"IT WAS SO MUCH TO KNOW, THAT TWENTY-FOUR LITTLE HOURS WOULD RESTORE TO MY EMBRACE, MY OLD, WORN, EXILED BROTHER": EXTRAORDINARY CIVIL WAR SIGNED AUTOGRAPH LETTER, 1864, WRITTEN BY CLARA BARTON TO MAJOR GENERAL BENJAMIN F. BUTLER THANKING HIM FOR TAKING HER ILL, IMPRISONED BROTHER INTO HIS LINES SO HE COULD BE CARED FOR BY HIS SISTER
BARTON, Clara. Autograph letter signed. Flying Hospital Army Corps [Aiken's Landing, Virginia], 1864. Single unlined sheet, folded and with text on versos only, measuring 10 by 8 inches unfolded; pp. 2. $7500.
Fascinating Civil War signed autograph letter written entirely in Clara Barton's hand warmly expressing her gratitude to Major General Benjamin F. Butler for his decision to take her ill brother, imprisoned behind enemy lines, into his own regiment to allow a transfer to Barton's nursing care.
The autograph letter, dated "Flying Hospital 10th Army Corps. Oct. 16th, 1864—2 o'clock a.m.," reads in full: "Major Genl B.F. Butler. My kind and honored General—A few hours ago, I left your tent, to seek sleep and rest in my own; but the 'wee small hours' have crept on, and no slumber after all these nights of waking, comes to my weary eyes. And yet, I am so happy.—'He can come to you,' still rings on my ear as sweetly and kindly as it first fell from your lips. It was so much more than I had even hoped for, that my breath grew thick, and the blessing that welled up in my heart, struggled and clogged in my throat, and scarce left me utterance.
"It was so much to know, that twenty-four little hours would restore to my embrace, my old, worn, exiled brother—the brother I had loved with a baby love,—who had borne me playfully about the fields on his strong youthful shoulders, and carried me tenderly in his arms through the tall drifts, to school. The strange winds of eight long years have tossed his silvery locks (now white and thin) since I have looked upon him; and four years of angry war, and misguided rule have swept his lonely home. Every night, his name has been woven in my prayers,—every day in my thoughts,—I have so prayed that he might come into your lines,—And now, after all, to know that he is here, and that you will see and judge him for yourself, and permit him to come to me, is more than a sensitive nature like mine shall calmly endure.
"I have no further boon to crave. If, upon investigation you find that my brothers' course of action has been such that you cannot overlook it, and receive him to your confidence as a loyal man, I shall submit to your decision without a murmur,—it shall not move in me any spirit of discontent.—I will not therefore be less sacrificing, loyal, or faithful, but shall work on till the end, cheerfully, loyally, hopefully. But, if, on the other hand, it prove that he can be trusted, if you can receive him back as a Citizen of the United States, standing once more under the Old Flag he loved so well, God only knows the richness and fullness of joy it will bring to my heart: And unless my brothers' soul is dead, and his whole nature changed, one friendly touch of your hand, one encouraging work from you, and he will water the ground at your feet, with his tears of loyal, grateful joy.
"Pardon this trespass, General for your kindness has made me scarce myself.—But, so gratefully [signed] Yours, Clara Barton."
This letter stems from a formative event in Clara Barton's life. She had received a letter from her older brother, Stephen—a prominent Northern businessman and mill town founder in Bartonsville, North Carolina—who was imprisoned due to his activities behind enemy lines. Instead of fleeing as most Yankees would have, Stephen opted to stay in North Carolina out of concern that his property, which included a post officer, lumberyards, wharves, and warehouses, would be ransacked. The Confederate government agreed that Stephen could remain on his property, provided he did not have contact with the Union factions stationed in the area. As a result, Stephen lost regular contact with the rest of the Barton family for some time. The Barton family fell into a panic, constantly developing schemes to bring him North into the Union, only to have their ideas rejected in his infrequent letters.
However, matters changed when Stephen was arrested on suspicion of being a Confederate agent. For some time, he had been using a Union pass and trading his own cotton to Union agents in exchange for supplies that he carried back to his suffering Confederate neighbors. In attempting to help his friends, Stephen managed to run afoul of the laws of both the Union and the Confederacy. While in prison, Stephen had the opportunity to write to Clara. The imprisonment posed an immediate threat, as Stephen had chronically poor health due to asthma. Clara, who had been nursing members of her family since the age of 11, was extremely concerned about his well-being. At the time she was working under General Butler as head of diet and nursing at the so-called Flying Hospital (nicknamed thus because it constantly moved to stay behind the lines, but accessible to the wounded). She pleaded with General Butler to be allowed to go nurse her brother. Instead, Butler suggested that Stephen be brought into his lines.
While Stephen was quickly acquitted of the illegal trade and treason charges, confirming his sister's faith in his character, his health failed to improve. Clara traveled with him to Washington, D.C., hoping to secure better medical care in the Union. Unfortunately, Stephen's health took a turn and he died on March 10, 1865. The Bartonsville property was burned to the ground by the Union just three weeks later. Clara, though, was spurred to action. She soon founded the Missing Soldier's Office in Annapolis, where she set to work compiling a massive list of soldiers who had gone missing during the war. The effort culminated in her five "Rolls of Missing Men," containing the names of 6650 men. Faint blindstamp in top corner of first page. Docketing/filing notations in top blank corner. Slight evidence of album mounting.
Original creases, a few spots of slight soiling. Near-fine condition.