Henderson County, Kentucky


Death of 'angel of mercy' nun briefly stalls Civil War

For one night in at least one small part of the nation, the guns of the Civil War were stilled.

The strange silence that ensued was part of a truce that wasn't brought about by an act of government or skilled mediation.

It resulted from the death of a young nun who had risked her life to tend the sick and wounded soldiers, not caring whether the uniform was blue or gray. That gentle woman lies today in Sacred Heart Cemetery of the old St. Vincent's Academy in Union County.

It was appropriate that her body be returned to that vicinity where she had arrived in 1850 as Mary Lucy DOSH, an 11-year-old orphan who would find refuge with the devoted Sisters of Charity of the Roman Catholic Church.

Mary, who was alone in the world, had traveled by steamboat down the Ohio River from Luzerne County, PA.

The child had no idea what to expect in the pastoral setting where black-robed nuns taught and performed other good works that endeared them to the populace.

Clearly, Mary grew to love the sisters and the role they had chosen in life, because she made their vocation her vocation. First she would go to the order's mother house near Bardstown and enroll at Nazareth College, where she majored in music.

Completing her education, she took her vows and became a member of the order that had embraced her when she was a frightened little girl. Her initial assignment came in the summer of 1861 when she was sent to teach music at St. Mary's Academy in Paducah.

In another time that would have been a quiet and uneventful existence, but the Civil War was under way and Paducah was considered a prize by both the Confederate and Union forces.

According to material in the files of Union County historian Peyton HEADY, Paducah was full of Southern sympathizers, but two federal regiments took over in early September. The troops, it is said, waded through swamps and dwelled in muddy camps where the drone of mosquitoes was a constant.

Not surprisingly, malaria, dysentery and yellow fever soon broke out.

Illness was claiming more lives than bullets as hospital facilities filled to overflowing and other sites were claimed for the sick and dying. Among them was Paducah Baptist Church.

Because the numbers of nurses were far too scant to meet the growing demands, Sister Mary LUCY abandoned her teaching position for the more critical need. She volunteered her services at the church, which soon was overrun with casualties from the Battle of Belmont, MO.

Sister Mary was called an "angel of mercy" who worked around the clock dressing wounds and then serving in the fever wards. The grateful patients adored the youthful nun who hadn't yet reached her 23rd birthday.

But then, in mid-December, she suddenly failed to appear at the bed sides and alarmed soldiers wanted to know why. They learned that she had contracted yellow fever and lay critically ill.

On December 29th, she died and the stunned soldiers and their leaders requested a military funeral for the nurse who could so easily have stayed with her music teaching and avoided the crowded wards.

Her funeral took place at the Baptist Church Hospital, where her plain coffin was carried, to the mournful sound of muffled drums, from the church to the federal gunboat Peacock.

Area journalist Ken McCUTCHAN wrote in his "Old Tales Retold" column some years back that "Under a flag of truce lighted by blazing torches, the boat steamed up the river to Uniontown, Kentucky. Soldiers dressed in both blue and gray stood guard.

"At Uniontown, a hearse was waiting, and the soldiers followed the cortege…"

Her weather beaten tombstone marks the spot where they buried her with a reverence and compassion that had survived even the brutalities of war.

Reprinted with permission.
Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Saturday, March 25, 1995
Written by Judy Jenkins

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS