Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Hospital Sketches #2: Robertson Hospital Richmond

Hospital Sketches #3 
Virginia Cockscomb by Becky Brown

This flamboyant block recalls Robertson's Hospital in Richmond, a private facility that treated patients throughout the Civil War.

The hospital looked much like the white frame building on Main Street in this Alexander Gardner photo taken of the Confederate capitol during the war years.

Robertson Hospital was small--- 25 to 35 beds in a large house. The woman in charge, 28-year-old  Sally Louisa Tompkins, is sometimes referred to as a Civil War nurse but she was what we'd call a hospital administrator. 

After the war's first battle at Manassas Junction in July, 1861 Sally organized the women of St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond, found an abandoned mansion and went to work for five years treating over 1300 patients. Robertson Hospital, named after the home's last owner, dismissed their final patient in June, 1865.

Sally was proud of the hospital's mortality rate, much lower than other institutions large and small.
"Sally was almost obsessed with cleanliness. That obsession probably saved the lives of many in a time when the cause of infection was not understood...."
Frances H. Casstevens in Tales from the North and the South
She ran a tight ship on her own money.

Sally Louisa Tompkins
I Photoshopped a portrait  from about the time the Civil War began 
onto a quilt top attributed to her. The portrait is from the Virginia Historical Society, 
the quilt from the Tompkins Cottage Museum in Mathews County, Virginia, taken by
Becky Foster Barnhardt.

Poplar Grove in Mathews County. Sally was born
in this plantation house passed on from her mother's family. 

Diarist Mary Chesnut often visited Robertson Hospital in the first months of the war bringing food prepared by her slaves in Richmond and from her husband's family plantation in South Carolina. Southern hospitals were sometimes reserved for home state soldiers and Mary, perhaps thinking she'd favor Palmetto State boys, asked:
" 'Are there any Carolinians here?'
Miss T:  'I never ask where the sick and wounded come from.' 
Mary: I was rebuked. I deserved it."

Virginia Cockscomb by Janet Perkins

Hospital admissions were so chaotic people placed ads in
newspapers looking for relatives.

Chimborazo Hospital on a hill southeast of Richmond 
was purpose built with small single-story wards.

Richmond had many hospitals ranging from the giant Confederate complex called Chimborazo that treated 76,000 patients during the War to smaller private hospitals like Sally's. The Confederate government discouraged private institutions but Sally's persisted, probably due to her connections and her competence.

In 1864 Sally advertised in the Richmond Dispatch for information about missing "servant boy Peter who has been employed for some time past as butler at Robertson Hospital." He might have run away or "been impressed by the Government officials," which might have been a common fate. It's hard to see how old he was but he was only 4 feet tall.

Many theories have been written in the Lost Cause narrative after the war explaining why Sally received an appointment as Captain in the CSA from Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker a week before he resigned his post. Perhaps to change her hospital from private to official?

Sally's appointment from the collection of the American
Civil War Museum in Richmond

The Block

 #3 Virginia Cockscomb
by Barbara Brackman

Three variations of the Cockscomb block in one quilt

We call it Cockscomb but  in 1908 the Ladies Home Journal 
called it The Olive Branch.

Quilts in the design were made long before 1908, and it seems
to have been particularly popular in Virginia.

For the background cut a square 18-1/2".
Add seam allowances to the pattern pieces if you are doing traditional applique.

 This month we have two pattern sheets.

To Print:
Create a word file or a new empty JPG file.
Click on the images above.
Right click on each and save to your file.
Print that file. Be sure the square is about 1" in size.

Album dated 1860 from the Steel and Ruth families for D.H.K. Dix
in Western Virginia, documented in the West Virginia project.
In 1860 Dix was a Methodist minister stationed in New Martinsville, Virginia.

See a post on the patttern here:

Sprouts #2
Sprouts is a version of the traditional pattern for the stitcher who
wants something quick. A separate quilt.

Sprouts 1 & 2 by Denniele

Sprouts #2
Denniele Bohannon
She is using a 9" finished background so has more room than the sketch below.

