Civil War Hospital Ship

The U.S.S. Red Rover, a captured Confederate vessel, was refitted as a hospital ship.

Evolution of Civil War Nursing

The evolution of the nursing profession in America was accelerated by the Civil War.

The Practice of Surgery

Amputations were the most common surgery performed during the Civil War.

Army Medical Museum and Library

Surgeon-General William Hammond established The Army Medical Museum in 1862. It was the first federal medical research facility.

Civil War Amputation Kit

Many Civil War surgical instruments had handles of bone, wood or ivory. They were never sterilized.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Monitor and the Merrimac: The Medical Aftermath


David goes out to meet Goliath and every man who can walk to the beach sits down there, spectators of the first ironclad battle in the world... The day is calm, the smoke hangs thick on the water. The low vessels are hidden by the smoke. They are so sure of their invulnerability they fight at arm’s length. They fight so near the shore, the flash of their guns is seen and the noise is heard of the heavy shot pounding the armor. -Surgeon Charles Martin, USN on the Battle between the Monitor and Merrimac.

What was the medical aftermath of that now legendary combat: On the Union side, three men were injured on Monitor. One was the acting master whose knee came into contact with the turret at the same instant one of Virginia’s heavy shot struck it. Knocked senseless by the impact, he regained consciousness 10 minutes later. Another seaman in the turret was knocked unconscious in a similar manner. Acting Assistant Surgeon Daniel Logue described this sailor’s injury as a concussion of the brain. His circulation remained depressed and it became necessary to administer stimulants. When the patient regained consciousness, Dr. Logue watched for a reaction and then applied cold affusion to the head. Toward the close of the action, the Confederate ironclad inflicted its last and most significant casualty—Monitor’s skipper John Worden. Following the battle, only Worden left the ship for hospitalization in Washington. The other two patients returned to duty the following day. Worden, it turned out, proved to be the only serious casualty of the battle, permanently losing the sight in one eye and incurring a disfiguring scar on his face.

On the Confederate side, Virginia’s crew did not get away unscathed. In her unequal fight with Congress, Cumberland, and Minnesota the previous day, Virginia suffered several killed or wounded. In contrast, her wooden-hulled victims suffered enormous losses. Cumberland alone lost over 100 men. Before the ship went to the bottom, all the wounded who could walk were ordered out of the cockpit; but those of the wounded who had been carried into the sick bay and on the berthdeck were so mangled that it was impossible to save them. During her engagement with Virginia the following morning, Monitor’s two 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbores did moderate damage, wounding a few aboard the Virginia but killing no one. As it turns out, the Confederates got a lucky break. Although each 11-inch Dahlgren aboard Monitor threw a shot weighing 168 pounds, Worden was under orders from the Navy Department to fire half-weight powder charges of 15 pounds for fear the guns would explode.

The United States Military Railroad

Petersburg National Battlefield

The work of the United States Military Railroad Construction Corps (U.S.M.R.R.C.C.) was instrumental in the reduction and ultimate defeat of the Confederate army defending Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia in the closing days of the American Civil War.

In the nine months of the Siege of Petersburg, 21 miles of track would be laid, 25 locomotives and more than 275 pieces of rolling stock would be used, and 2,300,000 miles would be logged on the railroad.
Photo of locomotive at Union army supply base at City Point
Locomotive "John C. Robinson" at City Point, 1864.
Library of Congress

From the waterfront at City Point just below Richmond on the James River, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had to supply an army of more than 100,000 troops and more than 65,000 horses and mules. For so vast an army, living off the land was not an option. All food, equipment and supplies had to be shipped in from northern ports and then delivered to the battlefront eight miles from away.

Eight wharves were built to accommodate hundreds of vessels conveying war material. More than 280 buildings were constructed by the U.S.M.R.C.C. at City Point by the end of the siege. The lumber was pre-cut as per orders and then assembled once it arrived. The sleepy little village took on the appearance of a thriving, bustling port in just a few days.

As the siege progressed, Grant extended his lines around Petersburg and the United States Military Railroad (U.S.M.R.R.) followed. After every major action, with few exceptions, the railroaders received orders to investigate the terrain and chose a site suitable for a temporary rail line. In the nine months of the siege, 21 miles of track would be laid, 25 locomotives and more than 275 pieces of rolling stock would be used, and 2,300,000 miles would be logged on the railroad. The line was used to transfer thousands of troops, but the primary cargo was food, weapons, and ammunition. Wounded soldiers were eventually transported by rail to the Depot Field Hospital at City Point.

Stations were established along the railroad for distribution of supplies. Sidings were built at these stations so trains unloading would not interfere with other trains on the line. On average 18 trains made the trip from City Point to the front and back again each day and timetables were published to ensure a smooth operation.

The ultimate Union victory over the Confederate army of Robert E. Lee at Petersburg is due in large part to the well-organized operations of the U.S.M.R.C.C.

Image: Locomotive "John C. Robinson" at City Point, 1864

Medicine and Medical Practices

Antietam National Battlefield, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park

The story of Civil War medicine is a complex one. Through the dedication, innovation and devotion of surgeons and medical support staff, the foundation for today's modern military medicine was laid.

"Humanity teaches us that a wounded and prostrate foe is not then our enemy."
Dr. Jonathan Letterman

The Traveling Medical Department
After the Battle of Antietam, both Medical Departments were faced with the daunting prospect of treating and transporting a large number of wounded men. The newly-organized Union Ambulance Corps was helpful in the evacuation of the soldiers who could be moved, and a new concept of semi-permanent field hospitals was tested for the first time. It was an experiment brought on by necessity, since there were so many soldiers with serious injuries who could not bear even the twenty mile trip to more established hospitals in Frederick.

The Confederate wounded who could not be moved were treated by the Union Medical Department, and all received the same level of care as the Union wounded, for, as Dr. Jonathan Letterman stated, "humanity teaches us that a wounded and prostrate foe is not then our enemy."

Before the Battle of Antietam, Dr. Letterman arranged for the Medical Purveyor in Baltimore to gather supplies and have them ready to be shipped where and when he asked for them. Unfortunately, the destruction of the railroad bridge at Monocacy Junction near Frederick, Maryland, delayed the supplies in reaching the field hospitals at Antietam. Also, since medical supplies were shipped by the Quartermaster Department and not the Medical Department, they were often set aside in favor of other items like ammunition and food. These delays caused Letterman great frustration, since most of the medical supplies did not arrive at the field hospitals until four days after the battle.

From his experiences at Antietam, Letterman changed the way medical supplies were distributed to the regiments. He noticed waste occurred when large amounts were given out, and the abandonment of supplies when adequate transportation could not be found. He reduced the amount of medical supplies given to a regiment at one time, thus making the system more efficient. On October 4th, 1862, the new supply system was adopted. One wagon now sufficed for the medical supplies of a regiment, plus the hospital tents and baggage of the medical staff, with one additional wagon for a brigade.

"The [new supply system was intended to] reduce the waste that took place when large supplies were at one time issued to regiments, to have a supply given them, small, but sufficient for all immediate wants, and to have these supplies easily attainable, and replenished without difficulty, when required, and without a multiplication of papers and accounts." - Dr. Jonathan Letterman

Improvements to the System
The Civil War is considered a watershed in the history of medicine. Many of the innovations implemented during the war helped to bring the practice of medicine into the modern era, including:

-Advancements in surgical procedures and the management of traumatic wounds, including specialization in plastic surgery and nerve injuries

-The establishment of an organized ambulance system with trained stretcher-bearers

-The creation of a multi-layered system of care on the battlefield that included first aid stations and field hospitals

-The use of triage to maximize the survival rate of the patients

-Widespread use of anesthesia during surgery

-The establishment of fixed-bed hospitals as long-term care facilities

-The introduction of women into the hospitals as nurses, laundresses and hospital administrators

-The organization of civilian relief agencies that worked with the military to provide supplies, clothing and food

-Improvements in orthopedic medicine and the design of prosthetics

-Documentation of wounds, illnesses and treatments with the intention of using the records as a teaching tool

The story of Civil War medicine is a complex one. Through the dedication, innovation and devotion of surgeons and medical support staff, the foundation for today's modern military medicine was laid.

