Clara Barton - Angel of the Battlefield
Most famous and widely circulated photograph of Clara Barton. Photographs scanned and edited with the assistance of Volunteer Bruce Douglas. Clara Barton National Historic Site, United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service – Mathew Benjamin Brady, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the tapestry of American history, woven with stories of courage and compassion, the life of Clara Barton shines brightly. Known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her tireless efforts during the Civil War, her story is one of unwavering dedication to the service of others, a narrative that spans the bloodied fields of war to the founding of an organization that continues to save lives today.

Born Clarissa Harlowe Barton on December 25, 1821, in Massachusetts, Clara was a shy child who found solace in tending to her brother after a serious injury. This early experience with caregiving perhaps foreshadowed the path her life would take. Before the outbreak of the Civil War, Clara was a teacher and a government clerk, one of the first women to gain employment in the federal government. However, the outbreak of war in 1861 steered her in a new direction.

As the Civil War tore the nation apart, Clara saw the dire need for medical care for wounded soldiers. Refusing to stay on the sidelines, she sought permission to bring supplies and aid to the battlefields. Her request was initially met with skepticism – the battlefield was no place for a woman, many said. But Clara was undeterred. She believed her duty was to the soldiers who were suffering, and she was willing to brave the dangers to fulfill it.

Clara Barton’s presence on the battlefield was a beacon of hope for the wounded and dying. She didn’t discriminate between Union and Confederate soldiers; to her, they were all human beings in need of care. Her courage and compassion were boundless – she would often be found at the front lines, tending to soldiers as bullets whizzed by. Her tireless work earned her the moniker “The Angel of the Battlefield,” a title that spoke of the almost divine comfort she brought to those around her.

But Clara’s impact extended beyond the battlefields. After the war, she ran the Office of Missing Soldiers, helping to identify and bury over 22,000 missing men. Her experiences during the war had exposed her to the grim reality of inadequate medical supplies and services. Convinced that there must be a better way to provide aid in times of crisis, Clara embarked on a mission that would redefine humanitarian aid.

In 1881, inspired by her trip to Europe where she learned about the International Red Cross, Clara founded the American Red Cross. She adapted the principles of the international organization to the unique needs of the United States, extending the focus beyond war relief to include aid for natural disasters. Under her leadership, the American Red Cross conducted its first domestic and overseas disaster relief efforts and taught public health and safety techniques to the public.

Clara Barton’s legacy is vast and enduring. She broke barriers in a time when women were often relegated to the sidelines, especially in fields like medicine and humanitarian aid. Her life was a testament to the idea that compassion combined with action can bring about profound change. She taught us that in the face of suffering, there is always something one can do to help, and that sometimes, the most profound courage is found not in leading charges on the battlefield, but in tending to the fallen.

Today, the American Red Cross continues to be a testament to Clara Barton’s vision, providing relief and support to those in crisis. Her spirit lives on in every volunteer, every blood donor, and every person who chooses to make a difference in the face of adversity. Clara Barton’s story is a powerful reminder of the impact one person can have and the enduring power of compassion and resilience. She was more than the “Angel of the Battlefield”; she was a force of change, a pioneer of humanitarian aid, and a beacon of hope whose legacy continues to inspire and guide us today.

Don Leith

By Don Leith

Retired from the real world. A love of research left over from my days on the debate team in college long ago led me to work on this website. Granted, not all these stories are "fun" or even "trivial" But they all are either weird, unusual or even extraordinary. Working on this website is "fun" in any case. Hope you enjoy it!