Are you the Clara Barton of your world?
“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.
War is hell. There is no argument about that. But there are always people who find a way to make hell a little more bearable and one of those was a tiny woman from Oxford, Massachusetts named Clara Barton.
Few people took a more pro-active role in helping to relieve the anguish of the men who fought in the Civil War (and ultimately in all wars since), than Clara; a school teacher turned nurse and caregiver to the Union soldiers who were brought into Washington, DC, bruised and battered, bloody and scared. She read to them, and listened to them. She prayed with them; and felt a mighty calling that eventually carried her out of the city and onto the battlefields to tend to the wounded and dying wherever they fell.
She drove a four-wheel team and delivered medical supplies to field hospitals. One night, following the battle of Cedar Mountain in Northern, VA, she drove her team into a hospital late at night, delivering supplies to a surgeon on duty who, according the reports in the American Red Cross archives, “was overwhelmed by the human disaster surrounding him”. He later wrote: “I thought that night if heaven ever sent out angels, she must be one—her assistance was so timely.” After that she was affectionately known as “The Angel of the Battlefield.”
As the war began to run down, she became aware of the great need to connect imprisoned soldiers with their families, who had no idea what had happened to their loved ones, or if they were even alive; so she asked President Lincoln to grant her permission to connect those prisoners with their families.
The story is told that she knew she couldn’t do what she needed to do without Lincoln’s approval and permission, so she went to his office to see him. His staff didn’t think her needs important in such a time of stress for the President and so they kept putting her off, time and time again. Eventually, she made up her mind to just wait him out. She sat outside of his office door all day for several days. Finally he noticed her and asked who she was. His staff said she wanted to talk with him and simply wouldn’t go away until she did, so he said, “Then for goodness sake, bring her in.”
Apparently they got along famously, because it is reported that “In the month before his assassination, President Abraham Lincoln wrote to the Friends of Missing Persons: “Miss Clara Barton has kindly offered to search for the missing prisoners of war. Please give her the name, regiment, and company of any missing prisoner.” Before her work on that project was finished, she was given credit for having helped 22,000 families to learn the fate of their loved ones who had either been killed in battle or were being held as prisoners of war.
In 1869 she visited Geneva, Switzerland and learned there of the workings of the International Red Cross. She returned home, determined to found a similar organization in the United States, and in 1900, The American Red Cross received its first congressional charter. The ARC began serving victims of war during the Spanish-American war, with a humanitarian view that has since seeped into the culture of the planet. But, her work on behalf of stricken human beings didn’t focus only on war. She was also a great proponent of prison reform and providing swift aid to the victims of natural disasters.
Clara Barton is an American “Shero” who isn’t especially well known, but who serves as a sterling role model for singular women who seem to have been born to fill roles in society that are outside of the norm. She was educated before it was particularly common for women to be educated. She focused tirelessly on any task she wished to accomplish, but she also switched gears when new needs surfaced that needed her help. And – she left behind a quasi-governmental agency that, although criticized by some and praised by many, has survived to serve humanity for more than 100 years and still does so without prejudice in the wake of modern wars and current natural disasters.
She was “The Angel of the Battlefield” indeed: and her personal battlefield was planet earth and she served it as only a true angel of mercy could do.
In 1862, just before the Battle of Vicksburg, at 2:00AM, in a letter to her cousin Vera, Clara wrote:
“Mine are not the only waking hours, the light yet burns brightly in our kind hearted General’s tent where he pens what may be a last farewell to his wife and children and thinks sadly of his fated men. Already the roll of the moving artillery is sounded in my ears. The battle draws near and I must catch one hour’s sleep for tomorrow’s labor. Good night dear cousin and Heaven grant you strength for your more peaceful and less terrible, but not less weary days than mine. Yours in love, Clara
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