FOR three years I had been a thorough believer in the United States Sanitary Commission. Reading carefully its publications, listening with tearful interest to the narrations of those who had been its immediate workers at the front, following in imagination its campaigns of love and mercy, from Antietam to Gettysburg, from Belle Plain to City Point, and thence to the very smoke and carnage of the actual battle-field, I had come to cherish an unfeigned admiration for it and its work. For three years, too, I had been an earnest laborer at one of its outposts,— striving with others ever to deepen the interest and increase the fidelity of the loyal men and women of a loyal New England town. I was prepared then, both from my hearty respect for the charity and from my general conception of the nature and vastness of its operations, to welcome every opportunity to improve my knowledge of its plans and practical workings. I therefore gladly accepted the invitation which came to me to visit the head-quarters of the Commission at Washington, and to examine for myself the character and amount of the benefits which it confers.
The evening of August 23d found me, after a speedy and pleasant trip southward, safely ensconced in the sanctum of my good friend Mr. Knapp, the head of the Special Relief Department. Starting from that base of operations, I spent two crowded weeks in ceaseless inquiries. Every avenue of information was thrown wide open. Two days 1 wandered, but not aimlessly, from office to office, from storehouse to storehouse, from soldiers’ home to soldiers’ home, conversing with the men who have given themselves up unstintedly to this charity, examining the books of the Commission, gathering statistics, seeing, as it were, the hungry soldier fed and the naked soldier clothed, and the sick and wounded soldier cared for with a more than fraternal kindness. I visited the hospitals, and with my own hands distributed the Sanitary delicacies to the suffering men. Steaming down the Chesapeake, and up the James, and along its homeless shores, I came to City Point; was a day and a night on board the Sanitary barges, whence full streams of comfort are flowing with an unbroken current to all our diverging camps ; passed a tranquil, beautiful Sabbath in that city of the sick and wounded, whose white tents look down from the bluffs upon the turbid river ; rode thirteen miles out almost to the Weldon Road, then in sharp contest between our Fifth Army Corps and the Rebels ; from the hills which Baldy Smith stormed in June saw the spires of Petersburg ; went from tent to tent and from bedside to bedside in the field hospitals of the Fifth and Ninth Corps, where the luxuries prepared by willing hands at home were bringing life and strength to fevered lips and broken bodies. I came back with my courage reanimated, and with a more perfect faith in the ultimate triumph of the good cause. I came back with a heartier respect for our soldiers, whose patience in hardship and courage in danger are rivalled only by the heroism with which they bear the pains of sickness and wounds. I came back especially with the conviction, that, no matter how much we had contributed to the Sanitary work, we had done only that which it was our duty to do, and that, so long as we could furnish shelter for our families and food for our children, it was our plain obligation to give and to continue giving out of our riches or out of our poverty.
I have felt that in no way could I do better service than by seeking to answer for others the very questions which my fortnight with the Sanitary has answered for me. Most, no doubt, have a general conviction that the charity inaugurated by the Sanitary Commission is at once marvellous in its extent and unique in the history of war. All, perhaps, are prepared to allow that the heart which conceived such an enterprise, and the mind which organized it, and the persistent will which carried it to a successful issue, are entitled to all the praise which we can give them. Few will deny now that this and kindred associations, by decreasing the waste of war, will alfect in an important degree our national fortunes. And most, indeed, know something even about the details of Sanitary work. They comprehend, at least, that through its agency many a homely comfort and many a home luxury find their way to the wards of great hospitals. They have seen, too, the Commission step forward in great emergencies, after some terrible battle, when every energy of Government was burdened and overburdened by the gigantic demands of the hour, and from its storehouses send thousands of packages. and from its offices hundreds of relief agents, to help to meet almost unprecedented exigencies.
But what people wish to know, and what, despite all that has been written, they do not know fully and definitely, is how and when and where, and through what channels and by what methods, the Commission works : precisely how the millions which have been poured into its treasury from public contributions and private benefactions have been coined into comfort for the soldier, — how the thousands and hundreds of thousands of garments which have gone forth to unknown destinations have been made warmth for his body and cheer to his soul. The whole height and depth and length and breadth of Sanitary work, what varied activities and what multiform charities are included in the great circumference of its organization, —of that not one in twenty has any adequate conception. And all about that is what everybody wishes to know. The curiosity, moreover, which dictates such queries, is a natural and laudable curiosity. Those who have given at every call, and often from scanty means, and those who have plied the needle summer and winter, early and late, have a right to put such questions. The Commission wishes to answer all proper inquiries fully and unreservedly. It would throw open its operations to the broadest sunlight. It believes that the more entirely it is known, in its successes and its failures alike, the more sure it is to be liberally sustained. To bring the humblest contributor from the most distant branch, as it were, into immediate communication with the front is a work most desirable to be done.
I do not wish to glorify the Commission, nor to theorize about it, nor to discuss its relative merit as compared with that of kindred organizations,—but rather to tell just what it is doing, precisely where the money goes, and exactly what kinds of good are attempted.
The work of the Sanitary Commission may be naturally and conveniently classed under five heads.
First, the work undertaken for the prevention of sickness and suffering.
Second, the Special Relief Department.
Third, the Hospital Directory.
Fourth, the assistance given to stationary hospitals.
Fifth, the grand operations in the front, on or near the actual battlefield.
The efforts for the prevention of suffering and sickness are first in order of time, and possibly first in importance. When this war commenced, we had no wounded and we had no sick. What we did have was a crowd of men full of untrained courage, but who knew little or nothing about military discipline, and as little in regard to what was necessary for the preservation of their health. What we did have was hundreds and thousands of officers, taken from every walk of life, who were, tor the most part, men of great natural intelligence, but who did not at all comprehend that it was their duty not only to lead their men in battle, but to care for their health and their habits, and who had never dreamed that such homely considerations as what are the best modes of cooking food, what are the most healthy localities in which to pitch tents, what is the right position for drains, had anything to do with the art of war. What we did have was surgeons, many of whom had achieved an honorable reputation in the walks of civil life, but who, on this new field, were alike inexperienced and untried. The manifest danger was, that this mass of living valor and embodied patriotism would simply be squandered, — that, as in the terrible Walcheren Expedition, or in the Crimea, the men whose strength and courage might decide a campaign would only furnish food for the hospital and the grave.
