by Carolyn Ravenscroft
There are four women from Duxbury who share the honor of being recognized as a Civil War nurse. One, Charlotte Bradford, has been written of extensively in this blog. Another, Lucia Bradford, volunteered in Washington, DC in no official capacity, but rather as an assistant to her sister, Charlotte, at the United States Sanitary Commission’s Home for Wives and Mothers. A third was Lauretta Waterman, the daughter of Capt. Martin Waterman. Her history will come in a future post. But the fourth, Hannah Drew Thomas Moir, is a bit of an enigma. Her nursing career was lovingly recounted in Our Army Nurses by her former patient, Sgt. Samuel C. Wright. However, there are some inconsistencies in his tale that need to be examined.
Hannah Drew Thomas was born on August 11, 1836 to Capt. Nathaniel Thomas and Zilpha Loring. Her home was in the midst of a neighborhood of extended family near the Blue Fish River Bridge, on the corner of St. George and Cove Street (commonly referred to as “The Gore House” it was torn down in the early 20th century). Her childhood would have been spent with her siblings and cousins, exploring the shipyards at their doorstep.
Tragedy visited the Thomas household often enough, but it struck hardest in 1850-1851 when Hannah’s eldest sister, Anne Maria, and her mother both died of consumption within a year of each other. With children under the age of ten still at home, Capt. Thomas must have looked to Hannah for assistance. By 1860, however, Hannah had left her father’s household, had taken up residence in Roxbury, MA, and was being courted by a Scottish clerk from Brooklyn named John Moir. Their acquaintance may have gone back to 1849 when Moir had applied for citizenship, listing his address as Duxbury. The couple married Boston on June 21, 1861. With the Civil War having just broken out it is easy to imagine a hasty marriage before Moir headed off to battle.
Sgt. Samuel Cole Wright, a Plympton, MA native with the 29th Massachusetts Regiment, met Hannah Moir, now “Nurse Moir,” when she was working at Harewood Hospital in Washington, DC. According to Wright, Hannah had been in the capital since 1861, arriving just in time to care for her dying husband, an officer in the Union Army. After his death she “felt it her duty to remain, and care for other brave men who needed her attention.” Wright described Hannah as “young, bright, and of a cheerful disposition, she cast only rays of sunshine.” He also referred to her as a “ministering angel.”
That she was a wonderful nurse I fully believe. It is only Wright’s timeline that is a bit off. You see, Hannah Thomas Moir gave birth to a daughter, Ann Maria Moir, no doubt named for her beloved sister, in Brooklyn in 1862. The baby died of cholera infantum the following year. It is highly unlikely that Hannah would have gone to Washington, DC while pregnant, even less likely that she would have left a newborn in the care of her newly remarried father. Another discrepancy is John Moir’s own enlistment. There were two John Moirs of the right age (b. 1820) and of Scottish origin living in New York during the mid-19th century. One was a jeweler/watchmaker and one was a clerk. Both men registered for the draft in New York in 1863. According to previous US Census records the jeweler John was married to Mary Moir and had a family. We also know, according to Hannah’s marriage certificate, that her John Moir was a clerk, so that leaves little doubt as to which draftee was her husband.
Based on the above information I feel that Sgt. Wright’s story was correct in all but the length of time Hannah served as a nurse. With the tragic death of her daughter in August, 1863, Hannah must have felt compelled to aid her wounded husband in Washington, DC. This would have put her at Harewood and surrounding hospitals from late 1863 until the end of the war in 1865. Certainly a tenure to be celebrated, but not, as Sgt. Wright states, one of the longest of any nurse.
After the war Hannah returned home to Duxbury for a time. She is listed in the 1870 US Census in the household of her father and his second wife. Hannah’s name is given as Thomas, not Moir, but census records are often erroneous and I won’t read too much into that (although she never applied for a widow’s pension, which is curious).
Later still, Hannah moved to Boston. She boarded at 418 Broadway in South Boston and worked for lawyer named Robb on Bromfield Street. She died, sadly, of nervous prostration in 1873 at the young age of 38. No doubt her ailment was at least partially brought on by the horrors she witnessed during the war. Hannah did not live long enough to receive a pension of her own, nurses were not granted that recognition until 1890. She is buried in her family’s plot in Mayflower Cemetery in Duxbury. During his lifetime, her thankful patient, Sgt. Samuel C. Wright, often decorated her grave with flowers.
You can find a Samuel C. Wright’s biography of Hannah Thomas Moir and a wonderful description of his dream on the eve of her death at this link.
 Our Army Nurses: Interesting Sketches Addresses and Photographs of Nearly One Hundred of the Noble Women Who Served in Hospitals and on the Battlefields in Our Civil War. Compiled by Mary A. Gardner. Boston: Wilkins & Co. 1895.