Mar 5, 2013
I remember when the Civil War broke out. I was working in the U.S. patent office in Washington, D.C.. And I was just days after fort Sumter. And I saw a group of soldiers coming into the city. They were Massachusetts men, and some of them I recognized as my own students from when I was a school teacher. They were tired and hungry. And injured. And they needed help. But the United States Army didn't have the supplies to give them the help they needed. I knew I needed to do my part, and so I gathered the supplies to help these Massachusetts men. But that wasn't enough. Helping this small group was not enough for my part in the war, and so I expanded my efforts to help all wounded soldiers. At first I directed my attention around the hospitals in the Washington area. But I soon learned that the men on the battlefields were the one most indeed of my help. Now, that time, women on the battlefield were not necessarily allowed. But I was able to convince Surgeon General William A. Hammond that I was very good at my job and that I was needed to help our men on the battlefield. And he gave me permission to cross enemy lines and tend to these wounded soldiers. During my time on the battlefield, I witnessed some gruesome fighting. Including the battles at Antietam, Fredericksburg, wilderness, and cold harbor. In July of 1863, I witnessed the assault on fort Wagner by our colored regiments. I was able to tend to the wounded of the now famous 54th regiment of Massachusetts colored soldiers. And despite their bravery, they suffered casualties and needed my help. It was an honor to serve them and help our wounded. Now even though I was a loyal union supporter, I could not sit by and watch my fellow man suffer, even if he did fight for the rebels. So I tended to our confederate prisoners in union hospitals and offered them the care and supplies they needed. By the time the war was over in 1865, the soldiers I cared for called me the angel of the battlefield. While I was grateful for their appreciation, I knew that just because the war was over. My work wasn't done. I had a lot more to do. After the war, I shifted my focus to searching for missing soldiers. I learned that there were thousands of soldiers unaccounted for. And this meant there were thousands of families searching for their husbands, brothers, and sons. As I began helping families search for these lost soldiers, I learned that most soldiers who were held as confederate prisoners had no records, and those that died in prison were left in unmarked graves. To aid me in my efforts, I started the office of correspondence with the friends of the missing men in Washington, D.C. It was more commonly referred to as the missing soldier's office, and in 1866, Congress granted me $15,000 to continue my work. Working with others, including former prisoners of war dorns Atwater, we focused most of our efforts on the notorious confederate prison in Andersonville. With that water's knowledge, we were able to locate the unmarked graves of 13,000 union soldiers, and we pushed to establish the Andersonville national cemetery to honor those who had fallen. By 1869, I was exhausted, and I left the missing soldier's office. At that time, I had responded to more than 63,000 requests from loved ones searching for their missing soldier. And I was able to remove 22,000 soldiers from the missing soldier's list. To take a break and get some much-needed rest. I took a trip to Europe. But instead of getting rest, I stumbled upon my next project. While staying with friends in Switzerland, I learned about the ideas of Henry Dunant, the founder of the international Red Cross movement. This movement called for neutral care in times of war. And helped to provide wounded soldiers with the care they needed, regardless of their nationality. These ideals were put forth in a treaty signed by 12 nations at the Geneva convention in 1864. I was disappointed to learn that the United States was not one of these nations. In 1870, while I was in France, a war broke out between France and Prussia. I could not just sit by and watch people suffer and do nothing, so I decided to help my Friends at the Red Cross and help these wounded soldiers. Together, we traveled to conquered cities, providing necessary aid and relief to those injured in battle. In 1873, I returned home with a goal. I was going to bring the Red Cross movement to the United States. After organizing my efforts in 1877, I approached president Rutherford B Hayes to sign the Geneva convention treaty. Unfortunately, he wouldn't sign the treaty because he was afraid of entangling alliances. But I would not give up. Four years later, I approached his successor, president James Garfield, and he was more favorable towards the treaty. But unfortunately, president Garfield was assassinated. Finally, Chester A. Arthur, president Garfield's successor, agreed to sign the Geneva convention treaty on March 1st, 1882. Less than three weeks later, the Senate passed the bill on March 16th. It had taken nearly a decade to get the United States to sign the Geneva treaty. But that did not stop me from organizing the American version of the Red Cross in the meantime. On May 21st, 1881, the American Red Cross was born, and unlike our international counterparts, we did not limit our services to wartime relief. In fact, we spent nearly 20 years providing relief to victims of natural disasters. To this day, we continue to provide care and services to the United States and to countries all around the globe. I served as president of the American Red Cross for 22 years. During my time as president, I wanted to influence the Red Cross in the United States as well as the international organization. In 1884, I was one of the delegates to the international conference for the Red Cross in Geneva Switzerland. Influenced by my efforts as head of the Red Cross, the conference passed the American amendment, which called for the Red Cross to provide peacetime disaster relief aid. In 1904, I resigned as president of the American Red Cross. I received many awards for my service, including the iron cross from Germany for my help during the Franco-Prussian war, the silver cross from imperial Russia for my work during the Russian famine, and my proudest award, the international Red Cross medal. I spent my life trying to help those in need. And I am proud of the legacy I have left with the American Red Cross.