Who should avert this danger? The Government could not. It had no time to sit down and study sanitary science. It was bringing together everything, where it found — nothing. Out of farmers and merchants and students it was organizing the most efficient of armies. It was sending its agents all over the world to buy guns and munitions of war. It was tasking our factories to produce blankets and overcoats, knapsacks and haversacks, wagons and tents, and all that goes to make up the multifarious equipment of an army. It was peering into our dockyards to find steamers and sailing-vessels out of which to gather makeshift navies, until it could find leisure to build stancher ships. Manifestly the Government had no time for such a work. The existing Medical Bureau was hardly equal to the task. Organized to take charge of an army of ten thousand men, in the twinkling of an eye that army became five hundred thousand. At the beginning of the war the medical staff must have been very busy and very heavily burdened. With great hospitals to build, with troops of willing, but young and inexperienced surgeons to train to a knowledge of their duties and to send east and west and north and south, with every department of medical science to be enlarged at once to the proportions of the war, it had little leisure for excursions into fresh fields of inquiry. That it brought order so quickly out of chaos, that it was able to extemporize a good working system, is a sufficient testimony to its general fidelity and efficiency. It was the Sanitary Commission which undertook this special duty. It undertook to find out some of the laws of health which apply to army life, and then to scatter the knowledge of those laws broadcast.
Prevention, therefore, effort not so much to comfort and cure the sick soldier as to keep him from being sick at all, was, in order of time, properly the first work. And it is doubtful whether at the outset anything more was contemplated. The memorial to the War Department in May, 1861, says explicitly that the object of the Commission “ is to bring to bear upon the health, comfort, and morale of our troops the fullest and ripest teachings of sanitary science.” How many of the contributors to the funds of the Society are aware what an immense work in this direction has been undertaken, and how much lias been accomplished to prevent sickness and the consequent depletion and perhaps defeat of our armies ? As I have already indicated, at the commencement of the war we knew little or nothing about what was necessary to keep men in military service well, — what food, what clothing, what tents, what camps, what recreations, what everything, I may say. Now the Sanitary Commission has made searching inquiries touching every point of camp and soldier life,— gathering in facts from all quarters, and seeking to attain to some fixed sanitary principles. It has sent the most eminent medical men on tours of inspection to all our camps, who have put questions and given hints to the very men to whom they were of the most direct importance. As a result, we have a mass of facts, which, in the breadth of the field which they cover, in the number of vital questions which they settle, and in the fulness and accuracy of the testimony by which they are sustained, are worth more than all the sanitary statistics of all other nations put together.
And we are to consider that these inquiries were from the beginning turned to practical use. If you look over your pile of dusty pamphlets, very likely you will find a little Sanitary tract entitled, “ Rules for Preserving the Health of the Soldier.” This was issued almost before the war had seriously begun. Or you will come across some republished European medical paper containing the last results of the last foreign investigations. So early was the good seed of sanitary knowledge sown. We must remember, too, how many mooted, yet vital questions have now been put to rest. Take an example. — Quinine. Everybody had a general notion that quinine was as valuable as a preventive of disease as a cure. But how definite was our knowledge ? How many knew when and in what positions and to what extent it was valuable ? As early as 1861 the Commission prepared and published what has been justly termed an exhaustive monograph on the whole subject, collecting into a brief space all the best testimony bearing upon the question. This was the beginning of an investigation which, pursued through a vast number of cases, has demonstrated, that, in peculiar localities and under certain circumstances, quinine in full doses is an almost absolute necessity. And in such localities, and under such circumstances, Government issues now a daily ration to every man, saving who can tell how many valuable lives ? One more illustration, — Camps. Suppose you were to lead a thousand men into the Southern country. Would you know where to encamp them ? whether with a southern or a northern exposure ? on a breezy hill, or in a sheltered valley ? beneath the shade of groves, or out in the broad sunshine ? Could you tell what kind of soil was healthiest, or how near to each other you could safely pitch your tents, or whether it would be best for your men to sleep on the bare ground or on straw or on pine boughs ? Yet, if you inquire, you will find that all these questions and countless others are definitely settled, — thanks in a great measure to the Sanitary Commission, which has gladly given its ounce of prevention, that it may spare its pound of cure.
If you imagine that the need of this work of prevention has ceased, you are greatly mistaken. Only last summer, in the single month of June, the Commission distributed, in the Army of the Potomac alone, over a hundred tons of canned fruits and tomatoes, and not less than five thousand barrels of pickles and fresh vegetables. It is hardly too much to say that what the Commission did in this respect has gone far towards enabling our gallant army to disappoint the hopes of the enemy, and to hold, amid the deadly assaults of malaria, the vantage-ground which it has won before Petersburg and Richmond. All through the spring and summer, too, at Chattanooga, on the very soil which war had ploughed and desolated, invalid soldiers have been cultivating hundreds of acres of vegetables. And on the rugged sides of Missionary Ridge, and along the sunny slopes of Central Tennessee, the same forethought has brought to perfection, in many a deserted vineyard, the purple glory of the grape. And this not merely to cure, but to prevent, to keep up the strength and vigor of the brave men who have marched victoriously from the banks of the Ohio to Atlanta.
