The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

14
Mother Bickerdyke

Frank Moore

Among the many noble women whose names will be forever enshrined with those of the brave defenders of their country, that of Mrs. Bickerdyke of Illinois will be held in especial honor. From no merely romantic impulse, but acting from the dictates of her mature sense of duty, she entered the service of the country as a volunteer nurse for its soldiers early in the war, and continued her work of patriotic charity until the war closed. By all those who remain of the armies who conquered their way down the Mississippi, Mrs. Bickerdyke is affectionately and gratefully remembered, as one of the most constant, earnest, determined, and efficient laborers for their health and comfort in the hospital and in the field.

Mrs. Bickerdyke, who is a woman of middle age, commenced her labors for the soldiers in August, 1861, when -- at her own solicitation, and because her judgment was confided in-she was sent from Galesburg, Illinois, to Cairo, to ascertain what was needed by the troops stationed there. After ascertaining the condition of affairs there and reporting, her Galesburg friends advised her to remain, which she did, exerting all her energies to remedy the many miseries attending the establishment of a large camp of soldiers, nearly all of whose officers were as ignorant of camp discipline as themselves. When the battle of Belmont sent a large number of the wounded to the brigade hospital at Mound City, she went there, and remained until the most of them were sent to their homes.

Returning herself to her home, she barely continued long enough to put her household in order for a more prolonged absence. She had enlisted for

FRANK MOORE, Women of the War ( Chicago, 1867), pp. 466-472.

Hundreds of women, North and South, left their homes to serve in hospitals. Thousands more, at home, organized Sanitary Fairs and raised money for the Sanitary Commission. For Louisa May Alcott, hospital service was a chapter in her literary career. For Cordelia Harvey, widow of Wisconsin's governor, caring for the wounded grew into a lifetime employment caring for orphans. Most of the nurses, however, were conscientious and single-minded, in their services. Typical was Mary Ann Ball (Mrs. Robert) Bickerdyke, 1817-1901, a "botanic physician" before the war. After the war she devoted herself variously to veterans' affairs, to settlement-house work, and to caring for veteran's widows and orphans.

-222-

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