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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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Practically, so far as public asylums are concerned, it is almost exclusively a question of what shall be done for the soldiers of foreign birth, and chiefly new comers. Were it only Americans to be considered, there would be positively no occasion for any public asylums. But the claims of foreigners, losing limbs, health, the power of self-support in our military service, are just as sacred as those of natives, in some, respects even more so, as natives may be supposed to have had greater reasons for going into the field, and to have owed a more obvious debt to the country. The wholly disabled Americans are, for the most part, patiently, and under tender care, dragging out their lives in American homes; the disabled foreigners chiefly in public asylums, alms-houses, and hospitals. Their case is indeed often a pitiable one.


In estimating at 2,000, the number of such as need, for the current year, Retreats and Refuges specially designed for them, we assume the following facts to be well established in the evidence on our files.


The places we have heard from, which it was considered important to address, give us about a thousand cases. Assuming that this represents one-half of the total, we have 2,000 as the outside number. Probably this is a large estimate. It is manifest that the agricultural regions will absorb the disabled soldiers more rapidly than the manufacturing regions or the cities; not so much because our invalids are better adapted to farm work, for the very reverse is the case, but because living is so much cheaper, and another mouth in a farmer's family, living on his own products, is no considerable drain as it is found to be in cities and crowded districts.


Although the West has been most prompt in proposing Asylums and Homes for disabled soldiers, we do not expect to see more than half as great a need of them there as at the East; especially, because, the foreign population from which our asylums are filled, belongs very largely, and particularly the newest portion of it, to our cities. The best established "Home" for disabled soldiers (excepting that at Washington) now in existence, perhaps, is at Columbus, Ohio. It is large and amply furnished, and has proclaimed its readiness to receive all disabled soldiers who apply, without regard to State lines. The Cincinnati Branch of the United States Sanitary Commission has appropriated $15,000, and the Cleveland Branch $5,000, to its support until the Ohio Legislature meets, (January, 1866,) from which an ample endowment is expected. Yet up to this time only 130 have applied for admittance!


The largest number of disabled soldiers requiring asylum, in any one neighborhood, is apparently at Philadelphia, where Mr. R.M. Lewis (and no one can give a wiser judgment) estimates them at 400. This must seem a very large per centage for the city, or even the State. But we are to bear in mind the fact, that in that city both the Washington and Baltimore, as well as the great local hospitals, have emptied their dregs, and we must expect to find, as the Government hospitals close, the full number of Mr. Lewis's estimate thrown upon some "Home" or asylum there. We consider it a most encouraging fact that at this most fruitful point of want only so many as 400 disabled men are to be provided for. And it is a pleasure to know that an institution already worth a hundred thousand dollars, is in existence there to minister to these needy and deserving soldiers.


Mr. Knapp, as the result of thorough, personal examinations recently made, estimates only 150 as the constant average of New York city and immediate neighborhood. No doubt this number will prove for some time near the real amount of fit candidates for this kind of care. Double this number will always be applying, for New York is the natural home of the most skillful and successful beggary, and all the idlers and drones who went into the war under the attraction of the bounty will return to this city to live by their wits or their frauds. But it is as the metropolis, the place where the foreign element which has been in the war (especially the Irish) will present their claims. The "Lincoln Home" of the United States Sanitary Commission, at 45 Grove street, which opened last May, has not yet had one pure native American on its books. Nine-tenths of its beneficiaries are, and have always been and will always continue to be, Irish, the other tenth chiefly German. It is most creditable to the Germans that they do not learn in their own country the shameless beggary of the Irish, and so do not, even when as poorly off, straightway slip into mendicancy and dependence here in America.


Doubtless one or two years will carry off quite a per centage of the 2,000 we estimate as the present number of men needing asylum. A certain portion of them will rapidly weary of confinement, and as they get better, solicit and find light occupation others will learn trades suited to their disability, and be able to make their own living. We expect to see the number of helpless invalids, unable to do better and left on the hands of the people, considerably reduced within a very few years; and this in spite of the fact, which we do not lose sight of, that as the men spend their bounty and back pay, some who have supported themselves hitherto, will, after, a few months, fall into public dependence; others, struggling with disease and reluctantly giving up, will, after a year or two, come to the same fate. Already it is found in our asylums that a good many of the applicants are men prematurely old, who wore out the remnants of a constitution in the army, and at fifty have no stamina for work.

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