Cut a 9" square background.
Cut 1 A and 1 C and 4 B.
Cut 2 of leaf F from last months Periwinkle Wreath
You need a snippet of 1/2" finished bias for the stem.

After the War

Sally seated with unidentified women in the early 20th century.
Virginia Historical Society

After the war Sally Tompkins remained single, devoting herself to nursing in the more conventional sense of the word, caring for ill family members and friends. She was active in Richmond's Ladies' Hollywood Memorial Association and in funding the Home for Needy Confederate Women, where she lived for the last few years of her long life. After her death she continued to fund the institution. Women standing on street corners in Richmond sold "Sally Tompkins Buttons" in 1916.

The Robertson Hospital patients held a reunion in Richmond in 1896. See the register which is in the Library of Virginia.

Two quilts attributed to Sally from the 
Tompkins Cottage Museum in Mathews County, Virginia.

Sally's coat at the Tompkins Cottage museum

Women and children among the ruins of Richmond after the war

Virginia Cockscomb by Bettina Havig

Lorraine asked for a plan and that's a good idea so I've added a diagram of my quilt with blocks 1 & 2. Block 1 (non-directional) goes in the center. Block 2 (diagonal) goes in a corner. Could point in or out. The north/south axis blocks are not directional.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Civil War Hospital Workers: Inventing Clara Barton

This album quilt in the collection of the Clara Barton
Birthplace Museum is one of the most famous 
quilts associated with the Civil War.

It was probably made to memorialize a veteran's re-union, called an encampment, in the 1870s or '80s. Forty-eight men's names are inked in the blocks. The central square is inscribed:

"Post 65 of the G.A.R.
Clara Barton Encampment
Warren Mass
Organized August 1868"

The quilt is not dated (the post's organization date of 1868 is on there) but the fabric in that dedication block is a stripe printed to celebrate the 1876 Centennial.

The shield is inscribed Peace and the musical notes are thought
to be from the song "Hail, Columbia." This piece is a reproduction
that the Museum did with Windham Fabrics several years ago.

I had a swatch and also reproduced the stripe ten years ago or so.

Based on the fabric the quilt is dated to the late 1870s, about the time of the Centennial celebration that created a revived fashion for patchwork quilts. G.A.R. veterans' groups were named for Civil War soldiers and it's a tribute to the men of post 65 that they named theirs after a woman. One might think the quilt was made or given to Clara Barton herself, but it is more likely it was donated to the Museum because of her name in the inscription.

The quilt is famous because Clara Barton is famous. But why is Clara Barton so famous? She was only one of hundreds of women who worked in Civil War hospitals, yet of those hundreds the one chosen to be pictured in the frontispiece of the 1867 book Woman's Work in Civil War, the standard for remembering female contributions to the Union cause

She's inspired dozens of biographies while most
women hospital workers have been forgotten.

Of course she is remembered as the founder of the American Red Cross, and that organization has had a dynamic public relations and fundraising presence in America since then, but the Red Cross was founded in 1881, years after the War.
Her service during the Civil War doesn't seem extraordinary.

Clara Barton (1821-1912)
probably about 1850.

Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born in Massachusetts. As a single woman she worked to support 
herself, first as a school teacher and then as a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, beginning in 1854. 

The Patent Office during the Civil War.
The building wasn't finished until 1868.

Barton is sometimes referred to as the first female clerk there---but as with most "firsts" this is doubtful. Women had been hired to copy documents working from home. What was unusual about her hiring is that she is supposed to have been paid the same salary as the men in her position and she had more duties than mere copying. She went back to Massachusetts after a few years, either because she was let go in the new Buchanan administration or because her family needed her nursing skills at home. While depressed and feeling aimless at home "she pieced together a quilt," according to a letter. In 1860 she was back in Washington as a copyist.

She attended Lincoln's inauguration.

A year or so later wounded Civil War soldiers began appearing in Washington's make-shift hospitals (the Patent Office set up wards) and Barton began visiting, providing consolation, companionship and what medical assistance she could. 

