Clara Barton: Angel of the Battlefield
Nurses can have a major impact on our lives. They tend to the sick and wounded, advocate for patients with illnesses, and sacrifice time with their families to help others. Clara Barton was no exception. A woman born in a time when women didn’t fight in war, she did the closest thing she could; tend to the wounded in the middle of the Civil War. Earning herself the name, “Angel of the Battlefield”, is only a portion of what this iconic nurse accomplished in her life.
Clara was able to foresee the needs of embattled soldiers as she immediately provided personal assistance to those who were wounded, sick, and hungry and in need of clothing. She initiated her efforts by taking supplies and clothing to the sick and wounded solely on her own. She even managed the distribution of supplies while she administered personal support by reading to soldiers, writing letters for them and praying with them. She soon realized that her services were sorely needed elsewhere, so she changed her volunteer strategy in Washington, D.C. to that of the battlefields of the war.
Angel of the Battlefield
Clara hounded government and military leaders to allow her on the front lines so she could bring medical supplies and attention to battle areas and field hospitals. She was granted permission and followed a number of major battles throughout the Civil War. One such instance occurred after the battle of Cedar Mountain in 1862 in Virginia. Clara guided her wagon with a load of supplies to a field hospital where an overwhelmed surgeon on duty later remarked, “I thought that night if heaven ever sent out an angel, she must be one-her assistance was so timely.” After that, Clara was known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”
She would remain in the thick of various Civil War battles and would nurse, comfort and cook for the wounded. Unafraid to run into the middle of no man’s land to help a fallen soldier, she continued to present herself as an angel to those in need. While amidst danger, she once wrote, “I always tried to succor the wounded until medical aid and supplies could come up-I could run the risk; it made no difference to anyone if I were shot or taken prisoner.”
End of the War
Clara Barton had come to know many of the soldiers in the various regiments. Towards the end of the war, she corresponded with families of the missing. Addressing the issue, President Lincoln assigned her the job of finding missing prisoners of war. She established the Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States and operated out of Washington, D.C. for over four years. She and her staff answered thousands of letters and identified 22,000 missing men. This very action was a forerunner to the Red Cross organization that she later founded. In addition to locating missing soldiers, Clara established a national cemetery for Union soldiers who died at the infamous Andersonville prison in Georgia. She identified the graves there of almost 13,000 men and raised the flag at the cemetery dedication in 1865.
The American Red Cross
After Clara’s experience as an aid to the International Red Cross in the Franco-Prussian War, she and a circle of her acquaintances founded the American Red Cross on May 21, 1881. Clara remained as head of the Red Cross for over 20 years and intervened with multiple disaster relief efforts in both America and foreign lands. Because of her support of global Red Cross efforts, she was honored with awards for her service. She received the German Iron Cross for her relief work in the Franco-Prussian War and the Silver Cross of Imperial Russia for service to famine victims there in 1892. She later provided assistance to the military and civilians during the Spanish-American War, which was a first for the American Red Cross as part of a wartime effort.
Life after the Red Cross
Clara retired from the Red Cross in 1904. An old woman now, she continued on with development of the National First Aid Association that provided first aid instruction, emergency preparation, and first aid kits. These same ideas were later integrated into Red Cross programs for health and safety. After a long life of dedicated service, Clara died in April of 1912 and was buried in her Massachusetts hometown. Her many awards, papers and mementos were donated to the Library of Congress, and a Clara Barton National Historic Site was established in her second home of Glen Echo, Maryland where her legacy and that of the Red Cross lives on in her name.
Clara Barton’s personal life story of volunteerism and exemplary service has inspired many to volunteer for the Red Cross and enroll in online nursing programs. Her selfless devotion and achievements remain inspirational, and she will always be considered an angel of countless battlefields.
featured image credit: depositphotos.com
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