The Union wasn’t alone in depending on African-American nurses. Some Confederates hospitals relied on black nurses to help care for the overwhelming number of sick and wounded. The largest Confederate hospital, Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Va., used hundreds of African-Americans, most of them male slaves, to provide care to thousands of patients.

The surgeon in charge of the hospital in 1862, James Brown McCaw, wrote, “It will be entirely impossible to continue the hospital without them.” After Richmond was captured in April 1865, the Union turned it into a hospital to treat black soldiers.

When the war ended, the contributions of many of these African-Americans were largely forgotten. In fact, when William P. Powell Jr., who served as the surgeon in charge of the Contraband Hospital after Augusta’s departure, retired from medicine in 1891 because of poor health and a disability, the government denied his request for a pension, citing his role as a contract surgeon rather than a commissioned officer and determining that he did not have enough proof of his disability.

Powell spent the next 24 years fighting the decision, and even wrote letters to Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt asking for their assistance, until his death in 1915 at the age of 81. He never received his pension.


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