Nursing In The Period Of The Civil War

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Before the Civil War, nursing was not considered a reputable career. Women were already considered the natural choice for nurses because they were caretakers (Weatherford par 1) for their children and families. Nursing could be considered one of the oldest professions because some people were paid for their services well before it was organized. Women would accept positions as wet nurses and live in their employers homes (Weatherford par 1).

Many hospitals were built after the Civil War, and it aided in helping nursing become a credentialed profession (Weatherford par 3). At the beginning of the war, the volunteers included mistresses and wives who followed their soldiers. These volunteers were considered camp followers (Weatherford par 3), and most had no formal or informal nursing training. These women were not considered respectable (Weatherford par 3). This was an era of distinct class separations, and a higher-class woman would not have been allowed in military camps. Fortunately, many women rebelled against the proper standards of the time, and many of them had extremely important roles in changing the way nursing was viewed. More than 20,000 northern and southern women engaged in relief work during the Civil War. A great amount of this was the delivery of nursing care (Nursing, History, and Health Care par 11). They also assisted in implementing new procedures and standards that would help prevent death and disease from overrunning the camps.

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Clara Barton was one of these women. She was affiliated with the US Sanitary Commission. The US Sanitary Commission was the organization that promoted the Red Cross into existence. Clara assisted in the development of systems for the missing and dead (Weatherford par 4). Emma Edmonds wrote about an experience she had with a missing patient in her book Nurse and Spy in the Union Army. Edmonds writes, We had just commenced to pack our saddle-bags, when we heard an unusual noise, as of some one crying piteously, and going out to learn the cause of the excitement, whom should we find but the mother of our handsome blue-eyed patient. She had called at the surgeons tent to inquire for her son, and he had told her that all the sick had been sent to Washington, he having forgotten for the moment, the exception with regard to her son. The first words I heard were spoken in the most touching manner Oh, why did you send away my boy? I wrote you I was coming; Oh, why did you send him away! (31).

Because there was not any type of system set in place before the war many wounded, dead and missing were not accounted for. When camps moved, and soldiers were relocated their whereabouts were not accurately documented. It was not uncommon for families to come in search of deceased and not be able to find them.

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