Clara Barton 1902
Clara Barton (1821 - 1912) entered American and world history on an
impulse . . . She just couldn’t stand to see the unalleviated suffering
around her. Battle after battle in the Civil War left soldiers
dying in town after town. (For a summary of death tolls in the
form of a map, see
Like many great American patriots, she took a first, bold
action as an individual. As the Clara Barton Museum page states...
"Clara Barton was working as a recording clerk in
the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C. when the first units of
federal troops poured into the city in 1861. The war had just begun, the
troops were newly recruited, and residents in the capital were alarmed
and confused. Barton perceived an immediate need in all this chaos for
providing personal assistance to the men in uniform, some of whom were
already wounded, many hungry, and some without bedding or any clothing
except what they had on their backs. She started by taking supplies to
the young men of the Sixth Massachusetts Infantry who had been attacked
in Baltimore, Maryland, by southern sympathizers and were temporarily
housed in the unfinished Capitol building. Barton quickly discovered
that many were 'her boys,' as she put it; she had grown up with some of
them and some she had even taught. ... 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."
American Red Cross Museum)
recruited others to her cause, but helpers were few at first. Her
own diary states...
“We were a little band of almost
empty-handed workers literally by ourselves in the wild
woods of Virginia, with three thousand suffering men
crowded upon the few acres within our reach.
Source: W. E, Barton, The Life of Clara Barton,
Founder of the American Red Cross (Boston and New York: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1922), pp. 176-177.)
After gathering up every available implement of
convenience for our work, our domestic inventory stood,
two water buckets, five tin cups, one camp kettle, one
stewpan, two lanterns, four bread knives, three plates,
and a two-quart tin dish, and three thousand guests to
serve.. . . Notwithstanding these difficulties, within
fifteen minutes from the time of our arrival we were
preparing food and dressing wounds.”
In a word, Clara Barton cared. Historians have
cited her and other Civil War nurses as a paragon of caring.
“Our interest in the roots of caring as ethical comportment in the
face of suffering led us to letters, diaries, and memoirs of Civil
War nurses. …These nurses were, in a sense, ‘inventing nursing’:
their work predated formal nursing education in the United States,
and many of them went on to found schools of nursing after the war.
They volunteered because it was the right thing to do… The
situations they describe were not amenable to "fixing"; there was no
cure for the war, for the terrible wounds and disease, or the
loneliness and death on every side. What these nurses brought was
care: order, cleanliness, and food when it was possible, and simple
being with at all times.
There was no lack of work to do. In this bloodiest of all American
wars, 620,000 men died. There were at least 10 million cases of
Source: Emily Hitchens and Lilyan Snow , entitled “ The Ethic of
Caring: The Moral Response to Suffering.” Christian Scholar’s Review
Of all Civil War nurses, Clara Barton is the most famous, because
she founded the American Red Cross, which has grown to become a
global organization. But this landmark achievement was 20 years in
the making. It was at age 40 that she began her lonely quest to help
soldiers, and through sheer force of inspiration, she recruited
others to her cause for the next 20 years. The following text is
excerpted verbatim from the
American Red Cross Museum.
"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 guided her throughout her life.
By the force of her personal example, she opened paths to the new
field of volunteer service. Her intense devotion to the aim of
serving others resulted in enough achievements to fill several
Civil War Service
"...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
Field hospital in Civil War . . . conditions that
Clara Barton new firsthand as a nurse.
"... 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.
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."
"... 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 22,000 missing men. By doing
this, Barton anticipated the implementation of Red Cross tracing
services, one of the organization's most valued activities today.
"Barton ...proposed that a national cemetery be created around the
graves of the Union men who died in the notorious Andersonville
Prison in Georgia and that the graves be marked where names were
known. With the help of Dorence Atwater, who had secretly tabulated
a list of the dead during his own imprisonment in Andersonville, and
a team of 30 military men, Barton identified the graves of nearly
13,000 men. She also proposed that some 400 unidentifiable graves be
memorialized, thus anticipating the honor now symbolized by the Tomb
of the Unknowns.
After Barton helped raise the flag over the Andersonville grounds at
their dedication in 1865, she wrote, 'I ought to be satisfied. I
believe I am.' Coming events were to show, however, that she would
never be satisfied except by responding again and again to the call
of human need."
American Red Cross Museum)
Clara Barton was a remarkable woman in all that
she did and what has transpired since then due her noble efforts . .
. She was a Great American Patriot in her day and will always remain
Alexandra R. Lajoux
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