“The literature of the Civil War has never given Clara the attention she deserves. She is rarely mentioned in the textbooks and general histories; their focus is almost exclusively on the men, anyway.”
“The Civil War was the defining event in Clara’s life. Shaping who she was and what she became. It gave her the opportunity as a woman to reach out and seize control of her destiny. - Stephen B. Oates, “Woman of Valor, Clara Barton and the Civil War.”
During the Civil War, morale in the Union and those supporting their cause sank to an all-time low after the Second Battle of Manassas/Bull Run (August 29-30, 1862). On the heels of his game-changing victory over McClellan, Lee crushed Pope. With northern Virginia in his pocket, the Confederate Commander set his sights on Maryland and northward. Frightened citizens in Washington and President Lincoln worried about an attack on the Capital.
Casualties at Second Manassas/Bull Run were almost 20,000 combined, the worse of the war to date. Union losses were about 1,800 dead, and 8,500 wounded. 3,000 of those were taken to Fairfax Station, about four miles south of Fairfax.
Hearing the dreadful news, Clara Barton, who had moved from her home in Massachusetts to Washington in 1853 and was serving as a clerk at the U.S. Patent Office at 7th and G, jumped on a train. After a stop in Alexandria, the Orange and Alexandria Railroad cars rumbled sixteen miles westward to Fairfax Station, where a makeshift hospital and triage center waited for the dying and wounded. Barton brought her own supplies, three trusty friends and fellow caregivers, and a fierce tenacity to help.
The Fairfax Station Railroad Museum commemorated the medical evacuation this weekend. Barton, known as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” and a pioneer in many ways who would go on to found the Red Cross, was remembered and honored. Over the course of three days and nights, she gave extraordinary care and comfort to the soldiers, getting little or no sleep.
Exhibits, re-enactors, demonstrations, and panel interpretations inside the museum were part of the event. Local authors Don Hakenson and Charles V. Mauro provided insight through their research on the Civil Way in Fairfax County. Cloudy skies and the threat of rain lent an air of authenticity. On top of everything else the wounded had to deal with, a thunderstorm soaked the hillside they lay on.
Using her own funds, Barton would continue to provide leadership and medical care for the soldiers throughout the course of the five-year war. By law, she wasn’t even authorized to be employed as a nurse in the field.
Barton is a remarkable figure in our history, who forged her passion at a time when women were not welcomed in leadership roles.
This event and the panels inside did much to shine a light on her story, as well as others who endured the hardships of the Civil War. The medical corps improved some after this battle, which marked a low point in the care for those brave soldiers.