University Archives


Clara Barton Seeks Assistance for Former Prisoner at Andersonville

From 1865 to 1868, Clara Barton operated the Office of Correspondence for the Friends of the Missing Men of the U.S. Army. Among those who assisted her was Dorence "Dorr" Atwater (1845-1910), a member of the 2nd New York Cavalry who had been a prisoner of the Confederates at Belle Isle in Richmond (July 1863-February 1864) and at Andersonville, Georgia (March 1864-February 1865).

When he was transferred from Andersonville for parole, Atwater smuggled out a copy of the death register. In July and August 1865, he accompanied Clara Barton to Andersonville to mark the graves of Union soldiers who died there. When he took his copy of the register with him at the end of the expedition, the Army charged him with larceny in a court martial and sentenced him to prison. He was released after a few months and went to work for Barton in the Missing Soldiers Office. In 1866, the New York Tribune published his list, and Atwater toured the country with Barton lecturing on Andersonville to raise money for the Missing Soldiers Office. In 1868, he became the U.S. Consul to the Seychelles Islands until 1871, when he was transferred to Tahiti as the U.S. Consul. There he married a Tahitian princess in 1875. The 1906 Earthquake led to the demolition of his home in San Francisco to create a firebreak. In his home was the copy of the Andersonville death register that he had so carefully preserved. At his death in 1910, he became the first non-royal to be given a royal funeral in Tahiti.

CLARA BARTON, Copy of Autograph Letter Signed to "Mr.Waterhouse," June 27, 1868, Washington, D.C. 3 pp., 5" x 7.75". Expected folds; very good.

Complete Transcript:
Washington D.C. 27th June 1868
My esteemed friend
M, Waterhouse.
Your kindly letter was received this morning and believe me I am truly grateful for your prompt action upon my request. I have not seen Mr Fessenden, and perhaps shall not, as it will not be necessary. any thing which he would do at all, he would do for you. I will write as soon as any action may be taken (if any should be) in Dorr's case, for I know it would be of interest to you to hear, and a matter of gratulation to you if any good comes to him. I really do rather look for some foreign appointment for him.
Yes, we had full, and timely notice of the death of our darling Lucretia. Mary wrote all particulars, and our souls went down with you into the valley of the shadows. We knew that to those two bereaved and stricken hearts earth had no verdure, and the sky no sunshine and in solemn silence, sorrow and pity we bowed our heads, hushed our hearts, wept our silent tears and dared not utter aloud even our stifled words of sympathy. And yet she died as the faithful die, and triumphed as the martyr triumphs. Strong and beautiful to the last. And like them shall her rest be deep & sweet, and her waking bright and glorious. I know you feel that you have lain away your treasures early, and that the suns of your life went down at noon.
A dear one went out from our home one day, young and bright and beautiful, and as he turned his pitying gaze upon our tear dimmed eyes, his parting spirit sang this little song of consolation
"When deepest sinks the soul
in night, when day drags dreariest on
Wait calm the coming of the light
Gods will on earth be done"
And thus we wait, and hope and trust, and feel that after all, he is not so very far away.
"The veil, the veil, so thin, so strong, betwixt thee & me
The mystic veil, when shall it fall that we may see?"
Ah! One day it shall fall and we shall see face to face, not thro a glass darkly, and the memory of the past shall be unto us all joyous.
Waiting trusting hoping
Your friend always
Clara Barton
Dorr sends love & sympathy

Clara Barton (1821-1912) was born in Massachusetts and received a good education though she was painfully shy. Her parents persuaded her to become a schoolteacher and she received 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 building and hired a male principal, Barton quit. In 1855, she moved to Washington, D.C., and began work as a clerk in the Patent Office, the first woman to receive a substantial clerkship and equal pay with a man. After three years, the administration of James Buchanan 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 Patent Office. After the Baltimore Riot of April 1861 against Massachusetts troops, Barton nursed forty of 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.

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