“It has long been said, that women don’t know anything about war. I wish men didn’t either. They have always known a great deal too much about it for the good of their kind.”
~ Clara Barton
Clara Barton moved to Washington, DC in 1854 and was employed as a clerk in the United States Patent Office. At the outset of the Civil War in April 1861, a trainload of Union soldiers was mobbed in Baltimore, Maryland by supporters of the Confederacy. The injured were taken to the new U.S. Capitol building in nearby Washington. Clara rushed from the Patent Office to the makeshift hospital to tend the wounded. Compelled to help in some meaningful way, Clara immediately jumped into action, gathering food, medicine, clothing, and other supplies to distribute to the soldiers. She solicited friends from Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey to send needed items to her attention in Washington. Supplies came flooding into the capital city for Clara to carry to “her boys.”
Clara Barton at Fredericksburg
“My business is staunching blood, and feeding fainting men.”
~ Clara Barton
In December of 1862 the Twenty-first Massachusetts Regiment was decimated at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Regimental standard-bearer Sergeant Thomas Plunkett had both his arms blown off, but he was somehow still standing, supporting the flag staff with his body until another soldier could carry it forward into battle. Clara nursed his wounds in the makeshift field hospital and stayed with him, suturing and dressing the remaining stumps. On her 41st birthday, Clara saw him safely placed into a train at Falmouth Station for evacuation to Aquia Creek, and then to Washington, DC.
When Plunkett encountered trouble trying to return to his Massachusetts home for recovery, Clara pleaded his case to U.S. Senator Henry Wilson. Senator Wilson secured a furlough for Sgt. Plunkett, so that his full pay would continue until he had his pension. Clara saw that Sgt. Plunkett had the services of an attendant to feed and care for him the remainder of his days.
Clara Barton: Fields of Civil War Relief Activity 1861-1865
Why might Clara’s nursing activities during the Civil War have been considered improper or unladylike?
Clara maintained a home in Washington, DC during the Civil War and provided relief services to the wounded at many Civil War battle sites. At the war’s end, her apartment on Capitol Hill also served as the Office of the Search for Missing Men until 1868.
April 1861 – Washington, DC – Clara Barton nursed those soldiers wounded in riot at Baltimore, Maryland.
August – September 1862 – Virginia – Clara attended to the wounded from the Second Battle of Bull Run at Manassas, Cedar Mountain, Chantilly, Harper’s Ferry and South Mountain.
September 1862 – Sharpsburg, MD – Clara brought much-needed medical supplies and attended to the wounded during and after the gruesome Battle of Antietam.
December 1862 – Falmouth, VA – Clara attended to the wounded from the Battle of Fredericksburg at Lacy House (also known as Chatham).
April – December 1863 – Hilton Head and Morris Island, SC- Clara moved her base of operations from Virginia to be closer to her brother, U.S. Army Captain David Barton, who was stationed at Hilton Head. She established hospitals to care for the wounded from the Battle of Fort Wagner, and distributed supplies to Union soldiers after the failed siege at Charleston.
May – June 1864 – Fredericksburg, VA – Clara attended to the wounded of the Battle of Spotslyvania Court House and the Battle of Cold Harbor.
June 1864 – January 1865 – Petersburg, VA – Clara was stationed at several hospitals in the area.
July – August 1865 – Andersonville, GA – Clara helped to identify graves of missing soldiers at the former Confederate prison at Andersonville. At the conclusion of that gruesome work, the site was dedicated as the first national cemetery.