FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – She’s been gone for more than 150 years, but a group of veterans is making sure the legacy of Eliza George, better known as Mother George, is never forgotten.
Mother George was born in Vermont and moved to Fort Wayne in the mid 1800s. She is believed to be the mother-in-law of Fort Wayne Civil War Colonel Sion Bass of the 30th Indiana Infantry. In early 1862, Bass was wounded during the Battle of Shiloh and died a week later.
After his death, Mother George, at 54 years-old, joined the Army Nurse Corps, though she was initially discouraged and turned away because of her age. Her work taking care of soldiers took her to the frontlines of America’s bloodiest war.
“Nurses were in dire need,” said Robert Thomas, curator at the Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum in Allen County. “The Civil War left a lot of wounded everywhere.”
Tom Schmitt is a board member of the Veterans National Memorial Shrine and Museum and has studied Mother George’s life. He says for more than two years, Mother George mostly followed General Ulysses S. Grant and served in all the Western Campaigns. Sometimes she would work in a hospital or aid in getting one set up, then she would head back to the front lines.
During that time she she lived much like a solider, sleeping in a tent, battling the elements, and walking for miles. She was also fired on by confederate soldiers.
“She was in a tent and artillery landed like seven feet away from her tent, so she was definitely in battle. And they didn’t give her anything special, she just did like the troops did,” said Schmitt.
While it was rare for female nurses to see action, Schmitt says it’s where Mother George wanted to be because it’s where she could help the most.
“The only thing that was important to her was the boys. That was all she cared about,” said Schmitt. “The soldiers come first.”
“Medical personnel are considered the bravest because they’ll go without a weapon into the middle of the combat zone,” said Thomas.
Letters from Union soldiers detail the compassion and sympathy Mother George would show the troops with whom she so often shared her time. She is remembered for sitting with the sick, wounded, and dying Union soldiers in their final moments.
“Being 54 years-old, she looked like a mother. So when these young guys were dying and delirious, a lot of them thought that she was their mother, hence the name “Mother George,” said Schmitt. “Some would grab a hold of her and wouldn’t let go, they would just keep holding her, and she just took it. Can you imagine every day just dealing with death?”
And her work continued even after their deaths. Mother George would send letters, money, and personal belongings to the families of fallen soldiers.
In 1865, Mother George was caring for injured soldiers in a hospital in Wilmington, North Carolina. There, she caught Typhoid Fever and died from the disease. Her death came about a month after General Robert E. Lee surrendered.
Her body was returned to Fort Wayne where she was buried at Lindenwood Cemetery with full military honors.
“She is the only female of the Civil War era who was buried at full military honors, which was very rare at that time for a non-military person to be buried with full honors,” said Schmitt. “It was mostly because of her love for the troops. The guys knew what she did and how she took care of them, even after they died she was still taking care of them and she became so loved by the troops that they pretty much forced the military to…’you are going to take care of this person.’”
At Lindenwood, Mother George is buried with her daughter, whose plot sits next to a monument for Col. Bass. Recently, a plaque honoring Mother George was placed at the gravesite. Just across the street is a triangle plot of land called George’s Island, and that’s where Mother George’s monument sits. It was placed by the Indiana Sanitary Commission in 1865 after her death and has remained there ever since.
This past October, Tom Schmitt lead a ceremony at Lindenwood Cemetery honoring Mother George and her contributions to the war and the Union soldiers. Everyone who participated wore period clothing, a group of men fired volleys, and taps was played at the end of the ceremony.
In fact, every year on Memorial Day, a group of veterans fires volleys at the graves of Civil War soldiers buried at Lindenwood, and every year they extend the same honor to Mother George.
“Very few people know of her and what she did and that’s just terribly wrong,” said Schmitt. “What this woman did was unbelievable and she deserves more attention that what she gets.”
You will find other traces of Mother George’s name across the city if you look hard enough.
Near the History Center in downtown, a large historical marker reads “The First Fort Wayne home of Mrs. Eliza E. George was near this spot.” It also gives a brief history of her life.
Inside the History Center you can also find a nook featuring Mother George, Col. Bass, and other Civil War artifacts and history.
And, at the LaSalle Bed and Breakfast Inn, one of the rooms is named the “Eliza George Suite.”
To learn more about the life of Eliza “Mother” George, click HERE.