TO THE UNION SAVERS OF CLEVELAND
Men of Cleveland, had a vulture Sought a timid dove for prey, Would you not, with human pity, Drive the gory bird away? Had you seen a feeble lamkin, Shrinking from a wolf so bold, Would ye not to shield the trembler, In your arms have made its fold? But when she, a hunted sister, Stretched her hands that ye might save, Colder far than Zembla's regions Was the answer that ye gave. On the Union's bloody altar, Was your hapless victim laid; Mercy, truth and justice shuddered, But your hands would give no aid. And ye sent her back to torture, Robbed of freedom and of right, Thrust the wretched, captive stranger, Back to slavery's gloomy night. Back where brutal men may trample, On her honor and her fame; And unto her lips so dusky, Press the cup of woe and shame. There is blood upon your city, Dark and dismal is the stain; And your hands would fail to cleanse it, Though Lake Erie ye should drain. There's a curse upon your Union, Fearful sounds are in the air; As if thunderbolts were framing Answers to the bondsman's prayer. Ye may offer human victims, Like the heathen priests of old; And may barter manly honor For the Union and for gold. But ye cannot stay the whirlwind, When the storm beings to break; And your God doth rise in judgement, For the poor and needy's sake. And your sin-cursed, guilty Union Shall be shaken to its base, Till ye learn that simple justice, Is the right of every race.Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, 1861
THE CIVIL WAR
Women became very effective fund raisers, administrators and organizers during the Civil War. Leading among such women was Mary Ashton Rice Livermore. She became a major figure in the suffrage movement, as well as the Temperance Movement, after the Civil War. Livermore and her partner Jane Hoge estimated that working from their Chicago Sanitary Commission office, they raised two-thirds of the money and supplies for Grant's army. How accurate this estimation was is uncertain. What is certain is that these two women supervised one of the most remarkable war support efforts ever.
Livermore and Hoge caused to be sent countless bushel baskets full of hand written letters of solicitation for supplies and money. They arranged for free postage and shipping for the supplies handled by their office. It was Livermore and Hoge who staged the first great Sanitary Commission Fair to raise money for the northern war effort. They were so effective, as articles donated from around the world began arriving in Chicago ranging from art to large pieces of farm equipment, it soon became apparent that there were no buildings in Chicago large enough to house them, and one would have to be built.
Livermore and Hoge went to a builder to contract for one, only to be embarrassed to find that the contractor, in accordance with the law, would not sign an agreement with them because they were married. They had to have their husbands sign for them. (Although the money was their own from their own personal bank accounts, under the law it belonged to their husbands.) Livermore was particularly incensed and vowed to work towards amending laws regarding women after the war.
The building was erected, and the city elders who sneered at the idea when the women first approached them and vowed to raise $25,000, came round as they realized the scale of the endeavor. The fair was so successful (it raised over three times the goal), Livermore was invited to Washington, D. C., to instruct other chapters of the Commission on how to repeat the effort.
Raising supplies was not the only challenge. It soon became evident to Livermore and Hoge that the supplies they had worked so hard to solicit and the extraordinary efforts they made to secure the shipping of these supplies were often for naught. When they shipped the goods directly to the army, unscrupulous doctors and army personnel sold them on the black market. Livermore and Hoge responded by arranging to ship the goods to women nurses in hospitals.
One such nurse was Mary Bickerdyke, whose super-human efforts on behalf of wounded and sick soldiers won her the endearment, "Mother Bickerdyke." She was so effective, Gen. Sherman had her attached to his army, and she was the only person to whom he would divulge his battles plans so that she could plan where to place medical facilities. When Sherman rode in the victory parade in Washington D. C. after the war, he had Mother Bickerdyke riding along side him. After the Civil War, Mother Bickerdyke worked for woman suffrage during the Kansas campaign.
In her memoirs of the Civil War, Livermore recounts how Mother Bickerdyke provided some much needed inspiration for the war-weary toilers at home. As the war continued relentlessly on, it required an increasing effort to sustain the interest of volunteers from the 4,000 organizations they managed. Livermore hung Bickerdyke's fire-damaged dress, mentioned in this passage of Livermore's memoirs, in the Chicago Sanitation Commission office to inspire her volunteers.