Unfortunately, little was known about the psychological damage suffered by those who had experienced the horrors of war. While it was recognized that war changed people, diagnosis and treatment of the emotional impact of combat had yet to be fully understood. Some people could not cope with their experiences and were traumatized for the rest of their lives. Others found ways to overcome the mental and physical trauma and enjoyed success after the war. Veterans groups came together to help support their stricken brothers. Of great importance is the fact that what was learned during the war was shared with the world, greatly adding to the quality of health care for everyone.

Advancements in medicine made during the war allowed wounded soldiers to return to their homes and lives. Medical professionals and the compassion and service of dedicated civilians kept them alive and gave them hope. Their own strength and resilience made them heroes.

Image: Photograph of an ambulance drill

5 Pioneering Women Doctors and Nurses of the Civil War

By Jocelyn Green, 3-29-15

The truth is, all women who were doctors and nurses during the Civil War were pioneers in their field. Prior to 1861, nurses--and all but two doctors in the United States--were men. But when social reformer Dorothea Dix pointed out to President Lincoln that he had a scant 28 surgeons in the army's medical department to care for the 75,000 volunteers he'd just called for, he reluctantly conceded that women be allowed to serve as nurses. I want to introduce you to five remarkable women who blazed the trail for women in medicine.

1) Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. An English immigrant, Dr. Blackwell was the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States, and ran an infirmary for women and children near the slums of New York City. When the Civil War broke out, she realized the Union army needed a system for distributing supplies and organized four thousand women into the Women’s Central Association of Relief (WCAR). The WCAR grew into chapters around the county, and this body systematically collected and distributed life-saving supplies such as bandages, blankets, food, clothing and medical supplies. Blackwell also partnered with several prominent male physicians in New York City to offer a one-month training course for 100 women who wanted to be nurses for the army. This was the first formal training for women nurses in the country. Once they completed their training, they were placed at various hospitals. By July 1861, the WCAR prompted the government to form a national version—the United States Sanitary Commission. And it all started because Dr. Blackwell decided to mobilize the women of the country to help the Union.

2) Georgeanna Woolsey. At 28 years old, Georgeanna should not have been allowed to serve the army as a nurse, but she got through the application process anyway. Against her mother’s and sisters’ wishes, she was one of the 100 women trained in New York City to be a nurse. Not content to sit in a parlor and knit or scrape lint, she was eager to go where the fighting was, to get her hands dirty in a way she had never been allowed to before as a wealthy, privileged woman. Georgeanna wrote many letters and accounts of her experiences, including this:

“Some of the bravest women I have ever known were among this first company of army nurses. . . . Some of them were women of the truest refinement and culture; and day after day they quietly and patiently worked, doing, by order of the surgeon, things which not one of those gentlemen would have dared to ask of a woman whose male relative stood able and ready to defend her and report him. I have seen small white hands scrubbing floors, washing windows, and performing all menial offices. I have known women, delicately cared for at home, half fed in hospitals, hard worked day and night, and given, when sleep must be had, a wretched closet just large enough for a camp bed to stand in. I have known surgeons who purposely and ingeniously arranged these inconveniences with the avowed intention of driving away all women from their hospitals. “These annoyances could not have been endured by the nurses but for the knowledge that they were pioneers, who were, if possible, to gain standing ground for others. . ."

Georgeanna Woolsey is the inspiration for my main character in "Wedded to War". Woolsey nursed patients in seminary buildings, the U.S. Patent Office, and aboard hospital transport ships which carried wounded and sick soldiers from the swamps of the Virginia Peninsula. After the war, Georgeanna and her husband, veteran Union surgeon Dr. Francis Bacon, founded the Connecticut Training School for Nurses at New Haven Hospital.  She also published Hand Book of Nursing for Family and General Use and co-founded the Connecticut Children's Aid Society.

3) Dr. Mary Edwards Walker After volunteering as a nurse in 1861, and then as an assistant surgeon, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker earned a Union army commission for her services as surgeon in 1863. In 1864, she was captured by Confederates, suspected of espionage, and thrown into Richmond's Castle Thunder prison where she remained four months before her release. In 1865, she became the only woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor. Dr. Walker appears in Spy of Richmond. The newspaper article Mr. Kent dictates to Sophie about Dr. Walker's imprisonment is verbatim from the original story that ran in the Richmond Enquirer--including the comment about her "homely" appearance.

4) Captain Sally Tompkins Sally Louisa Tompkins founded a private hospital in Richmond, Virginia, to care for the flood of Confederate wounded. During the war, her hospital cared for 1,333 soldiers and suffered only 73 deaths, which was the lowest mortality rate of any military hospital. The Robertson hospital, named for the judge who let Sally use one of his houses, returned 94 percent of its patients to service. Eventually Confederate authorities decided to close all private hospitals, declaring that soldier patients could only be cared for at government hospitals run by a commissioned officer with at least a rank of captain. When Tompkins heard the news, she called on Jefferson Davis and asked for an exception to the new rule. Since her hospital's remarkable record spoke for itself, Davis commissioned Tompkins a Captain of Cavalry, unassigned, making Robertson Hospital an official government facility. She was the only female commissioned officer in the Confederate Army. As an unassigned officer she could remain at the hospital permanently. The military rank also allowed her to draw government rations for her patients, but she refused to be added to the army payroll.

5) Clara Barton No list of groundbreaking nurses would be complete without her. Barton was fiercely independent, a self-appointed field-nurse for the Army of the Potomac. Working on her own, beyond the structure of the Sanitary Commission and Army Medical Department, she stockpiled supplies in her small Washington flat and then drove into the Virginia countryside, and into Maryland, to disperse them among the wounded.  At General Butler's request, she cared for the soldiers in the Army of the James during the summer campaigns of 1864, as well. Her work for soldiers and their families didn't end along with the war, however. She continued her service by opening the Missing Soldiers’ Office (link is external)in Washington, D.C. to help family members find the remains of their loved ones. By 1869, she had identified 22,000 missing men and received and responded to 63,182 letters from those trying to locate their soldiers. Later, Clara brought a chapter of the International Red Cross to life in America.

*The following is excerpted from my nonfiction book, Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front, to explain why women had such struggles as nurses at the beginning of the war.
The clash between surgeons and women nurses which Georgeanna Woolsey described had its roots in how each group of people viewed the woman’s place in society. Americans in the mid-nineteen century commonly believed that men and women had their own separate spheres of activity. Men occupied the commercial, business and political fields. Women’s activities were relegated to home, church, women’s clubs and reform groups, and circles of female friends and relatives. But in which sphere did the hospital fall?

Normally, when someone fell ill, a doctor visited the home, examined the patient, and left the nursing care to the female relatives living in the household. Wives, sisters, daughters, and grandmothers administered medicine, dressed wounds, and saw to the patient’s recovery. The only people treated in the hospital were those who didn’t have women at home to nurse them. Once the war began, medical care for soldiers had to be systemized since the troops could not recover at home (although many wives and mothers travelled hundreds of miles to personally nurse their own wounded family members). Male doctors held that the ward was part of the military hospital, so it fell under their dominion.

