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Painting of Sisters serving in the Civil War.St. Joseph OrphanageNurse at Good Samaritan Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Sisters of Charity in the Civil War
The Love of Christ Urges Us

Cumberland, Maryland

Eight Sisters arrived in Cumberland, Maryland, in 1862 to care for the soldiers in the military hospitals. S. Agnes Phillips describes the conditions the Sisters met in the following letter.

We left St. John’s Hospital accompanied by Rev. Fr. Collins and Mother Josephine. Dr. McMahon, the attending physician, received us with every mark of attention. He was also exceedingly kind to the sick and wounded soldiers.

We endured many privations and suffered much inconvenience here. We were assigned quarters in a confiscated hotel, occupied by the soldiers. Dr. McMahon soon obtained better quarters for us, in the house of a lady whose husband was a captain in the Confederate Army and whose son also bore arms against the North. This lady manifested much kindness toward us, but this went no further than words as all her property had been confiscated. She was often obliged to accept our provisions to sustain life.

In close proximity, on the banks of the canal, were the hospitals, warehouses, churches, etc. We fitted these up as well as circumstances would permit for the comfort of the poor sick. Many died most edifying deaths; others were sent home as soon as they were sufficiently recovered to endure the journey; others were sent to St. John’s Hospital, Cincinnati; and still others were placed under the care of the Sisters of Mercy in their school houses, which were converted into temporary hospitals.

I spent three months in Cumberland and then returned to Cincinnati to assist in caring for the soldiers who were sent from Richmond and Nashville to St. John’s Hospital. It was here that I witnessed the most appalling sights – men wanting arms, or legs, or both; pale, haggard faces, worn out with fasting and marching.

Many I think died of broken hearts. Faces and voices haunt me yet, calling for home and dear ones whom they were destined never again to behold on earth. 

The streets of Cincinnati, of this now flourishing city, witnessed extreme suffering and misery. Frequently fine young men, seated on their own coffins, passed through them on their way to execution on some neighboring hill-side. We cared for Unionists and Confederates alike. We knew no difference! Made no difference.

- Sister Agnes Phillips

Excerpt taken from The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati in the Civil War: The Love of Christ Urges Us by S. Judith Metz. For more personal accounts and information on the Sisters of Charity involvement in the Civil War, the book is available for purchase by calling the Sisters of Charity Archives at 513-347-4058.