Hattie A. Dada and Susan E. Hall
On Sunday, July 21, 1861, the First Battle of Bull Run took place. On the following day, the disastrous news of the Union defeat was received in New York, and the country was reeling with pain and terror. Miss Dada and a friend, Miss Hall, received instructions to prepare them for their journey, and at 6:00 pm they took the train for Washington, with orders to report to Miss Dix.
Miss Dix asked them, "Are you ready to work?" and added, "You are needed in Alexandria."And they were soon on their way. In some cabins by the roadside, they first saw some wounded men, and they paused to give them words of cheer and a "cup of cold water."
At last they reached Alexandria, and in a dark stone building found their hospital. They were denied admittance by the sentinel, but the surgeon in charge was called, and welcomed them to their new duties.
There they lay, the wounded, some on beds, many on mattresses spread upon the floor, covered with the blood from their wounds, and the dust of that burning summer battlefield, many of them still in their uniforms. The retreat had been so unexpected, the wounded so numerous, and the helpers so few, that all were at once extremely busy bringing order and comfort.
No soldiers were detailed as attendants for the first few weeks, and even the most menial duties fell upon these ladies. They had little sleep and food that was neither tempting nor sufficient. So busy were they that two weeks elapsed before Miss Dada, whose letters furnish most of the material for this story, found time to write home, and inform her anxious friends where she was.
A busy month passed, and the numbers in the hospital began to decrease, many of the convalescent sent North or on furlough, until only the worst cases remained. As the winter approached typhus fever began to prevail among the troops, and many distressing cases, some of which proved mortal, came under the care of these ladies.
At the beginning of April, 1862, soon after the Battle of Winchester, Miss Dada and Miss Hall were sent there to care for the wounded. Here they were transferred from one hospital to another, without time to become more than vaguely interested in the individual welfare of their patients.
On May 22, they were ordered to Strasburg to care for several hundred sick, entirely unsuspicious of personal danger, but on the following day troops were observed leaving the town on the Front Royal road, and that night the retreat was ordered.
Ambulances and army wagons filled the streets. Soldiers from the hospitals, scarcely able to walk, crawled slowly and painfully along, while the sick were crowded into ambulances. Pressing forward they arrived at Winchester at noon, but the ambulances did not arrive until hours later. The fright and suffering had overpowered many, and many died as they were carried into the hospitals.
A little later the wounded began to come in, and the hard-working surgeons and nurses had their hands full. The retreating Union forces came pouring through the town, the rebels in close pursuit. The shouts of the combatants and the continuous firing, created great confusion.
Soon the rebels had possession of the town, and the ladies found themselves prisoners with a rebel guard placed around the hospital. Their supplies were quite reduced, and it wasn't until personal application had been made by the nurses to the rebel authorities, that suitable food was furnished.
Miss Dada and her friend remained there until August, when they were assigned to Armory Square Hospital, in Washington, DC.
Prior to the Second Battle of Bull Run, all convalescent men were sent further North, and empty beds were made ready for the wounded, who on the evening after the battle were brought in, covered with the dust and gore of the battlefield. Here the ministering care of these ladies was most needed.
They hastened with basins and sponges, cold water and clean clothes, and soon the sufferers felt the benefits of cleanliness, and were laid in the long rows of white beds that awaited them. All were cheerful, and few regretted the sacrifices they had made. But in a few days many of these heroes succumbed.
The month of November found Miss Dada at Harper's Ferry. Miss Hall had been at Antietam, but the friends didn't want to be separated any longer. The Medical Director of the Twelfth Army Corps was just opening a hospital there, and the next day the sick and wounded from the regimental hospitals were brought in.
They had suffered for lack of care, but though the new hospital was very scantily furnished, they found that cause of trouble removed. Many of them had long been ill, and want of cleanliness and vermin had helped to reduce them to extreme emaciation.
Their filthy clothes were replaced by clean ones, and burned or thrown into the river, their heads shaven, and their revolting appearance removed. But many a youth whom sickness and suffering had given the appearance of old age died. These were sad days, the men were dying rapidly.
During May and June, 1863, Miss Dada and Miss Hall were at Acquia Creek, caring for the wounded from the Battle of Chancellorsville, and the 8th of July found them at Gettysburg - Miss Dada at the hospital of the Twelfth Army Corps, at a little distance from the town, and Miss Hall at that of the First Army Corps, which was in the town.
The hospital of the Twelfth Army Corps was at a farmhouse. The house and barns were filled with wounded, and tents were all around, crowded with sufferers, among whom were many wounded rebel prisoners, who were almost overwhelmed with astonishment and gratitude to find that northern ladies would extend to them the same care as to the soldiers of their own army. Miss Hall and Miss Dada remained there as long as their services were needed.
