Sarah Palmer Young's Ceremony
Sarah Palmer Young Ceremony at Woodland Cemetery
Des Moines, Iowa
Veterans Day, 11 November, 2009

Photo: Miss Dana

On what can only be described as one of God's most perfect of Fall days, Company "A", 49th Regiment of Iowa Volunteer Infantry (SVR Honor Guard for the Department of Iowa, SUVCW); joined by brothers of the Grenville M. Dodge Camp 75; the Veterans of Foreign Wars; the American Legion; the Scottish-American Military Society; Public Officials'; surviving descendants; other dignitaries and guests, gathered together to pay tribute to one of this nation's most cherished heroes of the American Civil War.

Sarah Graham Palmer Young was a woman of thirty years of age when the clouds of war gathered across this nation; and, then burst upon us with the first thundering cannon shots across Charleston Harbor on that fateful day in April of 1861. Widowed by the recent death of her husband, Abel Palmer, and caring for her two small children at the time, Sarah was working as a domestic housekeeper to make ends meet and keep food on the table for herself and the girls.

By the following Spring of 1862, Sarah would see two of her nine brothers off to war with their newly formed Regiment, the 109th New York Volunteer Infantry out of Ithaca. Within a matter of weeks, Sarah would come to the momentous decision that she must follow them off to that war, and did.

Leaving her own two small daughters in the care of relatives, Sarah joined the 109th New York at Baltimore, Maryland and volunteered to be a nurse in the field hospitals of the war where she would serve through some of the bloodiest campaigns of the war over the next three-years. She allowed herself but one two-week long leave to go back to New York to visit her children while the war raged.

This remarkable woman fought bitterly at times with her superior officers whom she often felt were too quick to abandon a sick of wounded soldier; and many times proved that a kind hand and gentle touch could restore both body and soul. At other times, when not even her own gallant efforts proved to be enough, Sarah would spent what little money that she had to buy pitiful scraps of lumber from wherever she might find it to have carpenters make rude caskets for fallen warriors who had told her of their fears of being placed into the cold, cold ground wrapped only in a bed sheet or blanket as a shroud. She felt that they deserved nothing less.

When rations were scarce and her patients were being further weakened by lack of proper nutrition, Sarah gave up her own meager allotment of food to feed them. She sometimes stole food from commissary stores when necessary.

Sarah would be nicknamed "Aunt Becky" by one of her young patients because she reminded him of a beloved relative "back home". It was a moniker that would remain attached to her for the rest of her life.

Never seeking fame or recognition for her service; she nonetheless found both. Her "hometown" newspaper, the Ithaca Journal, told the nation of Sarah's endeavors at the end of the war and termed her "America's Florence Nightingale"; referring to the British heroine of the Crimean War just a few years earlier.

Sarah Palmer was a friend of Ulysses Grant and William T. Sherman. She gave President Lincoln a tour of a Washington area Field Hospital just a few short days before an assassin's bullet would take the life of "The Great Emancipator" in April of 1865, just days following the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Sarah would, herself, write a book chronicling her war-time experiences.

First published in 1868, "The Story of Aunt Becky's Army Life" told of the suffering and heroic struggle against death that was waged daily for three long years in the hospitals and aide stations of the Union Army.

Following the war, "Aunt Becky" Palmer would meet and marry David Young, himself a Canadian by birth who had served in the Regular Army during the war, although not much else remains known of his life before marrying Sarah.

The Young's would move to Des Moines, where they would spend the next 40 odd years of their lives before Sarah went to her "last post" in 1908. Upon her passing, the New York Times ran a thirteen column obituary on the life of this remarkable woman.

During her time in Des Moines, Sarah Palmer Young would remain deeply active in the Women's Relief Corps and Allied Orders of the Grand Army of the Republic. She was a guiding advocate of veterans causes of the day and played a pivotal role in helping to organize the "Iowa Sanitation Commission" (a pre-cursor of the United Services Organization) to provide aide to military personnel in yet another of America's conflicts when the Spanish-American War broke out.

On this magnificent day, one-hundred-and-one years after her gentle and nurturing soul departed this earth, Sarah Palmer Young is being honored by yet another generation of Americans.

When brothers of the General Grenville Dodge Camp, SUVCW, were involved in the replacing of veterans grave stones at Woodland Cemetery over the last couple of years they happened upon the grave of David and Sarah Young. Noting that there was an old G.A.R. marker next to Sarah's side of the stone, and an old and rusty flagpole stood unused nearby, questions began to be raised as to who these people were and why there had once been a flag flying over their graves. A few blind alleys were explored before a link could be made that this "Sarah Young" was, in fact, Sarah Palmer of Civil War fame.

With that discovery, our duty became crystal clear.

In September, Dodge Camp brothers who are also members of the Department of Iowa's Honor Guard Regiment (Company "A" 49th Iowa) gathered at Woodland with their families on a Sunday afternoon to refurbish the flagpole so that the colors of this nation might once again mark the grave of this remarkable woman. At the same time, Brother (and Corporal in the 49th) Mike Rowley began the sometimes complicated process of entreating the Veterans Administration to provide Sarah Palmer with a government issued gravestone that would rightfully recognize her as an American Military Veteran. After meeting some initial opposition to the idea, the criteria was ultimately met and in late October a 270 lb. granite stone was delivered to Brother Mike's driveway showing Sarah Palmer to be a "Matron" of the 109th New York V.I.R..

