The Clara Barton Museum Blog

A Common Question – Letters!

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A question that we always hear at the CBMSO is this: Where are the letters that all of these mothers, sisters, brothers, and friends of missing soldiers sent to Clara Barton?

The answer is both simple and frustrating: everywhere!
You can find them in museums, in the Library of Congress, in university collections, and most other places you could think to look. The issue is that they usually aren’t labeled very well, which is why they seem so rare. The Library of Congress has one of the best selections of freely available material on Clara Barton; it can be very hard, though, to use their search options to find a specific item. The best method is persistence!
Once you’ve found one of these letters, it now becomes a matter of being able to read it. They were all written by desperate, grieving family members and friends; their handwriting, quite understandably, isn’t always the best. When you finally make it out, you find something heartbreaking and tragic. And remember: Clara Barton received over 60 thousand of these letters.
Here’s one that I found today, written by a Mrs. G.Vale from Brooklyn on March 21, 1865, begging Clara for information about her son.

Miss Clara Barton
                Dear Madam
my Son, Serg’t Adrian Vale
of Co D, 176th NY inf was captured
by our enemy at the battle of
Cedar Creek in the Nineteenth of
Oct 1864.
                We had tried in every
way to learn at what Prison
he was confined, that we might
in some measure comfort him
in his hours of suffering.
                But the first we knew of him
was to find his name among the
dead of Salisbury, N.C. The date
of death being the 18 of Nov, one
month after his capture.
                I still cherish a hope that this
news may not prove true.
                Will you aid me in ascertaining
the truth of his report, and if
true, something of his last days or
hours. The natural longings of a
mothers heart, to know something of
her dear boy, who died in the hands
of such an enemy, promps me to write
to a stranger – Pardon the liberty.
                I know that he was brave in
battle. Oh! that I could know he
was brave in the presence of the “grim
monster death”, and that the Savior
was with him in the last conflict, when away
from home and mother. If you can
learn anything about will you please
communicate by letter. If you see
any of the poor fellows who knew him
in the Prison, and one comes this
way to reach their homes, If they
would call at my home, I would be so thank-
-ful to them. Or drop a line with
their address, then I would call on them.
                Oh where would I go, to learn something
of my dear boys last moments.
                My dear Madam I hope you will
cause this sheet, written with a
trembling had, and bloted with
my tears. This has been almost
to much for me to do, but I
felt I would rather write myself, to you
that ask another to write for me.
                Hoping that God will bless and
give you strength in your noble
work, which you have undertaken for
those in distress and trouble.
                “Inasmuch as you have done it unto
one of the least of them, my brethren
ye have done it unto me.”
 Yours with respect.
Mrs. G. Vale
10 South 6th Street
Brooklyn, [CD?]

I did a little digging and found her son, Adrian Vale, in Clara Barton’s Roll of Missing Men No. 1.
Adrian Vale in Roll of Missing Men No. 1
The safe, and likely true, assumption is that Sergeant Adrian Vale of the 176th NY Infantry did indeed die in Salisbury, NC, on November 18, 1864. He probably died from one of the many diseases that were endemic in Civil War era prison camps. I haven’t found any indication that Clara Barton received any news regarding Vale. I hope she did manage to set Mrs. Vale’s mind at least partially at ease, as she was asking; I’ll keep looking, and post an update if I ever do find anything!

As soon as we can get a security system installed in the CBMSO, we’ll have many letters like this available for the public. If you have any interest in seeing that happen, please go to and donate!
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