Clara Harlowe Barton
Born in 1821 in Massachusetts, Clara Barton worked mostly as a teacher and later in the U.S. Patent Office right before the war. Upon learning the fate of many of the wounded at First Manassas she began an independent organization to get supplies and aid to soldiers. The next year the U.S. Surgeon granted her a general pass to travel with army ambulances to provide care.
During the siege of Petersburg, Barton served with the X Corps hospital at Bermuda Hundred. At this point she served as superintendent of nurses in Gen. Butler's command. Her writings from this period give insight to the horrors of trench warfare, the medical treatments of the day, and the experience of being one of the few females in the world of medicine.
After the war she organized a program for locating men missing in action. She founded the American Red Cross 1881 from which she resigned in 1904. She died in 1912.Content Provided By:
Miss Clara H. Barton.
Engd. by John Sartain.
f those whom the first blast of the war trump roused and called to lives of patriotic devotion and philanthropic endeavor, some were led instinctively to associated labor, and found their zeal inflamed, their patriotic efforts cheered and encouraged by communion with those who were like-minded. To these the organizations of the Soldiers' Aid Societies and of the Sanitary and Christian Commissions were a necessity; they provided a place and way for the exercise and development of those capacities for noble and heroic endeavor, and generous self-sacrifice, so gloriously manifested by many of our American women, and which it has given us so much pleasure to record in these pages.
But there were others endowed by their Creator with greater independence of character and higher executive powers, who while not less modest and retiring in disposition than their sisters, yet preferred to mark out their own career, and pursue a comparatively independent course. They worked harmoniously with the various sanitary and other organizations when brought into contact with them, but their work was essentially distinct from them, and was pursued without interfering in any way with that of others.
To this latter class pre-eminently belongs Miss Clara Harlowe Barton.
Quiet, modest, and unassuming in manner and appearance, there is beneath this quiet exterior an intense energy, a comprehensive intellect, a resolute will, and an executive force, which is found in few of the stronger sex, and which mingled with the tenderness and grace of refined womanhood eminently qualifies her to become an independent power.
Miss Barton was born in North Oxford, Worcester County, Massachusetts. Her father, Stephen Barton, Sr., was a man highly esteemed in the community in which he dwelt, and by which his worth was most thoroughly known. In early youth he had served as a soldier in the West under General Wayne, the "Mad Anthony" of the early days of the Republic, and his boyish eyes had witnessed the evacuation of Detroit by the British in 1796. "His military training may have contributed to the sterling uprightness, the inflexible will, and the devotion to law and order and rightful authority for which he was distinguished." The little Clara was the youngest by several years in a family of two brothers and three sisters. She was early taught that primeval benediction, miscalled a curse, which requires mankind to earn their bread. Besides domestic duties and a very thorough public school training she learned the general rules of business by acting as clerk and book-keeper for her eldest brother. Next she betook herself to the district school, the usual stepping-stone for all aspiring men and women in New England. She taught for several years, commencing when very young, in various places in Massachusetts and New Jersey. The large circle of friends thus formed was not without its influence in determining her military career. So many of her pupils volunteered in the first years of the war that at the second battle of Bull Run she found seven of them, each of whom had lost an arm or a leg.
