"AT NIGHT THE WOUNDED ARE TAKEN IN, AND CARED FOR, THE DEAD ARE BURIED THE HOMES ARE DESOLATED, THE HEARTS ARE BROKEN AND TIME MOVES ON, HOW LONG OH GOD HOW LONG": EXCEPTIONAL AND RARE 1864 WARTIME AUTOGRAPH CLARA BARTON LETTER, WITH RIVETING DESCRIPTIONS OF MEDICAL AND MILITARY MATTERS AT THE SIEGE OF PETERSBURG, TOGETHER WITH A SECOND AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED BY BARTON
BARTON, Clara. Autograph letter. WITH: Autograph letter signed. Point of Rocks, Virginia, July 1, 1864 / July 13, 1864. Two leaves of lined paper, one measuring 8 by 10 inches, folded, and one measuring 8 by 5 inches, for a total of six pages. WITH: One leaf of line paper, measuring 8 by 5 inches, written on both sides; with original autograph envelope. $13,000.
Rare autograph Clara Barton letter, written from the front during the Siege of Petersburg and containing vivid descriptions of military encounters and the sufferings of the soldiers she cared for, together with an autograph letter signed by Barton two weeks later to a physician she served with.
Born in Massachusetts, Barton was persuaded by her parents to become a schoolteacher, receiving her teacher's certificate in 1839. After working as a teacher for a dozen years, she attended the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York to continue her education. In 1852, she successfully opened a free school in Bordentown, the first free school in New Jersey. Demoted after the town built a new school and hired a male principal, Barton quit. In 1855, she moved to Washington, D.C., and began work as a clerk in the Patents Office, the first woman to receive a substantial clerkship and equal pay with a man. After three years, the Buchanan administration fired her because of her "Black Republican" political views. After living with friends in Massachusetts for three years, she returned to Washington and took a position as temporary copyist in the Patents Office. After the Baltimore Riot of 1861 against Massachusetts troops, Barton nursed forty of the the victims back to health and learned valuable lessons about aiding soldiers. She began collecting medical supplies and distributing them to soldiers. In August 1862, she received permission from Quartermaster Daniel Rucker to work on the front lines. Throughout the war, she distributed medicine and food to wounded soldiers in close proximity to the battles of Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. In 1864, General Benjamin Butler placed her in charge of hospitals at the front of the Army of the James. For her Civil War service, Barton became known as the "Angel of the Battlefield" and the "Florence Nightingale of America." After the war, she ran the Office of Missing Soldiers in Washington, helping to locate the remains of more than 22,000 missing soldiers. She also lectured about her experiences and became associated with the women's suffrage movement and the civil rights movement for African Americans. In 1869, she became acquainted with the Red Cross in Switzerland and aided military hospitals during the Franco-Prussian War. In 1881, she founded the American Red Cross and became its first president. She continued to work in the field in response to natural disasters and wars as late as 1900.
In this riveting letter, Barton described recent events with the Army of the James under the command of General Benjamin F. Butler Point of Rocks was a plantation near Chester, Virginia, that served as Butler's headquarters. In May 1864, the Army of the James had been repulsed by the Confederates at Bermuda Hundred, but by the first of July, it was a part of the Siege of Petersburg. Because of its proximity to the James and Appomattox rivers, Point of Rocks remained a vital transfer point for supplies and wounded soldiers.
Barton describes a Confederate bombardment of the Eighteenth Corps under the command of General William Farrar Smith and the narrow escape of a portion of General Butler's cavalry division under the German-American General August Kautz. She also offers poignant descriptions of the importance of donations from civilians to the morale of wounded men.
The letter reads in full:
Point of Rocks, Va.
General Hospital 10th Army Corps
July 1st 1864.
My dear friend
I am astonished at myself that all these days should have passed and I not written you, but they have been busy days, and they have flown so quickly that I scarce heeded their flight, till yesterday when the month "brought up with a round turn" and I found me just stepping into the dews and sunshine of July.
You will pardon me if I write short letters, and say my little say in disconnected sentences, remembering that between each one and the following is a call, a question or a reply.
I am sitting in the midst of fourteen long lines of tents, all filled with used up, cut up and worn out, men. A number of times each week the boats come up and take to to the rear all who cannot in a few days join their regs. at "the front," but before the next morning all vacancies are filled, and there is not a spare bedsack to show that, two hundred or more moved on and left us their straw and sacks.
