Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Women's History Wednesdays: Week 3

Happy Women’s History Month! Throughout March, the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum will highlight multiple notable women from the Civil War era. Join us for Women’s History Wednesdays!

It is already the last Wednesday in March! Our third and final post this month will discuss Clara Barton herself. If you have not done so already, we invite you to visit the Missing Soldiers Office to learn more about her life and legacy.

“From portrait taken in Civil War and authorized by her as the one she wished to be remembered by.”
Image Source: Library of Congress,

Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born on December 25, 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts. Her eventful life spanned ninety years and her legacy of humanitarianism continues to be a source of inspiration. Within the public imagination, Miss Barton is most commonly remembered as a nurse. In reality, she worked originally as a schoolteacher and as a government employee; she actually possessed no formal nursing training. However, her proclivity towards caring for others was apparent from a young age. When Clara was a girl, her older brother David fell from a barn roof and she patiently nursed him back to health after his accident.

The aid that she later provided on the battlefield led to her more apt characterization as a medic and a first responder. On one occasion at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, she was so close to the fighting that a bullet passed through the sleeve of her dress, striking and killing the man she was tending to. Ultimately, Clara Barton’s service during the Civil War earned her the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield.”

“Clara Barton monument at Antietam.”
Image Source: National Park Service,

After the war ended, Miss Barton launched The Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army, or Missing Soldiers Office. Her effort to discover the fate of thousands of men was facilitated by a young man named Dorence Atwater, who had been responsible for keeping a list of the dead at Andersonville Prison in Georgia. This invaluable list included approximately 13,000 names. While the Missing Soldiers Office was in operation, hundreds of letters arrived each day. Miss Barton and her clerks received approximately 63,000 of them over the course of four years. By 1869, they had identified 22,000 missing men, including the 13,000 from Andersonville. Needless to say, it was an impressive accomplishment.

Original tin sign, Missing Soldiers Office
Image Source:

Extensive lists of missing men were published to aid the mission of the Missing Soldiers Office.
Image Source: Library of Congress,

After the operations of the Missing Soldiers Office came to a close, Miss Barton spent time in Switzerland, where she witnessed the actions of the International Red Cross. Although many people know of Clara Barton as the founder of the American Red Cross, not as many are aware of her contribution of “The American Amendment,” a critical provision that transformed the Red Cross into an organization that was active not only in wartime, but also in peacetime.

In addition to her work on the battlefield and with the Red Cross, Clara Barton possessed progressive political beliefs and advocated for the rights of women and African Americans. She spent the latter portion of her life in Glen Echo, MD at a home that was also used as the headquarters for the American Red Cross. She remained active in humanitarian service and disaster relief throughout her old age.

Clara Barton, 1905
Image Source: National Park Service,

It is impossible for a brief blog post to do justice to the myriad accomplishments of Miss Barton’s incredible life. As an unmarried woman who lived in the Victorian era, she faced many obstacles, yet was able to assert her independence and provide aid to thousands of people. She left behind a legacy of kindness, compassion, and determination and exists today as an example of what incredible things an individual can accomplish.

Thank you for joining us for Women’s History Wednesdays!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Women's History Wednesdays: Week 2

Happy Women’s History Month! Throughout March, the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum will highlight a notable woman from the Civil War era each week. Join us for Women’s History Wednesdays!

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

“There was both power and sweetness in that great warm soul and that vigorous frame.” –Author Harriet Beecher Stowe

Sojourner Truth, 1864, “I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance.”
Image Source: Library of Congress

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery under the name Isabella at the close of the eighteenth century in Ulster County, New York. Her early life was severely marred by this condition, which separated her from numerous brothers and sisters and caused her parents great anxiety. Isabella’s mother Betsey, or Mau-Mau Bett, was a spiritual woman who provided her daughter with religious teachings that she would carry with her throughout her life.

As an adult, Isabella married a fellow slave named Thomas, with whom she had four children. Although her master at the time, Mr. Dumont, promised to free her, he did not follow through, and Isabella left his home in 1827 with her youngest daughter. She was welcomed at the household of the Van Wageners, who were abolitionists, and Mr. Van Wagener paid Mr. Dumont twenty dollars for Isabella to work for him. She thus gained her freedom, which was soon after made official by the state of New York. Isabella was mobile throughout her adulthood and spent time in a variety of cities including New York, Northampton, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and Battle Creek, Michigan.

