First Woman Doctor in the Confederate Army
Dr. Oriana Moon Andrews was a remarkable woman who served as the first female doctor in the Confederate Army. After the Civil War, she was physician to women and children, but her family had to move so frequently she was not able to establish a consistent practice. Chronic illness and childbirth at an advanced age ended her life much too soon.
Image: Dr. Oriana Moon Andrews in 1861
With her husband, Dr. John Andrews
Credit: Woman’s Missionary Union
Oriana Russell Moon was born August 11, 1834 the second of seven children born to Anna Maria Barclay Moon and Edward Harris Moon. Oriana lived with her family at Viewmont, a 1500-acre estate in Scottsville, Albemarle County, Virginia. Edward Moon was a wealthy merchant, while Anna Maria had inherited her own wealth from her stepfather, including Viewmont and all of its slaves.
Edward Moon was a well-educated man, and he purchased an unusually large library, which included history, poetry, fiction and scientific works. He then hired the finest tutors for his children in literature, history, music and science. For the first sixteen years of her life, Oriana was addicted to reading, sometimes refusing to stop reading to eat.
At a time when Southern society dictated that young women be tutored privately and trained in the household arts, Edward Moon permitted his daughters to pursue their own interests. Oriana attended Emma Willard‘s Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York during the 1850-1851 school year. After graduating there, she returned to Virginia, talking about the independence of Northern women.
Then, at the age of eighteen, Miss Moon decided she wanted to be a doctor. Edward Moon readily agreed that she should pursue a medical career, but he did not live to see her become a doctor. In 1854, Oriana enrolled in the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. At that time the general public believed that women were not capable of mastering the subject matter, and they would be much too squeamish to actually practice medicine.
Career in Medicine
Oriana proved them all wrong, but her path would not be easy. Female students were not allowed to work in hospitals to gain clinical experience working with patients, so the College set up its own clinic where they treated women and the poor. As her thesis, she wrote about the relationship between cardiac and pulmonary diseases, and she was awarded her Doctor of Medicine in 1857.
Oriana then returned to Viewmont. In 1858, her uncle, James Turner Barclay, decided to return to Jerusalem with his family for a second missionary tour as a Disciples of Christ minister, physician and student of the Holy Land. Oriana accompanied the Barclays and practiced medicine during her stay there.
In the summer of 1859, Oriana returned to her Virginia home, where she continued her medical practice as a woman’s physician for her social circle and for the the Moon family slaves. Her patients adored their young female physician. Some male physicians grudgingly accepted Oriana as an unusual woman doctor. However, despite much urging, Dr. Moon consistently declined to ‘hang out her shingle’ as a general practitioner.
The Civil War
The the Civil War broke out in 1861, and Virginia seceded from the Union on May 23, 1861. Oriana, her mother and her brother drove the family carriage to Charlottesville ten miles away. Their journey was made to convert the family’s cash and other marketable assets into currency or bonds for the Confederacy. A notice on the bank wall stressed the urgent need of physicians, surgeons and nurses for the Confederate Army.
Dr. Moon volunteered her services to the Confederacy in several letters written to General John H. Cocke between April and July 1861. In a letter dated July 19, 1861, she wrote:
My most respected Friend,
Owing, I suppose, to our regular postal arrangements, your kind communication of Tuesday has just been received. I have not as yet entered into service; neither shall I, without consulting you, if you will allow me that high privilege! I have been willing and even anxious to be engaged in ministering to the wants of the sick, but after you so kindly proposed to take the matter in hand, I thought it would be better to wait and learn the result…
If it will not be too great an imposition on your time and generosity, I would prefer to have you make any arrangements for me you may see proper. If the ladies of Richmond address me on the subject, I will enclose their communications to you. Enclosed I send you some suggestions, which strike me as being good…
I would prefer to be in a Surgical Hospital where I would assist in the operations… I will go anywhere or do anything they may see fit to assign me, if it is to follow the army and seek the wounded on the field of battle.
Woman Surgeon in the Confederacy
On July 22, one day after the First Battle of Bull Run, Dr. Moon received word to report to the Charlottesville General Hospital which included buildings converted for that purpose at the University of Virginia. Soon the hospital overflowed with wounded from Bull Run and spilled over to private homes nearby. Dr. Moon was assigned a ward in this hospital, and was awarded a surgeon’s commission as a captain in the Confederate Army, reportedly the only one given to a woman.
A letter appeared in the Richmond Daily Dispatch on August 1, 1861, describing the situation at that hospital and Dr. Moon’s role there:
The state of the hospital is most satisfactory. The few cases of death are extremely cheering. But one of the wounded has so far died; he was a Yankee and fearfully injured. The largest number of wounded belong probably to the 4th Alabama Regiment, and there are also several young men of the Oglethorpe Light Infantry from Savannah, and half dozen students from the University of Oxford, Mississippi here. By far the large majority of sick are down with the measles and will easily recover. Among the more seriously wounded are also two Yankee captains from a New York Regiment.
Thanks to the energy and zeal displayed on all sides, order begins to reign and system to prevail amid the immense number. More physicians have arrived from other towns; among them Dr. Alexander Rives, late house-surgeon of Bellevue Hospital, New York; Dr. Moon, a young lady of the neighborhood, to whose skillful and experienced hands the care of a ward has been entrusted…
Dr. John Andrews
When the Civil War broke out, Dr. John Summerfield Andrews, aged 23, was a practicing physician in Memphis, Tennessee. He quickly arranged his personal affairs and headed for Virginia. Arriving a few days before the Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, he cared for his brothers after they were injured in that battle.
