Mary "Mammy" Ruggles
She was a skilled and caring nurse. But she'll be remembered most for what she wore.
As the Confederate Army entered York, Pennsylvania on June 28, 1863, the nurses of Penn Common, a York-based hospital became determined to prevent the hospital's U.S. flag from falling into enemy hands. When word of the Confederate Army's impending arrival reached the nurses, they lowered the flag, rolled it up and stashed it under nurse Mary "Mammy" Ruggles' skirt. Mammy walked down George Street, right past enemy soldiers, her long skirts flapping until she reached her son's home near the Codorus Creek and delivered the flag to safety. With each step she took, Mammy said a prayer to save the flag from the Confederate soldiers all around her.
Mammy's story is one of many of how the women of York, Pennsylvania responded in great numbers to the needs of the wounded throughout the Civil War. Nurse Mary Ruggles earned the affectionate nickname "Mammy" from wounded soldiers who appreciated her motherly instinct. More than 14,000 soldiers were treated at York during the war years, including over 2,500 wounded from the nearby Battle of Gettysburg. The site of the hospital is now a city park, with a large "Soldiers and Sailors" monument commemorating York's Civil War heritage and veterans. A nearby bronze relief map depicts the layout of the U.S. Army Hospital.
It was later written that after the Confederate army lowered the town flag and vacated York, the hospital flag was flown in its place. The Mammy Ruggles Tent of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War was established in 1937.
Image courtesy Mercer Museum / Bucks County Historical Society
- Pennsylvania Civil War Trails
- James McClure, East of Gettysburg, A gray shadow crosses York County, Pa. 2003.