Civil War Comes to Georgia
As the American Civil War commenced in 1861, many of the Medical College of Georgia’s faculty and patients joined the Confederate cause, and medical instruction was suspended until the fighting ended. Augusta’s City Hospital remained in use, but it was too removed from critical transportation lines to serve a major role during the war. Still, this period proved pivotal in advancing City Hospital’s postwar core competencies, especially the sophistication of its nursing practices, led in part by an order of nuns known as the Sisters of Mercy.
Founded in Dublin, Ireland, the Sisters of Mercy are devoted to “the demands of education, schools, hospitals, and the care of the unfortunate physical and social wrecks of humanity.”
Back in Augusta during the Civil War, a military hospital was established that soon “commandeered facilities including the Medical College’s academic building, Richmond Academy, and four churches.” During this period, the Sisters of Mercy cared for soldiers at the First Presbyterian Church.
After the war, City Hospital was placed under the guidance of the Medical College faculty, a move that was soon repealed. But clearly there was reason to believe the hospital needed trustworthy guidance – in 1869, the Augusta Chronicle exposed a ring of corruption and embezzlement of $3,000 by City Hospital’s keeper, Dr. Jeanes, who apparently “misappropriated or downright pillaged the hospital’s allotment of food, coffee, linens, cooking utensils, and all manner of usable and necessary materials, leaving the hospital in a destitute condition,” according to University Hospital’s archive records.
To re-establish the moral footing of the hospital, as well as its medical competency, six Sisters of Mercy nuns were brought on to take over the administration of City Hospital, which included nursing, housekeeping and cooking duties. According to historian Joe Herzberg, “within a few months after the Sisters’ arrival, it was reported to City Council that the hospital had become more popular and that the sisters were ‘ever zealous, always vigilant and efficient, and at all times considerate and tender in their ministrations.’” The hospital built a decent enough reputation to attract four paying patients by November 1871, moving beyond indigent–only care.
The Sisters of Mercy served patients until 1891, laying the groundwork for a robust program in the training of both white and African American nurses, that has evolved into University Hospital’s Magnet status for nursing – a gold standard recognition as designated by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.