The duties of a nurse are endless, tiresome, and emotional. During the Civil War nurses offered injured and dying men humanity in the form of a woman’s nurturing touch or kind word. Not only did they aid in feeding the men under their care but they also helped doctors with procedures, changed bandages and linens, wrote letters home to their families, listened to their stories, and held their hands as they died. Today’s post was inspired by a touching painting I came across last year by the esteemed Mort Kűnstler, titled “Angel of the Battlefield.” The painting depicts wounded men sprawled across the ground outside of Chatham in Virginia and Ms. Clara Barton giving water to those men who desperately reached out to her.

“You must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.”

Ms. Barton’s story began on December 25, 1821. She was born the 5th child of her parents living in Massachusetts. Her father was a member of the local militia and was a politician. There is no doubt that his work in political and humanitarian pursuits would inspire his daughter in adulthood. When Clarissa was just 10 years old, her brother David fell ill and she took it upon herself to personally nurse him back to health. Through the experience she learned how to distribute proper dosages of medicine, provide comfort, apply leeches, and remain hopeful against stacked odds. Her brother made a full recovery thanks to his sister’s support. Clara battled severe shyness as a teenager and young woman but eventually overcame it and earned her first teaching certificate in 1839.

In 1855 she moved to Washington D.C. and worked her way into the U.S. patent office where she remained employed until the start of the Civil War. Victims of the Baltimore Riots were brought to the capitol building where Clara felt called to offer her services to her fellow man. Although she had no formal medical training, she was a hard worker and did not shy away in the face of a challenge. From that day forward. Ms. Barton took it upon herself to help distribute much needed supplies to the Union army. 

The painting I mentioned earlier depicts Clara working at the Lacy House known as Chatham in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Rebel Captain Thurman Thomas of the 13th Mississippi Volunteers was there, finding himself in enemy territory. Ms. Barton earned the nickname, “Angel of the Battlefield” due to her unwavering compassion for all people alike, both gray and blue. Her efforts during the war earned her a flattering reputation and she was greatly respected by those she encountered.

After the war Clara became increasingly concerned with the cause of missing soldiers. Families everywhere were desperate to know the whereabouts of their loved ones. She helped establish the Office of Missing Soldiers which assisted in reconnecting more than 20,000 soldiers with their families. Ms. Barton found herself abroad learning of various humanitarian movements across the world and in 1881 she helped establish the American Red Cross, an organization that provides emergency assistance and disaster relief across the nation. Ms. Barton died on April 12, 1912. She had never married nor had children of her own, but instead, spent her life helping others. Her story shows that the impact of a compassionate woman can not only change lives, but save them. 

Until next time

N.F.

Sources:

·  “Clara Barton.” Red Cross. Accessed 18 January, 2023. https://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/history/clara-barton.html.

Michals, Debra. “Clara Barton.” National Women’s History Museum. 2015. Accessed 18 January, 2023. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/clara-barton.

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