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Sanitary Commission Report, No. 95: Provision Required For The Relief And Support Disabled Soldiers And Sailors And Their Dependents

Creator: Henry W. Bellows (author)
Date: 1865
Source: Available at selected libraries

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None can have failed to admire the tendency which so suddenly and quietly dissolved our vast and compact armies, and before the exultation of their victories had died away, distributed them far and wide over the land, setting them back in the furrow, the workshop, the bench, the mill, the mine, out of which they had come at the nations cry "To arms." It must be already obvious that this benignant tendency of our free and popular institutions, so amazing to Europe, is equally operative over our sick and wounded men, who have got out of the hospitals in an incredibly short time, their wounds rapidly healed by the hope of getting home, and the stimulus of the self-respectful necessity of resuming work again; their limbs already replaced by artificial members; their homes and friends and old comrades insisting on their return to their old places, where protection, aid in finding occupation, and all sorts of kindness have awaited them.


In May last we had still 183 general hospitals in operation, with 78,313 patients. To-day we have only 20 hospitals open, and not more than 2,463 patients under treatment. Such an anxiety to get away from the abundant and benignant care of the government have our sick and disabled soldiers manifested that their spirit of self-help and independence has no doubt cost many of them their lives. At their own urgent petition they have often been suffered to leave before prudence warranted, and too early out of hospital, many of them have fallen into the homes and lodges of the Sanitary Commission, and in many instances died on our hands. We have seen hundreds much too feeble to travel, using what seemed to us their last strength in reaching their homes. It is obvious enough that such a spirit as this, though it may kills its proud exhibitors, will not leave many willing dependents on the public bounty!


For a few months, while our soldiers were passing to their homes, and stopping in transit in our cities, there was a quantity considerable in itself, although very small in per centage, of mendicancy among our soldiers. Convalescents just out of the hospital, and not half as well as they thought themselves, were appealing for assistance. The railroad cars and street cars presented also the spectacle of numerous invalids wan and feeble. We saw in our cities all the suffering of invalidism, all the beggary and want of the war, just at its close, passing before us at one review. The public mistook this to a great extent for the mere beginning of a worse ending, or, at the best, as a permanent condition of things. They thought they were seeing a sample, when they were really looking at the whole piece. The public imagination was greatly inflamed, an numerous and piteous appeals were made for creating asylums and homes for a great army of sick and disabled soldiers. But already, and in spite of the cold season, which closes navigation and stops so many kinds of work, this spectacle of mendicant, unemployed, and vagrant soldiers, or of sick and disabled men, has so rapidly disappeared, that continuing at the same rate, it is now certain in one more year to furnish no longer a subject of considerable anxiety. All our predictions and hopes have been doubly fulfilled. The disposition to provide in larger and expensive ways for sick and disabled soldiers, in public asylums, has almost entirely ceased. Without concert, and without even general reasonings, with little or no knowledge of foreign experience, the healthy mind of the American people all over the country has gravitated (as we shall presently prove) to one result. With every disposition to do all that is necessary for sick and disabled soldiers, and with a greater readiness to extend relief to them -- to erect shelters over their heads, to provide for them while they live -- than to exercise any other form of charity, there has been so little ressure upon them, so little disposition to avail themselves of these opportunities on the part of the invalids themselves, that a general lull in the efforts to raise money for this purpose, or to carry out projects in this direction, shows itself at all the great centres of our military population, and we can safely predict that very few of the hundred schemes that have been brewing in the hearts of private philanthropists or of public legislators will survive a twelvemonth of this uniform public experience.


Although these open and universal facts, obvious to all eyes, are more decisive than any special and classified testimony, yet, to satisfy ourselves further upon these points, I requested Mr. Knapp, our Special Relief Agent, to address a letter of inquiry to the most expert persons at the chief centres of our military strength, the regions where our soldiers enlisted and to which they have now returned, asking certain questions, the nature of which the letter itself will best show:


NEW YORK, Nov. 17, 1865.


MY DEAR SIR -- I desire to obtain certain facts concerning sick and disabled soldiers, and take the liberty of asking your aid in procuring the information for me.

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