Nor is it likely that the value of this office will cease so long as the war lasts In the future, as in the past, new conditions, new exigencies, and new dangers will arise. And to the end the foresight which guards will be as true a friend to the soldier as the kindness which assuages his pains. Looking back, therefore, upon the whole field, and speaking with a full understanding of the meaning of the language, I am ready to affirm, that, if the Sanitary Commission had undertaken nothing but the work of preventing sickness, and had accomplished nothing in any other direction, the army and the country would have received in that alone an ample return for all the money which has been lavished.
I come now to the Special Relief Department. I should call this a sort of philanthropic drag-net, differing from that mentioned in the Gospel in that it seems to gather up nothing bad which needs to be thrown away. In other words, it appeared to me as though any and every kind of Sanitary good which ought to be done, and yet was not large enough or distinct enough to constitute a separate branch, was set down as Special Relief. The whole system of homes and lodges to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless comes directly under the head of Special Relief. The immense collection ot back pay, bounties, pensions, and prize-money, which is made gratuitously by the Commission, is Special Relief. Visits to the hospitals are under the direction of this same department. And even the Directory and the vast work done at the front perhaps legitimately belong to it. W e can readily conceive, therefore, that the Commission has no department which is larger or more important, or which covers so wide and diversified a field of activity. Let us survey that field a little closer.
Sanitary homes and lodges, — what are they ? A soldier is discharged, or lie has a furlough. He is not well and strong, — and he has no money, certainly none to spare. He ought not to sleep on the ground, and he ought not to go hungry. But what is everybody’s business is apt to he nobody’s business. Fortunately the Commission has seen and met this want. In Washington, on H Street, there is a block of rough, but comfortable one-story wooden buildings, erected for various purposes of Special Relief, and, amongst others, for the very one which I have mentioned. In the first place, there is a large room containing ninety-six berths, where any soldier, having proper claims, can obtain decent lodging free of expense. In the second place, there is a kitchen, and a neat, cheerful dining-room, with seats for a hundred and fifty. Here plain and substantial meals are furnished to all comers. This table of one hundred and fifty has often, and indeed usually, to be spread three times ; so that the Commission feeds daily at this place alone some four hundred soldiers, and lodges ninety to a hundred more. The home which I have now described is simply for transient calls.
Near the depot there is a home of a more permanent character. When a soldier is discharged from the service, the Government has, in the nature of the case, no further charge of him. Suppose now that he is taken sick, with no money in his purse and no friends near. Can you imagine a position more forlorn ? And forlorn indeed it would be, were it not for the Commission. The sick home is a large three-story building, with three or four one-story buildings added on each side. Here there is furnished food for all; then one hundred and fifty beds for those who are not really sick, but only ailing and worn out; then bathing-rooms ; and, finally, a reading-room. There is here, too, a hospital ward, with the requisite nurses and medical attendance. In this ward I saw a little hoy, apparently not over twelve years of age, who had strayed from his home,—if, alas, he had one ! —and followed to the field an Ohio regiment of hundred-days’ men, and who had been taken sick and left behind. Who he was or where from nobody knew. Tenderly cared for, but likely to die! A sad sight to look upon ! One feature more. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday a physician goes from the home in Washington to New York, taking charge of those who are too sick or too crippled to care for themselves ; while the relief agents procure for the sick soldier the half-price ticket to which he is entitled, or else give him one, and such articles of clothing as are needful to send him in comfort to his own home.
I must not fail to speak in this connection of another beautiful ministry, — the home for soldiers’ wives and mothers. A soldier is like other human beings. In his sickness he yearns for a sight of the familiar faces, and sends for wife or mother ; or wife or mother, unable to bear longer the uncertainty, when she can get no tidings from the absent, starts for Washington. There, searching vainly for husband or son, she spends all or nearly all her money. Or if she finds him, it may well be that he has no funds with which to help her. In the little buildings on one side of the refuge for the sick are rooms where some sixty-five can receive decent lodging and nourishing food ; and if actually penniless, the Commission will procure them tickets and send them back to their friends.
We often hear people wondering, almost in a skeptical tone, where all the Commission’s money goes. When I was at Washington and City Point, I only asked where it all came from. Consider what it must cost simply to feed and lodge these soldiers and their wives at Washington. And then remember that this is but one of many similar homes scattered everywhere : at Baltimore, Washington, and Alexandria, in the Eastern Department ; at Louisville, Nashville, Chattanooga, in the Western ; at New Orleans and Baton Rouge, in the Southwestern ; and at many another place beside. And, finally, reflect that this whole system of homes is really but one portion of one branch of Sanitary work.
The collection of back pay, bounties, and pensions, — how many have a definite idea of this work ? Not many, I suspect. Yet it takes all the time of many persons to accomplish it, and it was the branch of Sanitary work which awakened in my own mind the deepest regard ; for it has its foundation in a higher virtue than any mere sentimental charity, — yea, in the highest virtue known in heaven or on earth,—justice. However impossible it may be to prevent such occurrences, certainly it is a cruel and undeserved hardship to a soldier who has served faithfully and fought for his country, and has perhaps been wounded and almost died at the post of honor and duty, that he should be unable to obtain his hard-earned pittance, when, too, he needs it for his own comfort, or when it may be that his family need it to keep them from absolute suffering.
Look at a single class of these collections, — the back pay of sick men. Government, we all allow, must have some system in its disbursements. It should not pay money without a voucher, and the proper voucher of a soldier is the pay-roll of the regiment or company of which he is a member. Now a sick or wounded man drops out of the ranks. He gets into a field hospital to which he does not belong. He is transferred from one hospital to another, from hospital to convalescent camp, and finally, it may be, is put on the list of men to be discharged for physical disability. Meanwhile his commanding officer does not know where he is, cannot trace him, thinks it very likely that he is a deserter. On pay-day the man’s name is not on the roll, and, having no voucher, he gets no money. You say that there ought to be a remedy. There is none. It would be difficult to devise one. What shall the soldier do ? He cannot go from point to point to collect evidence, for he is sick. Besides, he is utterly ignorant of the necessary forms. If he applies to a lawyer, it costs him often from one half to three quarters of all he gets. Very likely the lawyer cannot afford to take care of one or two petty cases for a less price. In this emergency the Commission steps in, and, with its knowledge of routine and its credit in all quarters, obtains for the poor fellow for nothing what he has in vain sought for in other ways, Take one single case, and what they would call at the Relief Office an easy case. Study it attentively, and you will get an idea of all cases, —and you will understand, moreover, how much work has to be done, and how impossible it would be for a sick man to do it.
