The night air was thick with the smell of gun powder, and the stars were drowned out by the smoke still polluting the air of Chantilly battlefield. A tiny figure in skirts and bows moved in and out among the wounded soldiers, wrapping wounds and bringing water to the battered men lying at her feet. The nurse was huddled over a young soldier giving him a glass of water when she felt a tug on her skirt.
“Ma’am,” said the feeble voice behind her.
Clara turned to see the war torn face of yet another young soldier injured in the battle.
“Yes?” she replied.
“Ma’am, do you not recognize me?” He asked in a shaky voice.
“I apologize, but I do not.” Clara searched the face for any feature she may recognize under the many bandages. “Praise be!” she exclaimed. “Why Markus, I did not recognize you. You have changed much over the years!”
“I am much comforted by seeing you, Miss Barton. I still remember the day you beat me in the school race. I was so arrogant! I never thought that such a small school teacher could outrun one of her students. You sure taught me a lesson!”
“And I remember the look on your face as you crossed the finish line after me. I had never seen any face so red except my own!” Clara responded as she adjusted a bandage on Markus’ arm. Just as she was doing so, the sleeve on Clara’s dress shivered and she looked down to find a bullet hole through the lace. Turning back to Markus, she found him still.
This was the reality facing the young Clara Barton. Growing up, she was a painfully shy girl. In fact, she was so shy that she would often be unable to eat at the dinner table when guests were visiting her family. She was very bright, learning to read by the age of four. Two of her older siblings were teachers and assisted in her education. And, growing up on a farm, she soon was a first rate horseback rider.
To cure her of her terrible shyness, her family sent Clara to a boarding school for girls, believing that she would be forced to overcome her bashfulness if she was on her own away from home. But she was so timid she could not interact with the other girls, unable even to eat at the table with them. Clara soon became very sickly and her father had to come for her.
Clara had a special talent for healing—a gift that was evident very early on. She tended to the injured animals on the farm with such skill that neighbors and friends would come to her with their sick animals. Her talents were needed at a very young age for her brother, David.
One day, her family was attending a barn-raising for another family nearby. Her older brother, David, was on the rafters working, when he lost his balance and plummeted to the ground.
“David!” Clara yelled and ran to her bother’s side. Everyone expected David to be dead after such a fall, but Clara found him still breathing. “Don’t touch him,” Clara told a man who was attempting to lift him to a cart, “if he has broken his back, you will injure him further.”
“Mama, go and get some water and bandages.” Clara yelled turning to her mother who was standing behind her. “Papa, make a brace with those boards over there.” Under the careful instruction of the little Clara Barton, David was taken back home without further injury. It was two full years of dedicated nursing by Clara, before David fully recovered.
During the civil war that tore our nation in the 1800s, Clara heard of the wounded soldiers who were dying simply from the lack of care. Indignant at the neglect of those giving their lives for the cause for their country, Clara did not rest until she obtained permission and supplies to attend the soldiers on the front lines of battle. Here she worked tirelessly to perfect a method by which to care for the wounded and save the lives of thousands.
Clara Barton seems a very unlikely candidate for the role of a nurse on the front lines of battle. But, through God’s power, those who seem most unfit can be used for the most awesome of tasks. And so it was, whenever someone was in need of help, the timid and shy Clara Barton would rise to the occasion and come to the aide of any who were ill or injured, no matter the circumstance. This quality was what later led her to the battlefields of America, and on to become a key founder of the American Red Cross.
Alicia Freedman is currently working on our LandMarks team and can be contacted at: email@example.com.