Category Archives: Civil War

DCs and Civil War

Sister Camilla O'Keefe (used with permission of the Provincial Archives)

Sister Camilla O’Keefe (used with permission of the Provincial Archives)

(Excerpt from Provincial Annals of 1863 used with permission of the Provincial Archives)

We have been concentrating on our current exhibit “Over There,” which highlights the history of 10 American Daughters of Charity who nursed near the Italian front during World War I. But at this time of year, we rightly recall other Daughters who came face to face with the horrors of the Battle of Gettysburg, fought just about 10 miles to the north of St. Joseph’s Provincial House here in Emmitsburg. The Sisters met Union soldiers who stopped at the Provincial House on their way to Gettysburg and then as patients in the town’s makeshift hospitals after the fighting ceased. Today, July 1, marks the 152nd anniversary of the start of the battle, so we post in remembrance a photograph of Sr. Camilla O’Keefe, who both left accounts of the Union visitors to St. Joseph’s and would then nurse at the hospital at the Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg after the battle.

Below is a passage from the Provincial Annals which describes the arrival of the union soldiers on the Emmitsburg Campus.

First appearance to our surprise, were the Cavalry located over in the meadows on the hill, as the morning of the 29th June 1863. The large meadows were all ready for mowing, the overseer, Mr. Brawner, had the mowing machine put in one of the meadows ready for work on the following day, but the squad of Cavalry saved him, the trouble and completely cleared the grounds of very blade of grass. Well, St. Joseph’s had to make the best of the loss. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon came the troops, some on horse back, making their way up the road from the barn, some up the road from the Hill, until the grounds around were actually covered with soldiers …

Before the arrival of the Army, the Artillery passed up the road in its way to Gettysburg, such a sight of canons was terrible … Now for the great Battle of Gettysburg, the most terrific of the war. During the 30th the Armies were making preparations for the great fighting! About noon on the first of July we heard very distinctly, the cannonading, Boom, Boom, so terrific, this kept on until the afternoon of the 4th, when the Confederates were defeated and retreated away as fast as they could that night. They had crossed the Potomac before the Federals reached too late to take prisoners.

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Filed under Civil War, Emmitsburg, Gettysburg

Lincoln Assassination, 150th anniversary

(Biography of Mary Surratt courtesy of the Surratt House Museum website)

Today is the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. In April of 1865 Daughters of Charity were on mission at Lincoln General Hospital in Washington. Sadly, no recollections of Lincoln’s assassination have come down to us from the Sisters. Thanks to the curators at the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland, we do know of one tangential connection between our collections and the events of April 14, 1865. Mary Surratt, who owned the boarding house where the Lincoln conspirators met, received her early education from Mother Seton’s community, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, at St. Francis Xavier School in Alexandria, Virginia. The school, connected with St. Mary’s Parish, was staffed by the Sisters of Charity from 1832 to 1839. The collections of the Surratt Museum include a receipt for board and tuition signed by Sister Bernard Boyle, who was then the Sister superior for the school. The Surratt House Museum website includes additional details about Mary Surratt’s life, the Lincoln conspiracy, and her alleged role in it.

For additional information about the Daughters of Charity and Lincoln, see these previous posts from our blog.

For more on Mary Surratt, see the website for the Surratt House Museum.


Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's, U.S. Presidents

150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War

(Passage from the Civil War Annals used with permission of the Provincial Archives)

On April 9, 1865, the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, marked the end of the Civil War. Daughters of Charity served in many locations both North and South over the course of the war, including the Confederate capital of Richmond. The account below was written by an unidentified Sister who was serving there when the city was evacuated, and at the time of the Confederate surrender. It is preserved in Notes of the Sisters’ Services in Military Hospitals, 1861-1865, also known as the Civil War Annals.

We may, perhaps, make some remarks on our condition at the time the City was evacuated, and the surrendering of the Army took place. Notwithstanding the foresight of the Authorities on the coming defeat, still its arrival was of most appalling excitement. Medical stores, commissary departments and houses of merchandise were thrown open. Liquors flowed down the streets, that by preventing its dangerous effects. Some confusion might be spared. Stores became public property. Our poor City was trembling from the closing up of the Gun-boats in the river that bounded the City on the east. —- Toward morning we thought it better to secure the Holy Mass early, for fear of what a few hours more might show forth … We were preparing for it, when suddenly a terrific explosion stunned, as it were, the power of thought. The noise of the breaking of windows in our hospital and neighboring dwellings added greatly to the alarm, as it seemed, for the moment, as an entire destruction. Fearing it might be the bursting of the first shells, the good Chaplain thought it better to give the Holy Communion to the Sister and then consume the blessed hosts. Presently, however we learned that the Confederates had blown up their own supplies of powder, which were very near us. These followed the explosion of all the Government buildings … We passed that eventful day with as much composure as our trust in our good Lord enabled us to do, tho’ from time to time, we were in evident danger of having our House, with its helpless inmates all destroyed …

After the surrender, a Federal Officer rode up to the door, told us we were perfectly safe, that property should be respected, that he would send a guard to protect the house & etc. His visit was fortunate, for presently a band of Negroes came and ordered our doors to be opened. The Srs. pretending not to understand them, were slow to obey, and this caused one to say out very imperatively, open dem gates, whose property dis? Oh! said Sister, this belongs to the Srs. of Charity. Col. D – has been here, everything has been attended to, all is right. He immediately passed the words to his comrades, and they rode off.

Our Sisters from the various Hospitals took Home-ward directions, with hearts & minds still more weary than their bodies …

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