A memorial book published in 1906 at the time of her death describes Aunt Lizzie Aiken's war service: In 1861 Mrs. Aiken was fired with the spirit of her revolutionary sires and offered her services as nurse to Major Niglas, head surgeon of the Sixth Illinois Cavalry, and also known throughout the state as "Gov. Yates' Legion."
In November, 1861, the regiment was ordered to Shawneetown and Mrs. Aiken accompanied it. Here "Aunt Lizzie" won her sobriquet. As she passed from cot to cot ministering to the comfort of the suffering soldiers, one of the patients asked Major Niglas: "What shall we call this kind woman?" "You may call her Aunt Lizzie," answered the surgeon. She was never known by any other name during the entire war.
The winter of 1861 was severe, and accommodations for the soldiers inadequate, giving the nurses, two in number, plenty of work. The number of patients ranged from twenty to eighty every day, and the heroic women worked day and night each taking charge of the hospital for six-hour watches. In January, 1862, "Aunt Lizzie" wrote to a friend as follows:
"Quite a little incident took place yesterday; we, as nurses, were sworn into the United States service. Dr. Niglas tells me I have saved the lives of more than 400 men. I am afraid I hardly deserve the compliment. General Grant, General Sturgis and General Sherman paid us a visit. All join in saying that we excel all other hospitals in being attentive to our sick and in cleanliness. They suggested my going to Cairo. Dr. Niglas spurned the proposition, and I did too. I cannot tell you how well this work suits this restless heart of mine; my great desire to do something to benefit my fellow creatures is gratified in my present occupation."
Would you know more of the experiences of Aunt Lizzie in the Army? Ask the patriots of 1861 and 1865. They will tell you in broken sentences as they lay upon their cots in the hospitals of Memphis or Paducah, of the tender care that saved their lives or of the pleading prayer that saved their souls. Aunt Lizzie has always been an honored guest and speaker at all of the G. A. R. encampments which she has attended.
Peoria Public Library, Peoria, Illinois