Popular opinion also held that women would faint in the presence of war’s gruesome casualties, and that their innocence would be marred with exposure to the naked male body. Women nurses were convinced the hospital ward belonged in the female domain, since they were treating sick soldiers the same way they would in their own homes—and the home was unequivocally within the female sphere. More tension arose between men and women when the female nurses viewed the doctors’ advice as suggestions rather than strict orders, for at home, they had the freedom to follow or not follow the doctor’s orders as they saw fit. Over the course of the war, the surgeons and nurses came to accept and work with each other as both groups proved their mettle and shared genuine desire to save lives and speed recovery of the soldiers.

Image 1: Elizabeth Blackwell
Image 2: Georganna Woolsey
Image 3: Sally Tompkins


From The Front Lines to the Hospital

Manassas National Battlefield Park

For the wounded near the front, their first recourse for care lay at the numerous aid stations scattered across the battlefield. Farmhouses, barns, and outbuildings provided places for the wounded to be gathered until they could be sent to the main hospital in the rear.

"The whole region of country between Boonsboro and Sharpsburg is one vast Hospital. Houses and Barns are filled with them, and nearly the whole population is engaged in waiting on and ministering to their wants."
Hagerstown Herald-Mail September 24th, 1862

The Stone House, a private home and tavern at the intersection of two major roads, became prominent as an aid station during not just one, but two major battles. During the First Battle of Manassas, Union battle lines swept past the house, leaving the dwelling to shelter wounded men brought inside amid the fighting. During Second Manassas, since the house lay more firmly in Union hands, Federal personnel were better able to give aid to the wounded, creating a more established field hospital. To mark the building's new purpose, Northern surgeons hung a red flag from a second floor window.

Despite the distinctive identifying flag, the Stone House did not escape hostile fire unscathed, underscoring the risks that wounded troops faced at forward aid stations. As Confederate forces mounted a massive counterattack on August 30th, a wounded Union soldier was attempting to reach the house for aid when an artillery shell hit the building, "knocking a hole that looked as big as a bushel basket" in the house's western face. The private continued rearward, determined to find a safer shelter. Scenes like this were common in the fear and confusion of a battle. Throughout the Maryland Campaign, many homes, stores, churches, schools, and barns served as aid stations.

Hospitals and Homes

After the Maryland Campaign, Frederick was inundated with wounded soldiers, whose sheer numbers overwhelmed the capacity of the existing hospital on the Hessian Barracks grounds. Additional buildings were taken over for hospital purposes and organized into seven General Hospitals, under the care of seven separate sets of surgeons. A total of 27 buildings were used, mainly churches, schools, hotels and large meeting halls. In addition, two hospital camps were set up in tents on the outskirts of the city and many private homes housed wounded officers.

Many local citizens helped tend to the wounded soldiers on the battlefield, some arriving as early as the evening of the Battle of Antietam. They gave freely of their time, food, money, and compassion. The scale of the relief effort cannot be overstated. One pregnant woman in town had torn the family's clothing and bedding into strips for bandages, packed water and goose grease into containers, and headed out to assist the wounded with her young children in tow. When families returned home and found their houses and barns taken over for hospitals, they often helped care for the injured soldiers. Local women also volunteered at large field hospitals. They brought food and delicacies, bandaged wounds, helped write and deliver letters, and read to the soldiers to help lift their spirits.

All of the hospitals, with the exception of General Hospital #1 on the Hessian Barracks grounds, were closed by March of 1863 and the buildings returned to their former uses. However, it took much longer for the soldiers and civilians who witnessed such carnage, pain, and death to recover from the psychological wounds of war.

Image: Stone House: Manassas, Virginia


The Reason Medical Practices Changed

From: nps.go

At the beginning of the Civil War, the practice of medicine was emerging from an era in which bleeding, cupping and purging were still practiced but were declining. Medical practitioners did not know the exact cause of many diseases or the mechanisms of infection, but they were beginning to understand the benefits of cleanliness and good sanitation in disease prevention and healing.

"Unless struck in the head or about the heart, men mortally wounded live some time, often in great pain, and toss about upon the ground."
Soldier from the 35th Massachusetts

What Medical Practitioners Did Not Know

By the 1850s, there were over forty medical schools in the United States and physicians typically received some sort of medical education. Many students supplemented their medical school instruction by apprenticing with a practicing physician. During the war, both Union and Confederate surgeons had to pass an exam to be appointed to their positions, helping to ensure an adequate level of care for the soldiers.

Surgeons stressed the importance of sanitation and cleanliness, but putting their ideas into practice was difficult. Camp life was often more dangerous to the soldiers than the battles. Two out of every three deaths in the Civil War were caused by disease rather than injury. Adequate nutrition, camp cleanliness, and preventative measures, such as smallpox vaccination and the use of quinine to prevent malaria, were all used in an attempt to lessen the toll of disease.

The First Battle of Manassas was the first major combat of the war. In the aftermath of the battle, startling numbers of killed and wounded shocked the nation and overwhelmed the medical establishment. Most doctors treating men there were seeing gunshot wounds for the first time. By the time of the Second Battle of Manassas, both the Union and Confederate medical departments were better prepared. Still, what waited for them along the banks of the Antietam tested their strength and skill.

On September 17th, 1862, the two armies clashed near Sharpsburg, Maryland in the Battle of Antietam. On that one day, over 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or listed as missing. Medical personnel from both armies, civilian organizations, local people, and the relatives of the wounded joined together to treat those men who had suffered wounds on the various battlefields.

Wounded soldiers often lay on the battlefield for hours as the combat swirled around them. If they were lucky, litter-bearers picked them up and carried them behind the lines.

As battle raged nearby, an assistant surgeon and a steward often provided the first level of care to a wounded soldier. At a field dressing station--often behind the cover of a few trees, rocks or in a slight depression in the ground-- medical personnel cared for the wounded. Here, soldiers had their wounds bandaged and might be given whiskey to combat shock or morphine to stop the pain. If the soldier was unable to return to the battle, he would be transported from the field dressing station to an aid station or field hospital via an ambulance or stretcher.

During the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, soldiers primarily used smooth-bore muskets, which fired a round lead ball that usually broke the skin and shattered a bone. Civil War soldiers carried rifled muskets and new ammunition called a Minié ball. The faster and more accurate Minié ball could splinter bone and cause massive damage to the tissue around the wound.

Approximately 94% of all Civil War injuries treated by surgeons were caused by the Minié ball. The extensive trauma caused by the Minié ball often made it necessary for surgeons to perform amputations, since repairing the damage was either impossible or not prudent due to lack of time and the likelihood of infection. In the Union army, three out of every four operations performed in field hospitals were amputations.

The Father of Gastric Physiology


On November 21, 1785, physician and physiologist William Beaumont, who became the first person to observe and describe the process of digestion in a still-living human, was born in Lebanon.  Beaumont studied medicine by becoming an apprentice to Benjamin Chandler, an established physician in Vermont. At the time, apprenticeships were the most common means of acquiring a medical education. Beaumont went on to gain further surgical experience in the US Army as a surgeon’s mate during the War of 1812.

While working as a post surgeon for the Army and as a private physician in Michigan, Beaumont had the opportunity to treat a young man, Alexis St. Martin, who suffered a gunshot wound to the torso in June of 1822. St. Martin survived but the treatment left a permanent hole, or fistula, leading directly to his stomach. This allowed Beaumont to observe the length of time it took this part of the digestive tract to process various types of food.

