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A Nurse in Her Home-Turned Hospital

A Pennsylvania officer survived the worst of a fever while waylaid in a Washington, D.C., military hospital. Feeble but alert, he longed to write his wife about his condition. A volunteer nurse, Adéle Douglas, granted his request on Sept. 1, 1862.

Rose Adéle Cutts Douglas Williams, circa 1864. Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of Washington, D.C. Ronald S. Coddington Collection.

Rose Adéle Cutts Douglas Williams, circa 1864. Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of Washington, D.C. Ronald S. Coddington Collection.

“Your brave husband is not among the wounded or dying, and God had spared him for you for I trust a long and happy life,” Douglas stated. She included more words of comfort, then sent the note.

Douglas did not mention that she had recently been touched by fever. A few months earlier, her husband, Sen. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, succumbed to typhoid. His death ended the reign of one of Washington’s elite couples.

The couple had wed in 1856. The young bride reinvigorated the recently widowed senator. Born Rose Adéle Cutts, or “Addie,” she was the crème de la crème of Washington society. Her father, James Madison Cutts, was the nephew and namesake of the fourth president. Her mother, Ellen, was the sister of Rose O’Neal Greenhow, who would become the infamous Confederate spy, and ultimately imprisoned and deported to the South.

Section 2, Plot 972. ANC Project.
Section 2, Plot 972. ANC Project.

Douglas stood by her husband during his 1858 senatorial victory over Abraham Lincoln, and his loss against Lincoln in the 1860 presidential contest.

After his death, their home was converted into Douglas Hospital, which she frequently visited during the war years.

In 1866, Douglas married Maj. Robert Williams, a West Pointer and native Virginian who remained Union loyal. They spent most of the rest of their lives at Western army posts and raised six children.

Williams retired in 1893 as a brigadier and Adjutant General of the Army. He and his wife returned to Washington, where she passed quietly in 1899 at age 64. He followed her in death two years later.

This portrait is part of the Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) Book Project. Established by Jim Quinlan, owner of The Excelsior Brigade, its mission is to identify approximately 15,000 Civil War veterans interred on the hallowed grounds of the cemetery, and to provide a biographical sketch and photograph of each individual. If you have an image to share, or would like more information about the ANC project, please contact Jim at 703-307-0344.

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