U.S. Sanitary Commissions Solution to Disease
Never before in the brief history of the United States had so many volunteers been called up, uniformed and mustered in camps of instruction and placed in the field in such numbers. The average citizen rarely, if ever, traveled more than fifty miles from their present homes, nor have they been accustomed to camp life among so many thousands from all walks of life.
The government, as well as the medical profession was learning that marching off to war meant more than exhaustion and combat wounds, but the camp life exposure introduced the citizen soldier to disease not common to working the farm at home. Measles, typhoid and dysentery would claim the majority before the battlefield was ever reached. This became the case as the war, in its second year, harvested the horror it was best known for.
The strategic movements of the Army of the Potomac in March 1862 landed a host of 100,000 federal soldiers upon the Virginia Peninsula in an attempt to capture the Confederate capitol at Richmond, but the climate and conditions quickly turned the healthy warrior into the sick and dying.
On August 5, 1862 as they had already once attempted in July, Henry W. Bellows and Frederick Law Olmstead representing the United States Sanitary Commission impressed upon the President the serious nature the government was facing with disease among the rank and file. The citizen soldier, patriotic and ready to stand against the enemies of his country was not afraid to die in combat, but the idea of passing in camp before ever seeing his enemy had been a major deterrent upon volunteering when Lincoln called for an additional 300,000 soldiers on July 1, 1862.
The time spent between engagements was a life of guard and fatigue details. The responsibilities of soldiering was taxing enough on those healthy to perform, yet those sometimes weakened by disease continued to find themselves performing their normal duties causing both officers and men to get feverish, feel exhausted of strength, depressed and despondent. The letters home were finding their way to the local newspapers and the public attention, captured.
Many citizens for whatever the reason for being unable to volunteer, assembled in their home towns and drilled with the manual of arms forming companies and hometown militia regiments; becoming very proficient in their drill, yet the government had never called upon their service. These militia outfits are what the United States Sanitary Commission petitioned President Lincoln to call up and with their training replace the numbers in the field struck down with disease.
Having camped upon common ground in their own home towns, drilled with the manual of arms, their immune systems ought to be sound in fighting the illness which would normally await them at camp in enemy territory. The idea would be cost effective to the government and would be an enormous time saver in training.
The argument must have been reasonably sound in convincing the authorities in Washington. Four days later on August 9th, the first of the Federal Government's nine month enlistees would be called up from the very militia units the Sanitary Commission reasoned would pay honorable service in the restoration of the country as a whole. The activation of the militia became the first of President Lincoln's manpower trump cards.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at email@example.com