Civil War Women: Rebecca R. Usher, Nurse

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,



Across Three Autumns by Denise Weimer

Part of The Backcountry Brides Collection – Eight 18th Century Women Seek Love on Colonial America’s Frontier

 This novella is set in Wilkes County, Georgia, beginning in 1778.

Jenny White protects her mother and sisters from Creek warriors while her father fights in the war for independence with the British. Since the local tribes have sided with Great Britain, they are her enemy.

Caylan McIntosh, a Scotsman scout, comes to fetch her father back to the militia after Savannah falls. The muscular man towers over Jenny as few men do. He captivates not only Jenny’s attention but also Hester’s—her beautiful, younger sister.

The war of the revolution spreads to the Georgia wilderness, demanding all of Jenny’s courage and love.

The author drew me into the action from the beginning where Jenny’s bravery and protectiveness toward her family are immediately evident. Lovable, heroic characters are stretched to their limits, touching readers with the tragedy of a country at war. A page turner!

I will look for more books by this author.


-Sandra Merville Hart


1870s Advice on Exterminating Bedbugs

The problem of bedbugs is not a new one. My dad used to say to us, “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.” We never had bedbugs but that sure didn’t sound pleasant. It must have been a Southern way to say “good night.”

The author of Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, an 1877 book, gives a few remedies to exterminate bedbugs.

Inspect beds for vermin in July and August. Proper steps should take care of the problem.

  • Scald every crack with hot water, taking care not to damage bed furniture. If the hot water harms the varnish, wet a cloth with oil or turpentine and rub the spot immediately.
  • Another method of extermination is to fill crevices with salt. Wash the bed furniture with either a strong brine (salty water) or kerosene. (Kerosene seems like it would injure the furniture to me.)
  • A third method is to mix 1 part quicksilver to twenty parts egg whites. Using a feather, apply this mixture in every crevice on bed and throughout the room. This will kill bedbugs.

The original author advises that, if any of the above recipes are followed faithfully, the pests will be removed.

I (Sandra Merville Hart) cannot vouch for any of the recipes since I’ve not tried them. I share them because it’s an interesting part of our history. As a writer of historical novels, I’m always on the lookout for fascinating facts to include in my stories. You never know–this fit into one of them someday.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.

Civil War Women: Elizabeth Mendenhall

Early in the Civil War, Cincinnati resident Mrs. Elizabeth Mendenhall began to visit sick and wounded soldiers in the hospitals. Cincinnati hospitals cared for wounded soldiers from the summer of 1861 through the end of the war and the important Ohio border city became a hospital center for the Union army under General Grant early in 1862.

Elizabeth worked as a nurse. She also actively sought donations from citizens for military patients, especially around Independence Day and Thanksgiving. The United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) appreciated her work as a nurse and allowed her access to their supplies to serve her patients.

Members of the Cincinnati chapter of the USSC helped in the creations of 8 hospitals as well as a soldiers’ home in the area. They also converted 33 steamboats into hospital ships.

Elizabeth also inspired Cincinnati residents to raise money for the USSC by hosting a Sanitary Fair patterned after one held in Chicago. She led a group of ladies in planning the Great Western Sanitary Fair.

She wrote to communities in the Northwest, appealing to all professions for donations to the fair. Money raised was to benefit sick and wounded soldiers.

The Great Western Sanitary Fair opened at the Mozart Hall in Cincinnati on December 21, 1863. General William S. Rosecrans attended. The event lasted through the holidays. A Grand Soiree and Promenade in the Ladies’ Bazaar ended the fair on January 4, 1864. Railroad and steamboat companies sold tickets at half fare, according to an advertisement.

The event was an outstanding success, earning $235,406 for the USSC.

After the fair ended, Elizabeth worked at the hospitals through the end of the war when Cincinnati military hospitals were disorganized.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Cincinnati Branch, U.S. Sanitary Commission, “Great Western Sanitary Fair,” in Ohio Civil War 150 | Collections Y Exhibits, Item #1749, (accessed January 4, 2019).

“The Great Western Sanitary Fair opens in Cincinnati, Ohio,” House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,

Moore, Frank. Women of the War, Blue Gray Books, 1997.


