Honoring Civil War Volunteer Nurse Sarah Priest
Saturday, May 22, 2010 starting 12 noon
Sarah Priest, a volunteer nurse during the Civil War, was put to rest in Old Swedes Church Burial Ground, Swedesburg, PA, located across the river from Norristown. Within the stone walls of the 250 year old cemetery one will also find fellow nursing volunteer Anna M. Holstein, as well as soldiers who served their country in war and many of the area’s notable founding families of Swedish descent.
According to a 2009 article in the King of Prussia Courier, Priest’s marker was stolen, probably by someone seeking Civil War collectibles. However, that stone had only been placed in 2007 by the Daughters of the American Revolution to mark Priest’s previously unmarked grave site.
Priest spent ten months working at Sharpsburg, site of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with 23,000 men wounded or dead. In 1867 Holstein published an account of their experiences and her narrative makes all too clear the gore, hopelessness and daily tragedies they encountered.
In a miserable little log house near the Potomac, thirty men lay upon the floor, ill with fever; some had a little straw, but no pillows were to be found; at that time it was unavoidable, but their food was hardly fit for well men; medicines very scarce; — this house the counterpart to many others…
The article notes that research about Sarah Priest revealed that upon returning home from war, she was labeled as crazy by her family, though she probably was suffering from what we now recognize as post traumatic stress disorder. When she died, the family did not place a marker at her final resting place.
The new marker will honor Sarah Priest’s contributions to helping the sick, injured and dying during the Civil War and her service to her country.
Friends of Old Swedes invites one and all to attend this grave marker ceremony, especially current military, period reenactors, civilians and heritage groups. Refreshments to follow.
To read more about the service of Montgomery county women in the Civil War, read Anna Morris Holstein’s 1867 book, Three Years in Field Hospitals of the Army of the Potomac. It is a heart-wrenching eyewitness account of working among the Civil War wounded and dying. Holstein’s notes and letters home are housed at the Historical Society of Montgomery County in Norristown.
Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Bonnie Cook wrote about Civil War nurse and Montgomery County resident Elizabeth J. Brower who, like Priest, came home from war deeply affected and mentally unstable. Brower was committed to an insane asylum. Read the article
See the Time Machine’s previous post about Old Swedes here.
For more information about preservation and conservation of burial grounds and cemetery markers, the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology & Training offers technical assistance here.
Directions to Old Swedes Church in Bridgeport/Swedesburg, PA: Take I-76 West, Take to pa-23 Exit 332 Toward Conshohocken. Merge onto Matsonford Road, Turn Left onto Front Street, Pa. 23, Continue to Follow Pa 23. 740 River Road, is on the left. Parking behind the church.