Charles W. J—— is a member of Company K, One Hundred and TwentyFirst New York Regiment, and he has been transferred to this company and regiment from Company F of the Sixteenth New York. He has been thus transferred for the reason that the Sixteenth New York is a two years' regiment, whose time has expired, while he is a three years’ recruit, who has a vear or two more to serve. Now he claims that pay is due him from November I, 1863, to August I, 1864, and that he needs his pay very much to send home to his wife. He represents that he was at Schuyler Hospital from the time he left the ranks until December 17, 1863 ; that then he was sent to Convalescent Camp, New York Harbor; and on December 29 to Camp of Distribution at Alexandria; whence, February 8. 1864, he was brought to Staunton Hospital, Washington, where he now is. He has never joined his new regiment, has only been transferred with others to its rolls. His new officers have never seen him, and do not know where he is. The relief agent hears the story and then sets about proving all its details : first, that the man was a member of the Sixteenth New York Regiment ; second, that he has been transferred to the One Hundred and Twenty-First Regiment; third, that he has never been paid beyond November I, 1863 ; fourth, that he has really been in the various hospitals and camps which he mentions. This evidence is procured by writing to agents and surgeons at convalescent and distributing camps, and at Hospital Schuyler, and by examining the rolls of the Sixteenth and One Hundred and Twenty-First Regiments. In a few days or weeks the man’s story is proved to be correct, and he is put into a position to receive his pay, — a satisfaction not simply in a pecuniary sense, but also to his soldierly pride, by removing an undeserved charge of desertion.
Now I beg my readers not to imagine that this is a difficult case. At the Reliet Rooms they treasure up and mysteriously display, much as I suspect a soldier would flaunt a captured battle-flag, a certain roll of paper, I dare not say how many yards long, covered with certificates from one end to the other, obtained from all parts of the country and from all sorts of persons, and all necessary in order to secure perhaps a three or six months’ pay of one sick soldier. The correspondence of the back-pay department is itself a burden. From thirty to forty letters on an average are received daily at one of its offices. They are written in all languages, — English, German, French, — and must be read, translated, and the ideas, conveyed often in the blindest style, ascertained and answered.
A new branch has been recently added,— the collection of pay for the families of those who are prisoners in Rebeldom. But as this involves no new principles or fresh details, I pass it by. Another class of cases should receive a moment’s notice. This includes the collection of bounties for discharged soldiers, of pensions for wounded soldiers, of bounty, back pay, and pensions tor the families of deceased soldiers, and of prize-money for sailors. These cases are not, as a general rule, as intricate as those which I have already considered, inasmuch as the proper departments have a regular system of investigation, and take up and examine for themselves each case in its turn. All that the Commission does is to put the $soldier on the right track, and to make out and present for him the fitting application. It undertook this because Washington was infested with a horde of sharpers, who, by false representations, defrauded the soldiers out of large sums.
I cannot more appropriately close this branch of my subject than by stating the simple fact, that during the months of July and August the relief agents examined and brought to a successful issue 809 cases of back pay and bounty-money, averaging $125, — 203 cases of invalid pensions, 378 cases of widows' pensions, and 10 cases of naval pensions, averaging $8 a month, — and 121 cases of prize-money, averaging$ 80.
I have only to add that the amount of good which can be done in this direction seems to be limited only by the capacity of those who undertake to do it. A relief agent said to me, in conversation, that in one hospital in Philadelphia there were several hundreds who claimed, but were unable to collect their just dues, — and that what was true of this hospital was true to a less extent of all of them.
The Hospital Directory is a most interesting branch of Sanitary work. Not because it will compare with many other branches in extent of usefulness, but because it shows what a wide-reaching philanthropy is at work, seeking to furnish every possible alleviation to the inevitable hardships of war. Whoever has at any time had a sick or wounded friend in the army knows how difficult it often is to obtain any intelligence about him. I have in mind a poor woman, who exhausted every resource in seeking to ascertain the whereabouts of a sick son, and who never received any tidings of him, until one day, months after, he came home, worn-out and broken, to die. The regiment is in active service and passes on, while the sick man goes back. He has several transfers, too, — first to the corps hospital on the field, then to the army hospital at City Point, then to Washington, and very possibly again to some hospital in Baltimore, Philadelphia, or other city or town farther north, and on that account believed to be more healthy. Meanwhile, amid all these changes, the man may be delirious, or from some other cause unable to communicate with his friends. How shall they get information ? The Commission undertakes to keep a correct list of all the sick and wounded men who are in regular hospitals. They obtain their information from the official returns of the surgeons. I do not mean to say that these lists are absolutely correct. They approximate as nearly to correctness as they ever can, until surgeons are perfectly prompt and careful in their reports.
The amount of work done is very great. Seven hundred thousand names have been recorded in this Directory, between October, 1862, and July, 1864. From ten to twenty-five applications for information are made each day by letter, and from one hundred to two hundred and fifty personally or through the various State agencies. Branch offices, working upon a similar plan, have been established at Louisville and elsewhere.
