Extra Voices: Clara Barton—The Angel of the Battlefield

Library of Congress
Clara Barton

In the Voices section of the Fall 2019 issue of The Civil War Monitor we highlighted quotes by and about famed nurse Clara Barton (1821–1912), who came to be known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her tireless efforts to minister to the needs of wounded and sick Civil War soldiers. Unfortunately, we didn’t have room to include all that we found. Below are those that didn’t make the cut.

“She is not what society people esteem a fascinating beauty. Her face is plain but bearing about it that which is better than physical beauty—a sweet convincing expression of kindliness, self reliance and trustfulness, and when her interest is aroused it is lighted, her eyes become calmly brilliant and impart a charm that commands admiration….”

—Union soldier John W. Northrop, on meeting Clara Barton in June 1865, in his memoirs

Library of Congress

“When I … looked in a mirror, my face was still the color of gunpowder, a deep blue. Oh yes I went to the front!”

—Clara Barton, in a comment upon returning home after some six weeks of constant work in the field during the Maryland Campaign

“I have had but one night’s sleep since last Thursday…. I had so many personal friends that were mortally wounded, and just reached our city to die—we were waiting at the cotside and closing their eyes one by one as they pass away.”

—Barton, writing on a Tuesday in late May from a hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia, during the Overland Campaign of 1864

National Archives

“I only wish I could work to some purpose. I have no right to these easy comfortable days and our poor men suffering and dying, thirsting in this hot sun, and I so quiet here in want of nothing…. [M]y lot is too easy and I am sorry for it.”

—Barton, in a letter to a friend during a period of inactivity while stationed at Hilton Head, South Carolina, July 3, 1863

“I ask neither pay or praise, simply a soldier’s fare and the sanction of your Excellency to go and do with my might, whatever my hands can find to do.”

–Barton, in a letter to Massachusetts governor John Andrew seeking permission to go to the front, March 20, 1862

Sources: Chronicles from the Diary of a War Prisoner in Andersonville (1904); Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Clara Barton, Professional Angel (1988); clarabartonmuseum.org.

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