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  • Kendrick Gibbs

"Ladies of York" - An Ohio soldier's letter thanking nurses at York General Hospital

Stories of Civil War nurses are plentiful in the narrative of the Civil War era, with names such as Clara Barton, Dorthea Dix, or Blair County, Pennsylvania native Annie Bell. In the primary sources left behind from the Civil War, nurses were often lauded by soldiers for their efforts to keep them alive and well. These nurses, many of them women volunteers, gave wounded and sick soldiers the opportunity to return to the fight or home to their families.

Annie Bell at Nashville, TN (Circa 1864)

On September 2, 1862, Private William L. Rannells submitted a letter of thanks to the York Gazette, commending the nurses at the York General Hospital in York, Pennsylvania. The facility was one of the largest military hospitals in Pennsylvania, having aided more than 14,000 soldiers between the summer of 1862 and the end of the Civil War in 1865. The hospital was located at the present-day Penn Park, at the intersections of Pershing, College, and Lindbergh avenues, and Lafayette Street.

York General Hospital at present-day Penn Park in the City of York.

One of the 14,000 men treated at the York General Hospital was 25-year-old Private Rannells of Ohio. Rannells was born on September 1, 1837, in Gallipolis, Gallia County, Ohio. Rannells enlisted in Co. G, 60th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in May 1862 to serve for one year.

During the summer of 1862, William Rannells was injured by falling timber while building fortifications near Winchester, Virginia. He later contracted a disease that caused him to lose sight in one of his eyes. He spent time in a hospital in Winchester and Baltimore, before being transferred to the York General Hospital sometime before his letter appeared in the York Gazette on September 2, 1862.

Ladies of York, feeling myself indebted to you for the kindness shown to the sick and wounded of this Hospital, I feel it to be my duty as one that has received the kindest attention, to return you my sincere thanks for your kindness to me, - The name of York will long be remembered by me.

This is one of the mostly lovely places that I have seen since I bid farewell to my native home, in Ohio. Here we have everything that we need to make us comfortable, and there has been nothing left undone by the Medical board of this Hospital that pertains to our welfare; all seem to harmonize together for the welfare of their country; long may you live, and may the God of Heavens bless you for the interest you have taken in the welfare of the sick in York. Some of us may never be permitted to see you again after leaving here, but if we are spared to return to our homes how many will say how kind we were treated by the citizens of York, I know I will think of you often, you have been as mother's and sisters to us in place of strangers.

Our Country has called for help, and we had bid farewell to our families and gone to defend that glorious old flag that floats over this once happy country. Some of us no doubt have said good-bye to our friends, never to see them again, it is a solemn thought but we must submit to it, we are no better than the old patriots that bled and died to gain our Liberty; we must sustain that flag that floated over this happy Country July 4th, 1776 over the free and the brave; give us Liberty or Death. Yours truly,

William L. Rannells

Company G, 60th Ohio

Private Rannells returned home to Gallipolis, Ohio after being discharged from the US Army on a medical discharge in October 1862. He eventually moved to California, where he died of pneumonia in 1902 at the age of 64. Private Rannells is buried at Sunrise Memorial Cemetery in Vallejo, Solano County, California.

William L. Rannells, 1837-1902 (Find a Grave)


For more information about the York General Hospital visit the links to York Daily Record's Cannonball Blog by local Civil War Historian and Author, Scott Mingus:


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