We have had some of the most oppressive heat, and lately, two days of most refreshing coolness.
Yesterday, I passed up the line of our entrenchments, from the Appomattox to the James—they are strong, beautiful, and well defended—and as I passed regiment after regiment of sun burnt veterans, and met their welcome smile of recognition, and remembered how few faces there are left to brighten up at the sight of an old friend, I could scarce keep my eyes clear enough to see my way along the ebrazured line—at length the last battery was reached, and I had just set down a cup of coffee with my old friend Col. when as the soldiers express it, the "Ball opened" at Petersburgh, and more rapid artillery firing I have never listened to. I timed it and counted thirty six shots in a minute. This was falling upon the eighteenth corps. In the meantime parties of Kautz Cavalry commenced to come in, and their fearful tale had to be told and heard. After finding themselves surrounded a company of some seventy had been dispatched with orders to cut their way out, and inform Genl Grant of their position, of the detachment, a capt a sargent, and three privates came through, and reached Genl Grants head quarters, but before help could avail them much, the whole command had broken through, and ragged and bare headed came leading their jaded horses into camp—and yet in the midst of such scenes constantly occurring there is the utmost cheerfulness, and all are hopeful and brave. At night the wounded are taken in, and cared for, the dead are buried the homes are desolated, the hearts are broken and time moves on, How long Oh God how long.
I have to acknowledge and return thanks to you for the two boxes, and two barrels of supplies which reached me yesterday from Washington, and I am certain if the generous donors in New York & New England could for one day look on, and watch these long lines of tented sufferers, and witness the faint smile at the breakfast slice comes in buttered, and heard the pale-faced recipient say "The first butter I have seen in ten months," or the glance of astonishment which he turns upon you, at evening, when he receives his bread and butter, and freshly cooked applesauce and tea, "This seems like home" or the tear that rolls over the still paler cheek, as he turns a little to taste the cracker toast and nice boiled egg which a minute before he would have rated among the impossibilities—I say if they could only look on and see this as I see it every hour it would, I know it would richly repay them for all their pains—and surely they would not wonder if these things "ever reached the soldiers"
These last hot days have settled my doubts in reference to butter and eggs, and the practicability of taking them to the field. I have found it entirely practicable, and eminently satisfactory. In the present instance we have exhumed a rebel ice house, (otherwise should have manufactured one,) and please tell the noble ladies of N. York, (our Watkins & Reading friends that less than an hour ago I blistered my hand, spreading their sweet hard yellow butter onto sliced bread for five hundred men's suppers. I recollect when it was quite an item to make the yearly barrel of apple sauce for the family. I have caused to be made a barrel today, and given out every spoonful of it with my own hands, have boiled six dozs eggs, made cracker toast, corn starch Blanc Mange, and milk punch, the latter for the poor fellows wounded about the head & throat.
The second letter was written to Dr. Martin S. Kittinger (inexplicably, the envelope is address to William, rather than Martin), who Barton first worked with at Hilton Head, South Carolina in 1863. He rejoined her in 1864, when she served with the 10th Corps hospital and the Army of the James in Virginia. In October 1864, Kittinger brought Barton's brother Stephen Barton to her at Bermuda Hundred and served as his physician. When Kittinger resigned his commission in January 1865, Barton wrote in her diary, "No one can truly take the place of an old and true friend like DK."
The second letter reads in full:
Pt of Rocks, 13th/July My dear friend, Your welcome note came duly. I judge by it that you will not visit us today, and there is a prospect that I may go up with our boat load of sick tomorrow to Washington, but if the rebels have not made themselves too conspicuous, I shall expect to return very soon. I have said so to Dr. Porter, and he so permits me to leave. I do not trust reports but if I should find the greater necessity at my own door, per force I must stay and meet it but am not intending or expecting such a thing but think to be back here in a week at most, so let us see you here. Now do believe me. This is my note I do write it, and Woodbury is not here, and you are not being imposed upon except by Yours Truly Clara Barton [Envelope]: Dr. Wm Kittinger / 100th N.Y. Regt.
Minor discoloration to one page, expected fold lines. Letters of Clara Barton written during the war are exceptionally scarce and very few are known besides these.