La Salle County IL Military
Sarah Gregg - Civil War Nurse
Contributed by Cindy Ford
Saturday-Sunday, May 31-June 1, 2008
Civil War nurse from Ottawa remembered
OTTAWA (AP) - At the time of her death in Ottawa on May 20, 1897, Sarah Gregg, 86, was revered as a remarkable woman for her service during the Civil War as a Union army nurse.
"To her be erected a monument commemorating her patriotic virtues and honoring her name to future generations." the Republican-Times newspaper reported soon after her passing.
But unlike the recognition for local soldiers, the community memory of Sarah Gregg has nearly flickered out.
"Mrs. Gregg was a woman of impulse," according to "Ottawa: Old and New," a history of Ottawa published in 1914 by the Republican-Times. "When she wanted something done she wanted it at once, and usually did it herself.
That's also close to the sense of Sarah Gregg arrived arrived at by Kathleen Hanson, Ph.D., a registered nurse and associate professor at the University of Iowa College of Nursing. Hanson has researched and written about the history of nursing and Sarah Gregg.
"I've always thought of Sarah Gregg as a person who took charge of her life," Hanson told The (Ottawa) Times.
Sarah Gallop Gregg was born in New Lisbon, N.Y., on June 7, 1810. Her father is reported to have been a soldier in either the Revoluntionary War or the War of 1812. It is said her earliest memory is of British troops burning Buffalo on Dec. 29, 1813,during the War of 1812, and of her father packing the family in sleighs to make an escape.
In 1828 she married David Robbins Gregg, a carpenter, and in 1840 they arrived with their three children in Chicago aboard the schooner Ocean Wave.
In 1847, her husband and son enlisted in the army to serve in the Mexican War.
"I think that served early preparation for having to handle things herself during the Civil War," Hanson said. She had to manage the family while her husband and son went off and did their soldiering."
After they arrived back home, the family moved to Ottawa. There both her husband and son were tradesmen while she operated a millinery shop.
When the Civil War broke out, Sarah Gregg's husband and son again enlisted.
On New Year's Day 1863, she boarded a train to Cairo, Ill., for a trip that would change her life. Her destination was the Mound City hospital, where her sick husband was a patient in need of a nurse.
"She could have stayed just to take care of her husband," Hanson said. "During the Civil War there were plenty of women who visited hospitals as soon as they knew their husbands or sons were there. They took care of them and then they left and went back home.
"But she didn't do that. In the process of being there and watching what was going on around her, she began to assume some sense of responsibility about doing things differently-- and doing them herself. When Gregg saw supplies were needed for the hospitalized soldiers, she tried to jump channels and made her request directly to the Ladies Aid Society of Ottawa, only to have it passed up the chain of command and ultimately denied because she was not an official nurse.
"There seems to me to much red tape about this matter and may God forgive them for no one else will," she noted on Jan. 16 in the little red diary she kept with her.
"She let that sit with her for a while, and then she took action," Hanson said. On Jan.20, Gregg accepted a position as a nurse for the Union army.
Most of her service was in Military hospitals in Illinois, but in 1863 she was dispatched to Vicksburg, Miss., to help ferry Illinois soldiers wounded in the sige of that city back to their home state on hospital riverboats.