In August 1898, the Chicago Times Herald paid tribute to her: "When
the story of the [Spanish-American] war is written Mrs. William W
Gordon [Eleanor "Nellie" Kinzie Gordon] will figure in its pages as
one of its heroines." Newspapers from all over the country praised
this "Heroine of War" and claimed that Nellie "was a Red Cross camp
in herself."' Yet her contributions to the war effort at Camp Miami,
Florida, have been hardly mentioned in the Spanish-American
War histories. Usually she was inaccurately depicted as merely a
woman who just "arranged for the purchase of mosquito netting."
Before she was to meet her husband, William (Willie)
Washington Gordon II, in Miami, Nellie began a journal that would
reveal her tireless efforts in establishing and administering a convalescent hospital at Camp Miami.
Willie's brigade suffered from malaria and typhoid fever because of the
camp's location and lack of facilities. To meet this situation, Nellie
organized and, with the assistance of her daughter, Juliette Gordon Low
(Daisy), operated a large convalescent hospital. In a matter of a few
days, the hospital went from a circular tent with twenty-three patients
to a dilapidated warehouse that cared for seventy to eighty sick men at
a time. Nellie's journal entries, newspaper articles published in the summer
of 1898, government documents, and letters from soldiers prove
that she did more than run helpful errands for the soldiers stationed at
the camp, a jerry-rigged facility housing seven thousand men. Her ingenuity
and tenacity would warrant her the title of the "Good Angel to
the Boys in Blue." If it had not been for Nellie's own written account,
few people would have known of her behind-the-scenes work. It would
take 104 years for historians to discover what contemporaries knew
about her important yet long-forgotten contributions.
Nellie first mentioned her plans for the "Convalescent Ward" in the
July 13 entry of her journal. But, she had begun recording her war
experience in May 1898 while anticipating news of her husband's official
appointment as Brigadier General of the United States Army.
She had always used journals to keep a meticulous record of her and
her family's lives. On the first page, Nellie wrote: "What is the record-in
a few words this." Her "record" would detail the many weeks she spent
accompanying Willie and his brigade first to Mobile, Alabama, then to
Camp Miami, Florida, and finally to Puerto Rico. Completely unaware
of what would await her at Camp Miami, Nellie never suspected how
useful this chronicle would be to historians in the future.
In May 1898 Nellie Gordon was sixty-three years old. She and her
husband had been married more than forty years and had five adult
children: Eleanor Gordon Parker, Juliette (Daisy) Gordon Low, William
Washington Gordon III, Mabel McLane Gordon, and George Arthur
Gordon. Although her own parents had died decades earlier, Nellie still bore
the imprint of their influence. She was born on June 18, 1835, to John
Harris Kinzie and Juliette Magill Kinzie in Chicago, Illinois. The Kinzies
were one of the first families to reside on the area's frontiers. Nellie's memoirs
detail her mother's lessons of "cooking, sewing, housekeeping, nursing,
gardening, clothes-making, shoe-making-in fact everything which might
be required of a woman separated from the conveniences of civilization."
Nellie's numerous experiences nursing family members, as well as
experiences with illness and death, "hardened" her, and prepared her to
deal with sick and dying men. Her first memories were connected with
the death of her six-year-old brother, Wolcott. Although she was only
three years old at the time, his tragic death made a deep impression on
her. Throughout her childhood she witnessed firsthand the need and
importance for women to act as nurses. Nellie watched her mother care
for her twenty-month-year-old brother, Frank, when he was severely
burned. In the Kinzie's kitchen, he fell into a small green tub, filled
with boiling hot, sudsy water. Instantly Juliette poured cold water on
his head, she then lifted him out of the tub and used a knife to cut off
his clothes. Nellie and her mother began applying "soft linen cloths
dipped in lime-water and sweet oil every few minutes" until the doctor
arrived. To the amazement of doctors, Frank lived, but it took two years
for the burns to heal. Frank died six years later during Chicago's cholera
epidemic of 1850-51. Four of the Kinzies were stricken and only one
recovered: Frank and three servants died. Her parents spent part of
every day nursing the sick at the hospital and made "a big cauldron of
mutton broth" to take to them. Nellie neither contracted nor feared the
disease even though she "went among the cholera patients freely."
Juliette Kinzie was not satisfied with her Nellie's useful skills and
"wished her daughter to finish her education with a polish, which,
even if not essential to the frontier, would enable her to cultivate her
mind, and enjoy her leisure moments." She made sure that Nellie's
education included both practical skills and the benefits of an eastern
boarding school. As a little girl, Nellie attended a public school,
Kinzie School, named after her father. In her teenage years, Nellie
enrolled in Madame Canda's school in New York where she became
an expert pianist, an amateur artist, and a linguist who spoke French
and Italian fluently.
While attending Madame Canda's, Nellie met Eliza Gordon of
Savannah, Georgia, and Ellen and Florence Sheffield of New Haven,
Connecticut. Eliza Gordon's mother, Sarah, moved to New Haven
because she wanted her sons, George and Willie, to receive their college
education at Yale. During the Christmas holidays of 1853, Nellie spent
her time with the Sheffields rather than traveling home to distant
Chicago. She claimed that her visit sealed her "fate" in life when she
was introduced to Eliza's "Brother Willie." On December 21, 1857,
Nellie and Willie were married in a Chicago church and moved into
the Gordon home in Savannah, Georgia.7
Early in her marriage, Nellie demonstrated her devotion to Willie
and her stubborn refusal to be separated from him, traits that would
play a role in her later accomplishments at Camp Miami. In the summer
of 1858, while Nellie was expecting her first child, Savannah faced
a yellow fever epidemic. Most of the Gordon family fled the city, but
Nellie refused to leave Willie, who for business reasons, was obliged to
remain there. At the onset of the Civil War, Nellie adamantly resisted
her father's advice to go to Chicago where he believed she could be safe.
