Beloved as the “Mother to the Boys in Blue,” Mary Ann Bickerdyke (1817–1901) was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, to Hiram and Annie Ball. After studying herbal medicine at Oberlin College, in 1847 she married Robert Bickerdyke. The couple and their family moved to Galesburg, Illinois, where Mrs. Bickerdyke was widowed in 1859. On behalf of the citizens of Galesburg, in 1861, Mary Ann Bickerdyke delivered $500 worth of medical supplies to the Union forces stationed at Cairo, Illinois. Appalled at the poor level of care given to the soldiers on her arrival in Cairo, she quickly set to work with her hallmark energy and determination, improving the makeshift field hospital that she found there. This was the first of approximately 300 hospitals she would improve or establish during the Civil War as an agent of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. With the blessings of Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman, Bickerdyke and her fellow nurses followed the Union forces in the Western Theater of operations. She cared for the wounded on nineteen battlefields, including Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. At the conclusion of the war, as a gesture of the esteem in which she was held by the soldiers of the North’s western armies, General Sherman requested that Mary Ann Bickerdyke ride at the head of the 15th Corps of the Army of the Tennessee in the triumphant Grand Review of the Armies, held in Washington, D.C., on May 23–24, 1865. In the years that followed, Bickerdyke helped secure federal pensions for numerous U.S. Army veterans and for more than 300 nurses who served in the Civil War.
- “If you could see the multitudes of wounded and sick soldiers”August 23, 1864Mary Ann Bickerdyke (1817-1901) to James Bickerdyke, August 23, 1864. Mary Ann Bickerdyke Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress