A Most Estimable and Devoted Lady: The Indomitable “Mother George”

In the final days of the Atlanta campaign, the 56-year-old Mrs. Eliza E. George of the U.S. Sanitary Commission observed the spires of Atlanta from the safety of her hospital camp behind Union lines and pondered the events of the past three months. “I am within two miles of Atlanta and have seen the city a number of times from a hill a short distance from camp. The hill is so densely shaded with forest trees that we cannot be seen,” she wrote. Cannon fire and musketry echoed in the distance and a pall of smoke added a dusky hue to the heat of a late August Georgia afternoon.

Eliza George had led an extraordinary life. Born in Bridport, Vermont in 1808, she married Woodbridge C. George and had three daughters, one of whom married Sion Bass who was killed while serving as colonel of the 30th Indiana at the Battle of Shiloh. The death of her beloved son-in-law prompted the Widow George (her husband had died before the war) to volunteer her services with the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Rebuffed initially due to her advanced age, Eliza persisted by stating “true, I am old, but my health is good, and I desire to do something for those who every day expose their lives for our country. If unable to go through as much as some, I will engage never to be at all troublesome or in the way.” She served initially at hospitals in Memphis, Tennessee and Corinth, Mississippi, then worked with Mother Bickerdyke to establish a hospital at Pulaski, Tennessee. Eliza became known to the troops as “Mother George.”

An image from Mother George's gravestone in Fort Wayne, Indiana depicts her ministering to a sick soldier in a Federal camp. She truly lived a life of service and gave her life furthering the cause. A Federal surgeon described her as a "most estimable and devoted lady."

Sent South by Governor Oliver Morton of Indiana at the end of May 1864 “to look after the sick and wounded soldiers belonging to the Indiana regiments,” she joined the Atlanta campaign and dove right into her work. “We arrived in time to witness one of the saddest sights I ever witnessed,” she commented. “An ambulance train brought in 1,200 men. A large number were slightly wounded, or at least wounded in the hands and feet, some with two fingers carried away, some through the hand. There were 75 amputated legs and arms, some men wounded in the head, in fact in every form our manner. They all suffered their full share.” Stories were told of her courage under fire and of her tender care of the wounded soldiers. “On one occasion she sat for 20 hours holding a wounded soldier in her arms an applying ice to stop the flow of blood from a wound. There was nobody to relieve her but once or twice when relief was made available, the soldier begged so hard for her to stay that she forgot her own weariness and applied the ice again,” the Indianapolis News stated.

          By the end of August 1864, the indomitable Mrs. George had become a beloved presence in the hospitals of the 15th Army Corps. “I have a tent very well filled with sanitary supplies; it is something of a novelty, being the first and only thing of the kind thus far in the front and elicits much praise for Indiana. I am indebted to the Christian, U.S., and Western Commissions…for each have supplied me liberally and will continue to while I continue to give good satisfaction as a distributer. My tent is far famed and receives as many customers as a fancy store,” she commented.

Eliza E. George, 1808-1865

Her activities met with the approval of the suffering soldiers and the army’s medical department. Surgeon William Lomax of the 12th Indiana praised her “earnest full heart” and called her a “most estimable and devoted lady.” A circular letter signed by three surgeons of the Fourth Division, 15th Army Corps called her “the soldiers’ best friend- a dispenser of material and spiritual comforts to the wounded and suffering patriot, and untiring worker in their behalf,” and lauded her “tender devotion of a mother’s care so acceptable to the helpless condition of the sick and wounded. Should we enter upon another campaign during your sojourn in this department, we would be most thankful to have you with us.”

Mother George would embark on one more campaign with Sherman’s army as the following extraordinary letter explains. Written on August 25th, 26th, and 29th as the Army of the Tennessee marched into the final battle of the Atlanta campaign at Jonesboro, Mrs. George provides a rare woman’s perspective behind the lines of Sherman’s army.


U.S. Sanitary Commission Hospital

Fourth Division, 15th Army Corps, near Atlanta, Georgia

August 25, 1864

          I want to give you a little idea of where I am and what I am doing; ere I leave this beautiful spot which might be termed a sylvan retreat were it not for the cries of distress and moans of the dying which hourly assail my ears. I am within two miles of Atlanta, have seen the city a number of times from a hill a short distance from camp. The hill is so densely shaded with forest trees that we cannot be seen, otherwise we might be shelled out as it is within range of their lead messengers.

Upon our right is the hospital of the First and Second Divisions, a little to our left are the hospitals of the 15th and 17th Army Corps and altogether we make a very respectable little city. Like all other cities, we have our resting place for the dead. Attached to each division is a spot of ground rudely enclosed where sleep those noble brave, heroic men that have battled for the right and given their lives to save their country from being made a second Mexico. A board with the name, rank, and regiment marks each grave and though the thunder of cannon is hourly sounding in our ears, it will disturb their slumbers no more.

We have but 22 men in our hospital today not including surgeons and attendants. We have sent our sick and wounded to Marietta preparatory to a move. I have a tent very well filled with sanitary supplies; it is something of a novelty being the first and only thing of the kind thus far in the front and elicits much praise for Indiana. But I am not indebted to Indiana alone for my goods; the Christian, U.S., and Western Sanitary Commissions each have supplied me liberally and will continue to while I continue to give good satisfaction as a distributer. I have been very fortunate in securing the confidence of the other Commissions; it enables me to distribute more generously and my heart fairly dances with joy when I get an opportunity to send anything to the men lying in the rifle pits. My tent is far famed and receives as many customers as a fancy store, and I hope my friends at home will aid in keeping up my stock of goods.

