Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Remembering Black Nurses in the Civil War

Black Relief workers Washington DC, 1865

On a recent trip to the National Archives, while looking for a Civil War soldier, I saw an interesting notation on an index card. The notation was that the soldier's wife was also applying for her own pension as nurse. This was the first time I had seen such a notation, and this made me curious as to who she was and then the question arose for me--were there more women of color who were nurses who names could be found? 

I asked some questions of one of the military archivists who directed me to a ledger that contained several pages of names of nurses who were hired as "contract nurses" in the Civil War.

Page from Ledger at National Archives Representing Colored Contract Nurses 1863-64

Seeing the names of these persons was more than exciting, because this is history only mentioned in passing and very few names are known. But I was fortunate to have found the names of these persons long forgotten and to see their roles as Civil War nurses documented.

Cover of Ledger of Civil War Colored Nurses

The ledger is a small one, and it contained only a handful of hospitals that were mentioned in Maryland, Virginia or North Carolina.

Hospitals Reflected in Civil War Ledger

The hospitals mentioned in the front of the ledger were:

Convalescent Hospital - Patterson Park, Baltimore Maryland
Contraband Hospital, Norfolk Virginia
Contraband Small Pox Hospital, New Berne North Carolina
Chesapeake Hospital, Virginia
Contraband Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia

However, other hospitals were actually captured in the ledger, including:
Jarvis US General Hospital in Baltimore
Green Heights Hospital (Unknown location)
McKim's Mansion Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland (The Patterson Park Hospital)

I am fully aware that there are not many photos of these women and women who served as nurses in the Civil War, but I also became curious as to whether or not there are images of any of the hospitals where they served. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few images that did survive.

As a result I was able to find some images of these sites.

Patterson Park Hospital was also known as McKim's Mansion Hospital where several nurses of color worked.

Patterson Park US General Hospital, Baltimore Maryland:
Rosa Caulk
Henretta Grimes
Louisa Warren
Mary Williams
Susan Jane Williams
Moses Arndt
John McDevitt

The Jarvis US General Hospital was a very large facility in Baltimore. There were ten black nurses working under contract at Jarvis. I am wondering if one of the barracks was devoted to black soldiers for there to have been many who were hired at the same time to work there.

Names of black nurses contracted to work at Jarvis US General Hospital

Jarvis US General Hospital - Names of Black Nurses:
Eliza Francis
M. A. Johnson
Anna Richardson
Lizzie Stafford
Elsie Candy
Rachel Malun (?)
Laura Smith
Mary Rudley
Mary Rolan
Susan Smith

When looking at the names of nurses at the Contraband Hospital in Norfolk, I was surprised to see that both
men and women's names appeared on the ledger of contract nurses.

Names of Contract Nurses at the Contraband Hospital Norfolk Virginia

Contraband Hospital -  Norfolk, Virginia
Henderson Dukes
Arnachy Jones
Isaac Jones
John Jones
Charlotte Reddick
Isaac Reddick
Phillip Reddick
Robert Reddick
Ross Jacob
Sophia Sample
Martha Savage
Solomon Schirchins (?)
Priscilla Smith
Maggie Wiot

Contraband Hospital (continued)
Susan Dixon
Charlotte M. Furson
Margaret M. Furson
William George
Samuel Green
Martha Harrold
Isaac Holland
Mary James
Anna M. Johnson
Harvey Mark
Julia A. Mark
Matthew Proctor
Marlo Spiva
Isaac Simmons
John Timbrisk
Chas. Wesry
Sara Dix
Maria Holland
Julia Johnson
Sophia Sample
Thomas Morris

There was one hospital whose name was difficult to read.  It appeared on the ledger as "Lowenture" Hostpital. However, I dedided to see if I could find the actual name of the hospital and was surprised when I did. It was actually L'Overture Hospital in Alexandria Virginia. This hospital was a contraband hospital named after Toussaint L'Overture, the liberator of Haiti! This may have been the very first hospital named after a person of color in the country.

Roster of first black nurses hired in 1863 and 64 to work at L'Overture US General Hospital

I was even more surprised to find that there has been an archeological project in Alexandria Virginia underway, looking at the history of this hospital. 

Notes about L'Ouverture Hospital from Archeological study. 

And there is also an historical marker for this hospital.

Historical Marker on Duke Street in Alexandria, marking this Civil War hospital.

The small lists of nurses who worked at these few hospitals that I found are only the beginning. Their history also deserves to be told and their names should be called. 

May we never forget them, as we tell the many untold stories of America's Civil War.


  1. Great work! Were you able to locate any names for the New Berne hospital?

  2. I'd be interested in anything you had on the Contraband Smallpox Hospital & Nurses in New Bern. Please contact me if you're willing to share info.
    In Black and White: Cross-Cultural Genealogy

  3. I was very interested to read this post. Recently, I discovered that one of the affiants in a USCT pension file was a woman from Charles City, Virginia who stated that she had seen the pension applicant when he was hospitalized both in Hampton and Norfolk, as I recall. She stated that she was a nurse. I would love to see the full list of names.

  4. I'm doing some research on this area. This is the third time I've tried to reach you. I would like to meet you, are you local to the DC area? I'm a African American Civil War Re-enactor as well as a nurse with over 35 yrs. in the nursing. I am associated with a museum and this is part of my assignment as well this is an area I'm very much interested in. I look forward to meeting or speaking with you.

  5. Hello, Ms. S.D. Wilson,

    Actually I think we met last year at the Genealogy Fair in Washington in April 2011.

    Feel free to contact me at, and I look forward to speaking with you soon.

  6. I think you have misidentified the location of the McKim hospital. It was not at what is now Patterson Park. It was where Johnson Square in Baltimore City is today.

    Ed Papenfuse
    Maryland State Archivist

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Hello Dr. Papenfuse, what an honor to have you visit the blog! I think you are quite right about the error. I noticed that the error was based on an historical illustration that had them identified as being one and the same. But upon investigation I see that you are quite correct. I shall update the blog and post an image of both hospitals. Thanks so much!

  9. This is awesome. Did you see any notation about nurses in Alabama?