Paying tribute to Civil War nurses, like Maureen, during Women’s History Month

BoonsboroTalk

Wonderful to talk with people who live in the area where Maureen lived. (Photo by Nellie Jane.)

Last Saturday, I took part in a Women’s History Month event at the Boonsboro Library.

While my two fellow panelists are real historians—John Banks writes a great Civil War blog, and Emilie Amt is a professor of history at Hood College—I was invited because of DIVIDED LOYALTIES. The program was organized by Smoketown-Antietam Hospital Project.

It was a sell-out crowd. The library meeting room was jam packed. I lost count at 40 because people kept finding new ways to squeeze into that room.

Emilie told the story of a local 17 year old volunteer, Christiana Kerfoot. Like Maureen, she volunteered at Smoketown to take care of soldiers wounded during the Battle of Antietam. Although she was better educated than my Maureen, more genteel and refined than my tough farm girl, I like to think their age and their experiences as battlefield nurses would have made them great friends. After hearing Christiana’s story, I could imagine Maureen, her best friend Eliza and Christiana making a great team.

John had lots of photos of Maria Hall, a real life nurse who really did serve at Smoketown. She wasn’t much older than Maureen but she was trained, experienced and good at taking care of wounded soldiers. I loved seeing the photos of relatives John has met and the Connecticut house she lived in after the war with her husband. Maureen, readers know, thought the world of this brave, beautiful nurse. I really enjoyed getting to know her better.

I brought the atmosphere to the day, describing  what I imagined Maureen experienced throughout the days of Smoketown Hospital. When I considered the places and times Maureen was living in, I had to think about the way the air smelled after the battle, the smoke, the gunfire, the metallic tang of blood. I imagined the sounds in the air, the cries for help, the keening of women over the men lying sightless, I thought about the vultures who must have circled overhead, the way the sunlight heated up the battlefield on a hot September day. I imagined what it was like to live in a tent throughout a very cold winter.

BoonsboroArticle

This article appeared in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail the Sunday before the March 17 presentation.

I described the scenes in my book, everything from the bad food to the frightful temperatures, the anguish and the suffering. I had made it all up, but I’d had plenty of sources, including photos and journals, to inspire the settings I wrote about.

It was great day. I was honored to be a part of this event and delighted to meet John, whose work I discovered when I was researching Divided Loyalties. And imagine my shock when my book was featured in the local paper.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate and for all the people who came to listen and were interested in Maureen’s story.

 

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