Angel of the Battlefield / Civil War Nurses
Shortly after the start of the American Civil War, Clara Barton, a clerk for the U.S. Patent Office tended to wounded Union soldiers in Washington. She quickly realized the need to get supplies to wounded soldiers on the battlefield and established a system of helping to meet this need. Clara often traveled to the front with army personnel to treat wounded soldiers early on in the war despite lack of support for her efforts.
By the time the conflict broke out, women were not accepted in Civil War hospitals
, camps and battlefields and those women offering their assistance faced staunch resistance. Clara persisted and lobbied with U.S. army officials for permission to bring her own medical supplies to the front to treat the wounded and dying.
In August, 1862 Clara received the permission she was looking for and served on the front lines at some of the bloodiest battles for the remainder of the war. Clara quickly became one of the highly-regarded nurses of the Civil War and was appropriately named “The Angel of the Battlefield” for helping thousands of wounded men over the course of the war.
In 1865, President Lincoln appointed Clara in charge of locating missing Union soldiers. Right around this time, a Union solider named Dorence Atwater located Clara and brought some encouraging information. He had been held prisoner at the notorious Andersonville prisoner camp and had copied a list of 13,000 names of those who had died in the camp. Dorence was able to smuggle the names out of the camp when the prisoners were released and he intended on publishing the names so the families would know the fate of their loved ones.
He and Clara made a trip to Andersonville GA following the war, and after honoring the dead, they proceeded to have all the names published in newspapers and sent letters to soldiers’ families. This list would thereafter be known as “The Atwater List”.
Clara toured the country speaking of her wartime experiences as a nurse and her accounts brought great clarity to the important role of Civil War nurses. This helped the women's suffrage greatly in this country and paved the way for women to be viewed as skilled workers in the medical profession.
Perhaps Clara Barton’s largest contribution was to start an American chapter of the International Committee of the Red Cross. After visiting France and being exposed to this organization and their efforts, she lobbied to start a similar organization in the U.S. After seven tireless years of building support for this endeavor, the American Red Cross was founded on May 21, 1881. Barton carried out her duties as acting president with great success before retiring in 1904 at the age of 83. Clara Barton died on April 12, 1912 in Glen Echo, Maryland surrounded by friends.
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