She remained in Savannah to be near Willie, and she took many difficult
trips to Virginia to visit him. With courage and determination,
Nellie and her two young daughters by her side, followed Willie to
Richmond where she stayed with friends, keeping in touch with him at
his various posts while he was with James Ewell Brown Stuart's cavalry.8
More than thirty years later in 1898, her devotion to Willie remained
strong. In May, with President William McKinley's second call for volunteers
during the Spanish-American War, Willie was elevated to the
rank of general. Nellie's euphoria over her husband's achievement was
apparent in her description of the day's events: "Thus came mild
whoops, & laughter, & dancing around the room, till the telegraph
messenger thought he had got into a Lunatic Asylum!" Willie received
orders to repair to Mobile, Alabama. He was to take command of the
Second Brigade, First Division, Fourth Corps, which consisted of the
Second Texas Regiment and the Second Louisiana Regiment. Several
days later, when Willie boarded a train for this assignment, Nellie was
by his side. A large group of Savannahians gathered at the station to say
farewell to the new general. Amidst all the hoopla, it must have been
difficult for them to remember that they were going to Mobile to prepare
Willie's orders to Camp Miami came soon after the Gordons arrived
in Mobile. In an entry dated June 19, 1898, she wrote about these and
added: "I do hope they have good water and plenty of shade at this
new Post." Camp Miami's contaminated water caused widespread troop
sickness. Conditions were so horrible that the camp was referred to by
soldiers then as as "Camp Hell".
On July 2, 1898, Nellie arrived at Miami's train station in the northern
end of Camp Miami and was touched that her "poor General was
waiting all the time in the depot" for her. Willie and Nellie rode in
Henry M. Flagler's magnificent horse drawn carriage to the Royal Palm
Hotel, near the confluence of Biscayne Bay and the Miami River. The
hostelry housed officers' wives during the war. Pleased with her accommodations,
Nellie wrote that "the hotel is new, & big, & handsome, & well-kept
in beautiful order." Willie secured Nellie a private resort-style corner room
overlooking the grounds, landscaped with "tropical scenery & plants."'
Nellie however, was unimpressed with Camp Miami. She first
inspected Willie's quarters the day she arrived. After "it stormed hard
this A.M. for 2 hours then cleared," Nellie "went in a cab over to the
2nd Brig Hdqts" where she "saw Willie for a few moments." During
this brief visit, Nellie saw the consequences of the camp's hurried construction.
She noted her immediate concerns about the camp in her
journal: "This spot is a pleasant spot-not too hot-but there's no
depth in the soil. Tents blow down in high wind. The water is full of
lime, disagrees with the men, & gives them dysentery. Stationing troops
here looks like a 'job' for Mr. Flagler!"10
In the spring of 1898, Henry Morrison Flagler, whose Florida East
Coast Railway opened Miami to development in 1896, saw the
prospect of war as a means to enhance Miami's visibility and financial
well being. In mid-May 1898, a United States inspection team, led by
Brigadier General James Wade, toured Miami as a potential campsite.
After their analysis was made, the officials refused Flagler's offer of
Miami land for a military base. In June 1898, a second inspection team
visited another proposed area in Miami, but they too hesitated to recommend
it as a campsite because of concerns over the lack of facilities,
of warehouses, and especially of a waterworks system. The inspectors
realized that although Miami accommodated its population of twelve
hundred adequately, adding an influx of soldiers would be a tremendous
strain on the city."
Nearby camps in Lakeland and Tampa were not well prepared either,
but there were other reasons for their inadequacies. Although Lakeland
experienced problems with its food supply, Tampa suffered from overcrowding,
and the water supplies of both cities were often contaminated,
Lakeland and Tampa were firmly established cities with well-tuned
infrastructures. And unlike Camp Miami, these camps had support
from the surrounding community in difficult times, and citizens were
not naive to the potential problems for their city. Both cities, Lakeland
and Tampa, possessed a communal identity, and they were not looking
to use the camps as tools for city promotion. Finally, the situation at
Camp Miami was a collage of tents in the wooded area north of downtown Miami.
Camp Miami differed from other camps because of Flagler, who, as
noted, viewed Camp Miami as a great business opportunity-not
merely a training facility. Nellie's comment, "Stationing troops here
looks like a 'job' to benefit Mr. Flagler," demonstrated that she recognized
In spite of the inspection teams' position, Major General Nelson A.
Miles, commander of the army, established Camp Miami. On the
morning of June 24, the Metropolis reported that the first installment of
troops had arrived and, by the first week of July, the entire division,
redesignated the First Division, Seventh Corps, of seven thousand volunteers
had settled in the camp. In their report, the inspectors had
specified that "if military necessity requires it, a camp of 5,000" could
be established in Miami. As inspectors feared, the additional two thousand
troops compounded the camp's disarray.1
Donna Thomas, in an article, "'Camp Hell': Miami During the
Spanish-American War," argued that all military camps at this time had
problems, and that "Camp Miami's record in terms of sickness was
probably no worse than the records of most other camps of the
Spanish-American War." But Camp Miami differed from other posts
because many of its problems could have been prevented. In a letter to
The Florida Times Union, Willie expressed anger that the inspectors'
recommendations were not followed when preparing the camp. Since
Miamians were unaware of the camp's deficiencies, the Miami
Metropolis and The Florida Times Union succeeded in portraying his
brigade "as troublemakers and spreaders of rumors" because Willie
made his feelings known publicly. Willie's purpose with this letter was
"to protest against communications published" in the newspaper
(Miami Metropolis) and "to state certain facts concerning Miami and
the Encampment there." He stated that "the owners [Flagler] of the
property had underestimated the necessities of a camp for over 7000
men, overestimated the resources of the place and the troops who suffered
the consequences had just cause for complaint."'
Willie claimed that when he arrived it was clear that the city was not
prepared to house the camp. More importantly, he believed that precautions
were not taken to ensure the soldiers' health. In July and
August 1898, the Metropolis reported that only a few soldiers in the
area became ill, and the sickness was due to Miami's heat and humidity.
