A Cause Not Lost

While the news of the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado continues, the evacuation of over 32, 0000 people flee with their pets, into the five Red Cross shelters provided by nearly 300 trained Red Cross disaster workers.  As the tragedy unfolds, the firefighters who persist to fight the fire along the frontlines stated, “it’s like fighting a war.” [1] The devastation of the environment, landmarks and homes indeed resemble the ravaged battlefields of war. Times of devastation give the power to define a community as many brave people band together to help their neighbor through the hopelessness of the situation. One might contemplate that humanitarian efforts take root when disaster strikes or in the throes of war. During the Civil War, the humanitarian efforts of civilians helped to identify the nameless soldiers who fought for the cause. While the cause became lost to some, to others it lives on.  To the women of the UDC the Lost Cause memorialization persisted over the past 150 years.  However, the humanitarian efforts created by one woman developed into a foundation not to lose or forget, the woman Clara Barton the cause the American Red Cross.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton often referred to as the “Angel of the Battlefield” began her story on Christmas Day in 1821. A progressive thinker, Clara Barton started her career as a teacher at a private school at the age of eighteen.  Later she went to Bordentown, and in the face of much opposition founded a free public school, the first in the state of New Jersey. In one year, the school increased from six to six hundred pupils and secured the building of a new schoolhouse costing four thousand dollars. Later, she became the first woman to receive an appointment in the Columbia Historical Society, a government department service.[2] In a period when independent women were not acceptable to most of society, Barton possessed an autonomous character that encompassed tremendous organizational skills and patience. She struggled against “the gender prejudice of much of the military hierarchy in her attempts to care for the wounded and sick of the union army.”[3] Her courage on the battlefield equaled the soldiers’ valor during the four years of the Civil War.  She realized the need of a woman’s help in nursing, feeding, and caring for the sick and wounded. Up to that point, the presence of women in hospitals, camps, or on battlefields did not meet the approval of the male authority. Military as well as civil officials, declined her services, however, Barton succeeded in gaining the confidence of the commanding officers, and finally made her way to the battlefront being present on sixteen battlefields, including Cedar Mountain, Fort Wagner, Petersburg, the second Bull Run, the Wilderness, and Antietam, the hospitals in Richmond, and eight months at the siege of Charleston.[4] The wounded and dying soldiers she assisted at the fronts, developed into supplying information to their families. Clara kept notebooks into which she entered information that helped to locate and identify missing soldiers.  In the spring of 1865, she founded the Office of Correspondence where she published the names submitted by those in search of kin. The first woman to operate an official government office, Barton received a $15,000 grant from congress, as well as free printing from the Government Printing office that provided the names of the missing soldiers. In her final report to congress she stated that she personally answered 63,182 letters and claimed 22,000 missing soldiers as identified through her publications.[5]  One month before his death, Abraham Lincoln approved her request to give recognition to the Unknown Soldier and to establish a national cemetery at Andersonville, Georgia, where she collaborated with former Andersonville prisoner Dorence Atwater to identify and mark the graves of 13,000 soldiers buried at the prison.[6] 

Barton’s observation of the effects of war on ordinary citizens, refugees, and soldiers as well as on the countryside and the resources of those who lived there led to her vision of the Red Cross as the rescuer of the people and their land.  Acting on these observations she achieved to establish  the American National Red Cross as the official United States representative to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and supporting the United States as a signer of the Treaty of Geneva.[7] The American Red Cross developed to establish protection and identification to the victims of natural disasters, a cause that continues as part of the Civil War efforts and the determination and efforts of a heroic woman, Clara Barton.

[1] “Evacuees Crowd Shelters,” The Pueblo Chieftain, June 28, 2012.

[2] Corra Bacon-Foster Reviewed work “Clara Barton, Humanitarian,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society,Washington,D.C., Vol. 21 (1918), 283 Published by: Historical Society of Washington, D.C. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40067108 .Accessed: 27/06/2012 16:23

[3] Stephen B. Oates Review by: Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein “Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War”.  The Journal of American History, Vol. 82, No. 1 (Jun., 1995), 254 Published by: Organization of American Historians Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2082024 .Accessed: 27/06/2012 16:34

[4] Ishbel Ross, Angel of the Battlefield: The Life of Clara Barton (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956) 82-90

[5] Gary Scott, “Clara Barton’s: Civil War Apartments” Washington History, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring/Summer, 2001),24-31Published by: Historical Society of Washington, D.C.Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40073485 .Accessed: 27/06/2012 16:28

[6] Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Vintage Civil War Library, 2008) 21.

[7] Charles Hurd, The Compact  History of the American Red Cross (New York: Hawthorn Books Inc., 1959) 50


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