Saturday, November 22, 2014

Anna Wood Clark: Civil War Nurse with the 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry

During this 150th commemoration of the Civil War, many have learned more about the regiments that fought for both North and South, uniforms, battles, generals, and their very own ancestors who served in the rank and file. But little progress has been made in identifying women who served as nurses. It has not been for the lack of trying, but rather that there were so few records.

Their stories were often discovered long after the war in reunion minutes, letters, diaries, obituaries, county histories, and family reminiscences. And so it was with Anna Amelia Clark, who passed away at Catawba Island at the age of 89 in 1936. Her occupation as a nurse during the Civil War was recounted in her obituary, but it was largely based on an interview given six years earlier to a “Progressive Times” reporter at her home on West Third Street in Port Clinton, Ohio.

Born in Painesville, Ohio in 1847 to James and Emma (Welsh) Wood, Anna, moved a short time later with her family to Adrian, Michigan. When the Civil War broke out and President Lincoln called for 60,000 troops, the men of Adrian soon raised a regiment known as the 4th Michigan Infantry. Anna, only 13 years old, went with her father to serve as a nurse for the troops of the 4th Michigan. She was joined by Anna Aldrich, the daughter of another member of the regiment. 

The 4thMichigan left for Washington D.C. where they were equipped for battle and reviewed by President Abraham Lincoln himself. Anna recalled that Lincoln shook her hand and that of her friend Anna Aldrich and a third lady who had joined them in Washington.

The 4th Michigan wore Americanized Zouave uniforms that included a fez hat, sack coat, tan gaitors, and loose trousers. Since there were no organized medical teams for regiments, neither Anna nor her fellow nurses had uniforms.  They wore dark wool dresses and carried bandages and canteens of water and whiskey.

Riverview Cemetery
Port Clinton, Ohio
Courtesy of Find A Grave

Anna recalled that first battle at Bull Run with deep regret. As she moved among the dead and wounded, she came upon a Confederate boy probably fifteen years old. The standard bearer of his regiment, he had been hit by a shell. Severely wounded, the boy asked Anna to place the flag in the ground above him so that he would be found and identified. It was against orders and Anna could not comply. She gave the boy a drink and in a few moments he took his last breath.

Anna recalled the ferocious fighting of the Seven Days Battles that took place in the spring of 1862. So many were killed that the dead – North and South were rolled into blankets with no identification and placed together in a single trench.  At Malvern Hill, Colonel Dwight Woodbury of the regiment was killed.

Battle of Malvern Hill 

Anna continued to serve with the regiment until the fall of 1862 when she contracted malaria in the swamplands of Virginia. After her recovery, she returned to Washington with her mother and grandfather in the spring of 1865. They were present in Ford’sTheatre when John Wilkes Booth took the life of President Lincoln.

Obviously intelligent and educated, Anna, later in life, learned shorthand and took down the speeches of Reverend Moody, transcribing them for publication. She also wrote articles for magazines and newspapers. Anna married Edwin Babcock and later Lemuel Clark. When she died in 1936, the reporter believed that two Civil War veterans were still alive in the county, but Anna Wood Clark was the only Civil War nurse in Ottawa County.  She is buried in the Riverview Cemetery.  

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