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The Diary of a Civil War Nurse

“I meekly followed [the nurse] through the long ward, unable to return the gaze of the occupants of the twenty-six beds, … and with a sinking heart watched her raise the head of a poor fellow in the last stages of typhoid, to give him a soothing draught. Could I ever do that? For once my courage failed.”
     —Amanda Akin, describing her first evening
      in Armory Square Hospital, 1863

In April 1863, two years after the outbreak of the Civil War, Amanda Akin (1827– 1911) journeyed from her home in Quaker Hill, New York, to serve as a nurse at Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C. She was one of several million men and women who left their families and communities behind to contribute to the war effort. Many departed to fight, while others took on civilian assignments to support the military campaigns.
During her fifteen months at the hospital, Akin wrote long letters to her sisters and recorded her daily experience in diaries. Years later, she drew on this correspondence and her journals to publish an account of her wartime role.
Like Akin, other hospital workers were often eager to share their experiences with distant friends and family, and to preserve memories of the people and events that defined their new situations. Letters, diaries, and published accounts helped fill this need. Today, these documents provide a glimpse into the lives of those who served and a touching record of the challenges of hospital life.

“I write anywheres, in ward or room, for the moment, with mind on many other things.”
—Amanda Akin, 1863
Amanda Akin’s Diary

Amanda Akin’s Diary
This volume of Akin’s diary covers the period from May 6, 1864, when she returned to Washington, D.C., after a brief visit home, until the end of her nursing service in July 1864. Her entries are overwritten with edits for her published account. Akin’s letters and other journal volumes, if they survived, have not yet been found. (Lent by National Library of Medicine)

The Lady Nurse of Ward E

The Lady Nurse of Ward E
In 1909, not long before her death, Akin published this description of her nursing experience; it includes material from her letters and journals. When writing for others, she expressed more of the emotional toll of the work than she noted in her private journals. (Lent by National Library of Medicine)

Armory Square Hospital

Armory Square Hospital
In August 1862, Armory Square Hospital was completed on land bordering Seventh Street and B Street (now Independence Avenue) SW, in Washington, D.C. The site was adjacent to the Smithsonian Institution grounds and a few blocks west of the Capitol, where the National Air and Space Museum now stands. (Courtesy of National Library of Medicine;facsimile of Charles Magnus lithograph)


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