In 1843, Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth as a result of a religious awakening. She recounted that God had called upon her to preach the “Truth.” Sojourner became involved in religious revival movements and even a utopian association in Northampton. She traveled around the United States as a lecturer, which brought her into contact with other notable activists of the day, including William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

An advertisement for one of Sojourner’s lectures
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Sojourner is particularly famous for a short oration that she delivered at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. This speech, known by the title “Ain’t I a Woman,” concisely and powerfully advocates for the rights of both African Americans and women.

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place. And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?  -Excerpt from account of “Ain’t I a Women,” 1851

Sojourner continued her life of activism throughout the following decades. During the Civil War, she strongly supported the Union cause and encouraged men to enlist in the Union Army. Her grandson James Caldwell was a member of the famed 54th Massachusetts regiment. In 1864, Sojourner met President Lincoln. According to her accounts, the two had an amiable conversation and he provided her with an inscription for her “Book of Life.” After the Civil War, Sojourner worked for the National Freedman’s Relief Association and aided newly freed slaves.

President Lincoln’s signature, “For Aunty Sojourner Truth.”
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Sojourner Truth continued to speak and inspire others until the end of her life. She ultimately died at eighty-six at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan. Her legacy, however, lives on.

Unveiling a bust of Truth in Emancipation Hall, US Capitol Visitors Center, 2009
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Truth did not placidly retreat after receiving her freedom. Rather, she used her newfound independence to fight for the rights of groups that were marginalized and mistreated. In spite of her status as a former female slave who never learned to read or write, Sojourner Truth eloquently advocated for equal rights for women and for the abolition of slavery, as well as a myriad of other social causes. In spite of the trials that she underwent, Sojourner faced life with grace, dignity, and courage. Her ideals of equality have left a lasting impression on American society.

Don’t forget to join us throughout the month of March for Women’s History Wednesdays!

Sources Consulted:

“Modern History Sourcebook: Sojourner Truth: ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’, December 1851.” Fordham University. Web. 10 March 2015.

“Sojourner Truth (1797-1883).” National Women’s History Museum. Web. 10 March 2015.

“Sojourner Truth Institute.” Michigan Humanities Council. Web. 10 March 2015.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. “Sojourner Truth, The Libyan Sybil.” Web. 11 March 2015.

Truth, Sojourner (Dictation). The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Boston: Printed for the Author, 1850. Web. 10 March 2015.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Women's History Wednesdays: Week 1

Happy Women’s History Month! Throughout March, the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum will highlight a notable woman from the Civil War era each week. Join us for Women’s History Wednesdays!

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

Louisa May Alcott, 1857
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This week, we focus on Louisa May Alcott. Modern Americans remember Miss Alcott primarily as the author of the novel Little Women. Published in 1868, Little Women follows the lives of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, on the home front while their father serves as a chaplain during the Civil War. This work is autobiographical; the March family is strongly based on the Alcott family. Free-spirited, feisty Jo represents Louisa herself!

An illustration from the 1880 edition of Little Women, Frank Merrill.
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As a whole, the Alcotts were progressively inclined, and Louisa’s reform-minded father Bronson was a friend of famed transcendentalist philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. All three of these men were liberal intellectuals who played a role in Louisa’s education and upbringing. This background predisposed her to advocate for social causes as an adult, including gender equality and the enfranchisement of women.

Throughout her youth, Louisa’s family moved frequently and even lived for a time in an unsuccessful utopian community called “Fruitlands” that Bronson had co-founded. They eventually settled down at Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, where they lived from 1858 to 1877. Orchard House has since been preserved and today, it looks much like it did when the Alcott family inhabited it.

Louisa’s Room at Orchard House, where she wrote Little Women.
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However, before she wrote Little Women, Miss Alcott served briefly as a nurse in Washington, D.C. for the Union Army. Although she spent only a short amount of time in service, she vividly immortalized her experiences in the Civil War through an autobiographical work entitled Hospital Sketches (1863). This work is told from the perspective of a character named “Tribulation Periwinkle.” In the following passage, she describes the anxiety-provoking daily life of a Civil War nurse.

