On June 9, 1861, Ohio native Mary Ann Bickerdyke, who would later be known as the mother of the Union Army, traveled by train from her home in Galesburg to Cairo, Ill., carrying supplies to treat sick soldiers. It was the beginning of a four-year career as a nurse for the Union Army.
The 44-year-old widow left her two young boys with neighbors and answered the call for nursing help. In doing so, she pioneered mobile front-line nursing.
Mary Ann Ball was born in Knox County, Ohio, in 1817. She attended Oberlin College and worked as a nurse in Cincinnati during a cholera epidemic in 1837.
She later married Robert Bickerdyke, had her two sons and moved to Galesburg, where her husband died in 1858.
When the Civil War began, Mary Ann heard about the poor conditions of the military camp at Cairo and volunteered to go there. She stayed on and followed the army for the duration of the war, treating the soldiers, scrubbing field hospitals, washing uniforms, and procuring whiskey and fruit. She walked the battlefields with a lantern at night, searching for wounded. She served as a nurse in more than 19 battles, gaining the respect of generals and privates alike.
"Mother Bickerdyke" died in Knox County in 1901.
- Rebecca Goodman
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