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

War clouds were now beginning to gather over both North and South, and signs of an approaching conflict were ominously clear in Washington, where slavery sentiments swayed all departments. Clara Barton saw with keen mental vision all the signs of the times, and there was much to worry her, for from the first she was clearly and uncompromisingly on the unpopular side of the disturbing question, and believed with Charles Sumner that “Freedom is national; slavery is sectional.” She believed in the Union and she believed in the freedom of the individual. So eager was she to help the government in the coming national crisis that she offered her services as a clerk, to do the work of two dishonest men; for this work she was to receive the salary of one clerk, and pay back into the Treasury that of the other, in order to save all the money possible for an emergency. No deed gives a clearer insight into the character of Clara Barton than that. As it was in the case of the school in Bordentown, so was it now. If public service was the question, she had no thought of self or of money–the point was to achieve the desired end. And now she was nearer the goal of her own personal service to the world than she dreamed.

Fort Sumter was fired on. President Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand troops, and all those who were at the seat of government knew that the hour for sacrifice of men and money had come. Massachusetts responded to the call for troops with four regiments, one of which, the Sixth, set out for Washington at once. As they marched through the streets of Baltimore they were attacked by a furious mob who succeeded in killing four soldiers and wounding many more, but the troopers fought them off as bravely as possible and marched on to the station, where they entrained for Washington, many of them arriving there in a pitiable condition. When they detrained at the national capital they were met by a large number of sympathetic women, among them Clara Barton, who recognized some of her old friends and pupils among those who were limping, or with injured arms, or carried on stretchers, and her heart went out to them in loyalty and pride, for they were giving their services to their country in an hour of need.

The men who had not been injured were temporarily quartered at the Capitol, while the wounded were taken to the Infirmary, where their wounds were dressed at once, any material on hand being used. When the supply of handkerchiefs gave out, Clara Barton, as well as other impromptu nurses, rushed to their homes and tore up sheets for bandages, and Miss Barton also filled a large box full of needles, pins, buttons, salves and other necessities, and carried it back to the Infirmary, where she had her first experience in caring for wounded soldiers. When she could leave the Infirmary, she went to the Capitol and found the poor fellows there famished, for they had not been expected and their commissary stores had not yet been unloaded. Down to the market hurried the energetic volunteer nurse, and soon came back carrying a big basketful of supplies, which made a feast for the hungry men. Then, as she afterward wrote in a letter to a friend, “the boys, who had just one copy of the Worcester Spy of the 22nd, were so anxious to know its contents that they begged me to read it to them, which I did–mounting to the desk of the President of the Senate, that they all might hear.”

In her letter she says, “You would have smiled to see me and my audience in the Senate Chamber of the U. S. A.” and adds: “God bless the noble fellows who leave their quiet happy homes at the call of their country. So far as our poor efforts can reach, they shall never lack a kindly hand or a sister’s sympathy if they come.”