The Maine Camp and Hospital Association was established in 1862 to ensure that soldiers from Maine received the supplies donated for them from folks back home. Its members were ready to serve as nurses whenever needed.
In October of 1862, Almira Quinby invited Miss Rebecca Usher to work at U.S. General Hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania. Rebecca was to wear plain, sensible dresses. The only other qualification was “a common experience in nursing.”
The large hospital building used by surgeons and nurses had been a normal school. Nine hundred patients were cared for in barracks, which were divided into wards holding 60—70 patients each. Rebecca, in charge of one ward, felt as if she was in her element.
She wrote to her sister, Ellen Usher Bacon who worked with the Maine Camp Hospital Association, requesting tobacco and flannel shirts for the soldiers.
While working in Pennsylvania, Rebecca traveled to Washington with other nurses. Though she met Mrs. Lincoln, she wrote of her disappointment at not meeting President Lincoln.
The Chester hospital closed in April, 1863, and Rebecca returned to her home in Hollis, Maine. She didn’t return to nursing work until the winter of 1864. At City Point, Virginia, she and two other women lived in a log hut that Union soldiers built for them. The stockade, as Rebecca called the hut, contained three rooms: a reading room for soldiers; a cookhouse; and the nurses’ bedroom, which was also used for supply storage.
Twenty-eight barrels of potatoes were shipped from Baltimore the first week of February. Eight barrels of vegetables, frozen during shipping, had to be thrown away as inedible. Soldiers requested potatoes as if the vegetable was a treat. They roasted them in the reading room’s ashes.
After watching the men savor the luxury of roasted potatoes, Rebecca wrote home that it was worth sending the vegetables—even if a quarter of them were lost.
She remained at City Point until the war ended.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Moore, Frank. Women of the War, Blue Gray Books, 1997.
“Rebecca Usher, Civil War Nurse,” Maine History Online, 2018/01/06, https://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/2443/slideshow/1482/display?format=list&prev_object_id=3926&prev_object=page&slide_num=1.