"God's last, best gift to man," Woman, a ministering angel

It is always cheering and encouraging to the patriot soldier to receive the approving smiles of a lovely woman, how much so, when to these are added delicate attentions, profuse hospitality and angelic liberality. The attentions received from "God's last, best gift to man," are indelibly engraved upon the tablets of our memories and hearts, and will always be most fondly cherished. The warm and friendly greeting, the pressing, ready welcome, the delightlul hours spent in social intercourse, all combined to render our sojourn there not only pleasant and happy, but satisfied us that indeed we were among "ministering angels."

CSA Nurses
Union Nurses

Nurses and Troop Support During the Civil War

During the Civil War, more than five thousand women served as nurses. Their service saved lives and carved out a place for women in post-war professional medicine.

In the military hospitals, nurses' duties were mainly domestic in nature. They would prepare and serve meals, accommodating each patient's diet. Doctors would determine whether the patient would receive a full, half or low diet. Low usually consisted of coffee, toast and farina. Nurses had to keep track of each patient's meal status. Nurses would distribute linens, clothing and other supplies. They would also look after the soldier's emotional needs by talking with them, reading to them and writing for them. Unlike today, they would rarely assist in surgeries.

Women also traveled with the troops. They saw to the health of the men, both physically and emotionally. They were very good for morale. They comforted the lonely men, wrote letters for them, and shared their food. Many more men would have died from disease if it wasn't for the work of these brave women.

Many Civil War nurses were Sisters from religious orders. After the Battle of Antietam the Sisters at St. Joseph's of Emmitsburg, Maryland, went to the battlefield to aid the wounded soldiers from both armies.They helped prepare the survivors for transport to hospitals then continued to search for more wounded soldiers.

#Catholic nuns served as nurses to soldiers in both sides of the conflict. Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America, John Fialka (Author) writes that of…”…the 3,200 female nurses who served in the Civil War, at least 580 were sisters.” Sometimes they worked in hospitals relatively far from the action, but just as often they were brought quite near: nuns arrived in Tennessee just days after the Battle of Shiloh to tend to the 5,000 wounded waiting in a particularly wet, miserable version of hell. They set up the initial care for the 50,000 wounded after Gettysburg.

Both armies used small contingents of Catholic nuns in certain general hospitals. They came from the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Sisters of Mercy, and the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Having been teachers, some lacked previous hospital experience, but surgeons liked them because they had been bred to discipline. The patients liked them too, but called them all Sisters of Charity.


Most of them were middle or upperclass ladies, used to lives of privilege. They gave up their comfortable homes to travel by wagons with the troops, live in tents, and cook over open fires.


In fact, white middle-class women constituted a minority of relief workers in both North and South. We were under the mistaken impression that they constituted a majority because most of our information about relief work came from books written by white middleclass women, whose literacy and social access made them more visible than other workers. In fact, elites were no more than one-third of the entire group of hospital workers (even fewer in the South).

#When literate, well-connected women entered the service, they were called nurses; the working class and those who lacked literacy were given jobs as cooks, laundresses, matrons, waitresses, seamstresses, and chambermaids. Almost none of the black women who made up 11 percent of the total were called nurses, whereas virtually all of the Catholic sisters involved in relief work; perhaps as many as one-fifth of the total were hired as nurses. We can only guess at the demographics in the Confederate hospital system because many hospital records were burned when Richmond fell in 1865, but it is likely that 20 percent of the female workforce consisted of slaves hired out by their owners. Regardless of section, we can be sure that middleclass women were in a minority of at least 2 to 1.

Civil War nurses were required to wear dark colors -- mostly brown or black. Dresses were not to have any frills or ornaments -- definitely no hoop skirts. They were too wide to fit down narrow hospital aisles, but hoop skirts also posed a safety issue. They could easily catch on patients or equipment, causing accidents. Dark-colored fabric was used because nurses weren't supposed to stand out and also because it didn't show blood. Dresses were designed for function, not fashion. Dresses often lacked curves, and some nurses even wore trousers.


The Worth of Woman

Honored be woman! she beams on fhe sight,
Graceful and fair, like a being of light; 
Scatters around her wherever she strays, 
Roses of bliss on our thorn-covered waye; 
Roses of Paradise sent from above. 
To be gathered and twined in a garland of Love. 

	Man, on passion's stormy ocean,
	     Tossed by surges mountain high, 
	Courts the hurricane's commotion, 
	     Spurns at reason's feeble cry, 
	Loud the tempest roars around him, 
	     Louder still it roars within, 
	Flashing lights of hope confound him, 
	     Stun with life's incessant din. 

Woman invites him with bliss in her smile, 
To cease from his toil and be happy a while; 
Whispering wooingly -- come to my bower -- 
Go not in search of the phactom of power --
Honor and wealth are illusory -- come! 
Happiness dwells in the temples of home.

	Man, with fury stern and savage. 
	     Prosecutes his brother man, 
	Reckless if he bless or ravage. 
	     Action, action -- still his plan. 
	Now creating, now destroying. 
	     Careless wishes tear his breast; 
	Ever seeking -- ne'er enjoying; 
	     Still to be, but never blest. 

Woman, contented in silent repose, 
Enjoys in its beauty life's flower as it blows. 
And waters and tends it with innocent heart, 
Far richer than man with his treasures of art; 
And wiser by far in the circles confined, 
Than be with his silence and the lights of the mind. 

	Coldly to himself sufficing. 
	     Man disdains the gentler arte, 
	Knoweth not the bliss arising 
	     From the interchange of hearts. 
	Slowly through his bosom stealing, 
	     Flows the genial current on, 
	Till by age's frost congealing 
	     It is hardened into stone. 

She like the harp that instinctively rings, 
As the night-breathing zepbyr soft sighs on the strings, 
Responds to each impulse with steady reply, 
Whether sorrow or pleasure her sympathy try; 
And tear drops and smiles on her countenance play, 
Like sunshine and showers of a morning in May. 

	Through the range of man's dominion, 
	     Terror is the ruling word -- 
	And the standard of opinion 
	     Is the temper of the sword. 
	Strife exults, and pity blushing, 
	     From the scene departing flies, 
	Where the battle madly rushing, 
	     "Brother upon brother dies." 

Woman commands with a milder control --
She rules by enchantment the realms of the soul; 
As she glances around in the light of her smile. 
The war of her passions is hushed for a while. 
And discord, content from his fury to cease. 
Reposes entranced on the pillows of peace.

The National Historical Society, The Image of War: 1861-1865 Volume IV "Fighting For Time" article by George W. Adams; The Southern Women of the second American Revolution (1863), H. W. R. Jackson, (Henry W. R.); Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America, John Fialka; Fighting For Time, George W. Adams; History of Civil War Medicine [civilwarhome.com].

Home Site Menu