The scenes of death and horror became part of Mother George's everyday existence during the Atlanta campaign. The above image from Adolph Metzner depicts Confederate casualties from the Battle of Shiloh but would have been recognized on nearly any battlefield of the war. 

August 26- I shall finish this letter and send it if it is in two pieces! Yesterday I laid aside my letter to attend to supper. The order came to move; we ate our supper and in 30 minutes were loaded up and drove out of the lines driving some two miles. Some of the men complained of Dr. Kates’ selection of ground. It was on a hill directly opposite and in range of a Rebel battery. The men were ordered to take the horses from the ambulances but not to unharness them. I made my bed in the ambulance and slept finely.

Soon after daylight there came a shell which exploded within 30 yards of us. Those who knew the danger expressed more fear than I did. Soon came another about ten yards nearer. Our division started without orders and within ten minutes after we left, came another one that exploded within seven yards of where we stood as we were standing in the advance line. Had we remained there much longer we might have been hurt of badly scared at least. We are now in a beautiful grove awaiting orders and have not unloaded or pitched a tent. I am sitting in the ambulance writing and have just eaten my dinner. I am suffering more from the heated atmosphere today than any other day this summer.

If the Rebels do not conclude to quietly evacuate Atlanta today or tonight, we may possibly take a little trip South. Should we get along well, so that my services can be dispensed with, don’t you think it would be a good idea for me to attend the [Sanitary] Fair? Dr. Moore tells me if I get this letter mailed for many days, I shall be indebted to some carrier for it. We have cut loose from all communication with the North and it may be days or weeks before we will again be within reach of postal communication. If I am taken prisoner, I must abide my time. The little good I have been enabled to do today has paid me for the risk.

Surgeon William Lomax
12th Indiana Infantry

Major Baldwin, Captain Nelson, George A. Craw, and Captain Farran were to see me yesterday. The men are all well but wearied. This has been a long hard campaign and our troops are all wearied physically but their spirit is strong, the conviction of right and duty as firm as ever. If the defenders of our flag and national honor were not classed with felons and denied the right of citizenship, our pending elections would all be right.

August 29- It would be contraband to tell you where I am, but I am in the midst of war 30 miles from a place of acknowledged safety. It will be doubtless be many days ere I can hear from home again. We are where there are but two ways to settle the question: success in battle or a foot race. Our troops have thus far been successful in all they have undertaken. I humbly pray the God of Hosts that they may continue to be. Military men pronounce this one of the greatest movements of the day. I am pained to learn of the state of things at home and at Indianapolis. Is it possible that our country is to be bartered cheaper than Esan sold his birthright? I have a chance to send this to headquarters and must close. My health is good.


Alma Wolcott Bennett served at Hospital No. 1 in Nashville, Tennessee

The indomitable Mrs. George continued her merciful labors on behalf of the troops at the battle of Jonesboro. On September 11, 1864, Surgeon Cake of the 53rd Ohio acknowledged her “untiring devotion to the comfort and welfare of the suffering inmates of our Division field hospital during the ever-memorable campaign just closed in the capture of Atlanta. You have been in the field with us at the battle of Blackjack Hill, at the battle of Kennesaw Mountain, at the battle of Atlanta on the 22nd and 28th of July, and lastly at the battle of Jonesboro in all of which our division took an active and conspicuous part. You have been the solders’ best friend. We all appreciate highly your kind offices, your Christian and lady-like deportment, and hope for a reward of your labors in the knowledge that the grateful hearts of the many you have served and benefitted are with you. May God bless you with health and strength to carry on your patriotic and truly benevolent enterprise and that friends at home appreciate your invaluable labors.”

She continued to follow the fortunes of the western armies, serving the needs of the sick and wounded after the battles of Franklin and Nashville then followed the army into North Carolina. There she met her final challenge: caring for the 11,000 haggard and starving survivors recently released from prisoner of war camp at Salisbury, North Carolina. It was in Wilmington, North Carolina on May 9, 1865 that “Mother George” joined the ranks of “those noble brave, heroic men that have battled for the right and given their lives to save their country.”  She succumbed to typhoid fever less than two weeks after the Confederate surrender that ended the war in the Carolinas. Her remains were sent home to Fort Wayne, Indiana where she received a burial with full military honors at Lindenwood Cemetery. The Sanitary Commission of Indiana erected a beautiful stone in her memory.

Our Angel of Mercy



Letters from Mrs. Eliza G. George, Fort Wayne Daily Gazette (Indiana), June 10, 1864, pg. 2; also, September 17, 1864, pg. 2

Letter from Surgeon William Lomax, 12th Indiana Infantry, Surgeon William M. Cake, 53rd Ohio, Surgeon Richard Morris, 103rd Illinois, and Assistant Surgeon Sidney S. Buck, 103rd Illinois, Fort Wayne Daily Gazette (Indiana), September 30, 1864, pg. 2

Find-A-Grave: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/19737867/eliza-e.-george

Sadler, Hilary A. Mother George: Fort Wayne’s Angel of Mercy. Fort Wayne: Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County, 1964.


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