Clara Barton’s Network
Originally published in the 2017 Special Edition of the Surgeon’s Call
In March 1854, Clara Barton moved to Washington, DC. It was a bold and fateful decision. Barton wrote soon after her arrival that she enjoyed her quiet, almost friendless and unknown life. While she may have been “almost friendless” in the beginning, she soon began to form a network of acquaintances who would support her in her many endeavors.
One of her first acquaintances, Alexander DeWitt, was a Congressman from Massachusetts. DeWitt was described as a tall, congenial man and was a distant cousin of Barton’s. He made it his business to offer her hospitality and acted as an influential friend and sympathizer. He would help her attain her position in the Patent Office. Born in 1798 in Braintree, MA, DeWitt had worked in textile manufacturing and as a bank president in Oxford prior to becoming involved in politics. As a member of the Democratic Party, he had served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1830 to 1836, and then served four terms in the state Senate.
An anti-slavery activist, DeWitt joined the Free Soil Party and in 1853 was elected to Congress. In January 1854, he was one of the signers of the “Appeal of the Independent Democrats,” drafted to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act. With the demise of the Free Soil Party, DeWitt joined the American or Know-Nothing Party, the only major party at that time to have an anti-slavery platform, and was elected for a second term. During this time DeWitt introduced Barton to the Commissioner of Patents, Charles Mason, and later wrote a letter urging her continued employment when all female clerks were to be dropped.
DeWitt was defeated for reelection in 1856 and returned to his business interests in Oxford. He later became a Republican and supported the Union during the War by participating in efforts to recruit and equip soldiers for Massachusetts regiments. Alexander DeWitt died in 1879.
Through DeWitt, Barton was introduced to Charles Mason, the Commissioner of Patents. Mason, impressed by her motivation and credentials, intended to hire Barton to go to Burlington, IA, to be governess to his daughter. However, at the urging of Congressman DeWitt, he hired her as a confidential clerk.
Mason was generally believed to be the most effective Commissioner in the nineteenth century. He was born in 1804 in Pompey, NY, and in 1829 graduated first in his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, ahead of his fellow classmates, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Joseph E. Johnston. For two years Mason served as an assistant professor of engineering at West Point, then resigned the Army to read law. In 1832 he passed the bar examination and practiced in a partnership in Newburgh, NY. After moving to New York City, he wrote for the New York Evening Post, a radical Democrat paper.
In 1836 he moved to Wisconsin Territory and became an aide to Governor Henry Dodge and the public prosecutor of Des Moines County. In 1837 he married Angelica Gear, and the couple had three daughters. In 1838 Iowa became a territory, and President Martin Van Buren appointed Mason chief Justice of the Territorial Supreme Court. He would have an active tenure, writing 166 of the court’s 191 opinions and writing a draft bill that became the territorial criminal code. In one of his first and most important cases, it was held that an ex-slave named Ralph became a free man once he was brought into the free territory of Iowa. This ruling was written before the famous Dred Scott decision.
In 1853 President Franklin Pierce appointed him Commissioner of Patents. As Commissioner, his responsibilities also included agricultural affairs and weather information. As a farmer himself, Mason promoted agricultural research and collected world statistics on cotton and tobacco. He authorized a system of obtaining national weather data by telegraph, which would lead to the formation of the National Weather Bureau, and reorganized the system of applying for patents.
In September, 1855 Mason resigned from the Patent Office due to political differences with the Secretary of the Interior, Robert McClelland, and returned to Iowa. Pressure from the scientific and agricultural communities brought him back to the office in the late fall. Mason continued as Commissioner until 1857, when he again resigned and began to practice patent law.
Back in Iowa, Mason was elected to the State Board of Education, but he soon embraced the position of a Peace Democrat. In 1861 he ran for Governor, opposing secession but upholding the constitutional rights of the Southern states. He maintained that the Union could not be perpetuated by force of arms. When the Democratic Party split over this issue, Mason withdrew from the campaign. He continued to oppose the war and worked tirelessly to defeat Lincoln in 1864. In his later years he became involved with the railroads and banking. He died on his Burlington farm in 1882.
