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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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What do you judge is the number in your city and vicinity of seriously disabled soldiers who would properly be received at a "Soldier's Home," or an Asylum? What proportion is this to the whole number of men from your city and vicinity? What is the nature of the disability of these men? What proportion are disabled as the result of wounds? What proportion as the result of sickness? Are there many of them who are blind? Are many of them idiotic, or with weakened minds?


What, so far as you have observed, is the nationality of these men needing most aid?


What provision has been made in your city for disabled soldiers; and, if any, what has been the success of the undertaking?


Can you inform me whether the feeling of the necessity of such institutions as "Soldiers' Homes," or asylums, has of late increased or diminished?


I would also ask, whether the soldiers' families -- their widows and orphans -- are or are not a larger and more important class of sufferers than the "disabled soldier class," and how among you their wants are met?


I do not seek detailed or minutely accurate answers to these questions, but such as will give an idea of real needs, and how to meet them.


If you will write me within a few days in response to this letter, you will confer a favor which will be gratefully acknowledged.


I am, dear sir,
Very truly, your friend,
FRED. N. KNAPP, Superintendent of Special Relief


This letter was sent to different parts of the country to twenty-seven persons, men and women distinguished for their practical experience with this class of sufferers, their relief labors, their tried humanity, and living at the points of most interest and importance. A majority of these letters have been answered, and if they had not almost absolutely concurred in their replies, and coming from widely scattered regions, put beyond question what the nature of the others would be, I should have waited till all came in before drawing my conclusions. But such is the urgent importance of settling the public mind as far as possible, and of giving such direction as wisdom and experience may furnish to the opinions of Congress, soon to legislate upon the subject, that I have thought it best to wait no longer for testimony which is certain only to confirm the evidence already abundant, which is here brought forward. The fact that the testimony precisely bears out the expectations of the Commission formed the first year of the war -- expectations based on the American character and the nature of our institutions -- indicates clearly enough that any remaining testimony will only strengthen what is already sufficiently established.


These letters, filed and tabulated for reference in our office, (where any one specially interested can consult them,) show that the number of sick and disabled men needing any public care, or even asking for it, is exceedingly small compared either with the size of our armies or the expectation compared of the public. It is not because a very large class of sick and disabled men does not exist, scattered through the country, but because these men are the objects of a proud and tender domestic or neighborly care, and withdrawn from public view, as it is desirable they should be.


Thousands, we doubt not, are declining rapidly or slowly in the bosom of their homes, uncomplaining, and even hiding, in many cases, their griefs and their wants. The only form in which such noble sufferers can be reached by the public gratitude, in a way not to demean and injure their pride, is, by an improved pension law. The existing pension law is a great mercy, so great that the necessity of giving up a claim upon one's pension in order to become an inmate of a national asylum, is a sufficient check and a most wholesome one to thousands from applying. Moderately increased, it would still further lessen the claimants on this objectionable form of public support, and no asylum or hospital from any cause should fail to make this relinquishment a condition of its protection and support.


But while the number is comparatively and unexpectedly small, it is yet in its aggregate considerable.


There may be, take the country through, 2,000 persons, so homeless, so helpless, so utterly disabled by sickness or wounds, that they must, all of them for a while, become the objects of public support in Asylums or Soldiers Homes. Among these, as we shall presently see, are few, almost no Americans. They are chiefly Irish and German; 75 per cent. Irish, 15 or 20 per cent. German, and the residue of other foreign nationalities. We doubt if 2 per cent. would turn out Americans! Now this is not only because Americans have a spirit above dependence, but also because they have natural friends, homes, parents, brothers, or in all cases, neighborhoods where their claims are recognized and allowed. A foreigner, enlisting in many instances just upon his arrival at the beginning of the war, or who came over for the very purpose of joining the army, if disabled, has nothing to look to but the care of a country grateful for his services.

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