When Kate Cumming embarked on her journey to serve in hospitals, she and her traveling crew of other women immediately met resistance. On the way to Corinth, Kate met other women who had been to the hospitals to serve and recorded, “It seems that the surgeons entertain great prejudice against admitting ladies into the hospital in the capacity of nurses. The surgeon in charge, Dr. Caldwell, has carried this so far that he will not even allow ladies of the place to visit his patients. These young ladies went over with some milk and bouquets, and were not permitted to present them in person to the patients, but had to give them to the doctors” (Cumming, p. 12).
In short order, the enormous number of casualties overwhelmed gentility. The ladies carried on and got passes to Corinth where they found work in a field hospital. One of Cumming’s initial companions is named on only one page as a Miss Booth, someone that Cumming feels protective of: “When we reached the depot, Miss Ogden informed me that Miss Booth was sick–too much so to leave this morning. As we left Mobile together, I felt it my duty to remain with her” (p. 13).
Who is this Miss Booth? She appears to be Georgia Booth, born in Mississippi and living in Mobile at the outbreak of the war. Georgia was just twenty-two when her older brother, Benjamin H. Booth, 31, headed back to Mississippi to join the 27th Mississippi Infantry. Lieutenant Booth would later fall ill and spend some time under Cumming’s care when she served in Chattanooga. He would survive the war and live until 1911.
What of Georgia’s service? She likely did not remain as long as Cumming, who served throughout the war. In many cases, the nurses caught illnesses running through the hospitals, which often shortened their service. In other cases, nurses would burn out after a few months of service; typically, they had encountered hundreds of maimed soldiers and seen dozens of men die. In Georgia’s case, her reasons may have had more to do with events at home.
Just three months after Georgia entered service, her mother, Mary Booth, passed away, leaving only her older sister, Harriet, and her father, John, at home. By the time her brother encountered Cumming in Chattanooga in the fall, she was likely back home. But her life would continue to intersect with the Confederate service. In December 1864, as Sherman laid waste to the deep South, she married Captain Robert Otis, a steamboat captain who had been born on the Isle of Man, then immigrated to the United States. Together, they would have five children and raise them in Mobile, Alabama.
As with most women of the era, little is known of Georgia’s life. Before 1850, wives were not even listed in the Census–they were counted among other household residents, including children, farm hands, boarders, and enslaved persons, none of which were named. Mary Booth’s maiden name remains unknown. While Robert’s death is recorded and his grave photographed, there is presently no record of Georgia beyond 1880. For now, she is most frequently captured in the records of men, and she gets three mentions on one page of Cumming’s diary, all without a first name (in fact, the “Miss Booth” mentioned might actually be Georgia’s sister Harriet, of which even less is known). We have a sense of what service she might have rendered through Cumming’s experiences in Corinth. Otherwise, like millions of other women of bygone eras, she is a stranger, owing to a great prejudice.