Willie dismissed this explanation, contending that since "the hot sun
had not produced these results in Mobile and elsewhere, it was necessary
to seek some other cause," like contaminated water. When his
brigade arrived, the water was "at first almost the color of milk on
account of the quantity of lime in it and it gave everyone diarrhea,
which in some cases ran into more serious complaints." After several
more days and additional reports of illness, the Second Brigade discovered
that their drinking water "was not from the water works tower, but
from the railroad tank, which got its water from the two 24 feet wells,
located between the two brigades, and into which was surface drainage
from both brigades." After many failed attempts to supply clean water,
such as using water from the Everglades, "orders were given that no
water should be used for drinking or cooking unless it had been boiled
at least an hour."15
With hundreds of men on sick call daily in both brigades, Willie and
other officers struggled to find ways to care for the soldiers effectively.
Willie tried to make life better for his men in Miami, by turning to his wife
for help. On July 9, Willie mentioned his concerns to Nellie, and they concluded
that the men were not receiving sufficient care at the military hospital.
More importantly, Willie and Nellie believed that the men were sent back
to work before they were fully recovered from their illnesses.'
After her conversation with Willie, Nellie wrote in her diary: "We
intended going to Church, but Willy got hold of General [J. Warren]
Keifer & had so many important things to discuss with him about the
sick in his brigade, etc., etc." The couple concluded that the overcrowded
division hospital was not equipped to handle the high number of
patients since it consisted of many tents "crowded together on a lot
covered with weeds in the middle of town." Many men who inspected
the site noticed that "sinks and garbage, emitting a most offensive odor,
surrounded the place, which gets in consequence little pure air."
After Lieutenant-Colonel Curtis Guild, Jr., Inspector-General, Seventh
Army Corps, toured Camp Miami, he observed that, "The men in
quarters sick with measles and other diseases begged me in passing not
to be sent to this place." In his official report, Guild wrote: "I can not
comprehend why such a filthy locality should ever be chosen for any
camp, especially for a hospital." 1
These investigations of the division hospital led to additional
inquiries that revealed the inattentiveness of hospital staff. Owing to
the hospital's overcrowding, hospital administrators had been forced to
release those who were in a less critical state in order to make room for
the seriously ill. As commander of the Second Brigade, Willie witnessed
the hospital's negligence firsthand when soldiers returned to duty before
they had fully recovered. Though not medically trained, the Gordons
were familiar with the care necessary for assisting Camp Miami's ailing
soldiers. During their previous summers in Savannah, Willie and Nellie
experienced yellow fever epidemics, and watched over family and
friends who succumbed to many of the same deadly illnesses that
affected Camp Miami's soldiers. If proper care was not made available
to ill soldiers soon, they knew that the likely prognosis for these soldiers
was death. 8
Nellie decided that she would administer a convalescent ward to care
for the men who were well enough to be released from the hospital, but
not strong enough to return to duty. Soon after General Gordon had
extended his influence, preparations for the convalescent hospital
began. Although it would be in operation for just two weeks, Nellie's
efforts here brought relief to many ailing soldiers."
On July 13, Nellie "had a talk with Major Appel about the sickness."
She "suggested having a 'Convalescent tent' in which the men could get
suitable food for a few days after they were discharged from the
Division Hospital." Nellie wrote that Major Appel, "was delighted at
the idea-said he would give me a big circular tent & have it floored; I
promised to look after the cooking dept. of it." Since the Army generally
lacked supplies and spare soldiers, Appel, chief surgeon of the division,
must have appreciated Nellie's initiative. He may have also been
relieved that she would be willing to be responsible for this venture
without much assistance from him or from his soldiers. 2
On the following day, July 14, Lieutenant-Colonel Louis M. Maus,
Chief Surgeon Seventh Army Corps, Lieutenant-Colonel of Volunteers
Oliver E. Wood, Chief Commissary of the Seventh Corps, and
Lieutenant Colonel Curtis Guild, inspector general, "came down from
Jacksonville on an inspection tour." After receiving complaints about
the troops' health, Maus wanted to examine the camp's conditions for
himself. After inspecting Flagler's wells, he remarked that the water possessed
"a disagreeable taste, an offensive odor, and in my opinion, [the
water] contains a large percentage of organic and vegetable matter,"and
concluded that the water could not be "wholesome in summer." He did
not, however, condemn camp conditions, which disappointed many of
the officers stationed in Miami. Indeed, in a letter to Maus after he left
Miami, some of the First Division's surgeons informed him that they
believed the water supplied by Flagler was "thoroughly contaminated,
infected, and too dangerous to utilize for drinking purposes."2 1
During their tour, Nellie "got an opportunity to speak to Col. Maus
& Col. Wood about a convalescent tent. They were heartily in favor of
it. Likewise General Keifer." Despite Army supply shortages, these
high-ranking officers helped Nellie to obtain the necessary supplies and
the equipment to open her facility. First, she acquired a "large circular
tent," but was soon forced to adjust her plan because of the rising number
of potential patients in her husband's brigade. 22
Nellie quickly found a vacant makeshift building near the Royal
Palm Hotel. "I got a big building 100 by 40 feet...The building was
only slatted but had windows with glass, and a solid roof-I had shades
of waterproof roofing paper hung to keep the sun and rain from coming
through the slats." The Metropolis announced Nellie's plans: "Mrs.
Gordon is hurrying forward the work of the building to be used as a
convalescent camp rapidly. In a few days those who are discharged from
the hospital will have a cosy [sic], pleasant place to spend a few days
while they are recuperating." The Metropolis' promotion of Nellie's
efforts sounded more like an advertisement for a Florida vacation spot
than a description of an unconventional recovery area housed in an
abandoned warehouse. In her journal, Nellie itemized what needed to
be done in order to open her "Ward": "It needs a floor-as it really is a
warehouse just built. We can get it ready with electric lights & water in
it & an outside kitchen, in 2 days. The Red Cross will give us 100 lbs.
of ice a day."23
While she waited for the building to be ready, Nellie put her amateur
nursing skills to use. She sent bottles of a homemade remedy to "Dr.
[Major John J.] Archinaud [Brigade Surgeon of the Second Brigade,
Seventh Army Corps] for his sick men-& had a little left over in a tumbler
which I gave to Chaplain Watts, who is ill with typhoid fever."