"One example will show her character as a teacher. She went to Bordentown, N. J., in 1853, where there was not, and never had been, a public school. Three or four unsuccessful attempts had been made, and the idea had been abandoned as not adapted to that latitude. The brightest boys in the town ran untaught in the streets. She offered to teach a free school for three months at her own expense, to convince the citizens that it could be done; and she was laughed at as a visionary. Six weeks of waiting and debating induced the authorities to fit up an unoccupied building at a little distance from the town. She commenced with six outcast boys, and in five weeks the house would not hold the number that came. The commissioners, at her instance, erected the present school-building of Bordentown, a three-story brick building, costing four thousand dollars; and there, in the winter of 1853-4, she organized the city free-school with a roll of six hundred pupils. But the severe labor, and the great amount of loud speaking required, in the newly plastered rooms, injured her health, and for a time deprived her of her voice—the prime agent of instruction. Being unable to teach, she left New Jersey about the 1st of March, 1854, seeking rest and a milder climate, and went as far south as Washington. While there, a friend and distant relative, then in Congress, voluntarily obtained for her an appointment in the Patent Office, where she continued until the fall of 1857. She was employed at first as a copyist, and afterwards in the more responsible work of abridging original papers, and preparing records for publication. As she was an excellent chirographer, with a clear head for business, and was paid by the piece and not by the month, she made money fast, as matters were then reckoned, and she was very liberal with it. I met her often during those years, as I have since and rarely saw her without some pet scheme of benevolence on her hands which she pursued with an enthusiasm that was quite heroic, and sometimes amusing. The roll of those she has helped, or tried to help, with her purse, her personal influence or her counsels, would be a long one; orphan children, deserted wives, destitute women, sick or unsuccessful relatives, men who had failed in business, and boys who never had any business—all who were in want, or in trouble, and could claim the slightest acquaintance, came to her for aid and were never repulsed. Strange it was to see this generous girl, whose own hands ministered to all her wants, always giving to those around her, instead of receiving, strengthening the hands and directing the steps of so many who would have seemed better calculated to help her. She must have had a native genius for nursing; for in her twelfth year she was selected as the special attendant of a sick brother, and remained in his chamber by day and by night for two years, with only a respite of one half-day in all that time. Think, O reader! of a little girl in short dresses and pantalettes, neither going to school nor to play, but imprisoned for years in the deadly air of a sick room, and made to feel, every moment, that a brother's life depended on her vigilance. Then followed a still longer period of sickness and feebleness on her own part; and from that time to the present, sickness, danger and death have been always near her, till they have grown familiar as playmates, and she has come to understand all the wants and ways and waywardness of the sick; has learned to anticipate their wishes and cheat them of their fears. Those who have been under her immediate care, will understand me when I say there is healing in the touch of her hand, and anodyne in the low melody of her voice. In the first year of Mr. Buchanan's administration she was hustled out of the Patent Office on a suspicion of anti-slavery sentiments. She returned to New England, and devoted her time to study and works of benevolence. In the winter following the election of Mr. Lincoln, she returned to Washington at the solicitation of her friends there, and would doubtless have been reinstated if peace had been maintained. I happened to see her a day or two after the news came that Fort Sumter had been fired on. She was confident, even enthusiastic. She had feared that the Southern aristocracy, by their close combination and superior political training, might succeed in gradually subjugating the whole country; but of that there was no longer any danger. The war might be long and bloody, but the rebels had voluntarily abandoned a policy in which the chances were in favor of their ultimate success, for one in which they had no chance at all. For herself, she had saved a little in time of peace, and she intended to devote it and herself to the service of her country and of humanity. If war must be, she neither expected nor desired to come out of it with a dollar. If she survived, she could no doubt earn a living; and if she did not, it was no matter. This is actually the substance of what she said, and pretty nearly the words—without appearing to suspect that it was remarkable."
Three days after Major Anderson had lowered his flag in Charleston Harbor, the Sixth Massachusetts Militia started for Washington. Their passage through Baltimore, on the 19th of April, 1861, is a remarkable point in our national history. The next day about thirty of the sick and wounded were placed in the Washington Infirmary, where the Judiciary Square Hospital now stands. Miss Barton proceeded promptly to the spot to ascertain their condition and afford such voluntary relief as might be in her power. Hence, if she was not the first person in the country in this noble work, no one could have been more than a few hours before her. The regiment was quartered at the Capitol, and as those early volunteers will remember, troops on their first arrival were often very poorly provided for. The 21st of April happened to be Sunday. No omnibuses ran that day, and street cars as yet were not; so she hired five colored persons, loaded them with baskets of ready prepared food, and proceeded to the Capitol. The freight they bore served as countersign and pass; she entered the Senate Chamber, and distributed her welcome store. Many of the soldiers were from her own neighborhood, and as they thronged around her, she stood upon the steps to the Vice President's chair and read to them from a paper she had brought, the first written history of their departure and their journey. These two days were the first small beginnings of her military experience,—steps which naturally led to much else. Men wrote home their own impressions of what they saw; and her acts found ready reporters. Young soldiers whom she had taught or known as boys a few years before, called to see her on their way to the front. Troops were gathering rapidly, and hospitals—the inevitable shadows of armies—were springing up and getting filled. Daily she visited them, bringing to the sick news, and delicacies and comforts of her own procuring, and writing letters for those who could not write themselves. Mothers and sisters heard of her, and begged her to visit this one and that, committing to her care letters, socks, jellies and the like. Her work and its fame grew week by week, and soon her room, for she generally had but one, became sadly encumbered with boxes, and barrels and baskets, of the most varied contents. Through the summer of 1862, the constant stock she had on hand averaged about five tons. The goods were mainly the contributions of liberal individuals, churches and sewing-circles to whom she was personally known. But, although articles of clothing, lint, bandages, cordials, preserved fruits, liquors, and the like might be sent, there was always much which she had to buy herself.
