Civil War nurse, diarist. Bacot was born on December 31, 1832, near Society Hill in Darlington District, the eldest of six children born to Peter Samuel Bacot and Anna Jane White. Although educated at St. Mary’s Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina, Bacot spent most of her youth in South Carolina at Roseville Plantation, Darlington District. In 1851 she married her second cousin Thomas Wainwright Bacot, Jr., and moved to Arnmore Plantation, near her childhood home. Over the next few years, she dealt with the death of two daughters and her husband.
On January 4, 1861, Bacot volunteered to become a nurse for the Confederacy. Shortly before making her decision she wrote, “[M]any are the misgivings I am forced to acknowledge, but hope is strong, & faith in almight[y] God who has never yet forsaken the oppressed makes me more at ease than I otherwise would be.” Frustrated by her inability to secure enough money to travel to Virginia, on October 13 she wrote Robert Woodward Barnwell, head of South Carolina Hospital Aid Association, to volunteer her services. With Barnwell’s help, she was finally able to travel to Charlottesville, Virginia, on December 11.
The association had four hospitals in the area, and Bacot served in Monticello Hospital. Like most women working in the hospitals, she found her activities in the wards restricted. Prevailing social attitudes considered it unseemly for respectable women to spend much time with sick and wounded soldiers, whose care was left primarily to male ward attendants and convalescent soldiers. Instead, Bacot supervised the preparation of meals and laundered sheets and clothing. Her only interactions with the men came when she visited them, helped them write letters, and read Scripture to them.
Bacot kept a diary but recorded little about her hospital work. Published many years after her death, the diary provides insight into the social life of a single, young, upper-class southern woman during the Civil War. She wrote a great deal about her social life at the Maupin House, where she boarded with several South Carolina nurses and doctors. Her religious faith and devotion to her state dominated her entries. An Episcopalian, she prayed for guidance and patience and sought to improve herself with meditation and Scripture daily. She described her devotion to South Carolina as “that of an affectionate daughter for a mother, the purest love in the world.” For Bacot, nursing was a socially respectable way for a daughter of wealth and privilege to serve God and country.
For unknown reasons, Bacot left nursing and returned to South Carolina at the end of 1863. She married two more times before her death on April 11, 1911. She was buried in the family cemetery at Roseville Plantation.
Bacot, Ada W. A Confederate Nurse: The Diary of Ada W. Bacot, 1860–1863. Edited by Jean V. Berlin. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.