part soubrette.


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