Clara Barton, best known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her service to the wounded during the Civil War, and as the founder of the American Red Cross, devoted her time following the war to helping locate missing soldiers. In the spring of 1865, Barton began receiving correspondence from the families of the missing, asking for her assistance in finding information on the whereabouts of their loved ones. In response, she established the Office of Correspondence with the Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army. The office researched, compiled, and distributed lists of the missing in the hope that war survivors with knowledge of the fate of fellow soldiers would report it to Barton and her staff.
Barton submitted this petition to Congress in February 1866, asking for an appropriation to continue her work. As she explained, “The intense anxiety and excitement amounting in many instances nearly to insanity which characterized there [sic] letters led me to regard this as the most poignant grief, and perhaps the most pressing necessity at that moment known to our people, prompting me at the same time to desire some means of relief.” The following month, Congress approved $15,000 in support of Barton’s efforts. When the office closed in 1867, it had responded to more than 63,000 letters and confirmed the fate of more than 22,000 soldiers.