Monday, December 17, 2018

Booknotes: Clara Barton's Civil War

New Arrival:
Clara Barton's Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital by Donald C. Pfanz (Westholme, 2018).

Apart from those who mix her up with Britain's Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton has to be the most recognized name in the history of American military nursing. Interested in the Civil War or not, everyone has at least heard of her. Attempting to separate truth from legend, Donald Pfanz's Clara Barton's Civil War: Between Bullet and Hospital represents a fresh reappraisal of her wartime service. Barton "served in at least four Union armies, providing food and assistance to wounded soldiers on battlefields stretching from Maryland to South Carolina. Thousands of soldiers benefited from her actions, and she is unquestionably an American heroine." Like most individuals who survive and thrive in the national consciousness long after their passing, Barton had great PR, much of it created by herself.

From the description: "Most information about Barton’s activities comes from Barton herself. After the war, she toured the country recounting her wartime experiences to overflowing audiences. In vivid language, she described crossing the Rappahannock River under fire to succor wounded Union soldiers at Fredericksburg, transporting critical supplies to field hospitals at Antietam, and enduring searing heat and brackish water on the sun-scorched beaches of South Carolina. She willingly braved hardship and danger in order to help the young men under her care, receiving in return their love and respect. Most of Barton’s biographers have accepted her statements at face value, but in doing so, they stand on shaky ground, for Barton was a relentless self-promoter and often embellished her stories in an effort to enhance her accomplishments."

In the book, Pfanz "revisits Barton’s claims, comparing the information in her speeches with contemporary documents, including Barton’s own wartime diary and letters. In doing so, he provides the first balanced and accurate account of her wartime service—a service that in the end needed no exaggeration."

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