During this period as in her subsequent labors, she neither sought or received recognition by any department of the Government, by which I mean only that she had no acknowledged position, rank, rights or duties, was not employed, paid, or compensated in any way, had authority over no one, and was subject to no one's orders. She was simply an American lady, mistress of herself and of no one else; free to stay at home, if she had a home, and equally free to go where she pleased, if she could procure passports and transportation, which was not always an easy matter. From many individual officers, she received most valuable encouragement and assistance; from none more than from General Rucker, the excellent Chief Quartermaster at Washington. He furnished her storage for her supplies when necessary, transportation for herself and them, and added to her stores valuable contributions at times when they were most wanted. She herself declares, with generous exaggeration, that if she has ever done any good, it has been due to the watchful care and kindness of General Rucker.
About the close of 1861, Miss Barton returned to Massachusetts to watch over the declining health of her father, now in his eighty-eighth year, and failing fast. In the following March she placed his remains in the little cemetery at Oxford, and then returned to Washington and to her former labors. But, as the spring and summer campaigns progressed, Washington ceased to be the best field for the philanthropist. In the hospitals of the Capitol the sick and wounded found shelter, food and attendance. Private generosity now centered there; and the United States Sanitary Commission had its office and officers there to minister to the thousand exceptional wants not provided for by the Army Regulations. There were other fields where the harvest was plenteous and the laborers few. Yet could she as a young and not unattractive lady, go with safety and propriety among a hundred thousand armed men, and tell them that no one had sent her? She would encounter rough soldiers, and camp-followers of every nation, and officers of all grades of character; and could she bear herself so wisely and loftily in all trials as to awe the impertinent, and command the respect of the supercilious, so that she might be free to come and go at her will, and do what should seem good to her? Or, if she failed to maintain a character proof against even inuendoes, would she not break the bridge over which any successor would have to pass? These questions she pondered, and prayed and wept over for months, and has spoken of the mental conflict as the most trying one of her life. She had foreseen and told all these fears to her father; and the old man, on his death-bed, advised her to go wherever she felt it a duty to go. He reminded her that he himself had been a soldier, and said that all true soldiers would respect her. He was naturally a man of great benevolence, a member of the Masonic fraternity, of the Degree of Royal Arch Mason; and in his last days he spoke much of the purposes and noble charities of the Order. She had herself received the initiation accorded to daughters of Royal Arch Masons, and wore on her bosom a Masonic emblem, by which she was easily recognized by the brotherhood, and which subsequently proved a valuable talisman. At last she reached the conclusion that it was right for her to go amid the actual tumult of battle and shock of armies. And the fact that she has moved and labored with the principal armies in the North and in the South for two years and a half, and that now no one who knows her would speak of her without the most profound respect, proves two things—that there may be heroism of the highest order in American women—and that American armies are not to be judged of, by the recorded statements concerning European ones.
Her first tentative efforts at going to the field were cautious and beset with difficulties. Through the long Peninsula campaign as each transport brought its load of suffering men, with the mud of the Chickahominy and the gore of battle baked hard upon them like the shells of turtles, she went down each day to the wharves with an ambulance laden with dressings and restoratives, and there amid the turmoil and dirt, and under the torrid sun of Washington, toiled day by day, alleviating such suffering as she could. And when the steamers turned their prows down the river, she looked wistfully after them, longing to go to those dread shores whence all this misery came. But she was alone and unknown, and how could she get the means and the permission to go? The military authorities were overworked in those days and plagued with unreasonable applications, and as a class are not very indulgent to unusual requests. The first officer of rank who gave her a kind answer was a man who never gave an unkind reply without great provocation—Dr. R. H. Coolidge, Medical Inspector. Through him a pass was obtained from Surgeon-General Hammond, and she was referred to Major Rucker, Quartermaster, for transportation. The Major listened to her story so patiently and kindly that she was overcome, and sat down and wept. It was then too late in the season to go to McClellan's army, so she loaded a railroad car with supplies and started for Culpepper Court-House, then crowded with the wounded from the battle of Cedar Mountain. With a similar car-load she was the first of the volunteer aid that reached Fairfax Station at the close of the disastrous days that culminated in the second Bull Run, and the battle of Chantilly. On these two expeditions, and one to Fredericksburg, Miss Barton was accompanied by friends, at least one gentleman and a lady in each case, but at last a time came, when through the absence or engagements of these, she must go alone or not at all.
