Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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May 21st
The Angel of the Battlefield
When the Civil War broke out, former schoolteacher Clara Barton begged Union generals to let her go to the front lines to help the wounded. “A battlefield is no place for a woman,” they told her. Barton hounded them until they gave in. Loading a wagon with supplies, she headed to the front and nursed injured men as shells whistled overhead. At the Battle of Antietam in Maryland, a bullet tore through the sleeve of her dress, killing the wounded soldier she was tending. She kept risking her life at front lines across the South, from Fredericksburg to Charleston. The grateful soldiers began to call her the Angel of the Battlefield.

After the war she directed a search for missing men and helped mark the graves of nearly 13,000 Union soldiers who died at the Andersonville Prison in Georgia. On a trip to Europe, she helped organize the relief efforts of the International Red Cross in the Franco-Prussian War.

A decade later, on May 21, 1881, Barton founded the American Red Cross. For the next two decades, she was on the scene, delivering relief in times of natural disaster and war, including the Johnstown Flood of 1889, the 1898 explosion of the USS Maine (“I am with the wounded,” she wrote to President McKinley from Cuba), and the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900. She helped provide relief for victims of famine and war in Russia, the Balkans, Armenia, and Cuba.

Barton served as president of the American Red Cross until age eighty-two. She died in 1912, eight years after her retirement. Her own words sum up her drive to aid others: “The door that nobody else will go in at, seems always to swing open widely for me.”

American History Parade
1542
Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto dies on the banks of the Mississippi River.

1819
The first bicycles in the United States (known then as “velocipedes” and “swift walkers”) appear on the streets of New York City.

1832
The first Democratic Party national convention begins in Baltimore.

1881
Clara Barton founds the American Red Cross.

1927
Charles Lindbergh lands his Spirit of St. Louis in Paris, completing the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic.

1932
Amelia Earhart lands in Ireland to become the first woman to fly nonstop across the Atlantic.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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