Civil War Nursing following the Battle of Gettysburg

Jane Early, BSN, RN Oct 2, 2013

Most historians credit the battle of Gettysburg in Adams County, Pennsylvania as changing the War between the North and the South to favor the North. The cost in human suffering was unimaginable – 57,225 casualties were identified from both sides.

The battle lasted for three days July 1 – 3, 1863 (150 years ago). Can you imagine the battlefield littered with the sick, wounded, and dead comrades in the July heat? The stench and insects must with been overwhelming! Quick action was required. No hospital system existed suitable to handle such human devastation, and many times the only nurses available were nuns.

The proximity of rail service and established hospitals made Philadelphia the best choice to provide care. In addition, many wounded were sent to Pittsburgh, PA.

The Philadelphia hospitals included:
•    Pennsylvania Hospital (1752) provided for 124 soldiers until the government hospital was ready.
•    Philadelphia General Hospital (1731) although in operation did not care for the wounded.
•    St. Joseph’s Hospital (1849) provided care for 1000 of the wounded.
•    Protestant Episcopal Hospital (1852) cared for 705 wounded.
•    Lankaneau Hospital (1862), known as Turner Lane Hospital, was used by the government for four years.

Satterlee General Hospital
Satterlee Hospital also known as West Philadelphia Hospital

Obviously, the large number of sick and wounded required a creative solution for care. The government set about to construct a hospital of 4500 beds, which was the largest hospital ever constructed. Although built for 4,500 beds, the hospital had to care for more than 6,000 wounded soldiers, many housed in tents, in the months following the Battle of Gettysburg, Pa.

This very ambitious undertaking needed nursing staff. Sisters of Charity were recruited from the Mother House in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Directing the care was Sister M. Conzaga Grace known for her outstanding ability and her familiarity with Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. The staff eventually grew to 90 sisters and 150 nurses providing care for 160,000 sick and wounded between 1862-1865.

It was originally called the West Philadelphia Hospital which was located at 44th and Pine Streets. Later it was changed to Satterlee Hospital named for the medical director at that time.

Source:  History of Nursing in Pennsylvania by Roberta M West, RN a Blockley Nurse, 1931, 17-19.