This concoction was made with milk, which was always in short supply:
"If I only could get the milk. But it seems impossible!" She ordered
"packages of wine jelly" that were distributed to six ill soldiers. The
wine's alcohol content was thought to ease their symptoms of dysentery.
Nellie wrote that Major John J. Archinaud of the Second Louisiana
Volunteers, who was assigned temporary duty as Second Brigade's surgeon,
was caring for a man with dysentery "who was said to be dying
yesterday," but after a dose of the wine jelly, the doctor "reports him
better to day [sic]." On the back inside cover of her journal, Nellie
wrote another homemade remedy she frequently used, "1 teaspoon full
of salt, 1 tablespoon full good vinegar to one tumbler of water, and a
tablespoon of gin," and she administered it hourly to the men.24
As Nellie became more involved in caring for the sickly soldiers, she
and Willie discovered that the cause for the division hospital's poor
conditions not only derived from its locale and supply shortage, but
also from the hospital staff's negligence. In a journal entry dated July
18, Nellie wrote: "In the afternoon Willy came over & had a very
stormy interview with the Drs-Appel & Vilas-He and Archinaud &
Col's [Major J.M.] Mood an unknown date , Cox, & Oppenheimer brought up plenty
of proof of the neglect & outrages that exist in the Division Hospital...
The Doctors are getting thoroughly scared at last. Col. Maus had said
now the Hospital must be moved." Willie confronted the doctors using
specific examples of the "outrages" that another officer witnessed in the
division hospital. "Major Hughes was in that hospital & saw a man
lying there dying with the flies crawling all over his face & into his
mouth & the attendants did not pretend to keep them brushed away."
General Gordon claimed Hughes had observed more abuse: "A very
sick man asked for water & Major H-said to one of those Stewards
"Why don't you give that man some water? 'I'll give him a club!'" was the
brutal reply. In what must have been his attempt to downplay the
episode, Appel tried to convince Willie that Hughes failed to see the
obvious humor, and said, "Oh, the steward was just joking!!!" But Appel's
response only further convinced Willie of the crisis at hand.25
When Gordon placed the blame on Appel, the discussion heated as
"Willie did not spare Appel." Nellie recalled: "He told him that he
(Appel) was responsible for all those outrages-That if he attended to
his duties properly the Hospital would not have been carried on in the
shameful way it had been." Appel refuted Willie's accusations by faulting
the federal government for only allowing two hundred beds. "Willie swore
that if the Gov't & Medical Board did not give all the cots needed-or
presumed to dictate how many sick men should be provided with
cots & how many go without-he would rouse not only the
Authorities at Washington-but all the United States. He would
not submit to such outrage!" Willie later fulfilled his promise
during the government's probe of Camp Miami. Appel only found
the comments offensive, so Willie added: "I have stated facts-If they
are insulting you can consider that they are said, not by your Superior
Officer, but as man to man-and you can do as you like about it."
Appel rejected this candor, and stormed out of the room.26
By the end of the day, Willie and Nellie became more determined
to help when they learned three more men died. They viewed
the opening of the convalescent hospital not as a convenience for Camp
Miami's sick soldiers, but as a must in order to save lives. Two days
before Nellie's project was ready, she wrote that more water testing
occurred which meant there was still concern over contamination: "The
water sent to N.O.'s [New Orleans] has returned today-it was full of
typhoid germs & every other horror!" But she and Willie were distrustful
of additional tests, and implied that a federal cover-up was possible:
"Some [water] has been sent to the 'Smithsonian' also-I don't know what
they will discover-Possibly they may be bought over & find nothing."27
On July 19, Nellie wrote, "Our Convalescent building is nearly
ready." Finding supplies to furnish the ward was difficult because
necessities were scarce, and because requests took time to be processed,
"Everything is so slow here," she complained. In order to open the
facility quickly, at his own expense, Willie ordered "50 cots & 1 doz
camp chairs" from a store in Jacksonville, Florida, and Nellie "went to a
Furniture shop here & got 25 cots & 1 doz camp stools & sent them to
the Ward." She also found in town "six wash-basins & a lot of toweling."
These items were purchased by the Gordons at their own expense.
Initially, the couple found enough materials to open the ward, but as
more and more men checked-in, Nellie and Willie found themselves
short-handed again. 28
Nellie's self-reliance served her well, but she knew that more help was
necessary in order to give good care to the soldiers who came to her
ward. Throughout the country, soldiers at other camps were also fighting
the war on disease without enough experienced medical officers
who had knowledge in military medical training and in preventative
medicine. With only half the manpower needed to work as nurses, or
stewards, the Army began pulling infantrymen from their units to serve
in hospitals. These men lacked motivation and training, and most
resented this assignment because they preferred combat. His options
thus limited, Surgeon General George Miller Sternberg then looked at
employing women as nurses. Requesting of the War Department the
authorization to hire a large number of female nurses. After receiving
permission, Sternberg, with the help of Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee,
established the Nurse Corps Division. Since the Medical Corps' common
attitude towards female nurses "was condemnation at best, contempt
at worst," women were sent to serve in the Keys or Puerto Rico.
Without adequate nursing care, infected soldiers in stateside camps rapidly
lost the battle against diseases like malaria and typhoid because of
the military's poor planning.
What made matters worse for the sick soldiers at Camp Miami was
not just a lack of nurses, but that the newly chartered city still resembled
a frontier community in 1898. The city offered no institutionalized
health care and no professionalized medicine. It was not until 1908 that
a hospital was organized in Miami. For the relief of mild aches and
pains, most citizens purchased over-the-counter medicine at the Brickell
trading post. Otherwise, women of the community acted as the primary
caretakers of the sick in Miami. If the womens' remedies did not
work, actively ill people were taken by boat to Key West where many
highly trained physicians had set up their practices.