On Sunday, the 14th of September, 1862, she loaded an army wagon with supplies and started to follow the march of General McClellan. Her only companions were Mr. Cornelius M. Welles, the teacher of the first contraband school in the District of Columbia—a young man of rare talent and devotion—and one teamster. She travelled three days along the dusty roads of Maryland, buying bread as she went to the extent of her means of conveyance, and sleeping in the wagon by night. After dark, on the night of the sixteenth, she reached Burnside's Corps, and found the two armies lying face to face along the opposing ridges of hills that bound the valley of the Antietam. There had already been heavy skirmishing far away on the right where Hooker had forded the creek and taken position on the opposite hills; and the air was dark and thick with fog and exhalations, with the smoke of camp-fires and premonitory death. There was little sleep that night, and as the morning sun rose bright and beautiful over the Blue Ridge and dipped down into the Valley, the firing on the right was resumed. Reinforcements soon began to move along the rear to Hooker's support. Thinking the place of danger was the place of duty, Miss Barton ordered her mules to be harnessed and took her place in the swift train of artillery that was passing. On reaching the scene of action, they turned into a field of tall corn, and drove through it to a large barn. They were close upon the line of battle; the rebel shot and shell flew thickly around and over them; and in the barn-yard and among the corn lay torn and bleeding men—the worst cases—just brought from the places where they had fallen. The army medical supplies had not yet arrived, the small stock of dressings was exhausted, and the surgeons were trying to make bandages of corn-husks. Miss Barton opened to them her stock of dressings, and proceeded with her companions to distribute bread steeped in wine to the wounded and fainting. In the course of the day she picked up twenty-five men who had come to the rear with the wounded, and set them to work administering restoratives, bringing and applying water, lifting men to easier positions, stopping hemorrhages, etc., etc. At length her bread was all spent; but luckily a part of the liquors she had brought were found to have been packed in meal, which suggested the idea of making gruel. A farm-house was found connected with the barn, and on searching the cellar, she discovered three barrels of flour, and a bag of salt, which the rebels had hidden the day before. Kettles were found about the house, and she prepared to make gruel on a large scale, which was carried in buckets and distributed along the line for miles. On the ample piazza of the house were ranged the operating tables, where the surgeons performed their operations; and on that piazza she kept her place from the forenoon till nightfall, mixing gruel and directing her assistants, under the fire of one of the greatest and fiercest battles of modern times. Before night her face was as black as a negro's, and her lips and throat parched with the sulphurous smoke of battle. But night came at last, and the wearied armies lay down on the ground to rest; and the dead and wounded lay everywhere. Darkness too had its terrors, and as the night closed in, the surgeon in charge at the old farm-house, looked despairingly at a bit of candle and said it was the only one on the place; and no one could stir till morning. A thousand men dangerously wounded and suffering terribly from thirst lay around, and many must die before the light of another day. It was a fearful thing to die alone and in the dark, and no one could move among the wounded, for fear of stumbling over them. Miss Barton replied, that, profiting by her experience at Chantilly, she had brought with her thirty lanterns, and an abundance of candles. It was worth a journey to Antietam, to light the gloom of that night. On the morrow, the fighting had ceased, but the work of caring for the wounded was resumed and continued all day. On the third day the regular supplies arrived, and Miss Barton having exhausted her small stores, and finding that continued fatigue and watching were bringing on a fever, turned her course towards Washington. It was with difficulty that she was able to reach home, where she was confined to her bed for some time. When she recovered sufficiently to call on Colonel Rucker, and told him that with five wagons she could have taken supplies sufficient for the immediate wants of all the wounded in the battle, that officer shed tears, and charged her to ask for enough next time.
