Clara Barton

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Clara Barton

Introduction and Early Life

Clara Barton was the most famous of many women who worked heroically to provide care and comfort to wounded Civil War soldiers. In so doing, she and others like her raised the nation's standards for the care of its fallen soldiers (Ross, 35).

Born in Oxford, Massachusetts, in 1821, Barton began working as a teacher at age 15; in 1852 she founded a successful school in Bordentown, New Jersey. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Barton worked as a copyist in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C. She soon became engaged in distributing useful items to troops from her native Massachusetts who were stationed in and around Washington. Her appeals to her home state resulted in generous shipments of shirts, socks, jellies, and other items to make the soldiers' lives in camp more pleasant (Oates, 10). After the first battle of Bull Run in 1861, she helped tend the many wounded, who flooded into and around Washington. The experience made her determined to go to the battlefield next time, to be as close to the action as possible.

Professional Years and Foundation of ICRC

Tending to the wounded in the field was then considered unsuitable work for a woman, and military authorities were reluctant to grant her permission to enter the war zone. By August 1862, however, she succeeded in reaching the front in Virginia, accompanying several wagonloads of supplies for the soldiers. She arrived at the battlefield of Cedar Mountain four days after the battle and there had her first experience of tending the wounded on the front lines. Soon after she helped tend the much larger number of wounded from the second battle of Bull Run, winning the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield.” At Antietam she was close enough to the action that a stray bullet passed through the sleeve of her dress and killed a man to whom she was handing a drink of water (Nolan, 70).

After Antietam, Barton was laid up for some time with typhoid fever. Back to work by December, she was at Fredericksburg for the major battle fought there that month and was once again under fire while tending the wounded (Barton, 52). In May 1863 she accompanied her brother, a captain in the quartermaster corps, to Hilton Head, South Carolina, where she remained for several months, missing the great eastern campaigns of that spring and summer, but conducting a personal campaign of her own—an affair with a married colonel. After the failed assaults on Fort Wagner, Barton was back tending the wounded. Eventually, by means of constant entreaties, complaints, and requests to draw supplies from the quartermaster, she made herself unwelcome on Morris Island, and Gen. Quincy Gillmore ordered her back to Beaufort. Barton was outraged as well as deeply depressed and contemplated suicide (Ross, 36).

She recovered, however, returned to Washington, and was soon tending the vast numbers of wounded from Grant's Overland Campaign and subsequent operations against Richmond. As wounded from the great campaign inundated the town of ...
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