The Life of Mary P Lee

Mary Lee, of Scott/Irish ancestry, was born in 1827 and came to Philadelphia as a young child.

During the Civil War, Mary Lee began organizing Philadelphia housewives and set up the Union Refreshment Saloon in the Southwark section of the city. The Saloon offered beds, clothing, baths, and food to any Union soldier who arrived in Philadelphia. It soon became the Union soldier’s favorite institution when the word spread that there was always comfort in Philadelphia for weary soldiers.

Her own son was enlisted in Co. B of the 72nd Pennsylvania in 1861. In August of 1962, Mary decided to go to the front where he was at Harrison’s Landing. She worked with the sick and wounded in the Peninsula Campaign. During the battle of Antietam she set up a station and supplied bread and water to the wounded and hungry. Mary Lee was probably nearer the front than any other woman on the day of that battle.

After Antietam she went to Harpers Ferry where many of her son’s unit were killed. She nursed the wounded of Fredericksburg, but briefly returned home in early 1863 to care for her own sick son. By March 1863 she was in Cancellorsville and Gettysburg, eventually finding her way to field hospitals as far as Petersburg and Richmond. Mary worked with the wounded until the war ended and also continued to work at the Saloon whenever she returned home. In May of 1865, at the age of 45, she returned to Philadelphia for good and assisted in the closing of the Volunteer Refreshment Saloon.

Mary Lee gave comfort to tens of thousands of soldiers and their families. While serving on the front lines, she held the hands of the dying and wrote letters of comfort to their families. She provided provisions to hungry and war-weary soldiers, often purchased with her own money. Fortunately her own family remained intact after the war.

Mary Lee died on August 6, 1893. Her funeral procession went through the streets of Philadelphia and among her pallbearers were survivors of the 72nd Pennsylvania. She was originally buried in Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church Cemetery. In 1903 the church was abandoned and part of the ground sold to the City of Philadelphia. Mary Lee’s remains, along with several others were moved to the Arlington Cemetery and re-interred in a mass grave with 8 individuals. Mary Lee received her own headstone in 1998. ipped to house

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