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New book tells details one of the nationís "best kept secrets" during the civil war

(10/29) When the Civil War broke out, the Union and the Confederacy were prepared to fight, but they werenít prepared to care for their battle wounded. While many people volunteered to care for the soldiers, the only ones with any experience were Catholics sisters.

Among the sisters, the most-experienced were the Daughters of Charity based in Emmitsburg, MD. When war broke out, they had already been caring for the sick for decades.

"The country had only 600 trained nurses at the start of the Civil War. All were Catholic nuns. This is one of the best-kept secrets in our nationís history," Civil War chaplain Father William Barnaby Faherty once said.

Battlefield Angels: The Daughters of Charity Work as Civil War Nurses is the newest book by award-winning writer James Rada, Jr. Nearly 700 Catholic sisters from 22 orders provided some sort of service during the Civil War. The Daughters of Charity provided the largest numberóaround 300óto serve in the war.

The brutality of the war tested even the Daughters of Charityís abilities as they ran hospitals, served on troop transports and provided care in battlefield hospitals and ambulances. Armies from both sides of the war even occupied the sistersí Central House at times.

The Daughters of Charity had such a high level of trust among the government officials that they were allowed in the early part of the war to move back and forth across the border between North and South. They served in Alabama, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

"When I first found out about the work the Daughters of Charity and Catholic sisters did during the Civil War, I was surprised that more hadnít been written about them," Rada said.

He started researching the accounts that the sisters left behind as well as newspaper reports and diaries of people who served in the war.

He chose to focus on the Daughters of Charity because they saw the most varied service in the war, though it is often hard to tell that since most accounts identify the Catholic sisters as either "Sisters of Charity" or "Sister of Mercy."

"I also found it interesting that there was a high level of anti-Catholic feeling in the country at the time, but the sisters still served everyone, even those soldiers who hated them and that selfless service did a lot to change public opinion about the Catholics," Rada said.

With their wide, white cornettes looking almost like wings, the Daughters of Charity did resemble battlefield angels. The sight of those wing-like cornettes told soldiers that relief was on the way; someone who cared for them was coming.

Though Rada is known more for his historical fiction, Battlefield Angels is a non-fiction history book that reads more like a novel with its stories of the people involved in the war.

The Midwest Book Review wrote that Rada is "a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent."

Battlefield Angels shows Radaís ability to apply that storytelling talent to relate a true story to readers so that they will discover their own fascination with history.

Battlefield Angels is available at local bookstores and specialty shops or at