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At Ease: They Went to Bind the Wounds of War

Civil War Nurses

And they went, - where did they go? - Ah; where did they not? Show us the battle, - the field, - or the spot Where the groans of the wounded rang out on the air That her ear caught it not, and her hand was not there.. (The Women Who Went to the Field by Clara Barton) Today, you'll find a new video and resources about Civil War nurses. Both men and women volunteered in this role; historically, the focus has usually been on the women since their struggle to go serve during the Civil War formed part of a social shift. Hundreds of nurses volunteered in the field hospitals following the battles in Central Virginia and here are a few highlights from their accounts.


Did You Know...?

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Ms. Barton Leads by 4 Votes

We've tallied the votes for favorite Civil War nurses and the majority served in Central Virginia with one clearly in the popular lead!


Clara Barton

In December 1862, Clara Barton tended to the wounded evacuated to the town of Fredericksburg and to the north side of the Rappahannock River. She spent time at Chatham Manor and wrote letters about her experiences. Our newest video offers a quote about her experiences:


Juliet Neale

Juliet Neale and her daughter took care of Confederate wounded at Belvoir (the Yerby home) during and after the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. One observer describer her “flying about, in her mob cap, and ministering food, prepared by herself, mingled with tears when overcome by feeling.” Early in the war, Neale was one of the women who formed the Mutual Aid and Soldier’s Relief Society in Fredericksburg. One of the group's resolutions read: "Should our aid as nurses be needed at the Camp or Hospitals of our gallant defenders, we will glory in showing that it is not in England alone a “Florence Nightingale” may be found." After the impending battle forced her to refugee from her home in the city, Neale stepped forward to follow her earlier commitment to care for the injured.

Juliet Neale - image from Fredericksburg Area Museum and referenced on the NPSFRSP Blog


Cornelia Hancock

Cornelia Hancock first volunteered to care for the wounded in the aftermath of Gettysburg and continued to serve through the end of the war. In this letter to her mother which was written from Fredericksburg, she describes caring for the wounded during the opening battles of the Overland Campaign in 1864.

"We calculate there are 14,000 wounded in the town; the Secesh help none, so you may know there is suffering equal to any thing anyone ever saw, almost as bad as Gettysburg, only we have houses and churches for the men. I am well, have worked harder than I ever did in my life; there was no food but hard tack to give the men so I turned in and dressed their wounds. It was all that could be done. I hear from my friends at the front one by one. Almost every one I knew was shot dead except the Doctor. Some of them are taken prisoners, Dr. Aiken for one; Dr. Dudley was safe last night. Lieut. Fogg was shot dead, so was Capt. Madison—this battle is still raging. I am glad I am here but I really thought my heart would break as one after another they told me was dead. If they only accomplish getting to Richmond. If not, it is a dear [costly] battle. There is very heavy firing today...."

Cornelia Hancock (left); wounded in Fredericksburg in 1864 (right)


Men Who Volunteered

Sometimes, we're so focused on the women who volunteered as nurses during the Civil War that it has been easy to overlook the men who worked as nurses, orderlies, and other medical assistant roles in Civil War hospitals. Some were employed by the military, others volunteered on their own or through different organizations. One of the more famous guys who volunteered to care for the wounded in Central Virginia was Walt Whitman who journeyed to Stafford looking for his brother after the Battle of Fredericksburg and ended up at Chatham Manor. "The house is quite crowded, everything impromptu, no system, all bad enough, but I have no doubt the best that can be done; all the wounds pretty bad, some frightful, the men in their old clothes, unclean and bloody. Some of the wounded are rebel officers, prisoners. One, a Mississippian--a captain-- hit badly in the leg, I talked with him some time; he asked for papers, which I gave him. (I saw him three months afterward in Washington, with leg amputated, doing well.) I went through the rooms, down stairs and up. Some of the men were dying. I had nothing to give at that night, but wrote a few letters to folks home, mothers, etc." (Excerpts from The Wound Dresser by Walt Whitman)

Walt Whitman (left); U.S. Sanitary Commission Volunteers 1864 (right)


Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.

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