Encouraged to continue with his experiments by the Surgeon General of the United States Army, Beaumont studied St. Martin from 1825 through 1833. He published his results in Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice, and the Physiology of Digestion along with a table that outlined the average digestion times of different foods. His work also revealed the chemical nature of the digestive process and, in particular, the role of hydrochloric acid in breaking down ingested food products. Beaumont’s observations led to a new area of study, gastric physiology, focused on the function of the gastrointestinal system.

Image 1: Wood-cut representing Alexis St. Martin's wound from Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice, and the Physiology of Digestion by William Beaumont. 1838

Image 2: Dr. William Beaumont




She Rendered Wonderful Service To The Cause Of The
Abolitionists And Her “Underground Railroad” Had A

Record Of Never Running A Train Off The Track or

Losing A Single Passenger--Too Feeble To Withstand

Pneumonia—A  Sketch  Of  Her Career.      

     Harriet Tubman Davis, Aunt Harriet, died last night of pneumonia at the home she founded on South Street Road near here.  Born lowly, she lived a life of exalted self – sacrifice and her end closes a career that has taken its place in American history. Her true services to the black race were never known but her true worth could never have been rewarded by human agency.

       Harriet’s death was indeed the passing of a brave woman. There was no regret but on the contrary she rejoiced in her final hours.  Conscious within a few hours of her final passing she joined with those who came to pray for her and the final scene in the long drama of her life was quite as thrilling as the many that had gone before.

        Yesterday afternoon when the trained nurse, Mrs. Martha Ridgeway of Elmira, and Dr. G. B. Mack had decided that her death was but the question of a few hours, Harriet asked for her friends, Rev. Charles A. Smith and Rev. E. U. A. Brooks, clergyman of the Zion A. M. E. Church. They with Eliza E. Peterson, national superintendent for temperance work among colored people of the W.C.T.U., who came here from Texarkana, Tex., to see Harriet, and others, joined in a final service which Harriet directed.  She joined in the singing when her cough did not prevent, and after receiving the sacrament she sank back in bed ready to die.


          To the clergyman she said “Give my love to all the churches” and after a severe coughing spell she blurted out in a thick voice this farewell passage which she had learned from Matthew:  “I go away to prepare a place for you, and where I am ye may be also”.  She soon afterward lapsed into a comatose condition and death came at 8:30 o’clock last evening. Those present when she died included Rev. and Mrs. Smith and Miss Ridgeway, the colored nurse.

         Two grandnieces of Harriet, Miss Alida Stewart and Miss Eva Stewart, were in Washington attending the inaugural and had not returned to Auburn.  Harriet ‘s nephew, William H. Stewart and his son, Charles Stewart, were in attendance during the final hours.

          Harriet’s age was unknown. Born a slave of slave parents her lowly origin did not become a matter of sufficient moment to demand chronicling until it was too late to obtain other than a vague story of her childhood.

          Today, more-than half a century after John Brown said”  “I bring you one of the bravest and best persons on this continent” when he presented Harriet to Wendell Phillips, a glance over her remarkable career shows that the hero of Harper’s Ferry might well be quoted in selecting Harriet Tubman’s epitaph.


          Harriet was first married to John Tubman, the marriage taking place in 1844.  She became separated from her husband at the time of the Civil War when she was active in the violation of the fugitive slave law.  Her husband died during this period. A number of years ago she married Nelson Davis of this city.

          Harriet Tubman-Davis, or “Aunt Harriet” as she was familiarly known to Auburnians, died in the modest institution she founded here several years ago under the name of The Harriet Tubman Home For Aged and Indigent Negroes.  The building is located out on South Street Road and the property on which it is located adjoins a place that was given to Harriet by William H. Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State.  The place had been deeded to the African Methodist Episcopal Church and among the leading colored people who is interested in it is Bishop G.R. Harris, D.D. of Salisbury, N.C., one of the most prominent Zion A.M.E. clergymen.  Booker T. Washington, on his visit here two years ago, considered a visit to Harriet Tubman as the most important duty he had here on that occasion.  It had been Aunt Harriet’s hope that her home in Auburn would receive support on a par with that extended to Hampton and Tuskegee, but her hopes were not realized. Up to the last, however, Harriet labored faithfully for her Home and spent much of her time about town seeking local aid for her charges.


            Her age has never been established, but it is known that she was over 90 years and possibly was even more than 95 years.  To a reporter, who met her some time before she was finally compelled to remain at the Home. She replied to the questions of her age:  Indeed I don’t know, Sir.  “I am somewhere’s about 90 to 95.  I don’t know when I was born, but I am pretty near 95”.  She was in the office of the Superintendent of Charities F. J. Lattimore  at the time, and her mind was unusually clear.


           It is no exaggeration to say that Harriet Tubman, as she is best known, furnishes a career of self sacrifice that, in her services to the Negro race, does not fall far short of the brilliancy of Joan of Arc, Grace Darling or Florence Nightingale.  She has been honored by thousand and exalted personages have been equally eager to pay homage with humble folk that she labored for. She was a friend of William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, John Brown, Gerrit Smith, Seward, Lincoln and others connected with the Anti-Slavery period.  One of the treasured possessions that she leaves behind is a small medal given her by Queen Victoria.


          Her premier claim to recognition rests in the wonderful manner in which she operated for 15 years the Underground Railway by which she personally conducted 300 runaway slaves safely into Canadian territory.  Her shrewdness in doing  this work was nothing short of marvelous.  She made no less than 19 trips down into the Southland in her dangerous work, and this in the face of the fact that her own eyes beheld in every railroad station and post office the placards of the State of Maryland which offered $12,000 reward for her body, dead or alive; while a reward of $40,000 additional was offered by an association of Southern planters whose slaves she was spiriting away to freedom.

           Fortunately for Harriet she was unable to read so that her very ignorance probably was her salvation, because she proceeded in simple faith to carry out her plans without the strategy that might have been observed had she known that her life was in constant danger.  Indeed her instinctive knowledge that danger was near when such proved to be true, caused her friends, both negro and white, to believe that she was divinely inspired.  The prices set on her head were high but nobody ever succeeded in capturing Harriet, although she had many narrow escapes and one occasion hid herself and six fugitives slaves in “potato holes” dug in the fields, the runaways covering themselves completely with dirt.  The Eliza crossing–the ice episode of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not more thrilling than many of the escapes in which Harriet figured.

          In later years Harriet’s wonderful career was recognized by several friends and one, a daughter of one of the professors of Auburn Theological Seminary, collected the facts that were then available concerning Harriet Tubman and made the aged Negress the heroine of the book: Harriet, The Moses of Her People.


            Harriet’s sharp wits maintained their edge in later years.  In a visit to Rochester just prior to the death of the late Susan B. Anthony  the latter presented Harriet as the “Conductor” of the Underground Railway.  Harriet promptly declared.  “Yes, ladies I wuz de conductor ob de Underground’ Railway an “ I kin say what mos’ conductors can’t say—dat I nebber run my train off de track an’ I nebber los’ a passenger”.


          Harriet was born in slavery, her parents being Benjamin Ross and Harriet Green.  Her birthplace was on an estate in Dorchester County, Maryland, and the time has been fixed as in the decade of 1815 – 1825. In later years her relatives became known under the name of Stewart and have borne that name for over 60 years. Harriet took her parents and brothers to Canada but came to Auburn with her kinsmen when the Civil War settled for all times the question of slavery. As a child Harriet was known as “Araminta” but later was called “Harriet” and lived on a plantation near Cambridge, Md. Those who tried to obtain a definite date for her birth when her career was being studied 30 years ago decided that 1814 was the year, but Harriet herself did not believe that she was so close to rounding a century when she talked with the reporter.


