Monday, November 30, 2015

Annabell (Vorse) Clark: Until the Last Man

By Sidney Dreese

During the Civil War the sick or wounded soldier who found himself in the hospital thought of it as home. The presence of female nurses made the soldiers feel better, and brought memories of mothers, sisters, and wives. The soldiers were appreciative of the kindness and care they received, and one such soldier was John B. Nicholson.

Nicholson, the young lawyer, enlisted in 1862, at Menomonee, Wisconsin, and at the end of the year had been promoted to corporal. He was assigned to Company I, First Cavalry Wisconsin Volunteers. During the Franklin and Nashville Campaign, GEN John Bell Hood, C.S.A. advanced into Tennessee, and at the Battle of Pulaski John Nicholson was wounded in 1864. A minnie ball had passed through the joint of his left shoulder and splintered the humerus bone. To receive care, he was taken to General Hospital No. 3 at Nashville, Tennessee. Through surgery his shoulder was resectioned, and he suffered with much pain and agony. Due to his wound he was in the Nashville hospital for three months, and was then transferred to a General Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for further recovery. However, he was unable to return to service since his arm was totally disabled and was honorably discharged.

While being treated in the hospital at Nashville, he was cared for by two nurses from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Lida Houghton and Annabelle, “Bell,” Vorse. Nicholson wrote a letter in 1869, sent it to Lewisburg, and asked the Postmaster to forward the letter to either of the women. Vorse received it and the letter read as follows:

Years have passed since I was the recipient of that kindness and attention to which I owe my life, and I presume that among the hundreds who received the same care at your hands, I have passed out of your memory. But could the scars which I bear and the remembrance of the horrid agony which I endured in the hospital and the long weary weeks of fearful anguish I passed without leaving my cot, could, I say, all this be forgotten the memory of (as it seemed to me then) your almost sainted forms as you went among the long rows of sick and wounded soldiers breathing words of cheer and comfort to the living or shedding tears over the dead and dying, and the touch of your hand on my brow when it was covered with drops wrung from me by pain almost insupportable, together with numberless acts of kindness which only a true woman can bestow. The vivid recollection of this, I repeat, must and ever will be cherished by me with as much sacredness and devout reverence as the Mohammedam has for the Prophet’s tomb. I am not weak or vain enough, however, to suppose that you still have an interest in my existence or welfare, but I have in yours, and I would much like to know what paths of life you are treading since the “clash of resounding arms: has passed away. High, honorable and noble I know that must be, for you are incapable of any other and I write hoping that should this ever reach either of you that perhaps you would not consider too much to render still heavier the weight of obligation under which I shall ever rest to you by replying. Should you so highly favor me please address Sussex, Waukesha County, Wisconsin.
The world has dealt kindly with me. I am blessed with health, strength and a fair amount of this world’s goods. My wound has thoroughly healed and my arm has almost its normal strength though it is four inches short than the other, but I fear I am wearying you.
Respectfully yours,
J. B. Nicholson

It is unknown whether Vorse replied to Nicholson, but he died in 1870 several months after writing the letter.

Bell Vorse was employed as a nurse and was attached in the summer of 1864, to the United States General Hospital No. 3 at Nashville, Tennessee. She served for about a year and was released at Nashville in the spring of 1865, and returned to Lewisburg. Many years later in 1892, she applied for a nurse’s pension due to her age and rheumatism in her hands and general debility. She received a pension of $12 per month.

Four years after the war in the spring of 1869, Bell married Dennis Clark, a successful dry goods merchant. He operated a store in Unionville, New York, and they resided in Minisink. She returned to Lewisburg after Dennis died in the summer of 1893, and then lived with her brother, Ogden.

Bell was born in 1834. Her father was a physician, and Dr. Isaac and Elizabeth Vorse lived on the corner of Market and Fourth Streets, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. She died on September 13, 1916, and her obituary states: “The services of the deceased as a nurse during the Civil War were of exceptional fine character, so much that she was frequently highly complimented by the surgeons and others, especially by the “boys” who received treatment from her loyal and loving hands. To this may be added the fact that she was a recipient of a number of handsome medals and badges in recognition of her worth and splendid services. As a token of their regard for her, the membership of the Grand Army of Lewisburg attended her funeral in a body and accorded her a soldier’s burial including the impressive “taps”.

Nursing was hard work, and nurses cared for the sick, wounded, and dying. They also labored to provide healthy, sanitary conditions, and to keep hospitals orderly. Bell Vorse accepted the responsibilities of being a nurse, and performed the necessary required duties. Her legacy is that she indeed touched the lives of many suffering soldiers with her kindness and comfort.



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