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

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Angel of the Battlefield...

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 or hero of the past or present?

Between you, me and the gatepost,

Loree Huebner

Loree Huebner
Writing with one foot in the past...
On Twitter @LoreeHuebner

On Instagram @lunapickles



Terri Tiffany said...

I love Clara Barton. I never read her whole story though. She's amazing!!

Victoria Lindstrom said...

What a wonderful tribute to an amazing heroine! The first biography I can remember reading as a youngster was about Clara Barton.

Jill Kemerer said...

I admire her! Gathering supplies for battles--nursing gruesome wounds. Yikes. I'm really into anything about the Civil War, so thanks for this!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Loree -

I remember reading a book about her when I was in school (just after the Civil War, LOL!). She was a courageous and dedicated woman.

God bless,
Susan :)

K.B. Owen said...

Fab post, Loree! Our church, St. Mary of Sorrows in Fairfax, Virginia, is where Clara Barton tended the wounded soldiers after the 2nd battle of Bull Run. It's a designated historic landmark and has a plaque to commemorate it. We still have services in the historic church building, although most of our services are in the newer Parish Center church, a couple of miles down the road.

Loree Huebner said...

Terri: She was an amazing soul! Happy Release Day to you on the 6th!

Vicki: How fun that she was your first biography! I hope you enjoy, I Remember Mama!

Jill: She was selfless soul, and I guess she was only like 5 feet tall - an amazing woman.

Susan : HAHA! Now I know you're not that old. She was dedicated to her cause, no doubt.

Kathy: How very interesting. I'm so glad they are keeping places historic landmarks for future generations to learn the history.

Terri, Vicki, Jill, Susan, and Kathy - thanks so much for stopping by. I love hearing from you!

Karen Lange said...

I did a report on Clara Barton in 6th grade, and from then on she was one of my favorite historical figures. Thank you for sharing this today! :)

Loree Huebner said...

Karen: Clara Barton is just a shining star in our history. I have spoke about her at a living history. I would do an impression, but I'm too tall. She's is one of my favorite historical figures too. Thanks for popping in. So good to see you!

Jeanette Levellie said...

Wow, I'd read some about Clara Barton, but never knew all these facts--especially the one about the cannon ball making a hole in her sleeve. She was, indeed, an angel in a dress.

Loree Huebner said...

Hi Jeanette! So glad to see you here. I loved your post today. Clara Barton was an angel, indeed. She never stopped working to help the soldiers. Thanks for stopping by!

troutbirder said...

Great post Loree. My favorite American heroine was the widely loved and unfairly & crudely despised niece of an American President and wife of another Eleanor Roosevelt...

Loree Huebner said...

Trout: Hi there, buddy! So glad to hear from you! Eric and I watched Ken Burns - The Roosevelts. There was so much I didn't know about her. She indeed was an amazing lady. Thanks for coming by!