Prior to the Civil War Catholics in the United States faced prejudicial treatment for many reasons. Catholic Irish, Italian and German immigrants were flocking to the United States and they faced political and social mal-treatment in every aspect of their lives.
When the Civil War began there were not many civilian nurses available to care for the sick and wounded. Being a nurse was not considered acceptable employment for a proper lady. The shortage of nurses was greatly tempered by the work of the Catholic Sisters. During the War some 640 sisters from 21 religious congregations served the armies of both sides. They were eager to roll up their sleeves and scrub and clean not only the weeping and bleeding wounds but also the hospital wards and the miserably sick soldiers suffering from the plethera of contageous illinesses rampant in the army camps. For this they asked only subsistance
A prime example is Sister Mary Lucy (Barbara) Dosh, a Sister of Charity of Nazarath who before the war was a music teacher in Paducah, Kentucky. She was the first sister to die in the War for her efforts and was so highly regarded that after contracting Typhoid Fever which caused her death in December 1861. She was given a military escort home to Louisville composed of six Union and six Confederate officers. Her body was loaded onto a Union gunboat (USS Peacock ?) and the escort stayed with her until she was laid to rest in St Vincent’s Convent cemetery in Uniontown. She was 22 years old.
Another is Sister Anthony O’Connell, a Sister of Charity, who earned the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield” at Shiloh. She was one of the first to get permission for sisters to actually work on the battlefield. She saw service on battlefields in Tennessee and Virginia. She developed the system of battlefield triage which is now standard procedure in the military and in civilian hospitals. She was known to and admired by bot President Lincoln and Davis as well as Generals Sherman, Sheridan, Grant Rosecrans and McClellan. She was known as the Florence Nightengale of America.
The diligent, caring and charitable care provided by these ladies in black and white habits changed the attitude of thousands of Americans toward Catholics. They just did good things and were not interested in any rewards or citations. Their loving efforts changed the country.