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A couple of weeks ago I did a tidbit on Antietam. I thought it might be interesting to look at a lady who did much to help the suffering wounded.

Dr. James Dunn a surgeon at Antietam Battlefield said, "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."

Accessed 10/4/2002, available fromwww.nps.gov/anti/clara.htm:Internet

So Clara Barton came to be known as the Angel of the Battlefield.

After traveling all night to get closer to the front lines, Clara arrived at the northern edge of the "Cornfield" around noon on the 17th of September and found surgeons using cornhusks for bandages. Imagine her looking in dismay at the scene before her which she later described in this way, "Upon the porch stood four tables, with an etherized patient upon each, a surgeon standing over him with his box of instruments and a bunch of green corn leaves beside him." Accessed 10/4/2002, available fromwww.nps.gov/anti/clara.htm:Internet

The army's medical staff had few supplies to work with because their supply wagons were far behind the fast moving troops. However, Clara, who had been behind the supply wagons the day before, urged her teamsters around the army's long supply line and pushed them to drive the mules all night to get them closer to the battlefront. Having the needed supplies in her wagons she quickly sent the teamsters for bandages and other medical supplies and then set to work aiding the doctors. Amidst bullets flying overhead and the sound of artillery in the background, she comforted suffering soldiers, cooked meals in a neighboring house and brought water to the wounded. At one point while she bent over a soldier she felt her sleeve quiver and realized that a bullet had passed through it and into the chest of the soldier she was cradling.

"A ball had passed between my body and the right arm which supported him, cutting through the sleeve and passing 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?"

Accessed 10/4/2002, available fromwww.nps.gov/anti/clara.htm:Internet

Reading this quote I can hear the sadness and despair in her voice at the harshness of the endless killing. What a burden the medical people must have carried during the war knowing that so much of their effort would be in vain.

Clara worked endlessly into the night and when the surgeons lamented over the coming darkness, she once again went to her supply wagons and brought out lanterns she had the foresight to bring with her. Thankfully, the doctors went back to work.

Can you imagine that, Clara and her teamsters were stuck behind the army's supply wagons but because she had such a burning desire and need to help the wounded soldiers she was determined to get to the battlefront. I wonder if the doctors thought about how many more men would have died if Clara hadn't gotten there with the supplies she had managed to collect over time or if the supply officers felt any chagrin over the fact that a woman had gotten to the scene before them. I'm sure the doctors were happy she got there when she did. Here was a woman who had the determination to get to the battle as soon as she could and aid in saving as many soldiers as she could. I'd call her one great lady.

A few days after the battle, the Confederates retreated and wagons of extra medical supplies began rolling into Sharpsburg. It was only then that she collapsed from lack of sleep and the beginnings of a case of typhoid fever set in. Exhausted and delirious, she returned to Washington, D.C., where she remained until she recovered and then returned to the battlefields of the Civil War. During her service as battlefield nurse, she witnessed some of the ugliest fighting of the war Cedar Mountain, Va.; Second Manassas, Va.; Antietam, Md.; and Fredericksburg, Va.

By 1863, the Army Medical Department was ready for a major war and any individual efforts where overshadowed. However, Clara continued to work on the battlefields and in 1865 threw herself into her next project. She helped identify 13,000 unknown Union dead at the prisoner-of-war camp at Andersonville, Ga. This led her to launch a nationwide campaign to identify soldiers missing during the Civil War. She published lists of names in newspapers and exchanged letters with veterans and soldiers' families enabling them to learn the fate of their loved ones or where they were buried. She became the first woman to run a government bureau "The Missing Soldier's Office." A sign giving the location of her office read:

Miss Clara Barton

This search for missing soldiers and years of physical strain during the Civil War debilitated her, and for this reason her doctors recommended a trip to Europe. But the outbreak of war in 1870 between France and Prussia brought more than the rest she needed. French civilians were suffering so she joined the relief effort and was impressed with a new organization -- the Red Cross. Created in 1864, the Red Cross was chartered to provide humane services to all victims during wartime under a flag of neutrality. When she returned to the United States, Clara began the arduous task of establishing the American Red Cross. The U.S. government could not imagine ever being involved in another war after the Civil War so were not ready to recognize this organization. Finally, by 1881 at the age of 60, she persuaded the government to recognize the Red Cross to provide aid for natural disasters.

Clara continued to do relief work until she was well into her 70's but she was not a strong administrator and political feuding at the American Red Cross forced her to resign as president in 1904. In 1912, she died at age 90, in her home in Glen Echo, Maryland but is buried less than a mile from her birthplace in a family plot in Oxford, Mass.

Accessed 10/4/2002, available fromwww.nps.gov/anti/clara.htm:Internet

Accessed 9/13/1998, available fromwww.pimall.com/nais/n.barton.html:Internet

If you ever get to the Maryland area, I highly recommend a visit to the Antietam Battlefield. While we'll never fully understand the effects of the Civil War on this small quiet town the visit will be quite an eye opener. Several years ago, September 6, 1998 to be exact Tom and I had the privilege to listen to one of the Antietam Park Rangers talk on the aftermath of the battle. Until then I had never thought about what it would mean to suddenly have thousands of soldiers fighting on my property or to have thousands of horses and other animals stomping through my fields, not to mention the problems/diseases resulting from lack of sanitation. It makes you stop and wonder why we complain so much today.

© 2006 Winifred Ledoux