Nellie asked "Dr. McGuire of 1st Brigade to take charge," and he
would act as the men's primary physician. Aware of the need for additional
help, she wrote: "If Watts had a really good nurse he would do
much better-His wife is in the way here." When assistance was available,
Nellie was selective: "Mrs. Cosens writes offering her services-must
write & decline. We need good men-nurses." Although the military did
not assign nurses to Miami, Nellie probably could have found the additional
help she needed from what must have been a well-known network
of women caregivers in the city. By discrediting other women's
capabilities, Nellie saw herself as an exception to the negative stereotype
of female nurses, and she wanted others to do the same. Not only did
Nellie believe that she was up to the task, but she also wanted others to
hold that impression.31
Nellie's self-confidence, and her apparent comfort in a man's world,
sometimes caused her to see other women's efforts as less noteworthy:
"Some fool woman trotted herself up to my room to day (sic) to talk to
me about the Red Cross, & the W. C. T. U. Society-was much surprised
to find I knew nothing about either!-I could hardly get rid of
her!" Although she finally acquired some help from a few male-nurses,
none of them were satisfactory to her, and they often caused her a great
deal of frustration. 32
On July 20, Nellie opened the newly converted warehouse, and "23
men came in & were very comfortable there. The men are of present
fed & from the Div. Hospital." The next evening, Daisy arrived and "is
perfectly delighted with the place & thinks it is the coolest climate she
has felt since leaving England." Intending for Daisy to stay near her,
Nellie reserved connecting rooms at the Royal Palm Hotel before she
left Mobile. Almost immediately, Nellie took Daisy "to look in on the
Ward," where she discovered 14 more men. They "found one man
weak from fever-and all wanting fans." That evening, Nellie wrote
about the day's activities, "Daisy bought a dozen (for $3.00) of fancy
fans," and gave them to the men in the ward. After giving them the
fans, they "made a campaign for 1 tumbler of fresh milk, then whiskey,
then ice, and finally got a milk punch" to help relieve the man with the
fever. Milk was considered the best nutritional food for the sick, but if
soured, the milk could be the most hazardous food causing diarrhea
and dehydration. Most of the milk supply came from Flagler's dairy in
St. Augustine, Florida. He sold eighty quarts per day to the military for
hospital use. Disgusted with what she considered the exorbitant price
Flagler charged, Nellie complained, "He charges us 80 cents a gallon-and
milk sells everywhere else for 20 cents. There's a Shylock for you!" To
keep the milk cool and fresh Nellie bought a small ice box with the
twenty dollars the chaplain gave her.33
General Gordon's brigade had about 350 men, or approximately 10
percent, on sick call daily, whereas, the First Brigade usually had about
250 soldiers on sick call. The rampant illness caused City of Miami
officials to worry. Coinciding with Maus and Wood's inspection of the
camp, the Metropolis attacked the camp's critics, attempting to dissuade
its readership from the opinions of military officials regarding the
healthfulness of Miami. "Miami was never in better condition in the
matter of health than it is at present," argued the Metropolis. When the
Metropolis specifically mentioned the situation at Camp Miami, it
maintained that newspapers outside of Florida purposely exaggerated
stories concerning the camp. The Metropolis claimed "...all such twaddle-
though furnishing sensational news for the saffron-hued journals,"
would not harm Miami's reputation "as the general good health of our
State is too well known to be hurt by unscrupulous attacks." "From our
sources of information," the Journal added, "we are satisfied that there
is no cause for apprehension as to the health of the troops encamped at
Miami; and we are confident that all Floridians feel assured that Mr.
Flagler will do all in his power to remedy any evils-should they exist..." 34
Without the help of Flagler, military officials took their own precautions
to slow the rising numbers of men on sick call. Believing food
outside the camp could be made with contaminated ingredients,
"Colonel Stevens issued an order forbidding vendors of ice cream, pies
and similar items from entering the camp." The Metropolis maintained,
somewhat disingenuously, that this order was necessary because "physicians
have reported that many of the men now ill in the First Brigade
are sick from the overindulgence in food of this kind," while dismissing
charges that the city's negligence was to blame. The newspaper did not
identify these physicians and implied that all physicians, civilian as well
as military, agreed with this diagnosis. 35
In another article, the Metropolis described instances where soldiers
demonstrated disregard for their health: "Yesterday we noticed walking
through the streets, soldiers... totally unmindful of the torrents of rain
that was falling. This means an increased sick list." Throughout the
report, the newspaper admonished the soldiers for the lack of common
sense in rainy weather, and, with a patronizing tone, added: "The
utmost care should be observed by the soldiers in keeping their feet and
clothing dry, and under no circumstances go out in the rain if it can be
avoided." The Metropolis shifted the blame away from Flagler and
Miami, while focusing it on the soldiers "who brought sickness onto
themselves." Perhaps, the Metropolis' denial of the city's responsibilities
was meant to defend Flagler and his interests against possible charges of
negligence by the federal government.36
Nellie did not write in her journal again until July 26. Her silence
coincided with the escalation of her duties at the convalescent ward.
She wrote: "No time for journaling-my time has all been taken up
with the Convalescent Ward-men keep coming in, & more, & more,
& more cots & [mosquito] nets & camp stools and fans, & dishes &
knives & forks had to be bought." In addition to this pause, the writing
style and the voice of her journal dramatically change at this time. Her
writing now appeared erratic. Instead of communicating in an upbeat
tone with thoughtful, long, descriptive sentences filled with witty commentary,
she now wrote short incomplete sentences that ended with
dashes rather than periods or other standard punctuation.
For the first time in the journal, Nellie expressed insecurity and
panic, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed by the size of her
task. Her endeavor was becoming much more than a place to provide a
restful atmosphere and suitable food for a few sick men. Within one
week, the number of patients in Nellie's ward climbed from twentythree
to seventy. Nellie wrote that "The number of deaths from typhoid
has increased. The number of sick from various causes-malaria, dysentery,
measles, etc.-greatly increased. All the men are demoralized, and the
officers are discouraged." Nellie, too, was disheartened as she became
disillusioned with her "Bright Idea."37
Nellie nevertheless, continued to carry out her duties. She grew
attached to Willie's men and enjoyed helping the soldiers, as well as her
husband. Health conditions in Camp Miami remained poor because the
drinking water remained contaminated. Nellie complained, "Bringing
troops here, where they had bad water, is what has been a really criminal
piece of jobbery to fill Mr. Flagler's pockets." She "tried to get distilled
water for them to drink-but the machinery of the factory got out of
order." Military officials ordered that all water had to be boiled to prevent
more sickness, but the soldiers did not follow orders because it was considered
inconvenient. "It is almost impossible to make them do so," she
complained, and noted that "Willy has got down casks and kettles from
Jacksonville for their use." The medical situation continued to deteriorate:
"There are 400 men sick in the 2nd Texas-I have 70 in the C.
