Thursday, April 25, 2013

Some Clara Barton Artifacts

A portrait of Clara Barton, Civil War nurse and founder of the American Red Cross, from the book Red Cross in Peace and War, written by Clara Barton.

     One of the advantages of letting people know about your museum projects is that some generous people will donate items for the project!  Since it was announced that the National Museum of Civil War Medicine was partnering with the General Services Administration to open the Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office Museum, we have received a few donations which relate to Clara Barton.  Let’s take a look at these recent acquisitions now.

     The first one we received was a book titled, Red Cross in Peace and War, which was written by Clara Barton and published in 1899.  It contains accounts of her work after the Civil War with the Red Cross, as well as many black & white photos and illustrations of the places where she worked.
The book shows some wear but is in reasonably good condition.  Notice that Clara’s signature is reproduced on the cover!

     Next we received a photograph which included Clara Barton.
This photo is of the graduating class of the Philadelphia School of Nursing, taken in June 1903.  The woman in the dark dress in the front row is Miss Clara Barton, at age 82.  She was the commencement speaker and Honorary President for this class of nurses.


When the photo is enlarged you can actually recognize Clara Barton!


     We then received a group of three documents which pertain directly to the Missing Soldiers Office.  Two of the documents are letters concerning a soldier named Thomas Jefferson Payntar of the 4th NY Cavalry, who was declared missing in action after the Battle of Travilian Station in Virginia in July of 1864.  The letters were written after the battle by his commanding officer and one of his comrades.  His commander was able to tell Mrs. Payntar about the last time he saw Thomas, “… just before dark I saw him mount his horse and take his place in the ranks, like the good soldier he always proved himself to be.”  He speculated that Thomas had been wounded and taken prisoner, but that was all the information he was able to give her. 

     The other letter actually mentions Clara Barton’s Roll of Missing Soldiers, which she posted in newspapers in an effort to find the missing men or discover their fates.  [The letter is copied using the writer’s own grammar and spelling.]

Muncy Station, Pa., Aug. 4th/66

Mrs. Thomas J. Payntar,

     On looking over the Rolls of missing men that Clara Barton has published I came across the name of my comrad Thos. J. Payntar and feel it my duty for his sake to inform you as near as I can the place and time I last seen him.  It was at Travillian Station, Va. on the 11th of June 1864.  The Regt was ordered to fight (on foot) and every fourth man hold his own horse and three others and it fell to him to hold the horses.  I was riding by his side and gave him my horse to hold.  That was the last time I seen him.  We were over powered and forced to fall back on our Horses and when we found them they were all scattered through others.  I could see nothing of mine although I sucseeded in gettin one and made my escape.  His horse was found in the Regt the next day. 

     Thos. J. was returned as missing in action.  I thought he was taken Prisnor, but if he has not been heard of yet it is likely he was killed.  Alass did I say killed?  It makes my heart bleed when I think of the noble dead that has fallen by the hands of tratars in Rebellion.

     I think I have written all that will be of interest to you and hope you will excuse the liberty I have taken.


W.H. McCowan, late Sergt. Co. E, 4 NY Cav.

P.S. Pleas answer

     The third document is the reply from Clara Barton which Mrs. Payntar received after sending a letter to the “Office of Correspondence with the Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army” regarding her husband.  Due to the high volume of requests which the Office received, Clara sent out forms like the one pictured below:
This document, dated July 17, 1865, was sent to Mrs. Payntar to confirm that her letter had been received, and to let her know that her husband’s name would be placed on the Roll of Missing Soldiers.

     Clara Barton was not able to find Thomas J. Payntar, but by 1867 she had responded to over 63,000 letters and had identified the fates of about 22,000 men.  Though undoubtedly she had to report that many of the men had been killed, it had to have provided some closure for the grieving families.  Artifacts such as these will certainly help to tell the story of Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office Museum when it opens!


Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Civil War Stretcher

     Sometimes artifact donations for the museum are simply the result of my being in the right place at the right time.  A couple of years ago when I was staffing the museum’s table at the Gettysburg Civil War Collectors Show, I was approached by a dealer who wanted to know if the museum would be interested in the donation of a Civil War stretcher.  I had to take a look at it of course!  I was pleased to be able to make out the “U.S. National Wagon Works” and the “Tompkins Stretcher / 1864” painted labels on the frame.  The show was about to close, so I had to make a few frantic phone calls to locate a vehicle large enough to transport it.  The stretcher was gratefully accepted from Eric Kane, M.D., and brought back to Frederick that evening. 