The subject of assistance to regular hospitals may be despatched in a few words, — not because the gifts are insignificant, but because the method of giving is so regular and easy to explain. Whenever the surgeon of any hospital needs articles which are extras, and so not supplied by the Government, or which, if allowed, the Government is deficient in at the time, he makes a requisition upon the Commission ; and if his requisition is deemed to be a reasonable one, it is approved, and the goods delivered on his receipt for the same. As to the amount given, I can only say that something is sent almost every day even to the hospitals near Washington and the great cities, and that the amount bestowed increases just in proportion to the distance of the hospital from the great Government centres of supply. This is a noiseless and unostentatious charity, — sometimes, I am tempted to think, too noiseless and unostentatious. A few weeks ago, a lady friend visited one of the hospitals near Washington, carrying with her for distribution some Sanitary goods. She gave a handkerchief to one of the sick men. He took it, looked at it, read the mark in the corner, paused as if he had received a new idea, and then spoke out his mind thus: — “ I have been in this hospital six months, and this is the first thing I ever received from the Sanitary Commission.” — “ But,” she replied, “ have you not had this and that ? ” mentioning several luxuries supplied to this very hospital for extra diet. —“ Oh, yes, often ! ” — “ Well, every one of these articles came from the Sanitary Commission.”
Just now the Sanitary is seeking to enter into closer relations with the hospitals through the agency of regular visitors. The advantages of such a policy are manifest. The reports of the visitors will enable the directors to see more clearly the real wants of the sick ; and the frequent presence and inquiries of such visitors will tend to repress the undue appropriation of hospital stores by attendants. But the highest benefit will be the change and cheer it will introduce into the monotony of hospital life. If you are sick at home, you are glad to have your neighbor step in and bring the healthy bracing air of outdoor life into the dimness and languor of your invalid existence. Much more does the sick soldier like it, — for ennui, far more than pain, is his great burden. When I was at Washington, I accepted with great satisfaction an invitation to go with a Sanitary visitor on her round of duty. When we came to the hospital, I asked the ward-master if he would like to have me distribute among his patients the articles I had brought. He said that he should, for he thought it would do the poor fellows good to see me and receive the gifts from my own hands. The moment I entered there was a stir. Those who could hobble about stumped up to me to see what was going on ; some others sat up in bed, full of alertness ; while the sickest greeted me with a languid smile. As I went from cot to cot, the politeness of la belle France, with which a little Frenchman in the corner touched the tassel of his variegated nightcap at me, and the untranslatable gutturals, full of honest satisfaction, with which bis German neighbor saluted me, and the “ God bless your honor,” which a cheery son of Old Erin showered down upon me, and the simple “Thank you, Sir,” which came up on all sides from our true-hearted New England boys, were alike refreshing to my soul. No doubt the single peach or two which with hearty goodwill were given to them were as good as a feast ; and it may be that the little comforts which I left behind me, and which had been borne thither on the wings of this divine charity, perhaps from some village nestling among the rocky hills of New England, or from some hamlet basking in the sunlight on the broad prairies of the West, had magic power to bring to that place of suffering some breath of the atmosphere of home to cheer the sinking heart, or some fragrant memory of far-off homeaffection to make it better. I came away with the feeling that visits from sunny-hearted people, and gifts from friendly hands, must be a positive blessing to these sick and wounded people.
Of course the deepest throb of interest is given to the work at the front of battle. That is natural. It is work done on the very spots where the fortunes of our nation are being decided,— on the spots whither all eyes are turned, and towards which all our hopes and prayers go forth. It is work surrounded by every element of pathos and of tragic interest. The wavering fortunes of the fight, the heroic courage which sustains a doubtful conflict, the masterly skill that turns disaster into triumph, the awful carnage, the terrible suffering, the manly patience of the wounded, all combine to fix the attention there and upon everything which is transacted there. The questions constantly asked,—What is the Sanitary doing at the front ? what at City Point ? what at Winchester ? are natural questions. Let me state first the general plan and method of what I may call a Sanitary campaign, and afterwards add what I saw with my own eyes at City Point and before Petersburg, and what I heard from those who had themselves been actors in the scenes which they described.
When the army moves out from its encampment to the field of active warfare, two or three Sanitary wagons, loaded with hospital stores of all sorts, and accompanied by a sufficient number of relief agents, move with each army corps. These are for the supply of present need, and for use during the march, or after such skirmishes and fights as may occur before the Commission can establish a new base. In this way some of the Commission agents have followed General Grant’s army all the way from the Rapidan, through the Wilderness, across the Mattapony, over the James, on to the very last advance towards the Southside Railroad, — refilling their wagons with stores as opportunity has occurred. As soou now as the march commences and the campaign opens, preparations upon an extensive scale are made at Washington for the great probable demand. Steamers are chartered, loaded, and sent with a large force of relief agents to the vicinity of the probable battle-fields; or if the campaign is away from water communication, loaded wagons are held in readiness. The moment the locality of the struggle is determined, then, under the orders of the Provost Marshal, an empty house is seized and made the Sanitary head - quarters or general storehouse ; or else some canal-barge is moored at the crazy Virginia wharf, and used for the same purpose. This storehouse is kept constantly full from Washington, or else from Baltimore and New York; and the branch depots which are now established in each army corps are fed from it, while the hospitals in their turn make requisitions for all needful supplies on these branch depots. That is to say, the arrangements, though rougher and less permanent in their character, approximate very nearly to the arrangements at Washington.
A few details need to be added. Where the distance from the battle-field to the base of supplies is great, what are called feeding-stations are established every few miles, and here the wounded on foot or in ambulances can stop and take the refreshments or stimulants necessary to sustain them on their painful journey. At the steamboat-landing the Commission has a lodge and agents, with crackers and beef-tea, coffee and tea, ice-water and stimulants, ready to be administered to such as need. Relief agents go up on the boats to help care for the wounded ; and at Washington the same scene of active kindness is often enacted on their arrival as at their departure. This is the general plan of action everywhere, modified to suit circumstances, but always essentially the same. It will apply just as well West as East, — only for the names Baltimore, Washington, and City Point, you must put Louisville, Nashville, and Chattanooga.
