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Manuscript Division



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Health and Medicine: Civil War
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Clara Barton. War lecture. ca. 1866. Clara Barton Papers (container 152). Manuscript Division. LC-MS-11973-12.

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When the Civil War broke out, pioneering doctors Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell were involved in the establishment of the U.S. Sanitary Commission and helped to select and train nurses for war work. As the repository for more than a thousand Civil War collections, the Manuscript Division holds extensive material relating to women's medical involvement in the war.13 For example:

  • Letters from convalescent soldiers and from Alden M. Lander, the superintendent of women nurses, are among the papers (515 items; 1856-67) of nurse-physician Esther Hill Hawks (1833-1906) [catalog record], who after the war established schools and distributed supplies for the National Freedman's Relief Association.

  • The papers of Sara Iredell Fleetwood (1811-1908), a teacher and nurse who was superintendent of nurses at the Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C., are included among those of her husband Christian A. Fleetwood (400 items; 1797-1945; bulk 1860-1907) [catalog record], a free black soldier who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

  • Catherine Oliphant (d. 1916) sought a pension for her services as a laundress and nurse in her husband Benjamin F. Oliphant's regiment (22 items; 1864-1916) [catalog record].

  • Mary Ann Bickerdyke (1817-1901) [catalog record] was a nurse and agent for the U.S. Sanitary Commission whose heroic service on the field and in hospitals earned her the gratitude of countless Union soldiers. After the war, “Mother” Bickerdyke became an attorney assisting army veterans in securing military pensions. Her papers (1,800 items; 1855-1905) cover both phases of her life and include files relating to the Woman's Relief Corps of the Grand Army of the Republic, Mary A. Livermore, and Lucy Stone.

  • Also an agent for the U.S. Sanitary Commission was nurse Lydia J. Stull, who reviewed court-martial cases of Union soldiers held in military prisons (23 items; 1865) [catalog record].

Many Civil War nurses and physicians later recorded their reminiscences.

  • Physician Harriette C. Keatinge (1837-1909) [catalog record] wrote about the burning of South Carolina by Gen. William T. Sherman's troops, her husband's capture by Union forces, and her experiences traveling with Sherman's army to join her husband (3 items; 1903-9).
  • The papers (4 items; 1916-30) of Martha Elizabeth Wright Morris (1832?-1919) [catalog record] contain an address she gave in 1916 describing her wartime activities, including her work with the U.S. Sanitary Commission and her acquaintance with Confederate spy Rose O'Neal Greenhow.
  • A biographical sketch (1 item; n.d.) of Carrie Eliza Cutter (1842-1862) details her activities and death from fever while serving as a nurse with a New Hampshire regiment during the war.

Perhaps the best known of all Civil War nurses was Clara Barton (1821-1912) [catalog record], who later founded the American National Red Cross. At the war's outbreak, Barton was a forty-year-old Patent Office clerk in Washington, D.C., who embraced the task of collecting much-needed provisions and medical supplies for the Union army. Frustrated by bureaucratic delays, she began to distribute the supplies herself and also started nursing the wounded in military hospitals and battlefields, earning the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield.” Barton became famous for her Civil War exploits mainly because of a series of phenomenally successful postwar lectures she delivered about her war experiences and her later efforts to identify dead and missing soldiers. In preparing these lectures, Barton drew not only from memory but also from diaries and notes she had kept at the time, which are now part of her personal papers (70,000 items; 1834-1918).

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