Saturday, April 6, 2024

What I'm Reading: The Great Abolitionist

The Great Abolitionist is one of the most captivating nonfiction books I have read. While researching James Alexander Hamilton, I came across Charles Sumner, even a few letters exchanged between the two men, so I had already included a few bits about him in my own book. Now, I feel like I need to go back and add more. Charles Sumner's courage and absolute certainty in his stance for equality is astounding for his time and in the face of the persecution he endured. I'm not sure how many times I said, "Wow," as I was reading this. It's not just a great biography of Charles Sumner but a thought provoking study of an era when seismic shifts in mindset had to occur for black Americans to begin to experience equality.

I knew about Sumner's Bleeding Kansas speech and the horrific attack that put the South's admiration for violence on public display, but I found that there is much more about Charles Sumner that I didn't know. Puleo's powerful prologue shows us Sumner at Lincoln's deathbed. By this time, Sumner had long experienced and expected violence directed toward himself, but he was still shocked by that against the president. "The Confederate states and 'belligerent slavery' . . . had been 'defeated in battle' and thus had resorted to the most dishonorable, degrading, and cowardly act - assassination."

Then the author takes us back to the beginning of Sumner's fight, decades before anyone knew Abraham Lincoln's name. I found it interesting that "In Sumner's view, the fact that the Constitution did not even contain the word 'slavery' proved that the Founders refused to let it 'pollute its text.'" Hamilton brothers, James and John, wrote along similar lines, and I had not realized that they were inspired by Sumner.  Modern readers may not understand the significance of this. For those who were strong believers in the Constitution, like James A Hamilton, they had long accepted that the federal government had no power to impede slavery within states. Reconsidering the Constitution's stance (or lack thereof) on slavery was radical and necessary.

My favorite part of this book was learning about Charles Sumner fighting against school segregation a century before integration was finally accomplished. How exciting to learn that he was demanding equality before the law so very far ahead of its time! Sumner was not afraid to shame his peers, arguing that "school segregation was Boston's own 'peculiar institution,' in the same way that slavery was the South's." If only the judge in this case had shared Sumner's courage, this decision upholding segregation might not have been used as a legal precedent for 100 years.

Puleo traces Sumner's journey from the Whig party to the Free Soilers and finally as a member of the new Republican party. It seems astonishing in our time to see such political transitions. Perhaps we should take a lesson from our ancestors and follow our values more staunchly than our red or blue team. These shifts were necessary to bring together people with the power to finally stand up against slavery and the Southern politicians who had been controlling the country since its founding.

Sumner's own suffering encouraged people to rethink their political loyalties. When he was violently attacked and almost killed - at his desk in front of other congressmen - people of the north were horrified. They were further disgusted by the celebrations in the south and the many who stated Sumner deserved the beating for his strong words against slavery and those who practiced it. Those who had been on the fence started picking sides. "We went to bed one night, old fashioned, conservative, compromise Union Whigs, and waked up stark mad Abolitionists!"

I could go on and on about this book. We haven't even talked about the Civil War and Sumner's striving to include suffrage, equality, and integration with emancipation. He continued to fight for laws that wouldn't become reality until the 20th century. His perseverance and unshakable belief in what he was fighting for is an inspiration. That being said, the author doesn't shy away from sharing Sumner's weaknesses - his social awkwardness, uncompromising attitude, and failed marriage. The result is a realistic and inspiring portrait of a man we could all learn a lot from. I encourage everyone to read this book.

See more of what I'm reading on Goodreads or what I have reviewed here. I love to talk about books! Let me know what you're reading too. 

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Daughters of James Alexander Hamilton

It has been an amazing Women's History Month! I appreciate all my guests and readers who have participated. For our final day, I would like to share a little bit about the daughters of James Alexander Hamilton. Each of them, of course, has their place in my next book. The Hamiltons were a close family who spent significant time together at James's Nevis on the Hudson River near Sleepy Hollow. Today, let's talk a little bit about his four daughters.