It was about the 23d of October, when another great battle was expected, that she next set out with a well appointed and heavily laden train of six wagons and an ambulance, with seven teamsters, and thirty-eight mules. The men were rough fellows, little used or disposed to be commanded by a woman; and they mutinied when they had gone but a few miles. A plain statement of the course she should pursue in case of insubordination, induced them to proceed and confine themselves, for the time being, to imprecations and grumbling. When she overtook the army, it was crossing the Potomac, below Harper's Ferry. Her men refused to cross. She offered them the alternative to go forward peaceably, or to be dismissed and replaced by soldiers. They chose the former, and from that day forward were all obedience, fidelity and usefulness. The expected battle was not fought, but gave place to a race for Richmond. The Army of the Potomac had the advantage in regard to distance, keeping for a time along the base of the Blue Ridge, while the enemy followed the course of the Shenandoah. There was naturally a skirmish at every gap. The rebels were generally the first to gain possession of the pass, from which they would attempt to surprise some part of the army that was passing, and capture a portion of our supply trains. Thus every day brought a battle or a skirmish, and its accession to the list of sick and wounded; and for a period of about three weeks, until Warrenton Junction was reached, the national army had no base of operations, nor any reinforcements or supplies. The sick had to be carried all that time over the rough roads in wagons or ambulances. Miss Barton with her wagon train accompanied the Ninth Army Corps, as a general purveyor for the sick. Her original supply of comforts was very considerable, and her men contrived to add to it every day such fresh provisions as could be gathered from the country. At each night's encampment, they lighted their fires and prepared fresh food and necessaries for the moving hospital. Through all that long and painful march from Harper's Ferry to Fredericksburg, those wagons constituted the hospital larder and kitchen for all the sick within reach.
It will be remembered that after Burnside assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, the route by Fredericksburg was selected, and the march was conducted down the left bank of the Rappahannock to a position opposite that city. From Warrenton Junction Miss Barton made a visit to Washington, while her wagons kept on with the army, which she rejoined with fresh supplies at Falmouth. She remained in camp until after the unsuccessful attack on the works behind Fredericksburg. She was on the bank of the river in front of the Lacy House, within easy rifle shot range of the enemy, at the time of the attack of the 11th December—witnessed the unavailing attempts to lay pontoon bridges directly into the city, and the heroic crossing of the 19th and 20th Massachusetts Regiments and the 7th Michigan. During the brief occupation of the city she remained in it, organizing the hospital kitchens; and after the withdrawal of the troops, she established a private kitchen for supplying delicacies to the wounded. Although it was now winter and the weather inclement, she occupied an old tent while her train was encamped around; and the cooking was performed in the open air. When the wounded from the attack on the rebel batteries were recovered by flag of truce, fifty of them were brought to her camp at night. They had lain several days in the cold, and were wounded, famished and frozen. She had the snow cleaned away, large fires built and the men wrapped in blankets. An old chimney was torn down, the bricks heated in the fire, and placed around them. As she believed that wounded men, exhausted and depressed by the loss of blood, required stimulants, and as Surgeon-General Hammond, with characteristic liberality had given her one hundred and thirty gallons of confiscated liquor, she gave them with warm food, enough strong hot toddy to make them all measurably drunk. The result was that they slept comfortably until morning, when the medical officers took them in charge. It was her practice to administer a similar draught to each patient on his leaving for Acquia Creek, en route to the Washington hospitals.
A circumstance which occurred during the battle of Fredericksburg, will illustrate very strikingly the courage of Miss Barton, a courage which has never faltered in the presence of danger, when what she believed to be duty called. In the skirmishing of the 12th of December, the day preceding the great and disastrous battle, a part of the Union troops had crossed over to Fredericksburg, and after a brief fight had driven back a body of rebels, wounding and capturing a number of them whom they sent as prisoners across the river to Falmouth, where Miss Barton as yet had her camp. The wounded rebels were brought to her for care and treatment. Among them was a young officer, mortally wounded by a shot in the thigh. Though she could not save his life, she ministered to him as well as she could, partially staunching his wound, quenching his raging thirst, and endeavoring to make his condition as comfortable as possible. Just at this time, an orderly arrived with a message from the Medical Director of the Ninth Army Corps requesting her to come over to Fredericksburg, and organize the hospitals and diet kitchens for the corps. The wounded rebel officer heard the request, and beckoning to her, for he was too weak to speak aloud, he whispered a request that she would not go. She replied that she must do so; that her duty to the corps to which she was attached required it. "Lady," replied the wounded rebel, "you have been very kind to me. You