Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office
After working on battlefields and in hospitals of the Civil War, Clara Barton found a new calling in the early months of 1865. As the conflict drew to a close, the 44-year-old war relief worker arrived in Annapolis, Maryland where transports of sickly Union prisoners arrived from prison camps across the South.
Working with the survivors, Barton became keenly aware of the need to provide information to the families of missing Union soldiers. In response, she endeavored to open a Missing Soldiers Office to offer this invaluable service to grieving families.
After receiving approval from President Abraham Lincoln in March 1865, Barton began the immense task of tracking down those who disappeared during the conflict. Without government-issued identification, fallen soldiers went missing at an alarming rate during the Civil War.
After opening an office on the third floor of her boardinghouse on 7th Street in Washington, Barton received thousands of letters from relatives looking for lost loved ones. Over three years, the office received more than 60,000 inquiries for information about missing soldiers, sometimes more than 150 letters in a single day.
She and a team of clerks compiled lists of names to publish five separate “Rolls of Missing Men” in newspapers across the country.
To financially support her work in the Missing Soldiers Office, Barton delivered lectures across the North, telling her story and the stories of those incarcerated at Andersonville during the war. She also sought $15,000 from Congress to offset significant operational costs. Her request was finally approved in 1866.
When Barton closed the Missing Soldiers Office after 1868, she and her team had accomplished a tremendous feat. Their work had revealed the whereabouts of more than 22,000 missing soldiers, providing closure for families devastated by the loss of their loved ones.
The Missing Soldiers Office marks an important transition in Barton’s humanitarian career. She no longer wanted for organizational support to provide humanitarian aid. In her third floor office, she practiced the art of administration and organization with a devoted team of workers, backed by enthusiastic donors. These skills, combined with a reputation built during her national speaking tour, put Clara Barton on the path toward becoming the nation’s foremost humanitarian and founder of the American Red Cross.
Clara Barton’s passionate quest to find missing soldiers established her as one of the earliest advocates for the POW/MIA community. Her humanitarian zeal created a precedent for government agencies and non-profit organizations who carry on this honorable work today.
Want to learn more? Click here for a more in-depth look at the incredible work of Clara Barton and the Missing Soldiers Office.
In the 1990s, the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office was re-discovered by an employee of the General Services Administration (GSA), leading to the restoration of Clara Barton’s boardinghouse home and office. Read about it here