His eldest, named Elizabeth after her grandmother, was born 8 October 1811. She married George Lee Schuyler in 1835, and they had three children. I'm sharing an image of those children, since I have not discovered any of Elizabeth, who was called Eliza by family and friends. I have found many letters written between Eliza and her father as evidence of their close relationship. Eliza died of cancer in 1863 at age 52 while she was in Washington volunteering for the war effort. 

In what is likely her last letter to her father, she wrote, "If you could see, my dear Father, the love and devotion of every one. To one so independent of others, it is worth while to be sick, to learn so rich a lesson from them. I look to you, my dear Father, to keep up the family tone and spirit now, as you have ever done. Shall we receive good only from God, as we have all our lives - and when the good is veiled, so that we do not see it, shall we complain? Or even bear the sorrow, like a scourged slave: My spirit rises above such abject submission, in to harmony with the Divine Will. What God wishes to do for us and with us, is hidden in the future….This Life is the gift of God; this everlasting Life, which the loss of a tired body will set free for fresh youth and zest."

Eliza's daughter, Louisa Lee Schuyler, became a well-known leader in women's charitable work and nursing, following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother.

Fun fact: since Elizabeth Hamilton married George Lee Schuyler, she was Elizabeth Hamilton Schuyler, while her grandmother was Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton!

James's second daughter, Frances, was born 2 October 1813, almost exactly 2 years after her sister, Eliza. Fanny, as she was often called, married George Bowdoin in 1832, and it is through this couple that most modern day descendants trace their lineage to James.

Fun Fact: Fanny's husband was named George Richard James Sullivan, but he took the last name Bowdoin from his mother's side, as did his brothers, in order to inherit the family fortune.

A third daughter, Mary, was born on New Year's Day 1818, and was named after her mother, Mary Morris Hamilton. She was one of the original members of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association that saved George Washington's home from falling into disrepair and ruin. Mary was the vice-regent for New York and raised $40k toward the purchase of Mount Vernon. She also attempted to keep Mount Vernon accessible during the Civil War, which was difficult due to its location in Virginia. Mary doubted the MVLA could afford to maintain the estate & encouraged transferring ownership to the federal government. A difference of opinion over this caused Mary to leave the organization, which still owns Mount Vernon to this day.

Mary also co-founded the New York School of Design for Women in 1852. It eventually became part of the Cooper Union. She was an active volunteer alongside her sister, Elizabeth, and niece, Louisa. Elizabeth died in 1863, and six years later her widower, George Lee Schuyler, married Mary. George Lee Schuyler is buried in the James A Hamilton family plot at Sleepy Hollow between the two sisters.

When admirers wished to honor Mary after her death with a statue of her at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, relatives filed a right to privacy suit to stop them, saying that Mary would not have wished it. 

The youngest of James A Hamilton's daughters is the one I discovered the least about. Her name was Angelica, and she was born 13 November 1819. James wrote several letters during his trips to Europe in which he mentions Angelica being with him. She married quite late in life for the era, becoming the second wife of Richard Milford Blatchford in 1860. Angelica was buried in the James A Hamilton family plot at Sleepy Hollow when she died in 1868, and her husband remarried again. She had no children. 

I have found no images of Angelica. Pictured is the James A Hamilton family plot at Sleepy Hollow. James, his wife, four of their five children, and three grandchildren are buried here.


Catch up on the rest of my celebration of Women's History Month

Join me on your preferred social media to make sure you don't miss a thing!




Friday, March 29, 2024

Urania Titani: Sofie Brahe

Hello, dear readers. I've never had so many guests for Women's History Month, and I hope you're enjoying this wonderful variety of stories about amazing women! My guest today is Maria Yrsa Rönneus, who is not only a fantastic author, she is the designer of the cover art for my novel, But One Life. Maria takes us back to the 16th century and introduces us to a true Renaissance woman, Sofie Brahe.

Welcome, Maria!

~ Samantha


Urania Titani: Sofie Brahe

Guest Post by Maria Yrsa Rönneus 

It is a truth oft perpetuated, that clever, successful, and interesting women make bad relationship choices. Though hardly a universal fact, it was certainly true of Sofie (Sophie) Brahe.