Soon after Barton’s appointment to a clerkship at the Patent Office, she took up a room in a boarding house run by the wife of a colleague, Joseph Fales. Almira Fales was described as a tall, plainly dressed woman with few of the fashionable graces of manner, but her exuberance impressed Barton. She believed strongly in the necessities of charity and pursued her personal projects with passion and devotion. She was also a keen observer of the signs of the times and became convinced that war was coming. In December 1860, she began to prepare lint and collect hospital stores, and was derided for this action. Her work would have a direct influence on Barton, especially if she observed that Fales collected and stored hospital supplies for future use. When the conflict did come, she began to distribute her supplies to the hospitals being opened in Washington—which amounted to over seven thousand boxes and thousands of dollars’ worth of comforts to the sick and wounded, over the course of four years.
In addition to providing supplies, Fales took an active role in providing nursing care. While working at the Patent Office Hospital in 1861, she attempted to discourage a new volunteer, Maria Hall. Fortunately she failed in this effort, and Hall went on to do outstanding work at Antietam and Annapolis. Fales served on the hospital transport ships of the Sanitary Commission during the Peninsular Campaign, and may have served on the transport ships in the Western theater for a brief period.
Fales accompanied Barton to Cedar Mountain and during the subsequent battles of August 1862 in Pope’s campaign. They brought supplies to the field and ministered to the wounded, while shot and shell were crashing around them. In danger of being captured at Fairfax Station, Fales chose to leave on the last train back to Washington. Barton would later demean her for abandoning her post.
In the Chancellorsville campaign in May of 1863, Fales lost a son. Thomas Hartbenton Fales, a corporal in the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, was killed in the Battle of Salem Heights. She wrote to a friend and fellow nurse Eunice Cook: “I feel now that I must work harder and do more for the living than I have ever done. I wish I could do more.”
She spent time at the hospital at Fortress Monroe and would often accompany wounded men to hospitals closer to their homes, caring for them throughout the journey. She was best described as “humble in life, yet of wonderful benevolence, of indomitable energy, unflagging perseverance and unwavering purpose, who foresaw the inevitable coming of the war and was prepared for it.”
David Pierson Holloway
In December of 1860, Barton returned to her position at the Patent Office. Many of her old friends like Joseph Fales were still there, and Judge Mason and his wife were in the city while he served as a patent lawyer. She again roomed in the Fales’ boarding house before moving to Seventh Street. While she seemed to have confidence in the incoming Commissioner of Patents, David Pierson Holloway, she decided to seek out some political support and began to cultivate a friendship with Henry Wilson, a Senator from Massachusetts. This friendship would prove to be very valuable. Holloway would prove to be a supporter as well.
David Pierson Holloway was born in Waynesville, OH, in 1809. He lived in Cincinnati, where he learned the printing business, working for four years on the Cincinnati Gazette. In 1823 he moved to Richmond, IN, and purchased the Richmond Palladium in 1832, which he edited until his death. A Quaker, he was opposed to slavery and wrote numerous editorials against this institution and even urged his readers to not buy goods made with slave labor. He served in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1843-1844, and the Indiana Senate from 1844-1850. Very interested in agriculture, he served as Examiner of Land Offices in 1849 and edited the Indiana Farmer from 1852-1861.
In 1854 he joined the Indiana Party, a coalition of former Democrats and Whigs who opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, serving from 1855-1857. This party would later merge with the Republican Party. During his tenure in Washington, he served as Chairman of the Agriculture Committee. On his return to Indiana, he served as president of the Wayne County Agricultural Society and helped to form the Indiana State Board of Agriculture.
In 1861 he was appointed Commissioner of Patents, taking office on March 28. While he ran the Office very well according to those doing business with it, he came under fire for alleged unethical activities. He refused to fire several employees accused of disloyalty because the charges were based on hearsay. He also continued to pay salaries of individuals serving the Union cause, although their work was being done by others. One of these individuals was Barton. In January 1863, a complaint was filed against Holloway for misuse of funds. The complaint alleged, among other things, that “Mr. Holloway allows his favorites to absent themselves from the office for months at a time and yet draw their pay as if present. In addition he details clerks to perform their duties; thus taxing the Office twice for one service.” This complaint would lead to an investigation by a House committee in 1865.
