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After the South captured Fort Sumter, authorities worried that the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, was vulnerable to a secessionist attack and moved the school to Newport, Rhode Island, for the duration of the war. The Academy was temporarily turned over to the Union Army which used it for a military hospital.
The soldiers sent to the Naval Academy Hospital suffered from long-term illnesses or severe wounds. Many were not expected to make a full recovery. The hospital received a large number of patients in July and August of 1863 from the Battle of Gettysburg, and continued to receive many patients until of the end of the war. Tents were erected on the grounds to relieve the crowded buildings.
Nurses Adeline Blanchard Tyler, Louisa Titcomb, Mary E. Dupee, and Emily W. Dana were assigned to the Naval Academy Hospital in August 1863. Over twenty female nurses served at the hospital during the war. So many of the female nurses came from Maine that they were called the "Maine stay" of the hospital.
Each nurse had a certain number of patients assigned to her care and worked the wards alongside male Army nurses to comfort the sick. Mary E. Dupee was assigned thirteen wards for regular visitation, placing up to 104 soldiers under her care. Emily W. Dana's patients were soldiers just released from Belle Isle and Libby Prisons. There were frequent deaths in her ward from the effects of starvation and old wounds. According to a post-war account, Dana always strove to keep the spirits of the patients up. She was impressed with the uncomplaining endurance of the soldiers and recalled that she rarely heard a word of regret.
Before breakfast, the nurses checked that each meal was properly served since many of their patients were on special diets. During the day, the nurses observed the sickest patients and visited each one to make them as comfortable as possible. They read to the soldiers and wrote letters for them in addition to their other duties. The soldiers called the nurses "sunbeams." Families of soldiers who received care at the hospital wrote to thank the nurses for their efforts.
With the end of the war, the Army closed the hospital and the Naval Academy returned to Annapolis during the summer of 1865. After years of hard use as a military hospital, the grounds would take years to recover their pre-Civil War beauty.