When the Civil War began, Catholic nuns were operating some 25 hospitals in the United States. Thus, they were the single largest pool of experienced nurses in the United States at the time. Of the approximately 4000 women who served as nurses on both sides, an estimated 650 were Catholic nuns. At first many were met with anti-Catholic prejudice, and supervising nurse Dorothea Dix was particularly negative. But over time their selfless service gained them their reputation as among the best Civil War nurses.
These women are one of the subjects of my new book, “Civil War Women: Underestimated and Indispensable,” and the nursing nuns certainly fit into that definition. Below is an excerpt from the book, about one nun, Sister Anthony O’Connell, who is pictured on the front cover of the book, bottom left. The book is available at:
“Sister Anthony was among the most active and famous nun/nurses. She was in charge of “St. John’s Hostel for Invalids” in Cincinnati when she and many other nuns went to help the Union trainees outside that city in 1861. Later she served at the Battle of Shiloh, where her take-charge attitude and forceful commitment to aid the men reportedly earned her the title which was given to many Civil War nurses, “Angel of the Battlefield.” She and her nuns worked at many others battles and also on hospital ships. According to one source, members of the Grand Army of the Republic would strew flowers on Sister Anthony’s grave every Memorial Day. “