When I was at City Point, the base of operations had been established there more than two months ; and though there was much sickness, and the wounded were being brought in daily by hundreds from the prolonged struggle for the Weldon Road, everything moved on with the regularity of clock-work. As you neared the landing, coming up the James, you saw, a little farther up the river, the red flag of the Sanitary Commission floating over the three barges which were its office, its storehouse, and its distributing store for the whole Army of the Potomac. Climbing up the steep road to the top of the bluff, and advancing over the undulating plain a mile, you come to a city, — the city of hospitals. The white tents are arranged in lines of almost mathematical accuracy. The camp is intersected by roads broad and clean. Every corps, and every division of every corps, has its allotted square. Somewhere in these larger squares your eye will be sure to catch sight of the Sanitary flag, and beneath it a tent, where is the corps station. You enter, and you find within, if not as great an amount, at least as varied a supply, of hospital stores as you would find anywhere, waiting for surgeons’ orders. To a very great extent, the extra diet for all the sick and wounded is furnished from these stores ; and very largely the cooking of it is overseen by ladies connected with the Commission. In every corps there are from five to fifteen relief agents, whose duty it is to go through the wards once, twice, three times in each day, to see what the sick need for their comfort, to ascertain that they really get what is ordered, and in every way to alleviate suffering and to promote cheerfulness and health.
I shall never forget a tour which I made with a relief agent through the wards for the blacks, both because it showed me what a watchful supervision a really faithful person can exercise, and because it gave such an opportunity to observe closely the conduct of these people. The demeanor of the colored patients is really beautiful, — so gentle, so polite, so grateful for the least kindness. And then the evidences of a desire for mental improvement and religious life which meet you everywhere are very touching. Go from bed to bed, and you see in their hands primers. spelling-books, and Bibles, and the poor, worn, sick creatures, the moment they feel one throb of returning health, striving to master their alphabet or spell out their Bible. In the evening, or rather in the fading twilight, some two hundred of them crept from the wards, and seated themselves in a circle around a black exhorter. Religion to them was a real thing; and so their worship had the beauty of sincerity, while I ought to add that it was not marked by that grotesque extravagance sometimes attributed to it. One cannot but think better of the whole race after the experience of such a Sabbath. The only drawback to your satisfaction is, that they die quicker and from less cause than the whites. They have not the same stubborn hopefulness and hilarity. Why, indeed, should they have ?
Speaking of the white soldiers, everybody who goes into their hospitals is happily disappointed, — you see so much order and cheerfulness, and so little evidence of pain and misery. The soldier is quite as much a hero in the hospital as on the battle-field. Give him anything to be cheerful about, and he will improve the opportunity. You see men who have lost an arm or a leg, or whose heads have been bruised almost out of likeness to humanity, as jolly as they can be over little comforts and pleasures which ordinary eyes can hardly see with a magnifying-glass. So it happens that a camp of six thousand sick and wounded, which seems at a distance a concentration of human misery that you cannot bear to behold, when near does not look half so lugubrious as you expected ; and you are tempted to accuse the sick men of having entered into a conspiracy to look unnaturally happy.
If you go back now six or thirteen miles to the field hospitals, you find nothing essentially different. The system and its practical workings are the same. But it is a perpetual astonishment to find that here, near to the banks of a river that has not a respectable village on its shores from Fortress Monroe to Richmond, — here, in a houseless and desolate land which can be reached only by roads which are intersected by gullies, which plunge into sloughs of despond, which lose themselves in the ridges of what were once cornfields, or meander amid stumps of what so lately stood a forest, — that here you have every comfort for the sick : all needed articles of clothing, the shirts and drawers, the socks and slippers ; and all the delicacies, too, the farinas, the jellies, the canned meats and fruits, the concentrated milk, the palatable drinks and stimulants, and even fresh fruits and vegetables. And in such profusion, too ! I asked the chief agent of the Commission in the Ninth Corps how many orders he filled in a day. “ Look for yourself.” I took down the orders ; and there they were, one hundred and twenty strong, some for little and some for much, some for a single article and some for a dozen articles.
But it is not in camps of long standing that the wounded and sick suffer for want of care or lack of comforts.
It is when the base is suddenly changed, when all order is broken up, when there are no tents at hand, when the stores are scattered, nobody knows where, after a great battle perhaps, and the wounded are pouring in upon you like a flood, and when it seems as if no human energy and no mortal capacity of transportation could supply the wants both of the well and the sick, the almost insatiable demands of the battle-field and the equally unfathomable needs of the hospital, it is then that the misery comes, and it is then that the Commission does its grandest work. After the Battles of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania, twenty-five thousand wounded were crowded into Fredericksburg, where but ten thousand were expected, for a time supplies of all kinds seemed to be literally exhausted. There were no beds. There was not even straw. There were not surgeons enough nor attendants enough. There was hardly a supply of food. Some found it difficult to get a drop of cold water. Poor, wounded men, who had wearily trudged from the battle-field and taken refuge in a deserted house, remained hours and a day without care, and without seeing the face of any but their wounded comrades. Then the Sanitary Commission sent its hundred and fifty agents to help the overburdened surgeons. Then every morning it despatched its steamer down the Potomac crowded with necessaries and comforts. Then with ceaseless industry its twenty wagons, groaning under their burden, went to and fro over the wretched road from Belle Plain to Fredericksburg. A credible witness says that for several days nearly all the bandages and a large proportion of the hospital supplies came from its treasury. No mind can discern and no tongue can declare what valuable lives it saved and what sufferings it alleviated. Who shall say that Christian charity has not its triumphs proud as were ever won on battle-field ? If the Commission could boast only of its first twenty-four hours at Antietam and Gettysburg and its forty-eight hours at Fredericksburg, it would have earned the everlasting gratitude and praise of all true men.
