Women’s Activities During the Civil War

1861. Columbia, our State Capital, was not laggard in working for the soldiers.

Early in the summer of 1861, a Soldiers’ Relief Association was formed there, of which Mrs. David J. (Louisa S.) McCord was the first President. This association met first, and for some time, at Gracey’s store, in Main Street – afterwords at Kinsler’s Hall, and later at the chapel of the Theological Seminary. The Seminary was then emptied of its students, and gave a home to many low-country refugees.

Much work was done free, as well as that done for the quarter-master, for which pay was received. This pay work was given to the wives of poor soldiers, many of whom would walk into town to get it, long distances from the neighboring sand hills. On one occasion, a young woman begged that she might be given work for a certain company, of which her husband was a member. A garment was handed her with the kindly but jesting speech, “I shouldn’t wonder if that were for him now.” As the poor thing opened the parcel, she saw, sewed to the garment, a little tag, put there by the tailor, with the name of her husband. She began to cry pitifully, and there were few dry eyes about her.

Mrs. Campbell Bryce’s Reminiscences

Mrs. Bryce recalls Mrs. Parker and her daughter Lena, Mrs. G. M. Goodwin, Mrs. Nurse, Mrs. Beard, as faithful in this work, as well as many others whose names she cannot remember.

Others mentioned to us Mrs. Howe, Mrs. James P. Adams, two Mrs. Bryces, Mrs. Reynolds, Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. Bachman, Misses Elmore, Miss LaBorde, Misses Goodwyn, Mrs. Jeff Goodwyn, Misses Stark, Miss Lucy Green, Mrs. Macfie, Misses Reynolds, and Palmer, as earnest workers, either in this association or others.

Mrs. Thomas Taylor
Mrs. Thomas Taylor says: “At Gracey’s store, I remember ‘cutting out’ with Mrs. Samuel Beard, Mrs. Rufus Johnston, and Miss Louisa Graeser.”

Mrs. J. P. Adams. Letter written 1901
Another member says: ‘In those days, we had no sewing machines, and the work was done by ourselves and our seamstresses. Mine made fourteen pairs of drawers in a week for that association, and never seemed hurried. The Negroes were faithful and kind. They did not believe our troops would ever be beaten.”

Mrs. Adams remembers that “this association made the uniforms for the company commanded* by Capt. L. Cheves McCord, his mother, Mrs. McCord, furnishing the material” – gray cloth. “I remember my suit was stitched with silk, and that the company presented a most attractive appearance. Mrs. Dr. Parker did most of our cutting.”

Not only did the elder women of Columbia work hard for this association. Some of the young girls met there on regular days, and not only sewed there for hours, but took work home with them. Their elders, most of them practiced seamstresses, were very patient in their instructions and criticisms, though they exacted good work.

More than one girl of that day – grandmothers now – look back with respect and affection to their instructors, and to many happy hours spent under their guidance.

Of course, the girls in Columbia, as everywhere else, learned how to knit. Even children could manage suspenders. Some of the girls were expert enough to read aloud while knitting, and in this way the few new books that reached us during the war (Les Miserable’s and Great Expectations, among others) were often read to an absorbed but industrious group.

Later on, Mrs. McCord, wishing to be freer for hospital work, resigned the presidency of the Soldiers’ Relief Association, and Miss Kate Hampton was her successor. She was followed by Mrs. Campbell Bryce. Mrs. Rufus Johnson was secretary. Of other officers, we have no record.

Columbia, May 17, 1863. – In an old paper, we see the following names of societies – part of a directory for soldiers:

Soldiers’ Relief Association –
President, Mrs. Campbell Bryce.
Soldiers’ Clothing Association – President, Mrs. McCord.
Ladies’ Industrial Association – President, Mrs. Levy.
Young Ladies’ Hospital Association – President, Miss Preston.
Wayside Hospital – President, Mrs. John Bryce.

Mrs. John McKenzie
Columbia

The Work at Columbia
Mrs. J. P. Adams, 1901

In 1861, there was also organized, in Columbia, a Ladies’ Hospital Association.

