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Web Exclusive: Clara Barton Transforms Role of Nurse on the Battlefield

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

One hundred fifty years later, it's hard to place enough significance on how the American Civil War would go on to shape our country and its people - or to overestimate the extreme loss of life it caused. Beyond the battlefields, however, the War Between the states also brought forth many firsts, such as the first Army ambulance corps, the first use of conscription of soldiers, the first black U.S. Army officer - the list goes on and on.

Among those firsts was the first woman nurse on the battle front. You may be asking yourself: Didn't Florence Nightengale tend to soldiers during the Revolutionary War?

That's true, says Leslie Goddard, but it was Clara Barton who would go directly to the frontlines during Civil War battles to tend to the wounded and dying. Goddard is a historical re-enactor who portrays Barton at museums and presentations around the Chicago area.

She says Barton was a fascinating figure of history, a woman at once ahead of her time and yet living at just the right moment in history to make her mark. Her experiences during the war would later influence her founding of the American Red Cross.

Goddard recently performed as Barton at the fifth annual Great Lakes Civil War Forum, hosted by the Kenosha Civil War Museum, and she tells Lake Effect's Stephanie Lecci how she began portraying the famous nurse.

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