"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it." - Hebrews 13:2

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Civil War Bivouac ~The Angel of the Battlefield

In this month’s Civil War Bivouac, I want to introduce you to a major player in the Civil War, and in American history. This person was not a Major General, Colonel, President, or even marching soldier. She was a woman who heard military stories and the tragic tales of the casualties of war when she was a young girl. She took all of this knowledge, and with a heart filled with compassion and a will of iron, used her assets to start one of the most enduring institutions still in existence today ~ The American Red Cross.

Clara Barton circa 1866
"The Angel of the Battlefield"

CLARA BARTON was one of America's greatest heroines—a genuine patriot and humanitarian. When she saw pressing needs of those in distress, she gave every bit of her courage and strength to take matters in hand, and see them through.

She was born on Christmas day in 1821 in Oxford, Massachusetts, to a farmer, who had been a soldier in his younger days. Her father regaled her with war stories that she would carry deep within her and would inspire her later on in her adult life.

Clara was shy. To overcome her shyness, she started teaching at the young age of 15. At some point, she was requested to teach at a private school. It was during this period that she saw the real need for free education. She helped set up one of the first free public schools in the state of Massachusetts. Eventually, in 1854, she moved to Washington and it became her permanent home. In Washington, she worked in the U.S. Patent Office as a clerk.

In 1861, at the start of the American Civil War, a train loaded with Massachusetts soldiers came to Washington. The regiment had lost all of its supplies when attacked in Baltimore by Confederate sympathizers. The regiment was housed in the unfinished Capitol Building. Clara immediately saw a real need and went to work collecting sheets, handkerchiefs, socks, and anything they could use. She also cooked for the home state regiment.

After the battle of Bull Run in 1861, she heard that there was a terrible shortage of supplies—bandages, blankets, medicine—and set out advertising in local newspapers for donations. The response from the public was overwhelming. She established a supply depot to get the provisions and materials where they were needed quickly. In 1862, she won approval from the government to personally deliver supplies on to the battlefields.

 “In my feeble estimation, General McClellan, with all his laurels, sinks into insignificance beside the true heroine of the age, the angel of the battlefield.”
~Dr. James Dunn, surgeon at Antietam Battlefield.

In September of 1862, Clara Barton arrived at the famous “cornfield” in Sharpsburg, Maryland, not too far from Antietam Creek. How she got there is a story in itself—a true miracle by God. When she arrived, she got a full view of the gruesome side of war during the battle. She watched the fretful army doctors dressing wounds with corn husks or anything else they could find. The army’s medical supply wagon was far behind the quick moving Federal troops, and she gave the grateful surgeons her supply wagon.

Once there, Clara got to work quickly. With artillery shells and bullets flying, she cradled the injured and dying in her arms as she coaxed them to take a sip of water or bandaged their wounds.

As she bent over a wounded man to give him a drink of water, she felt something hit her sleeve. She looked and saw a bullet had pierced the puffy part of the sleeve. Unfortunately, the bullet hit the man she was caring for, and he died shortly thereafter. He died right there in her arms.

"A ball has passed between my body and the right arm which supported him, cutting through his chest from shoulder to shoulder. There was no more to be done for him and I left him to his rest. I have never mended that hole in my sleeve. I wonder if a soldier ever does mend a bullet hole in his coat?"   
~Clara Barton at Antietam

With her dark dress, bonnet, and red bow, she was what we could call a living icon. Her unselfish mercy and compassion for the wounded earned her the title—The Angel of the Battlefield. Her self-appointed duties took her to some of the most horrendous battlefields in the war where she nursed the wounded, wrote letters to home for the men, and listened to their personal stories.

She worked in and out of the field until the end of the war.

In 1865, she started a new project. Clara helped with the effort to identify more than 13,000 unknown dead Union soldiers at the ghastly prisoner-of-war camp in Andersonville, Georgia. Her Civil War duties climaxed when she proposed that a national cemetery be built around the graves of the Union dead there at Andersonville. She helped raise the flag over the grounds at the dedication in 1865.

During a trip to Europe in 1870, she witnessed the conflict between Prussa and France. Once again, she was drawn to the battlefields to help. When she returned to the United States, she was more determined to establish The American Red Cross. The United States government was unenthusiastic about the idea because it could not imagine itself entangled in another brutal Civil War. Finally in 1881, at the age of nearly 60 years old, Clara convinced the government to identify the Red Cross as an aid for natural disasters.

Miss Barton never married. She continued her work in the field well into her seventies. She was the president of the American Red Cross until 1904. She died in 1912 at the age of ninety.

This is just a brief description of her life. In each of these stories, there is the tale of what she endured and fought for—what she won, lost, and battled against—so many depths to the complete story. Clara Barton was a true American heroine.

Who is your favorite real heroine of the past or present?

Between you, me and the gatepost,

Loree Huebner


Jayne said...

High praise from Dr. James Dunn! Loree--this is wonderful piece, and even if a tried description it brims with the essence of Barton.

I don't remember hearing the story of a bullet piercing her blouse--quite amazing she survived for as long as she did. A real angel.

Jayne said...

OOps - that's supposed to be "brief" description!

Jessica R. Patch said...

I actually knew who Clara Barton was! I'm shocked, pleasantly so! :)

Sandra Orchard said...

Wonderful account.

Since I'm from Niagara, Canada, and it's the 200th anniversary of the war of 1812 this year, I'd have to say Laura Secord is our heroine...her courageous trek alerted troops to the planned American invasion...back when we didn't get along so well, you understand :) Now her namesake are yummy chocolates!