"In they came, some on stretchers, some in men's arms, some feebly staggering along propped on rude crutches, and one lay stark and still with covered face, as a comrade gave his name to be recorded before they carried him away to the dead house. All was hurry and confusion; the hall was full of these wrecks of humanity, for the most exhausted could not reach a bed till duly ticketed and registered; the walls were lined with rows of such as could sit, the floor covered with the more disabled, the steps and doorways filled with helpers and lookers on; the sound of many feet and voices made that usually quiet hour as noisy as noon; and, in the midst of it all, the matron's motherly face brought more comfort to many a poor soul, than the cordial draughts she administered, or the cheery words that welcomed all, making of the hospital a home." -Louisa May Alcott, Hospital Sketches, 1863

A page from Alcott’s Hospital Sketches (1863).
Boston Public Library Rare Books and Manuscripts Department

Although Hospital Sketches helped launch Miss Alcott’s literary career, Little Women is undoubtedly her most beloved and enduring work. Not only does it highlight the familial love between four vastly different young ladies and their mother, but it also presents diverse representations of femininity. Meg, the eldest sister, happily aligns with society’s expectations of a Victorian-era woman, yet is not belittled for it. Socially inept and unusually masculine Jo, the second eldest, receives a similarly favorable treatment within the narrative. Although these two sisters present diametrically opposed expressions of womanhood, they are both depicted as respectable and moral. While Meg is conventionally domestic, she is not bland, and although Jo is subversively zealous, she is not sinister. Each sister is multifaceted and possesses a unique set of virtues, interests, and flaws, which suggests that there is not a singular ideal of femininity to which the young American woman must aspire.

As the real-life embodiment of Jo March, Louisa May Alcott was spirited, intelligent, and driven. Her talent and creativity enabled her to become both financially successful and well regarded, and her magnum opus, Little Women, has endured as a classic work of American literature. Today, she stands as one of the most successful female writers of the 19th century.

Don’t forget to join us throughout the month of March for Women’s History Wednesdays!

Sources Consulted:

Alcott, Louisa May. Hospital Sketches. Boston: James Redpath, 1863. Web. 2 March 2015.

“Louisa May Alcott.” Natonal Women’s History Museum. Web. 3 March 2015.

“Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House: ‘Home of Little Women.’” Web. 3 March 2015.

Matteson, John. “Little Woman: The devilish, dutiful daughter Louisa May Alcott.” Humanities30.6 (2009). Web. 2 March 2015.

“Sisters of Mercy.” Boston Public Library. Web. 2 March 2015.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Birthday Clara Barton!

As 2014 draws to a close, many of us are home enjoying the comfort and relaxation of the holiday season. However, not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy these luxuries. Let us be mindful of the men and women who are away from their families this holiday season. Let us also look back and explore the following questions: What was life like in wintertime for Civil War soldiers and how did they celebrate Christmas away from home?

Camp life was often tedious and became even more monotonous during the long winter months. Regiments were less transient and established fixed camps. These camps were unfortunately unhygienic and acted as breeding grounds for disease. Poor sanitation, bitter cold, and sickness were further compounded by the ever-present threat of boredom and restlessness. In order to combat this restlessness, soldiers pursued leisure activities that ranged from playing card games to engaging in snowball fights!

Caption from Civil War Trust: Snowball fight near Dalton, GA. Winter 1864. (Library of Congress)

When Christmas rolled around, some soldiers in camp mimicked traditions from home. For example, Alfred Bellard, a member of the 5th New Jersey, recounted that a small tree was put up in front of his tent and decorated with hard tack and pork! In spite of such attempts at jollity, soldiers experienced Christmas in comparatively gloomy conditions. Although the holiday provided a reprieve from the monotony of life in a winter encampment, it caused soldiers to feel homesick for the families they had left behind. Clara Barton was often on the road throughout the Civil War. How did she spend Christmas away from home? In particular, how did she spend December 1862?

