Through Battle Dispatches, Letters, and Other Records, Discovering the Wartime Service of America’s Most Famous Nurse “I always tried to succor the wounded until medical aid and supplies could come up—I could run the risk; it made no difference to anyone if I were shot or taken prisoner.” So recorded Clara Barton, the most famous woman to emerge from the American Civil War. In an age when few women worked in hospitals, much less at the front, Barton served in at least four Union armies, providing food and assistance to wounded soldiers on battlefields stretching from Maryland to South Carolina. Thousands of soldiers benefited from her actions, and she is unquestionably an American heroine. But how much do we really know about her actual wartime service? Most information about Barton’s activities comes from Barton herself. After the war, she toured the country recounting her wartime experiences to overflowing audiences. In vivid language, she described crossing the Rappahannock River under fire to succor wounded Union soldiers at Fredericksburg, transporting critical supplies to field hospitals at Antietam, and enduring searing heat and brackish water on the sunscorched beaches of South Carolina. She willingly braved hardship and danger in order to help the young men under her care, receiving in return their love and respect. Most of Barton’s biographers have accepted her statements at face value, but in doing so, they stand on shaky ground, for Barton was a relentless selfpromoter and often embellished her stories in an effort to enhance her accomplishments. In Clara Barton’s Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital, distinguished historian Donald Pfanz revisits Barton’s claims, comparing the information in her speeches with contemporary documents, including Barton’s own wartime diary and letters. In doing so, he provides the first balanced and accurate account of her wartime service—a service that in the end needed no exaggeration.
About the Author
DONALD C. PFANZ is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. In his thirtytwoyear career with the National Park Service, he worked at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park, Petersburg National Battlefield, and Fort Sumter National Monument. He is a founding member of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (now the Civil War Trust) and has written six books about the Civil War, including Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life andWar So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg.
“A compelling portrait of Barton herself. . . . Mr. Pfanz succeeds in his goal of producing a more realistic record of Baron’s Civil War accomplishments. He concludes that, despite the discrepancies between legend and reality, Baron’s story is no less remarkable. Clara Baron, he writes, “deserved the encomiums she received.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Barton’s accomplishments really needed no embellishment, by her or others. It was a life well-lived in service to soldiers, veterans, and the public in general. If there is a debt owed Clara Barton, it is one that can never be repaid.”—Journal of America’s Military Past
“While Barton’s stories have been embellished, Pfanz skillfully demonstrates how her actual life’s work during and after the war was truly valiant. . . . Those with an interest in nursing and the advent of humanitarian relief should read this narrative for its attention to detail and exhaustive research. Pfanz presents an accurate account of Barton’s quest to help others.”—Journal of Southern History