Pitting brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, the Civil War was a national disgrace. Palmer decided to put her nursing skills to the test. Despite warnings and disdain from those around her, Palmer left her two infant daughters in the care of her mother as she left the comforts of her New York home “to nurse the common soldier,” the frontline casualties of a bitterly divisive conflict.
For three years, Palmer ministered to soldiers in the battlefield, earning the nickname of “Aunt Becky.” After the war, Palmer moved to Iowa with her husband where she lived nearly 40 years before her death in 1906. She is buried in historic Woodland Cemetery in Des Moines and, according to Des Moines Register columnist John Carlson, has been mostly forgotten. That will change on Memorial Day when the Iowa Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War will honor her with a 3 p.m. ceremony.
As Carlson’s article points out, Palmer was an American hero. Palmer made a valiant effort to preserve her legacy with an 1867 book called “The Story of Aunt Becky’s Army-life.” The book was published in 2008 and is available at Amazon.com.
In the book, Palmer wrote of her fragile legacy:
"I think, as I dress myself and tidy up my tent, how quickly the years will go away, and no one (will) remember that I ever lived," she wrote in her diary. "I shall die, be buried, and forgotten. My children while they live, will cherish my memory, but it is only one generation, and no one will exist who ever looked upon my face."
Palmer’s book stands as a testament to the power and value of preserving personal history.
Writing prompt of the day: What do you know about the Civil War veterans in your family tree?
Flickr photo of Civil War hospital courtesy of The U.S. National Archives.