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  1. Ozzy

    Mother Bickerdyke

    I first heard of Mary Bickerdyke via the excellent Civil War by Ken Burns. The story that ends with Sherman's comment, 'She ranks me,' is one of those highlights that has stayed with me, to this day. But, I did not realize that Mrs. Bickerdyke had a connection with the Battle of Shiloh; (I thought she first made her appearance during the Vicksburg Campaign.) Cyclone in Calico: the story of Mary Ann Bickerdyke, by Nina Brown Baker; published by Little, Brown & Co. at Boston in 1952, attempts to introduce the life of this remarkable woman in an engaging, often entertaining way. After gravitating to 'work in the field' at Fort Donelson, she continued to serve, 'where she was most needed,' --- Shiloh, Corinth, Memphis, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Atlanta. Along the way, she was amazed at the conflict that erupted between U.S. Government agencies, and the civilian-established Sanitary Commissions. Even more disturbing: the open conflict between and among the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the Western Sanitary Commission, and the Christian Commission. (Not to mention, the resistance, bordering on hatred, of the U.S. Army to female nurses.) You are left wondering if anyone realized, they were all on the same side. Mother Bickerdyke succeeded in spite of the petty grievances, as did some other notable, non-military personalities, discussed in the course of the book: Mary Livermore, a socialite from 'Boston and Chicago,' whose organizational skills, and contacts among the Upper Echelon, allowed the U.S. Sanitary Commission (NW Branch) to thrive; Eliza Porter, a slight, under-whelming lady, yet possessing remarkable abilities; her contributions mirrored those of her mentor, Mary Bickerdyke. Mary Safford, remembered by many sick and wounded soldiers at Shiloh because of her 'angelic appearance;' she worked herself to exhaustion during the weeks following the battle, often going days without sleep. She suffered 'a collapse' in her health in May 1862, and was forced to retire. (She was replaced by Eliza Porter, who remained with Mother Bickerdyke til the end of the war.) Annie Wittenmyer, known in the Midwest as founder of Homes for Soldiers' Orphans; Dorothea Dix, working 'back East,' she organized the female Nurse Corps. Mary Bickerdyke's favorite officers get more than a mention: Grant, Sherman, and Colonel John Logan. All of whom received her highest compliment: 'You'd never know they was officers.' (Also discussed are Mary's interactions with Benjamin Prentiss, Stephen Hurlbut, and 'those Army doctors.') Which leads me to the 'stories and anecdotes,' best described as folk tales from the Civil War. They add a poignancy, raw and uncensored, of what life during those times was really like. (My favorite is the story of the poisoned peaches.) Thoroughly researched and referenced, with an extensive bibliography; the only real failing being '1952,' the date the book was written. So much information has become available since then, that the few 'errors' encountered could be easily corrected without any obvious impact on the overall story. Cyclone in Calico. Worthwhile reading by anyone interested in how the Union Army operated, during the 90 percent of time it was not fighting. Available online (free) <https://archive.org/stream/cycloneincalico001060mbp> (The Library of Congress archives site.) Ozzy
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