Gray-haired men—men in the pride of manhood—beardless boys…mutilated in every imaginable way, lying on the floor…so close together that it was almost impossible to walk without stepping on them…. O, if the authors of this cruel and unnatural war could but see what I saw there, they would try and put a stop to it!
—Kate Cumming (Cumming 1998, 14)
Historians consider Kate Cumming’s Civil War diary to be one of the best and most thorough personal accounts of work within the Confederate hospital service. Cumming, a young, middle-class white woman from Mobile, Alabama, began her diary in April 1862, when she first volunteered to nurse the wounded and sick soldiers of the Confederate army of Tennessee. She completed it more than three years later in May 1865, weeks after the Confederate surrender. Her journal contains a wealth of detail concerning the day-to-day operation of Confederate military hospitals. As a hospital matron from the fall of 1862, Cumming directed all hospital domestic affairs and closely attended to the physical and emotional needs of individual soldiers. Unlike many Northern and Southern women NURSES, she declared that her relationships with the male hospital staff were positive. Although she encountered surgeons who believed women had no place in the military hospital, she worked with many who valued the hard work she and her female colleagues performed.
The precise year of Kate Cumming’s birth in Edinburgh, Scotland, is not known. When she was a young child, her parents emigrated with their four children to Montreal, Canada, before making their permanent home in Mobile, Alabama. Cumming was raised in a prosperous, middle-class environment, though not much is known of the details of her schooling and upbringing.
In the early spring of 1862, Cumming learned that a local minister was urging women to leave their homes to nurse wounded Confederate soldiers. When she broached the subject with her family, her father and brothers-in-law concurred that nursing was not a respectable undertaking for a woman and she must remain at home. Cumming, inspired by Florence