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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Nurses Supporting the Army in the Civil War

By COL Elizabeth Vane, Army Nurse Corps Historian


The Civil War was a time when the profession of nursing (with education, licensing, and specialization) did not exist as we know it today. Victorian thinking allowed for women to care for family members, but did not allow women to care for men they were not related to, or outside
their homes, without causing damage to their delicate natures or their reputations. Women in religious orders were able to work from a higher calling that allowed them to care for men without the scandal other women would bring upon themselves. Other women could work through aid societies and the Sanitary Commissions to provide care, and some Union Army surgeons chose their own nurses to work for them.

Some women followed their family members to the battlefields to help care for them. Black women, both freed and escaped slaves, also cared for soldiers, and they may have been called nurses, cooks, or laundry women for the work they carried out.

It was not only women who participated as nurses during the Civil War. Many of the nursing duties were given to musicians (Army bandsmen) and convalescing soldiers (termed invalids) who were healthy enough to help out with those tasks. These men may or may not have received training, or derived satisfaction from this work, but they were assigned to it from necessity. The men could
have been called nurses, attendants, or hospital stewards. These men provided care for the wounded on the battlefields and in the variety of hospitals that existed. Hospitals could be found in private homes, churches, donated buildings, tents, in other structures of convenience, ships, or out in the open fields.

The nurses of the Civil War could be volunteers or they could be paid, and they worked for both the Union and the Confederate armies. The work they did included bathing patients; delivering food, water and medicines; dressing wounds; washing floors; reading, writing and praying for the wounded; managing supplies; and laundering clothes and bedding. The sanitary environments created by these nurses were helpful in preventing further spread of infection and disease. Cleanliness and ventilation was difficult to maintain in dark, filthy, cramped spaces but the nurses attempted to make the best of their environments. In fact, dysentery, malaria, typhoid, and small pox killed more men during the Civil War than battle wounds did. The battle wounds were horrific, disfiguring, maiming, mutilating, and the number of casualties created from the battles completely overwhelmed medical resources, leading to the enormous demands that nursing had to face.

During the course of the Civil War, women like Dorothea Dix and Clara Barton worked and fought to have trained nurses recognized as respectable and organized workers.

Dorothea Dix was picked as the first superintendent of U.S. Army nurses in August 1861 as the Union Army leaders saw the need for nurses to help fill the medical gap in order to properly care for soldiers in general hospitals. Ms. Dix decreed that her nurses needed to be in good health, have high morals, be between the ages of thirty-five and fifty years, be plain in looks, and wear dark clothing without bows, jewelry, or hoopskirts. Hoopskirts could not be worn as they would cause accidents by catching on beds, dressings, patients, and other objects. Darker clothing was worn as the blood was not as easily seen on those colors, and did not draw attention to the women wearing them. Ms. Dix had to convince military leaders that women could successfully perform the work necessary to care for wounded and ill soldiers during war.

Clara Barton worked outside of the military system, but was in support of it. She helped care for soldiers returning to Washington, D.C. and helped raise financial support for supplies, traveled to the front lines to deliver them, and later helped to create the American Branch of the International Red Cross.

Women in the north and the south proved that they could work in terrible conditions and make great contributions towards the sick and wounded they cared for. They used their compassion, strength, intelligence, dedication and gifts to help their countrymen and show support for their soldiers and the war effort. They earned respect for nursing as a something that could be taught and performed outside of the home, and also showed that successful care could be given in a hospital setting, not just in the home. Their efforts also showed the value that a trained corps of nurses could have in treating military patients under chaotic circumstances. The U.S. Army Nurse Corps as we know today was established in 1901 and it was because of wars like the Civil War that demonstrated the benefits of having permanently trained nurses in the military that allowed such a
corps to be a component of the Army.

For further reading:
Mary Sarnecky, A History of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.
Mary C. Gillett, The Army Medical Department 1818-1865.
An idealized vision of nursing.
Courtesy National Library of Medicine.
A more realistic view of nursing.
Courtesy National Library of Medicine.
Number 5, Winter 2014 Page 3
Doctor Jonathan Pot

From: history.amedd.army.mil/newsletters

1 comments:

Your blog has given me that thing which I never expect to get from all over the websites. Nice post guys!

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