In the Washington D.C. area and looking of a unique site with Civil War history? That’s free for March 2020 to celebrate Women’s History Month? Plan a trip to the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum!
The important history at this location started in 1865 when Clara Barton—already a recognized battlefield nurse—wrote a letter to President Lincoln, stating:
To his Excellency Abraham Lincoln President of the United States
Sir, I most respectfully solicit your authority and endorsement to allow me to act temporarily as general correspondent at Annapolis Maryland, having in view the reception and answering of letters from the friends of our prisoners now being exchanged.
It will be my object also to obtain and furnish all possible information in regard to those that have died during their confinement.
A few weeks later—on March 24, 1865—Barton received permission to officially serve as a point of contact for families seeking missing loved ones and to compile a list of soldiers who died in captivity. Once the newspapers carried the story of her appointment and official role, she received thousands of letters from civilians seeking the fate of their soldiers who had been captured, sent to Southern prison camps, and not been heard from since. As the war ended and prisoners returned, Barton met the transport ships, trying to interview the veterans and asking about their regimental comrades.
To keep up with the thousands of letters arriving at her office, Barton hired a team of assistants. They answered letters, usually with a form reply and an assurance that research was in progress and would hopefully provide answers or closure for the families. By June 1865, the first Roll of Missing Men was published and contained 1,533 names. The list were distributed with requests that if anyone knew about a soldier on in the document and could provide information about his whereabouts or death to contact Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office. Over the next three years, five Roll of Missing Men were compiled and published. Barton did not accept donations for her work or assistants, assuming the federal government would reimburse her since she had been officially appointed; eventually, she was granted $15,000 for the work.
Dorence Atwater—who had kept a secret roll of prisoners during his captivity at Andersonville, Georgia—gave Barton significant information and the desire to go identify the graves of 13,000 prisoners and send definitive word to their families. Atwater and Barton’s work helped lead to the establishment of Andersonville National Cemetery.
Clara Barton and her team of assistants had a grim task: investigating the probable death or the whereabouts of thousands of missing soldiers. An anxious homefront waited for news and though the news was often far from joyous, an answer could bring closure and help with the mourning process.
The Missing Soldiers Office operated for four years. During that time, 63,182 written inquires had arrived. 41,855 replies had been sent. 58,693 printed circular had been distributed. 99,057 copies of the missing rolls had been delivered across the nation. This work led to the identification of 22,000 men and changed their fates from unknown and missing.
Today, the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office is operated by staff from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. Located on 7th Street in Washington D.C., the museum offers a closer look at Barton’s life, her work identifying missing soldiers, Civil War medicine, and other related topics.
Check the museum’s website and calendar for additional information about visits and special programs during March 2020. http://www.clarabartonmuseum.org/