Charlotte Bradford, Part Three: Matron of the Home for Soldiers

by Carolyn Ravenscroft

The U.S. Sanitary Commission's Home for Soldiers in Washington, D.C. The ancillary Home for Wives and Mother, of which Charlotte was also matron, is just out of view to the right.

The U.S. Sanitary Commission’s Home for Soldiers in Washington, D.C. The ancillary Home for Wives and Mothers, of which Charlotte was also matron, is just out of view to the right. The area is now part of Senate Park north of the Capitol.

This is the third installment in a series of articles describing Charlotte Bradford’s career as a nurse during the Civil War. Previous articles discussed her work aboard the United States Sanitary Commission’s Transport Ships in Virginia and her time as a U.S. Army nurse under Dorothea Dix. The third phase of her career began in May, 1863 when she was appointed Matron of the USSC’s Home for Soldiers located at 374 No. Capital Street in Washington, DC.

During the early months of 1863 Charlotte was recovering from a bout of illness, perhaps typhoid fever. While convalescing, she frequently visited the home of her niece, Lucia Bradford Knapp and her niece’s husband, USSC Special Relief Administrator, Frederick Newman Knapp in Washington City. Through this connection, Charlotte became better acquainted with the leaders of the Sanitary Commission. She had tea with the Frederick Law Olmsted’s family; dined with Reverend Bellows and Dr. Jenkins; went to the theater and “May Flowering with the ladies.”[1]

It was also during this time that her friend and former fellow Transport Nurse, Amy Bradley, left her position as matron at the Sanitary Commission’s Home for Soldiers, leaving a vacancy perfectly suited to Bradford’s talents. The Home for Soldiers was a place where those furloughed by the Army could receive food, shelter, and hospital care, as well as assistance with paperwork, back pay and train tickets, as they made their was North. During the course of the war Mary Livermore estimated that “over 800,000 soldiers were entertained…and 4.5 million meals and a million nights lodgings were gratuitously furnished” at the Home.[2] It was also sanctuary where “the private soldier could go and remain for a few days…without being prey of the unprincipled villains who neglected no opportunity of fleecing every man connected with army.”[3]

After accepting the position as matron, Charlotte’s first days at the Home for Soldiers were spent cleaning and putting her own brand of order to the place. She immediately liked her room, writing that it had “one of the prettiest views in Washington.”[4] Her days were hectic as she tended to men often too sick to travel, or offered shelter to those waiting days to get their transportation papers.[5] Unfortunately, many men died while in this “intermediate condition.” The Home’s hospital also served as additional space when army hospitals became too crowded – in 1863 alone over 900 very sick patients arrived at the Home Hospital; 61 died.[6]

Charlotte Bradford (1813-1893) in 1862

Charlotte Bradford (1813-1893) in 1862

In addition to her duties as matron of the Home for Soldiers and its adjacent hospital, Charlotte also managed the Home for Wives and Mothers a few doors down at 380 No. Capital Street. This facility housed the wives, mothers and sisters of wounded soldiers who were flocking to the capital to care for their loved ones in Union hospitals, often arriving “utterly ignorant of the cost of the journey, and of obtaining board or lodging, even for a day or two, in the city…utterly destitute and helpless”[7] The Home for Wives and Mothers offered them not only shelter and food, but also assistance locating their family member, or sadly, their remains. During the course of its existence it is estimated that this department provided rest and sustenance to thousands of women.

Interestingly, there were at least two female soldiers who made their way to the Home. Mrs. Wilkinson from Boston claimed to have enlisted with her son but when discovered, she had changed to women’s clothing and been allowed to stay with the army as a “daughter of the regiment.” Women who were given this honorary title often performed nursing duties but they could also carry the regiment’s colors and participate in battles.[8] Charlotte opinion of this woman had initially been high until she was suspected of drinking. As an advocate of temperance, Charlotte judged anyone who drank harshly, but she was particularly stern with women.

The second female soldier, Fanny Lee, had been discovered in March and remained until June 17, 1864. The story told to Bradford was that she was a war widow with no friends.[9] In actuality, she was a single woman who had enlisted in the Ohio 6th Cavalry with her cousin. While recovering at the Home for Wives and Mother’s she attempted to become a U.S. Army nurse but was turned down, the reason being she had “unsexed herself”[10] and was therefore unqualified. Once home Fanny Lee wrote a letter to Bradford. Now married, with her hair growing out and fully recovered from her illness, she wrote she was “now a soldier for life in the Brigade of Matrimony.”[11]

Charlotte remained at the Home for Soldiers and its female department for the remainder of the war, not returning to Duxbury until the last veteran made his way through the Home in 1865. In 1867 Linus P. Brockett and Mary C. Vaughn wrote Women’s Work in the Civil War in which a small chapter is dedicated to Charlotte’s work. She is described as a “woman of extraordinary attainments and culture” as well as “thoroughly refined and ladylike in her manners.”[12] Her chapter may be smaller than those of her companions, but this speaks to her reticence more than her accomplishments. The authors argue that her exemplary service renders her “public property,” but one can only imagine Charlotte politely refusing to offer any personal information.

There are very few grave sites of women that are decorated with a Civil War veteran's medallion. Charlotte's is one of them.

There are very few grave sites of women that are decorated with a Civil War veteran’s medallion. Charlotte’s is one of them.

In 1890, when Charlotte was seventy-six years old and quite infirm, she applied for and received a pension of $12.00 from the Federal government. Her petition to the Subcommittee on Invalid Pensions claimed that she is in reduced circumstances and required “outside pecuniary assistance.”[13] This was two years before the Army Nurses Pension Act in 1892 was passed, recognizing women’s war work. Charlotte received word that her pension had been approved on May 16, 1890 via a telegram from U.S. Representative Elijah A. Morse.[14] Three years later, in 1893 Charlotte Bradford died. Her gravesite in the Mayflower Cemetery, Duxbury, is decorated with a Civil War Veteran medallion.

[1] Charlotte Bradford Diary I, April 1863, Bradford Family Collection. Drew Archives, Duxbury Rural and Historical Society
[2] Livermore, My Story of the War, 131. These numbers represent the total number at the Home and all Lodges. The number for the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, according to Wormley’s United States Sanitary Commission, 225, there were 86,986 nights’ lodging and 3131,375 meals.
[3] Katherine Wormeley, The United States Sanitary Commission: A Sketch of its Purposes and its Work (Boston: Little Brown and Co, 1863), 219. See also, Livermore, My Story of he War, 248.
[4] Charlotte Bradford Diary I, May 3, 1863, Bradford Family Collection.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Wormeley, United States Sanitary Commission, 223.
[7] Frederick Newman Knapp, Fifth Report concerning the Aid and Comfort given by the Sanitary Commission: To Sick and Invalid Soldiers (Washington: U.S. Sanitary Commission, 1863), p. 20.
[8] Official Homepage of the U.S. Army, http://www.army.mil/women/early.html, accessed April 27, 2013.
[9] Charlotte Bradford Diary II March 1864, Bradford Family Collection.
[10] DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers of the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana, Louisiana State University Press, 2002) p.117.
[11] Fanny Lee to “Dear Friend” Aug. 20, 1864, Bradford Family Collection.
[12] L.P. Brockett and Mary C. Vaughn, Women’s Work in the Civil War, (Philadelphia: Zeigler, McCurdy, 1867), 731.
[13] Congressional Series Set, Report 1424, (Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1891), Google ebook.
[14] Elijah A. Morse to Charlotte Bradford, May 16, 1890, Bradford Family Collection.