W.-20 of them too ill to eat solid food-Daisy has spent all her time
making beef tea-jelly, etc for them." Nellie made a milk punch for the
men, which she admitted, was "not much."38
The Metropolis continued to downplay illness in the camp, claiming
in one article, that "The character of sickness now prevailing is a mild
type." Misleading information was a constant problem in the newspaper.
Reports like, "There was a large number of patients discharged yesterday
morning," led readers to believe that the soldiers were on the mend.
The editors failed to mention that the patients were still sick, and they
had been sent to Nellie's ward because of hospital overcrowding. "In fact
some of them were very sick."39
While the Metropolis' articles downplayed the camp's predicament,
Nellie's journal entries, instead documented the camp's "horrible state
of things." Since her ward opened, she spent every day "ransacking
these wretched stores for things-the most simple things-and can't
find them." When she did find supplies, Nellie locked them up in a
storage closet inside the ward. She tried to control the unhealthy environment
of the ward on her own by using whatever means she could to
ensure that her patients did not contract more disease: "I have got it
arranged so that all [water] we use is boiled. I have a man detailed to
see to it, & keep two large casks filled-I insist on ice water for them
day and night." Contradicting the Metropolis' reports, Nellie explained
in a letter to her uncle that the sickness was worse. "There are 75 cases
of typhoid fever and 12 more have died from it. Any number have
dysentery & measles & mumps. The two latter we don't mind much-
They are easily managed. It is the typhoid that worries us." 40
As the number of sick increased daily, inspections carried out by
high-ranking military officials from Washington continued. Army surgeons
surveyed the camp and made recommendations to stop the
spread of typhoid fever, but all of their suggestions were ignored.
Washington officials received conflicting reports from soldiers,
reporters, and even Henry Flagler concerning the camp. Accordingly,
some of them believed the medical situation was exaggerated. Flagler
wrote to Secretary of War R. A. Alger to explain the "very unfavorable
reports" that were sent to him "regarding the sanitary conditions, as
well as discomforts of the camp at Miami, Florida." Flagler claimed that
the reports "if not wholly untrue they are grossly exaggerated," and he
asked, "as a personal favor that you suspend judgment until Secretary Bliss
returned to Washington, whom I saw yesterday, and who is thoroughly
posted." Flagler's letter only caused more inquiries, and judgment continued.
It was suggested that an officer be sent to Miami "for the purpose of investigating
and reporting upon the sanitary conditions of the camp."
Implying Flagler's influence over the situation, "this officer should be dispatched
promptly and quietly, in order to avoid all advice and suggestions
from the agents of those who have financial interests at stake."41
Nellie was aware of all the potential here for a "whitewash". After she
learned that Major-General Fitzhugh Lee, Commander of the Seventh
Army Corps, was expected to examine Camp Miami again, Nellie
wrote: "Genl Lee is expected to come here-I trust the wicked & corrupt
officials who are trying to fool Keifer (and is he fooled, or only
indifferent or wicked?) won't be able to fool Genl Lee." It seems that
conditions did not improve as a result of the inspections, which infuriated
Nellie: "Oh, this is such a damnable hole for a camp-I hope
everyone who had a pull at sending troops here will go to Hell!"
Whether it was because of supply problems or the administration's mistakes,
the division hospital's conditions worsened, and "the men won't
go there if they can help it." As Nellie observed, "The Army regulations
provide Hospital accommodations of [with] 200 beds to each Division.
There are now here only two-thirds of a Division and we have a thousand
men sick! Think of it!" The nurses assigned to the hospital were
"only men the Surgeons pick up from among the soldiers." As nursing
duty was given to "the privates in the regiment" or as a form of punishment,
the soldiers assigned to the division hospital were "the most
worthless and troublesome men in the company." They often resented
being placed in a hospital instead of on the battlefield, which may have
made them more abusive and unsympathetic.42
When the division hospital was grossly overcrowded, sick soldiers
were sent to Nellie's ward, which now acted more as an intensive care
unit than a place for convalescence. On July 27, she and Daisy were
caring for eighty-six men, and they "had to buy & buy & buy to keep
with the increase of men." Nellie received two hundred dollars from the
Colonial Dames of Georgia, which she helped establish in 1894. With
these funds, she could provide each patient with "a mosquito net and a
nice cot." Since the converted warehouse "only holds 90 men," Nellie
was granted "permission to use the new Episcopal church which has
never been consecrated-and we will overflow into that if necessary."
Every morning for two weeks, Nellie went to her ward "right after
breakfast." "I got everything going there; fed several people who had
not had enough, [and] made a list of supplies." Relieved to have her
daughter's help each day, Nellie wrote: "Daisy spent two hours making
& distributing cups of chocolate which the men greatly enjoyed."
Although much of the treatment was improvised, the medical care the
soldiers received from the Gordon women must have been effective. On
July 28, Nellie sent thirteen men back to duty-"well." She wrote: "It is
quite flattering I declare, to meet so many who tell me what a God-send
the C. W is-& 'bless me'-and say how the men love me-etc., etc-I
shall be quite spoiled!" Nellie was proud that she and Daisy helped the
soldiers recover: "The change in their looks since they came there, is
wonderful. Such a hopeless, sad, indifferent, weak lot as they were!