could not save my life, but you have endeavored to render death easy. I owe it to you to tell you what a few hours ago I would have died sooner than have revealed. The whole arrangement of the Confederate troops and artillery is intended as a trap for your people. Every street and lane of the city is covered by our cannon. They are now concealed, and do not reply to the bombardment of your army, because they wish to entice you across. When your entire army has reached the other side of the Rappahannock and attempts to move along the streets, they will find Fredericksburg only a slaughter pen, and not a regiment of them will be allowed to escape. Do not go over, for you will go to certain death!" While her tender sensibilities prevented her from adding to the suffering of the dying man, by not apparently heeding his warning, Miss Barton did not on account of it forego for an instant her intention of sharing the fortunes of the Ninth Corps on the other side of the river. The poor fellow was almost gone, and waiting only to close his eyes on all earthly objects, she crossed on the frail bridge, and was welcomed with cheers by the Ninth Corps, who looked upon her as their guardian angel. She remained with them until the evening of their masterly retreat, and until the wounded men of the corps in the hospitals were all safely across. While she was in Fredericksburg, after the battle of the 13th, some soldiers of the corps who had been roving about the city, came to her quarters bringing with great difficulty a large and very costly and elegant carpet. "What is this for?" asked Miss Barton. "It is for you, ma'am," said one of the soldiers; "you have been so good to us, that we wanted to bring you something." "Where did you get it?" she asked. "Oh! ma'am, we confiscated it," said the soldiers. "No! no!" said the lady; "that will never do. Governments confiscate. Soldiers when they take such things, steal. I am afraid, my men, you will have to take it back to the house from which you took it. I can't receive a stolen carpet." The men looked sheepish enough, but they shouldered the carpet and carried it back. In the wearisome weeks that followed the Fredericksburg disaster, when there was not the excitement of a coming battle, and the wounded whether detained in the hospitals around Falmouth or forwarded through the deep mud to the hospital transports on the Potomac, still with saddened countenances and depressed spirits looked forward to a dreary future, Miss Barton toiled on, infusing hope and cheerfulness into sad hearts, and bringing the consolations of religion to her aid, pointed them to the only true source of hope and comfort.
In the early days of April, 1863, Miss Barton went to the South with the expectation of being present at the combined land and naval attack on Charleston. She reached the wharf at Hilton Head on the afternoon of the 7th, in time to hear the crack of Sumter's guns as they opened in broadside on Dupont's fleet. That memorable assault accomplished nothing unless it might be to ascertain that Charleston could not be taken by water. The expedition returned to Hilton Head, and a period of inactivity followed, enlivened only by unimportant raids, newspaper correspondence, and the small quarrels that naturally arise in an unemployed army.
Later in the season Miss Barton accompanied the Gilmore and Dahlgren expedition, and was present at nearly all the military operations on James, Folly, and Morris Islands. The ground occupied on the latter by the army, during the long siege of Fort Wagner, was the low sand-hills forming the sea-board of the Island. No tree, shrub, or weed grew there; and the only shelter was light tents without floors. The light sand that yielded to the tread, the walker sinking to the ankles at almost every step, glistened in the sun, and burned the feet like particles of fire, and as the ocean winds swept it, it darkened the air and filled the eyes and nostrils. There was no defense against it, and every wound speedily became covered with a concrete of gore and sand. Tent pins would not hold in the treacherous sand, every vigorous blast from the sea, overturned the tents, leaving the occupants exposed to the storm or the torrid sun. It was here, under the fire of the heaviest of the rebel batteries, that Miss Barton spent the most trying part of the summer. Her employment was, with three or four men detailed to assist her, to boil water in the lee of a sand-hill, to wash the wounds of the men who were daily struck by rebel shot, to prepare tea and coffee, and various dishes made from dried fruits, farina, and desiccated milk and eggs. On the 19th of July, when the great night assault was made on Wagner, and everybody expected to find rest and refreshments within the rebel fortress, she alone, so far as I can learn, kept up her fires and preparations. She alone had anything suitable to offer the wounded and exhausted men who streamed back from the repulse, and covered the sand-hills like a flight of locusts.
Through all the long bombardment that followed; until Sumter was reduced, and Wagner and Gregg was ours, amid the scorching sun and the prevalence of prostrating diseases, though herself more than once struck down with illness, she remained at her post, a most fearless and efficient co-worker with the indefatigable agent of the Sanitary Commission, Dr. M. M. Marsh, in saving the lives and promoting the health of the soldiers of the Union army. "How could you," said a friend to her subsequently, "how could you expose your life and health to that deadly heat?" "Why," she answered, evidently without a thought of the heroism of the answer, "the other ladies thought they could not endure the climate, and as I knew somebody must take care of the soldiers, I went."