The 49th Iowa immediately set about organizing a formal dedication of this new monument that would be set at the foot of the refurbished flagpole.

At precisely 3:00pm on November 11th, 2009, a single cannon shot fired by Corporal Denny Williams, 3rd Iowa Independent Artillery and Dodge Camp Brother (and prospective new member of the 49th Iowa) would echo across the beautiful hills and valleys of Woodland Cemetery.

Photo: C. Stahr

Photo: Mary Rittel

As the last echo of the 15-pound Napoleon played out to the delight of the estimated two-hundred and fifty visitors to the ceremony, Pipe Major Susan Frambach of the Iowa Scottish Pipes and Drums began to play "Amazing Grace" from her position on the hilltop of the old Receiving Vaults just above the assembled crowd. Many a tear of pride would accompany the mournful but uplifting sound of the pipes.

2/Lt. Dennis Sasse would begin the formal services with an invocation prayer and reading from the Psalms.

Following the opening prayer and reading from Scripture, First Sergeant Lamb would inform the crowd that he had communicated with the good padre about a week ago "by wireless telegraph" and had at that time asked Chaplain Sasse for a "weather prayer" invoking the help of the Almighty for the day's celebration. The crowd affirmed that the Chaplain had certainly come through on his end with a round of applause for his efforts in the "weather department".

Department of Iowa Commander (and Regimental Color Sergeant of the 49th Iowa) Court Stahr began the ceremonies by welcoming the assembled visitors to this undertaking.

Representing the Iowa National Guard/United States Army at the ceremony was Brigadier General Steven Bogle, Deputy Adjutant General and Joint Task Force Commander who spoke eloquently to the crowd about the nature of military service and the sacrifices of this extraordinary lady who was one of the very first to recognize the crucial need of the sick and wounded for compassionate medical care. The General also praised the 49th Iowa for their efforts in "telling the stories of our American Patriots like Sarah Palmer, so that this generation of Americans can know and remember the sacrifices that have bought and paid for the freedoms that we all enjoy."

Photo: Ms. Janet

Lorinda Kay Inman, MSN, Executive Director of the Iowa Board of Nursing fittingly told the assembled crowd about the history of nursing in the Civil War, and the particular privations that the few women nurses, like Sarah Palmer would have had to deal with on a daily basis. Mrs. Inman told the assembly that "Sarah was a nurse in every definition of the word; intrinsically knowing that compassionate care was, and is, the single most helpful skill that a nurse possesses".

Patrick Palmersheim, Executive Director of the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs told the crowd of history of the V.A. of serving this nations veterans today, and how that had grown out of the situation that Sarah and hundreds of thousands of this nation's Civil War veterans had endured when benefits for veterans were practically non-existent. He also entreated the crowd to remember not only the deep personal sacrifice of those who march off to serve, but also that of the families that they leave behind in order to do so.

Kay White, CRNA-ARNP, represented the Iowa Nurse's Association and spoke eloquently to the assembly of the changes in nursing care since the time of Sarah Palmer Young and what an enormous task it would have been for her to have served as a nurse under the conditions of that day. Kay then laid a single white rose in tribute to Sarah on behalf of all of the nurses of the state of Iowa at the base of her new gravestone.

Also on-hand, though not participating directly were Des Moines Mayor Tom Cownie, and representing United States Congressman Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) was his District Aide Mr. David Campbell, former Lieutenant Governor JoAnn Zimmerman, and Dr. Jane Hasek, Chairperson of the Iowa Board of Nursing.

Pipe Major Frambach would grace the crowd again with the playing on the traditional Scottish funeral song "Flowres of the Forest" while the ranks of blue clad soldiers of the 49th Iowa were joined by General Bogle and the many other veterans in the crowd at the position of attention throughout the magnificent rendition of this mournful tune.

Photo: Mary Rittel

One final bit of formal recognition in the way of military custom would take place when First Sergeant Lamb, on behalf of a grateful nation, and all assembled, presented the folded colors of the United States to Mr. Fred Pease and family and then rendered them a final salute. Mr. Pease (a returning member of Dodge Camp) is the Great-grandson of Sarah Palmer Young.

Photo: Miss Dana

Photo: Mary Rittel

Photo: Mary Rittel

Pipe Major Frambach performed a beautiful rendition of Anton Dvorak's "Going Home" on the Great Highland Bagpipes; and, as the last plaintive note of that prayer set to music died away another roar of the distant cannon echoed through the valley in salute to our own dear "Becky" before Corporal John Nichols of the 1st Wisconsin (and newest member of the 49th Iowa) played "taps" calling her loving soul to resume it's eternal rest.

Local television and radio stations, as well as National Public Radio, and reporters from the Des Moines Register would record the event for posterity.

Sarah Palmer once wrote that she sometimes thought to herself that what she did would be soon forgotten once she was gone from this earth.

Photo: C. Stahr

Photo: Mary Rittel

If this great lady's shadow is yet among us; and, if she can somehow know of the dealings of men, I would most humbly and respectfully have to say to her, "Not on our watch Madam".

Reverently, and most humbly, submitted in Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty,

David M. Lamb
Company "A" 49th Regiment
Iowa Volunteer Infantry
The Iowa Rifles

Photos: C. Stahr

Photo: Mary Rittel

Posted by Commander on Thursday 12 November 2009 - 14:06:46 | LAN_THEME_20

You must be logged in to make comments on this site - please log in, or if you are not registered click here to signup
This site is powered by e107, which is released under the terms of the GNU GPL License. | Designed by Angelus Design