          As a child of six years she was apprenticed to a weaver but was turned to work in the fields.  When she was about 12 years of age she was struck on the head by a metal weight thrown by an angry overseer at a fleeing insubordinate slave. The blow resulted in a fracture of Harriet’s skull and caused her to be subject to periodic fits of insensibility during her life.  This injury was largely relieved after the Civil War when she submitted to an operation at the Massachusetts General Hospital. There, despite the fact that the use of anesthesia had come into general use, Harriet insisted that the operation go on without ether, and it is recorded on good authority that the task was accomplished by the surgeons.   In her youth Harriet’s injury had caused her to be unfitted for high class labor and she was put to work driving oxen, carting, plowing and hard manual labor.  This developed her physically so that in time, her strength became so great that she did more work than a male slave and her market value stood at the current rate paid for a first class male, $150.

            In 1844 Harriet’s owner was a kind man and she was allowed to marry a free Negro, John Tubman. Soon afterward, however, her owner died and she became the property of a minor son and in turn she was placed in charge of a Doctor Thompson, guardian for the minor.  The sale of slaves was ordered in settling the estate, and then Harriet conceived the great  idea of liberation.  She resolved to break her own shackles and one night stole away, following the North Star as her guide. By day she hid and by night she traveled, ever Northward until she reached Philadelphia where the good Quakers befriended her.  Establishing herself as a free negress her work of liberating other slaves began.


          In December, 1850, she visited Baltimore where she secretly met her sister and two children who were fugitives and brought them to Philadelphia. The next year she went  “down  into Egypt” to get her husband, but he had married another negress and at this point their ways parted forever. Instead of taking her husband to freedom she took a party of fugitives and her success and their gratitude caused her to devote her life to this work.  She established a headquarters at Cape May, N.J., and in the fall of 1852 disappeared from her usual haunts to reappear in a few weeks with nine fugitives. Then The Fugitive Slave Law drove her from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York into Canada, her only refuge.  With Thomas Garrett, the well known Quaker abolitionists of Wilmington, Del., she aided in freeing over 3,000 slaves, her personal conduct taking 300 of them into Canada.  Through Garrett she met leaders in the Anti-Slavery movement and soon had established her Underground Railway, stations being located in every abolitionist center wherein fugitives were concealed and fed by day and aided on their way to Suspension Bridge and Canada by night.

          Journey followed journey to the South and Harriet’s depredations became so great among the slaves that the Legislature of Maryland was forced to act and a reward of $12,000 was put on her head while slave owners privately banded together and put up $40,000 for her capture. Detectives everywhere North and South were on the watch for her and she had many narrow escapes, but a divine providence seemed to watch over her.  Many times she sat huddled in Southern railway trains while the cars used by the “niggers” were placarded inside and out, with rewards for her capture, persons actually shoved her aside to read the bills. Harriet in her ignorance nor knowing the import of the signs. On one occasion she went back to her own home and found a former overseer, who knew her well coming down the street. Her ready wit had caused her to prepare for such an emergency. On entering the town she purchased two chickens, which she tied together, and as she carried them along the highway she was unsuspected. When about to be confronted by her former overseer, she allowed one of the chickens to escape and giving chase created a laugh but eluded close inspection and probable discovery. She laughed last.  Her remarkable career is filled with such incidents and that a complete volume on her life has not been written leaves a peculiar vacancy in Abolitionists bibliography.


       In 1857 Harriet made one of her most important trips South and brought away to freedom her mother and father. They were conducted by Underground to Auburn, an important “station” where the coming Secretary of State for Lincoln, Seward resided. Out on South Street, where William H. Seward’s mansion is, that kind gentleman sold to Harriet on easy terms a plot of ground where she built a home for her fugitive slave parents.  It was in this house that Harriet spent many years, and she lived long enough to see her last ambition gratified in the foundation on adjoining premises of the Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Negroes.

    One time, however, she broke off active participation in its behalf, because , as she explained to the writer: “Went I gabe de Home over to Zion Ch’ch w’at you s’pose dey done? Why, dey make a rule dat nobody should cum in widout a hundred dollars.  Now I wanted to make a rule dat nobody shouls cum in ‘nless dey didn’t hab no money. W’ats de good of a Home if a pusson w’at wants to git in has to have money?”.


Harriet’s possessions at one time included many letters and documents of interest to the historian.  They included letters from the most prominent abolitionists and generals of the Federal Army during the wartime period.

             It must be said that Harriet Tubman was probably the only woman who served through the war as scout, army nurse, and spy, taking her life in her hands many times in the last capacity. She was proud of the fact that she had worm “pants” and carried a musket, canteen and haversack, accoutrements which she retained after the war and left as precious relics to her colored admirers.  When the war broke out she did not wait for the Emancipation Proclamation but began at once forcible to free slaves. In 1863, when it was decided to use Negro troops, Harriet was instantly alert to become a nurse for a regiment, and when the famous Fifty-fourth Massachusetts marched away from Boston, the event now commemorated by the bronze tablet of Col. Robert Gould Shaw and his men opposite the State House on Boston Commons, Harriet followed a few days later with a commission in her pocket from governor Andrew. She cooked for colonel Shaw and dined with him too, on certain occasions, and when she was not acting cook, she was turned loose as escaped “contraband” to browse around in the enemy’s lines, only to reappear soon with valuable news of the Confederate movements.

          On one occasion she informed Major General Hunter at Hilton Head of mines planted in the river  and several gunboats sent to the scene removed a lot of torpedores that would certainly destroyed an expedition about to pass over that dangerous ground.  Harriet went to Fort Wagner after that famous charge was made there and aided in burying the black soldiers and their White officers, and in nursing the injured.  Her success as a nurse, especially her ability to cure men of dysentery by means of native herbs, became so well known to the army surgeons that she was transferred by the War Department to Fernandina, Fla. which in 1863-65 was a military base, as in the Spanish-American War of 1898.


          Her services were subsequently recognized by Congress which issued a pension, which during the past 7 years owing to the efforts Hon. Sereno S. Payne, leader of the House and a resident of Auburn, was increased, yet  she died in poverty,  all her money having been expended as fast as acquired in aiding indigent Negroes.

          Among Harriet’s affects are papers indicating her intimate friendship with men and women of prominence before and after the War. She lived for a time at the home of Emerson in Concord, then with the family of William Lloyd Garrison, and visited the Alcott’s,  the Whitneys,  Mrs. Horace Mann and Phillips Brooks.                              

                   A letter written by Wendell Phillips to an Auburn lady in June 16, 1868, says regarding Harriet Tubman: “The last time I ever saw John Brown was under my roof when he brought Harriet Tubman to me saying. “Mr. Phillips, I bring you one of the best and bravest persons on this continent – General Tubman, as we call her. The famous leader of Ossawatommie narrating to  Boston’s famous preacher, the career of Harriet and concluding for himself, said: “ In my opinion there are few captains, perhaps few colonels, who have done more for the colored race than our feerless and sagacious friend, Harriet.”


        Letters from such important personages are found in abundance among Harriet’s belongings and there are tributes from Frederick Douglass, Gerrit Smith, Queen Victoria, John  Brown, Seward, Phillips, Generals Baird, Gilmore, Hunter, Montgomery, Saxton, Surgeon General Barnes, etc. etc.