Fredericksburg, December 1862:

PBS: Battle of Fredericksburg

The Battle of Fredericksburg, which was fought from December 11-15, 1862, was one of the largest and deadliest battles of the Civil War and included nearly 200,000 combatants. The armies fought in the streets of Fredericksburg itself. In response to the fighting, a dressing station was established at Chatham Manor, which was then known as Lacy House. Its owner, James Horace Lacy, was a plantation master and slaveholder who supported the South and left Chatham to serve the Confederacy. The Union army subsequently occupied the manor and used it as a hospital.

NPS Caption: “Artist conception of Chatham Manor just before the Battle of Fredericksburg”

During the battle itself, the doctors did not keep medical records. Clara Barton, who was staying at the manor, kept a list of the men who died at Chatham and where they were laid to rest. Although this work predates the establishment of the Missing Soldiers Office, it clearly reflects Miss Barton’s characteristic meticulousness and compassion. She was the only volunteer female nurse and relief worker in Fredericksburg. Her efforts brought her into the thick of the action; according to her diary, the Lacy house itself was struck by a shot during the battle.

While at Chatham, Clara wrote a letter to her cousin Vira about the conflict.

Camp near Falmouth, Va.

December 12th, 1862 - 2 o'clock A.M.

My dear Cousin Vira:

Five minutes time with you; and God only knows what those five minutes might be worth to the many-doomed thousands sleeping around me.
It is the night before a battle. The enemy, Fredericksburg, and its mighty entrenchments lie before us, the river between - at tomorrow's dawn our troops will assay to cross, and the guns of the enemy will sweep those frail bridges at every breath. The moon is shining through the soft haze with a brightness almost prophetic. For the last half hour I have stood alone in the awful stillness of its glimmering light gazing upon the strange sad scene around me striving to say, "Thy will Oh God be done."

The camp fires blaze with unwanted brightness, the sentry's tread is still but quick - the acres of little shelter tents are dark and still as death, no wonder for us as I gazed sorrowfully upon them. I thought I could almost hear the slow flap of the grim messenger's wings, as one by one he sought and selected his victims for the morning. Sleep weary one, sleep and rest for tomorrow toil. Oh! Sleep and visit in dreams once more the loved ones nestling at home. They may yet live to dream of you, cold lifeless and bloody, but this dream soldier is thy last, paint it brightly, dream it well. Oh northern mothers wives and sisters, all unconscious of the hour, would to Heaven that I could bear for you the concentrated woe which is so soon to follow, would that Christ would teach my soul a prayer that would plead to the Father for grace sufficient for you, God pity and strengthen you every one.
Mine are not the only waking hours, the light yet burns brightly in our kind hearted General's tent where he pens what may be a last farewell to his wife and children and thinks sadly of his fated men.

Already the roll of the moving artillery is sounded in my ears. The battle draws near and I must catch one hour's sleep for tomorrow's labor. Good night near cousin and Heaven grant you strength for your more peaceful and less terrible, but not less weary days than mine.

Yours in love,

Fredericksburg was ultimately a catastrophic Union defeat in which General Burnside’s forces suffered 12,600 casualties. Many of these men were brought to Chatham to be taken care of. Clara was among those who provided aid to the wounded men, which she administered with warmth and devotion. She sacrificed her own comfort and lived in a tent in the front yard rather than inside the manor, which was crowded with the sick and wounded. It was so packed that some men were required to stay outside. Clara had her assistants heat up bricks and use them to help keep these men warm. She also set up a soup kitchen in the yard and prepared hot toddies for those under her care. Miss Barton even made “milk punch” for a severely ill man named Wiley Faulkner. In spite of the kindness and care she provided, the horrors that Clara witnessed at Chatham would ultimately plague her for the rest of her life.

A recipe for milk punch, which Miss Barton prepared for Wiley Faulkner, can be found in Marion Harland’s 1875 cookbook Breakfast, Luncheon, and Tea.Source:
Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project

Later that month on December 16th, the Army began to evacuate the wounded from the hospitals around Fredericksburg. They were transported to Washington, D.C and Alexandria. On December 25th, 1862, which was both Christmas Day and Clara’s 41st birthday, she continued to help evacuate patients. For Clara Barton and Fredericksburg, Christmas of 1862 was marred by the turmoil of war and the harsh realities of the aftermath of battle.

