Susan Ritter Trautwine McManus | Pennsylvania Civil War 150
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Pennsylvania Civil War 150

Pennsylvania Civil War 150


Susan Ritter Trautwine McManus

Sometimes, the people she helped most were the ones who weren’t there.

Throughout the long years of the Civil War there was a steady stream of soldiers with both physical and emotional scars coming through Philadelphia hospitals, many of them immigrants who barely new the language of the new land for which they had made such sacrifice.

They were often comforted by Susan Ritter Trautwine McManus (1841-1881) a young German immigrant, a caregiver and a diarist who recorded the details and struggles of the patients she saw.

In her early twenties she sewed for soldiers and worked with the Ladies Christian Commission, an organization created to help federal soldiers. Like many women at the time, she also volunteered by helping care for wounded soldiers at local hospitals, including Turner's Lane Hospital in North Philadelphia. Susan kept diaries between 1857 and 1881 that are now in the collections of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. In her personal diaries before, during and after the War, she recorded details of her daily routine. Her entries speak of the mundane, her faith, of days sparked by hope and, of course, great tragedy.

She writes:

June 22, 1863. Writ. Wed. A.M. Large arrival of patients today from Broad & Cherry. Rode in an ambulance for the first time in my life. Have a new pupil in reading. Chaz. is progressing finely.

June 29, 1863. Written Tues. P.M. After a rather unsatisfactory day at the Hospital I came home to hear that Willie (brother) had enlisted & would probably leave in a day - and to go down to Church to help a committee look over the library. Went to bed late and tired. Many of the stores and places of business were closed to day & new enlisted in large numbers.

June 29, 1864. Writ. Thurs. P.M. My great object in my hospital work, and the one I am trying hardest at present to fulfill, is that of pointing the men to Christ, warning and encouraging them. I spoke to several today. Among others to Nelson Foster, who said he would think of what I said, that he was not a Christian but could not tell why. Church tonight. Very tired.

July 14, 1863. Writ. Fri P.M. Served today a good deal. Went to Mary Peale's this even'g. Albert Leeds came home from Harvard this afternoon and came for me this even'g with Josiah. Great riot in progress in New York, partly on account of the draft. Many killed & much property destroyed.

At Turner's Lane Hospital she recorded more specific accounts of patients who might, in later wars be diagnosed with 'shell shock' or post-traumatic stress disorder. Turner's Lane was a 400-bed hospital devoted exclusively to the care of soldiers with neurological or "nervous" disorders. It was the most famous of Civil War-era research hospitals.

Susan reserved a separate volume of her diary for keeping track of information and observations about some of the patients to whom she attended. She met soldiers from across the country, including some immigrants like herself.

Christian Stock, for example, was a German immigrant from Ohio, who she was teaching English.

Christian Stock
Co. B - 55th Regt. Ohio vols.
Home - Ohio.
Entered Turner's Lane 1863 - 4th w. with a ball under his knee, which could not be removed, which caused great suffering & finally death on sat. July 18th 1863. When he first came he wanted to learn to read English, being a German, & I taught him until his pain was too great for him to study. On July 15th I saw him last was with him nearly all day. Fanned and fed him. He was calling upon God nearly all the time, in broken German sentences. I trust he had called before, & not in vain. He said to me once dying to take the fan away from me, "You do a great deal of work for me." I left him, expecting to see him again, & still hope to above.

As a devout evangelical Christian, Susan held regular Bible classes at the hospital.  Some of these classes were attended by Nicholas Dreffen, a Norwegian immigrant from Illinois who grew fond of Trautwine. Of him she wrote:

Nicholas Dreffen
Co. I.82nd Illinois. Home - Norway
Entered Turner's Lane from Christian St. Hospital March '64 Having been wounded months before in the left arm. Very gentle, polite and kind. Interested in learning to read English and I frequently assisted him. Seemed an earnest Christian, glad to attend Bible Class. He grew very fond of me he seemed so lonely, so far from home, and was sometimes so ill that one could but be kind to him. Left Turner's Lane May 25th for The Soldiers' Home. Often came to our church to see me.

Some of the veterans she comforted were barely more than children. One, a 16-year-old veteran named Webster Decatur, died unexpectedly. She wrote to Decatur's sister, "telling her all I knew about him." In this way women like Susan helped to ease their pain at a time when traditional grieving rituals were frequently not possible. In the same way, her diaries make us understand that the widespread carnage and countless casualties of the Civil War was not one story but tens of thousands of personal tragedy.

Image Courtesy of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

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