        One of her most treasured “passes”, most of which are hardly decipherable owing to wear and tear in service during the war, and now dim with age, is the following issued to her by Maj. Gen. David Hunter of Port Royal near Hilton Head, S.C. headquarters of the Department of the South in 1863 at a time when carte blanche privileges were conferred only upon the most trusted persons in the service of the Federal government. The pass reads:

         “Pass the bearer, Harriet Tubman, to Beaufort and back to this place, and wherever she wishes to go; and give her free passage at all times, on all government transports. Harriet was sent to me from Massachusetts by Governor Andrew at Boston and is a valuable woman. She has permission, as a servant of the government, to purchase such provisions from the Commissary as she may need.

David Hunter

"Major General Commanding”

          In Auburn there has grown up a wealth of anecdotes about Harriet that illustrate her unique character. None is better known, perhaps, than her adventure with the late Anthony Shimer. In this Harriet has been generally conceded to have been an innocent pawn by clever swindler who mulcted the  Auburn miser of $2,000. A Negro named Stevenson had come to Auburn in 1873 with a story that another Negro, Harris, had come from the vicinity of Charleston, S.C., with a hoard of $5,000 in gold which he had found  during  the war and had concealed and which he dared not to exchange for the more convenient greenbacks in the South because the government would seize the gold. The Negro, it was said, would gladly change his gold for greenbacks and after some interest had been stirred in Seneca Falls the people who like to obtain much for little in Auburn began to warm up to the proposition.        

          Through the late John Stewart, a brother of Harriet Tubman, the latter was

interested in the matter and she called upon many prominent citizens. They advised her not to have anything to do with the offer but she had faith in it and finally after Shimer had heard of the proposition through one Thomas, a Seneca Falls Negro, he accepted as corroborative the stories told by Harriet.  Shimer knowing that gold bore a premium of 12% at the time, agreed to give $2,000 in greenbacks for $2,000 in gold, and a party consisting of Shimer, Charles O’Brien, then cashier of the City Bank, Harriet Tubman and her husband, her brother, John Stewart, and the man Stevenson started out to make the exchange in the seclusion of a forest in the South and of the county. They drove to Fleming Hill expecting to find the representative of the owner of the gold there, but he was not there so they drove on to Poplar Ridge where they got out and put up at the tavern.  Then the man Stevenson explained that the transaction was of such a secret character that only himself and Harriet could meet the mysterious stranger with the gold and Shimer easily handed over his money to Harriet who departed with Stevenson.  They were to return as soon as the gold had been passed for the greenbacks.

          After due time had passed and they failed to return the party became suspicious for the first time and started out to search for the missing pair with the $2,000.  Stevenson was never seen again.  Harriet was found bleeding and gagged, her clothing torn and making her way along as best she could.  She was taken back to the tavern where she told a story that was generally accepted as a romance.  It was apparent that the man Stevenson and his pal, Harris, were swindlers and that having taken Harriet alone to a secluded place they had forcibly taken the money from her…Harriet, however, narrated a story that included hypnotism and ghosts to account fro the loss of the money and her injuries, and Shimer, who was the “goat” probably for the first time in his life, almost suffered heart disease at his loss.  He attempted in his characteristic manner to hold Harriet and her brother responsible for his loss, charging that they had “borrowed” the money from him.  He was never able to collect the money.

          Harriet leaves very little property, and so far as known her possessions include the seven acres, little brick house and, barns on the place out on South Street road where she lived so many years.

Funeral Arrangements Incomplete

          The arrangements for the funeral were incomplete at a late hour this afternoon.  Rev. Charles A. Smith and Rev. E. U. A. Brooks are in charge of the matter and expect to complete the arrangements late today.

Courtesy of the Seymour Library, Auburn, New York





WILL OFFICIATE, Including Auburn

Minister Who Had Known Her Over 50 Years

          Rev. E.U.A. Brooks and Rev. Charles A. Smith, who have taken charge of the arrangements for the funeral of Harriet Tubman Davis, completed the details last night and announced them as follows: The public services will be held at 3’o’clock tomorrow afternoon in the Zion A.M.E. Church in Parker Street. At 11 o’clock   tomorrow morning there will a service at the Harriet Tubman Home at which the persons connected with the place will pay their formal tribute to the woman who founded the institution. Rev. Mr. Brooks will have charge of the services as master of ceremonies, and he will be assisted by Rev. J.C. Roberts of Binghamton, presiding elder for this district and Rev. J.W. Brown of Rochester, Rev. R.F. Fisher of Ithaca and probably by Rev. Charles A. Smith of Auburn.

          The last had known Aunt Harriet for over 50 years and he was a member of the fighting Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry, the first Negro regiment organized in the Civil War, which started out with Col. Robert Gould Shaw and distinguished itself in the famous engagement of Fort Wagner.  After Shaw fell dead in the trenches Harriet Tubman was assigned by Colonel Montgomery to assist in nursing the Fort Wagner victims, and Mr. Smith became acquainted with the famous Negress.

          The Board of Trustees and the Board of Women Managers of Harriet Tubman Home will attend the funeral. The following are expected to attend: Bishop G.L. Blackwell of Philadelphia, presiding of the Board of Trustees, Bishop Alexander Walters of Washington, vice president; Rev. E.S. Bailey of Syracuse, Rev. J.W. Brown of Rochester, Rev. R.F. Fisher of Ithaca, Rev. John G. Lee of Rochester,  Rev. L.L. Thomas of Binghamton, Rev. James E. Mason of Rochester, and Rev. Charles A. Smith, William Freeman, John Lewis and Henry T. Johnson of Auburn. The Ladies’ Board is composed of Sarah F. Ross of Auburn, president, Mrs. Frank Leggett, vice president, Mrs. Henry T. Johnson and Mrs. E.U.A. Brooks, secretaries, Mrs. James Dale, Treasurer, and the following: Mrs. J. Stout, Mrs. R. Hawkins of Geneva, Mrs. J. Reed and Mrs. M. Ridgeway of Elmira, Mrs. I Belcher of Ithaca, Mrs. P. Gibbs of Rochester and Mrs. C.F. Matthews, Mrs. C.G. Cannon, Mrs. E.P. Cooper, Frances Brown and Mrs. C.A. Smith of Auburn.




 Famous Heroine of Slave Days Died at Tubman Home, Last Night---

Was Pure African Type---Led Her People  From Bondage---

Last Words Were:  “I Go to Prepare a Place For You”---

Claimed Gift of Strange Power.


     Death came last night to end the sufferings of Mrs. Harriet Tubman Davis, better known as “Aunt Harriet” a national character at The Harriet Tubman Home in South Street. “Aunt Harriet” has been ill with pneumonia for nearly a year and her death was not unexpected.  Her exact age is not known but it is thought she is 99 years old. She has bravely battled against sickness and her fight, like all the others was a gallant one. She was conscious up to within two hours of her death and conversed intelligently with those about her in the afternoon.

     All her life “Aunt Harriet” has been on the battlefield. When a young girl she was a slave and battled against the lash of the overseer, then when she escaped from the plantation she battled against hunger, strangers, and her way through wilderness of a new country, then her battle was waged against the slave owners of the South and a price was upon her head, then in the great war she served as a nurse and a spy. When the war was over, she was forced to battle to save her home which was to be sold on a mortgage foreclosure. At last she was taken to the home which she established and when it seemed as though she might rest at last, sickness came and her battle for life was renewed.  For more than a year she battled against pneumonia and last night still defiant, still battling, she succumbed to her victor, death.

     There is not a woman in the United States today whose career can be compared with that of the old slave. Her name is a side light in the national history.  She has fought on the battlefield beside the men, she has entered the enemy’s lines as a spy… There are gathered Rev. Charles A. Smith the chaplain of the Home, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Martha Ridgeway, the old nurse who had attended to “Aunt Harriet’s” wants since last October.  The end came at 8:40 o’clock last evening.