This stretcher is in good condition, though I was disappointed to see that it had been “restored.”  The wooden frame of the stretcher and the metal hardware are original but have been repainted, except in the area of the labels.  The canvas, the leather straps, and the wood frame for the bonnet are newer replacements.


Fortunately, this label was left untouched.  If you look carefully, you can make out the “U.S. National Wagon Works” across the top, and “Philadelphia” along the bottom. 
     The stretcher is constructed on a painted wooden frame with two handles at each end, a canvas-covered bed with attached pillow, and a folding bonnet at the head end.  The bonnet can be raised and secured in place.  The head end of the bed can be elevated slightly using metal brackets.  When elevated, there is a small pocket formed in the canvas beneath in which small items may be stored.  The leg portion is divided into two sections, and each section is independently adjustable using leather straps with buckles.  A tarred canvas is rolled onto a crosspiece below the leg rests and is held in place with two leather buckled straps. The canvas can be unrolled and used to cover the patient in case of bad weather.  The middle of each side of the frame is hinged to allow it to be folded in half.  When unfolded, the frame is secured with a sliding bolt on each side.  The legs of the stretcher can also be folded flat against the frame.  When the legs are unfolded, a metal pin holds each leg in place, and each pin is secured to the stretcher frame by a strip of black leather.  Tompkins stretchers also had two removable, padded armrests, as well as wheels and elliptical springs which could be attached to the stretcher.  These features are unfortunately missing from this stretcher. 


Here you can see the bonnet of the stretcher raised, which would have protected the patient from the sun or rain.

     Union Brevet Brigadier General Charles Henry Tompkins (1830-1915) designed the stretcher which bears his name.  In his patent letter for this stretcher he writes, “This invention relates to certain novel improvements in the construction of stretchers which are particularly designed for the safe and comfortable transportation of wounded soldiers from the battle-field to the hospital, or to some other convenient locality where they can receive proper attention.
     The main object of my invention is to so construct a stretcher that it can be adjusted and adapted to afford support and the greatest possible comfort to wounded limbs or other parts of the body which may be wounded; at the same time provision is made for folding the several parts of the stretcher into a very compact space, so as to occupy the least amount of space when packed away, as will be herein-after described.

     Another object of my invention is to so construct a stretcher that it can be quickly mounted upon wheels and springs, and readily converted into a light and portable ambulance when it is necessary to move the sick and wounded considerable distances and other means of transportation are not at hand.”

     I’m sure there were many Civil War soldiers who were grateful for his invention!


Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Keeping Track of an Artifact’s Condition

     This week saw the return of some artifacts which had been out on loan to the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore.  They were on display there as part of their exhibit, The War Came by Train.  The items on display in this exhibit are changed each year, so it is still open.  You can see some more information about it here.
     You might think that getting an artifact back would simply involve putting it back in its designated storage area, but it is a little more involved than that!  There are loan papers which have to be signed by both institutions of course, and the artifact needs to be inspected to ensure that it has not been damaged.  To aid with this, a document called a condition report is completed for each artifact that goes out on loan.  The condition report includes a written description as well as photographs of the artifact to document the artifact’s condition.  The artifact’s overall condition is assessed, and any damaged areas are noted.  When the artifact is returned, a new condition report is completed to assure that it is in the same condition as when it was loaned.

This surgical kit is one artifact which was just returned to my museum.  The overall condition of this kit was assessed as Very Good. 

      In the physical description on the condition report it is noted that the manufacturer is Young & Co. and that the kit was made around 1850.  The case is made of varnished rosewood and has an inset brass cartouche on the lid, and a lock on the front of the case.  The kit includes ten surgical instruments and a metal, clover-topped key.  The kit interior is lined with dark purple velvet, and is custom fitted for the medical instruments, with a small lidded compartment for needles.  It was also important for me to note that though the amputation saw is of the same era as the rest of the instruments, it is not original to the kit.  The kit’s exterior measurements of 17" long, 5 1/2" wide, and 3" deep are included, as well as the types of materials which make up the kit (wood, metal, and cloth).  This helps the borrower plan for the correct exhibit conditions and mounts for the artifact.
A photograph of the kit’s interior is added to the report as well. 

