1995 32¢ Phoebe Pember
· Issued for the 130th anniversary of the Civil War
· From the second pane in the Classic Collections Series
· Declared the most popular stamps of 1995 by the USPS
Stamp Category: Commemorative
Set: Civil War 130th Anniversary
Value: 32¢, rate for first-class mail
First Day of Issue: June 29, 1995
First Day City: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Quantity Issued: 15,000,000
Printed by: Stamp Venturers
Printing Method: Photogravure
Format: Panes of 20 in sheets of 120
Why the stamp was issued: To mark the 130th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.
About the stamp design: The Civil War stamps featured artwork by Mark Hess, who had previously produced the artwork for the Legends of the West sheet. The USPS explained that they liked his painting style because of its “folksy stiffness,” that “emulates people standing uncomfortably in front of daguerreotype cameras.”
There were very few photos of Phoebe Pember, so Hess based his portrait on a single photo. She’s shown stirring something in a tin cup by a hospital bed occupied by a wounded soldier. Two bottles can be seen on a table behind her as well as a pair of crutches.
First Day City: The official first day ceremony was held at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, the site of one of the war’s most famous battles. Because they received a large number of requests, the USPS made the stamps available for sale across the country the same day.
Unusual facts about the Civil War stamps: The Civil War sheet was available by mail order in uncut press sheets of six panes. Of these, 20,000 were signed by stamp artist Mark Hess. The USPS also produced a set of postcards featuring the same images as the stamps (US #UX200-19). Imperforate and partially imperforate error panes have also been found.
About the Civil War Stamps: The Civil War stamp sheet featured 16 individuals – eight from the Union and eight from the Confederacy. The four battles in the corners included one victory for each side and two that are considered draws.
This was the second sheet in the Classic Collections Series following the famed Legends of the West sheet. Stamps in this series follow a similar format – 20 stamps, a decorative header, and information about each stamp printed on its back under the gum.
Plans for the Civil War sheet began while the 1994 Legends of the West sheet was still in its planning stage. The USPS believed that the Civil War was a natural addition to the new series and would be informational for the public. Initially the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee rejected the idea, saying they should wait 20 years for the 50th anniversary of the war. But they were eventually swayed and the Civil War stamps were created. A group of historians were tasked with making a list of protentional subjects and Shelby Foote was hired to make the final selections. Foote was an expert in the Civil War, having written a three-volume history of the war and been featured in Ken Burns’ PBS documentary series on the war.
The USPS wanted the Civil War stamps to have more action to them – so only the two presidents were depicted in traditional portraits. The rest of the individuals were placed in the field or amidst an activity. After the Legends of the West mix-up, in which the Bill Pickett stamp mistakenly pictured his brother Ben, the USPS completely revamped their research process. The release of the 20 Civil War stamps marked the most extensive effort in the history of the USPS to review and verify the historical accuracy of stamp subjects. As Hess completed each version of his paintings, they were sent to a panel of experts who commented on the historical accuracy of everything from the weather to belt buckles.
Some of the people and battles featured in the Civil War sheet had appeared on US stamps before. This was also the second time the Civil War was honored – a set of five stamps (US #1178-82) was issued for the centennial in the 1960s. And from 2011-15, the USPS issued a series of stamps for the war’s 150th anniversary (US #4522/4981).
History the stamp represents: Phoebe Yates Levy Pember was born on August 18, 1823, in Charleston, South Carolina. During the Civil War, she directed the care and dietary needs of over 15,000 soldiers at Richmond’s Chimborazo, one of the CSA’s largest hospitals. She later recounted her experiences in her memoir, A Southern Woman’s Story.
Pember came from a wealthy family, though they suffered some financial issues and moved to Savannah, Georgia in the 1840s. Pember received some education before getting married in 1856. However, her husband died in 1861, leaving Pember a 38-year-old widow. She lived with her parents for a time, but grew unhappy with the inactivity of home life.
By this time, the Civil War had erupted, and both sides of the conflict needed all the help they could get, but especially in the South. As the men marched off to war, women quickly learned to manage plantations, work in factories, and sew uniforms. Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Virginia was one such example of their efforts. Run almost entirely by women, it was the largest military hospital in the world at the time, treating more than 76,000 men.
In December 1862, Pember reported to the hospital to serve as chief matron. For more than two years, she successfully managed one of the hospitals five divisions. Like many other Civil War nurses, Pember faced numerous professional barriers and regularly endured insults from those who believed that no respectable woman should minister to the needs of wounded men. Highly competent and strong-minded, she continued to care for them despite these objections.
The hospital often lacked enough food, medicine, and other essential supplies. The best Pember and her staff could often offer was kindness and companionship, especially to those suffering from fatal wounds. Pember was also in charge of rationing the whiskey, which was considered an important medicine at that time. Pember carried a pistol to protect herself and the whiskey, as young surgeons, among others, often tried to steal it.
Pember remained at the hospital until after General Lee’s surrender in April 1865. After the war she wrote an account of her wartime nursing experiences. Initially they were printed in The Cosmopolite magazine as “Reminiscences of a Southern Hospital, by its Matron.” These stories were then collected in a book, A Southern Woman’s Story: Life in Confederate Richmond in 1879. Rated as “one of the very best Confederate memoirs,” it provided a vivid account of the conditions in major Confederate hospitals and painted a portrait of the common soldier.
Pember traveled the US and Europe after the Civil War and died on March 4, 1913. At one time, her childhood home was made into a bed and breakfast.