Friday, January 21, 2011

Civil War Sesquicentennial: Cavendish Civil War Nurse

Born Eliza Atherton in Auburn, NY, Lizzie Aiken moved to Cavendish in 1826 at the age of nine. She came to live at her paternal grandfather’s, Jonathan Atherton, farm.. When Lizzie was 16, her mother became ill and she spent the next four years caring for her family. When her mother’s health improved, she attended the New England Academy in Cavendish for one term.

At the age of 20, she married Cyrus Aiken and they relocated to Illinois. Tragedy struck when she lost all of her sons to cholera, which was followed by the death of her sister from the same disease. Not long after, her home was destroyed by lighting. When her husband became ill, and her father died, she became a domestic nurse to help defray expenses and to support her mother, who was still in Cavendish.

With the onset of the Civil War, Lizzie nursed soldiers in the sick tents near Peoria, Il. In Nov. 1861, Aiken accompanied the 6th Illinois Cavalry to Shwaneetown on the Ohio River. Her comfort and care resulted in the nickname “Aunt Lizzie.” At first she worked for no pay but eventually received $12 per month from the army.

In 1862, she wrote a friend, “Twenty four nights in succession I have sat up until three in the morning dealing out medicine. I cannot think of leaving these poor fellows if there is any chance of their living. Dr. Niglas tells me I have saved the lives of over 400 men. I am afraid I hardly deserve that compliment. I cannot tell you how well this work suits this restless heart of mine.”

In 1864, the ladies of the Peoria Loyal League raised the money so she could visit her mother in Cavendish for three weeks. With the end of the war, Aunt Lizzie was sick and returned to Peoria where she was nursed back to health. In 1867, she joined the Second Baptist Church and worked as missionary until her death in January 1906. She was 88 years old.

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