     Another important section of the condition report documents any damage, markings, or fragile areas on the artifact.  For this kit, there were some scratches and cracks in the wood which I needed to measure and report.  I also noted that the velvet lining the interior was faded and starting to fray just a bit at the edges.
This crack on the bottom of the case was pretty obvious.  I added the scale to document the size of the crack.  I need to know if the crack starts expanding!
It’s also important to document things like this gap between the lid and base of the case.  
     If you are thinking like a collection manager or curator, you may be wondering why I only mentioned the number of surgical instruments in this kit, but didn’t mention anything about their condition.  This is because each instrument gets its own condition report.  That makes a total of eleven condition reports I have to do just for this one surgical kit!  Though it's a little tedious and time-consuming, this is the best way to ensure that each instrument is properly documented.
You can be sure that I will mention the chip in the wood on this amputation saw handle in its condition report!

   Once the condition reports have been completed, the artifacts must remain in the quarantine area for 30 days before they can be returned to their storage places in the collection room.  During this time, I have to monitor them for any insect infestations, mold or mildew growth.  Artifacts are quarantined any time they have been out on display – even when they are displayed here at the NMCWM.  Even if the likelihood of them being infested is very low, it is still worth it to ensure that nothing is brought into the collection room to infest the rest of the collection.

     Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some condition reports to finish! 

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Story of a Civil War Soldier

     Peleg Bradford, Jr. was a 20-year-old farm boy from Carmel, Maine when he enlisted in the 18th Maine Volunteer Infantry in July of 1862.  He was listed as being 6’2” tall and nearly 200 pounds.  Though Peleg was not married when he enlisted, some of his letters indicate that he was engaged to a girl named Cynthia McPherson.
     The National Museum of Civil War Medicine has several displays throughout the museum which are dedicated to Private Bradford.  They feature copies of some letters he wrote home.  Visitors can read Peleg’s thoughts about the war in his own words.  The final panel in the museum also features a unique personal item of Peleg’s. 
The caption on the panel reads, “Union Private Peleg Bradford ca. October 1862.  Notice that the letters “US” on the belt buckle read backwards.  Images were printed as negatives on metal sheets presenting a "flipped" picture.  This photo is courtesy of the Bradford family.”

     The 18th Maine was first assigned to defend Washington, D.C. under the Army of the Potomac.  In an early letter home, Peleg describes being in Washington.  [Letters are copied in Peleg’s own words and spelling.] 

“Fort Wagner
August 28, 1862

Dear Mother I thought I would write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope theas few lines will find you the same.  We arrived here last night.  The fort is within three miles of Washington.  We will camp here until further orders.  The sun shone hot.  The 17 Maine is camping about a half mile from us.  Our camps is in plain sight of the Capital.  The boyes are all well that went from Carmel.  I don’t know of any more to wright so good by.”

     Another letter to his sister gives us a glimpse into the diet of the recruits, and how they supplemented their army rations!

“Fort De Russia
September 18, 1862

Dear Sister:

…Our living is hard bread and beaf one day and the next is beaf and hard bread but we go out knits and get peaches and apples bee hives and young pigs and cabbage and bring them in and have a good feast.  After we chop treas ten days we have forty cents a day extra so that makes us pretty good pay.”
     Like many of the new recruits, Peleg became ill while in camp – with the measles!  He recovered, but expressed his dislike of the war and camp life in a letter to his father shortly afterwards.

“What does the Carmel folks think of this war now days?  ….they had better cum out south and waid in the mud two or three months and then they will want the war to stop.  I would like to see some of them….out here and I would like to see them sack a knapsack through the mud….”  

     Peleg was a good big brother and attempted to talk his teenage brother, Owen, out of following in his footsteps and enlisting in the Army.  He was not successful in swaying Owen, and wrote of his disappointment in a letter to his mother:

“Fort Sumner
October 28th, 1863

Dear Mother,

I am very sorry to hear that Owen has enlisted but I have said all that I can to keep him from enlisting.  I think that if father lets him go that he is to blaim for money is nothing to a man’s life.  You tell him that he will be a sory boy that ever enlisted.  I used to think it was something grate to be a soldier but I think different now.  If I was out of the Army no four hundred dollars would get me back again, that is sure.  Perhaps Owen has not been used wel but he will get used worse in the Army.”


This display panel contains a map which shows the location of two of the camps where Peleg Bradford was stationed.

     In 1864, Peleg’s regiment was ordered out of Washington D.C. and sent into Virginia.  Peleg was able to write a quick letter home before leaving D.C.

