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Clara Barton: "The Angel Of The Battlefields"
by [?]

Let us look back and see what went into the making of an eleven-year-old child who would give two years of her life to a task like that.

On Christmas Day of the year 1821, Clarissa Harlowe, as she was named, or “Clara” Barton, as she was always called, was born in her father’s home near the town of Oxford, Worcester County, Massachusetts. Her oldest sister Dorothy was seventeen at that time, and her oldest brother Stephen, fifteen, while David was thirteen and Sally ten years old; so it was a long time since there had been a baby in the family, and all were so delighted over the event that Clara Barton says in her Recollections, “I am told the family jubilation upon the occasion was so great that the entire dinner and tea sets had to be changed for the serving of the noble guests who gathered.”

The house in which the Christmas child was born was a simple farm-house on a hill-top, and inside nearly everything was home-made, even the crib in which the baby was cradled. Outside, the flat flagstone in front of the door was marked by the hand tools of the father. Stephen Barton, or Captain Barton as he was called, was a man of marked military tastes, who had served under “Mad Anthony” Wayne in campaigns against the Indians. In his youngest daughter Clara he found a real comrade, and, perched on his knee, she early gained a passionate love of her country and a child’s simple knowledge of its history through the thrilling tales he told her. In speaking of those days she says:

“I listened breathlessly to his war stories. Illustrations were called for, and we made battles and fought them. Every shade of military etiquette was regarded. Colonels, captains, and sergeants were given their proper place and rank. So with the political world; the President, Cabinet, and leading officers of the government were learned by heart, and nothing gratified the keen humor of my father more than the parrot-like readiness with which I lisped these difficult names.” That they did not mean much even to such a precocious child as Clara Barton is shown by an incident of those early days, when her sister Dorothy asked her how she supposed a Vice-President looked.

“I suppose he is about as big as our barn, and green!” was the quick reply.

But though the child did not understand all that was poured into her greedy little mind by an eager father, yet it bore fruit in later years, for she says: “When later I … was suddenly thrust into the mysteries of war, and had to take my place and part in it, I found myself far less a stranger to the conditions than most women, or even ordinary men, for that matter. I never addressed a colonel as captain, got my cavalry on foot, or mounted my infantry!”

When she was not listening to her father’s stories or helping her mother with the housework, which, good housewife that Mrs. Barton was, she took great pains to teach her youngest daughter how to do well, Clara was as busy as possible in some other way. In that household there were no drones, and the little girl was not even allowed to waste time in playing with dolls, although she was given time to take care of her pets, of which she had an ever-increasing collection, including dogs, cats, geese, hens, turkeys, and even two heifers which she learned to milk.

Dorothy, Sally and Stephen Barton were teachers, and as Clara early showed her quick mentality, they all took great interest in educating her according to their different ideas. As a result, when the little girl was three years old she could read a story to herself, and knew a little bit about geography, arithmetic and spelling. That decided the family. Such a bright mind must be developed as early as possible. So on a fine, clear winter morning Stephen lifted her to his shoulders with a swing of his strong arms, and in that way she rode to the school taught by Col. Richard C. Stone, a mile and a half from the Barton farm. Although the new pupil was such a very little girl, and so shy that often she was not able even to answer when she was spoken to or to join the class in reciting Bible verses or in singing songs, yet Colonel Stone was deeply interested in her, and his manner of teaching was so unusual that the years with him made a lasting impression on his youngest scholar’s mind. To Clara it was a real loss when, at the end of five years, the Colonel left the school, to be succeeded by Clara’s sisters in summer and by her brother Stephen in winter.