But is there not a reverse to this picture ? Are there no drawbacks to this success ? Is there no chapter of abortive plans, of unfaithful agents, of surgeons and attendants appropriating or squandering charitable gifts ? These are questions which are often honestly asked, and the doubts which they express or awaken have cooled the zeal and slackened the industry of many an earnest worker. There is no end to the stories which have been put in circulation. I remember a certain mythical blanket which figured in the early part of the war, and which, though despatched to the soldier, was found a few weeks after by its owner adorning the best bed of a hotel in Washington. To be sure, it seemed to have pursued a wandering life, — for now it was sent from the full stores of a lady in Lexington, and now it was stripped perhaps by a poor widow from the bed of her children, and then it was heard from far off in the West, ever seeking, but never reaching, its true destination. Without heeding any such stories, although they have done infinite mischief, I answer to honest queries, that I have no doubt that sometimes the stores of the Commission are both squandered and misappropriated. I do not positively know it ; but I am sure that it would be a miracle, if they were not. It would be the first time in human history that so large and varied a business, and extending’over such a breadth of country and such a period of time, was transacted without waste. Look at the facts. Here are thousands of United States surgeons and attendants of all ages and characters through whose hands many of these gifts must necessarily go. What wonder, if here and there one should be found whose principles were weaker than his appetites ? Consider also the temptations. These men are hard-worked, often scantily fed. Every nerve is tried by the constant presence of suffering, and every sense by fetid odors. Would it be surprising, if they sometimes craved the luxuries which were so close at hand ? Moreover, the Commission employs hundreds of men, the very best it can get, but it would be too much to ask that all should be models of prudence, watchfulness, and integrity.
I allow, then, that some misappropriation is not improbable. At the same time I do say, that every department is vigilantly watched, and that the losses are trivial, compared with the immense benefits. I do say, emphatically, that to bring a wholesale charge against whole classes, whose members are generally as high-minded and honorable as any other, to accuse them as a body of wretched peculations, is simply false and slanderous. I maintain that fidelity is the rule, and that its reverse is the petty exception ; and that it would be in opposition to all rules by which men conduct their lives to suffer such exceptions to influence our conduct, or diminish our contributions to a good cause. In business how often we are harassed by petty dishonesty or great frauds ! Nevertheless, the tide of business sweeps on. Why ? Because the good so outweighs the evil. The railroad employee is negligent, and some terrible accident occurs. But the railroad keeps on running all the same ; for the public convenience and welfare are the law of its life, and private peril and loss but an occasional episode. By the same rule, we support, without misgiving, the Commission, because the good which it certainly does, and the suffering it relieves, in their immensity cover up and put out of sight mistakes, which are incident to all human enterprise, and which are guarded against with all possible vigilance.
But allow all the good which is claimed, and that the good far transcends any possible evil, and then we are met by these further questions : Is such an organization necessary ? Cannot Government do the work? And if so, ought not Government to do it ?
I might with propriety answer : Suppose that Government ought to do the work and does not, shall we fold our hands and let our soldiers suffer ? But the truth is, Government does do its duty. Some persons foolishly exaggerate the work of the Commission. They talk as though it were the only salvation of the wounded, as though the Government let everything go, and that, if the Commission and kindred societies did not step in, there would not be so much as a wreck of our army left. Such talk is simply preposterous. The Commission, considered as a free, spontaneous offering of a loyal people to the cause of our common country, is a wonderful enterprise. The Commission, standing ready to supply any deficiency, to remedy any defect, and to meet any unforeseen emergency, has done a good work that cannot be forgotten. But, compared with what Government expends upon the sick, its resources are nothing. I have not the figures at hand, though I have seen them ; and it is hardly too much to say, that, where the society has doled out a penny, the Government has lavished a pound.
No sane defender, therefore, of this charity supports it on any such ground as that it is the principal benefactor of the soldier. The Commission alone could no more support our hospitals than it could the universe. But the homely adage, “It is best to have two strings to your bow,” applies wonderfully to the case. In practical life men act upon this maxim. They like to have an adjunct to the best-working machinery, a sort of reserved power. Every sensible person sees that our mail arrangements furnish to the whole people admirable facilities. Nevertheless, we like to have an express, and occasionally to send letters and packages by it. When the children are sick, there is nothing so good as the advice of the trusted family physician and the unwearied care of the mother. Yet when tire physician has done his work and gone his way, and when the mother is worn out by days of anxiety and nights of watching, we deem it a great blessing, if there is a kind neighbor who will come in, not to assume the work, but to help it on a little. The Commission, looking at the hospitals and the armies from a different point of view, sees much that another overlooks, and in an emergency, when all help is too little, brings fresh aid that is a priceless blessing. To the plain, substantial volume of public appropriations it adds the beautiful supplement of private benefactions. That is all that it pretends to do.
There are some special reflections that bear upon the point which we are considering. This war was sprung upon an unwarlike people. The officers of Government, when they entered upon their work, had no thought of the gigantic burdens which have fallen upon their shoulders. Since the war began, Government, like everybody else, has had to learn new duties, and to learn them amid the stress and perplexity of a great conflict. And among other things, it has been obliged, in some respects, to recast its medical regulations to meet the prodigious enlargement of its medical work. Beyond a doubt, much help, which, on account of this imperfection of the medical code itself, or of the inexperience of many who administered it, was needed by our hospitals at the commencement of the war, is not needed now, and much help that is needed now may not, if the war lasts, be needed in the future. But it takes time to move the machinery of a great state. And when any change is to become the permanent law of public action, it ought to take both time and thought to effect it. You do not wish to alter and re-alter the framework of a state or of a state’s activity as you would patch up a ruinous old house. If you work at all in any department, you should wish to work on a massive, well-considered plan, so that what you do may last. It is not likely, therefore, that, in the great field of suffering which the war has laid open to us, the public ministries will either be so quickly or so perfectly adjusted as to make private ministries a superfluity.