She was a true Renaissance woman – astronomer, astrologer, alchemist, meteorologist, historian, genealogist, gardener, and landlady. Strong, clever, beautiful, but she had a terrible taste in men.

Scania (Da: Skaane, Swe: Skåne) along with the counties of Halland and Blekinge, make up the southernmost tip of the Scandinavian peninsula, and aside from a brief interlude of Swedish reign in the 14th century, Scania was historically Danish until 1658. It was a coveted and well-guarded breadbasket, but whichever side of the sound the monarch was on, Scania always had, fought for, and retained its own traditions, culture, and even language.

It was in this rich province, at Knudstrup Castle (Swe: Knutstorp) that Sofie was born the youngest of ten to Otte Brahe and Beate Bille in 1556 or 1559. The noble family of Brahe was ancient aristocracy; they were influential and extremely wealthy – their vast family tree is littered with Councils, Marshals, and Stewards of the Realm and Ladies in Waiting. Needless to say, that they could well afford to give their children the very best education available at the time. 

And their oldest son, the famous astronomer Tyge (Swe: Tycho) certainly benefitted from university in Copenhagen. Of all Sofie’s siblings he was the one she was closest to, despite his being at least twelve years her senior. Sharing the same interests and talents, they faced the same opposition from their parents and other siblings. Sciences weren’t seen as suitable occupation for nobility in general, and particularly not for women. Sofie, of course, stood no chance of getting an education equal to her brother’s. 

Tyge taught her horticulture and alchemy, but their relationship wasn’t without conflict either. Tyge was a man of his times after all, and wouldn’t teach her astronomy as he feared that her feebler female mind might not be equal to the task.

Sofie, however, wasn’t one to let a few obstacles stand in her way, and promptly proceeded to teach herself Greek mythology, history, German, and astronomy. By her own admission, she had little interest in women’s conventional skills and chores, and already in her teens, she began assisting Tyge in his work.

The scientific disciplines as we know them today had yet to crystallise – astronomy and astrology were one and the same. Consequently, Sofie’s interest in astronomy was inextricably tied to her firm belief in astrology. She achieved great skill in calculating the natal charts for friends and acquaintances, and did so wherever she went for both her own and others’ amusement. Similarly, her aim to find the formula for the elusive “Philosopher’s Stone” taught her to prepare medicines and herbal remedies which she handed out to friends, tenants, and the poor.

In 1577, when she was about twenty-one years of age, she was married to Otte Tagesen Thott of Eriksholm, (presently Trolleholm). Little is known about him, he appears to have been quite unremarkable. We can’t know whether this was a marriage she welcomed or was forced into, but eleven years of marriage didn’t result in more than one child. It’s easy to read lack of love and passion into that, but it’s also possible that Otte Thott wasn’t a healthy man. The cause of his demise seems to be unknown, but he died already in1588, when he was only forty-five.

In any case, Sofie was given quite a lot of freedom to keep up with her interests as well as cultivate new ones. Her garden at Eriksholm was renowned, and she seems to have thrived. Otte Thott may have lead a quiet life, but his funeral was such a lavish affair as to attract the displeasure of the government. 

As a widow, Sofie continued to live and work at Eriksholm, managing the estate for her young son. She kept visiting Tyge frequently, much as she had during her marriage. King Frederik II had given Tyge an island in Öresund. Ven is a mere speck on the map, but there he built his wonderful mansion Uraniborg, and his subterranean observatory Stjerneborg (Eng: Star Castle). Underground, his delicate instruments would be protected from the weather, and readings not be influenced by for example winds, which would have been a real problem on the tiny island. Both the castle and the observatory were demolished after Tyge left for Prague in 1599, but the observatory was reconstructed in the 20th century, and now houses a museum.

At Uraniborg, the learned scientific elite of the late 16th century gathered. Sofie became more than merely her brother’s assistant, she participated in all parts of the scientific discourse at Uraniborg. So much so that Tyge planned to include some of her work in the second volume of his ‘Astronomical Letters’, which he sadly never got to finish. Sofie befriended the learned men, and their regard for her knowledge and work is well documented. They called her Urania for the Greek muse of astronomy. (The planet Uranus also named for the same muse wouldn’t be discovered for another two centuries.)

