When people hear the name Clara Barton, the first thing that usually comes to mind is her role as founder of the American Red Cross. She began her humanitarian career as a military nurse during the Civil War but later expanded the Red Cross’s core mission by integrating the provision of aid and supplies after natural disasters as well. Her vision was adopted internationally, thereby changing the course of humanitarian aid around the world.

What you might not know is that many of the hands-on experiences that shaped Barton’s ideals and accomplishments were formed right here in the Lowcountry.

Born on Christmas Day 1821 in North Oxford, Mass., Clara Barton never received any formal training as a nurse. Indeed, nursing as a profession didn’t even exist before the Civil War. Her interest in medicine was piqued when she was just 11 years old, as she helped her brother recuperate after falling off a barn roof, leaving him bedridden for nearly two years.

At the age of 18, Clara began her professional career not as a nurse, but as a teacher. She founded the first free public school in Bordentown, N.J., for the children of mill workers there. As the success of the school grew, local officials hired a man to come on as its principal. This did not sit well with Clara who wrote: “I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”

With that, she left teaching and became one of the first women hired by the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., a job she lost after President James Buchanan’s election in 1857. Though she returned to the post following Abraham Lincoln’s election, it was for a lower-paying job, leaving her dispirited.

Clara was 39 when the first shots of the Civil War rang out at Fort Sumter. Though no one on either side of the conflict was killed during that first battle, the news sparked a riot a week later in Baltimore among Confederate sympathizers and members of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry, who were there switching trains en route to Washington in response to President Lincoln’s call for army volunteers. The riot resulted in the deaths of three infantrymen, eight Confederate sympathizers, and one bystander. Another 24 soldiers who were wounded continued on the train to Washington.

News of the riot reached Washington even before the train did. When it did, Clara was among those waiting at the station. Instinctively, she began triaging the scene, organizing who should be treated first and where, as there were no medical accommodations. A makeshift hospital was quickly set up in the U.S. Senate Chamber.

Clara next cared for wounded Union soldiers who returned to Washington after the Battle of First Manassas. It soon became clear to her that the troops did not have the supplies and shelter they needed, an issue she began addressing by collecting and delivering supplies to field hospitals near the Battle of Cedar Mountain.

At the Battle of Antietam, supplies were so low army surgeons were using corn husks as bandages. Though the supply trains failed to arrive in time for the battle, Clara did, with a wagon full of medical supplies she had collected. She even brought lanterns that allowed the surgeons to continue working as night fell. Upon arrival, Clare immediately set to work nursing, feeding, and comforting the injured.

Working tirelessly for days with very little rest, Clara would repeat this pattern on battlefields throughout the Civil War.

On April 7, 1863, Clara disembarked a ship at Hilton Head Island, an area controlled by Union forces and where her brother worked as quartermaster. On the same day she landed, nine Federal ships attacked forts Sumter and Moultrie in Charleston Harbor.

By July 14, she had moved her operations to Morris Island. Four days later she was an eyewitness to the horrendous attack on Battery Wagner by the all-Black volunteer 54th Massachusetts Infantry. As the Federal line came within about 150 yards of the fort, Confederates opened fire with both cannon and small arms, tearing through the ranks of the Union regiment.

Afterward, Clara would write about her experiences at that battle, as patients looked up with their “… great dark eyes, to your face, in utter silence, which kept one constantly wondering if they knew all they had done and were doing? and whenever I met one who was giving his life out with his blood, I could not forbear hastening to tell him lest he die in ignorance of the truth, that he was the soldier of Freedom he had sought to be, and that the world as well as Heaven would so record it.

In another letter she wrote “We have captured one fort – Gregg – and one charnel house – Wagner – and we have built one cemetery, Morris Island. The thousand little sand-hills that in the pale moonlight are a thousand headstones, and the restless ocean waves that roll and break on the whitened beach sing an eternal requiem to the toll-worn gallant dead who sleep beside.”

Clara continued her work in the Lowcountry through the end of 1863, treating wounded soldiers and fighting smallpox epidemics, a disease she had survived as a child and therefore was immune to its mortal threat. In the crowded, unsanitary conditions of the troops, roughly 19,000 reported cases of smallpox were reported among Union soldiers. Nearly a quarter of the infected White soldiers would die.

That toll rose to 35 percent among the nearly 48,000 African Americans who fought or sought refuge among Union troops along the South Carolina and Georgia coastline. Clara joined forces with another humanitarian, Frances Dana Gage, and together they nursed escaped slaves suffering from the disease.

Exhausted by her labors, Clara left the Lowcountry on Dec. 31, 1863, traveling home to recuperate. By spring, however, she was back nursing wounded soldiers on the battlefield. As the end of the war neared, Clara established the Missing Soldiers Office, which received nearly 63,000 inquiries from families of missing soldiers. They located about 22,000 of the missing.

Though the Civil War was over, Clare’s commitment to helping others was not, nor was her work in the Lowcountry. She came to offer aid after the Great Earthquake of Aug. 31, 1886, shook Charleston to its core. Just nine years after Reconstruction, however, Charlestonians were still wary of Northerners and not open to her offers of aid.

That was not the case a few years later when one of the strongest storms to ever strike the Carolina coast roared through the Sea Island between Charleston and Beaufort on Aug. 27, 1893. It came ashore at high tide under a full moon, with a tidal wave that left about 2,000 people dead (estimates vary) and about 30,000 more without homes or basic necessities. Wells were inundated with salt water, and crops were destroyed. Food, farming equipment, and infrastructure such as bridges and ferries had been washed away. Unsanitary conditions spurred disease.

Six weeks after the storm and for the next 10 months, Clara led the Red Cross’s efforts to care for the predominantly Black population of the barrier islands. Among her makeshift hospitals was Grace Episcopal Chapel in Rockville, on Wadmalaw Island. In the summer of 1894, Barton, now 72 years old, returned home to rest.

Clara Barton continued to serve as president of the American Red Cross before retiring for good at the age of 82. She died at her home in Glen Echo, Md., on April 12, 1912. Yet the humanitarian work she began continues to grow around the world.