A Worthy Groom by Angela K. Couch

Part of The Backcountry Brides Collection – Eight 18th Century Women Seek Love on Colonial America’s Frontier

 This novella is set at Sapling Grove on the Holston River in 1771.

Lucinda Cowden is finally free of her abusive husband’s fists. She can’t mourn as she stares down at his grave. Yet her relief is short-lived. Her father-in-law forces her to marry in order to get her land.

Marcus Cowden wrestles with the violence that he and his siblings were raised in. Can he break the cycle? His cousin’s widow needs a husband.

A heart-wrenching story that touches on the far-reaching effects of an abusive father.


-Sandra Merville Hart

1870s Tips for Keeping Bugs Out of the Home

Under the heading of “General Suggestions,” I found several interesting tips about keeping bugs out of the home in an 1877 book, Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping.

To keep red ants away, store a small bag of sulphur in a cupboard or drawer.

Having a problem with cockroaches? Sprinkle hellebore (a winter flower also known as a Christmas Rose) over the floor at night. Cockroaches eat the poisonous plant.

To keep moths away: Add 1 ounce of gum-camphor and 1 ounce of powdered red pepper to 8 ounces of alcohol. Mix together and allow it to set for a week and then strain it. Sprinkle clothing with the strained solution then wrap the clothes in strong paper or cloth.

To keep moths out of the carpet, wash the floor with benzine or turpentine before laying the carpet.

Flies on gilt frames? Boil 3 to 4 onions in a pint of water. Brush on the mixture with a soft brush. (I’m assuming it is cooled when applying.)

Alum is crystalline powder used in cooking vegetables and fruits. It is also used in pickling. If you have a problem with ants and other insects, dissolve 2 pounds of alum in 3 quarts of water. Brush hot solution over crevices where ants are found.

Alum is also good to keeping moths away from furs. Dust powdered alum into the roots of the fur.

As a writer of historical novels, I’m always looking for fascinating facts to include in my stories. It’s fun to find out how folks lived and coped with issues a century or two ago.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.

“Helleborus niger – Christmas Rose,” Cornell University, 2018/12/22

“Spices,” McCormick, 2018/12/22

Civil War Women: Mary E. Shelton

Iowa president of the Ladies’ Aid Society, Annie Turner Wittenmyer, had grown so busy establishing new local aid societies, providing hospital supplies, and visiting wounded soldiers in Union soldiers that she needed a secretary by the summer of 1863. Miss Mary E. Shelton quickly proved her worth as Annie’s secretary.

On August 10, 1863, Mary left Keokuk to accompany her new boss to St. Louis. Along the way Mary answered many heartbreaking letters for Annie. One father, grieving one son who died, asked Mrs. Wittenmyer to check on his other son who was ill with consumption.

The wife of a soldier had written to Mrs. Wittenmyer on behalf of her husband, who was dying from consumption. She requested he be sent home to die surrounded by his young family.

A frantic mother requested that Mrs. Wittenmyer find out news of her sick son.

These requests—and so many more—were the tip of the iceberg for what the compassionate secretary would experience.

After arranging the delivery of future supplies to the Western Sanitary Commission, the ladies traveled to Helena, Arkansas. A division had moved through Helena on the way to Little Rock and left their sick in the streets. The medical director told Annie that 13 soldiers died the first night. They needed nurses and medical supplies.

Annie left immediately and got the supplies from St. Louis. Then Annie and Mary visited the soldiers. They found dirty rooms. Unbathed men still wore their battlefield clothes. By the time they left at twilight, the hospital steward had assured them he’d clean every room. He had orders to change the patients’ clothing.

The two ladies then wrote letters until midnight. But their day’s work bore fruit—the next day, they found patients wearing clean clothes in clean rooms.

They walked to a convalescent camp about a mile outside Helena where a bedridden soldier called Mary to his side. He told her that they had only eaten bean soup for many days. He was so tired of it that he had wept when offered the soup a last time. Through his tears, he prayed. As soon as the prayer was uttered, his nurse announced, “Mrs. Wittenmyer is coming with two loads of sanitary goods!” Hearing the wagon wheels, the men cried for joy. Then Mrs. Wittenmyer brought them chicken and fruit. The soldier believed the food and other sanitary supplies had saved their lives.