"Hardly was the battle of Chattanooga fought, when Mother Bickerdyke was established at the base of Mission ridge, in a field hospital. Here she was the only woman at work for nearly six weeks. In the very midst of the din and smoke of the carnage, she began to receive the wounded and exhausted, until very nearly two thousand of the worst cases were assigned to her nursing. Never did she render more valuable service. The Sanitary Commission had pushed through from Louisville, with immense trains of wagons, heavily loaded with supplies, and had bountifully provided Mother Bickerdyke with the stores most needed after the battle. The railroad running from Nashville, badly built, with poor material, and for light travel, had been used up long before. But as Chattanooga was to be the base of the army for some time, another road was necessary for heavy army use, and this was now in process of construction. Everything, therefore, needed for the army, - rations and clothing for the men, provender for the horses and mules, hospital supplies for the wounded and sick, - was hauled through in army wagons, while this work was being done.
"No pen can depict, and no tongue narrate the sufferings, hardships, and privations of our brave men in southern and eastern Tennessee, during the months of November, December, and January, of 1863 and 1864. Hunger and cold, famine and nakedness were their inseparable companions. Horses and mules starved also, ten thousand animals starving at Chattanooga. The reproachful whinnying complaints of the famishing beasts wrung the hearts of the soldiers, even when they were slowly dying themselves from lack of food.
"Mother Bickerdyke's field hospital was on the edge of a forest, five miles from Chattanooga. The weather was as arctic as in New England in the same season. Men were detailed to fell the trees and pile log heaps, which were kept continually burning, to warm the camps and hospitals. These log firs were her only means of cooking; nor could any other be hoped for until the railroad was completed. By these log firs Mother Bickerdyke, with her aids, contrabands, or convalescent soldiers, did all the cooking for her two thousand patients. Here she made tea and coffee, soup and toast. Here she broiled beef and mutton without a gridiron. Here she baked bread by a process of her own invention, blistering her fingers while doing it, and burning her clothing. A dress which she wore at this time came into my hands, and was kept at the rooms of the Commission for some time as a curiosity. It was burned so full of holes that it would hardly hang together when held up. It looked as if grape and canister and played hide-and-seek through it.
"The boys were all the time putting me out," she said, meaning her dress; "and a dozen of 'em were grabbing me whenever I was cooking by the log fires; for the fire would snap, and my clothes would catch, but I couldn't tell where." After a time men were detailed to tear down some of the store-houses, with the lumber of which they put bunks into other similar buildings, and these served as hospitals. With bricks from the demolished chimneys the men constructed ovens of her design, more convenient for the baking of bread. In one of her foraging expeditions she came across huge potash kettles, and an abandoned mill, where was plenty of flour, cattle, and sheep, which had belonged to General Bragg's discomfited army. All these were laid under contribution for the camp and the hospital.
"The last day of the year 1863 was one of memorable coldness, as were the first few days of the year 1864. The rigor of the weather in Chicago at that time actually suspended all outdoor business, and laid an embargo on travel in the streets. It was even severer weather in Mother Bickerdyke's location; for the icy winds swept down Lookout Mountain, where they were re-enforced by currents of air that tore through the valleys of Mission Ridge, creating a furious arctic hurricane that overturned the hospital tents in which the most badly wounded men were located. It hurled the partially recovered patients out into the pouring rain, that became glare-ice as it touched the earth, breading anew their healing bones, and chilling their attenuated frames with the piercing mountain gale.
"The rain fell in torrents in the mountains, and poured down their sides so furiously and suddenly that it made a great flood in the valleys at their base. Before the intense cold could stiffen the headlong current into ice, it swept out into the swollen creeks several of the feeblest of the men under single hospital tents; and they were drowned. Night set in intensely cold, for which the badly fitted up hospitals were wholly unprepared.
"All that night Mother Bickerdyke worked like a Titan to save her bloodless, feeble patients from being frozen to death. There were several hundred in hospital tents - all wounded men - all bad cases. The fires were kindled which came nearly to the tents, until they were surrounded by a cordon of immense pyres, that roared and crackled in the stinging atmosphere. But before midnight the fuel gave out. To send men out into the forests to cut more, in the darkness and awful coldness, seemed barbarous. The surgeon in charge dared not order them out, and it is doubtful if the order could have been obeyed had it been given. "We must try and pull through until morning," he said, "for nothing can be done to-night." And he retired to his own quarters, in a helpless mood of mind.
"Mother Bickerdyke was equal to the emergency. With her usual disdain of red tape, she appealed to the Pioneer Corps to take their mules, axes, hooks, and chains, and tear down the breastworks near them, made of logs with earth thrown up against them. They were of no value, having served their purpose during the campaign. Nevertheless, an order for their demolition was necessary if they were to be destroyed. There was no officer of sufficiently high rank present to dare give this order; but, after she had refreshed the shivering men with a cup or two of panado, composed of hot water, sugar, crackers, and whiskey, they went to work at her suggestion, without orders from officers. They knew, as did she, that on the continuance of the huge fires through the night, depended the lives of hundreds of their wounded comrades; for there was no bedding for the tents, only a blanket or two for each wounded suffering man.