        There will be a meeting of the Board of Managers of the Tubman Home this afternoon to decide on the arrangements for the funeral which will be held either Thursday or Friday afternoon.

     There are in Auburn a number of colored people who are distantly related to “Aunt Harriet” among them are Charles Stewart, Alida Stewart, Clarence Stewart, Dora Thompson, Mrs. Edward Robinson, Eva Stewart, Alfred Winslow, Mrs. Mary Gaskin and Mrs. Henry Lucas. These survivors are mostly grandnieces and grand nephews.  She had no children.  Her brothers however had large families.

     The arrangements for the funeral were practically made by “Aunt Harriet” some time ago and her wishes will be carried out. There are probably few of the present generation who know much concerning the life or existence of this forgotten old slave.

     Yet at one time there was a price of $40,000 placed on her head because as the “Moses of her people” as she was known, during the Civil war, she made 19 perilous trips between the free states of the North and the slave-holding states of the South and led more than 400 fellow slaves, including men, women and children, out of bondage.

Story is Dramatic  
Of all the stories of the ante-bellum days that of the experiences of Harriet Tubman is one of the most dramatic…She was naturally shrewd and blunt of speech, but her simplicity and ignorance in many cases caused her to be imposed upon. For years her household here consisted of several old black people and some forlorn and wandering women. From the effects of a blow which she received in childhood she had a stupid, half-witted look, but she also had a pair of sharp, black eyes and a ready wit that enabled her to get out of many difficulties.

      Her maiden name was Armita Ross, but her given name was changed to Harriet.  She had not a drop of white blood in her veins. Her father was a slave imported from Africa.  Her parents were Benjamin Ross and Harriet Green, both slaves, but married to each other. She had ten brothers and sisters, three of whom she rescued from slavery during the Civil war. She also rescued her father and mother through the “underground railway.”  She was married about the year 1844 to a freed slave. His name was John Tubman.  There were no children by this union. Her last master, a Dr. Thompson, who was also the owner of Aunt Harriet’s father, died in the year 1849. Two years later she escaped from slavery, she returned and found her husband married to another woman.  Harriet  also married again. Her second husband was a colored of Auburn by the name of Nelson Davis. She then became known as Harriet Tubman Davis, but more familiarly as Harriet Tubman, the name she bore during the time of her activity in the South.

       As a child she lived with a master whose fortune was slowly waning.  She saw her two older sisters sold and carried away, weeping and lamenting, to be separated forever on earth from their parents and brothers and sisters. Harriet was then suffering from a wound which affected her brain all her life. This wound often caused fits of somnolency, during which she had wonderful visions. This wound was received at the plantation where she was raised. A two pound iron weight, thrown at a runaway slave, hit Harriet on the head. With a return to health she became endowed with superhuman physical strength, this enabled her to perform labors that today would seem impossible for a woman. Her strength made her a great help in the fields. Often while at work, though, she would drop off into one of her dreams and even the overseer’s lash did not seem to awaken her.

       This dreaming led her into experiencing religion. A firm determination was also born. This determination she said was to free the slave…walking by night, hiding by day and using all her cunning to obtain food, she passed, after a long and weary travel, the line which separated the land of bondage and the land of freedom. She was alone, her kindred were in slavery and none of them had the courage to dare what she had dared.  Unless she could liberate her relatives she could never see them again or even know what had become of them.  Harriet soon made friends and obtained work in the North. She toiled ceaselessly and saved her wages until she had enough money, to make a trip to the South so that she could save her brothers, sisters and parents and perhaps help to free others.

     One dark night she suddenly appeared at the door of a cabin back in Maryland. How she came no one knew, but she appeared as a “Moses” in the night. Through the wilds of a sparcely settled country she led several parties of her fellow slaves to the North where there was safety and freedom.  In nineteen trips she brought away more than 400 slaves.  The slave holders of the South became enraged at her actions and offered $40,000 reward for her capture, dead or alive. The fugitive slave parties were taken through New York State and across the suspension bridge into Canada. On the Canada shore, led by Harriet, they shouted sang and prayed, thanking the Lord for their deliverance. Many of these fugitives later became prosperous farmers.

     Harriet rescued Charles Nalle, a fugitive slave from Virginia, from a mob in Troy, N.Y., on April 27, 1859, and took him across the line into Canada. During the four years of the war Harriet drew for herself but twenty days rations.  She nursed thousands of sick soldiers and treated them with strange medicines made of roots and herbs.

     At General Hunter’s request she went with several gunboats up the Combahee river, an expedition to lift the Confederate torpedoes, to destroy railways, bridges and shut off every other means Confederate army had of obtaining supplies. At her request Colonel Montgomery, one of John Brown’s men was appointed to command the expedition. 800 negroes were carried down to Beaufort by these boats. Harriet often went to the Confederate lines as a spy and brought back valuable information. These were perilous trips and grave proof of her remarkable bravery, she was several times under fire, but always escaped unhurt.

     She was befriended by William H. Seward, Gerrit Smith, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, and other distinguished men of the time and was an aide and admirer of the famous John Brown.

     Since the Civil war she has resided in a small house on the outskirts of the city and during the last few years in the Tubman home which she founded in South street.

     Harriet’s first home in this city was purchased from General Seward who was then in the senate. To this house she removed her parents and took care of them until their death. It was to raise money to pay for this house that she made a trip to Boston in 1859. She there met Governor Andrews who urged her to serve the Union cause as a nurse, spy and scout.  She left her little home in this city, placing her parents in the care of friends and again returned to the South.  She risked her life hundreds of times without receiving a cent of compensation.

     When at last she returned to Auburn she found her home a place of desolation. It was about to be sold to satisfy a mortgage which she was unable to pay. Efforts of Secretary Seward to have her pensioned were to no avail though she secured a pension some years later through the efforts of Congressman Sereno E. Payne. This pension was $20 per month. Later a small amount of money was raised through the sale of a little book which contained the story of her life, written by Sarah H. Bradford and published through the liberality of prominent Auburn men. The Tubman home was the culmination of a movement which started in 1896. The dream of “Moses” for herself and her people was at last realized.      

Articles after Tubman’s death are reprinted & retyped for readers to analyze and critique the accuracy, language, and terminology provided during the early twentieth century. Slight omissions are due to the aging process of the articles.  


Life of the Civil War Soldier in Camp: Disease, Hunger, Death & Boredom

By Gary Helm, 2013

Only a tiny fraction of any soldier’s time was spent in front line combat. Instead, the vast majority of his existence revolved around the monotonous routines of camp life, which presented its own set of struggles and hardships.

Once in the ranks, military life turned out to be far different than what the majority of Civil War soldiers had expected.  Patriotic zeal blinded most of these volunteers to the realities and hardships they were signing up to experience. The passage of several generations had muted the country’s memory of the deprivations of the American Revolution.  Few had participated in the war with Mexico, which left a popular legacy of glorious victory.  Certainly, argued the conventional wisdom, this sectional crisis would be resolved in a few short, painless months.

Volunteers viewed the battlefield as a great stage upon which they would either “secure their liberty” or “save the Union.” While they acknowledged that losses would occur, no one envisioned their potential demise in any but heroic circumstances, but four years of the daily struggle to survive in military camps would prove otherwise. Twice as many Civil War soldiers succumbed to death from disease as from bullets, shells and bayonets. By varying estimates, between 400,000 and 500,000 soldiers lost their lives on this less gallant of stages. What was the basis of this noncombat struggle, and how did the common soldier cope?