Melissa Tagg said...

This was so fun to read, Loree. Loved learning...(I often wish I'd gone for a history minor in college...it fascinates me.)

And now you've got me pondering about my favorite heroine of the past...going to have to think about that. :)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Loved this bit of American Red Cross history. Clara made a difference in the world around her. Wow. I have always admired Elizabeth Elliot and Corrie Ten Boom. These women found the courage and strength to love the people who killed their loved ones, and I cannot imagine how.

Brandi said...

This is a moving account of Clara Barton. I didn't know about the bullet passing through her sleeve. That moment must have been ingrained in her mind forever.

Thank you for teaching me more about this extraordinary woman.

As for my favorite historical heroine, I couldn't say one specifically, but I do admire strong women who refuse to bind themselves to the confines of their time. Eleanor of Acquitaine and Sojourner Truth are examples of independent women who worked for the causes they believed in. They were attacked for their actions (in Eleanor's case, imprisoned by her husband King Richard), but they persisted.

Lynda R Young said...

wow, Clara Barton sounds like she was a remarkable woman.

Loree Huebner said...

Jayne: One of the first things I learned about Miss Barton was the story of her nearly getting shot on the battlefield. She didn't run, she stayed and helped the next man down. Amazing!

Jess: I figured everyone knows who Clara Barton was, but there are so many side stories to her life that not many have heard. She was wedded to her work.

Sandra: I have never heard of Laura Secord, but will study up on her now. She sounded brave...and golly, you know you're someone when you have special chocolates and the whole company named after you!

Melissa: I hope you will come back and share.

Gwen: You've brought up two amazing women who deserve the title of heroine. Thanks for sharing.

Brandi: Thank you for bringing up these two women. I do know of Eleanor of Acquitaine, and Sojourner Truth. Sojourner was a very brave woman...

Lynda: She was remarkable.

Jayne, Jess, Sandra, Melissa, Gwen, Brandi, and Lynda, thanks for stopping in. I loved your comments.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, to have a resume like that! Thanks for sharing this, Loree. Very inspiring.

MTeacress said...

I remember that name - Clara Barton - but didn't remember all those details. Thank you for refreshing my memory. She really was a great heroin, no doubt.

Loree Huebner said...

Sarah: For sure, Miss Barton does have quite a resume.

Michelle: You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed it.

Sarah and Michelle, thanks for popping in!

Carol Riggs said...

Wow. What a courageous woman. She certainly risked a lot. I don't think I could take being around all that suffering and agony and blood. But I'm glad she could!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

A life well lived...

I also admire Florence Nightingale for her work on the battlefield.

Jessica Nelson said...

I've read of her and Nightingale before. Such inspirational women!

I've always had a soft spot for Martin Luther King Jr. and I loved Harriet Tubman, founder of the Underground Railroad.

Stacy Henrie said...

I've heard the name Clara Barton. What an inspiring lady! I love reading stories about real women from the past, particularly pioneer women.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Such an amazing woman and a fascinating post. The Civil War was so brutal and there was so much suffering. It makes me cringe just thinking about it.

Loree Huebner said...

Carol: She sure did risk everything, but she made giant leaps.

Susan: Indeed, a life well lived. Clara and Nightingale, made huge advancements in the care of wounded during war.

Jessica: MLK and Harriet Tubman are outstanding examples of an American hero and heroine.

Stacy: The pioneer women were very inspiring. They worked so hard to blaze the trail for us.

Cynthia: The Civil War on our soil was at everyone's doorstep. It was brutal to the very end.

Carol, Susan, Jessica, Stacy, and Cynthia, thanks for dropping by and chiming in. I love reading everyone's comments.

Victoria Lindstrom said...

I remember reading a biography in the fifth grade about Clara Barton - she was amazing! One of my favorite historical heroines would be Anne Frank. Thanks for a marvelous post, Loree.

Loree Huebner said...

Victoria: Anne Frank was an amazing human being - excellent choice of a heroine. Through everything she went through, she wrote...and wrote...recording the moments in her diary for us to read, and learn from.

troutbirder said...

Clara Barton works for me. Also Dorthea Dix, Susan B Anthony, Abigail Adams, The Grimke sisters, Eleanor Rosevelt etc. Well you get the idea... :)

Deana said...

We don't get to hear about the females enough in war.
Thanks for sharing Clara's story. What a woman!

Marji Laine - Faith-Driven Fiction said...

I'm loving what you're doing with your blog Loree! And I'm obviously not alone! LOL!

You've been tagged! Visit today's post on my blog:
to learn the details - hope you'll play!


Tracy Krauss said...

My favorite is Nellie McClung - a suffragette from the 1920s. Found your blog via Marji Lane

Loree Huebner said...

trout: Dorothea Dix, another Massachusetts native, spearheaded the nursing corps during the Civil War - another amazing heroine.

Deana: Glad you enjoyed her story. Glad that doggie got a house!

Marji: I'll head over and take a peek. Thanks for the tag.

Tracy: Welcome here! Thanks for sharing Nellie as your favorite heroine. I'm going to read about her tonight!

Thanks for stopping by everyone!
Great comments!

Shelley Sly said...

Wow! How interesting to learn about Clara Barton. Hard to believe she started teaching at 15! (As a fellow shy gal, that must have been hard.) Thanks for sharing!

Loree Huebner said...

Shelley: She was a real trailblazer of her time.

Thanks for stopping in!