Barton remembered; 100th anniversary of Red Cross founder's funeral.
OXFORD - May Olney White, 103, remembers seeing her great-great aunt Clara Barton just a short time before Barton's death in 1912, and is pleased that the town is celebrating the 100th anniversary of her famous relative's funeral.
"I was nearly 4 years old when my mother took my sister Helen and me to Aunt Clara's house on Charlton Street to take care of her. She was flat on her back, sick in bed. She looked tiny in her big bed. She said we could go up to her widow's walk and play. There were seats up there you could sit on and see everything," Mrs. White said.
"Aunt Clara went right back to Washington (D.C.) when she felt better. That's the last time I saw her."
Mrs. White was born on July 8, 1908. Her beloved aunt, "the angel of the battlefield" and founder of the American Red Cross, died on April 12, 1912, and was buried three days later in North Cemetery in Oxford, a half mile from her birthplace.
"I stayed with my grandmother during the funeral. Aunt Clara was brought up from Washington in a special car on a train with dignitaries. They had the funeral in Town Hall and had a trolley car waiting outside to take the people to the cemetery. Then they all got back on the train and went back to Washington," Mrs. White said.
On April 15, the Oxford Historical Commission is holding a centennial commemoration of Clara Barton's funeral, according to commission member Terrence A. Cummings, organizer of the event. The festivities will be held on the grounds of the Oxford Middle School, or in the school cafeteria in case of rain.
At 8 a.m., the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry will set up an encampment in honor of those who served in the Civil War, which brought fame to Clara Barton. The Civil War re-enactors will fire muskets, drill and offer demonstrations throughout the day.
There will also be information available from the Clara Barton Birthplace Museum and Barton Center for Diabetes Education.
A Red Cross blood drive will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and special presentations will be made at 2 p.m.
"I will speak about Clara Barton's involvement in the war and after the war," Mr. Cummings said.
Special focus will be on the first battle of the Civil War on Northern soil, the Battle of Antietam, fought on Sept. 17, 1862, near Sharpsburg, Md.
It was at that one-day battle that Clara Barton earned her title "angel of the battlefield" by helping with the 22,700 casualties. The more than 3,600 dead Americans included Union soldiers who served under Gen. George B. McClellan and Confederate rebels under Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Clara Barton rushed onto the battlefield under fire to treat the wounded and dying on both sides. At one point, a bullet passed through the arm of her dress into the man she was treating, killing him. Later, she wrote, "I have never mended that hole in my sleeve. I wonder if a soldier ever does mend a bullet hole in his coat?"
After that battle, surgeon Dr. James Dunn said, "In my feeble estimation, Gen. McClellan, with all his laurels, sinks into insignificance beside the true heroine of the age, the angel of the battlefield."
With that, a legend was born.
Mr. Cummings said it is possible some of the soldiers treated by Clara Barton that day were fellow Central Massachusetts or even Oxford natives, since 606 men from the 15th Infantry fought at that battle.
"In 20 minutes, 75 were killed, 43 were mortally wounded and 225 more were wounded."
He said eight men from Oxford died at Antietam: Sgt. Amos H. Shumway and Pvts. John H. Curran, James H. Davis, Alexander Thompson, Conrad M. Tower, Charles H. Wheelock, Alfred W. Davis and Edwin E. Rindge.
At the commemoration "a member of the 15th Massachusetts will talk about their involvement in the war. People don't realize what an important role the 15th Massachusetts played in the Civil War. They were at Antietam. They fought at Ball's Bluff and were at the high-water mark at Gettysburg," Mr. Cummings said.
The "high-water mark" is the farthest line reached by Pickett's Charge, which was repulsed, ending the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.
The 15th Massachusetts left Worcester with 1,000 men from Central Massachusetts and returned with 90, he said.
"This was the last war with Americans fighting Americans. Oxford's population at the time was 3,024. Nearly 10 percent of the population, 293 men, served, and 61 were killed in the war," Mr. Cummings said.
State Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, is also expected to speak, along with local selectmen, Town Manager Joseph M. Zeneski, members of the town's Historical Commission and Historical Society, and Nichols College professor Emily Thomas, who will read from a book of speeches spoken by dignitaries at Clara Barton's funeral a century ago.
At 3 p.m. the Oxford High School Naval Junior ROTC, Oxford Memorial Honor Guard and the 15th Massachusetts re-enactors will march the short distance from the Middle School to Clara Barton's gravesite, where a 21-gun salute will be given and Taps will be played.
Marking her grave is a gray granite marker topped with a red stone cross. Next to the stone sits a large family monument engraved with the words, "Clara Barton, Angel of the Battlefield, Civil War 1861-1865, Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871, Spanish-American War 1898; Organizer and President of the American National Red Cross 1881-1904, Dec. 25, 1821 - April 12, 1912."
"We will finish with the singing of the `Battle Hymn of the Republic.' We hope everyone will join in," Mr. Cummings said.
Robert von Wolfgang, chairman of the Massachusetts Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, said the planned April 15 celebration of the life of Clara Barton is an important part of the statewide recognition of the Civil War planned over the next several years.
"Our kickoff is going to be from 1 to 3 p.m. on April 9 in the House chamber at the Statehouse," he said.
Plans are in place to have a Civil War re-enactors' encampment at Borderland State Park in Easton in September; to inventory sites, such as Clara Barton's gravesite, associated with the war; and to create an educational website on Massachusetts and the Civil War, among other things.
Mr. von Wolfgang said anyone with letters, diaries, government documents or other information from the Civil War will be encouraged to help populate the website, where digitized copies will be made available to the public.
"We have arrangements with the Secretary of State Archives Division to send information to our website," he said. "For me, this is a labor of love. I went to Gettysburg on my honeymoon."
PHOTOG: (1, 2 AND 3) Photos Courtesy of the Oxford Historical Society; (4) T&G Staff/TOM RETTIG
CUTLINE: (1) Above, the 1912 funeral procession for Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, leaves Oxford Town Hall. (2) Below, people gather at Town Hall. Barton is buried at North Cemetery in Oxford. (3) Clara Barton. (4) Historical Commission member Terrence A. Commings of Oxford stands near the cemetery plot of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, in North Cemetery in Oxford.