Location: North side of Public Square Park
Location Type: Historical Marker
Date of Significance: July 19, 1817
Year Erected: 1998
Sponsors:

Ohio Bicentennial Commission

Longaberger Company

Knox County Renaissance Foundation

Ohio Historical Society

Born on July 19, 1817 near the City of Mount Vernon, Mary Ann Ball Bickerdyke is renowned as one of the most important female participants of the Civil War.  She was only 20 years old when she began her career as a nurse and general healthcare provider for the soldiers in the Union Army.  In the 1830s, she attended Oberlin (Ohio) College—the first institution of higher education in the United States to regularly accept both female and African-American students—but never graduated.  Instead, she became a nurse.  During the 1837 Cholera Epidemic, Ball moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to assist the large number of afflicted in that city.  Ten years later, she married her husband, Robert Bickerdyke.  With two young sons in tow, the family moved to Galesburg, Illinois in 1856.  When her husband died two years later, Bickerdyke once again put on her nursing cap to support her fatherless family.

The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 was the event that changed the course of Bickerdyke's career for the remainder of her life.  At 45, she was chosen by the people of Galesburg to transport $500 worth of medical supplies to the soldiers stationed in Cairo, Illinois, where she chose to remain to established a hospital for Northern soldiers sympathetic to the Union cause.  She traveled throughout the country during the Civil War to assist Union soldiers, establishing over 300 field hospitals along the way.  Bickerdyke was so dedicated that she thought nothing of risking her own life to save those wounded, running onto the field during the heat of battle, and after the gunsmoke began to lift under cover of night, to bring the soldiers back to camp.  She was present at several of the most significant battles throughout the course of the War, including the Atlanta Campaign and the Battle of Shiloh.  Despite her allegiance to the Northern cause, Bickerdyke put her efforts to attending to all the wounded and sick—Union, Confederate, black, white—disregarding protocol and her lowly rank as a civilian.  She earned the name "Mother Bickerdyke" from the soldiers she helped to bring into recovery for the tender care she provided them.  Both Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman admired her so much that, after the War, they invited her to lead an entire corps of victorious Union soldiers down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Union's grand review in Washington, D.C.  She received a General's welcome, greater even than that given for Grant and Sherman, from all the soldiers and bystanders present that day.

Mother Bickerdyke continued her exhaustive assistance to the soldiers well after the Civil War, helping them to obtain their well-earned veteran's pensions, as well as land and the supplies needed to start their lives anew in the (then) West.  Bickerdyke even assisted over 300 of her fellow nurses in obtaining pensions, even though she herself did not begin receiving a well-deserved monthly pension of $25 until 1886, 21 years after the end of the Civil War.

 


 

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