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Rebecca Usher, Civil War Nurse

This slideshow contains 22 items
1
Hannah Lane Usher, Hollis, 1874

Hannah Lane Usher, Hollis, 1874

Item 4169 info
Maine Historical Society

Rebecca Randall Usher was named for her mother's stepmother, Rebecca Randall.

Hannah Lane Usher (1795-1889) was the only child of Colonel Isaac Lane and his first wife, Ruth Merrill. She was the second wife of Ellis B. Usher. Rebecca was the eldest of their four children.


2
Ellis B. Usher, Hollis, ca. 1850

Ellis B. Usher, Hollis, ca. 1850

Item 98637 info
Maine Historical Society

Usher's father, Ellis Baker Usher (1785-1855), was a prominent farmer, sawmill operator, and participant in the Maine constitutional convention.

Born in Massachusetts, he moved to Maine at age 12. He believed in educating his daughters as well as his son.

When his only son, Isaac Ellis, moved to Wisconsin in the 1850s, his eldest unmarried daughter, Rebecca, took over much of her father's business activities.


3
Nursing invitation for Rebecca Usher, Biddeford, 1862

Nursing invitation for Rebecca Usher, Biddeford, 1862

Item 81061 info
Maine Historical Society

Almira Quinby (1828-1909), who was living in Biddeford, wrote to Rebecca Usher in October 1862 inviting her to take a nursing position in a Union military hospital.

Quinby noted that her cousin, Louise Titcomb, who was working at the U.S. General Hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania, had told her that Usher was interested in a nursing post. Quinby had heard that Dorothy Dix, the director of nurses for the army, needed more women for that post.

Quinby wrote, "No particular qualifications or specifications are required -- a common experience in nursing & plain, sensible clothing."

Quinby had worked as a nurse at the general hospital at Annapolis.


4
Rebecca Usher on trip to begin nursing work, 1862

Rebecca Usher on trip to begin nursing work, 1862

Item 5481 info
Maine Historical Society

On her arrival in Pennsylvania, Usher wrote to her widowed sister in Hollis, Martha "Mattie" Usher Osgood, to give details on the journey.

She encountered various difficulties, including lack of hotel space in New York, poor weather, and train delays.

Undaunted by the travel problem, Usher reported, "I am delighted with hospital life feel like a bird in the air or a fish in the sea, as if I had found my native element."

Even though she had just arrived, she knew some of the supplies the hospital needed and asked her sister to send stockings, bandages, dried apples, slipper, towels, handkerchiefs, shirt collars, her red cloak, wooden needles, and a bar of soap.


5
Rebecca Usher to sister on hospital needs, Pennsylvania, 1862

Rebecca Usher to sister on hospital needs, Pennsylvania, 1862

Item 81014 info
Maine Historical Society

Even before she was fully settled into the routines at the Chester hospital, Usher had a sense of what -- beyond medicine -- soldiers needed to get well.

She wrote to her sister Ellen Usher Bacon of Portland, "...we do not want to beg on too large a scale, but it is pitiful to see men who left in dependent homes, humiliated to the necessity of begging a pipe full of tobacco."

She also asked for flannel shirts and commented that many of the soldiers had not been paid for 11 months -- and most had not been paid for 5 months.

Her sister was involved with the Maine Camp Hospital Association, which sought to assist Maine soldiers.


6
Rebecca Usher description of military hospital, Pennsylvania, 1862

Rebecca Usher description of military hospital, Pennsylvania, 1862

Item 81015 info
Maine Historical Society

After about two weeks at Chester, Usher wrote to her sister Martha (Mat) and described the hospital, including a sketch of the layout of the wards.

She wrote that the hospital's main building was built as a normal school and was in a beautiful setting of fields, trees, a stream and the Delaware River in the distance.

In the mornings, she went to the kitchen of Adeline Tyler, who was in charge of the nurses.

She wrote that the men were not ready to receive visitors that early, but, when they were, "it is some what embarrassing to march down alone through a quarter mile of men. But one soon becomes accustomed to it, so that it is rather pleasant than otherwise, & you soon find yourself talking with one & another as you pass along.


7
Rebecca Usher on history of military hospital, Pennsylvania, 1863

Rebecca Usher on history of military hospital, Pennsylvania, 1863

Item 81017 info
Maine Historical Society

In January 1863, Usher wrote a history of the building's use as a military hospital.

Usher described the beginnings of the hospital, which grew out of a soldiers' aid society in Chester. She wrote, "The ladies showered luxuries of all kinds upon the soldiers, & the surgeons found that the men were in many instances being killed with kindness."

