May is a good time to remember Indiana's great Civil War heroine Eliza George who is buried in Lindenwood Cemetery. She died May 9, 1865, a little over 145 years ago, in Wilmington, North Carolina, after serving for over three years as a war nurse.
Eliza George was remarkable in many ways.
She was one of the first women in the United States to officially serve as an army nurse, breaking the tradition that insisted that men only, meaning mostly sick soldiers, were appropriate caregivers for those injured and sick in military hospitals.
She was one of the very few women nurses to accompany General William T. Sherman's massive armies through the mountains of Georgia during the torturous spring and summer 1864 campaign to win Atlanta. This, too, broke a military policy that prohibited ALL women from accompanying his army.
She was a gutsy woman fifty four years old when she left her Fort Wayne home, an age considered too old by many for the exhausting work ahead.
Most importantly, Eliza George had tremendous compassion and ability. She showed those who questioned her stamina that they were wrong. She served as the soldier's "best friend."
Before joining medical teams supporting General Sherman's troops pushing to Atlanta, Eliza worked as a nurse in winter camps in Kentucky, in large military hospitals in Memphis, Tennessee, and in field hospitals in Corinth, Mississippi. She made numerous trips back to Indiana for desperately needed supplies, was ambushed by enemy soldiers and threatened by winter storms.
Eliza spent her final months caring for soldiers released from prisoner of war camps and sent to Wilmington, North Carolina. By day she organized women to sew clothes for the men who had only rags to wear. She wrote letters to friends pleading for food, as Wilmington had been stripped of all supplies when the Confederates evacuated. At night, she sat at soldiers' bedsides giving comfort.
Finally, her own health gave way and she came down with typhoid fever. Although she seemed to be recovering, she died one day before she was to return to Fort Wayne.
Doctors who worked with Eliza George wrote letters to Fort Wayne newspapers praising her great work. Her Fort Wayne friends and leaders of the Indiana Sanitary Commission arranged for her burial with full military honors and for a monument in her honor. She is the only Indiana Civil War nurse given this recognition.
The engravings on her monument reflect her war time service but are badly worn by years of exposure. Eliza George is truly a heroine whose story proves that real people are often more thrilling than any character in fiction.
Peggy Seigel, May 20, 2010
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