When Confederate General Bernard Bee visited the field hospital, he immediately commissioned Dr. Andrews a surgeon and put him in charge of the wounded men of the 4th Alabama Regiment. After the battle ended, the Confederate wounded were taken to the Charlottesville General Hospital, John discovered that his brother Robert’s medical condition was grave.
Dr. Andrews asked for another surgeon to examine his brother, and Dr. Moon was called in. When John looked up from his seat at his brother’s bedside, he was astonished to see a young woman. After a thorough examination, the doctors retired to an adjoining room for consultation. Dr. Moon advised against surgery, fearing it would kill the young soldier. John agreed that the operation should be deferred. They packed ice around Robert’s chest to reduce his fever, but he died two days later.
A few months later illness forced Dr. Moon to give up her ward. She returned to Viewmont where she was cared for by her mother. At his first opportunity, Dr. John Andrews hired a horse and rode the ten miles to Viewmont to check on Oriana’s health. He remained there several days before returning to Charlottesville.
Marriage and Family
Dr. Andrews also installed himself as physician to Dr. Moon, who would be confined to bed for more than a month. His visits to Viewmont multiplied and their friendship took on a deeper meaning. John requested leave to get married, and on November 28, 1861, John Andrews and Oriana Moon married at Viewmont. She was 27.
Image: Viewmont, the Moon family estate
Where Oriana lived most of her life
Credit: Scottsville Museum
After their wedding, Dr. John Andrews was granted leave to seek reassignment in Richmond. These hospitals daily received wounded soldiers other areas of Virginia. Every medical person was needed, but records show that John did not resurface in Richmond until late January 1862. On February 1, 1862, Dr. Andrews appeared before a medical review board, and he was declared unsatisfactory as a Confederate surgeon. He resigned his commission the same day.
Civilian Life During the War
John and Oriana continued living at Viewmont, and their first child, Henry Horton Andrews, was born there on October 30, 1862, but he died from croup in May 1863. On October 1, 1863, a second son, James Barclay Andrews, was born. The Andrews family moved from Viewmont to the Bel Air estate, approximately three miles from Viewmont. On February 9, 1865, Oriana gave birth to a third son, William Luther Andrews.
General Philip Sheridan‘s Union soldiers marched through the area enroute to Scottsville in early March 1865. Sheridan’s goal was to destroy the canal and any food and supplies that would aid the Confederacy. Oriana and John moved their two sons back to Viewmont, where they remained until Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.
Move to Alabama
In 1869, Dr. John Andrews’ family in Alabama assured him that there was a physician’s position for him in Florence, Alabama. Oriana and their youngest son caught a train in Charlottesville, while John and their eldest son drove a wagonload of their possessions to Florence.
John soon realized that the Florence area could not pay much more than gratitude for his medical services. In early 1870, he purchased a small tract of land in Hardin County, Tennessee and built a rough board dwelling for his family. Oriana and their two sons moved there later that year. Although accustomed to far more comfort, she accepted her new situation with quiet dignity.
In their three years there, the Andrews family moved three times. Their patients lived in poverty and could not pay their physician for services rendered. Due to a chronic heart ailment, Oriana’s health suffered under the strain and she was confined to bed. The Moons urged the family to return to Viewmont.
John disposed of all of their furniture and shipped their books, clothing and a few small trunks of keepsakes via railroad to Virginia. He also purchased four mules and a new wagon with canvas stretched over the bows and a bed with springs in the rear. John and Oriana made the six-week trip back to Virginia in stages to avoid antagonizing Oriana’s fragile health.
In 1874, the family settled down at Viewmont again, where Oriana tutored her sons in the family library, with the books her father had purchased for her many years before. Five months of the year, the boys hiked five miles to Church Hill, the home of their Uncle Isaac Moon who taught a public school there. When not studying, the boys roamed the woods and helped with corn planting in the nearby fields. Another son was born in 1875: Owen Merriweather Andrews.
In 1879, the heirs of Anna Marie Barclay Moon, Oriana’s mother, decided to dispose of her estate and divide the proceeds among them. The Andrews had to move again, this time to a farm in Buckingham County, Virginia. In 1880, Oriana gave birth to another son, Frank Moon Andrews. (She was 46!)
Oriana’s health worsened. Within a year, the Andrews moved to Norwood, Nelson County, Virginia, where they rented a farm. Dr. John Andrews found an active medical practice in Norwood and also planted corn in the fields along the James River. During the spring of 1881, torrential rains fell and swept away their crops. The Andrews once again returned to Scottsville.
Image: Old Hall in Scottsville, Virginia
Oriana died in the east bedroom
Credit: Scottsville Museum
In 1882, John and Oriana rented Old Hall, a mansion built in 1830 when Scottsville was a thriving river town. There the two doctors opened the First Sanatorium of Southside Albemarle and began active practice with women and children as their patients. It must have been gratifying for Oriana to finally be able to practice medicine again, but they had more patients than they could accommodate, and the work continually taxed her strength. She was forced to quit the practice in December 1883.
In the early morning hours of December 24, 1883, Dr. Oriana Moon Andrews died of pneumonia at age 49. She was buried at the Scottsville Presbyterian Cemetery.