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Battlefield nurse addressed Daughters of Union Veterans

By Staff | Nov 9, 2016

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary Members of the Daughters of Union Veterans (DUV) gathered for their September meeting in Muncy. A recounting of the life of Civil War nurse Clara Barton was the program. Attendees were (left-right): Ann Hess, Crystal Gansell-Whitcomb, Carolyn Ault, speaker Ami Pagana, Fawn Ault and Gale Morris-Dunkle.

The midnight ride of revered nurse Clara Barton would earn her the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield.” Her story began when she was born into a family of prominence. Clara’s father owned a textile mill and horse breeding farm in New England. A seasoned rider, Clara began bareback riding when age five. Her elder brother, David Barton, had been severely trampled. Caring for him was the first experiences that eventually brought Clara Barton to world-wide fame.

The future nurse first trained as a teacher. One of the beliefs she voiced was, “Insist on the same pay as men.” Upon becoming bored with teaching, Clara went to Washington D.C. where a cousin had connections. There Clara became the first woman trainee at a patient office.

As politics changed so did jobs. No Republican, especially a woman outspoken in political views, would have a job. So, Clara went back to Massachusetts and for two years cared for her elderly parents.

By the time President Lincoln took office, South Carolina had seceded from the Union in December 1860. Troops numbering 75,000 surrounded the secessionists at Fort McHenry. Neither the survivors or wounded had food or bandages. The situation caused Clara to gather donations filling three warehouses in three months.

The first battle of Bull Run occurred in July 1861 where 8,000 soldiers were killed. Facing the possibility that the war would not be short, Clara sought permission to take supplies to the battlefield. Officials, congressmen and senators told her she was ‘crazy.’ However, when General Rucker learned of Clara’s stash of supplies, he gave her passes, letters and six wagons and drivers.

Later came Cedar Creek, and the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, where General Dunn nicknamed Clara, ‘Angel of the Battlefield.” Prior to her midnight arrival, doctors had been using corn husks as bandages.

In 1862, the angel was at Antietam where 27,000 were killed in one day. Clara went to the battlefield where it was necessary to walk over the dead to get to the wounded. Her dress was stained from the blood soaked ground. She administered canteens of water as most would die of dehydration before taken for treatment.

While helping one soldier, a bullet passed through the nurse’s sleeve killing the soldier she aided. At Fredericksburg, a hospital was set up in a mansion.

Knowing that nurse Barton aided soldiers at these four battles, what local soldiers might she have helped? Dying of wounds at Fredericksburg was Clinton Township resident John Berger, and from Muncy, Daniel Stauffer. Had she aided Matthew VanDine of Moreland Township who died at Antietam, MD.

After the war, Barton was asked to locate 88,000 missing soldiers and identify the dead. Over a two year period, she read and answered 63,000 letters. Of the 88,000, 22,000 survivors were found, identified and reunited with family.

Wanting to establish an organization for future wars and disasters, Clara went on a lecture tour using her own money. To advance the cause, Walt Whitman traveled with her for five weeks.

Clara suffered from an emotional, financial and spiritual collapse resulting in her being sent to Geneva, Switzerland. There she organized the Red Cross and for forty years was its director. In the U.S., it took nine years and two presidents to obtain approval for the organization here. Clara died at age 91.

Living historian Ami Pagana of Montgomery is a retired military nurse. The previous story is extracted from her portrayal as Clara Barton. The presentation includes a wardrobe ‘show and tell’ of clothing similar to what Barton wore.

In 2015, after attending an anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg, Pagana found several individuals belonging to The Confederation of Union Generals, (COUG), a group formed in 2002. Noticing there were no nurses listed, she applied for membership portraying Clara Barton.

Pagana earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from Thomas Jefferson University in 1980. From 1983-1992, she was a Navy nurse befpre medically discharged due to a near-fatal car crash.

In 1999, Pagana graduated from Bucknell University with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. She remained for five years as an Adjunct Instructor. Her injuries have affected her ability to work. The historian considers herself a life long student and teacher, and is enjoying this new passion.