BY MARGO DRUMMOND
We would know more about Harriet (Hattie) Stewart Harrington if the memoir she wrote had not been stolen. In it she would have noted her noble ancestry – descended from Mary, Queen of Scots, on her father’s side – her mother a Cherokee Indian princess named White Cloud. When Hattie’s grandfather, the Duke of Argyle, known as “King of the Scottish Highlands” paid a visit to his sons in America, he couldn’t understand why no one saluted him. Granddaughter Hattie would neither seek nor accept recognition from anyone including the U.S. Government whose offer of a pension for her Civil War nursing was refused.
As a teenager, the orphaned Hattie was sent to live with her father’s brother in Chicago where she was educated at a convent and exposed to affluence. When she married she declined to take her husband’s surname, Johnson, although she did accept his lifetime railroad pass. The couple lived in Galena, Ill. where Hattie learned tooling and embossing which she applied to leather purchased from a store clerked by Ulysses S. Grant, whom she came to know personally. Following the death of her husband in 1861, Hattie asked then General Grant to secure a nursing post for her which he did with the 24th Infantry of Illinois.
Before leaving for her post, Hattie sold her fine furniture and piano in order to purchase medicine and delicacies for the soldiers. Armed with four gallons of wine, four of brandy, four boxes of sheets and tablecloths for bandages and 48 jars of chicken, which she had canned herself, Hattie Stewart Harrington began her service.
When she tore her petticoat to cover a shortage of bandages she was labeled by some as “an impudent hussy.” Her response,”Who cares about women’s legs when men’s lives are at stake?” Having donated a pint of her own blood to a wounded soldier, she took on his comrades who were taunting him about the blood being part Indian. The taunting ended when they learned that she was also of Scottish royalty. And when she nursed a dying 17-year-old from one of her fine china cups and silver spoons, she was asked what had made him recover? “I fed him like a baby and gave him a woman’s gift of gab,” she replied.
A little over two years later, General Grant ordered Hattie to a Chicago hospital where she spent a year recovering from the effects of inflammatory rheumatism, rendering her deaf. It was then that she moved to Racine, taking work as a seamstress at the Congress Hotel. Having married for a second time, she and her husband, John Harrington eventually settled on a 13 acre farm located on the Milmine Road (now Spring Street).
Widowed again in 1884, Hattie was seldom alone. Soldiers who knew her from the war would frequently come to call. Her friend, Dr. Haven along with local historian, Eugene Leach, paid regular visits, recording what she could not due to blindness. When she died at the age of 101, Hattie Stewart Harrington still carried her six foot frame erectly, still wore her hair in a braid which had turned white when she turned 90, and still enjoyed smoking a pipe. She continued to make her own vinegar and delighted in sharing grapes and pears with those who often stopped by. She also delighted in thumping her cane to emphasize a point during one of her stories.
Harriet (Hattie) Stewart Harrington is buried in one of the two Civil War burial sites at Mound Cemetery resting alongside eleven of her male comrades.
Margo Drummond’s interest in local history began when she became involved with Preservation Racine. For 31 years, she taught high school courses on Racine History and Death and Dying, Issues of Living and Life. She wrote two books, “Blessings of Being Mortal: How a Mature Understanding of Death Can Free Us to Live Wisely and Well” and “Here’s to Your Health.”