Clara Barton: In the Service of Humanity.
David Burton is right to describe his subject as 'a strange
cross of saint and sinner ... much loved but often not much Liked'.
Clara Barton (1821-1912) was working as a clerk in the US Patent Office
on the outbreak of the American Civil War. She abandoned her job and
organized a volunteer service to aid the sick and wounded, and became an
Angel of Mercy, a Florence Nightingale, at Bull Run, Antietam,
Fredericksburg and at Hilton Head, South Carolina - to name but the most
prominent of the battlefields where she served. Near the war's end,
Lincoln asked her to head a unit that tried to find missing soldiers and
to trace unmarked graves - estimated to number some two hundred
thousand. She lectured on her experiences in the years after the war and
became a celebrity. Being in Europe when the France-Prussian War broke
out in 1870, she learned of a new organization, the International Red
Cross, with whose aims she at once identified. An eye-witness to its
efforts to alleviate the sufferings of soldiers and civilians on both
sides in the France-Prussian War, on her return home she became an
active campaigner for the US to sign the Geneva Convention, the enabling
act that had created the Red Cross in 1864. It provided for the
neutrality of the medical services of the armed forces and for the
humane treatment of all prisoners. It was thanks to her efforts that the
American Red Cross became a relief organization to respond to disasters
of any nature - at home or abroad. She was an activist as well as an
organizer: she was in Johnstown after the flood, in Galveston after the
tidal wave, and in Cuba during the Spanish-American war. Whenever there
was a catastrophe, she had to be there; she was the salt of the earth.
David Burton tells her story well. His biography is at once detailed,
vivid and fascinating reading.