Clara Barton And Her Civil War Service

2457 words - 10 pages

Clarissa Harlowe Barton -- Clara, as she wished to be called -- is one of the most honored women in American history for being a true pioneer as well as an outstanding humanitarian. As pioneer, she began teaching school at a time when most teachers were men. She was among the first women to gain employment in the federal government. As a pioneer and humanitarian, she risked her life when she was nearly 40 years old to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field during the Civil War. Then, at age 60, she founded the American Red Cross in 1881 and led it for the next 23 years. Her understanding of the needs of people in distress and the ways in which she could provide help to them ...view middle of the document...

S. Sanitary Commission, although she never formally affiliated with any agency or group. She collected some relief articles herself, appealed to the public for others, and learned how to store and distribute them. Besides supplies, Barton offered personal support to the men in hopes of keeping their spirits up: she read to them, wrote letters for them, listened to their personal problems, and prayed with them. She knew, however, that where she was needed most was not behind the lines in Washington but on the battlefields where the suffering was greatest.

Barton prodded leaders in the government and the army until she was given passes to bring her voluntary services and medical supplies to the scenes of battle and field hospitals. Following the battle of Cedar Mountain in northern Virginia in August 1862, she appeared at a field hospital at midnight with a wagon-load of supplies drawn by a four-mule team. The surgeon on duty, overwhelmed by the human disaster surrounding him, wrote later, "I thought that night if heaven ever sent out a[n] . . . angel, she must be one-her assistance was so timely." Thereafter she was known as the "Angel of the Battlefield" as she served the troops at the battles of Fairfax Station, Chantilly, Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Charleston, Petersburg and Cold Harbor.

Clara Barton circa 1865 by Mathew Brady, Washington, D.C. Most famous and widely circulated photograph of Barton

Barton was never satisfied with remaining with medical units at the rear of the column-hours or even days away from a fight. At Antietam, she ordered the drivers of her supply wagons to follow the cannon and traveled all night, actually pulling ahead of military medical units. While the battle raged, she and her associates dashed about bringing relief and hope to the field. She nursed, comforted, and cooked for the wounded. In the face of danger, she wrote, "I always tried . . . to succor the wounded until medical aid and supplies could come up-I could run the risk; it made no difference to anyone if I were shot or taken prisoner."

The interest she showed in her "soldier boys" gave her a wealth of information about the men and the regiments to which they belonged. Toward the end of the war, she found herself writing to many families who inquired about men who had been reported missing. Here, again, she recognized a pressing human need and did something practical to address it. In the month before his assassination, President Abraham Lincoln wrote: "To the Friends of Missing Persons: Miss Clara Barton has kindly offered to search for the missing prisoners of war. Please address her . . . giving her the name, regiment, and company of any missing prisoner." Barton established the Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army and operated it out of her rooms in Washington for four years. She and her assistants received and answered over 63,000 letters and identified over...

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