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The Diary of a Civil War Nurse

Hospital Routine and Turmoil

On most days Amanda Akin’s routine began at 6 a.m. with the sounding of reveille and ended at 9 p.m. when the night watch took over. Official duties included administering medicines and distributing the special diets prescribed for injured and ill soldiers. After dinner at noon, the nurses usually had several hours off to rest or go for walks. Much of their remaining time was filled with nonmedical tasks, writing letters for the men and attending to the many hospital visitors. Evenings were spent entertaining the patients, usually by singing and playing music.
Hospitals received an influx of patients following major battles, putting greater demands on all staff and confronting nurses with the severe wounds caused in conflict. On June 14, 1863, Akin wrote several entries in a letter to her sister, as soldiers from the fighting at Chancellorsville, Virginia, poured into Armory Square Hospital.
“It seemed to me this evening, as I sat at my table adding to the list of medicines—writing down name, regiment, list of clothing, etc., of the new arrivals, calmly looking at the poor maimed sufferers carried by, some without limbs, on a ‘stretcher’—that I had forgotten how to feel, … it seemed as if I were entirely separated from the world I had left behind.”

“Oh dear me, the cry is ‘Still they come’ and we are overflowing; they come now without order, and are received with but little ceremony.”
—Amanda Akin, 1863
Decorated Hospital Ward

Decorated Hospital Ward
Nurses worked to make their wards more cheerful and to provide special entertainments. At Armory Square, Akin noted: “Ward F was decorated with flags, evergreens, and hanging baskets of flowers” for the hospital’s first anniversary, similar to the ward shown here. (Courtesy of U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania)

Armory Hospital Order Book

Armory Hospital Order Book
Order No. 5 set forth the duties of the lady nurses as issued by Surgeon in Charge D. W. Bliss: “The Lady Nurses on duty in this Hospital will be required to take charge of, and administer all Medicines and Stimulants.… They are requested to attend to the proper supply of Books from the Library for the patients in bed….” (Courtesy of National Library of Medicine)

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