Sep 28, 2023 - Sale 2646

Sale 2646 - Lot 130

Price Realized: $ 4,250
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 3,000 - $ 4,000
(CIVIL WAR--MEDICINE.) Sallie Dysart. Letters from a nurse serving at Gettysburg and beyond. Autograph Letters Signed as "Sallie" to sister Annie. 13 letters, various sizes; most with moderate dampstaining and wear, not all complete. Various places, 1862-1865

Additional Details

Sarah Elizabeth "Sallie" Dysart (1837-1909) was the daughter of a prosperous farmer in Tipton, PA just north of Altoona. From 1863 to 1865 she worked as a nurse in a variety of army hospitals. These letters were written to her sister Anna Mary Dysart Holliday (1832-1867), who apparently also spent time in the hospitals. Some are from hospitals, and others from home in Tipton. Here are a few samples of her reflections:

From Harpers Ferry, WV on 26 May 1863: "The two men that were brought in the Saturday before you left are both dead. One died Friday morn, the other Saturday. . . . We sent another squad of men to F[rederick] on Friday & we have only eight men in the ward now. I heard that Otta Murry (that very sick boy of mine that went when we did) had died. . . . I believe I could brave an army of medical directors & surgeon generals for the sake of being there to do good in saving the lives of our noble braves, aye, for I love them as brothers & would gladly, joyfully spend every hour of my life & strength for them."

From an unknown hospital, 31 August 1863: "I never did like Dr. Gaunt, & then Mac the ward master stole a bottle of whiskey from me. . . . Sergt. P is still living & doing well. Ikens, Myers, Hall & Wallace are all dead. Billy Smith has been carried up to the gangrene tent; he cannot live long. . . . Tomorrow they are going to send four or five hundred away & bring the wounded from the seminary here. . . . I really could not sleep one night, so many of my men needed & wanted chicken soup, could not eat anything else, & I could not get it."

From Gettysburg General Hospital, 8 October 1863: "A few days ago we were all informed that this place would be broken up. . . . Our division has been consolidated & we only number 7 tents full." Incomplete, not signed.

From Chattanooga Hospital, 29 November 1864: "They took several men from my section, most of them my very worst cases, two that I don't think will live to get to N___. I have a feeling of agony whenever I think of them. One of them whose name is Gibson I feel particularly anxious about. If he should live to get there, & fall into your or Sallie's hands, write to his wife for him."

Letters from Civil War nurses are rarely seen on the market, and these are unusually expressive. Dysart's work is documented elsewhere. An identified group photo of Nashville Hospital nurses including her is held by the Library of Congress, and a blog post on Civil War RX tells much of her story.