Holloway resigned as Commissioner in 1865. Like his predecessor Charles Mason, he remained in Washington and practiced as a Patent Attorney until his death in 1883.
Soon after Barton began her efforts of collecting supplies for the soldiers, she realized that she needed more room. She moved into larger quarters in a business block in a boarding house where a friend from the Patent Office, Edward Shaw, lived. Not only would Shaw become her neighbor but he would also help her complete her work at the Patent Office, holding her job for her while she devoted herself to her relief efforts. He was not the only clerk to do this. A Mr. Upperman was reported to have worked as a substitute as well.
Edward Shaw was born in Attleboro, MA, in 1824. After receiving his early education in Attleboro, Shaw entered Phillips Academy at Andover and then matriculated at Yale University in 1843, graduating in 1847. After teaching in Attleboro and Haddam, CT, for about five years, he moved to Washington, DC.
During the summer of 1853, he was the sole telegraphic correspondent for the Associated Press, reporting on activities in the District. In August of 1853, he was appointed as an assistant examiner in the Patent Office and served there until the war ended. During much of this time he was detailed to reportorial work, as much of the work of the Office was suspended.
Shaw received an appointment as hospital steward in 1867, and was assigned to clerical work in the Surgeon General’s Office until 1870, when he was honorably discharged. He was then employed as a librarian in the SGO until 1908, when he was forced to resign due to serious illness. In this position Shaw worked with John Shaw Billings to complete the first Index Catalogue for the library. Of his work in this office, it was said that “Mr. Shaw, a Yale graduate had the dependability and reliability upon which Billings set the highest value.” Shaw was tasked with indexing cards, classifying the subject and author catalogues and preparing the copy for printing. Shaw was a well-respected government worker serving for several years as the representative for the Department of War on the Board of Promotions. In 1883 after the passage of the Civil Service Reform Act, Shaw was listed as a Class 4 Clerk, the highest civil service class at that time.
In 1905 Shaw was elected to membership in the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia and continued to live in the same building where Barton had lived during the Civil War. Edward Shaw died September 26, 1914, from valvular disease of the heart and was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery.
Dr. Richard Coolidge
Once Clara Barton had determined to take her supplies directly to the field, she needed passes and transportation. The first officer of rank who gave her a kind answer was Dr. Richard H. Coolidge, Medical Inspector of the Northern Department. In July of 1862, he helped her get a pass from Surgeon General Hammond which was then referred to Col. Daniel Rucker, Assistant Quartermaster.
Coolidge was born in New York City in 1816. After receiving his medical degree he entered the army as an Assistant Surgeon in 1841. In December of 1856, he was posted to Fort Riley to replace Surgeon William Hammond. While there, he reported cases of scarletina and variola and obtained “vaccine virus” and vaccinated all of the fort’s contingent. He co-authored a revision of the book Hints on the Medical Examination of Recruits in the Army, published in 1856. In 1860 he was promoted to Surgeon and in 1862 was appointed Medical Inspector. He sat on the Board of Medical Officers reviewing ambulances, and along with Surgeon Finley, designed a two-wheeled conveyance which bore his name. He helped to design a hospital knapsack known as the Coolidge Field Case or Surgeon’s Companion, which was adopted by the army for use in the field. After the war, he was assigned as medical director of the Department of North Carolina. Dr. Coolidge died at Raleigh, NC, in 1866.
Daniel Henry Rucker
Rucker was born in Belleville, New Jersey in 1812. As a young man he moved to Grosse Ile, MI. He was commissioned directly into the 1st Division U.S. Dragoons as a Second Lieutenant in 1837, under the command of S.W. Kearney. In 1839 while stationed at Fort Gibson, he fell in love with and married Flora McDonald Coody. Flora was the daughter of Joseph Coody and the granddaughter of Jane Ross, a sister of Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation. Together they had four children: two sons who died young; another son named Ross; and a daughter named Louise. In 1845 Flora died of a fever and was buried in the officer’s circle at Fort Gibson.
