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United States Sanitary Com Mission

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UNITED STATES SANITARY COM MISSION, The. An organization appointed by the United States government during the Civil War, and co-operating with it in promot ing the health, comfort and efficiency of the armies. It also gave aid to the navy. At the outbreak of the war, the Quartermaster, Com missary and Medical Departments of the regu lar army were inexperienced in caring for large bodies of men, in active service, the last war (Mexican) being in 1846-48. The medical staff could not properly initiate or execute sanitary work, as by custom, hospital construction and the transportation of sick and wounded belong to the Quartermaster Department, and the regulation of diet to the Commissary. Inspec tion and the means for giving aid were imper fect. The war prevailed from 12 April 1861 to 9 April 1865. On 15 April 1861 President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers, believing they would be required for only a few months. But in July of the same year 800,000 more were called for, later 300,000 and in 1864 500, 000. Of this army of over 1,000,000 men (with 15,000 regulars) 350,000 died during the war, thousands were crippled by wounds and ail ments. About 190,000 of the deaths were from sickness, mainly scurvy, dysentery, diarrhoea, erysipelas and general debility, the result of insufficient sleep, clothing and food, exposure, hard marches and poor drinking water. In the early part of the war, before drafting was resorted to, one-eighth of the volunteers were in their 19th year and three-fourths were under 30 years of age.

Realizing that to do the most good there must be co-operation in a definite plan, under the auspices of the government, Rev. Dr. Bel lows and Dr. Elisha Harris called a public meet ing at Cooper Institute. At this meeting it was decided "to collect and disseminate infor mation upon the actual and prospective wants of the army, to establish recognized relations with the medical staff and act as auxiliary to it, to maintain a central depot of stores and open a bureau Tor the examination and registration of nurses." Drs. Van Beuren and Harsen, representing two prominent New York medical associations, suggested to General Scott that diseased men and mere boys should be discharged from the army. Comparatively few were discharged.

The surgeon-general was asked to reorganize the medical staff and if possible have its sani tary powers increased. This was not done. In May 1861 the government was appealed to to appoint a commission of civilians, medical men and army officers, to co-operate with the Medi cal Bureau (or to act independently of it) in an investigation as to preventable diseases of hospitals and camps. On 9 June 1861 the gov ernment appointed °a commission of inquiry and advice in respect of the sanitary condition of the United States forces." The commission was to serve without pay, but had a furnished room allotted it in Washington and was "to ascertain the sanitary condition of volunteers, to suggest means to preserve and restore health, and to insure the general comfort and efficiency of troops, such as proper cooks, nurses, hospi tals, etc., and to correspond freely with the War Department ana the Medical Bureau." The United States Sanitary Commission or ganized 12 June 1861 with Rev. Dr. Bellows as president. elief was to be subordinate to pre vention and advice, the conclusions of the com mission must "be approved by the Medical Bureau, ordered by the War Department and carried out by officers and men." The six in spectors of camps appointed found inefficient drains and police duty, overcrowded tents, offen sk e sinks, personal uncleanliness, poor and filthy clothing, badly cooked food and a scarcity of green vegetables. By persistent efforts of the commission these deficiencies were gradu ally remedied to a large extent. But it was difficult at first to raise sufficient money for preventive measures, though life insurance com panies responded nobly. Later, when the work broadened, railroad, telegraph and express com panies gave their services and with the people at large contributed abundantly. Cash receipts to I May 1866 were $4,962,014.26, and of branch treasuries nearly $2,000,000 more. Supplies fur nished during the war were valued at $15,000,000.

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