It was here that she met and fell head-over-heels in love with Erik Lange of Engelsholm. He was a young nobleman who had received education in Paris and Wittenburg. There are no known paintings of Erik, but I imagine he must have been handsome. Erik was clever, but could hardly compare to the intellectual giants that Sofie was used to rubbing shoulders with. Yet she was decidedly dazzled. Sofie was thirty-four when they got engaged.

But, let loose in the well-equipped laboratory at Uraniborg, Erik’s love of alchemy trumped his love for Sofie. He gave himself over to the gold-making business with such abandon that he distilled away almost all his assets. Two years later, the wedding had still not taken place, and Erik had to flee from his creditors. Erik left Denmark in 1592. 

Sofie returned to Eriksholm, to her son, her studies, and her garden. It’s from this time that a poem called Urania Titani originates. It is a long letter professing Urania’s passionate love for Titan (Erik) composed in sonorous Latin hexameter. It tells of her sadness and longing for her beloved, and Urania reassures Titan of her trust in him.

Accounts conflict on whether she actually wrote the poem herself, or if she commissioned it; some sources say that she didn’t know Latin. She was known to write poetry, albeit in Danish. Her brother Tyge, who also wrote poetry, took credit for it. It seems to me a very odd thing to write a fervent love letter to one’s sister’s lover. Far more reasonable then to assume that he translated it. Regardless of who wrote the poem, it’s safe to say that Sofie was besotted.

Erik meanwhile, was mostly besotted with the thought of making gold, and letters from him were brief and far between. Travelling from place to place in present day Germany, Poland, and Czech Republic, he accumulated new debt where ever he went. Gold-feverish addiction had him in a firm grip, and little else mattered. He neglected his duties as landlord, yet forced his tenants to work too hard, and ultimately pawned his estate.

Sofie’s family tried to persuade her to break it off with him, but her loyal heart wouldn’t hear of it.
Instead, she sent him such sums of money that her family intervened with legal actions, and seized her assets on behalf of her son, then still a minor. 

Sofie was not about to let true love slip away, and in 1599, when her son reached majority, she managed to scrape together enough to travel to Germany. Erik, however, could barely tear himself away from his “art”. Sofie was well liked and had many friends and connections in Europe who sent her invitations to stay, but Sofie couldn’t bring herself to give up on Erik. When he left for a new place, she found some excuse to follow. But with her closest relatives in Scania, she found neither help nor compassion.

Sofie and Erik returned to Denmark in 1602, where Erik was arrested and put in debtors’ prison. Help came from her extended family, and finally when she was forty-six, they were married. She wrote in a vivid and acerbic letter to her sister that she did not own one pair of stockings without holes for the wedding and that the groom’s clothes had been hocked.

The wedding bells had barely stilled before Erik took off again. Inheritances made Sofie’s life more bearable, but her holdings were now Erik’s and his debts devoured much of that too. Erik died destitute in Prague in 1613.

Another woman might have returned full of remorse and sorrow to her son’s Eriksholm, but not Sofie. It was not for nothing that her brother Tyge spoke of her “animus invictus” – her invincible spirit. In 1616, she moved to Helsingør (Elsinore) where she devoted herself to genealogical research. Her work resulted in a folio of over 900 pages in 1626. Genealogy was a popular pursuit with the ladies of nobility of the time, but Sofie’s family book was considered a pinnacle among similar works, not least because of her animated storytelling.

As a female scientist, Sofie Brahe was a new phenomenon is Nordic history. Her work defied norms in terms of both sex and class. She died in Helsingør in 1643, at an age of eighty-seven. Made possible, partly by her brother’s support, partly by her own stubbornness, hers was a remarkable life on her own terms. 


‘Dansk Biografisk Leksikon’, C. F. Bricka (1887 – 1905)

‘Breve og aktstykker angaaende Tyge Brahe og hans slægtninge’, F. R. Friis (1875)

‘Sofie Brahe Ottesdatter. En biografisk skildring’, F. R. Friis (1905)

‘Tycho Brahes "Urania Titani": et digt om Sophie Brahe’. P. Zeeberg (1994)

Images from Wikipedia, Alvin and Flickr. Artwork by Joan Blaeu and Edith Annie Ibbs.

