Robbins: Memories of a Confederate nurse

Photo courtesy of the Chattanooga Public Library

Kate Cummings treated the South's soldiers during the Civil War and wrote afterwards, "The Journal of a Confederate Nurse." Below are some excerpts.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1835, young Kate came with her family to the bustling cotton port of Mobile, Alabama. Inspired by the Rev. Benjamin M. Miller, who urged the women of Mobile to aid wounded and sick Confederates, and by Florence Nightingale, the heroic British nurse in the Crimean War, she left Mobile at age 27 against the wishes of her family, who wanted her to be a refined lady, to roll bandages and nurse her fellow Southerners. Kate tended to Confederate soldiers at the Battle of Shiloh, in Chattanooga's Newsome Hospital (along Market Street) and finally in a caravan of mobile field hospitals after the Battle of Chickamauga and during Sherman's March to the Sea.

In late September 1863, she wrote, "A great battle was fought on the 19th and 20th at Chickamauga River - a victory for us. We were near that fatal stream - the "River of Death! I never saw such roads in my life; the rain had been heavy and made deep ruts in it. We had to pass two or three fords, in which the water was so high that it nearly came into our wagon. All this was very trying to the wounded, and the wonder to me is how they could live after such a ride, for it was really harrowing. [Once in the hospital] I have been told by surgeons that many a time they have had nothing but old tent cloth to bind up wounds.

Read more Chattanooga History Columns

"The president [Jefferson Davis] has just paid a visit to the Tennessee army; it is said for the purpose or making inquiries as to the dissatisfaction against Gen. Bragg among his officers. It seems that all his generals, excepting Gen. Breckinridge, sent a petition to the president to have him removed. Gen. Bragg has heard of it, and begged to be relieved, but the president refuses, as he says he does not know who to put in his place.

"Our [Confederate] army is on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, and we have possession of the Nashville Railroad. The enemy have to haul their supplies from a great distance. On this account, it is rumored that they are starving in Chattanooga. But I have learned that they are not only not starving, but are being heavily reinforced. It seems like folly to listen to anything. I hope and pray that Gen. Bragg will not feel too secure, and that he will be on the alert. Nearly all the defeats we have ever had have been from our own want of caution.

"I think that there are many good and true Christians in the North - men who have not let the wicked one take possession of them altogether. They seem to have forgotten that we are God's creatures as well as they, with at least as much power of reasoning.

"Our wounded are doing badly; gangrene in its worst form has broken out among them. Those whom we thought were almost well are now suffering severely. A wound which a few days ago was not the size of a silver dime is now eight or ten inches in diameter. The surgeons are doing all in their power to stop its progress. We have had a number of ladies from the country visiting the wounded. They bring baskets full of all kinds of eatables. It does me good to see them come. And another thing: the diet is a change; they bring ham, biscuits, chickens, pies, cakes, etc.

"Some few days ago, I received a letter from my brother. He says his [Confederate] battery is stationed on the top of Lookout Mountain, and that he never saw such accurate firing as that of the enemy from below [on Moccasin Bend.]. He says their balls come right to where they are. The enemy have taken our cavalry by surprise, and by it we have lost a very important place called Raccoon Mountain. The enemy now have sole possession of the Nashville Railroad.

"I am losing all confidence in Gen. Bragg. He seems to make no use of his victories. But we must not judge, as we cannot tell with what Gen. Bragg has to contend. We have so few men, compared with the enemy."

Frank "Mickey" Robbins, an investment adviser with Patten and Patten, is vice-president of National Park Partners, the 501(C)3 champion for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Park. For more visit