I am in the midst of another round of research, this time looking into certain aspects of the Civil War, when I stumble across a letter written by Clara Barton that makes me wish I could go back in time and hi-five her.
I am sure many of you recognize the name of Clara Barton. Additionally, I would say most of you associate her name with nursing. What you may not know is that she also founded and ran an office which searched for the missing soldiers of the Civil War. Today the building where the office was located is a museum and the museum has made several valuable pieces of history available online for public viewing. Included in these are several primary sources, such as letters written by family members requesting Ms. Barton’s help in locating their loved ones.
This may sound quite sad to read, and I would imagine most are, however, one particular set of correspondence left me with a huge grin on my face and (as I mentioned before) wanting to give Clara Barton a very 21st-century hi-five.
The letters to which I am referring include:
- a letter from a Eugenica Hitchins, who is searching for her brother (April 17, 1865),
- a letter from the “missing” brother (Oct. 16, 1865), and
- Clara’s retort (Oct. 23, 1865).
Yes, retort. It seems this particular brother wasn’t overly bothered with letting his family know that he was still alive and felt quite mortified by having his name “blazoned all over the county.” He callously demands to know “what he has done” to deserve this. He goes so far as to say that those concerned for his welfare should simply “wait until I see fit to write them.” I kid you not. Oh, and did I mention, his mother had also been looking for him until she died and his sister made a deathbed promise to their mother that she would find him?
The beauty, the glorious, fantastic part of this story, however, comes in Clara’s retort. You absolutely have to read it in full to truly appreciate it, but here’s a highlight for you:
“‘What you have done’ to render this necessary I certainly do not know. It seems to have been the misfortune of your family to think more of you than you do of them and probably more than you deserve from the manner in which you treat them.”
Oh, and it goes on from there. You can practically feel the heat of her righteous fury simmering on the page (or screen as it may be).
I am telling you, this is a lady I want to be friends with!
Originally published: February 4, 2016