Of this, Mrs. James P. Adams was the secretary. She says: “My book was full of incidents and records of work done and distributed in many ways, but it was burned with Columbia. The association met monthly, at the Methodist Sunday School room, and was always opened with prayer by Dr. George Howe, Mr. Gamewell, or the Rev. Mr. Martin. Mrs. S. A. Howe (Mrs. George Howe) was president and, I think, Mrs. William Wallace was treasurer. Our work was to send boxes of clothing to the soldiers – in Virginia, principally. One old lady interested in the Hampton Legion invariably piped out, in a shrill tone, ‘Anything for the Hampton Legion?’

“We also gave orders for food to a certain amount, to the wives of soldiers. These orders were given on a Mr. Edward Hope.”

Mrs. Adams mentions, besides those names already given, Mrs. Martin, Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. Andrew Wallace, Mrs. Alfred Wallace, Mrs. McGregor, Mrs. Squiers, Mrs. Lysander Childs, Mrs. McKenzie, as good workers, and goes on thus: “We met to work at the house of Mrs. John Bryce. Mrs. Howe and Mrs. Bryce were active in getting the Fair Grounds building for a hospital.

“* * * We all attended on our own respective days at the hospital. Mrs. W T m. Wallace, Miss Mary McKenzie, Mrs. John LeConte and I were on the same committee, attending weekly. Mrs. LeConte was the soul of fun, and gave us many a hearty laugh.”

Mrs. Adams says, also: “I think almost every woman, high or low, was in the ranks as a worker, and there are those whose names will never be known, who, in silence, anxiety and sorrow, by their patriotism and endurance, gave as much aid as those whose acts were more in evidence.”

Mrs. Thomas Taylor, 1901.
“Outside of these associations in sewing bodies, the women made up clothing for the soldiers. Mrs. Thomas Taylor, wife of Captain Taylor, of the Congaree Troop, Hampton Legion, took charge of the outfit of the company. Materials were issued by the government, and, to secure the commutation money for the men, the uniforms were cut by Mr. Swaffield, and the tailoring done by friends of the members of the command, and it was in their homes that these ladies worked, surrounded and aided by their trained Negro seamstresses. Added to this, the blankets of the united households, and the ply carpets, were given to the soldiers, cotton comforts re-placing blankets for family use.

Mrs. Stephen Goodwyn DeVeaux was a great worker in tailoring. All the socks of the company were supplied by the knitting of the women who had friends in the Congaree Troop, for that winter. When completed, the uniforms were inspected by Mr. Swaffield, whose kindness and instructions were frequent and valuable. He reported to Mrs. Taylor that one pair of trousers had to be ripped up and again sewed, under his directions, as the seams had been so deepened that the man wearing them could not have moved to go forward, or to run away. Mrs. Taylor acknowledged the work to be hers, and the old Englishman remarked, I don’t want to rip another pair you make, for you meant that sewing to stay.’ ‘I did, indeed,’ was the reply; ‘witness the raw edge on my hand, made by drawing the flax thread to a pull’.”

Mrs. J. P. Adams.
“Houses were denuded of blankets to make into drawers and undershirts, and socks were knit by the hundreds, Mrs. McCord being notable for her industry in that line.”

(Mrs. McCord knit with large needles and coarse yarn, and tasked herself three socks every day, Sundays and week days.)

Mrs. Campbell Bryce’s Reminiscences, Published 1897.

In September, 1861, the first soldiers’ hospital was established in Columbia by ladies, at the Fair Grounds.

“Measles had broken out at the camp near the town, where about 3,000 men were being drilled and prepared for service.”

To quote from Mrs. Bryce: “With our contributions, we (Mrs. Howe and Mrs. Bryce) purchased cots, bedding, etc., calling in the services of Mrs. John Bryce, who, for the next four years, gave her whole heart and time to the aid and comfort of our soldiers.

“After we had all things in readiness, we informed the officers that they might bring their men in, but, to our intense astonishment, we were told that they would not come, that they had no desire to go to a ‘hors-pitul.’ * * *

“So we formed ourselves into a committee of three – Mrs. Howe, Mrs. John Bryce, and myself – and took the cars for the camp. Here the officers met us, begging us to go into some of the tents, and tell the men what we had done for them. We did this and, with one accord, they decided to go and be taken care of.

