Clara Barton

Photo of Clara Barton
Clara Barton
Library of Congress

Quick Facts

Civil War nurse, humanitarian and founder of American Red Cross
Place of Birth:
North Oxford, MA
Date of Birth
December 25, 1821
Place of Death:
Glen Echo, MD
Date of Death
April 12, 1912
Place of Burial:
Oxford, MA
Cemetery Name
North Cemetery

Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born in North Oxford, Massachusetts in 1821, the youngest of five children by Stephen and Sarah Barton. When Clara Barton was 11 years old, her older brother David fell from a rafter in a barn he was helping build. She spent the next two years caring for him by administering all of his medicines, which included the use of leeches.

In 1854, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she became one of only a few female clerks at the U.S. Patent Office and the only woman in her office receiving a salary equal to the male clerks. On April 19, 1861 a trainload of Massachusetts men responding to President Lincoln's call for Union soldiers were attacked in a Baltimore, Maryland riot. After arriving in Washington, D.C. they were sent to a makeshift hospital housed in the U.S. Senate chamber. Clara Barton brought them food, supplies, and tended to their needs. Following the First Battle of Manassas, she cared for the wounded as they returned to Washington, D.C. In 1862, after constant badgering of political and military chiefs, she was finally granted passes to the front.

Following the Battle of Cedar Mountain, she appeared at a field hospital around midnight with a wagon-load of supplies. The beleaguered field surgeon later likened her to an angel, which led to her nickname, "the angel of the battlefield." Clara Barton would continue to aid wounded on the front lines, working so close to the fighting during the Battle of Antietam that a bullet passed through the sleeve of her dress and killed a man she was helping. In 1864 she was appointed by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler as the "lady in charge" of the hospitals of the Army of the James.

After the end of the war, Barton continued her work as a humanitarian. She established The Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army and directed a four-year search for missing soldiers. She accompanied the mission which identified and marked the graves of nearly 13,000 Union dead and established the Andersonville National Cemetery in Georgia. Clara Barton is probably best known for her founding of the American Red Cross, for which she was also the first president. She led the organization for twenty-three years. It was her idea to incorporate natural disaster relief into the core mission of the American Red Cross. This idea was adopted by the International Red Cross and her influence changed the course of world-wide relief that carries forward to this day. Her success with the American Red Cross was due to her battlefield hands-on training during the Civil War, truly the Angel of the Battlefield and a great American hero.