Chaplain's corner: Clara Barton an American heroine
May 23, 2013
Although a schoolteacher by training, Clara Barton is best known for her tireless and sacrificial work as a nurse on the Civil War battlefield. Her wartime efforts and experiences are extraordinary; as was her faith in God. If ever there was an American heroine, she's one whose life ought to be emulated.
She distributed relief supplies to wounded soldiers and, at the request of President Lincoln, spent nearly four years helping to search for missing soldiers.
After attempting to carry a wounded soldier off the battlefield of Antietam, September 17, 1862, Clara Barton wrote: "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."
Clara Barton was present at some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War: Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. She visited Chatham or "Lacy House" several times in 1862, bringing food and hospital supplies to help "her boys."
She helped care for the wounded soldiers of both sides that were brought into the house. A physician requested her help in the city, which required her to cross a pontoon bridge over the river. As she stepped off, an officer offered her his hand. Suddenly a shell passed under their arms, tearing away part of her skirt and his coattail. He later died.
Clara Barton set up a soup kitchen at the Lacy House, which became a makeshift hospital for the Union 2nd Corps. With doctors too busy to keep medical records, Clara wrote in her diary the names of the men who died and where they were buried. Her diary is at the Clara Barton National Historic Site in Maryland.
On December 13, 1862, the day of the heaviest fighting, Clara was in the doorway of the Lacy House when an exploding shell severed a soldier's artery. She applied the tourniquet that saved his life. Crossing the river again, a Union provost marshall thought she was a civilian and volunteered to escort her to safety, but looking at the thousands of Union soldiers, she politely declined the offer saying she was the best protected woman in the world.
When a shell struck the door of the room she was in, 'she did not flinch, but continued her duties' assisting the doctors. The next two weeks at Chatham, Clara saw 'hundreds of the worst wounded men I have ever seen,' occupying every room of the house. They 'covered every foot of the floors and porticos' and stair landings. A man 'thought himself rich' if he laid under a table where he would not be stepped on. Clara saw five men stuffed onto four shelves of a cupboard. Others shivered in the cold muddy yard on blankets, waiting for someone inside to die so they could be brought in.
The Library of Congress has the letter Clara Barton wrote to her cousin from the Head Quarters of the 2nd Division, 9th Army Corps-Army of the Potomac Camp near Falmouth, Virginia, December 12th, 1862, 2 o'clock a.m.
"My dear Cousin Vira: Five minutes time with you; and God only knows what those five minutes might be worth to the many- doomed thousands sleeping around me. It is the night before a battle. The enemy, Fredericksburg, and its mighty entrenchments lie before us, the river between - at tomorrow's dawn our troops will assay to cross, and the guns of the enemy will sweep those frail bridges at every breath. The moon is shining through the soft haze with brightness almost prophetic.
For the last half hour I have stood alone in the awful stillness of its glimmering light gazing upon the strange sad scene around me striving to say, 'Thy will Oh God be done.' The camp fires blaze with unwanted brightness, the sentry's tread is still but quick -- the acres of little shelter tents are dark and still as death, no wonder for us as I gazed sorrowfully upon them. I thought I could almost hear the slow flap of the grim messenger's wings, as one by one he sought and selected his victims for the morning sacrifice. Sleep weary one, sleep and rest for tomorrow's toil. Oh! Sleep and visit in dreams once more the loved ones nestling at home..."
Clara Barton continued:
"They may yet live to dream of you, cold lifeless and bloody, but this dream, soldier, is thy last, paint it brightly, dream it well. Oh northern mothers, wives and sisters, all unconscious of the hour, would to Heaven that I could bear for you the concentrated woe which is so soon to follow, would that Christ would teach my soul a prayer that would plead to the Father for grace sufficient for you. God pity and strengthen you every one. 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."
Clara Barton wrote of the soldiers:
"What could I do but go with them, or work for them and my country? The patriot blood of my father was warm in my veins."
Contrary to what many think, she did not start the Red Cross, but she did organize the American Red Cross 132 years ago after working with the founder of the International Red Cross, Henri Dunant, during the Franco-German War. Not only did she nurse the Soldiers of the Civil War, and the Franco-German War, but also during the Spanish-American War in Cuba.
Clara Barton stated:
"An institution or reform movement that is not selfish, must originate in the recognition of some evil that is adding to the sum of human suffering, or diminishing the sum of happiness. I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them. I am well and strong and young - young enough to go to the front. If I cannot be a soldier, I'll help soldiers."
Millions of volunteers have served in the American Red Cross since 1881 in order to provide humanitarian and disaster relief to both Soldiers and citizens of our Nation during national emergencies, but it all started with Barton's patriotic and humanitarian love for Soldiers
Thank God for Clara Barton's love and devotion to her Nation and to her fellow man. Thank God for all volunteers who give up their time, money, and lives to meet the needs of others.
For God and country,