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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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It would be idle, therefore, and a wicked waste of money, and time, and wisdom, to make permanent provision, for so distant a future only as twenty years, for even a thousand men. And far more than this provision is certain to be made; nay, exists in part already in the National Soldier's Home, at Washington; Soldier's Home, at Boston, Mass.; the Ohio State Home, at Columbus, Ohio, the Soldier's and Sailor's Home, Philadelphia; the Lincoln Home, New York Soldier's Home, (projected) Milwaukee, Wis.; Soldier's Home, at Chicago; Soldier's Home, Penn Yan, Yates Co., N.Y.; Soldier's Home in some part of Indiana; a Soldier's Rest at Syracuse. A Sanitary Commission Home at St.Louis, and probably several other Homes and Asylums ought to be added to this list, which professes no completeness. Several other plans like the "Harris Hospital" at Albany, are in gestation.


There seems no need whatever to urge this form of provision, as it appears certain to be over done without any additional stimulus. What is vastly more important, is to make prompt temporary provision for the 2,000 men, more or less, who need immediate care; to build no slow, expensive palaces; to aim at no permanent institutions, but to meet the exigencies of the case; and to do no more until, the future necessities of this class can be more exactly measured. If a hundred thousand dollars exists in the hands of a body of trustees, for the interests of disabled men, their duty is, not to hoard it and spend the interest, not to lay it out in a purchase of house and grounds, and beg money to support their Asylum, but to hire a modest and suitable place, and support it out of their principal as long as it lasts and when ten years have used it up, learn that the occasion for their asylum has passed away.


We hope to see no great national institutions rising at Washington or elsewhere.


The evidence obtained of the nature of the disability, which is generally loss of limbs, or occasioned by wounds, rather than by sickness, is probably due to the fact that the sick either get well, die, or, as invalids, find light employment, while limbless men take much longer to accommodate themselves to their condition; are thrown much more out of their old callings, have a much more obvious claim on public sympathy, or are much easier to put forward and so contract a readier habit of dependence. It is pleasant to state that very many men with one arm have found occupation in our cities as messengers, and that systematic efforts, already very successful in Boston, and quite so in New York, are now making to establish in our cities the foreign plan of commissionaires, under thorough drill and with substantial responsibility, to serve as light porters, messengers, and guides, as temporary servants to strangers in the cities, and to perform the thousand offices which all travellers on the continent will remember so well the convenience of having received from them in Paris and all along the route of continental travel. It is believed that a corps of 500 men, neatly uniformed, and under semi-military drill, well selected from among our invalid soldiers, would find a comfortable support in the city of New York as commissionares. Philadelphia would, doubtless, support at least half as many, and perhaps Boston a hundred. The country at large could well employ 1,500 men in this way. We learn that the messengers, in this city not soldiers generally, ravaged, dirty, and repulsive as they often are, who now assume partially this career, are making from one to two dollars a day when in the least attentive to their duties. The fifty in our Sanitary Commission Bureau of Employment do even better than this.


The general disposition which the men of the "Veteran Reserve Corps" have shown to be disbanded (90 per cent. of the whole), proves that the necessity for public support is far less urgent than we thought. In no other country but ours could such a testimony be furnished in evidence of the openness of career offered to all, as this voluntary relinquishment, for more inviting prospects, of living wages, on the part of a large body of men, whose support the Government had, assumed as an act of justice and humanity.


It is instructive to notice that the per centage of men disabled by blindness is very small. This is a remarkable testimony to the general excellence of our commissariat and our hospital system since blindness, by reason of wounds, is inconsiderable compared with what grows out of bad food, unhealthy lodging, disregard for all sanitary laws, and ignorance of ophthalmic surgery; above all, from special diseases and contagious disorders to which crowded places camps, and hospitals are subject. The United States of America has an enviable freedom from blindness as compared with other nation? 1 to 2,470 being the ratio to our population; not one half what it is in Great Britain; while in France, it is 1 to 938, and in Norway 1 to 540. No class of disabled men deserves greater sympathy than those blinded by the war; a hardship almost strictly proportioned to the want of internal resource and mental activity. It is a special satisfaction to find this class so small. The idiotic, too, turn out much less than was feared from the terrible effect which rebel prisons had, at least temporarily, upon the brains of our weaker-minded men.

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