In December, 1863, they were ordered to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, once a flourishing town, but showing everywhere the devastations of war. Two seminaries, a college, large blocks of stores, and a hotel had been taken for hospitals, and were now filled with sick and wounded men. A year had passed since the awful battle of Stones River, but the hospitals had never been empty.
When they arrived, they reported to the medical director, who "did not care whether they stayed or not," but, "if they remained wished them to attend exclusively to the preparation of the Special Diet." They received only discouraging words from all they met. They found shelter for the night at the house of a rebel woman, and were next day assigned-Miss Hall to No. 1 Hospital, Miss Dada to No. 3.
When they reported, the surgeon of No. 1 Hospital, for their encouragement, informed them that the chaplain thought they had better not remain. Miss Dada also was coldly received, and it was evident that the Surgeons and chaplains were very comfortable, and desired no outside interference. They believed, however, that there was work for them to do, and decided to stay.
Miss Dada found in the wards more than one familiar face from the Twelfth Army Corps, and the glad enthusiasm of her welcome by the patients, contrasted with the chilling reception of the officers. Most of these men had been wounded at Lookout Mountain, a few days before, but many others had been suffering ever since the bloody battle of Chickamauga.
Miss Hall was able to commence her work at once, but Miss Dada was often exhorted to patience, while waiting three long weeks for a stove, before she could do more than, by the favor of the head cook of the full diet kitchen, occasionally prepare at his stove, some small dishes for the worst cases.
Here the winter wore away. Many a sad tale of the desolations of war was poured into their ears, by the suffering Union women who had lost their husbands, fathers, sons, in the wild warfare of the country in which they lived. And many a scene of sorrow and suffering they witnessed.
In January, they had a pleasant call from a doctor they had known at Gettysburg. This gentleman, in conversation with the medical director, told him he knew two of the ladies there. The reply illustrates the peculiar position in which they were placed. "Ladies!" he answered with a sneer, "We have no ladies here! A hospital is no place for a lady. We have some women here, who are cooks!"
In the latter part of May, they went to Chattanooga. They were most kindly received by the surgeons, and found much to be done. Carloads of wounded were daily coming from the front. All who could bear removal were sent farther north, and only the worst cases remained at Chattanooga.
Miss Dada often rejoiced in the kindness of her friends at home, which enabled her to procure for the sick the small but costly luxuries that their condition demanded. As the season advanced to summer, the mortality became dreadful. In her hospital alone, containing but seven hundred beds, there were two hundred and sixty-one deaths in the month of June, and there were from five to twenty daily.
With the beginning of November came busy times, as the cars daily came laden with their freight of suffering from Atlanta. On the 26th, Miss Dada records, "One year today since Hooker's men fought above the clouds on Lookout. Today as I look upon the grand old mountain the sun shines brightly on the graves of those who fell there, and all is quiet."
Their work of mercy was now well-nigh over. The necessity for it seemed nearly ended. Patients were in May being mustered out of the service, and the hospitals thinning. Miss Dada and Miss Hall thought they could be spared, and started eastward. But when in Illinois, word reached them that all the ladies but one had left, and help was needed.
Miss Dada returned to Chattanooga, where she was soon busy. Though the war was over, there were still many sick, and death often claimed a victim. She stayed until the middle of September, engaged in her duties, when she at last took her leave of hospital life, and returned home.
Susan E. Hall
Susan E. Hall was raised in the Tompkins County town of Ulysses and is recognized as one of the first women from New York State to be accepted as a nurse in the Civil War. Born in Orange County in 1826, Miss Hall moved with her parents to the Town of Ulysses, Tompkins County. At the age of 32, following her father’s death, she moved to New York City to study medicine and attend medical school at Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell’s Woman and Children’s Hospital. She was to graduate in the spring of 1861. She attended the woman’s mass meeting at Cooper Union following the first shots of the Civil War on Fort Sumter in April 1861 and attended special training to become a war nurse.
After passing an examination and receiving additional practical training, Miss Hall was one of the first women sent south to assist the Union cause. She served in field hospitals on numerous Civil War battlefields, including Bull Run and Gettysburg. Historians note that Civil War field nurses not only tended wounded and dying soldiers and cared for the many physical needs of their patients, but played an equally important emotional and spiritual role as well. Miss Hall served for the duration of the Civil War, leaving in 1865 exhausted from her work. She then spent time at a sanitarium in Dansville, New York to recoup her strength. In 1866 she married Robert E. Barry, who had served in the Union Army’s famous Chicago Board of Trade Battery, a light artillery battery, and the couple settled in California. Susan Hall Barry received her Civil War pension in 1887, recognizing her four years of work as a hospital nurse during the war. She died in Los Angeles in 1912, at the age of 86.
Senate unveils historical "Women of Distinction" exhibit -- including tribute to Tompkins County, Civil War-era nurse, Susan E. Hall. [Article] Posted by Thomas F. O'Mara, New York State Senator (R, C) 58th Senate District on Wednesday, March 21st, 2012. New York State Senate