In Darlington County, South Carolina, 27-year-old Ada W. Bacot was alone. Her husband had passed away and the two children they had together had died; she was left with their large plantation and slaves. She believed that African-Americans were inferior, and had no problems using them as free labor. The idea that the United States would interfere with this practice upset her a great deal.
At the beginning of the war, Ada was looking for something to do; then came the call from South Carolina, who was in need of nurses. She struggled to get the money needed to settle in Virginia while still keeping her land at home. Because she was a woman no banks would loan her money; luckily, her father supported her efforts and provided financial support. With a neighbor willing to look after her cotton crop and slaves, she was able to do what she considered to be her duty to God and country. People warned her of the hardships she would endure and the suffering she would see. She knew it would not be easy and it would not be something enjoyable, but she knew she would be able to endure it all. With a handful of volunteers, she made her way to Charlottesville, VA,where she worked at a converted hotel described as the “Chaotic Confederate medical system.”
By September 1861, the Confederate government had only allowed for $50,000 towards the establishment and maintenance of military hospitals. The number of surgeons and assistants commissioned were also inadequate. The government felt strongly that the war would be over in six months, hence the lack of support for something that would be crucial during the war: medical care. Most of the medical responsibilities were handled by men, as they considered the wards not to be a place for a lady. Ada and the others tended to housekeeping, cooking and laundering for patients. Ada constantly wanted to do more, and was eventually one of few women that were allowed direct contact with the wounded and ill soldiers. She would help dress wounds, cheer up the depressed, write letters to their loved ones and have discussions with them on religion.
When she wasn’t working at the hospital, Ada found ample time for social gatherings. She would also keep a diary spanning over three years, which is one of only two known nurse diaries from the Charlottesville hospital. During her service she met James E. Henry Clarke, a wounded soldier that she ended up marrying in 1864.