MOUNT VERNON — One of Knox County’s early citizens will be honored at the Knox County Historical Society Museum on Wednesday, at 7:30 p.m. Known to the Union soldiers she served throughout the Civil War years as “Mother Bickerdyke,” her story will be told by living history interpreter, Darlene Gage. She also portrayed the famous nurse recently on the occasion of her 200th birthday anniversary.
Her presentation will highlight many of the important events in the nurse’s life that made her so beloved by the soldiers she cared for during and after the Civil War.
Mary Ann (Ball) Bickerdyke was born just north of Mount Vernon on July 19, 1817, on the Ball family farm. After her mother died of burns from a cooking accident when Mary was just 17 months old, she was cared for by area relatives. As a young woman she received some medical training in Cincinnati and assisted doctors there during a cholera epidemic. Later she continued her nursing activities in Galesburg, Illinois, where she was selected to deliver medical supplies to a military hospital soon after the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
Throughout the war years she worked tirelessly to care for sick and wounded soldiers and to improve hospital conditions wherever she could. She was adamant about cleanliness, and she was known for her opposition to corruption and misappropriation of food and supplies intended for “her boys,” who soon came to call her “Mother Bickerdyke.” Union General William T. Sherman was especially fond of her, and at his request at the war’s end, she rode at the head of the XV Corps in the Grand Review and Parade in Washington, D. C.
After the war she continued to work on behalf of veteran soldiers, assisting in obtaining pensions and providing food and shelter when needed. She died on Nov. 8, 1901, at the age of 84 years. Her funeral was held in Galesburg, Illinois, where, in 1906, 8000 persons attended the unveiling of a large statue dedicated to her memory.
The museum program, at 875 Harcourt Road, is free and open to the public, and all persons interested in area history are invited to attend. For more information, call the museum at 740-393-5247.