“The men were brought in by the officers and, as we had not yet found nurses for them, Mrs. Howe and Mrs. John Bryce assisted the very sick to undress, untying their shoes, and pulling off their shoes and stockings.

“We were not long without help, however, for the ladies of Columbia formed themselves into committees of four, or six, or eight, for each day, and Dr. Fair had an appointment as a kind of local Confederate Surgeon, with several young doctors under him.

“During the winter following, some forty soldiers died, many from pneumonia, some from typhoid fever, and others from erysipelas. Although we had a corps of hired nurses, our ladies were still indefatigable in their attentions.

“Mrs. Howe and Mrs. John Bryce, the President and Vice-President of the Hospital Association, were faithful in their attendance at all times. Mrs. Howe contracted erysipelas from her close attention to the patients with that disease.

“Later on, the government took charge of the hospital, but the ladies did not cease their care.”

Mrs. Rawles, Mrs. Friday, and Mrs. Heise have been named to us as earnest in this work, and Mrs. Daniel Crawford, from the vicinity of her home, as having been able often to add to the comforts of the soldiers.
Mrs. Thomas Taylor.

Mrs. F. H. Elmore and Mrs. John Caldwell served together at the Fair Grounds. Mrs. Elmore was always accompanied on her hospital days by one of her six daughters. There was an alarm of erysipelas on one occasion, and Mrs. Elmore dispatched Mrs. Thomas Taylor to her home, on the outskirts of Columbia, to prepare the dining-room, a large, airy apartment, for two young Mississippians, one wounded in the thigh, the other in the shoulder. The two beds were up by the time the soldiers arrived. A fine Negro family nurse was installed, and for months the invalids had their comforts and wounds cared for by the family and Phyllis.

Other houses became temporary homes for the sick who could get no farther on their way until strengthened. Mrs. Thomas Taylor took into her carriage, one day on her way from the Wayside Hospital, two fever patients, who were lying in the hot sun, on a carpenter’s bench, in the street, with desolate look upturned towards the sky. These were received by Dr. Wm. Reynolds in the room appropriated for such, in his house, and were cared for by Mrs. Reynolds.

Minutes of Young Ladies’ Hospital Association of Columbia, in possession of Miss I. D. Martin.

A shabby old blank book has been lent this committee, bearing on its flyleaf the words, “Young Ladies’ Hospital Association, July 26, 1861.” This book contains the partial record of a work begun by the girls of Columbia, which afterwards branched out over a much wider field, and was instrumental in the founding of the Wayside Hospital in Columbia, the first of its kind in the world, organized and carried out by women.

Naturally, the management of this hospital (often surgical practice) passed into the hands of older women, assisted by gentlemen who, from their age, were non-combatants – the girls, however, continuing their services as auxiliaries.

The Rev. Wm. Martin was one of the first to suggest and help in this work, and he it was who met every train coming in from Virginia, and directed the soldiers to the Wayside Hospital, transportation being furnished by private means, the ladies going to the depot in their own carriages for the sick men; and afterwards, as the demand became greater, by the Central Committee for Soldiers’ Relief.

Extracts from a paper by Mrs. H. W. Frost, in the Woman’s Edition
of the Columbia State, June 4, 1895.

In reference to the Wayside Hospital, we quote the following:

“In the summer of 1861, the young girls of Columbia, including, of course, those from the low-country who had taken refuge there, organized the ‘Young Girls’ Hospital Association.’

“At one of their meetings, the great need of relief at the railroad depots was brought up – how wounded soldiers arrived and were unavoidably detained, without preparation being made, or being possible, for their comfort, in any way.

“It was then proposed or suggested by (I do not remember whom) that a Wayside Hospital should be started. This name was only given later. Two girls, Sally B. Hampton, daughter of General Wade Hampton, and afterwards Mrs. John C. Haskell, and Susan Hampton Preston, now Mrs. Henry W. Frost, undertook to start the enterprise and raise the means of so doing: which they success-fully accomplished by canvassing the town and being met, as all such things were in those days of enthusiasm, by hearty and generous response to the proposed movement. * * * Such was the origin of the first Wayside Hospital. * * * The scheme soon outgrew the originators, and as in those days girls were strictly hedged in, it was found desirable to turn the Hospital into older hands.”

