In the 1840s, Kate Cumming’s family emigrated from Scotland when she was a child, eventually settling in Mobile, Alabama.
Her mother and two sisters went to England when the Civil War started. Kate stayed in Mobile with her father. Her younger brother enlisted in the 21st Alabama Infantry as part of Ketchum’s Battery. Kate gathered hospital supplies to support wounded soldiers.
In 1862, Reverend Benjamin M. Miller’s speech encouraging women to serve in the hospitals stirred Kate. Inspired by this speech and Florence Nightingale’s example, Kate joined forty other women in Corinth, Mississippi, to nurse Battle of Shiloh wounded—despite her family’s objections.
She briefly returned home that summer yet yearned to continue nursing the soldiers. She traveled to Chattanooga with two other women to volunteer at Newsome Hospital. Her nursing help was eventually accepted.
In September of 1862, the Confederate government began allowing nurses to be paid. Kate enlisted in the Confederate Army Medical Department. Despite her personal sadness at watching soldiers die and battling poor hospital conditions, she worked as matron with Dr. Samuel Stout, medical director for Army of Tennessee, in various locations in Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia.
As a matron, Kate managed hospital departments, nursed soldiers, foraged for supplies, cooked, sewed, wrote letters, and supervised other workers.
She also maintained a detailed diary. This honest account of day-to-day nursing tasks and the men she served also shows tragedies Southerners faced in increasing measure as the war progressed.
After the war, Kate published her diary, A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee from the Battle of Shiloh to the End of the War: With Sketches of Life and Character, and Brief Notices of Current Events During that Period.
The author’s introduction was written in 1865—before publication. Kate is bitter about treatment from the North after the war’s end and urges all to unite. Her hope in publishing her diaries is to show Northerners how all have suffered. She wants reconciliation.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Cumming, Kate. Edited by Harwell, Richard Barksdale. Kate: The Journal of a Confederate Nurse, Louisiana State University Press, 1959.
Hilde, Libra. “Kate Cumming,” Encyclopedia of Alabama, 2019/04/11 http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1101.
“Kate Cumming,” National Park Service, 2019/04/11 ttps://www.nps.gov/people/kate-cumming.htm.
“Kate Cumming,” Wikipedia, 2019/04/11 ttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Cumming.
Rohrer, Katherine E. “Kate Cumming (ca. 1830-1909).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 08 June 2017. Web. 11 April 2019.