During the fair-weather campaign season, soldiers could expect to be engaged in battle one day out of 30. Their remaining days were filled with almost interminable drilling, punctuated with spells of entertainment in the form of music, cards and other forms of gambling. The arrival of newspapers or mail from home — whether letters or a care package — in camp was always cause for celebration. Despite such diversions, much time was still left for exposure to the noncombatant foes of poor shelter, unhealthy food, and a lack of hygiene, resulting in waves of sickness and disease.

After the first months of the war, the shelter half, or “dog tent,” became the most practical means of overnight shelter. While portable and lightweight, shelter halves provided minimal protection for their two inhabitants. Sgt. Austin C. Stearns of the 13th Massachusetts described his shelter as “simply a piece of cloth about six feet square with a row of buttons and button holes on three sides; two men pitched together by buttoning their pieces together and getting two sticks with a crotch at one end and one to go across at the top and then placing their cloth over it and pinning it down tight.”   To protect the soldier from the damp ground, a tarred or rubberized blanket could be used. A stout wool blanket kept the chill off. Unfortunately, many soldiers discarded these heavy items on a long march or when entering combat, and lived (or died) to regret it when the weather changed. As the war moved forward, an exhausted soldier often merely lay on his blanket at night in an effort to simplify his life and maximize periods of rest.  Such protracted exposure to the elements boded ill for his life expectancy.

Rations on the march varied from plentiful to scarce. On paper, the Union army enjoyed the best rations of any army in history up to that time, but logistical difficulties inherent in feeding armies of tens of thousands resulted in occasional shortages. The Confederacy, while fighting on predominately “home turf,” often found it difficult to consistently deliver full rations to its troops on the march, largely due to procurement and transportation problems.

Grease was poured onto cornmeal to make a "skillygalle." The full Union marching ration consisted of one pound of hard bread (the infamous hardtack), three-quarters of a pound of salted pork or one-and-a-quarter pound of fresh meat, along with coffee, sugar and salt allotments. At the beginning of the war, the Confederacy adopted the Union ration, but reduced it by 1862.  Fresh meat and coffee became increasingly scarce. As fresh fruits and vegetables disappeared from military diets, soldiers’ immune systems deteriorated and vitamin deficiency diseases such as scurvy proliferated.  The Union army responded by issuing desiccated vegetables. As described by Corp. Joseph Van Nest of the 101st Ohio, these delicacies consisted of “a combination of corn husks, tomato skins, carrots and other kinds of vegetables too numerous to mention.” This bounty had been dried and compressed into a sheet or block and, when boiled, expanded to many times its previous size. While denigrated as “desecrated vegetables” by the boys in blue, they consumed them with alacrity as a variation in an otherwise bland diet. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the culinary science of the era, most of the needed vitamins disappeared during processing.

Confederate soldiers usually had to forage for fresh vegetables. During the deprivations of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, one Johnny Reb wrote, “Our men get a vegetable diet by cooking up polk, potato tops, May pop vines, kurlip weed, lambs quarter, thistle and a hundred kind of weeds I always thought poison. I thought it trash…but the boys call it ‘long forage’…”  On the march, “foraging” — a convenient euphemism for theft — would be employed by both sides in an attempt to improve the daily diet. Despite orders to the contrary, some Confederates liberally practiced this thievery during their forays into the North and even when marching and camping in friendly territory.

The commissary took a back seat on the march to the needs of the ordinance department, but still trumped the quartermaster, whose top priority was to provide forage for draft animals, not replacing uniform components. Threadbare patriots consequently appeared, particularly in the Confederate armies, and the “battlefield requisition” became a prime means of supply for the South. As Sgt. John Worsham noted at the end of the war:

“Nearly all equipment in the Army of Northern Virginia were articles captured from the Yankees…. Most of the blankets were those marked ‘US,” and also the rubber blankets or cloths. The very clothing that the men wore was mostly captured, for we were allowed to wear their pants, underclothing and overcoats. As for myself, I purchased only one hat, one pair of shoes, and one jacket after 1861.”

Soldiers North and South also shared in the infestation of body lice in their clothing and bedding. Due to constant outdoor living, often under poor sanitary conditions, the “grey back vermin” became a visible manifestation of all of the invisible bacteria and germs whose presence was unknown to mid-19th-century science.

The seasonal movement to permanent winter camps would simultaneously improve and harm the physical condition of the Civil War soldier. While the men remained in one place, the supply chain of wagons and railroads caught up to their daily needs. Union logisticians employed their superior resources in overcoming commissary and quartermaster problems, but the Confederates also managed to supply their men in winter camp under more challenging conditions.

Periodic shortages did exist, but were vividly remembered by the Southerners.  Both sides shared the difficulties that emerged from remaining in one place for an extended period of time. The majority of soldiers, being from rural backgrounds, had not been exposed to such a wide cross section of the human population and its communicable diseases. When accumulated in camps of tens of thousands, soldiers without natural immunities would succumb to the likes of measles and chickenpox. Those same large numbers, residing in one spot for more than a month, caused horrendous situations in relation to sanitation. The use of "sink pits" as latrine mechanisms ultimately led to the presence of human fecal bacteria in the water supply. That water supply, in many instances, did not need much help in the area of contamination. Swift running, clear water would be the exception more often than the rule. These conditions created the greatest killer of the war: amoebic and bacterial dysentery.

In some cases, women accompanied the army to do their laundry. Whimsically called a case of the “quickstep,” dysentery did more damage than the infernal killing creations of man. The creation of penicillin and other antibiotics was still decades away, leaving medical staffs of the Civil War few tools to combat the war’s greatest killer. By the end of the war, the Union Sanitary and Christian Commissions made great strides in improving camp hygiene and clean water. The Confederacy had nothing on such a scale, although experience also improved camp conditions for the boys in gray.

After four long years of war, the military encampments had taken their toll. Although the 2:1 rate of death from disease over combat may seem alarming to us today, it represented a significant improvement from earlier conflicts, like the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, when that number was closer to 5:1. Not until World War II did the number of battle casualties approach the losses from disease.

This "Life of the Civil War Soldier" series was contributed by Pamplin Historical Park and The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in Virginia. The park uses hands-on activities and narrative-based programs to draw students into the thoughts and emotions of the time, as well as the stark tangible aspects of everyday soldier life.


Image: Brandy Station, Va. Note the barrels used to collect rain water (Library of Congress)

New York Hospital and the Civil War

By Elizabeth M. Shepard, 2-1-13

At the dawn of the Civil War, New York Hospital was located at its first site on Broadway between Duane and Worth Streets. From April 1861-February 1862, New York Hospital had an agreement with the New York State Militia to accept sick or wounded officers and privates. From February 1862 until the end of the war, the hospital had an agreement with the U. S. Medical Department to accept non-commissioned officers and privates from the Union Army.

The hospital already had a long standing agreement with the U.S. government to treat merchant seamen. The soldiers were treated both before and after being sent to the front. Most soldiers were housed in the North Building to the right of the main building. When there were many wounded soldiers, some stayed in the main building. The heaviest year was in 1862 due to battles in Antietam, Shiloh, and Fredericksburg. In May 1862, some residents were fired after they wrote a letter of complaint to the U.S. Army that they were not being paid to treat the soldiers. By end of the war over 3,000 soldiers had been treated at the hospital.

During the war, the hospital was staffed by several prominent attending physicians and surgeons, assisted by the house staff. Many of these doctors rose to the call to serve in the Civil War. One attending surgeon and two house surgeons were active with the U.S. Sanitary Commission and one attending surgeon was a consultant for the war department. Twenty five attending and house surgeons served for the Union and one house surgeon served for the Confederates.

Image: Crowds gathered in Union Square on April 20, 1861


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