Monday, December 18, 2023

Confederate hospitals in Memphis

   Hospitals in the United States were few and far between in the 1860s. Most large cities would have some type of public hospital. These facilities, however, were usually for the poor, or for visitors. For locals, healthcare entailed calling a doctor who then visited the sick in their homes. However, between the riverboat men who might be carrying infectious diseases and locals combatting the “recurring maladies native to the lower Mississippi and its lowland,” residents early on saw a need for some type of medical care. As early as 1829, the state made “a half hearted effort to run a hospital exclusively for travelers.” The Memphis Hospital was the first hospital established in the state of Tennessee. The hospital was a three-story brick building, containing eight rooms and able to handle 200 patients.[1]

   Memphis was also home to the Botanico-Medical College and the Memphis Medical College, both established in 1846. And, in 1860, the Memphis Charity Hospital opened, occupying one of the old buildings at the then-defunct U.S. Navy Yard.[2] 

Irving Bloch Hospital, and later, prison.

   With Tennessee leaving the Union in 1861, several new hospitals sprang up. The Confederate government took over the Memphis (or State) Hospital and civilian patients were transferred elsewhere. Doctor James Keller was reported as in charge, with the Sisters of Charity, St. Agnes, as nurses.[3] Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, and studied at the University of Louisville. He was practicing medicine in Memphis prior to the war. Women in Memphis organized the Southern Mothers’ Society and set up a hospital in a building at the intersection of Second and Union Streets. In July 1861, they were advertising for a hospital steward and a “competent, healthy, negro man to wait upon the rooms.”[4] This hospital moved to the “Irving Block, a large commercial building on Second at Court.” The larger structure had 400 beds and a Dr. George W. Curry was reported in charge.[5] The Edgewood Hospital Association converted Edgewood Chapel into a facility that could handle 50 sick and women soldiers. Following the battle of Belmont, Missouri, in November 1861, wounded soldiers were shipped via steamer to Memphis, and leaders of the city established a hospital in the new Overton Hotel, as well as opening private homes.[6]   

   Concerning the care of the Confederate wounded from Belmont, a committee resolved that “The people of Memphis are determined to leave nothing undone that is in their power to show their appreciation of the services of the gallant men who have taken up arms in the cause of the South.” As the Overton Hotel was fitted up as a hospital, Drs. Keller and Fenner were placed in charge, with R. Brewster as pharmacist. C.S. Penner was also listed as a surgeon at Overton Hospital.[7]   

   By the end of 1861, Memphis’s confederate hospital system had 1,000 beds. The hospital at Overton, along with the Southern Mothers’ Hospital or Irving Block Hospital were combined into an official Confederate hospital system with Dr. Claude H. Mastin as Supervisor of Hospitals. Mastin, born in Huntsville, Alabama, had studied at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, the Royal College of Surgeons, and the University of Edinburgh. He was practicing medicine in Mobile, Alabama, at the start of the war. He was in Memphis as early as November 1861.[8]

   Following the battle of Shiloh in April 1862, at least 1,200 wounded men were sent via train from Corinth to Memphis. This does not include wounded men placed in private homes. The cry of abuse soon surfaced in Memphis hospitals and General Beauregard sent Dr. David W. Yandell, Medical Director for the Western Department of Kentucky, to inspect the Confederate hospitals in the city. Yandell appointed a new chief surgeon, new contract doctors, and nurses. There were now three official Confederate hospitals: Overton, SMS Irving, and the State Army hospital. When Beauregard ordered the evacuation of Memphis in May 1862, the sick and convalescent soldiers were sent back to their regiments, while the wounded were sent to Grenada, Mississippi. Fifty soldiers too sick or wounded to be moved were left behind, and Dr. G.W. Curry returned to the Irving Hospital to look after these men. When the Federals took over the city, SMS Irving Hospital was converted into a prison.[9]

   Federal forces garrisoning the city assumed use of the other structures and greatly enlarged them, or appropriated other buildings and established new hospitals in the city. Although it was short lived, the Confederate Hospital at Memphis contributed to the overall Confederate war effort and to the lives of individual soldiers. 

