Clara Barton in the Civil War: Facts, Timeline & History

Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
Clara Barton (1821-1912) was a nurse during the American Civil War and the founder of the American Red Cross. Her efforts to alleviate the suffering of others made her one of the most important women of the 19th century.

The Other Side of War

When most people think of the Civil War, they only think of battlefields, soldiers, and generals. Yet, the reality was much different. Civil War battles were terrible events that cost many lives and caused great suffering. Too often, we tend to forget those who volunteered to help alleviate the suffering of those soldiers. Clara Barton was one such individual.

Early Years

Clara Barton in 1851

Born in North Oxford, Massachusetts in 1821, Clara Barton was always a very caring individual. She became a teacher in 1838, and lived and worked in Canada and Georgia for several years. In 1850, Barton returned to school at the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York. After attending classes in New York, Barton began continued working as a school teacher in New Jersey. Upon learning that many local students could not afford to attend the private school where she worked, Barton soon started a public school for children from lower class families. After several more years of teaching, she moved to Washington in 1855 to work as a clerk in the offices of the War Department.

Civil War

In 1861, when the Civil War began, there was a call across the nation for young men to volunteer to serve in the Union and Confederate armies. As both the Union and Confederate armies grew larger and larger, many began to realize that the war would exact a terrible price on the nation. The war would not just involve men though. Women, such as Clara Barton, would have a tremendous impact.

Barton realized soon after the war began that the War Department was not prepared to deal with the human trauma of the battlefield. She lobbied to gather together supplies and organize them for use on the battlefield, and in the late summer of 1862, she was finally allowed to begin helping.

Clara Barton in 1865

Barton visited several battlefields in 1862, but her most notable contributions came at the Battle of Antietam in September of that year. She brought a wagon of supplies by following the Union Army of the Potomac's supply trains from Washington. Barton arrived on the field at Antietam on September 17, 1862, in the midst of the bloodiest single day battle in American history. She spent the day in several field hospitals, caring for the wounded and administering food and medicine to those who needed it most. At one point, a soldier for whom she was caring was killed by a bullet that passed through Barton's sleeve.

Barton's experience at Antietam opened her eyes to the terrible realities of Civil War combat. Antietam was the bloodiest day in American history, with over 23,000 casualties in roughly 12 hours of combat. Rather than shrink from such a daunting task of caring for so many men, Barton devoted herself fully to helping others during such a difficult time. Today, there is a monument on the northern end of the battlefield to honor her contributions.

For the rest of the war, Barton continued her work of caring for the wounded. This work took her to many battlefields and many grisly field hospitals, but she did not waver in her commitment to caring for those who needed it most.

Clara Barton in 1878

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