On a warm summer evening, as the sun dips below the horizon and paints the sky with hues of lavender and pink, Clara Barton finds herself amidst the clamor of a lavish soirée. The Civil War has recently ended, and America dances in the ballrooms of peace.
The room’s chatter dims as music through the air, and the scent of gardenias hangs heavily on the night. Clara, a woman whose heart belongs in work, stands in her glorious gown, her eyes betraying a restlessness that the evening’s festivities cannot quell.
As the partygoers dance and laugh, a hushed conversation in the corner catches Clara’s attention. A young Union Army soldier is recounting his harrowing tale of the Battle of Cedar Mountain. He speaks of the horrors of war, but his voice softens with gratitude as he recalls the arrival of an unexpected angel.
His audience leans in, entranced by the story of a fearless woman who braved the battlefield to bring solace and aid to the wounded. With lanterns held high, she illuminated the darkness, not only for the surgeons who worked tirelessly to save lives but for the weary souls who clung to hope amid despair.
Clara listens as the young soldier’s eyes shine with admiration for the woman he does not recognize in the room. She approaches him, her steps measured and steady, and takes his hand in hers. A silent exchange transpires between them as the soldier’s eyes widen, and his gratitude fills the space between their words.
And just like that, Clara Barton, the woman who had tended to many wounds, slips away from the party and into the night, leaving behind the glitz and glamour that can never quite capture her heart. For Clara knows her destiny is not in the ballrooms but in the hearts of those who need her most, and she will continue to heed the call of the wounded long after the night’s music fades away.
“Lanterns of the Night” is a work of historical fiction. While based on the life of Clara Barton, the story and incidents are fictitious.
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Clara Barton, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2005693027/>.