Clara Risks Her Life
It was a hot afternoon in August 1862. Clara Barton had traveled for two days from Washington, D.C., to reach Culpeper, Virginia. Shocked and frightened, she looked out onto the Civil War battlefield. Foul-smelling smoke from guns and cannons burned her eyes. She saw dead and wounded soldiers lying on the ground. They had been there for days. But Clara didn't allow fear to stand in her way. Her nursing was desperately needed. She rushed to the soldiers and handed them food, water, and fresh clothing. Clara held the outstretched hands of dying men. She wrote down messages for their families. The brave nurse made and tied bandages for the soldiers and helped doctors clean wounds. Hardly ever resting, Clara was busy day and night caring for the men. Working in the worst of conditions, she thought only of others. Her strength and courage kept her going.
A Civil War battlefield was a dangerous place to be. Women were told to stay away. In the 1800s, they were expected to remain home, caring for their families. But Clara had no husband or children. The soldiers were like her family. When friends tried to talk her out of going to the battlefields, Clara would tell them, "My place is anywhere between the bullet and the hospital." She was not afraid to risk her life to help the hurt and wounded.
At first, Clara only treated soldiers on the Union side. (The Union was fighting against the Confederacy, which wanted to keep slavery.) But as she helped the wounded men, she realized that every soldier needed care. "Pain and suffering don't take sides," Clara said. So she tried to help any soldier in need, black or white, Union or Confederate.Clara's nursing experience led to the most lasting achievement of her life. After the Civil War, she started the American Red Cross, an organization that helps people during times of war and natural disaster. How did Clara become such a brave and caring woman who made an important difference in people's lives? Part of the answer can be found in events that happened in Clara's life while she was growing up.