Florida and the Civil War (September 1862)

Saint Mary

The slaughter in Virginia during the summer of 1862 overwhelmed the South’s meager medical resources. Although Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia seemed invincible as it marched into Maryland in September 1862, a ferocious battle at Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17 led to the bloodiest day’s fighting of the entire war. The opposing armies had combined losses (killed, wounded and missing) of 23,000 men. Over 10,000 of these unfortunates were Confederates.

While wounds, disease and sickness, not to mention the terrible toll of battle deaths, haunted both sides, the much smaller population of the South made it more difficult for the Confederacy to recover from the enormous battlefield bloodlettings. It was only the willingness of Southern civilians to work and sacrifice for the Confederate cause that allowed the Rebel armies to remain in the field for over four years of war. One of the most prominent of these citizens was Mary Martha Reid of Florida, whose work caring for Confederate wounded in Richmond, Virginia, made her one of the most famous Confederate heroines of the war.

Usually known as “Martha Reid,” Mary was born Mary Martha Smith at St. Mary’s, Georgia, on September 12, 1812. In 1836, she married Robert Raymond Reid in St. Augustine, Florida. President Martin Van Buren appointed her husband, who was serving as a federal judge in Florida, territorial governor in 1839. Governor Reid presided over the convention that forged Florida’s first constitution. He died in 1841 during a yellow fever epidemic in Tallahassee. The Reids’s only surviving child, Raymond Jenks Reid, lived to serve as a lieutenant in the Second Florida Infantry, part of the Florida Brigade in Lee’s army, during the war. In fact, it was Mary’s wish to be near her son that led her to Richmond, where she became involved in the establishment and administration of the Florida Hospital.

As the casualties poured into Richmond during 1861-1862, the municipal government, private entities, and eventually the Confederate government organized hospitals in the city. Individual states also stepped in to provide hospitals for their own wounded soldiers. A result of state pride and medical concern—it was believed hospitalized men would be more comfortable surrounded by comrades from their own units—the state hospitals were popular with the troops. Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Florida were among the states that created hospitals in Richmond.

The Florida Hospital officially opened on September 26, 1862. It was located in the building of the former Globe Hospital on 19th Street in Richmond. Governor John Milton supervised the financing of the hospital from Tallahassee. He appointed Dr. Thomas M. Palmer, former surgeon of the Second Florida Infantry and doctor from Jefferson County, superintendent and recognized Mary Martha Reid as the hospital matron. However, due to the ever-increasing casualties and sickness among the troops, the Confederate government decided to consolidate the number of hospitals in Richmond and focus on larger institutions. The government ended the use of state hospitals in late 1863; however, a small Florida ward continued to exist in the large Howard’s Grove hospital into 1865.

Mrs. Reid continued her work for Florida’s sick and wounded until the Confederate government fled Richmond on April 2, 1865. During her time in the city, she acquired a reputation as a tireless advocate for Florida’s soldiers and devoted herself to their care and the administration of the Florida Hospital. She remained in Richmond despite the fact that her original reason for moving to the Confederate capital, concern for her son, ended in tragedy on May 6, 1864, when Raymond Jenks was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness.

Headstone for Raymond J. Reid: Richmond, Virginia (March 2008)

Headstone for Raymond J. Reid: Richmond, Virginia (March 2008)

Mary Martha Reid died in Fernandina, Florida, on June 24, 1894. In 1866, only a year after the war’s end, the Florida legislature recognized her sacrifices by providing her with an annual pension of six hundred dollars for life. She also became one of the most prominent female symbols of the “Lost Cause.” Florida’s first chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy took Mary’s name as their own in 1897, becoming the “Martha Reid Chapter” that year.

For further reading on the Florida Hospital and the role of Florida women in the Civil War see David Coles, “Richmond, the Confederate Hospital City,” in Virginia at War 1862, William C. Davis and James I Robertson Jr. editors (University Press of Kentucky, 2007) and Tracy J. Revels, Grander in Her Daughters: Florida’s Women During the Civil War (University of South Carolina Press, 2004).

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