She became skillful at organizing relief supplies and incoming food and provisions, a role that quickly became a standard for concerned women. As the war dragged on she apparently quit her clerical job and followed the fighting. In 1863 she moved to the Union-occupied Sea Islands outside Charleston, South Carolina and delivered and supervised supplies, working with soldiers and freed slaves. She ended the war in Virginia at a hospital under General Benjamin Butler.

Two unnamed women working in Virginia in army food service

Barton may have been a skillful organizer, a compassionate bedside visitor and a woman who stood up for her own rights and those of her patients, but she was one of hundreds. Why is her name the best remembered?

The Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission were
two large Union organizations that delivered goods and provisions
to soldiers in the field.

She certainly was a celebrity. In doing a search for Clara Barton in the Library of Congress's digital newspaper page I got 14,947 hits. The earliest published reference I could find was in July, 1864 when she is listed as one of the organizers of a home for disabled soldiers in New York. Up to that time Clara Barton was not famous.

As the war ended she was back in Washington and made a move that may have insured her celebrity. She realized that there were thousands of unknown soldiers' graves, thousands of missing soldiers and thousands of bereaved families hoping to find something about their lost men. She'd been keeping records in her hospital work and she organized a system to cross reference information.

Sign from the Missing Soldiers Office Museum in Washington

President Lincoln appointed her General Correspondent for the Friends of Paroled Prisoners  in March, 1865. She established the Bureau of Records of Missing Men of the Armies of the United States where she and 12 clerks answered tens of thousands of letters about the missing. They compiled long lists of soldiers who were unaccounted for and checked prison camp, burial and hospital records. The Missing Soldiers Office Museum tells us that her office identified more than 22,000 men by 1868.

In the last weeks of the war she sent a press release to newspapers all over the country.
A Mineral Point, Wisconsin paper printed this notice: 

"Paroled & Exchanged Prisoners
In view of the great anxiety felt through the country for the welfare of our prisoners now being exchanged...Miss Clara Barton...had kindly undertaken to furnish information by correspondence in regard to the condition of returned soldiers [...and] to learn the facts in reference to those that have died in prison, or elsewhere. All letters addressed to Miss Clara Barton, Annapolis, Maryland will meet prompt attention. Editors throughout the country are requested to copy this notice."

A few months later:

"Miss Clara Barton has hit upon an excellent device for bringing to the knowledge of friends the fate or whereabouts of missing soldiers....She has already received such descriptions in some thousands. Roll No 1 is a large sheet [with] fifteen hundred names of missing prisoners of war. Twenty thousand copies of this roll have been printed and circulated....
The rolls of soldiers were posted in post offices, on newspaper office windows and in newspaper columns. Her name was in some paper somewhere nearly every day in the summer of 1865 when she traveled to the Andersonville prison to collect names and provide headboards for the graveyards there. In March, 1866 Congress voted unanimously to pay her $15,000 in bonds to continue her work (an enormous sum of money.)

In 1867 we find references to her lectures on the prison at Andersonville, the rolls of missing soldiers and her war work.

Davenport, Iowa, 1867

In 1868, the she lectured in New York at a G.A.R. event to celebrate the Fall of Richmond. Her topic "Work & Incidents of Army Life."

Barton was good at organizing, at inspiring others, at public speaking and apparently she was excellent at public relations. She encouraged families across the country to describe their missing, asked veterans to help with identification of fallen comrades and publicized the "Rolls of Missing Men". As we can see from the newspapers it was Clara Barton in charge. One did not write to a department or an agency. "All letters must be directed to Miss Clara Barton, Washington, D.C."

Celebrities were featured on cartes-de-visites,
collectible photographs

It is probably this post-War work that landed her at the front of the book Woman's Work in Civil War.

But it's not that work that is remembered in the many subsequent biographies. A woman good at managing a federal bureaucracy was not a salable 19th-century image. She was remembered as a caretaker, a nurse, "the Angel of the Battlefield," an acceptable female role.

Clara Barton, Girl Bureaucrat was not a viable book title (although I might have liked it as much as I liked all those nurse biographies from the 1950s).

 "My work has been chiefly to supply 'things.' "

If you are interested in the real Clara Barton see the 1987 biography Clara Barton, Professional Angel By Elizabeth Brown Pryor.

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