The women, however, turned against the doctors and tried to turn the soldiers against the doctors as well, Usher wrote.

Because the local aid society was ousted from the hospital, supplies had to come from elsewhere. Many came from Massachusetts, the home state of Adeline Tyler, who was in charge of the hospital.


8
Rebecca Usher on visit to White House, 1863

Rebecca Usher on visit to White House, 1863

Item 81046 info
Maine Historical Society

The nurses got breaks from their hospital work, sometimes between rushes of incoming soldiers.

Usher wrote about a visit to Washington, D.C., in March of 1863 -- noting that the Chester hospital might close if no more soldiers were sent there.

While in Washington, she and the other nurses attended a White House levee (reception). She wrote, "To our great disappointment the Father of his country & brother of all mankind was not present."

She did meet Mrs. Lincoln, however.


9
Rebecca Usher on leaving hospital job, Pennsylvania, 1863

Rebecca Usher on leaving hospital job, Pennsylvania, 1863

Item 81063 info
Maine Historical Society

Indeed, the hospital did close in April 1863. Usher decided to return to Maine.

She wrote to her sister, Jane, who was called Jennie, and asked her sister to send some clothes.

She wrote that she would leave by the end of the first week in April, visit a friend in Baltimore, then go to Boston for a few days with Louise Titcomb, another Mainer working at the hospital.


10
Ellis B. Usher home, Hollis, ca. 1900

Ellis B. Usher home, Hollis, ca. 1900

Item 1487 info
Maine Historical Society

Rebecca Usher returned to Hollis and the "Brick House," as the family called their home.

Because her father had died before the war, Rebecca had managed his interests and apparently was needed at home.


11
Rebecca N. Usher, Hollis, ca. 1885

Rebecca N. Usher, Hollis, ca. 1885

Item 5215 info
Maine Historical Society

While most soldiers and many nurses had their photographs taken during the war -- in part to share with others -- no such image of Rebecca Usher is known.

Leila Usher (1859-1955), the daughter of Rebecca's only brother, Isaac, grew up in Wisconsin and became a recognized sculptor. She did this bust of her aunt.

Leila Usher's work won awards at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895 and the Pan-Pacific Exposition in 1915. Among her subjects for busts were Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony, and John Wesley Powell.


12
Lewis W. Campbell, ca. 1864

Lewis W. Campbell, ca. 1864

Item 5197 info
Maine Historical Society

Lewis W. Campbell of Machias gave this carte de visite image of himself to Rebecca Usher, writing on the back, "Respects of L.W. Campbell. Srgt. Co. B 11 Me."

Campbell may have met Usher after he was wounded in 1864 or at the end of the war, when she was working at City Point, Virginia.

Another soldier, Sgt. C. H. Pettengill of Lewiston, carried on a correspondence with Usher's sister Martha Osgood, whose name he found as the maker of a needle case he received at the hospital where Usher worked.


13
Rebecca Usher on Lincoln's assassination, Virginia, 1865

Rebecca Usher on Lincoln's assassination, Virginia, 1865

Item 1459 info
Maine Historical Society

Late in 1864, Rebecca Usher returned to nursing work, this time at City Point, Virginia, where she was assigned by the Maine Camp Hospital Association, working with the Maine Agency Sanitary Commission.

She wrote on May 1, 1865 that she was to have been sent home April 1, but the nurses were so busy, she stayed.

She wrote, "I bore up well under it until the news came of the assassination of our beloved President. I could not believe it at first, but when the terrible truth was forced upon me I was almost paralysed It seemed as if the sun would never shine again."


14
Letter from Rebecca Usher on soldiers' hospital, 1865

Letter from Rebecca Usher on soldiers' hospital, 1865

Item 1461 info
Maine Historical Society

Six days after her letter about Lincoln's assassination, Usher wrote to her sister Ellen Bacon in Portland about the great needs of the soldiers -- even though the fighting had ended.

She wrote, "men who are unable to march are sent down here with no provision for their sustenance."

She added that soldiers had been marched unnecessarily hard to Richmond -- with no enemy as Lee had already surrendered. Some fell along the roads, she said.

Usher reported that she and the other nurses fed all the Maine soldiers, which was their major responsibility, then soldiers from other states.

She said the hospital was to be closed and she expected to be back in Maine "in a fortnight"


15
Isaac W. Starbird, Litchfield, ca. 1862

Isaac W. Starbird, Litchfield, ca. 1862

Item 5213 info
Maine Historical Society

Soldiers and nurses in the hospitals often became close. They discussed many subjects.