[1] Stewart, History of Medicine in Memphis, 13, 84, 87.

[2] Stewart, History of Medicine in Memphis, 88.

[3] Memphis Daily Appeal, June 15, 1861.

[4] Memphis Daily Appeal, July 17, 1861.

[5] Memphis Daily Appeal, August 9, 1861.

[6] LaPointe, “Military Hospitals in Memphis”, 326-27; Memphis Daily Appeal, November 9, 1861.

[7] Memphis Daily Appeal, November 9, 1861, November 10, 1861, November 17, 1861.

[8] Claude H. Mastin, CMSR, Roll0165, M331, RG109, NA.

[9] LaPointe, “Military Hospitals in Memphis”, 332.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Lottie and Ginnie Moon, Confederate spies

   There are many celebrated Southern spies. Rose Greenhow, Belle Boyd, and Henry Harrison come to mind. Sisters Lottie and Ginnie Moon are not usually included on that list as being famous or celebrated. But they were spies, none-the-less.[1]

Virginia "Ginnie" Moon

   Richard Hall considered them “An extraordinary pair of sisters who did not at all fit the stereotype of the Southern belle.”[2] Robert S. Moon was doctor who passed in 1858. He was married to Cynthia Ann Sullivan, and they had several children, including daughters Charlotte C. “Lottie” Moon Clark (1829-1895) and Virginia B. “Ginnie” Moon (1844-1925). Lottie was born in Danville, Virginia, while Ginnie’s birthplace is often listed as either Memphis, Tennessee, or in Ohio. The family had an extensive library, and the daughters grew up reading volumes like Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason and Charles Darwin’s works. Cynthia, Virginia, and another sister Mary were living in Oxford, Butler County, Ohio, in the 1860 census. It is not clear where Lottie Moon was living according to the 1860 census. One account states that Ginnie was attending a girl’s school in Ohio at the start of the war, probably the Western Female Seminary. This account states that Ginnie, previously an abolitionist, but wishing to support the Confederacy once the war began, begged school officials to “allow her to leave school and join her mother in Memphis.” Of course, her mother is listed in the 1860 census as living in Oxford, Ohio. Maybe she had left and moved to Memphis in the few weeks between when the census taker came by and the start of the war. Another account states that  Ginnie “showed a little too much fervor and was expelled [from the school] when she shot the US flag that was flying over the campus full of holes.”[3]  

   As the story continues, Ginnie was working as a nurse, and after discovering the hospital was running low on supplies, made her way North under the pretext of visiting her boyfriend in Ohio, or, for her mother to sell property. It is unclear how many trips she made before being discovered. When she was searched, Federal soldiers discovered “many vials of medicine in her skirts, as well as a number of dispatches. She escaped arrest only because Union general Ambrose Burnside was an old friend of hers—when she was a little girl, she used to call him ‘Buttons’ because of his military uniform, and he would give her candy.”[4] Another account of the event states that both Ginnie and her mother were apprehended in Cincinnati after boarding a steamship for the journey south. As she related in an autobiographical sketch late in life, she had “on an underskirt with a row of quinine bottles in the bottom and -a row of morphine bottles above. I had the dispatch wrapped in oil silk in my bosom.” The Federal officer stated he had an order for her arrest and demanded for her to be searched, to which Moon would not consent, going so far as to pull a pistol on the officer and daring him to try. She did consent to go to the provost marshal’s office, and, while the officer was gone procuring a carriage, Moon took off the petticoat and hid it under the mattress, with her mother lying down on the bed. The message hid in her bosom she soaked in water and then swallowed. Back at the provost marshal’s office, the soldiers searched her baggage, finding contraband, such as a bolt of blue checked linen that she passed off for  material for future children’s aprons and ball of blue mass that her mother supposedly might consume in a month. The pair were kept confined and could pick the place of confinement. Moon asked for the Newport Barracks, and the Confederate prison in Columbus, but was denied, settling on the Burnett House, where Burnside was staying. She actually gained an audience with Burnside, and Burnside stated that "You have infringed upon a military order of mine. so I'll take you out of the hands of the Custom House and try you by courts martial, myself and my staff." Of the letters she was carrying, none of them contained military information, and Moon and her mother were allowed to proceed to Memphis. While in Memphis she had to report to General Hurlbut every day at 10:00 am. After three months, she was ordered to leave Federal lines and not to return.”[5] There is a thought that before being expelled from Memphis, she secreted messages to Nathan Bedford Forrest. She went to Danville for a while, then planned to go to France with other family members. She was arrested by Federal general Benjamin Butler and confined at Fortress Monroe for a time before being released, sent to City Point, and then back into Confederate lines.[6]

