Webpage dedicated to the Life of Nellie (or Nelly) M. Chase, Matron Nurse of the 100th Pennsylvania and Published in both Books and Newspapers Regarding the High Regard for her Care of Soldiers at Fredericksburg for the 79th New York Highlanders and at the Hospitals of Nashville, Tennessee
Nellie M. Chase was born Ellen Merrill Chase on March 1, 1838 in New Hampshire to Jacob E. Chase and Jane Steele Merrill. Her early life and I will refer to Dr. Carolyn Schriber's upcoming book, titled No Place for a Lady, coming out in 2010/2011. She began here career with the 12th Pennsylvania Infantry for a 3 month stint in 1861 before becoming a part of the Roundhead Regiment. This is where she met Col. Daniel Leasure, MD who was in the 12th PA before assembling the Roundhead Regiment. She sailed to the Port Royal, SC coast campaign in 1861 and quickly assumed duties as the matron nurse of the regiment, tending to the ills of the soldiers and then wounds when action began, the primary action being the June 16, 1862 Battle of Secessionville.
Initially, there were questions regarding her character and ability, mostly posed by Reverend Browne, based on a turbulent past, but Col. Leasure believed in her abilities to perform her duties and she soon proved her doubters wrong, including Reverend Browne, who she nursed back to health when he fell ill. Dr. Schriber's book will provide insight into Nellie's troubled past.
The article below found in the San Francisco publication "The Golden Age", dated March 1862 eludes to some of these early questions regarding her troubled life and subsequent positive commentary based on her actual nursing duties performed. It also states that she herself fell ill and battled back to resume her duties.
Based on subsequent research into the connection mentioned in the above article between the US Secretary of Treasury, Salmon P. Chase and Nellie, they were cousins, but very distant ones.
She apparently married young, prior to the Civil War and her first name by marriage was Leith or Leath. At Fredericksburg, in December of 1862, she became known for her care and nursing of soldiers in the union slaughter of that battle in an initial newspaper story called "Story of the One-Arm" In 1866, the newspaper story was utilized as a chapter in Frank Moore's history, Women of the War, Their Heroism and Self-Sacrifice. In 1863, she left the eastern campaign action and went to Nashville, Tennessee, where she worked in a hospital there.
Into the Jaws of Death is a transcription of the chapter in Frank Moore's work that refers to her heroic nursing deeds at Fredericksburg.
It was in Nashville where Nellie met her 2nd husband, Lt George W. Ernest of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Co. B. In August of 1863, he was promoted to 1st Lt of the 13th US Colored Infantry and eventually became a Captain which he was known as for the rest of his days. The 13th US regiment was largely raised in Nashville. In August of 1863, ANOTHER soldier wrote of Nellie's devotion and dedication to her service in this newspaper article (below) from the Philadelphia Press dated August 19, 1863.
This article indicates reverence of her care by a soldier in Nashville, not of her adopted state. It also makes a plea for Nellie to have her "likeness" struck at a photographer such that all the soldiers under her care might have an opportunity one day to have her image to hold close as a reminder of how she helped relieve their suffering. The announcement article below from the Philadelphia Press, dated eight days later on August 27, 1863 confirms her photo taken at F. Gutekunst, the eminent Philadelphia Photographer. See below article thumbnail.
Efforts are being made by the Historian and author, Dr. Carolyn Schriber to locate this Carte de Visite (CDV) of Nellie apparently taken by Gutekunst. Michael Kraus, a Civil War historian, friend of the Roundhead Regiment and collector of numerous 100th PA memorabilia, has also joined the hunt.
Though Nellie's war time exploits of dedication and care for the soldiers was very evident, some chose to dredge up her past and question her character. This happened in the case of a soldier who sent a letter to editor Frank Moore advising him to question Nellie's character. Unfortunately because of this action, Nellie fell out of favor to Mr. Moore.
After finding a snippet of information from the 1960 book, Column South: The 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry from Antietam to the Capture of Jefferson Davis, by Suzanne Colton Wilson, found using Google Book Search, the search revealed a passage that states, "Had a conversation after dinner with Mrs. C. in regard to Miss Nellie Chase." I suspect that the author of the statement was George W. Ernest and this indicates he had met Nellie BEFORE he became an officer in the 13th US Colored Regiment.
On June 8, 1864, according to www.familysearch.org, Nellie and George W. Ernest were married in Davidson, TN.
Women's Work in the Civil War: A record of heroism, patriotism and patience by L.P. Brockett, 1867 indicates a Miss Nellie Chase practicing nursing in Nashville. Another book about Michigan Soldier's Aid Society 1861-65 indicates she was the directress of General Hospital No. 3 in Nashville.
In 1870, the Louisville, KY census shows the Earnests living there.
By 1878, the Ernests were living in Paris, TN working at the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) hotel there. The summer months of that year were hot and ideal for breeding for mosquitos carrying the Yellow Fever virus. An epidemic struck Memphits suddenly and thousands fled the city, often travelling by rail to evacuate. As they stopped in the small towns along the way in L&N Depots, townfolk and railroad employees from those towns were infected. Paris, TN was hit especially hard. In September, Nellie got sick and was transported to the Louisville, KY Yellow Fever hospital there. She died on September 20, 1878. Her husband George went with her to Louisville to be by her side and came down with symptoms the day after she died. He died two days later. Both were buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Lousiville. In the History of the Louisville and Nashville railroad, it stated that George and Nellie Ernest converted the hotel into a hospital to care for the railroad employees and others at the hotel that were coming down with Yellow Fever. It was here that Nellie got exposed to the deadly virus.
Photos of grave and monument to the Ernests erected by L&N Railroad
The story of Nellie M. Chase is sad but demonstrates that her true character was good and that she persevered to prove her doubters wrong by being given an opportunity during the Civil War to dedicate her services to the Union Medical cause. Even after the Civil War she was selfless, caring for patients during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878 until she herself succombed to the deadly fever.