The US Sanitary Commission

The American Civil War claimed an appalling number of lives. And while casualties are an unfortunate product of war, it may be surprising to learn that for every man killed in battle, two died from disease. Many of these diseases - dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid and malaria - "were caused by overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the field. Preaching the virtues of clean water, good food and fresh air, the U. S. Sanitary Commission pressured the Army Medical Department to 'improve sanitation, build large well-ventilated hospitals and encourage women to join the newly created nursing corps.' Despite the efforts of the Sanitary Commission, some 560,000 soldiers died from disease during the war."

Surprisingly the U. S. Sanitary Commission was" organized by civilians, run by civilians and funded by civilians." Church congregations, ladies aid societies and groups of all kinds volunteered to make and collect goods for soldiers in the field. An effort to create an effective system of collection and distribution was begun by the ladies of New York in 1861.

The work of the Sanitary Commission was divided into three distinct departments:The Preventive Service employed a corps of medical inspectors who visited camps, hospitals and transports of each army corps in the field. These inspectors were attentive to dangers from change of climate, exposure, malicious causes, hard marching or any failure of supplies or transportation.


The Department of General Relief embraced three-quarters of the work done by the Sanitary Commission. Its duty was to supply food, clothing, bandages, hospital furniture [and medicines] for the wounded on the field and the sick and wounded in camp, field, post, regimental and general hospitals.

The Soldiers' Homes came under the third department, the Department of Special Relief. These homes furnished shelter, food and medical care to men who, for one reason or another, could not get it directly from the government, such as men on furlough or sick leave, recruits, stragglers and men who were left behind by their regiments or were permanently discharged from hospitals. The U. S. Sanitary Commission, contributing significantly to alleviating the suffering of soldiers, was the forerunner of the American Red Cross.

Lincoln held high respects for the American women during the time of the Civil War. On March 18, 1864, during a speech at Sanitary Fair in Washington, D.C.

"I have never studied the art of paying compliments to women; but I must say that if all that has been
said by orators and poets since the creation of the world in praise of women were applied to the
women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war. I will close by
saying, God bless the women of America!"