Friday, September 13, 2013

“The Nameless Dead”

Kate Cumming (1826–1909)
From The Civil War: The Third Year Told by Those Who Lived It

Kate Cumming. Photo from the frontispiece
of her book Gleanings from Southland.
In 1859, following the experiences in the Crimean War that made her famous, Florence Nightingale wrote and published Notes on Nursing, which became an international sensation. Nightingale’s impact on health professions in general (and, more specifically, on the medical care provided during the American Civil War) was considerable. At the outset of the Civil War, the Union Army was quick to organize its hospital services, appointing Dorothea L. Dix as the Superintendent of Female Nurses in June 1861. Dix in fact tried (and failed) to meet Nightingale on a trip to London; many other women, similarly inspired by Nightingale’s wartime experiences, offered to work as army nurses. Several of the two thousand women who signed up for the Union nurses corps would later become household names, including Clara Barton (the founder of the American Red Cross) and Louisa May Alcott (whose Hospital Sketches recounts her wartime experiences).

Yet, as the late historian Richard Barksdale Harwell noted, “The South was slow in recognizing the desirability of women as regular members of the medical department of the army. For a year and a half the women worked in the hospitals only as volunteers, and few of them had undergone any but home training. It was not until September 1862 that [the First Confederate] Congress granted them official status.” Kate Cumming, one of the early volunteers, complained in April 1862 that doctors would not even let women inside the hospitals. “I only wish that the doctors would let us try and see what we can do! . . . Is not the noble example of Miss Nightingale to pass for nothing? I trust not. What one woman has done, another may do.” Once the Confederate Army officially acknowledged the role of nurses in the war effort, Cumming worked without cease for the duration of the conflict.

An immigrant from Scotland, she later claimed she was born in 1835 (and some sources list her birth year as 1828 or 1829), but records have recently been unearthed indicating that Catherine Cumming was born in Edinburgh in December 1826. Her family lived briefly in Montreal before she ended up in Mobile, Alabama, by 1845. The year after the end of the war, Cumming published her journal as A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee, from the battle of Shiloh to the end of the war: with sketches of life and character, and brief notices of current events during that period. In spite of the cumbersome title of Cumming’s book, the encyclopedia Women during the Civil War considers it “one of the best and most thorough personal accounts of work within the Confederate hospital service.” The following excerpt details her experiences following the Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863).

The following is a list of Civil War figures mentioned by Cumming in her diary:

Page 535: Dr. James F. Heustis (1828–1891) was a surgeon from Mobile.
536: Colonel Arthur St. Clair Colyar (1818–1907) became a member of the Second Confederate Congress, 1864–65.
537: Dr. Benjamin W. Ussery (1829–1894) was a surgeon with the 42nd Tennessee Infantry.
538: Professor Joseph Desha Pickett (1822–1900), a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), was the chaplain of the 1st Kentucky Brigade and a former professor of rhetoric. Colonel Harvey W. Walter (1819–1878) served as a judge advocate on the staff of Confederate Army general Braxton Bragg.
539: Dr. Samuel H. Stout (1822–1903) was the superintendent of hospitals for the Army of Tennessee. Neill Smith Brown (1810–1886) was the Whig governor of Tennessee, 1847–49, and U.S. minister to Russia, 1850–53.
540: Major General Thomas C. Hindman (1828–1868) commanded a division in the Army of Tennessee.
541: Brigadier General Arthur M. Manigault (1824–1886) commanded a brigade in Hindman’s division.
542: Captain William J. O’Brien of the Alabama 24th Infantry practiced law in Mobile before the war.
544: Dr. Andrew J. Foard (c. 1829–1868), was the field medical director for the Department of the West. Edward A. Flewellen (1819–1910) was the field medical director for the Army of Tennessee. Brigadier General Zachariah C. Deas (1819–1882, misspelled as Deus) commanded a brigade in Hindman’s division.

The closing paragraph paraphrases James Montgomery’s “Lord Falkland’s Dream” (1831): “‘Can this,’ he sigh’d, ‘be virtuous fame and clear? / Ah! what a field of fratricide is here!’” Falkland (Lucius Cary, second Viscount Falkland) was a royalist member of Parliament who unsuccessfully sought a negotiated end to the English Civil War before being killed at the first battle of Newbury.

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One day in Spring, six or eight years ago, I received a letter from a man somewhere beyond the Wabash announcing that he had lately completed a very powerful novel and hinting that my critical judgment upon it would give him great comfort. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.