Most famous Civil War nurses include a Kansas namesake

Lyn Fenwick
St. John News
Lyn Fenwick is from Stafford County and writes a regular column: Adventures in Writing, as well as an online blog .

Probably the name most remembered as a nurse during the Civil War is that of Clara Barton. Her fame resulted in many locations and structures being named after her. Barton County, Kansas, is named after Clara Barton, although she had no specific connection with Kansas. However, many Civil War Veterans homesteaded in Kansas, and it may have been such a soldier who suggested her name for the county.

At the time of the outbreak of the Civil War, much doctoring was done in homes by family members. There were only about 150 hospitals in the entire nation at the time the war began.

Another significant woman is Dorothea Dix, who recruited nurses but demanded very specific qualifications: at least 30 years old, plain looking, dressed in brown or black, and free of curls, jewelry or hoops. Her nurses were paid 40 cents a day, plus rations, housing and transportation. (Male nurses received $20.50 a month, plus other benefits.)

Both of these women provided significant leadership in establishing the needed organization to the care of Civil War Soldiers. Dix was eager to employ her organizational skills, but her exacting standards annoyed hospital administrators and nurses, and Secretary of War Stanton removed Dix from that role to avoid the friction she caused.

Mary Ann Bickerdyke was especially skilled as a nurse, having been trained in botanic and homeopathis medicine, as well as having been a private-duty nurse. She was 45 at the start of the war and gained the respect of the high-ranking officers, acquiring the nickname of the "Cyclone in Calico" somewhere along the way.

Other women, whose names were well known at the time, in addition to thousands of women whose names are long forgotten, simply showed up to serve. The three women described in this blog are among those particularly recognized for providing the much needed organization for care for wounded soldiers. However, while the soldiers' wounds needed that care, it was sickness that created the greatest danger to Civil War soldiers.

The thousands of women who came to tend the sick and wounded allowed many of those soldiers to recover and return to civilian life following the war.

The Farmington Cemetery in Macksville, Kansas, has 49 Civil War Graves — 48 men and one woman. These are the fortunate who survived the war and came to Kansas at some time later in their lives. Most Civil War soldiers were between the ages of 18 and 29, and if they survived the disease and injury of the war, they had years ahead of them.

The grave of Mary C. Hill and her husband Paul at Farmington Cemetery in Macksville, Kansas.

Mary C. Hill, the lone woman that is buried in Farmington Cemetery in Macksville, Kansas, after having served in the Civil War, was also young. She was an Army nurse from 1861 to 1865, beginning her military service at the age of 17. According to the 1900 census, she married Paul H. Hill in 1862. Whether they met during the war, fell in love, and married, or they were sweethearts, and she became a nurse in order to be near him during the fighting, I do not know. It was not unusual for women to become nurses in order to be near their family members.

Many of you will remember that in "Little Women," a telegraph arrived, which read:  "Mrs. March: Your husband is very ill. Come at once." Mrs. March does not hesitate.

She says, "... I must go prepared for nursing. Hospital stores are not always good. Beth, go and ask Mr. Laurence for a couple of bottles of old wine: I'm not too proud to beg for father; he shall have the best of everything." Those of you who are fans of "Little Women" will probably remember Jo's sacrifice for her father's care.  After having sold her beautiful hair for $25, she tells her mother, "That's my contribution towards making father comfortable and bringing him home."

"Little Women" shares in fiction the lack of government provisions for the sick and wounded Union soldiers, and the response of wives and family to step forward to provide what was needed. In real life, Louisa May Alcott was one of those women who became briefly a Civil War nurse.

Lyn Fenwick is a Stafford County writer, published author and attorney emeritus who lives near Macksville.