In January, 1864, Miss Barton returned to the North, and after spending four or five weeks in visiting her friends and recruiting her wasted strength, again took up her position at Washington, and commenced making preparations for the coming campaign which from observation, she was convinced would be the fiercest and most destructive of human life of any of the war. The first week of the campaign found her at the secondary base of the army at Belle Plain, and thence with the great army of the wounded she moved to Fredericksburg. Extensive as had been her preparations, and wide as were the circle of friends who had entrusted to her the means of solace and healing, the slaughter had been so terrific that she found her supplies nearly exhausted, and for the first time during the war was compelled to appeal for further supplies to her friends at the North, expending in the meantime freely, as she had done all along, of her own private means for the succor of the poor wounded soldiers. Moving on to Port Royal, and thence to the James River, she presently became attached to the Army of the James, where General Butler, at the instance of his Chief Medical Director, Surgeon McCormick, acknowledging her past services, and appreciating her abilities, gave her a recognized position, which greatly enhanced her usefulness, and enabled her, with her energetic nature, to contribute as much to the welfare and comfort of the army in that year, as she had been able to do in all her previous connection with it. In January, 1865, she returned to Washington, where she was detained from the front for nearly two months by the illness and death of a brother and nephew, and did not again join the army in the field.
By this time, of course, she was very generally known, and the circle of her correspondence was wide. Her influence in high official quarters was supposed to be considerable, and she was in the daily receipt of inquiries and applications of various kinds, in particular in regard to the fate of men believed to have been confined in Southern prisons. The great number of letters received of this class, led her to decide to spend some months at Annapolis, among the camps and records of paroled and exchanged prisoners, for the purpose of answering the inquiries of friends. Her plan of operation was approved by President Lincoln, March 11, 1865, and notice of her appointment as "General Correspondent for the friends of Paroled Prisoners," was published in the newspapers extensively, bringing in a torrent of inquiries and letters from wives, parents, State officials, agencies, the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission. On reaching Annapolis, she encountered obstacles that were vexatious, time-wasting, and in fact, insupportable. Without rank, rights or authority credited by law, the officials there were at a loss how to receive her. The town was so crowded that she could find no private lodgings, and had to force herself as a scarce welcome guest upon some one for a few days, while her baggage stood out in the snow. Nearly two months were consumed in negotiations before an order was obtained from the War Department to the effect that the military authorities at Annapolis might allow her the use of a tent, and its furniture, and a moderate supply of postage stamps. This was not mandatory, but permissive; and negotiations could now be opened with the gentlemen at Annapolis. In the meantime the President had been assassinated, Richmond taken, and Lee's army surrendered. The rebellion was breaking away. All prisoners were to be released from parole, and sent home, and nothing would remain at Annapolis but the records. Unfortunately these proved to be of very little service—but a small per centage of those inquired for, were found on the rolls, and obviously these, for the most part, were not men who had been lost, but who had returned. She was also informed, on good authority, that a large number of prisoners had been exchanged without roll or record, and that some rolls were so fraudulent and incorrect, as to be worthless. Poor wretches in the rebel pens seemed even to forget the names their mother called them. The Annapolis scheme was therefore abandoned, with mortification that thousands of letters had lain so long unanswered, that thousands of anxious friends were daily waiting for tidings of their loved and lost. The pathos and simplicity of these letters was often touching. An old man writes that he has two sons and three grandsons in the army, and of two of the five he could get no tidings. Another says she knew her son was brave, and if he died, he died honorably. He was all she had and she gave him freely to the country. If he be really lost she will not repine; but she feels she has a right to be told what became of him. Many of the writers seemed to have a very primitive idea of the way information was to be picked up. They imagined that Miss Barton was to walk through all hospitals, camps, armies and prisons, and narrowly scrutinizing every face, would be able to identify the lost boy by the descriptions given her. Hence the fond mother minutely described her boy as he remained graven on her memory on the day of his departure. The result of these delays was the organization, by Miss Barton, at her own cost, of a Bureau of Records of Missing Men of the Armies of the United States, at Washington. Here she collected all rolls of prisoners, hospital records, and records of burials in the rebel prisons and elsewhere, and at short intervals published Rolls of Missing Men, which, by the franks of some of her friends among the Members of Congress, were sent to all parts of the United States, and posted in prominent places, and in many instances copied into local papers. The method adopted for the discovery of information concerning these missing men, and the communication of that information to their friends who had made inquiries concerning them may be thus illustrated.