Rucker was promoted to Captain in 1847 and then to Major for meritorious service and gallantry at the battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War. In 1849 he transferred from line duty to the staff of the Quartermaster Department. He served in California during the Gold Rush and established depots of provisions, horses and men along several of the routes taken by the gold seekers, helping to save hundreds of lives. In 1850 he married Irene Curtis and had two more children. His daughter, Irene, would later marry General Phil Sheridan.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Rucker was offered a command in the 6th Cavalry but decided to remain with the Quartermaster Department. He was appointed to the command of the Washington Depot and was responsible for supplying the Union armies campaigning in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. He was promoted to General of Volunteers in 1863 and brevetted Major General for meritorious service in March 1865.
General Rucker continued to serve until 1882 when he retired at his own request. At age 97, he became involved in a controversy with an insurance company when he refused to accept a settlement offered in 1909 on the theory that he was statistically dead. Rucker would die of uremic poisoning in 1910 at the age of 98. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery
With her passes and transportation arranged, Barton collected her assistants and proceeded to the field. On her first venture to the battlefield at Cedar Mountain, she was accompanied by Almira Fales, Anna Carver and Cornelius Welles.
Cornelius Welles was born in Wethersfield, CT, in 1828. In 1851 he helped to establish Ragged or Mission schools in Hartford, and in 1852 visited California, where he acted as a lay minister in the mining communities. Subsequently he visited Australia, and in 1855 returned to Hartford. He established a city mission school and exerted himself with great success for the benefit of the poor of that city for several years. His health failing, he sailed to South America and helped establish mission schools in Buenos Aries and Rio de Janeiro. In December 1859 he sailed back to New York and organized a school in the 17th ward, a charity for the honest but unfortunate poor.
In the summer of 1862, because of poor health, he sought a warmer climate and applied to the Freedman’s School in DC. Soon after his arrival, he began to visit the sick and wounded and met Barton. Welles possessed several qualities that Barton admired. First, he was deeply devoted to aiding ill, wounded and needy people, no matter what their situation. Furthermore, he was perfectly willing to take orders from a woman. Together Welles and Barton travelled to Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Fairfax Station, South Mountain, Antietam and Fredericksburg, always on the field caring for wounded soldiers, stanching wounds, administering cordials and food, and giving spiritual solace. In July of 1863, Welles would travel to Chancellorsville and Gettysburg alone; but by this time his health was becoming worse. In September 1863, he sailed to California, planning to go on to Arizona. He never made it. On November 26, Cornelius Welles died at Big Meadow Mining district, Los Angeles County, CA. The loss of her “faithful Cornie” shook Barton deeply.
Anna Carver (sometimes mistakenly called Carner) first worked with Barton at Fredericksburg in early August 1862. On this first trip through “rebel country,” Barton felt the need for extra protection and obtained additional passes for two gentlemen and a lady companion. Carver had come to Washington with The Penn Relief Association. This group was organized early in 1862 by the Hicksite Friends of Philadelphia, to demonstrate the falsity of the commonly believed report that the “Friends,” being opposed to war, would do nothing for the sick and wounded. It proved itself a very efficient body. The “Penn Relief” collected supplies worth well over fifty thousand dollars and distributed them directly “to the front” by agents such as Anna Carver, Hettie Painter, Mary W. Lee and Mrs. Husbands.
Carver was described as a middle-aged woman with plump, capable hands and a ready smile. While she worked well and tirelessly in the hospitals, she was nervous near the battlefield. While this first trip didn’t get them close to the fighting, her second adventure to Culpeper and Fairfax Station convinced her to return to her work in the hospitals of the District. This “desertion,” along with that of Almira Fales, convinced Barton that other women could not stand the trials of front line work; after this she would never again be accompanied at the battlefield by a woman.
John Johnson Elwell
For the first three months of 1863, Barton was in Washington, DC. In March her brother David was posted to Hilton Head, SC, as a Quartermaster; and Clara received permission to go with him. When she landed, she found that provision had been made for her by Col. John Elwell, who was destined to become a very close friend.
