American nurse Clara Barton emerged as a hero during the Civil War, her tireless efforts in providing medical care and supplies to those on the front lines earning her the title, “Angel of the Battlefield.” After the war her good deeds continued, and she dedicated her time to responding to the thousands of unanswered letters from the families of missing and dead soldiers, lists of whom she meticulously maintained and published. On August 17th of 1865, Barton was granted the honour of raising the U. S. flag at Andersonville National Cemetery, where 13’000 Union soldiers who perished in Andersonville Prison were laid to rest—a cemetery she had played a role in marking. That evening, she recalled this historic and emotional moment in her diary.
Sixteen years later, Barton founded the American Red Cross.
The Diary Entry
THURSDAY, AUGUST 17, 1865.
Dressing early – Capt. called me to go and run up the stars & stripes – and this at Andersonville! at sleep these 13000 martyrs – where the flag of the country – no flag has floated in four dark years – I went with him – found Col & Mrs Griffin – her sister & Miss West & company of soldiers & the workmen – all was made ready – and I advanced to the side of Mr Walker and together we ran it up amid the cheers of the beholders – Up and there it drooped as if in grief & sadness, till at length the sunlight streamed out and its beautiful foalds filled – the men struck up the Star Spangled Banner and I covered my face and wept – Three volleys – the Red White & blue – and we turned towards our camp and breakfast. The work was done! My own hands have helped to run up the Old flag on our great and holy ground – and I ought to be satisfied – I believe I am – At breakfast our tents were struck and making ready met uncle Jarrett who produced Jo, and wanted to take him North. Capt M. consented – Rosa was at the depot and with a last look at Andersonville, at once sad & terrible we entered the Ambulance and drove on – a few steps out, Aunt Milly came running to say good bye but the rolling tears permitted no word from her or me and we drove on – passed the day till 11. at Col G. then all took the train for Fort Valley and Macon. – Col was left at home – but followed us in Dr. McCluers hospital train which went to Andersonville for poor Watts. Spent the night in Macon – Jarrett became alarmed at the threats of the regulars, – we looked him up and got him into a yard to sleep – I took charge of his money – Rosa staid with me. Spent the evening in the Parlor of Browns hotel with Col. Griffin & Atwater.
Many biographies of Clara Barton have been written, but, as far as I can tell, her diaries have never been published. However, most of the originals are held at the Library of Congress and can be viewed online.
- Since 2018, over at the Library of Congress website, volunteers have been transcribing Clara Barton’s papers—diaries included. You can see their progress, and lend a hand, here.
- From 1865, an illustration of Clara Barton raising the flag at Andersonville
- Clara Barton and Andersonville (National Park Service)
- Clara Barton at Wikipedia