The Heroines of the Great War for the Union, like its heroes, have come from every class of society, and represent every grade in our social scale. Ladies of the highest refinement and social polish have left homes of luxury, and devoted themselves, week after week, and month after month, to daily labor and nightly vigils in the wards of great hospitals.
No less praiseworthy and admirable have been the devotion and self-sacrifice of those who were born in less favored circles, and brought with them to the work, if not the elegance of the boudoir, the hearty good will, the vigorous sense, and the unwearied industry of the laboring class.
If the antecedents and manners of Bridget Divers, whom Sheridan's men commonly knew as "Irish Biddy,” were not those of what the world calls "a lady," she proved herself possessed of the heart of a true, brave, loyal, and unselfish woman, who devoted herself, from the beginning to the end of the war, to the good of the soldier, with such uncalculating generosity, that she deserves and enjoys the grateful remembrance and the unfeigned respect of every patriot who saw anything of her admirable labor.
In the commencement of the war, she went out with the First Michigan cavalry, and through the war continued to act with and for that organization. But as she became familiar with the army, and well known in it, she extended her labors so as to reach the wants of the brigade, and even the division to which the First Michigan belonged.
She knew every man in the regiment, and could speak of his character, his wants, his sufferings, and the facts of his military record. Her care and kindness extended to the moral and religious wants, as well as the health, of the men of her regiment, as she always called it. In the absence of the chaplain she came to the Christian Commission for books and papers for the men, saying that she was the acting chaplain, and appearing to take a very deep interest in the moral and religious well-being of them all.
It made no difference to her in what capacity she acted, or what she did, so be it was necessary for the good of the men.
Acting now as vivandière or daughter of the regiment, now as nurse, hospital steward, ward master, and some times as surgeon, she was invaluable in each capacity. From her long experience with wounds and disease, her judgment came to be excellent, and her practical skill equal often to that of a physician. In drawing various supplies from the Sanitary and Christian Commission she showed good judgment, and knew just what the men really wanted, never encouraging waste or recklessness in distribution, while she was really very kind and tender-hearted.
Her whole soul was in the work of aiding and sustaining the soldier. No day was too stormy or too cold to check her in an errand of mercy. She overcame all obstacles, and battled successfully with all sorts of rebuffs and discouragements in the prosecution of her duties.
When the Christian Commission received letters from home, which was very frequently the case, inquiring for a soldier, if the man was believed to be even in the division to which she was attached, Bridget was the first person to whom application was made. If it was in "her brigade," as she called it, she could tell all about him. If in the division, she was more likely to know than the commanding officer or the adjutant, and could generally give all the desired information. Her memory of names and places was truly wonderful.
When the brigade was in active service she was with it in the field, and shared all its dangers. She was a fearless and skilful rider, and as brave as the bravest under fire.
In actual battle she had two or three horses killed under her, and in the course of the war lost eight or ten in various ways.
In the battle of Cedar Creek she found herself at one time cut off and surrounded by the enemy, but managed, by an adroit movement, to escape capture.
As to making something out of the war, she was utterly indifferent to that. At one time a purse of some three hundred dollars was made up and presented to her; but in a few weeks the most of it was gone, having been expended in various purchases for the comfort of her boys. Any money given to her was sure to find its way back again into the regiment, as she would expend it for the benefit of some sick, or wounded, or unfortunate man, or for the purchase of hospital supplies.
Her personal appearance is not prepossessing or attractive. Sleeping on the ground like a soldier, and enduring hard ships like the rest, her face has become browned by exposure, and her figure grown athletic by constant exercise and life in the open air. But the heart that beats under her plain cassock is as full of womanly tenderness as that of any princess in purple velvet; and, though her hand is strong and brown, it is as ready to do an act of generous kindness as that of Florence Nightingale herself.
Not even with the close of the war did her self-imposed duties end. She has become attached to the free and spirited life of the cavalry soldier, and preferring camp life, with its hardships and adventures, to the comfort and tameness of villages, she is now with the detachment that has crossed the great plains and the Rocky Mountains for Indian service on the distant western frontier.