John Johnson Elwell, the Chief Quartermaster for the Department of the South, was born in 1820 in Warren, OH. He graduated from Cleveland Medical College in 1846 and practiced medicine in Orwell, OH, for several years. In 1846, he married Nancy Chittenden and they had four children, none of whom survived childhood. He served in the Ohio legislature from 1853-1855 and was admitted to the Ohio Bar. He practiced law in Cleveland and taught at both law (Ohio State Law School) and medical (Cleveland Medical College) schools. Combining these interests in 1860, he authored a book, A Medico-legal Treatise on Malpractice and Medical Evidence, comprising the elements of medical jurisprudence. One of the first books to address this area, it is still considered a highlight in the development of health law.
At the outbreak of war, Elwell was appointed to the Quartermaster department and was responsible for equipping the 2nd Ohio Infantry and 3rd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, as well as the Sherman Brigade. This brigade was raised by and named for Senator John Sherman and would later fight under his brother, W. T. Sherman. Elwell was a volunteer aide-de-camp to General Henry W. Benham at the battle of Secessionville, June, 1862, and at the assault on Fort Wagner, July, 1863, where he rallied the troops and was wounded. In September 1864, he contracted yellow fever and was reassigned to Elmira, NY, where he purchased horses for the cavalry, and supplied Elmira Prison and the rendezvous for drafted men. Elwell was brevetted four times for gallantry in battle, finally as Major General, US Volunteers in March, 1865 for “faithful and meritorious services in the Quartermaster’s Department during the war.”
Following the war, Elwell returned to Cleveland and continued to practice law, edited a law directory and continued his interest in medical law. He remained friends with Barton, exchanging letters until his death in 1900.
Marvin Manville Marsh and Lucy A. Frayer Marsh
While at Hilton Head, Barton enjoyed a pleasant social life that she had seldom before experienced. Helping to make up this “decidedly fashionable and splendidly gay” society were Dr. M. M. Marsh, an agent for the Sanitary Commission and his wife Lucy.
Marvin Manville Marsh was born in Pompey, NY, in 1812 and grew up on the family farm. After teaching for several years, he entered Albany Medical School and graduated with high honors in 1841. Marsh served as a physician in Onondaga County, NY, until 1857, when poor health forced him to leave his practice and return to teaching. During this time, he married Lucy A. Frayer and they established a home near Pompey. As a physician, he was exceedingly successful and unusually devoted to the poor and needy. As a teacher, he was ever-sympathizing and encouraging, and provided many with aid that served them well throughout their lives.
At the outbreak of war, Marsh was very desirous to offer his services in some capacity. Quite unexpectedly, he was offered a position as Chief Agent and Medical Inspector in the Department of the South and accepted it immediately. In February of 1863, Dr. and Mrs. Marsh arrived in Beaufort, SC, and began their service. Dr. Marsh’s role involved supplying the troops and inspecting the camps and hospitals, which required him to be frequently absent for long periods. Since supplies continued to flow into Beaufort, Lucy Marsh took direct charge of reception and distribution to those in need. It was “man’s work,” she would declare, but “I accomplished it.” The Marshes also shared duties as weather observers for the Smithsonian, recording information and forwarding it to Washington. Lucy Marsh, while never serving as a hospital nurse, visited the hospitals regularly and frequently became deeply interested in individual soldiers.
Dr. Marsh, in the meantime, was taking supplies directly to the battlefield, setting up depots at the field hospitals at Pocotaglio, James Island and Fort Wagner. At Morris Island he realized that more needed to be done for the men than the medical staff could accomplish and wrote to Barton who had arrived in time for the attack on the fort. In 1864 he received communication from prisoners in Charleston, asking if certain articles could be sent to them from the Sanitary Commission stores. Since Dr. Marsh was at this time at Folly Island, Mrs. Marsh proceeded to make up a box containing much more than was asked for, and she forwarded it to the Confederate authorities asking that it be distributed. Almost contrary to all expectations, this box reached the prisoners and a receipt was returned to Mrs. Marsh.