Now they are alert, cheerful, hungry, satisfied, and interested in the
books & papers on supply to them."4 3
Years later, in her "Reminiscences," Nellie explained why she never
became infected: "In fact I am not afraid of disease, and never catch
anything. I went through a violent epidemic of cholera in Chicago in
1852 and of Yellow-fever in Savannah in 1858 [and in 1876] and was
never ill a moment, so I consider myself 'immune.'" By late July 1898,
newspapers from all over the country praised her efforts. In a letter to
Nellie, her close friend, Lizzie Nicholas, wrote, "You are every bit as great
as Miss Nightingale & everybody has heard of [the] Miami tent convalescent
hospital! It has been mentioned in New Haven papers & ever so
many others." Proud of her mother's work, Arthur wrote, "I hear all sorts
of good reports about you and your invaluable help to Papa."4 4
In the last days of July, Willie's brigade was ordered to Camp
Fairfield in Jacksonville, Florida. As Nellie concluded her July 28 entry,
she wrote: "The great news I kept for the last item! We are to move!"
Although Willie and Nellie couldn't wait to leave, they emphatically
told Keifer, "we could not leave our sick men here, & if they do not go,
we would stay here with them." Keifer agreed to send the men by hospital
cars to wherever the Gordons requested. Nellie wrote of her and
Willie's decision: "All the Convalescents will be sent by Hospital train.
The very ill will be left here in charge of competent physicians-and
the sick who can safely be moved, will go on a Hospital train."
Demonstrating her sincere dedication to her patients, Nellie was willing
to go "a day or so in advance to secure accommodations for the
Convalescent Ward" without Willie.4
The military arranged for Nellie and Daisy's transportation to
Jacksonville. She filled her journal with details of her trip, but her main
concern was still the convalescent hospital: "I hope the Ward is doing
well. Dr. Maus has rented a good sized hotel at Pablo Beach, on the
ocean-an hour from here by train where all the convalescents are to
go-It will be fine." A soldier's wife wrote to Nellie pleading to have
her sick husband moved with his regiment soon from that "Pest-hole
Miami." The worried wife believed Nellie could help her. "Seeing by
the papers you and your noble work of seeing to the sick soldiers. I
hope you will pardon me for addressing you." She begged Nellie "to
please let me know what kind of care he [was] left in or if he should be
able to be moved to Jacksonville." If Nellie could do her this favor, "I
will be under lasting obligations to you to see how he is & if he has all
that is needed for a speedy recovery."4
Except for entries consisting of two or three short sentences, there
was another break in Nellie's journal because of her work. For a little
over two weeks, Nellie spent most of the day overseeing the sick soldiers'
transfer to the convalescent hospital at Pablo Beach, which meant
one-hour train rides each way. Unlike her experiences in Miami, Nellie
appeared to be assured that the new convalescent facility was adequate.
On August 5, she made her first visit to Pablo Beach with Daisy "where
we found every thing delightfully & conveniently arranged for the
Convalescent Ward." This time Nellie also had capable help in establishing
the ward, and full support with its maintenance. A committee
of the medical officials' wives, which included Nellie, was elected by
Maus' wife to inspect the daily operations of the brigade's hospital. The
committee also went with Nellie to oversee the daily operation of the
ward. Despite her appreciation for their assistance, Nellie still wanted to
be the heroine of her ward: "A Mrs. Guest from Cincinnati has been
here on this Ward from some Relief Society. She has a son-a private in
the 2 La. [Second Louisiana]. When she told him she was coming out
to inspect the Brigade Hospital, he told her she needn't trouble herself
with that; Mrs. Genl Gordon was taking care of them, & no one could
do anymore for them than she did!"47
Nellie remained in Jacksonville with Willie until he received orders
for Puerto Rico. For months after the men left the ward, the Gordons
looked after the soldiers by telling all who would listen about the "outrages"
at Camp Miami. In late August, newspaper reporters told Nellie's
story in published articles that helped to bring more inquiry into Camp
Miami's medical history. She also sent letters to several people in
Washington, including the president, explaining the trying conditions
that soldiers endured at the camp. Willie published an editorial, "The
Truth About Miami. General Gordon's Conservative Review of the
Conditions There," that appeared in newspapers across the country.
Earlier, during their heated argument, Willie had warned Appel, chief
surgeon of Willie's division in Miami, if the camp's situation was not
improved, he would "rouse not only the Authorities at Washington-but
all of the United States." Together the Gordons were committed to fulfilling his promise.4
Before Nellie left Jacksonville for her home in Savannah on August
22, she finished one last journal entry. "This page ends my Army
life for the present..." This last reflection did not mention any of
the pride she must have felt for what she did for the soldiers in
Miami or the attention she was receiving at the time. Instead, she
wrote about Willie without a remark about herself: "The papers
are full of complimentary notices of him across the country. Bless
him!" Nellie's loving words revealed that "my General" was
still foremost in her life. Nellie may have been remembering the end
of the last war, and Willie's dire sense of loss as she wrote:
"The Recognition has come at last & in such complimentary form!"
Perhaps it was important to Nellie that the last page of her "record" paid tribute
to her "General." In the afternoon of August 22, General Gordon
accompanied his wife to the train station, and "bid me goodbye." On
August 24, believing that only peaceful times lay ahead, Nellie began a
new journal.' 9
Years later, Nellie's son, Arthur, averred that the best words to
describe his mother's traits were "Like a flash." In his memoirs, he
added: "With her, action followed thought at once, and inevitably.
Obstacles and difficulties merely stimulated her." At Camp Miami,
Nellie just did what had to be done "like a flash."
"Heroine of War, Mrs. W.W Gordon,"Massachusetts Times Union e&
Citizen (Boston, Massachusetts), 26 July 1898.
2 Donna Thomas, " 'Camp Hell': Miami During the Spanish-
American War," Florida Historical Quarterly 57 (1978), 150; "Good
Angel to the Boys in Blue, Chicago Times Herald, 25 August 1898.
The Spanish-American War Journal of Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, May
1898, Gordon Family Papers, Box 12: Folder 126, Item 2844,
Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia.
4 Nellie Kinzie Gordon, "Reminiscences" (unpaginated manuscript
notes), Gordon Family Papers, Box 13: Folder 131, Georgia
Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia.
