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Civil War Men and Women: Glimpses of Their Lives Through Photography

Using a photographic portrait of Anna Maria Ross from the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs as an entry point, this essay highlights the life and experiences of an individual nurse.

Anna Maria Ross

By Elizabeth Lindqwister, 2019 Liljenquist Fellow, Prints & Photographs Division.

M. S. (Moses S.) Hagaman. Anna Maria Ross, Civil War nurse and Lady Principal at Cooper Shop Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 1863. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

When Philadelphia was established as the colonial capital of Pennsylvania, its founder had little but religious freedom and Christian love in mind. William Penn, a devout Quaker who was once persecuted for his beliefs, created and named the city to reflect the tolerance-based tenets he learned from the Society of Friends. “Philadelphia”, broken down in Greek, literally translates to “brotherly love” and the city has since been known as the City of Brotherly Love.

The city's religious tolerance and “brotherly” geniality was embraced by many Philadelphians who were also recognized for their exemplary Quaker goodwill. Civil War nurse Anna Maria Ross became known to war nurses and peers as “The Soldier’s Friend” for her volunteer service in Philadelphia-area hospitals.

Anna Maria Ross was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 25, 1813. Her mother descended from a long line of Philadelphians, many of whom served in the Continental Army of the American War for Independence and her father was an Irish immigrant from the county Derry. Little is known of Anna’s early life, other than some sources noting that she provided medical aid to sick neighbors and friends.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Philadelphia quickly became an important transportation hub for Union soldiers. The thousands of troops passing through the city spurred charitable Philadelphians to found the famous Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon in 1861. Created by William M. Cooper, a Philadelphia businessman, the Saloon was intended to provide food, water, rest, and general comfort for soldiers traveling between battlefronts. Its location between the Delaware River and the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad station allowed the saloon to become one of the busier refreshment stops. It is estimated that the building saw over 400,000 soldiers in its four years of operation, primarily caring for Union soldiers and housing Confederate prisoners.

Given this wartime traffic, it was inevitable that injured soldiers would pass through the Cooper Saloon between battles. The Cooper Shop Hospital was consequently established in November 1861 to provide medical assistance to traveling soldiers. Some sources claim that Anna Maria Ross was involved in its founding, but it is little disputed that Anna became a crucial figure in its volunteer operation from 1861 through 1863. Anna was appointed “Lady Principal” of the Hospital, where she presided over nurses and patients, working shifts through day and night.

James Fuller Queen. Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon and Hospital. 1862. Marian S. Carson Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division. The Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon was also founded in 1861 in Philadelphia. It was the sister saloon to the Cooper Refreshment Saloon and had similar features (a hospital, rest beds, drink and food services). This is a receipt for a $20 donation to the Union saloon.

Anna left a sizeable legacy at the Cooper Shop Hospital, which is evinced by the sheer number of anecdotes and testimonies from soldiers who engaged with her there. She was further praised for her dedication and support for soldiers after they left her care in Cooper Shop; in the spring of 1863, she spearheaded a fundraising campaign to start a “Soldiers Home” for war veterans. Her efforts—which included traveling between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, canvassing at civilian's doors—raised over two thousand dollars and contributed to the Soldiers Home’s establishment in December of that same year.

It may seem almost impossible that Anna was able to work so tirelessly for two years straight. Indeed, when a peer asked about her volunteer work, she responded: “Oh there are hundreds who would gladly work as I do, but they have not my powers of endurance.” Ironically, her “powers of endurance” were not enough to persist through the entirety of the war. Shortly after securing the establishment of her veteran’s home, Anna died in her sleep on December 22, 1863. Sources speculate that her death was largely due to overwork and exhaustion.

Anna’s death was premature and tragic for the still-bustling Cooper Shop Hospital. Though the Hospital closed in 1865, Anna’s legacy remains enshrined in its history and in the various posthumous tributes paid to her in Philadelphia. For her contributions to the Cooper Shop Hospital and the Civil War more broadly, the Grand Army of the Republic established the “Anna M. Ross Post No. 94” in 1874 in Philadelphia. Similarly, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War established the “Anna M. Ross Camp No. 1” in 1879 as an association for descendants of War veterans. These posthumous honors, alongside her lifetime contributions to nursing, are summed up on her touching tombstone inscription: “When the Civil War disclosed its horrors, she dedicated her life to the sick and wounded soldiers of her country, and died a martyr to Humanity and Patriotism.”

Sources

The selected titles below link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to online versions are included when available.