In Orbits of Attraction, the fictional protagonist, Juliet, is an astronomer in the early 19th century Britain. Two hundred years had changed very little for women in sciences. It highlights the particular challenges that being female in a male dominated pursuit entailed. The protagonist meets Caroline Herschel, another clever female astronomer, doomed to playing second fiddle to a celebrated brother.

Although privileged, Juliet too faces sexism in her work, and has to wrestle the issues arising in combining independence and love.

Connect with Maria on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.


Don't miss the rest of my celebration of Women's History Month

Join me on your preferred social media to make sure you don't miss a thing!




Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Joan of Leeds: A Rebellious Nun

Hello, dear readers! You will recognize my guest today because she has been here before. Toni Mount has contributed several fascinating articles and is the author of one of my favorite series as well as several nonfiction books, including How to Survive in Medieval England. I'm pleased to welcome her as part of Women's History Month with a journey back to the 14th century to introduce us to a lady who went to some extremes to claim her freedom! 

Toni is also celebrating the release of her latest novel in the Sebastian Foxley series, Color of Sin. By the time you're reading this, I will likely be halfway through Seb's latest adventure and not wanting it to end. More on this below. Now, let's talk about the ladies.

Welcome, Toni!

~ Samantha


Joan of Leeds: A Rebellious Nun

Guest Post by Toni Mount

Joan was a young nun at St Clement’s Benedictine Priory in York in northern England in the early fourteenth century. It isn’t known at what age she entered the religious life, taking vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. Perhaps her parents decided for her as becoming a nun was a way of dealing with an unmarried daughter without a dowry. Whatever the reason, Joan discovered that the monotonous round of daily prayers and those tedious vows was not the life for her. 

Joan was bored. 

So she hatched a plan and, possibly, her sister nuns were tired of her, too, because they assisted in her scheme to escape from the priory. In 1318, Joan complained of being unwell and took to her bed. No remedy aided this mysterious ailment and, eventually, she died – a drastic means of escape, you’ll agree. The nuns buried Joan’s body in holy ground and that could have been the end of her brief, sorry story.

Except that it wasn’t.

Joan had made a cloth dummy, stuffing it with straw, and it was this makeshift corpse which the nuns buried. Meanwhile, Joan fled the convent and walked thirty miles to Beverley. Whether her destination was pre-planned to meet up with someone we don’t know but, later, it was said she was living there with a man.

However, her ruse was uncovered back at the priory and William Melton, the Archbishop of York, was informed. He sent a letter to the Dean of Beverley Minster, detailing Joan’s sins and demanding her immediate return to St Clement’s. It seems the first letter didn’t result in her return because the archbishop wrote again, explaining that she had faked death and fashioned a dummy ‘in the likeness of her body’ which her sister nuns, aiding and abetting her crimes, then buried ‘in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place’, all for her sinful desire to follow ‘the way of carnal lust’, he said, righteously. Joan was officially denounced as an apostate for absconding, breaking her vows and abandoning her nun’s habit and those who helped her were ‘evildoers’. Further, the archbishop continued, ‘She perverted her path of life arrogantly and now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order’.

And scandal there was.

A local priest wrote to the archbishop from Beverley on 26 August 1318, saying that Joan had voluntarily told him her version of events, admitting she’d faked her death in order to escape. It’s not known whether she ever did return to the priory and these letters, found in Archbishop Melton’s Register, are the only source, telling of her life and career. 

Joan’s story was discovered in 2019 when a University of York research project, led by Professor Sarah Rees Jones, found the scribe’s marginal notes in the Archbishop’s Registra for 1305-1405. The priest’s letter was uncovered in 2020. 

Connect with Toni

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree as a mature student at the University of Kent by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript.

She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestsellers, Everyday Life in Medieval London and How to Survive in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge of the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages.

Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries.

Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. She writes regularly for The Richard III Society's Ricardian Bulletin and a variety of history blogs and is a major contributor to

As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, is an enthusiastic member of two creative writing groups and is a popular speaker to groups and societies.

