Bayonet found in the attic of the CBMSO Property of U.S. General Services Administration
This is a bayonet from an 1853 Enfield rifle, one of the most common rifles used during the American Civil War. A bayonet, though designed to act as a spear blade, had many uses outside of combat. Soldiers during the Civil War would use their bayonets, especially ones like this, as candleholders, cooking utensils, and much more.
Detail of bayonet socket Property of U.S. General Services Administration
This bayonet in particular may have been used for something outside of combat, as indicated by the bend in the blade, and a few missing pieces on the socket. It was found among the artifacts in the attic of 437 7th Street NW, Washington DC, and might make it into the exhibits once we start installing them.
Now, why would Clara Barton – or anyone who was living in the boardinghouse – have a bayonet? There are a couple possible answers to that question, one of which we find extremely exciting.
After the end of the Civil War, Clara was approached by a young man named Dorence Atwater. He had been a Union prisoner at the Confederate prison in Andersonville, Georgia, and had managed to make a list of the dead, which he then smuggled out of the prison after his release. Clara, Dorence, and a number of other people traveled down to Andersonville to identify the graves of the soldiers there, using Atwater’s Death Register as their guide.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
While there, Clara collected a number of items from Andersonville that she would use in her advertising campaigns. She called those her Andersonville Relics.
There are no bayonets in that picture, but Clara did collect several. One of her close friends, famous women’s suffragist Frances Dana Gage, wrote a letter in 1866 to the New York Independent to help Clara advertise for the Missing Soldiers Office. In that letter, Gage describes some of the artifacts, including a number of bayonets. “These bayonets,” she says, “were picked up in that Golgotha…”
We currently have no idea where the Andersonville Relics officially are. There is, however, a very distinct possibility that our 1853 Enfield bayonet is one of them.
We are all very excited by the thought of having this artifact on display at the CBMSO in DC, but it simply won’t be safe to do so until we can get our security system installed. If you want to see this artifact, as well as the others you’ll be seeing on this blog in the future, please consider donating to this unique portion of Clara Barton’s history.
The Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM for walk-ins. All other times, the Museum will be open only to groups of 10+. Click here to reserve a group tour.
Opens at 11:00 AM
Last Admission at 4:30 PM
437 7th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20004 Looking for our Mailing Address?
The preserved rooms are accessible by both stairs and elevator.
[She] toiled as few men could have done, stanching wounds which might otherwise have proved fatal, administering cordials to the fainting soldier, cheering those destined to undergo amputation, moistening lips parched with thirst [and closing the eyes of the dead].
An eyewitness account of Clara Barton at Antietam
The patriot blood of my father was warm in my veins.
I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.
I don’t know how long it has been since my ear has been free from the roll of a drum. It is the music I sleep by and I love it.
Clara BartonIn a letter to her father, March 19, 1861
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.
Clara BartonLetter to Massachusetts Governor Andrew, seeking permission to go to the front, March 20, 1862
Though it is little that one woman can do, still I crave the privilege of doing it.
Clara BartonLetter to I.W. Denney, seeking permission to go to the front, March 30, 1862
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 … My lot is too easy and I am sorry for it.
Clara BartonIn a letter to Mary Norton, July 4, 1862
It was a miserable night. There was a sense of impending doom. We knew, everyone knew, that two great armies of 80,000 men were lying there face to face, only waiting for dawn to begin the battle.
Clara BartonWriting about the night before the battle of Antietam
When I reached [home], and looked in the mirror, my face was still the color of gunpowder, a deep blue. Oh yes, I went to the front!
Clara BartonUpon returning from the battle of Antietam