Let us be cognizant of and thankful for the comforts surrounding us this holiday season.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum!

Works Cited:

“Winter Encampments: The Long and Frozen Road.” Civil War Trust. Accessed December 21, 2014. Web.

“Christmas During the Civil War.” Civil War Trust. Accessed December 21, 2014. Web.

“Fredericksburg.” Civil War Trust. Accessed December 21, 2014. Web.

“Chatham Manor.” National Park Service. Accessed December 21, 2014. Web.

“Clara Barton at Chatham.” National Park Service. Accessed December 21, 2014. Web.

Harland, Marion. Breakfast, Luncheon, and Tea. Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. Accessed December 21, 2014. Web.

Oates, Stephen B. A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War. New York: The Free Press, 1994. Print.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving & the Civil War

The celebration of Thanksgiving is an integral and unifying component of American culture. Thanksgiving Day, as we know it in 2014, did not become a national holiday until the Civil War.

President Lincoln & Sarah J. Hale
On November 29, 1860, the newly-elected Abraham Lincoln shared an unofficial Thanksgiving celebration with his family, which included a meal of roast turkey. This was three years before he received a letter from Sarah Josepha Hale, an editor of a popular women’s magazine. Hale lobbied President Lincoln to encourage him to establish a national day of Thanksgiving. Known as the “Mother of Thanksgiving,” she understood the holiday’s potential as a means of unification for a nation strongly divided along social, economic, and ideological lines. Her letter to Lincoln brought about the results she desired: on October 3, 1863, Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation that officially established the custom as a national holiday. This Proclamation, written by Secretary of State William Seward, offered a hopeful message:
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict.
President Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

During the Civil War, the holiday remained a cultural tradition celebrated locally by communities in different regions of the United States. Similarly, both the Union and the Confederate Armies held periodic and separate days of thanksgiving in response to military victories. On August 6, 1863, for example, the Union held a day of thanksgiving in honor of its success at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3). On November 26, 1863, President Lincoln held the first official Thanksgiving Day celebration.

Where was Clara Barton in 1863 and how did she observe the newly established holiday?


Map of Morris Island, SC
Throughout 1863, Clara Barton traveled between Hilton Head and Morris Island, South Carolina. When the battle of Battery Wagner broke out on July 18, Miss Barton sprang into action to help wounded soldiers.
Col. Robert Gould Shaw
Brig. Gen. Quincy Gillmore
Union Brigadier General Quincy Gillmore initiated the battle of Battery Wagner. Gillmore planned to seize the Confederate fort on Morris Island in an effort to use Cummings Point as a strategic location to attack the Confederate Army at nearby Fort Sumter. On July 18, Gillmore sent the 54th Massachusetts regiment, led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, to attack the narrow beach at Battery Wagner. As the 54th Mass. neared the fort, they were subjected to artillery and musket fire that pinned down their exposed ranks. Despite the loss of 1,515 soldiers, the 54th Mass. bravely descended into the fort by engaging in bloody hand-to-hand combat with Confederate soldiers. The battle of Battery Wagner and the 54th Mass. were  immortalized in the movie Glory (1989).

In her diary, Clara Barton recalls:
Weeks of weary siege scorched by the sun—chilled by the wave, rocked by the tempest. Buried in the shifting sands—toiling day after day in the trenches, with the angry fire of forts hissing during the day.
During one artillery assault, Miss Barton braved exploding shells and debris to rescue Colonel Robert Leggett, whom she found lying on the sand with his leg blown off at the knee. Clara Barton tore off some of her dress, tied the cloth into a tourniquet, and used it to stem the bleeding. Throughout the remainder of the battle, Miss Barton and her assistant Mary Gage walked the beach looking for survivors. If they found a living soldier, the women would call out to Union stretcher-bearers to bring him back to the beach hospital. In addition, Miss Barton and Miss Gage nursed wounded soldiers by feeding them and offering emotional support. Clara Barton rarely left the bedsides of wounded soldiers once they arrived at the beach hospital.

Col. John Elwell
In August 1863, Clara became exhausted and ill from lack of sleep, inadequate food rations, and the overall harsh conditions on Morris Island. Suffering from diarrhea and fever, her friend Colonel John Elwell instructed quartermasters to put her on a boat for Hilton Head where she could recover from her illness.

