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Barton, Clara.

LETTER: Autograph letter signed to Mrs. J. Sewall Reed.


"I cannot understand why these things are laid upon me to do! I am sure I must miserably fail
in them all, but there seems to be no retreat"
Barton, Clara. Autograph letter signed, to Mrs. J. Sewall Reed, December 28, 1891; two pages, 8 x 10 inches.
Barton writes to Reed, the widow of a Civil War captain, asking for advice in organizing an
"Encampment." In full:
It was the 4th of Oct. that you wrote me your precious letter and acknowledged the receipt of a scribble in the wilderness. It was sweet of you the lovely things you said: among other, you say you would like to talk with me. My dear sister I have got to talk with you! There be so many things now for which I need you that I am fain to come to you. You know that, besides taking clerical orders in the W.R.C., I have been brought into the more secular work of the chairmanship for the reception of the war women at the next Encampment to be held in this City. You must know, my dear sister, how little I know about all that, and what a mystery of mysteries it seemed to me when I was in Boston and saw the work you women did there -how you received and entertained. And now that it comes to me to stand at the head of that, I am thoroughly appalled. I have declined and declined and it is of no use.
You know there are some little difficulties in the corps matters here, and the men who have the Encampment in charge declare that they can never be bridged over unless they can walk over my body to do it, and literally, I am not sure but they will do it before the year is over. If only I could have you with me, J. Sewall! My committee is not yet made up, and then all the other committees are to be made, and how is all this thing done? It would do me a little good if in a few days I could steal away and come to Boston and speak with you, Mrs. Turner, Mrs. Barker, and your dear self. I would do it this next week, but that the twenty millions starving Russians are lying at my door. What can I do with that, and what can I do with this? Really, I feel as though somebody ought to come to me. I never felt so helpless and so much as though I had undertaken to do something in all these directions which other people could do so much better. I cannot understand why these things are laid upon me to do! I am sure I must miserably fail in them all, but there seems to be no retreat for me. They told me here that it was against all military rule and discipline to resign in the face of the enemy, and it could not be done.
Serving the suffering in Russia is my own business. How can I resign from that? This is no letter: it is only a wail, as you see - as if I called to you from out the depths of something that was overwhelming me. Say a word to me, dear Sister. If you can give me any advice, do so. It is not sympathy I want, but knowledge and help and counsel. Any of these you have for me, tell me. Give to those I know and love around you my best wishes for all the pleasures of the Holiday season. Remind them how dearly beloved they are along with yourself.
Two postscripts follow, written by J. B. Hubbell, a physician involved in the Red Cross. The first one reads, "As I place this in the envelope I am going to take the liberty of enclosing a leaflet of which Mrs. Scott the author had the kindness to send me a package some days since."
Although the initial focus of this letter was encampments - multi-day events where Civil War veterans or their widows attended memorial events and dinners - Barton quickly takes a more
interesting turn. This remarkable offering provides firsthand evidence of the dedication Barton constantly showed to her work that began in 1861 during the Civil War. In 1862 she was permitted to offer aid and comfort soldiers from both the North and the South, and in 1881 established the American Red Cross. A decade later, Barton tended to the "suffering in Russia" as mentioned here. Such hardship was a reference to the famine that struck the Russian people in 1891 and 1892. Barton's charitable acts were augmented by like-minded Russians, including Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Vladimir Korolenko, who helped set up a large network of private soup kitchens and medical aid stations. The relief campaign aided more than 12 million people, averting mass starvation. A simply remarkable commentary as Barton "wails" about the mounting concerns in her life.

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