A Mrs. James of Kennebunk, Maine, has seen a notice in the paper that Miss Clara Barton of Washington will receive inquiries from friends of "missing men of the Army," and will endeavor to obtain information for them without fee or reward. She forthwith writes to Miss Barton that she is anxious to gain tidings of her husband, Eli James, Sergeant Company F. Fourth Maine Infantry, who has not been heard of since the battle of ----. This letter, when received, is immediately acknowledged, registered in a book, endorsed and filed away for convenient reference. The answer satisfied Mrs. James for the time, that her letter was not lost and that some attention is given to her inquiry. If the fate of Sergeant James is known or can be learned from the official rolls the information is sent at once. Otherwise the case lies over until there are enough to form a roll, which will probably be within a few weeks. A roll of Missing Men is then made up—with an appeal for information respecting them, of which from twenty thousand to thirty thousand copies are printed to be posted all over the United States, in all places where soldiers are most likely to congregate. It is not impossible, that in say two weeks' time, one James Miller, of Keokuk, Iowa, writes that he has seen the name of his friend James posted for information; that he found him lying on the ground, at the battle of —— mortally wounded with a fragment of shell; that he, James, gave the writer a few articles from about his person, and a brief message to his wife and children, whom he is now unable to find; that the national troops fell back from that portion of the field leaving the dead within the enemy's lines, who consequently were never reported. When this letter is received it is also registered in a book, endorsed and filed, and a summary of its contents is sent to Mrs. James, with the intimation that further particulars of interest to her can be learned by addressing James Miller, of Keokuk, Iowa.
Soon after entering fully upon this work in Washington, and having obtained the rolls of the prison hospitals of Wilmington, Salisbury, Florence, Charleston, and other Rebel prisons of the South, Miss Barton ascertained that Dorrance Atwater, a young Connecticut soldier, who had been a prisoner at Andersonville, Georgia, had succeeded in obtaining a copy of all the records of interments in that field of death, during his employment in the hospital there, and that he could identify the graves of most of the thirteen thousand who had died there the victims of Rebel cruelty.
Atwater was induced to permit Government officers to copy his roll, and on the representation of Miss Barton that no time should be lost in putting up head-boards to the graves of the Union Soldiers, Captain James M. Moore, Assistant Quartermaster, was ordered to proceed to Andersonville with young Atwater and a suitable force, to lay out the grounds as a cemetery and place head-boards to the graves; and Miss Barton was requested by the Secretary of War to accompany him. She did so, and the grounds were laid out and fenced, and all the graves except about four hundred which could not be identified were marked with suitable head-boards. On their return, Miss Barton resumed her duties, and Captain Moore caused Atwater's arrest on the charge of having stolen from the Government the list he had loaned them for copying, and after a hasty trial by Court-Martial, he was sentenced to be imprisoned in the Auburn State Prison for two years and six months. The sentence was immediately carried into effect.
Miss Barton felt that this whole charge, trial and sentence, was grossly unjust; that Atwater had committed no crime, not even a technical one, and that he ought to be relieved from imprisonment. She accordingly exerted herself to have the case brought before the President. This was done; and in part through the influence of General Benjamin F. Butler, an order was sent on to the Warden of the Auburn Prison to set the prisoner at liberty, Atwater subsequently published his roll of the Andersonville dead, to which Miss Barton prefixed a narrative of the expedition to Andersonville. Her Bureau had by this time become an institution of great and indispensable importance not only to the friends of missing men but to the Sanitary Commission, and to the Government itself, which could not without daily and almost hourly reference to her records settle the accounts for bounties, back pay, and pensions. Thus far, however, it had been sustained wholly at her own cost, and in this and other labors for the soldiers she had expended her entire private fortune of eight or ten thousand dollars. Soon after the assembling of Congress, Hon. Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts, who had always been her firm friend, moved an appropriation of fifteen thousand dollars to remunerate her for past expenditure, and enable her to maintain the Bureau of Records of Missing Men, which had proved of such service. To the honor of Congress it should be said, that the appropriation passed both houses by a unanimous vote. Miss Barton still continues her good work, and has been instrumental in sending certainty if not solace to thousands of families, who mourned their loved ones as lying in unknown graves.
In person Miss Barton is about of medium height, her form and figure indicating great powers of endurance. Though not technically beautiful, her dark expressive eye is attractive, and she possesses, evidently unconsciously to herself, great powers of fascination. Her voice is soft, low, and of extraordinary sweetness of tone. As we have said she is modest, quiet and retiring in manner, and is extremely reticent in speaking of anything she has done, while she is ever ready to bestow the full meed of praise on the labors of others. Her devotion to her work has been remarkable, and her organizing abilities are unsurpassed among her own sex and equalled by very few among the other. She is still young, and with her power and disposition for usefulness is destined we hope to prove greatly serviceable to the country she so ardently loves.
Woman's Work in the Civil War
A Record of Heroism, Patriotism, and Patience
Author: Linus Pierpont Brockett
Mary C. Vaughan