Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sarah Elizabeth Dysart, Civil War Nurse


    Sarah Elizabeth Dysart, born in Tipton, Pa. in Blair County on Dec. 6, 1837, on a private estate situated in rolling hills. She was a cousin to Annie Bell, Sarah’s mother being Elizabeth Bell and her father, William Patterson Dysart. Sarah’s father was a descendant of William Patterson, an officer in the Revolutionary War. His father, Arthur Patterson, was a member of the Colonial Assembly and her maternal grandfather, Edward Bell, was an iron master, inventor and an owner of large tracts of land.

    Sarah attended the female institute at Lewisburg. She was on a visit to Harrisburg when she heard Abraham Lincoln’s call for women to become nurses and she was taken with his appearance and signed up for her Army service. She had no formal training to become a nurse and was very young yet she joined her cousin, Annie Bell and others and went off to serve her country.

    Sarah was always guided by an inner voice which never failed to inspire her. Sarah served with Annie Bell at Harper’s Ferry, Gettysburg, Chattanooga and Nashville to bring care and comfort to the wounded and dying soldiers. Sarah’s service first was at Harpers Ferry in Dec., 1862 and then with Annie Bell in Gettysburg in 1863. Sarah served with them on the Bushman Farm. She was also assigned to the newly opened hospital, Camp Letterman. At Camp Letterman Sarah was in charge of Ward 3.

    On Sept. 23, 1863, the people of Gettysburg and the surrounding little towns made a wonderful party for Sarah and the rest of the nurses as a way of thanking them for their service to the wounded. A month later, on Oct. 27th, Sarah and Harriet Dada toured the Gettysburg battlefields and Harriet recorded the horrors-barely covered graves, leftover canteens, empty bayonet scabbards.

    Sarah and Harriet Dada left Gettysburg on Oct. 23, 1863 to proceed to Chattanooga where Sarah stayed until she left for the Nashville hospitals where she served as the nurse in charge of the diet kitchen. Sarah, too, served in General Hospitals 1 and 8 in Nashville. Sarah Dysart, Annie Bell, and Sallie Chamberlin roomed together, took care of the soldiers and supported each other while tending to the dying and the wounded.

    Sarah Dysart and Annie Bell were first cousins and they knew Sarah Chamberlin from Bucknell and such a trio of wonderfully seasoned nurses who served gallantly in dangerous areas- what a legacy.

    Miss Dysert was known for her beautiful voice. She had studied in Baltimore, Maryland and sang in one of their choirs and she use to sing for the soldiers in general hospitals as well as in field hospitals. After the war, Sarah returned home to her estate in Tipton and continued her service to humanity by being a caring neighbor- riding her mare to comfort the sick and dying in Tipton. The boys she served gave her their own money; a gold watch and the Medical Officers of the 19th Corps gave her their Corps Badge- a gold cross with a crown set with pearls. The inscription on the reverse side states “In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me.”

    Sarah died Feb. 1, 1909 and is buried in a private cemetery on the Dysart estate in Tipton. Her grave is always decorated on Memorial Day and the flag flies over her grave. The Daughters of the Union Veterans named their tent for her. She is listed in “Pennsylvania Notable Women 1926-1931.”

    She worked with Clara Barton during the war and included in her papers was a letter from The American Red Cross stating that she indeed had been a Civil War Army Nurse. She had kept for many years in her attic an old chest, part of one of the boys uniforms, who had never gone home.


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