   Richard Hall writes that both sisters lived in Ohio and that Lottie was “romantically involved with future Union general Ambrose Burnside.” Lottie did not marry old “Buttons,” supposedly walking out on him at the altar, but did marry Judge James Clark of Ohio.   According to one source, James Clark was a Copperhead and involved in the Knights of the Golden Circle. Their home in Ohio was a spot where “Confederate couriers” could safely stop. Needing to get a message to Edmund Kirby Smith in Kentucky, Lottie donned the “disguise of an old woman” and “succeeded in passing back and forth through the lines and accomplishing the mission.” Thereafter she conducted several other spying missions, one in which she met agents in Toronto, then delivering papers to Richmond.[7] 

Marker in Memphis

   Ginnie lived in Memphis following the war, then in the early days of Hollywood, went there and was in several films, including Douglas Fairbank’s Robin Hood (1922) and The Spanish Dancer (1923). She next moved to Greenwich Village, where she died in 1925. She is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis. Lottie moved to New York with James after the war. James practiced law and wrote articles for the New York Ledger. Lottie eventually started writing for the New York World and was a correspondent in Paris covering the Franco-Prussian War. Returning to the states, she published How She Came into Her Kingdom, under the nom de plume of Charles M. Clay. She passed away in 1895 in Massachusetts, although her place of burial seems unknown.[8]

   Many of these stories seem larger than life and, in the case of spies, one always has to exercise a little caution. There is a note in the Federal Provost Marshall papers, dated April 7, 1863, stating that Virginia B. Moon, of Butler County, Ohio, had permission to go home to Butler County, but had to report to Hurlbut on April 10 in Memphis. Likewise there is a letter regarding Cynthia A. Moon regarding the same.[9] The Daily Conservative shared an article from Petersburg in May 1864 that “Miss Virginia Moon” was on the flag of truce steamer New York, arriving in City Point.[10] The post-war articles concerning the pair, they are numerous.

[1] Many books do not mention the Moon sisters, including Wagner, Spies in the Civil War (2009); Towne, Surveillance and Spies in the Civil War (2015); Ford, Daring Women of the Civil War (2004); Bakeless, Confederate Spy Stories (1972); Valezquez, The Woman in Battle (2010).

[2] Hall, Women on the Civil War Battlefront, 90.

[3]; Cordell, Courageous Women of the Civil War, xx.

[4] Cordell, Courageous Women of the Civil War, 54.

[5] Moon, “The Moon and Barclay Families,” 32.

[6] Hall, Women on the Civil War Battlefront, 91; Donald, Stealing Secrets, 106.

[7] Hall, Women on the Civil War Battlefront, 91; Donald, Stealing Secrets, 96, 100.

[8] Donald, Stealing Secrets, 107-109.

[9] Virginia B. Moon, Union Provost Marshals File of Paper Relating to Individual Civilians, 1861-1865, RG 109, M345, roll 0194.

[10] The Daily Conservative, May 4, 1864.