Come with Seb Foxley, Rose and their enigmatic friend Kit, a priest with a shadowy past, as they join a diverse group of pilgrims on what should be an uplifting spiritual journey to Canterbury Cathedral.

Beset by natural disasters and unexplained deaths, the dangers become apparent. Encountering outlaws and a fearsome black cat, every step is fraught with peril.

Amidst the chaos, Seb finds himself grappling with the mysteries surrounding him, as well as his own demons, while Rose's reunion with her family sets off a chain of events with unforeseen consequences.

But the greatest threat lies in the shadows, where sinister forces unleash evil upon the unsuspecting pilgrims. In a world where trust is a scarce commodity and even allies may harbour dark intentions, Seb must uncover the truth and protect his fellow travellers.

Prepare to be enthralled by a tale of betrayal, intrigue and redemption as Seb Foxley races against time to unravel the malevolent secrets hidden within the heart of the pilgrimage. Who can you trust when even friends prove false?


Don't miss the rest of my celebration of Women's History Month

Join me on your preferred social media to make sure you don't miss a thing!




Sunday, March 24, 2024

Civil War Hospital Matron Phoebe Pember

If you've read anything about America's Civil War, you know that medical care of the mid-19th century left a lot to be desired, especially as resources ran low. Author Michael Ross is here today to help us celebrate Women's History Month and share how Phoebe Pember selflessly served the wounded and strove for better care at Chimborazo Hospital through this turbulent time.

Welcome, Michael!

~ Samantha


Civil War Hospital Matron Phoebe Pember

Guest Post by Michael Ross

Phoebe Pember (August 18, 1823 – March 4, 1913) was a South Carolina widow who became the head matron at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond.

Phoebe was born into a wealthy and prominent South Carolina Jewish family, the fourth of seven children. Her father was Jacob Clavius, a successful merchant, and her mother a well regarded actress. She had a private tutor, and learned the feminine arts of the time as she grew up. One can only speculate as to why she married late at 33, but later life might suggest her strength of character deterred suitors. She was no delicate flower.

Eventually, Phoebe did marry Thomas Pember, a Gentile from Boston, two years her senior in 1856. Thomas didn’t last long. He contracted tuberculosis and died July 9, 1861 in Aiken, SC. Phoebe became a childless widow at 38. Her parents fled south to Georgia, hoping to escape the ravages of war. Phoebe went with them, but fidgeted, restless, her reserves of energy unused. Her father expected her to sew, attend parties, and play the pianoforte. Such pursuits were profoundly boring to Phoebe, who longed to be useful. She had a great friend, the wife of the Confederate Secretary of War, Mary Pope Randolph. Randolph offered her a position as matron at the Chimborazo Hospital, and Phoebe jumped at the chance. There were ninety hospital wards, forty beds each.

Almost from the beginning, Phoebe was at odds with her male colleagues. She was appalled by the abuse of hospital alcohol supplies, consumed by doctors, male nurses, and orderlies while on duty. She lobbied to be put in charge of the entire alcohol supply for the hospital, prompting complaints to superiors in the Richmond hierarchy.

During her tenure, almost 76,000 Confederate soldiers were tended. She did not practice medicine herself, lacking the training, but her skills as an administrator made sure that medical staff had the supplies needed to do their job. She also personally read for, wrote for, cared for, and otherwise helped as many wounded men as possible, up to 15,000 under her direct care during the course of the war. She got a fair amount of flak for being female, but never let it bother her. She relates one conflict with a powerful man, William Carrington, head of the Confederate Medical Dept.:

“He advanced towards the [whiskey] barrel, and so did I, only being in the inside, I interposed between him and the object of contention. The fierce temper blazed up in his face, and catching me roughly by the shoulder, he called me a name that a decent woman seldom hears and even a wicked one resents. But I had a little friend, which usually reposed quietly on the shelf, but had been removed to my pocket in the last twenty-four hours, more from a sense of protection than from any idea that it would be called into active service; so before he had time to push me one inch from my position, or to see what kind of ally was in my hand, that sharp click, a sound so significant and so different from any other, struck upon his ear, and sent him back amidst his friends, pale and shaken.