Rebecca Usher wrote, after the war, about some of her encounters with soldiers. One was a 21-year-old Confederate officer with a serious wound. Nurses worked to cheer him.

From him, Usher learned about the South and about his views of the war. She was shocked at his reports of his treatment of black slaves.

Among her possessions after she died were a number of photographs soldiers had given her.


16
Isaac Starbird letter to Rebecca Usher, Litchfield, 1865

Isaac Starbird letter to Rebecca Usher, Litchfield, 1865

Item 80987 info
Maine Historical Society

Isaac Warren Starbird, a native of Litchfield and graduate of Bowdoin College, mustered into Company F of the 19th Maine Volunteer Infantry as a captain in August 1862.

He was wounded at Gettysburg. Later, he was promoted to major in 1864 and became commander of the 19th Maine.

He became a physician in Massachusetts after the war.

In 1865, he sent his photo to Usher, writing, "That you may have some reminder of him, who so thankfully received the many visits y'r kindness prompted you to favor him with, I send you the enclosed picture -- with the prayer that God will reward you for your attentions to so many of his creatures, who were suffering for the right."


17
Ruth Mayhew, Portland, ca. 1860

Ruth Mayhew, Portland, ca. 1860

Item 5198 info
Maine Historical Society

The women who worked together also developed close friendships.

Ruth Mayhew, the widow of a minister, had been teaching in Portland until the war broke out.

She then volunteered as a nurse and worked with the Maine Camp Hospital Association. She and Usher served at City Point, Virginia, in late 1864 through the end of the war.


18
Ruth Mayhew letter to Rebecca Usher, Ottawa, Kansas, 1866

Ruth Mayhew letter to Rebecca Usher, Ottawa, Kansas, 1866

Item 80973 info
Maine Historical Society

Usher and Mayhew remained friends. After the war, Mayhew went to Kansas to work at an Indian school. She later returned to Maine.

In 1866, she wrote to Usher, "What think you of our President? Do you not often think of the remark you made in regards to him, on your return from Washington after the inauguration. I do."

Usher had apparently said that "the vice president amounts to but little if the president lives."

Mayhew referred to Andrew Johnson, who became president after Lincoln's assassination.


19
Sarah Sampson to Rebecca Usher, Bath, 1868

Sarah Sampson to Rebecca Usher, Bath, 1868

Item 80988 info
Maine Historical Society

Usher also was acquainted with Sarah Sampson of Bath, who was a nurse at the front and later for the Maine Camp Hospital Association.

After the war, Sampson founded the Bath Military and Naval Orphan Asylum. In response to a donation Usher sent, Sampson urged Usher to visit. Ruth Mayhew also was at the orphanage and Sampson said, "Mrs. Mayhew is as happy as possible in the anticipation of a visit from you."


20
Rebecca Usher on Grant and Chamberlain, Bar Mills, 1865

Rebecca Usher on Grant and Chamberlain, Bar Mills, 1865

Item 89917 info
Maine Historical Society

The Civil War was transformative experience for many who fought or otherwise served in it.

Nurses like Usher were no exception. She was not on the battlefield, but was close to it and to those who had been there.

After the war, besides her continuing contacts with men and women she had known during the war, she followed politics.

When Ulysses S. Grant came to Maine in 1865, Usher was eager to hear him speak, and see him and war hero Joshua Chamberlain.

She wrote to her sister, "Gen. Grant is a silent man, talks very little & never because he is expected to say something. His face is remarkable for what it conceales feelings & emotions as Mr Lincoln's was for what it revealed."


21
Letter concerning former soldier's visit, Portland, 1890

Letter concerning former soldier's visit, Portland, 1890

Item 80990 info
Maine Historical Society

The relationships did not end, even as the war faded.

In 1890, a former soldier known to both Usher and Louisa Titcomb, with whom she served at Chester, wrote to tell Titcomb that he wouldn't have time to visit Usher when he came to Maine from his home in California.

Titcomb suggested Usher tell the soldier that she was "about on your last legs" and would not "last till he visits this region again."

Usher was about 69 years old at the time.


22
Rebecca Usher diary, 1865

Rebecca Usher diary, 1865

Item 1451 info
Maine Historical Society

Usher's family kept the letters she wrote home and she saved much of her war memorabilia and letters she received from soldiers and from her fellow nurses.

She responded to a request from Frank Moore who wrote a book about women in the war, recounting many of her experiences and the types of work the women did.

Whether single, widowed, or married, women who served as nurses had experiences unique to women of their era and sought to preserve -- and remember -- something of that time in their lives and the life of the country.


This slideshow contains 22 items
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