A Big, Long List of Supplies

Box of supplies (from a Civil War Re-enactment)

Box of supplies (from a Civil War Re-enactment)

The last few weeks I’ve been sharing details about the United States Sanitary Commission and the United States Christian Commission and their work during the American Civil War. So the natural question is: what did they bring to Gettysburg?

I Have In My Hands A List

Well, here’s a list of supplies received by 1 corps hospital during a 10 day period. Keep in mind that there were about 10 corps hospitals at Gettysburg…and smaller field hospitals too. All irreverent comments in (parenthesis) are mine and certainly not in the original list.

Dried fruit – 3,500 lbs.

Lemons – 116 boxes (time to make lemonade? No, seriously, that’s what they were for)

Preserved fish (probably dried) – 3,600 lbs.

Catsup – 43 jars (that’ll go well with hot dogs – sorry, re-enactor joke)

Pickles – 400 gallons (I’ll pass, thanks…)

Canned oysters – 72 cans

Fresh eggs – 8,500 dozen (so that’s 102,000 eggs, if I understand correctly)

Concentrated milk – 12,500 lbs.

Ice – 20,000 lbs.

Fresh bread – 10,300 loaves

Crates of medicines, such as: aloe, alum, ammonia water, calomel, camphor, laudanum, & quinine

Shirts, drawers, and other clothing – 40,000 pieces (the ladies have been busy sewing!)

Sheets, blankets, mosquito nets – 11,700

Towels and napkins – 10,000

Sponges – 2,399 (love the precise counting!)

Bandages – 110 barrels (how many in a barrel is a mysterious question)

soap – 250 lbs.

crutches – 1,200 pairs

fans – 3,500 (this is the air-conditioning, guys)

bay rum – 100 bottles

candles – 350 lbs.

(This list is from “A Vast Sea of Misery” by G.A. Coco, page xvi)

So what do you think? Was the USSC and USCC successful? My mind is spinning trying to imagine collecting, transporting and distributing all that stuff to just 1 field hospital!

Maybe the better question is what didn’t they bring to Gettysburg?

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What’s your favorite item on the list?

Preaching and Healing: The United States Christian Commission

The United States Christian Commission (USCC) was somewhat similar to the United States Sanitary Commission, but their ultimate goals were different. While the Sanitary Commission focused on cleaning up camps, the Christian Commission worked to preach the gospel.

Organized to Share

In November 1861, the Young Men’s Christian Association leaders met to discuss what they could do to promote religion and good morals in the Union army. From those meetings came the United States Christian Commission.

All volunteers, the mission field workers and organizers were called delegates. The common bond between all the delegates was their profession of Protestant theology, a desire to preach the gospel, and a call to minister to the soldiers. Almost all were civilians – some were theological seminary students, but most were ministers from small communities.

USCC delegates and a headquarters building

USCC delegates and a headquarters building

Practical Christianity

“Let me stand hear and shout the gospel at you while you’re perishing from physical thirst” is not an effective was to evangelize. The delegates of the USCC realized they needed to earn the respect and trust of the soldiers; they needed to provide physical supplies and aid.

Similar to the Sanitary Commission, the USCC collected and stockpiled supplies which were transported to camps or battlefields to aid the soldiers and surgeons. It has been estimated that the USCC delegates distributed over $6 million dollars worth of supplies during the war. They also distributed thousands of Bibles and religious tracts.

These chaplains entered hospitals, camps, and prisons, bringing much needed food, bandages, clothing, Bibles, religious tracts, and a message of salvation by faith through Christ.

A Positive Response

Unlike the Southern armies, the Union did not experience the widespread religious revivals during the war. However, surely many soldiers’ lives were changed or encouraged by the ministry of the volunteer chaplains.

Headquarters of the USCC, near a military camp.

Headquarters of the USCC, near a military camp.

Remember the negative feelings toward the Sanitary Commission? (You can read the details here.) Surprisingly, the USCC was more readily welcomed by the military, particularly the officers. This reaction wasn’t necessarily for the right spiritual reasons, but it does reveal some interesting effects.

The military officers liked the USCC delegates because they encouraged the men to avoid drinking, loose moral actions, gambling, and other vices. It was frequently observed during the war that men with real faith were better soldiers. Thus, the officers took the practical (but not so spiritual view) that the chaplains could help with camp discipline.

How the actual enlisted soldiers felt about it depends on the individual. Some resented the reminder of sin and need for repentance. Many simply wanted the supplies and didn’t care about religion. Others welcomed the opportunity to go to camp meetings or talk with a minister.

General John Buford

General John Buford

General Buford, Gettysburg, and The USCC

General John Buford – the cavalry commander who “started” the battle at Gettysburg – got the USCC to Gettysburg. He and his troops were guarding supply wagons down in Maryland in the days immediately following the battle.

A delegate from the USCC approached the general, explaining they had wagons of supplies that they wanted to get the Gettysburg, but the roads were jammed and they couldn’t get military permission.

Conscious of the horrible aftermath situation unfolding at Gettysburg and presumably favorable to the cause of the commission, Buford gave the necessary permission and ordered his troopers to clear the road for the wagons. Thus, Buford sent some of the first relief supplies toward Gettysburg under the care of dedicated delegates of the USCC.

A Practical Example

A Christian is called to serve. During the Last Supper, Christ said to his apostles “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? …I am among you as the One who serves.” (Luke 22:27, NKJV)

The delegates of the United States Christian Commission leave us with a positive example of evangelism and service to those in need. They saw a spiritual need they stepped forward to live their faith in military camps, on battlefields, at hospital bedsides, or in prisons. May their actions inspire us to find practical ways to share our faith and serve those around us.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you think the USCC’s efforts to bring supplies was a distraction from their goal of preaching the gospel or do you think it enforced the Christian call to serve?