‘You had better leave,’ I said composedly (for I felt in my feminine soul that although I was near enough to pinch his nose, that I had missed him), ‘for if one bullet is lost, there are five more ready, and the room is too small for even a woman to miss six times.’” – National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Kristin Brill, and A Southern Woman’s Story: Life in Confederate Richmond, Phoebe Pember

One Confederate observer said of Phoebe that she possessed “the will of steel under a suave refinement.”

On one occasion, as she was visiting some newly arrived soldiers who had been wounded in a recent battle, one of them called for her attention. At first glance, it could be seen that he was very weak and would probably soon pass away. She stepped to his side to see what she could do for him in his final moments:

“He shook his head in negative to all offers of food or drink or suggestions of softer pillows and lighter covering.

‘I want Perry,’ was his only wish.

On inquiry I found that Perry was the friend and companion who marched by his side in the field and slept next to him in camp, but of whose whereabouts I was ignorant. Armed with a requisition from our surgeon, I sought him among the sick and wounded at all the other hospitals. I found him at Camp Jackson, put him in my ambulance, and on arrival at my own hospital found my patient had dropped asleep. A bed was brought and placed at his side, and Perry, only slightly wounded, laid upon it.”

…when the young soldier awoke, he was overjoyed to see his old friend, and got to spend the last few minutes of his life with his army buddy at his side, thanks to the quick and selfless work of Phoebe Pember.

Another time, there was a young man who had suffered a badly broken bone in his upper thigh, but he was healing and expected to make a recovery. One night, he rolled over in bed and screamed.

Phoebe came running and found that a bone splinter had poked out through his skin, and the wound was jetting blood (apparently an artery had been severed). Phoebe immediately pressed on the wound with her finger and was able to cut off the flow of blood until a surgeon arrived.

Unfortunately, when the surgeon arrived, he found that he could not locate the severed artery, and finally told Phoebe that there was no hope. She was left to break the news to the wounded man. This task was very difficult for her, but finally:

“It was done at last and the verdict received patiently and courageously, some directions given by which his mother would be informed of his death, and then he turned his questioning eyes upon my face.

‘How long can I live?’

‘Only as long as I keep my finger upon this artery.’ A pause ensued. God alone knew what thoughts hurried through that heart and brain, called so unexpectedly from all earthly hopes and ties. He broke the silence at last.

‘You can let go.’

But I could not. Not if my own life had trembled in the balance. Hot tears rushed to my eyes, a surging sound to my ears, and a deathly coldness to my lips. The pang of obeying him was spared me, and for the first and last time during the trials that surrounded me for four years, I fainted away.”

This story demonstrates once more how deeply Phoebe Pember cared for those who came into her care, but that is not the only thing that made her a successful matron at Chimborazo…

At the end, as the battle neared Richmond, many of the surgeons deserted the hospital for the front. Phoebe was moved by the cries of the wounded. Countermanding the orders of her superiors, who insisted the wounded be taken elsewhere, Phoebe received them. She heeded the cry of a soldier who said, “For God’s sake, take them in or kill them.”

After the surrender of Richmond, her duties did not end. There were still wounded to attend to, and they needed relief from pain. Laudanum and other anesthetics were not to be found, but a thirty gallon barrel of whiskey was delivered. Phoebe again resorted to her pistol to defend it, as others assumed all authority was gone, and a mere woman was of no consequence.

“Undaunted, Mr. Wilson headed for the barrel himself, but Phoebe stepped in his way. Wilson swore at her, and grabbing her arm, moved to throw her out of his way. Suddenly, he heard the distinctive sound of a pistol being cocked.”

Phoebe stayed for about six months after the conclusion of the war, tending the wounded. The Union took over the hospital, using it for their own wounded. Phoebe returned home to Marietta, Georgia. She traveled widely, speaking on the evils of war. She died of breast cancer in Pittsburgh, Pa. in 1913.


Catch up on the rest of my celebration of Women's History Month

Join me on your preferred social media to make sure you don't miss a thing!