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A Unique Piece of History: Clara Barton’s Trunk Bed

Clara Barton’s inspiration for starting the America Red Cross was cultivated while caring for the sick and wounded on Civil War battlefields. As a unique artifact from her time behind the lines goes on display, it’s a great reminder to appreciate stories told through any medium – whether it’s on paper, through a photograph or even a foldaway bed.

Bed unfolded sideways

WHY THIS BED? Barton was determined to carry out the work she saw as necessary to help get supplies and medical care to the Civil War battlefields – so determined that she convinced the government and the Army to give her passes to go behind military lines.

According to Red Cross records, Barton’s situation led to an order to a firm in Philadelphia for a trunk bed, to be acquired by Barton for her use in battlefield relief.

CONSTRUCTION AND HISTORY Also called a camp bed, the piece is constructed to fold into a traveling trunk, complete with a wooden frame and tooled leather. To use the bed, Barton would have opened up the trunk into three sections – hinged on the short sides of the trunk as it opens – to reveal heavy canvas attached to the frame with nails.

Through conservation work on the bed in 2004, a sealed compartment was accessed to reveal slender poles that attached to the bed, and bright blue mosquito netting used as a canopy for additional protection.

sideview bed bluenetting

 

THE MOVE While Barton was not a trained nurse, she provided medical care for the wounded during the Civil War. Therefore, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland is a fitting location to display the bed in one of their galleries as part of a loan agreement with the Red Cross. This is the same museum that manages the Office for Missing Soldiers, an effort Barton started and ran out of the third floor of a building in Washington, D.C. after the Civil War ended.

  • Read more about Barton’s story and the bed on redcross.org.
  • Watch the move from the Red Cross to the museum on the Red Cross YouTube channel.
  • Stay tuned to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine to find out when the bed goes on display.

 

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