Missing Soldiers Office Now Open

A great addition to understand the "people" side of the Civil War--Clara Barton's Missing Soldiers Office is now open on Saturdays, 11 to 5, on Seventh Street NW in Washington, DC (near the Verizon Center). Operated by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, artifacts are being moved in--for now, the rooms and some good signage/photographs are open for viewing. About half of the600,000 to 700,000 men who died in the war were never identified. Families may have heard from comrades or a chaplain about the fate of their loved one, but often the remains lay in a field, unmarked and unclaimed. Others did not know what happened at all, just that their family member was never heard from again.

Many of these people started writing Clara Barton, so many that she found a new purpose as the war closed--to help families locate missing soldiers. She turned several rooms in the house where she was already living into an office for this purpose. She received about 65,000 letters and managed to connect about a third of them with at least some news about the fate of a loved one.


The place had been boarded up for years, slated for demolition by the General Services Administration, which owns the property. In the late 1990s, a contractor was surveying the building and happened to look up--he said later that he felt a "tap on his shoulder"--and saw a paper peeking out from the attic above what turned out to be where Clara Barton slept. Eventually, they found socks (even old, battle-used socks), letter and papers, and the office sign.


To tie in Julia with Clara Barton,they crossed paths at least by 1866--Julia mentions these encounters in her diary, but unfortunately with just a sentence or two and not.

For example, on Jan. 25, 1866:

Met Mrs. Stebbins of R [Rochester] & Mrs. F.D. Gage & Clara Barton. I am to see them again. [Fannie Gage was a suffragest/journalist, famous in the day]

Apparently, this happened about a week later on Feb. 2, at a reception hosted by the Colfaxes. Schulyer Colfax was Speaker of the House and held a weekly salon-type reception:

It has been an interesting evening. Mrs. Gage was there & Clara Barton & E.D.E. Southworth.

Julia and her sister Frances tried called on Clara Barton on April 10, 1866--probably at the same place I visited yesterday!

First to Clara Barton, but she is absent in New Jersey.

She went back again on April 25 and was successful.

Then, on June 11, 1866:

This evening went to Fair. Stephens C.O.I.R. made remarks. Clara Barton has her relics from Andersonville on exhibition.

(That's all I have found through mid-1866)

Last but not least, I found it fascinating because the house was a typical boarding house for the time. Julia lived in many places in Washington probably very much like this one. Dark, wallpapered, with rooms on either side of a long hall. Steep steps upstairs from a narrow vestibule leading out to the street. A communal place to take meals. Gas lighting and fireplaces, and hot as heck in the summertime.

Print Friendly and PDF