8Juliette Magill Kinzie to Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, 12 April 1858,
Gordon Family Papers, Box 1: Folder 3, Item 101, Georgia Historical
Society, Savannah, Georgia; Mary D. Robertson, ed., "Northern
Rebel: The Journal of Nellie Kinzie Gordon, Savannah, 1862,"
Georgia Historical Quarterly 60 (1986), 481; Mrs. Clarence Gordon
Anderson, "Eleanor Ke(i)nzie Gordon," Georgia Historical Quarterly
42 (1958), 166.
The Spanish-American War Journal of Nellie Kinzie Gordon, 3 July 1898.
" The Flagler Museum [online] (Palm Beach, Florida, accessed on 26
December 2001); available from http://www.flagler.org/biography.html;
Internet; Paul S. George, "Miami and the Spanish-American War:
The story of the Magic City during a Splendid Little War," Historical
Museum of South Florida [online]; available from http://www.historical-
museum.org/history/war/campmiami.htm; Internet; accessed on
11 April 2001; Miami Metropolis, 17 June 1898; Donna Thomas, "
'Camp Hell': Miami During the Spanish-American War," Florida
Historical Quarterly 57 (1978), 143-144.
12 Hal Hubener, "Army Life in Lakeland, Florida, During the Spanish-
American War," Tampa Bay History 20 (1998), 43; The Spanish-
American War Journal of Nellie Kinzie Gordon, 3 July 1898.
13 Miami Metropolis, 24 June 1898; United States Senate, Document
221, 56th Congress, 1st sess., Report of the Commission Appointed By
Hell's Angel 59
the President to Investigate the Conduct of the War Department in the
War with Spain, 8 vols. (Washington, 1990), VII, 3364.
14 Thomas, "Camp Hell," Florida Historical Quarterly 57, 152; William
Washington Gordon II to George W Wilson, 15 August 1898,
Gordon Family Papers, Series I, Subseries 1.5, Folder 143, Southern
Historical Collection, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
16 The Spanish-American War Journal of Nellie Kinzie Gordon, 9 July 1898.
17 The Spanish-American War Journal of Nellie Kinzie Gordon, 9 July 1898;
Senate Document 221, VIII, 82.
18 The Spanish-American War Journal of Nellie Kinzie Gordon, 9 July 1898.
20 The Spanish-American War Journal of Nellie Kinzie Gordon, 13 July 1898.
21 The Spanish-American War Journal of Nellie Kinzie Gordon, 13 July 1898;
Senate Document 221, VIII, 78-79; Wright, "Medicine in the
Florida Camps During the Spanish-American War," 21-23.
22 The Spanish-American War Journal of Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, 14 July 1898.
23 Eleanor Kinzie Gordon to David Hunter, 28 July 1898, Gordon
Family Papers, Series 1, Subseries 1.5, Folder 142, Southern
Historical Collection, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Miami
Metropolis, 16 July 1898; The Spanish-American War Journal of
Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, 17 July 1898.
24 Eleanor Kinzie Gordon to David Hunter, 28 July 1898, Gordon
Family Papers, Series 1, Subseries 1.5, Southern Historical Collection,
Chapel Hill, North Carolina; The Spanish-American War Journal of
Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, no date.
25 The Spanish-American War Journal of Eleanor Kinzie Gordon,
18 July 1898; Ibid., 19 July 1898.
29 Mary T. Sarnecky, "Nursing in the American Army from the
Revolution to the Spanish-American War," Nursing History Review 5
(1997), 52-59; Lieutenant Colonel Connie L. Reeves, United States
Army (Retired), "Nurses Spell Relief," Naval History 12 (1998), 40.
30 Christine Ardalan, "Professional Nurses in Early Miami, 1896-1925,"
Tequesta: The Journal of the Historical Association of Southern Florida
57 (1997), 53-54.
31 The Spanish-American War Journal of Eleanor Kinzie Gordon,
19 July 1898.
3The Spanish-American War Journal of Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, 21
July 1898; Lucy Ridgely Seymer, compiled by, Selected Writings of
Florence Nightingale (New York: The MacMillian Company, 1954),
169; Eleanor Kinzie Gordon to David Hunter, 28 July 1898. A
"Shylock" is a relentless, revengeful moneylender in Shakespeare's
Merchant of Venice.
34 Miami Metropolis, "Healthfulness of Miami," 16 July 1898.
35 Ibid., 15 July 1898.
36 Ibid., "Soldiers Beware," 15 July 1898.
3' Miami Metropolis, "At the Division Hospital," no date; Eleanor
Kinzie Gordon to David Hunter, 28 July 1898.
41 Senate Document 221, VII, 92; Ibid., 73.
42 The Spanish-American War Journal of Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, 26
July 1898; Eleanor Kinzie Gordon to David Hunter, 28 July 1898;
Senate Document 221, VII, 92-93.
43 Eleanor Kinzie Gordon to David Hunter, 28 July 1898.
44 Gordon, "Reminiscences;" Elizabeth Byrd Nicholas to Eleanor Kinzie
Gordon, 10 August 1898, Gordon Family Papers, Box 4: Folder 50,
Item 1201, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia; George
Arthur Gordon to Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, 11 September 1898,
Gordon Family Papers, Series 1, Subseries 1.5, Folder 144, Southern
Historical Collection, Chapel Hill, North, Carolina.
5 The Spanish-American War Journal of Eleanor Kinzie Gordon,
28 July 1898.
46 Eleanor Kinzie Gordon to George Arthur Gordon, August 2, 1898,
Gordon Family Papers, Series 1, Subseries 1.5, Folder 143, Southern
Historical Collection, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Mrs. M. S. Bledsoe to
Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, 2 August 1898, Gordon Family Papers, Box 4:
Folder 51, Item 1200, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia.
47 The Spanish-American War Journal of Eleanor Kinzie Gordon, 5
August 1898; Ibid., 11 August 1898.
48 Senate Document 221, VIII, 92-93; William Washington Gordon II,
Hell's Angel 61
"The Truth About Miami. General Gordon's Conservative Review
of the Conditions There," New Orleans Picayune, 27 August 1898;
The Spanish-American War Journal of Eleanor Kinzie Gordon,
19 July 1898.
SThe Spanish-American War Journal of Eleanor Kinzie Gordon,
22 August 1898.