Miss Barton returned to Morris Island shortly before Brig. Gen. Gillmore succeeded in forcing the Confederate Army to abandon Battery Wagner on September 7, 1863. On September 15, Clara Barton received a letter from Gillmore’s office instructing her to leave Morris Island because her services were no longer needed. In her diary, she speculates that Gillmore believed she “was some frail creature who could not endure hardship.” He did not understand Clara at all, even after she rose from her illness and returned to her post. The sexual discrimination that Clara Barton faced on Morris Island caused her great humiliation and anguish. With a heavy heart, Miss Barton conceded to Gillmore’s instructions and left Morris Island for Hilton Head.


On November 11, 1863, Col. Elwell managed to secure a pass from Gillmore’s office for Clara Barton’s return to Morris Island. The U.S. Sanitary Commission invited Clara to care for each dying soldier on the Island “as if she were his mother or sister.” Now Miss Barton had a decision to make: should she return to Morris Island for the winter or move back to Washington, D.C.? On November 12, Miss Barton wrote a letter to her best friend Mary Norton asking what to do:
My friends here at the Head are trying to keep me from going to Morris Island this winter now that there is so little doing there, and to coax me off the notion, they have built me a most beautiful suite of rooms—and I think perhaps I ought to remain with them unless the troops move…So what shall I do?—and I know you will tell me to remain at Hilton Head and keep comfortable this winter. Well, I don’t know—perhaps I ought—but will watch and see and tell you.
Clara Barton, Letter to Mary Norton, November 12, 1863, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, NC

As it turned out, Clara Barton went to St. Helena Island, South Carolina to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. The Seventh Connecticut was stationed there, and Clara had become friends with several of the officers of that regiment and their wives. While the soldiers feasted on ten roasted pigs, Miss Barton and the wives enjoyed a turkey dinner. At the end of the evening, Clara journeyed home by moonlight across the bay.



Civil War Trust, “Fort Wagner: Battery Wagner, Morris Island,” accessed November 22, 2014, Civil War Trust, “Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation: October 3, 1863,” accessed November 22, 2014, Clara Barton, Letter to Mary Norton, November 12, 1863, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, NC. History Channel, “Abraham Lincoln and the ‘Mother of Thanksgiving,’” accessed November 22, 2014, Library of Congress, “Sarah J. Hale to Abraham Lincoln, Monday September 28, 1863 (Thanksgiving),” accessed November 22, 2014, National Archives, “The National Archives Celebrates Thanksgiving,” accessed November 22, 2014, PBS, “The History Kitchen: Thanksgiving, Lincoln, and Pumpkin Pudding,” accessed November 22, 2014, Stephen B. Oates, A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 173-178, 180-186, and 196-198.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Updates on the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum

Hello everybody!

There are exciting updates at the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office (CBMSO) Museum in Washington, DC.

New Staff & Volunteers

The CBMSO would like to welcome new staff members to the Museum. Emily Peikin transitioned from a summer internship at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (NMCWM) to become a Guest Services Representative at the CBMSO in September 2014. She is currently an undergraduate History major at American University. Sara Florini, Acting Site Supervisor, also joined the CBMSO team in September 2014. She previously worked at the Clara Barton House in Glen Echo, MD, and possesses extensive knowledge regarding Miss Barton’s life and humanitarian work. Emily Dean, Store Manager, has been a part of the CBMSO since the Museum opened for guided-tours in March 2014. The CBMSO Museum also employs a dedicated volunteer docent staff. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please visit our website or stop by the Museum in person to fill out an application today! Volunteers are critical to the Museum’s mission to educate the public about Clara Barton and her legacy of humanitarian work.

Social Media

Recently, the Museum ventured further into the world of social media. If you would like to learn more about our organization, “Follow” us on Twitter @CBMSO and “Like” us on Facebook. In addition, the Museum operates a Go Fund Me page where visitors can directly help the CBMSO raise money for an artifact security system!

