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U.S. Sanitary Commission Report No. 1: An Address To The Secretary Of War

Creator:  Bellows, Henry W., Elisha Harris, J. Harsen, and W. H. Van Buren (authors)
Date: May 18, 1861
Source: Available at selected libraries

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SIR: The undersigned, representing three associations of the highest respectability in the city of New York, namely, the Woman's Central Association of Relief for the Sick and Wounded of the Army, the Advisory Committee of the Boards of Physicians and Surgeons of the Hospitals of New York, and the New York Medical Association for furnishing Hospital Supplies in aid of the Army, beg leave to address the Department of War in behalf of the objects committed to them as a mixed delegation with due credentials.


These three associations, being engaged at home in a common object, are acting together with great efficiency and harmony to contribute towards the comfort and security of our troops, by methodizing the spontaneous benevolence of the city and State of New York ; obtaining information from the public authorities of the best methods of aiding your Department with such supplies as the regulations of the Army do not provide, or the sudden and pressing necessitities of the time do not permit the Department to furnish; and in general, striving to play into the hands of the regular authorities in ways as efficient and as little embarrassing as extraofficial cooperation can be.


These associations would not trouble the War Department with any call on its notice, if they were not persuaded that some positive recognition of their existence and efforts was essential to the peace and comfort of the several Bureaus of the War Department itself. The present is essentially a people's war. The hearts and minds, the bodies and souls, of the whole people and of both sexes throughout the loyal States are in it. The rush of volunteers to arms is equalled by the enthusiasm and zeal of the women of the nation, and the clerical and medical professions vie with each other in their ardor to contribute in some manner to the success of our noble and sacred cause. The War Department will hereafter, therefore, inevitably experience, in all its bureaus, the incessant and irresistible motions of this zeal, in the offer of medical aid, the applications of nurses, and the contribution of supplies. Ought not this noble and generous enthusiasm to be encouraged and utilized? Would not the Department win a still higher place in the confidence and affections of the good people of the loyal States, and find itself generally strengthened in its efforts, by accepting in some positive manner the services of the associations we represent, which are laboring to bring into system and practical shape the general zeal and benevolent activity of the women of the land in behalf of the Army? And would not a great economy of time, money, and effort be secured by fixing and regulating the relations of the Volunteer Associations to the War Department, and especially to the Medical Bureau?


Convinced by inquiries made here of the practical difficulty of reconciling the aims of their own and numerous similar associations in other cities with the regular workings of the Commissariat and the Medical Bureau, and yet fully persuaded of the importance to the country and the success of the war, of bringing such an arrangement about. The undersigned respectfully ask that a mixed Commission of civilians distinguished for their philantrophic experience and acquaintance with sanitary matters, of medical men, and of military officers, be appointed by the Government, who shall be charged with the duty of investigating the best means of methodizing and reducing to practical service the already active, but undirected benevolence of the people toward the Army; who shall consider the general subject of the prevention of sickness and suffering, among the troops, and suggest the wisest methods, which the people at large can use to manifest their goodwill towards the comfort, security, and health of the Army.


It must be well known to the Department of War that several such commissions followed the Crimean and Indian wars. The civilization and humanity of the age and of the American people demand that such a commission should precede our second war of independence--more sacred than the first. We wish to prevent the evils that England and France could only investigate and deplore. This war ought to be waged in a spirit of the highest intelligence, humanity, and tenderness for the health, comfort, and safety of our brave troops. And every measure of the Government that shows its sense of this, will be eminently popular, stregthen its hands, and rebound to its glory at home and abroad.


The undersigned are charged with several specific petitions, additional to that of asking for a Commission for the purposes above described, although they all would fall under the duties of that Commission.


1. They ask that the Secretary of War will order some new rigor in the inspection of volunteer troops, as they are persuaded that under the present State regulations throughout the country a great number of underaged and unsuitable persons are mustered, who are likely to swell the bills of mortality in the Army to a fearful percentage, to encumber the hospitals, and embarrass the columns. They ask either for an order of reinspection of the troops already mustered, or a summary discharge of those obviously destined to succumb to the diseases of the approaching summer. It is unnecessary to argue the importance of a measure so plainly required by common humanity and economy of life and money.

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