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Army nurse: During the Civil War, Eliza Dodd answered the Union call to duty

Eliza Dodd’s gravestone contains the proud inscription of Army nurse. She served during the Civil War. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


Eliza Clark Dodd’s remains are peacefully at rest in a pristine burial ground situated on the far eastern edge of Adams County, Ill., just to the south of the small hamlet of Clayton.

It is in this region where Mrs. Dodd spent the majority of her lifetime, caring for her husband and son, and immersed within the community of farmers and field hands, good cooks and talented seamstresses, blacksmiths and shopkeepers.

Of particular interest during her lifetime was her active involvement in the Woman’s Relief Corps – an auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic. Her involvement in this organization was sparked by her personal experience during the Civil War: That of an Army nurse.

Nursing as a career field was nearly non-existent before the early 1860s, and was sparked by the fighting on U.S. soil, which led to bloodshed. Deaths mounted not merely from battle wounds, but also by a lack of proper care for those wounds.

Women – with little or no training – were asked to step forward to care for the injured congregated into makeshift hospitals near battle scenes.

There were no battles in Illinois during the Civil War, and it is thus unclear where Mrs. Dodd served. Documentation exists, however, that shows she served in this capacity for two years.

Young wife

Eliza Clark was the daughter of James and Jane Townsend Clark, and was born in 1842. The family first lived in Maine, and then Missouri, before settling in Concord, Adams County, Ill., shortly before 1850.

She was married to William H.H. Dodd of Adams County, Ill., in 1860. Soon thereafter he answered the call to defend the Union.

Childless and alone, and lured by compelling pleas to assist in the fight for the preservation of the Union, Mrs. Dodd stepped forward as well.

Army Nursing Corps

Dorothea Dix, 59, was named superintendent of nurses for the Union Army a week after the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861. She established a set of standards for volunteer nurses, hoping to dissuade flighty or marriage-minded women from pursuing this career path.

The Western Reserve Chronicle, Warren, Ohio, published the qualifications for the nursing corps on June 25, 1861:

“Age – Each candidate must be between the ages of thirty and forty five, exceptions being only made in the case of nurses of valuable experiences. (Note: Eliza Dodd’s calculated age was 21.)

“Health – Only women of strong constitutions will be received; chronic disease, or other physical weakness, disqualifying for service.

“Character – Every applicant must present a written testimonial or introduction from a responsible person who can be seen. If the applicant be accepted, these testimonials will be filed, and the name of the referee entered on the register of nurses. Only persons of the highest respectability will be received. – While the utmost delicacy is used in such investigation, the requisition of morality, sobriety, honesty and trustworthiness will be rigidly enforced.

“Discipline – a promise of cordial compliance with all the regulations of the service will be required; the subordination of nurses to the general superintendent, and of all to the medical authorities, being distinctly insisted on. Each candidate will be required to sign the printed regulations of the service.

“Number of Candidates – The number of nurses required will necessarily be limited, for each woman must be qualified to act as a chief or head nurse.”

Flighty women: Stay home!

An army surgeon presented a plea for any but the fittest nurse applicants to stay at home, published in the St. Johnsbury Caledonia, Vermont, on May 23, 1862:

“The lady who cannot, with a smiling face, roll up her sleeves, go on her knees amongst the black boilers and wet straw to wait upon an unfortunate private soldier, repulsive in his manners and words, is here sadly out of her proper sphere.”

After the war

Following the war, Eliza Clark Dodd returned home, and along with an estimated 3,000 other women resumed their traditional roles as wives and homemakers.

But as the country changed as the result of the war, so had these women. Many remained active in the causes of the day, using their newfound voices to effect change.

Her marriage to William H.H. Dodd would continue until her death in 1916. Their son, Frank Dodd, became a physician, and he remained in the community where he was raised, caring for the physical ailments of his neighbors and friends.

In recognition of her service to the wounded soldiers, Mrs. Dodd was granted a nurses pension, which she collected from 1893 until her death at the age of 74 in 1916.

Her pension, and those of other women who served as volunteer nurses during the war, was made possible by the Union Army Nurses Pension Act of 1892. This act allowed volunteer nurses to earn pensions similar to those which Union soldiers were already entitled to.

William H.H. Dodd

Mrs. Dodd’s husband also served during the war years, with Company E 119 Illinois Infantry.

Wikipedia explains: “The 119th Regiment, Illinois Infantry was organized at Quincy, Illinois, and mustered in Oct. 7, 1862. They marched to Montgomery, Ala., April 13-25. Returned to Mobile and had duty there until August. They mustered out August 26, 1865."

Pension information source: United States Civil War and Later Pension Index 1861-1917

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