Enjoy this reflection on Clara Barton’s experience of Christmas in war-time Washington from 2013.
Clara Barton spent several years in Washington during Christmas, which also happened to be her birthday. My impression from reading diaries and letters is that although she did not dislike the holiday, it wasn’t very exciting to her, at least as an adult. Of course, the Civil War era was quite stressful under the best of circumstances and her commitment and frustration working to establishing a national humanitarian relief organization also took a toll on her emotions. I regret to say that I have not had time to delve deeply into her later years – I’ve seen some Christmas cards from her that were quite nice in the early twentieth century.
Description of Washington, December 9, 1861
The streets are thronged with men bright with tinsel, and the clattering hoofs of galloping horses sound continually in our ears. The weather is bright and warm as May, for which blessing I feel hourly to thank the great Giver of all good gifts, that upon this vast army lying like so many thousand herds of cattle on every side of our bright, beleaguered city, with only the soil, for which they peril life, beneath, and the single threads of white canvas above, watching like so many faithful dogs, held by bonds stronger than death, yet patient and uncomplaining.
Thomas Nast engraving for Harper’s Weekly 1863
From a letter written by Clara Barton on December 24, 1861:
…to relate of our big city, grown up so strangely like a gourd all in a night; places which never before dreamed of being honored by an inhabitant save dogs, cats, and rats, are converted into ‘elegantly furnished rooms for rent,’ and people actually live in them with all the city airs of people really living in respectable houses, and I suspect many of them do not know that they are positively living in sheds, but we, who know perfectly we what shelters them. Well, the present aspect of our capital is a wide fruitful field for description…
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