“Fort Sumner
May 14th, 1864

Dear Mother:

I am well and so is Owen.  I cant write but a few lines this time.  We are under marching orders and we are all packed up and ready to start.  They say that we have got to help take richmon and I expect to see some harde times before it is over but I shal try and take care of my self.  I will rite to you again as soon as I can get a chance.  Tell bart and smith to take care of themselves.  The boyes are in good spearit about going but I think they will see hard times but it is nothing more than what I expected before this time.  Keep up good courage until you hear from me again.  Do the best that you can while I am gon, good bye.”

     In June 16-18, 1864, his regiment participated in the assault on Petersburg, Virginia.  On June 17, Peleg was crouched in a shallow rifle pit when he felt a small rock fall inside his right shoe.  He pulled his right knee up next to his head so that he could remove the rock from his shoe.  At that moment, a Confederate sharpshooter, who was probably aiming for Peleg’s head, hit and shattered Peleg’s knee.  Peleg survived being shot, but his right leg had to be amputated at the knee.

     A few days later, his regiment once again received orders to move.  As they were marching out, Owen was able to run into the hospital tent to see Peleg.  Upon seeing his brother in pain, Owen tore his own blanket in half, rolled it up and put it under his leg stump.  He then ran back out to join the march. 

     Peleg was sent back to Washington, D.C., to Columbian Hospital to recover.  Here he was able to write a short letter to his mother to tell her about what had happened.    

“Columbian Hospital
June 23rd, 1864

Dear Mother,

I now will try and rite you a few lines to let you know how I get along.  I am in bad shape now.  I have lost my right leg.  It was taken off the 16 of this month.  It is getting along very well now.  My leg is very painful now and I can’t rite but a very little this time.  Owen was well the 16th when I saw him last.  I can’t rite any more this time so good bye.”

     It took him a little longer to break the news to Cynthia.  He did write to her though, and told her how awkward he was going to feel when he saw his friends back home.  He also told her that he wouldn’t hold her to the promise to marry him, but that they would talk about it once he was home, and that he would leave the decision up to her.  In another letter, he mentions how his leg is healing well, but mentions how difficult the experience has been for him.

“Columbian Hospital, Washington
July 13th, 1864

Dear Friend: [Cynthia]

I now improve a few moments time in writing to you.  I am sitting up now but I don’t know how long I can sit up.  You wanted to know how my leg got along.  It is getting along first rate.  You need not have sent them stamps to me for I can get a plenty of them here.  Them stamps that you sent to me Owen will get.  So they will do for him.  You tell Smith that it is hard work for me to write and I don’t know when I can write to him.  I am in hopes that I shall be home by the last of next month.  Oh Cynith God only knows how much I have suffered since I lost my leg but it is getting along first rate now.  I would like to write you a good long letter but I can’t.  I can only write short letters so goodbye for this time.”

     Despite his hopes of going home in a month, Peleg spent the rest of the war in the hospital in Washington, D.C.  He was still there when he got the news that his brother Owen had been killed by an exploding shell at the Battle of Petersburg.  Owen was just 16 years old.

     After being discharged, Peleg returned home to Carmel.  At some point, he had a wood and leather prosthetic leg made so that he would not have to continue to get around on crutches.  Though the government would have provided him with a more realistic-looking prosthetic leg, for some reason he chose to use the homemade “peg leg.”

Here is the final panel in the museum, which displays some family photos and Peleg’s prosthetic leg.

     Peleg and Cynthia got married on Oct. 7, 1866, and they went on to have eight children!  Peleg ran a local sawmill and also served as a selectman for the town of Carmel.  He died in 1918 at age 76. 


A family photo of Peleg, Cynthia, and their children.

     Peleg’s grandson, Richard Bradford, provided some insight into Peleg’s attitudes after the war towards weapons, violence, and the Confederate who wounded him.  “He [Peleg] brought no single item of army gear home with him, and was, in fact, left with such an aversion to dealing with death that he never allowed a firearm of any kind in his house…  Yes, I think he had a certain pride in having served.  He was a G.A. R. member and was glad to reunite with his old comrades-in-arms.  He recognized the men he fought against as being like him and often said he’d like to meet the Johnny who shot him, not for revenge, but to have a chance to compare notes and to get to know him as a man.”

You can read more about Peleg Bradford here.
Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.