Ella Palmer was born in Tennessee in 1829. When the Civil War began, she was a widow with a five-year-old daughter.
When the Confederate Government asked for help from its citizens, she and her daughter responded to Chattanooga, where they found sick and wounded soldiers lying on the floor in a makeshift hospital, with no blankets to keep them warm.
Ella quickly organized two kitchens and a linen room, and ministered to the sick and dying at all hours. Though the hospital corps had consisted of men only, the surgeons welcomed the help.
During the Battle of Shiloh, Palmer was sent to Corinth, Mississippi, where she worked day and night in a church and under the trees, administering chloroform and binding arteries of the most desperately wounded, among other services. She went on tirelessly to nurse many soldiers suffering from typhoid fever in Lauderdale Springs, Mississippi.
During the war, Ella was constantly on the move, either because the Union army was nearby, or another hospital was needed elsewhere. At one point, when surgeons were to leave behind seven men they thought were near death, she insisted the invalids be moved too, and she returned all but one to good health.
In Forsyth, Georgia the hospital tents overflowed with 1,800 sick and wounded. Townspeople were struck by Palmer’s devotion to her patients and helped by providing all manner of services and goods needed by the men in gray. They made bowers out of limbs, cots of leafy branches, and cups and dishes from local clay.
Ella’s devotion to the soldiers was impressive. At Auburn, Alabama she was injured when her train derailed and went over a trestle. But after three weeks in the hospital, she resumed her nursing duties.
After the war Palmer and her daughter returned to Tennessee. In 1873, Palmer moved to Colorado, where she studied mineralogy and became an expert assayer. She discovered gold near Lake City, Colorado before she died at the age of 80 (November 7, 1909).