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1862 September 17: The Western Sanitary Commission Appeals for Help

September 22, 2012

The United States Sanitary Commission was a private relief agency created by federal legislation on June 18, 1861, to support sick and wounded soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War. It was inspired by the British Sanitary Commission from the Crimean War (1853-1856). It operated across the North, raised its own funds, and enlisted thousands of volunteers.1

The Western Sanitary Commission was a private agency based in St. Louis that was founded in August 1861 by General John C. Frémont. It rivaled the larger U.S. Sanitary Commission. It generally operated west of the Mississippi, although, as can be seen in this article, it was operating in Tennessee and Kentucky at this point.  The 12th Wisconsin Infantry, including Prescott’s Lyon Light Guards (Edwin and Homer Levings), was in Tennessee, which is why The Prescott Journal was publishing this article in its September 17, 1862, issue.

The Chicago branch of the United States Sanitary Commission (later known as the Northwestern branch) was a privately funded effort created in October 1861. In the spring of 1862, the Chicago branch’s operations were taken over by Mary A. Livermore and Jane C. Hoge, who quickly emerged as effective executives and able fundraisers. The Chicago office became the funnel through which most aid from the Midwest reached the front.2


The Wants of the Western Sanitary Commission.

The Western Commission of St. Louis is under the necessity of again appealing to the patriotic citizens of the States, for the contribution of money and Hospital stores.

The demands upon this Commission are as great as at any previous time, and the field of its labors is daily enlarged.

An army of not less than one hundred and fifty thousand men, in Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, and the gunboat flotilla, looks to St. Louis for nearly all its sanitary supplies and must continue to do so through the war, as the most convenient and accessible place at all seasons of the war.  Heretofore the Commission has been  able to meet all requisitions.  It has never refused to send liberally and promptly, to alleviate suffering and to cure or prevent sickness.  At the present time arrangements are in progress to supply regiments in the field with vegetables and other articles of food for sick and convalescent soldiers.  At Corinth and Columbus, this will be done by co-operation with Dr. Warriner,3 agent of the U. S. San. Com., and elsewhere by the Western Commission alone.

In Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas the demand for all kinds of hospital supplies is great, and increasing, for a war of unprecedented malignancy has begun to be waged, and exposures of our brave men both to disease and wounds are fearfully great.  Those who are at a distance from the scene of action, can have no adequate idea of the privations and hardships of the service, or number of those broken down by it.  The casualties of the battlefield are but a small item in the estimate.  Forced marches, the murderous rifle of an unseen and skulking enemy, who knows the work of the assassin better than that of the soldier, fill our hospitals and thin our ranks.  To such risks are our sons and kindred exposed from day to day, in defence [sic] of the country which we all love so well. Has money any value greater than to supply their need?  Ought we to become niggardly in gifts, or weary of work in such a cause?  Can the women of America enjoy or endure the luxury of peaceful homes, except on condition of giving the labor of their hands and the prayers of their hearts to those who are defending them at such a cost?

For nearly two months past the Western Sanitary Commission had been left to rely almost exclusively upon its own resources and the liberality of the citizens of St. Louis.  The attention of the loyal States has been directed chiefly to the armies of the Potomac and Shenandoah, and the Department of the Mississippi has been comparatively forgotten.  In the whole eight weeks the contribution received from all our sister States would not supply the demand of a single day!  The Western Commission has continued its work thus far, without diminution, and makes no complaint of this temporary and unavoidable neglect, which is fully explained by the pressing need of the Eastern armies.  But its treasury is getting low, and it is in imminent danger of exhaustion.  Its members are striving to economize in all expenditures, so that every dollar received shall go to the direct relief of suffering.  They are still willing and tankful to give their own time and labor gratuitously, and to contribute freely from their own means, as they have always done.  But they are not willing to incur debt, and the renewed liberality of those who have heretofore helped them must intervene, or the sick and wounded will soon cry for relief in vain.

This must not be so. The Western armies deserve well of the nation and have done their full part in the war. They have done their work well in the field, and must not be neglected in the hospital.

This appeal is, therefore, most earnestly and affectionately made to all loyal and humane persons in the Union.  They have already done much, but redoubled efforts in all departments of the war must now be made.  The 600,000 new recruits will not be without their sick and wounded, and many a hard battle must yet be fought.  Let the rich give of their abundance.  Let the poor spare all they can.

Especially we appeal to LOYAL WOMEN, wherever they may be.  They are the true “Home Guards” of the nation, the ministering angels to sickness and suffering.  Without them Sanitary Commissions can do but small part of their work, and upon their efficient assistance we principally depend.

The articles most needed are hospital shirts and drawers, socks, slippers, dressing gowns, farina, corn starch, and delicacies, and money, which is the representative of all.

Boxes should be sent by Merchants’ Dispatch, prepaid, if possible, to “James E. Yeatmen [sic],4 Western Sanitary Commission, St. Louis, Missouri,” with names on the box of the party sending, so as to insure prompt acknowledgment.

JAMES E. YEATMEN [sic],   }
WM. G. ELLIOT,                      }      Committee.
M. SCHUYLER.                        }

P. S.—Since the above was written, and as an illustration of the demands made upon the Western Sanitary Commission, requisitions for supplies of all kinds have been received from twenty regiments near Memphis.  A supply for the sick of 15,000 men was immediately sent.  On the same day 25 large boxes were sent to the army in Arkansas, and 26 barrels to Dr. Warriner3 at Columbus.  Such outlay cannot be long continued without corresponding income.  Articles to over the value of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars have been distributed by the Western Sanitary Commission in the last ten months.

A related article elsewhere in the same issue of the Journal informs us that:

— Governor [Edward] Salomon has donated one thousand dollars of the relief fund placed at his disposal by the Legislature of this State [Wisconsin], to the Chicago Sanitary Commissioners.2  He selects this commission for the donation, because of the relief he believes it to have afforded to Wisconsin soldiers.

“Woman’s Work in the Civil War”

1.  For more on the sanitary commissions, see Woman’s Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience, by L. P. Brockett, and Mrs. Mary C. Vaughan (St. Louis: Zeigler, McCurdy & Co., 1867). Available in the UWRF Archives (E 628 .B76 1867), and digitally on the Hathi Trust. The book contains a chapter on Cordelia A.P. Harvey, who you may remember from the April 30, 1862, post on the death of her husband, Wisconsin Governor Louis P. Harvey. Another chapter on someone most people will recognize is Clara Barton.
2.  For more on the Chicago Sanitary Commission, see the Encyclopedia of Chicago’s entry for Sanitary Commission.
3.  Henry Augustus Warriner (1824-1871) received his medical degree in 1851. Before the Civil War he taught comparative anatomy at Antioch College in Ohio at the request of its founder, Horace Mann.
4.  James Erwin Yeatman (1818-1901) was an industrialist and St. Louis banker. He founded the Mercantile Library, the Missouri Institute for the Education of the Blind, and, along with Dr. William Greenleaf Eliot, he founded Washington University, all in St. Louis. An ardent Unionist, he helped found the Western Sanitary Commission and was its first president.

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