"The men of the corps set to work tearing down the breastworks, and hauling the logs to the fierce fires, while Mother Bickerdyke ordered half a dozen barrels of meal to be broken open, and mixed with warm water, for their mules. Immense caldrons of hot drinks were renewedly made under her direction - hot coffee, panado, and other nourishing potables; and layers of hot bricks were put around every wounded sick man of the entire fifteen hundred as he lay in his cot. From tent to tent she ran all the night in the icy gale, hot bricks in one hand, and hot drinks in the other, cheering, warming, and encouraging the poor shivering fellows.
"Suddenly there was a great cry of horror; and, looking in the direction whence it proceeded, she was thirteen ambulances filled with wounded men, who had been started for her hospital from Ringgold, in the morning, by order of the authorities. It had become necessary to break up the small outlying post hospitals, and concentrate at Chattanooga. These had been delayed by the rain and the gale, and for hours had been travelling in the darkness and unparalleled coldness, both mules and drivers being nearly exhausted and frozen. On opening the ambulances, what a spectacle met Mother Bickerdyke's eyes! They were filled with wounded men nearly chilled to death. The hands of one were frozen like marble. The feet of another, the face of another, the bowels of a fourth, who afterwards died. Every bandage had stiffened into ice. The kegs of water had become solid crystal; and the men, who were past complaining, almost past suffering, were dropping into the sleep that ends in death. The surgeons of the hospital were all at work through the night with Mrs. Bickerdyke, and came promptly to the relief of these poor men, hardly one of whom escaped amputation of frozen limbs from that night's fearful ride.
"As the night was breaking into the cold gray day, the officer in command of the post was informed of Mother Bickerdyke's unauthorized exploits. He hastened down where the demolished breastworks were being rapidly devoured by the fierce flames. He took in the situation immediately, and evidently saw the necessity and wisdom of the course she had pursued. But it was his business to preserve order and maintain discipline; and so he made a show of arresting the irregular proceeding. By no mere order of his could this be done. Not until day-dawn, when they could go safely into the woods to cut fuel, were the men disposed to abate their raid on the breastworks, which had serve their purpose of defense against the enemy weeks before.
"'Madame, consider yourself under arrest!' was the Major's address to ubiquitous Mother Bickerdyke. To which she replied, as she flew past him with hot bricks and hot drinks, 'All right, Major! I'm arrested! Only don't meddle with me till the weather moderates; for my men will freeze to death, if you do!'
"A story got in circulation that she was put in the guard-house by the Major; but this was not true. There was some little official hubbub over her night's exploits, but she defended herself to the officers who reproved her, with this indisputable statement, 'It's lucky for you, old fellows, that I did what I did. For if I hadn't, hundreds of men in the hospital tents would have frozen to death. No one at the North would have blamed me, but there would have been a hullabaloo about your heads for allowing it to happen, that you would have lost them, whether or no.' Some of the officers stood boldly by her, openly declaring hat she had done right, and advised her to pursue the same course again, under the same circumstances. This was needless advice, as she would assuredly have done so.
"The men for whom she labored so indefatigably could mention her name only with tears and benedictions. And those in camp manifested their approval of her by hailing her three times three deafening hurrahs whenever she appeared among them, until, annoyed, she begged them 'for Heaven's sake to stop their nonsense, and shut up!'"
It was through the extraordinary effort of women like Bickerdyke, Livermore, and Hoge that the Sanitary Commission became such an important resource for the army. In addition to their office work raising money and supplies, Livermore and Hoge also inspected hospitals along the Mississippi River. When Hoge's son was wounded at Vicksburg, she made the journey down the river to nurse him. They made travel arrangement for wounded soldiers, threatened army personnel at all levels if they felt it would improve the lot of the soldiers, and wrote letters to families informing them of the death of their loved one. This kept them in direct contact with soldiers. Sometimes this contact saved a life.
General Lee's surrender and the end of the war did not see the immediate end to women's war work, as Livermore described in her memoirs.
"The Sanitary Commission could not disband immediately at the close of the war. The hospitals were filled with soldiers suffering from sickness and wounds, still needing surgical and medical treatment, nursing, and sick diet. The depositories of the Commission were bursting with supplies which would waste, if not served to the sick and convalescent soldiers for whom they were provided. So we remained on duty, our work growing less and less every day, the hospitals rapidly thinning out; for the happy fellows were eager to return to their homes, now that service to their country no longer required their absence. Their impatience often led them to undertake the journey before they were sufficiently strong, and as they were mustered out of the service, and were civilians, on reaching Chicago, they dropped into the care of the Commission, until they were able to proceed. Sometimes we accompanied a poor fellow to his journey's end, only to see him succumb to death in the presence of welcoming kindred and friends. We were mustered out of the service in October, 1865, the work being then about over."
