Armory Square Hospital

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Highlighting Historical Romance with Kathy Otten on American Civil War hospitals

While researching Civil War hospitals I came across a book by Amanda Akin Stearns, Lady Nurse of Ward E. She served at Armory Square Hospital and her book provided so much information, I chose that hospital in which to set my story.

When the war started there were no military hospitals and very few medical facilities. By the end over 56 hospitals were scattered in and around Washington, D.C.

These early hospitals had little security or privacy. People wandered in and out looking for wounded friends and family. Pastors came in to pray. Mothers, wives, and sisters came to care for their loved ones.

There was poor sanitation and ventilation. Instruments weren’t sterilized and soiled bandages littered the floors. Mosquitoes and flies spread malaria and other diseases. Blood poisoning, tetanus, and gangrene were common.

In June of 1861 the U.S. Sanitary Commission was organized. Six hospitals were built according to their detailed specifications. Armory Square Hospital was one of them.

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The hospital consisted of eleven long, pavilion style buildings placed 5 on each side of a center administration building which housed a reception room and offices for the surgeon in charge. There were officers’ quarters, a post office, dispensary, and linen room. In the rear of the building was a general kitchen, mess hall, and laundry.

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Armory Square Hospital

The remaining pavilions each held about fifty beds. A section at the rear served as a dining room and a partitioned area provided lodging for female nurses. At the end of the ward was the bathing room, water closet and ward master’s room. A covered walkway connected the buildings.

A normal day for a nurse would begin with reveille at 6am. They would dress and tidy their room. Medications were dispensed and breakfast was served to the patients. Afterward the nurses had their own breakfast. The surgeon would write his prescription and orders on the card above each bed. His orderly brought the cards to the nurse’s table where she would make out the orders for the medications to be sent from the dispensary along with orders for food from the special-diets kitchen.

Medications were kept in a locked chest at the nurses’ table. The hospital steward had the key. Medication pass came again at noon, followed by lunch, then letter writing, walks with patients, reading, etc. 5pm was another med pass and meal. The night watch arrived at 8:45pm and the nurses passed on any instructions for the night.

Church was on Sunday night, as Sunday mornings were for weekly inspection. Visitors arrived at 1pm. Secretaries from private societies looked for men. Congressmen, ministers, and ladies’ aide groups brought books and cards for the men.

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Nurses were given one day off and encouraged to take daily walks. It wasn’t until 1863 that separate quarters were built for the lady nurses.

About the Book: A Place in Your Heart

Gracie McBride isn’t looking for love; she’s looking for respect. But in this man’s world of Civil War medicine, Gracie is expected to maintain her place changing beds and writing letters. Her biggest nemesis is the ward surgeon, Doctor Charles Ellard, who seems determined to woo her with arrogant kisses and terrible jokes.

Charles is an excellent surgeon. He assumed he would be well received by an army at war. He was not. Friendless and alone, he struggles to hide the panic attacks that plague him, while the only person who understands him is a feisty Irish nurse clearly resolved to keep him at a distance.

But Charles is sent to the battlefield, and Gracie is left with a wounded soldier, a box of toys, and a mystery which can only be solved by the one man she wishes could love her both as a woman and a nurse.

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  “No, I want you to go home before the death of that ten-year-old boy becomes so ordinary that one day you wake up and realize you no longer have the ability to feel.”

   She squared her shoulders and stepped toward him. “Me own husband was a doctor, sir. I’ve birthed babies and stitched wounds. I stood by William’s side during surgeries and passed him instruments. I helped him clean the intestines of a man gored by a bull, before putting it all back inside that man’s belly. Me delicate sensibilities did not send me into a swoon then nor will they here. I thank ye for yer concern, Doctor Ellard, but ’tis who I am. And by the saints, as long as I have

breath in me body, I will feel, and I will care.”

  Their gazes locked in that moment and something flickered in his icy depths, overshadowing his usual cynicism with what she suspected might be admiration. The harsh lines of his face softened.

  “Saint Jude must indeed be watching over you, Mrs. McBride.”

  “That he is, Doctor Ellard, that he is.”

  He gave her a brisk nod and opened the door. “You’re not going home then, are you?”

  She turned. “Ye know us Irish, Doctor Ellard. We don’t know what we want, but we’ll fight to the death to get it.”


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About the Author

Kathy Otten is the published author of multiple historical romance novels, novellas, and short stories. A Place in Your Heart is a Northwest Houston RWA Lone Star winner. Kathy teaches adult education classes in fiction writing and presents workshops on writing both online and at area events. She lives in the rolling farm country of western New York where she can often be found walking her dog through the woods and fields. She is also available for manuscript editing.

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You may contact Kathy at:

9 thoughts on “Armory Square Hospital

  1. Thank you Caroline, for hosting me on your blog today. Hope you found this glimpse into hospital life during the Civil War interesting.

  2. Very interesting Post. The nurses certainly had a hard time in the old days.

    • In the early days of the war, the nurses were soldiers assigned to the hospitals and the orderlies recovering patients. But the physically able soldiers were needed at the front, so more and more lady nurses came to assume those positions. Conditions were so bad and disease so rampant, that nurses like Louisa May Alcott had to go home because of illness.

  3. Sounds like an intriguing book! I’m looking forward to reading it. Best of luck.

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Caroline Warfield, Author

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