Whatever the Cost to Ourselves: Nashville Women’s Civil War

by Carol Kaplan.

When the Civil War began, Nashville’s women were eager to take whatever role available to them.  An article in the Confederate Veteran explains that, “with no rules or formulas to guide them except the instinctive promptings of patriotic love and mercy,” they organized a system of service to provide for the medical needs of the wounded and sick.

The Confederate Veteran was a monthly Nashville-based publication (1893-1932). It contained letters, editorials, and first-hand accounts of battles submitted by former Confederate soldiers.

Led by the tireless Felicia Grundy Porter, the Soldiers Relief Society of Tennessee was organized to gather and send hospital supplies to Virginia.  Soon it became obvious that they would be needed in Nashville itself.  Dr. David Yandell, appointed the medical director of the Army of the West, organized these hospitals: State Hospital, First College Street Hospital, Front Street Hospital, Cedar Street Hospital, and Elliott Hospital. Elliott Hospital had been the Nashville Female Academy, closed by the superintendent, Collins D. Elliott, at the beginning of the war. 

The Nashville Female Academy (image courtesy of Tennessee State Library & Archives)

The hospitals were poorly equipped, and the Relief Society requested contributions of blankets, flannels, underclothing, provisions, and especially money.  Anesthesia was almost unavailable and medicines were scarce.  Hospitals were places of misery and sadness, and brave and strong women came to help.  They stood by during amputations, bent over the dying, received their last messages to loved ones at home and attended their interments.

It is not recorded how many Nashville women actually served as nurses, but three are known who paid with their lives for their care of others. 

Lucy Butler Lanier was a loving, faithful and beloved teacher at the Nashville Female Academy for thirty-three years.  Her childhood was spent in wealth, but after the death of her father, Presbyterian minister Edmond Lanier, financial reverses caused Lucy, at age sixteen, to assume the support of her mother Emma and a younger brother and sister.  She taught first in Columbia and four years later began her career at her alma mater, Nashville Female Academy. According to her lengthy obituaries, one in the Morning Bulletin or April 1, 1862, and another in the Banner of March 5, 1862, Lucy had no superior as a teacher: she was just and exact, delightful, and affable.  In 1860 she was head of the Collegiate Department, while her sister Ann, two years younger, taught the Primary Department.  When the Academy became the hospital, she was “constant in her attentions upon the sick and wounded.”  Resting for a moment, Lucy complained of a sudden and severe pain in her head; a fit of apoplexy followed and she died within an hour. “She passed away like a brilliant cloud across a sunset, her glory shines no more.”  Lucy Lanier was buried at City Cemetery March 5, 1862.  There is no marker on her grave.

A nurse tends to ill and wounded soldiers. Two-thirds of the 620,000 military deaths during the Civil War were due to infection or disease.

Two other women, sisters, who did “beautiful hospital service and are worthy of special memorials” were Mrs. John B. Nichol and Mrs. Alfred Hume.  Evelina Nichol and Louisa Hume were daughters of Revolutionary War veteran John Bradford and his wife Elizabeth Blackwell.  Evelina was the 11th and Louisa the 12th of the Bradford children.  Both women were widowed by 1853 and shared a home with their children on South Vine Street.  Evelina and Louisa both caught pneumonia and camp fever while caring for the sick and wounded and died within days of each other.  Separated in death as they never were in life, Evelina Nichol was buried at Mt. Olivet on December 18, 1861, and Louisa next to her husband Alfred on December 22, 1861, at City Cemetery.

As the Confederate Veteran (v.25, P.558-560) says “Wherever woman could serve were recorded deeds of sacrifice and heroism, a bit of history that should be known, because it is unwritten history and history that counted.”  (2012)

Lindsley Hall, University of Nashville, as it appeared during the Civil War when used as an officers’ hospital by the U.S. Army. It had a capacity of 200 beds. (photo courtesy of Tennessee State Library & Archives)

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