Neither do we reflect enough upon the limitations of human power. We think sometimes of Government as a great living organism of boundless resources. But, after all, in any department of state, what plans, what overlooks, what vitalizes, is one single human mind. And it is not easy to get minds anywhere clear enough and capacious enough for the large duties. It is easy to obtain men who can command a company well. It is not difficult to find those who can control efficiently a regiment. There are many to whom the care of five thousand men is no burden ; a few who are adequate to an army corps. But the generals who can handle with skill a hundred thousand men, and make these giant masses do their bidding, are the rare jewels in war’s diadem. Even so is it in every department of life. It is perhaps impossible to find a mind which can sweep over the whole field of our medical operations, and prepare for every emergency and avoid every mistake; not because all men are unfaithful or incapable, but because there must be a limit to the most capacious intellect. Looking simply at the structure of the human mind, we might have foreseen, what facts have amply demonstrated, that in a war of such magnitude as that which we are now waging there always must be room for an organization like the Sanitary Commission to do its largest and noblest work.
But, above and beyond all such reflections, there are great national and patriotic considerations which more than justify, yea, demand, the existence of our war charities. Allowing that the outward comfort of the soldier (and who would grant it ?) might be accomplished just as well in some other way, — allowing that in a merely sanitary aspect the Government could have done all that voluntary organizations have undertaken, and have done it as well as they or better than they, — even then we do not allow for a moment that what has been spent has been wasted. What is the Sanitary Commission, and what are kindred associations, but so many bonds of love and kindness to bind the soldier to his home, and to keep him always a loyal citizen in every hope and in every heart-throb? This is the influence which we can least of all afford to lose. He must have been blind who did not see at the outset of the war, that, beyond the immediate danger of the hour, there were other perils. We were trying the most tremendous experiment that was ever tried by any people. Out of the most peaceful of races we were creating a nation of soldiers. In a few months, where there seemed to be scarcely the elements of martial strength, we were organizing an army which was to be at once gigantic and efficient. Who could calculate the effect of such a swift change ? The questions many a patriotic heart might have asked were these : When this wicked Rebellion is ended, —when these myriads of our brethren whose lives have been bound up in that wondrous collective life, the life of a great army, shall return to their quiet homes by the hills and streams of New England or on the rolling prairies of the West, will they be able to merge their life again in the simple life of the community out of which they came ? Will they find content at the plough, by the loom, in the workshop, in the tranquil labors of civil life ? Can they, in short, put off the harness of the soldier, and resume the robe of the citizen ? Many a one could have wished to say to every soldier, as he went forth to the war, “ Remember, that, if God spares your life, in a few months or a few years you will come back, not officers, not privates, but sons and husbands and brothers, for whom some home is waiting and some human heart throbbing. Never forget that your true home is not in that fort beside those frowning cannon, not on that tented field amid the glory and power of military array, but that it nestles beneath yonder hill, or stands out in sunshine on some fertile plain. Remember that you are a citizen yet, with every instinct, with every sympathy, with every interest, and with every duty of a citizen.”
Can we overestimate the influence of these associations, of these Soldiers'-Aid Societies, rising up in every city and village, in producing just such a state of mind, in keeping the soldier one of us, one of the people ? Five hundred thousand hearts following with deep interest his fortunes, — twice five hundred thousand hands laboring for his comfort, — millions of dollars freely lavished to relieve his sufferings, — millions more of tokens of kindness and good-will going forth, every one of them a message from the home to the camp : what is all this but weaving a strong network of alliance between civil and military life, between the citizen at home and the citizen soldier ? If our army is a remarkable body, more pure, more clement, more patriotic than other armies,— if our soldier is everywhere and always a true-hearted citizen,— it is because the army and soldier have not been cast off from public sympathy, but cherished and bound to every free institution and every peaceful association by golden cords of love. The good our Commissions have done in this respect cannot be exaggerated ; it is incalculable.
Nor should we forget the influence they have had on ourselves, — the reflex influence which they have been pouring back into the hearts of our people at home, to quicken their patriotism. We often say that the sons and brothers are what the mothers and sisters make them. Can you estimate the electric force which runs like an irresistible moral contagion from heart to heart in a community all of whose mothers and daughters are sparing that they may spend, and learning the value ot liberty and country by laboring for them ? It does not seem possible, that, amid the divers interests and selfish schemes of men, we ever could have sustained this war, and carried it to a successful issue, had it not been for the moral cement which these wide-spread philanthropic enterprises have supplied. Every man who has given liberally to support the Commission has become a missionary of patriotism ; every woman who has cut and made the garments and rolled the bandages and knit the socks has become a missionary. And so the country has been full of missionaries, true-hearted and loyal, pleading, “ Be patient, put up with inconveniences, suffer exactions, bear anything, rather than sacrifice the nationality our fathers bequeathed to us ! ” And if our country is saved, it will be in no small degree because so many have been prompted by their benevolent activity to take a deep personal interest in the struggle and in the men who are carrying on the struggle.
These national and patriotic influences are the crowning blessings which come in the train of the charities of the war ; and they constitute one of their highest claims to our affection and respect. The unpatriotic utterances which in these latter days so often pain our ears, the weariness of burdens which tempt so many to be ready to accept anything and to sacrifice anything to be rid of them, admonish us that we need another uprising of the people and another re-birth of patriotism ; and they show us that we should cherish more and more everything which fosters noble and national sentiments. And when this war is over, and the land is redeemed, and we come to ask what things have strengthened us to meet and overcome our common peril, may we not prophesy that high among the instrumentalities which have husbanded our strength, and fed our patriotism, and knit more closely the distant parts of our land and its divided interests, will be placed the United States Sanitary Commission ?