Annie and Mary traveled to Vicksburg from Helena. The hospitals there were well-run. They returned to Iowa that fall. Mary, having seen so much need, wrote letters and spoke with her fellow citizens on behalf of the wounded. She urged greater generosity for the suffering solders.

Mary was constantly in the field, visiting hospitals and running hospital Diet Kitchens. Her work often took her to Nashville and Wilmington and lasted beyond the end of the war.

She wrote many of her experiences in a journal.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Moore, Frank. Women of the War, Blue Gray Books, 1997.


A Heart So Tender by Debra E. Marvin

Part of The Backcountry Brides Collection – Eight 18th Century Women Seek Love on Colonial America’s Frontier

 This novella is set at Fort Niagara in 1764.

Lieutenant Archibald Waters worries about the large party that Sir William Johnson is bringing to the fort. Hundreds of guests accompany Johnson, who is on a mission to negotiate treaties with all the local Native American tribes. Arch’s job is to keep everyone safe.

The party includes Susannah Kimball, along with her father and brother. But where are the other women?

Arch’s job is given the special task of guarding the Kimball family. Keeping the lovely Susannah safe in a fort filled with lonely men will be challenging.

The setting drew me into an area of the country that I’ve visited. The struggles of Susannah’s brother snagged my interest as well as the romance.

I’m enjoying this whole collection.

-Sandra Merville Hart



Cornbread Recipe from Mingus Mill Cornmeal

On the way to a North Carolina beach last summer, my husband and I planned to spend a few hours in Cherokee. As we neared Cherokee, we saw a sign for Mingus Mill and decided to explore it. The mill is a short walk from the parking lot. We crossed a foot bridge over a beautiful mountain stream to arrive at the still operating mill.

The historic grist mill was built in 1886 at its current location in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mill, which uses a water-powered turbine, is also a museum where visitors can learn about the milling process.

This beautiful, peaceful place is about two miles from Cherokee and is well worth stopping.

Cornmeal and wheat flour are sold at the mill. What a treat to talk with the miller who had milled the cornmeal that morning. I couldn’t resist the temptation and purchased both. How fun to buy meal and flour that is tied shut with a string!

This week I followed their suggested recipe for cornbread and used it to make cornbread dressing.

The cornmeal makes a heartier cornbread—and more filling. It was hit at a recent family gathering. The remaining cornmeal went back into storage in the refrigerator so we’ll enjoy cornbread another day.

If you are in the area, stop by. The mill is open daily mid-March through mid-November from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Mingus Mill,”, 2018/12/26

“Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill,” National Park Service, 2018/12/26

Civil War Women: Annie Turner Wittenmyer, Diet Kitchen

Annie Turner Wittenmyer, a wealthy widow by the time the Civil War began, threw her efforts into providing hospital supplies needed by Union soldiers. The Iowa resident visited soldiers in army camps.

She established local aid societies throughout Iowa to collect hospital supplies. Her efforts were recognized. She was appointed the leadership of the Iowa State Sanitary Commission in September of 1862.

Annie continued to bring food and blankets to soldiers in army camps, field hospitals, riverboats, and on the battlefields. While there, she saw the food given to soldiers, such as hardtack and greasy bacon, and it distressed her. The men suffered from scurvy and typhoid.

Her brother, David Turner, was in an army hospital in Sedalia, Missouri. While she was with him, David was given fried bacon, bread, and strong coffee. Though she nursed him back to health, the problem of the food given to wounded and sick men remained on her mind.

An idea for a Diet Kitchen at army hospitals came to her in December of 1863. She proposed her idea to Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, and President Abraham Lincoln.

Receiving charge of kitchens in all Union army hospitals, Annie started in Nashville, Tennessee. She trained female workers to prepare light meals with individual attention to each patient’s needs. By working with each patient’s doctor, the ladies gave nourishing meals.

Over 100 Diet Kitchens, staffed by two trained women, had been established by the end of the Civil War. By then the army’s medical department had generally adopted the Diet Kitchen.

These kitchens offered another way for women to serve.

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Annie Turner Wittenmyer,”, 2018/12/28

Longden, Tom. “Annie Wittenmyer,” Des Moines Register, 2018/12/28

Williams, Rachel. “The United States Sanitary and Christian Commissions and the Union War Effort,” National Museum of Civil War Medicine, 2018/12/27