Women of Shiloh

"With an individuality not less amusing than remarkable"

In the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh, several delegations of surgeons, nurses, and concerned citizens of Ohio traveled by steamboat to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee to attend to the vast numbers of sick and wounded Ohioans. As previously discussed on the blog, the first vessel to arrive from Ohio was the Magnolia, and one of the gentlemen who was aboard this vessel was Dr. John S. Newberry, head of the Western Division of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. After the return of the Magnolia, Dr. Newberry traveled home to Cleveland for a short visit and delivered a lecture about his experiences at Pittsburg Landing. Dr. Newberry commented at length about one of the "strong-minded" women that he encountered on the battlefield.
Martha Noble Brainerd accompanied the 27th Michigan Infantry during its Civil War service in the western theater. Her younger brother Lieutenant William Noble was killed in action at Knoxville with the 2nd Michigan, Martha spent the rest of the war attending to the sick and wounded of the 27th regiment to much acclaim and in 1892 Congress voted her pension in consideration of her wartime services. She died in 1914 and is buried in Detroit, Michigan.

"This lady was a Pole by birth but has been a resident of New York for a number of years and has become enthusiastically American and is loyal and patriotic to the highest degree," he said. "She is very active and energetic and her greatest ambition is to care for the sick and wounded. Her first experience in this beneficent labor was at Nashville where, shortly after her arrival, she prevailed upon the medical purveyor to give his charge of a supply room. Being duly installed, she lost no time exhibiting her authority and her wishes were made final . In the language of the doctor, 'she literally pulled surgeons about by the ears and those who offered resistance were ordered out of and compelled to leave the premises.' This of course soon became intolerable and a plausible reason for found for her dismissal."
Dr. John S. Newberry

"Shortly after, she went to Pittsburg Landing where she at once devoted herself to the care of the suffering soldiers," Newberry continued. "One day she came to me and in most urgent terms desired that I should give her an order for some supplies. So persistently did she press her demand that I found it impossible to reject it and gave her a carte blanche to the supply depot. I had not for a moment suspected that she would take more than a few cases of fruit, a few articles of clothing, and some little delicacies, but I was soon destined to be deceived in my notions. As soon as she could after receiving the order, she appeared at the depot with three teams and these were filled to their utmost capacity and conveyed away to be distributed among the suffering soldiers she had taken under her protection. Of course, this was 'too heavy' and an order issued for the return of the greater portion of the articles."
Alma Wolcott Bennett worked at Hospital No. 1 at Nashville, Tennessee and in Memphis, Tennessee during the war. 

"On another occasion, in one of her rambles, she discovered a soldier who had been wounded in the thigh, the ball not having been extracted. She took him in charge and producing a case of instruments she claimed were presented to her in New York, prepared to operate on him. The soldier protested that he would be unable to undergo the operation without the aid of chloroform and being unable to obtain this essential commodity, she was induced to forego the task she would have willingly undertaken," Newberry related.

"Such performances were a daily occurrence with her and she had become one of the most notorious and preeminent personages in the locality. There are many others of the gentler sex at Pittsburg Landing who act with an individuality not less amusing than remarkable, who will listen to no dictation, and will not permit themselves to be turned from the line of duties they mark out for themselves. They are nevertheless of great service and do much good."
Nurse Debbie Hughes

The duties required of nurses at Shiloh were certainly not those for the faint of heart or those with weak stomachs. The stench of the battlefield was repulsive, mud thick as could be, disorganization and chaos the order of the day. An Illinois surgeon warned women at home that the duties included "combing matted hair, washing dirty faces hands and feet, binding putrid wounds, and numbers of things which cannot be described. The lady who cannot, with a smiling face, roll up her sleeves, go on her knees amongst the black boilers and west straw and to wait upon the unfortunate private soldier, repulsive in his manners and words, is here sadly out of her proper sphere." The surgeon recounted seeing "highly educated women accustomed to every indulgence that wealth can furnish thus employed with disordered hair, in a soiled calico dress bespattered with blood, coal smut, and grease, forgetful of every feeling but the one of seeking and helping the most wretched and neglected. Send us ladies of this caliber," he suggested. 

Sources:
"The Ladies of Pittsburg Landing," Cleveland Morning Leader, May 1, 1862, pg. 3
"Army Nurses," Cleveland Morning Leader, May 10, 1862, pg. 1

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