CBMSO Artifacts

Speaking of CBMSO artifacts…

On October 13, 2014, Museum staff attended a tour of the collections room at the NMCWM in Frederick, MD—the main operating museum of the CBMSO. During the tour, staff members had the opportunity to view a variety of pertinent artifacts, including the CBMSO black & gold tin sign, a rubberized shelter half, as well as a steel sewing thimble found in Room 12 of the museum.

“Miss Clara Barton, Missing Soldiers Office, 3rd Story, Room 9.” Tin sign measures 9in x 9 3/4in. There is a nail hole in each corner of the sign, and gold paint is scratched in places, especially in the word “Missing.” ©National Museum of Civil War Medicine (L6.2012.4)
The “Miss Clara Barton, Missing Soldiers Office” tin sign welcomed military families to 437 7th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. from 1865-1869. Without this artifact, Mr. Richard Lyons, a contractor for the General Services Administration (GSA), would not have been able to save the CBMSO from demolition in 1997!

“Rubberized Shelter Half.” Rubberized canvas square with hand-sewn buttonholes across the top, and hand-sewn grommets at corners. There are short remnants of rope present in some grommets, the fabric and rubber are brittle, and the fabric is stained with black mildew spots. The rubberized shelter half measures approximately 62in x 64in (because it cannot be unfolded). One corner of the canvas is stamped with “Sanitary Commission” in black ink. ©National Museum of Civil War Medicine (L6.2012.7)
Why did Clara Barton have a rubberized shelter half in her possession? Traditionally, the Army issued rubberized tents to officers and generals to help shelter them from rain on the battlefield. Due to the short supply of waterproof shelters, Enlisted men received canvas tents. Somehow Clara Barton managed to obtain the rubberized shelter half seen in the picture above. The Museum speculates that Miss Barton used the shelter half to protect her medical supplies on the battlefield. Powdered medicines like morphine and opium were useless to wounded soldiers if they got waterlogged. The CBMSO rubberized shelter half is incredibly rare; it is one of few surviving Civil War Era shelters.

©National Museum of Civil War Medicine. Socks are property of the U.S. General Services Administration.
“Thimble.” Steel sewing thimble with aluminum lining and dimpled upper portion. There is slight rusting on the interior of the artifact. Bottom rim of thimble has embossed design of diagonal parallel lines, which is repeated on the body of the thimble just above the rim and below the dimpling. The thimble measures 7/8in x Dia. (base) ¾ in. This thimble was found circa 2006 in Room 12 of the CBMSO. ©National Museum of Civil War Medicine (L6.2012.21)

In addition to lacking dry shelter and blankets, Civil War soldiers lacked clean clothes. As a supplier during the Civil War, Clara Barton supplemented soldiers’ rations by providing them with food, clothing, medicine, and other supplies. This included socks, which were crucial during long winters and grueling marches. Lyons discovered a large pile of bloodstained socks and sewing materials in the attic and rooms of the Missing Soldiers Office in 1997 (READ MORE HERE). The Museum speculates that Miss Barton mended and washed the bloodstained socks before sending them back to active soldiers on the front.

The CBMSO Museum is looking forward to displaying the tin sign, rubberized shelter half, and sewing materials in a proper climate controlled and secure exhibit environment on the third floor. Other potential artifacts for display include: medicine bottles, documents, clothing, letters, and original wallpaper rolls. It is truly a special privilege to be face-to-face with 150-year-old history!


The CBMSO Museum is undergoing multiple renovations within the third floor boardinghouse space. Recently, a historical light technician finished installing special LED lights, which simulate gas lighting throughout the museum. In addition, GSA contractors are working to replace the current pine floorboards with historically accurate reproductions. Contractors are also in the process of restoring original CBMSO windows along the inside courtyard of the building. They also plan to add a doorway connecting the first floor lobby to the staircase that leads to the third floor.

Due to ongoing renovations, and the upcoming holiday season, the CBMSO Museum will be closed November 28, 2014-January 15, 2015.

Plan Your Visit Today!

Guided interpretive tours of the CBMSO Museum are conducted on a walk-in basis Fridays-Sundays from 11:00am-6:00pm. Group tours for 10+ people require a reservation. Please contact Katie Reichard at or call (301) 695-1864 ext. 1010 to plan your group tour today!

Questions about Clara Barton and the Missing Soldiers Office? Leave your comments below!