After recalling some names of ladies who attended at the hospital – all of them being mentioned elsewhere in this report, Mrs. Frost says, “Mrs. Hampton Sr. and her daughter, Mrs. John S. Preston, were contributors only, the one on account of her great age, and Mrs. Preston being absent in Virginia when not in attendance on her mother.”

Extracts from paper by Miss I. D. Martin, published first in Charleston News and Courier, afterwards in Woman’s Edition of Columbia State, June 4, 1895.

Miss Martin tells of the organization of the Young Ladies’ Hospital Association, and goes on thus:

“During the winter of 1861-62 numbers of soldiers were coming home sick, * * * and the poor fellows would be obliged to remain in Columbia for hours, and sometimes a day and a night. Some ladies of the city resolved to meet the trains as they arrived from Virginia and minister as best they could to the needs of the suffering men. But there was no organized plan. * * *

“A clergyman who was in the habit of meeting the trains to afford assistance, called the attention of the Young Ladies’ Hospital Association to this * * * and suggested the propriety of applying some of their funds to arranging a room at the Charlotte Depot.

“This suggestion was immediately carried out. * * * The place was styled the Soldiers’ Rest. It was concluded to transfer the Soldiers’ Rest to the South Carolina Depot. But the affair had now assumed dimensions far beyond anything its originators had ever dreamed of, and the elder ladies, to whom the girls were accustomed to defer, thought it best to take matters into their own hands. The Soldiers’ Rest was changed into the Wayside Hospital.

“The girls ‘were very indignant,’ but became pacified when allowed to accompany the older ladies. * * * The outgoing trains left at a very early hour in the morning, but never, through the whole existence of the hospital, did these women and girls fail to be at their post.”

The object of the Wayside Hospital was limited in intention. It was to receive and minister to the needs of the sick, and especially the wounded from battlefields, whose wounds might be dressed, and some more comfort insured them on their further journey to their homes, or to a permanent hospital.

Address by Dr. Darby, 1873.

We give an extract from an address by Dr. John T. Darby, Surgeon Confederate States Army, before the South Carolina Medical Association, in 1873.

Speaking of the ameliorations of modern warfare, Dr. Darby says: “On the route from the army to the general hospital, wounds are dressed and the soldiers refreshed at wayside homes; and here, be it said with justice and pride, that the credit of originating this system is due to the women of South Carolina. In a small room in the capital of this State the first wayside home was founded, and during the war some 75,000 soldiers were relieved by having their wounds dressed, their ailments attended, and very frequently by being clothed, through the patriotic services and good offices of a few untiring ladies of Columbia. From this little nucleus spread that grand system of wayside hospitals which was established during our own and the late European wars, and it is beautiful to see and know that, though implements of war are made more and more effective for the destruction of life, the progress and advance of surgery gives com-fort and restores health to the servant in arms who has suffered for his country.”

Mrs. H. W. Frost, in the Woman’s Edition of the State, Columbia, 1895

“In 1866, Dr. John T. Darby went as volunteer surgeon to the Red Cross Corps in the Austro-Russian War. Being an American, and neutral, his skill and help were recognized and appreciated by the eminent surgeons in both armies. He suggested (I think) to Langenback and Elsmarck, the eminent German surgeons, this system of wayside hospitals, which”, with their means and most effective methods, were carried out with a success that make a world-known and most beloved name of wayside hospital.”



MLA Source Citation:

South Carolina Women in the Confederacy. Edited and Published By Mrs. Thomas Taylor, Chairman, Mrs. Smythe, Mrs. August Kohn, Miss Poppenheim, Miss Martha B. Washington, State Committee Daughters of the Confederacy. Columbia, South Carolina, The State Company, 1903. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 20 December 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/south-carolina/womens-activities-during-the-civil-war.htm - Last updated on May 20th, 2011


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