To give my readers and idea about Clara Barton’s life in Washington during the war, I will transcribe a letter to her cousin Annie from Port Royal, Virginia, May 28th 1863 thanking her for a box sent while she was in Fredericksburg after the battle assisting the medical department.
Alfred Waud View of Fredericksburg, Virginia from Falmouth
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
My Dear Annie:
I remember, four long months ago, one cold, dreary, windy day, I dragged me out from a chilly street-car that had found me ankle-deep in the mud of the 6th Street wharf, and up the slippery street and my long flights of stairs into a room, cheerless, in confusion, and alone, looking in most respects as I had left it some months before, with the exception of a mysterious box which stood unopened in the middle of the floor. All things looked strange to me, for in that few months I had taken in so much that yet I had no clear views. The great artist had been at work upon my brain and sketched it all over with life scenes, and death scenes, never to be erased. The fires of Fredericksburg still blazed before my eyes, and her cannon still thundered at my ear, while away down in the depths of my heart I was smothering the groans and treasuring the prayers of her dead and dying heroes; worn, weak, and heartsick, I was home from Fredericksburg; and when, there, for the first time I looked at myself, shoeless, gloveless, ragged, and blood-stained, a new sense of desolation and pity and sympathy and weariness, all blended, swept over me with irresistible force, and, perfectly overpowered, I sank down upon the strange box, unquestioning its presence or import, and wept as I had never done since the soft, hazy, winter night that saw our attacking guns silently stealing their approach to the river, ready at the dawn to ring out the shout of death to the waiting thousands at their wheels.
I said I wept, and so I did, and gathered strength and calmness and consciousness—and finally the strange box, which I had afforded me my first rest, began to claim my attention; it was clearly and handsomely marked to myself at Washington, and came by express—so much for the outside; and a few pries with a hatchet, to hands as well accustomed as mine, soon made the inside as visible, only for the neat paper which covered all. It was doubtless something sent to some soldier; pity I had not had it earlier—it might be too late now; he might be past his wants or the kind remembrances of the loved ones at home. The while I was busy in removing careful paper wrappings a letter, addressed to me, opened—“From friends in Oxford and Worcester; -- no signature. Mechanically I commenced lifting up, one after another, hoods, shoes, boots, gloves, skirts, handkerchiefs, collars, linen,--and that beautiful dress! Look at it, all made—who--! Ah, there is no mistaking the workmanship—Annie’s scissors shaped and her skillful fingers fitted that. Now, I begin to comprehend; while I had been away in the snows and frosts and rains and mud of Falmouth, forgetting my friends, myself, to eat or sleep or rest, forgetting everything but my God and the poor suffering victims around me, these dear, kind friends, undismayed and not disheartened by the great national calamity which had overtaken them, mourning, perhaps, the loss of their own, had remembered me, and with open hearts and willing hands had prepared this noble, thoughtful gift for me at my return. It was too much, and this time, burying my face in the dear tokens around me, I wept again as heartily as before, but with very different sensations; a new chord was struck; my labors, slight and imperfect as they had been, had been appreciated; I was not alone; and then and there again I re-dedicated myself to my little work of humanity, pledging before God all that I have, all that I am, all that I can, and all that I hope to be, to the cause of Justice and Mercy and Patriotism, my Country and my God. And cheered and sustained as I have been by the kind remembrances of old friends, the cordial greeting of new ones, and the tearful, grateful blessing of the thousands of noble martyrs to whose relief or comfort it has been my blessed privilege to add my mite, I feel that my cup of happiness is more than full. It is an untold privilege to have lived in this day when there is work to be done, and, still more, to possess health and strength to do it, and most of all to feel that I bear with me the kindly feelings and perhaps prayers of the noble mothers and sisters who have sent sons and brothers to fight the battles of the world in the armies of Freedom. Annie, if it is not asking too much, now that I have gathered up resolution enough to speak of the subject at all (for I have never been able to before), I would like to know to whom besides yourself I am indebted for the beautiful and valuable gifts. It is too tame and too little to say that I am thankful for them. You did not want that, but I will say that, God willing, I will yet wear them where none of the noble donors would be ashamed to have them seen. Some of those gifts shall yet see service if Heaven spare my life. With thanks I am the friend of my “Friends in Oxford and Worcester.”