This occurrence opened up a regular channel of communications and soon supplies were being forwarded to Andersonville, Florence and Salisbury prisons and receipts were being received. Mrs. Marsh was also asked to inspect the letters which came and went between the prisons and the outside world. After the war Dr. Marsh would be called to report on this work at the trial of Henry Wirz, the commandant of Andersonville. Charles Stille in his history of the Sanitary Commission referred to Marsh as a “man of rare qualifications”. He went on to say that he “was untiring in his well-directed efforts to succor the wounded, administering to their want in the temporary hospitals and then accompanying them in the ambulances to the transport boats.”
As the war drew to a close, Marsh was offered the position of Superintendent of the Discharged Soldier’s Home, also known as the Lincoln Home for Disabled Soldiers, in New York City. The home offered temporary aid and protection, food, lodging and care for soldiers in transit, chiefly the discharged, disabled and furloughed. Over 400 patients were admitted that year with no deaths being recorded. After the closure of the home in 1866, Marsh remained in the city serving as a physician to the families of indigent soldiers until his health began to fail and the Marshes took up residence in Ohio.
In the spring of 1867, Marsh was offered a position as professor of Applied Chemistry and Hygiene at the newly formed Rutgers Female College, which he happily accepted. Unfortunately, before he could take up this position, he was seriously injured in a carriage accident and died in 1868. After the death of her husband, Lucy Marsh continued to devote herself to suffering soldiers and their families, making herself notably useful in this important work. Lucy Marsh died in 1901 and was buried next to her husband in Greenwich, OH.
Martin S. Kittinger
One of Barton’s friends from Hilton Head would rejoin her in Virginia, when she served with the 10th Corps hospital and the Army of the James in 1864. Martin S. Kittinger was born in Cuba, NY, in 1827. He graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia College in 1853 and established a medical practice in Lockport, NY. He was commissioned as Surgeon of the 100th regiment of New York Volunteers in 1862 and served with them until January of 1865, when he was forced to resign due to poor health. Dr. Kittinger had been captured and served time in Libby Prison where he contracted severe chronic bronchitis. He served with Barton on Morris Island and in Hilton Head. They liked and respected each other and established a cordial and efficient working relationship.
In 1864 she was reunited with Kittinger at Point of Rocks in Virginia, where he was serving with the 10th Corps. In October, Kittinger brought Barton’s brother Stephen to her at Bermuda Hundred and served as his personal physician. Kittinger resigned from the Army in January 1865 due to his deteriorating health. Barton wrote in her diary, “No one can truly take the place of an old and true friend like DK.”
Kittinger returned to his practice in Lockport, married Laura Day and had three sons. Laura passed away in 1872. He married again in 1876 to Emma Lackor, and they had one daughter. Kittinger was an active member of the Medical Society of Niagara County and helped to organize the Lockport Business Men’s Association. He was described as a man of strong personality, a striking figure with raven black hair. Dr. Kittinger’s chronic bronchitis, acquired during his confinement during the war, led to his death in 1904.
Throughout the Civil War, Clara Barton developed a network of acquaintances and friends who would support her and work with her to achieve her goals. She may be the most recognizable of these names, but they all played a part in advancing the humanitarian cause during the Civil War.
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The Life and Times of Clara Barton, Founder of the American Red Cross, William Eleazer Barton, The Riverside Press, Houghton Miflin Company, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1922.
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About the Author
Betsy Estilow currently serves as the president of the Board of Directors of the NMCWM and has been a museum docent and respected lecturer since the Museum’s founding. She is one of the co-founders of the Conference on Women and the Civil War and has served as president of the Historical Society of Frederick County. Ms. Estilow is a recently-retired Professor of Biology and Adjunct Lecturer in Civil War History at Hood College in Frederick, MD. She received a BS degree in biology from Albright College and certification in medical technology from the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. After completing a Master of Science degree in Clinical Microbiology at West Virginia University, she became the director of the microbiology laboratory at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, MD. In 1975, she joined the faculty at Hood College where she has taught a wide variety of courses ranging from introductory biology to biology of aging to pathogenic microbiology. She developed and taught a weeklong course on Civil War History for Hood Elderhostel entitled, “In the Footsteps of the Blue and Gray.” Ms. Estilow is a two-time recipient of the Mortar Board Excellence in Teaching Award, an award given by the students at Hood College.