War changes people in unexpected ways, and so it was with Livermore. She had accomplished a Herculean task in administering the Western Sanitary Commission office. Before the war, Livermore was not convinced that women needed the ballot to improve their condition. War experience had taught her otherwise. It was a lesson she would pass on to a future generation of suffragists.
"The Woman Suffrage movement which had been inaugurated by Lucretia Mott and Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, some dozen years before the war, had been suspended during the struggle, when the nation's life trembled in the balance. With the return of peace it was resuscitated, and I became identified with it. I had kept the columns of my husband's paper ablaze with demands for the opening to women of colleges and professional schools; for the repeal of unjust laws that blocked their progress; and for the enlargement of their industrial opportunities, that they might become self-supporting. But I believed that all these things could be accomplished without giving them the ballot. During the war, and as the result of my own observations, I became aware that a large portion of the nation's work was badly done, or not done at all, because woman was not recognized as a factor in the political world. In the work of public school education, and municipal government,-in the struggle with the liquor traffic, and with organized social impurity,-in the protracted duel between labor and capital, and in the imperative demand for a higher standard of business honesty,-in the work of charity and correction, and in the care of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, men and women should stand shoulder to shoulder, equals before the law; and until this is attained, the highest success in these departments of work and reform can never be accomplished.
"I saw how women are degraded by disfranchisement, and, in the eyes of men, are lowered to the level of the pauper, the convict, the idiot, and the lunatic, and are put in the same category with their own infant children. Under a republican form of government, the possession of the ballot by woman can alone make her the legal equal of man, and without this legal equality, she is robbed of her natural rights. She is not allowed equal ownership in her minor children with her husband, has no choice of domicile, and is herself the legal property of her husband, who controls her earnings and her children;-her only compensation being such board and clothing as he chooses to bestow on her. 'Women in England!' thundered Canon Kingsley, when English women were struggling for equal ownership of their own children with their husbands, and for property rights, 'You must first secure legal equality with men, and then shall you have social equity!' The good men of the nation, just, large-minded, and fair, are better than the laws that are made for women, and they protect the women of their households from the legal injustice and severity that ruin the lives of many, and break the hearts of more. Laws are not especially made for the protection of those who are safe in the anchorage of manly respect and affection, but for the weak and defenceless, those who are wronged and outraged, and who are placed at the mercy of the semi-civilized and conscienceless human beings who still infest society. 'I go for all sharing the privileges of the government,' said Abraham Lincoln, 'who assist in bearing its burdens, by no means excluding women.'
"I had been reared and had lived all my life among the best and noblest men; my estimate of men in general was a lofty one; and my faith in them was so strong, that I firmly believed it was only necessary to present to them the wrongs and injustice done to women, to obtain prompt and complete redress. A hundred times in those early and verdant days I said with the greatest confidence, 'Men are in every way so excellent that you may be sure when we carry to them our grievances, they will hasten to do us justice; when we lay before them our need of enfranchisement, they will be prompt to confer on us the ballot; we have only to compel their attention, and our cause is won.' Alas! Experience has taught me a very different lesson. In the present composition of political and legislative bodies, no cause, whose claims are based only on eternal right and justice, need appeal to politicians, legislatures, or congresses, with expectations of success."
The war lessons learned by Livermore and other women of her generation were passed along to a grateful future generation of suffragists, and that future generation would make effective use of their foremothers' experiences. This inter-generational link and its particular relation to the war experience is truly remarkable, more especially so because nearly all of these heroines from Livermore's generation would be dead before the next generation of suffragists would be called upon to put their abilities to test during wartime.
THE SHOEMAKER'S LEGACY
For married women, the Civil War was a particularly cruel introduction to the hazards of being a political non-entity. If their husbands went off to war they were left to tend to the family farm or business themselves. Women could find themselves handicapped in matters of contracts and legal redresss.
If a husband died, all of the property could be disposed of according to the will the husband had drawn, if he had made one. Otherwise, the woman found that she was left only with what her particular state deemed allowable as the "widow's incumberance." In some instances, even the state would have been more generous than the husband.
"In Atlanta, Ga., a woman's husband was killed in the Confederate service, and left as his widow's only legacy a kit of shoemaker's tools. She accepted the situation, and is now earning an honest and comfortable living with the strap and last."
The Woman's Journal, July 15, 1871.