Scope and arrangement
The Washington DC Archives, 1861-1866, consist of records of the following Sanitary Commission offices and departments based in Washington: the Central Office, the Special Relief Department, and the Supply Department, as well as the records of two departments which operated for limited periods of time: the Agency for the Purchase of Fresh Hospital Supplies, and the Department of Special Inspection of the General Hospitals of the Army. Records of the USSC’s Statistical Bureau and Hospital Directory, located at 244 F Street, are arranged separately.
The USSC’s Central Office at 244 F Street was an important operational hub for USSC activities from 1861-1865, serving as a base for the General Secretary, the USSC’s chief executive officer, for much of the war. With its proximity to government and military departments, and closeness to military operations in Virginia, Maryland and elsewhere, it was a major administrative, relief and supply center, especially for the east. Materials document the activities of the USSC’s general secretary (successively: Frederick Law Olmsted, J. Foster Jenkins, and John S. Blatchford) who directed all working departments and reported to the Standing Committee, and the work of the associate and assistant secretaries who, with their staff, were responsible for USSC Eastern Department and broader operations. The associate secretary for the Western Department, John S. Newberry, also reported to the General Secretary. (The term "working departments" generally referred to the USSC's administrative and geographically-based departments responsible for work in the field or other services, relying primarily on hired staff.) These activities, detailed in correspondence, reports, office journals, staffing records, scrapbooks and other items, include the shaping and direction of USSC policies and operations; interaction with the government, Army and civilians to promote the health, comfort and efficiency of Union forces; monitoring and advising on sanitary conditions and medical care in the Army; directing the work of USSC personnel, including relief agents reporting on conditions in war zones; coordinating relief work and managing supply resources, especially during major military campaigns; working with USSC agencies, branches and aid societies to support supply and relief efforts; providing information and other assistance to servicemen, their families and the public; managing correspondence and other communications; and financial administration.
Special Relief Department materials, including correspondence, reports, registers and other items, 1861-1866, document the variety of aid provided to soldiers, sailors, and civilians passing through Washington and its environs by Department superintendent Frederick N. Knapp and his staff. The bulk of the records concern the work of the Special Relief Office, where J.B. Abbott and staff managed requests for assistance and processed claims for back pay and bounty, naval, prisoner of war and other government reimbursements; and the operation of several USSC homes and lodges for soldiers in Washington and Alexandria, including lodging and other assistance for female relatives of soldiers and hospital nurses. Also represented are Knapp’s planning for the care of discharged disabled soldiers in their communities as seen in questionnaires used to interview thousands of soldiers at USSC lodges; and transportation services, including a hospital car transport system for sick soldiers heading home from Washington, documented in courier records. Financial records concern transmittal of claim monies, office operations, and loans or gifts of money to soldiers and civilians in need, for travel and other necessities. . The Supply Department consisted of a network of several storehouses forming the USSC’s Supply Depot in Washington, D.C., the two largest being the Receiving Storehouse and the Local Storehouse. It served as a major center for the receipt and distribution of supplies for all types of relief work, both locally and for more distant locations. Some storehouses also stored and forwarded personal baggage for USSC staff, military personnel, and others. Supply activities are documented in record books maintained by storehouse and Central Office staff; tabular storekeepers’ statements summarizing issues to area hospitals and other locations; baggage records, miscellaneous supply volumes, and an Army broadside identifying provisions for general hospital diet.
The Agency for the Purchase of Fresh Hospital Supplies was a relief and supply service directed by Frederick N. Knapp in Washington from late June 1863 through April 1864, with staff in Washington and Philadelphia. It was established to provide fresh foodstuffs of a greater variety and quality, and at a lower cost, than what was currently available to U.S. Army hospitals in the Washington, D.C. area. The USSC, working as an unpaid agent for the Army, purchased market supplies (fresh produce, meat, poultry, and dairy products) at wholesale prices in Philadelphia, for which it was reimbursed, and shipped such perishables to Washington for distribution. Army hospitals at Gettysburg, Army convalescent camps, and USSC homes and lodges in the Washington area also benefitted from these services. These activities are documented in correspondence of the Washington and Philadelphia offices, as well as the market order and freight records of the Washington office, and the account books of the Philadelphia office. Additional records are found in the Pennsylvania Archives record group, MssCol 18781, and in the Accounts and Vouchers record group, MssCol 18820.
The USSC’s Department of Special Inspection of the General Hospitals of the Army operated from September 1862 to May 1863. It was located at the Central Office in Washington under the superintendency of Henry G. Clark, M.D., but was initiated and directed by the USSC's Medical Committee in New York. Working with the approval of U.S. Army Surgeon General William A. Hammond, it sought to determine the condition and needs of Army general hospital by recruiting physicians to inspect them during a limited period of time. The USSC forwarded their reports to the Army for review and action, thus hoping to improve hospital treatment for sick and wounded soldiers. Materials, including correspondence, inspection reports, lists and printed matter, document the Department’s recruiting efforts; the performance of inspections by physicians; and communication with the Medical Committee, the Surgeon General, and USSC staff concerning the employment of physicians and inspection work.
The United States Sanitary Commission records. Washington, D.C. archives are arranged in five series:
Scope and content note
The activities of USSC general, associate and assistant secretaries and their staff based in Washington are detailed in correspondence, reports, office journals, employment records, scrapbooks and other items illustrating the Central Office’s role as a major administrative and operational center for the Sanitary Commission.
Correspondence forms the bulk of Central Office records, comprising an extensive series of numbered documents, mainly letters and reports received by USSC officers and staff, 1861-1865; telegrams received 1862-1863; and letters received by accountant John Bowne, 1864-1865; also, copies of letters sent by officers, clerical and accounting staff, 1861-1866, and registers of letters mailed and received.
Numbered documents, originally numbering over 30,000 items as arranged by the USSC’s Archive Department, consist of letters, reports, shipping invoices and other items received by USSC officers and staff, 1861-1865. Notable content includes letters and telegrams from Standing Committee members to the general secretaries, when based in Washington, discussing USSC policies and initiatives, USSC Western Department operations, relations with the government, the Army and the Army Medical Bureau, particularly during the Olmsted years, and the coordination of resources to support military operations, especially in the east. Upward reporting to the General Secretary by departments and relief agents provide important details on USSC initiatives and military operations in war zones and the impact of the war on civilians. Supply and relief efforts of branches and aid societies are documented in letters and invoices (bills of lading); invoices are most prevalent for the first year of the war. Their organizational efforts are also documented.
Copies of letters sent are contained in letterpress copybooks maintained jointly or individually by staff, including general secretaries Olmsted, Jenkins and Blatchford, assistant secretaries Bloor, associate secretaries Douglas, Steiner (acting), and Knapp; accountant/cashier John Bowne and his replacement Charles G. Lathrop; staff members William A. Hovey, John Y. Culyer, Isaac Harris, and George Sicard, holding chief clerk or assistant secretary positions after Bloor; also, copies of letters sent by chief executive officer J.B. Abbott; and Robert V. Harrison, property clerk.
Correspondents in the above materials include USSC Standing Committee members and officers; USSC department, agency and branch personnel, and relief agents in the field; members of aid societies; government, military, and medical personnel; political, civic and religious leaders; servicemen and civilians. Topics include USSC operations and activities in the field; the creation, expansion or closing of USSC offices and departments; personnel matters; inspection and reporting on the medical and sanitary condition of Union forces and efforts to promote their health, comfort and efficiency; the donation, collection, purchase and distribution of supplies; movements of the Army and coordination of resources to prepare for battles and their aftermath; transport systems for sick and wounded soldiers; special relief work; the condition and needs of former slaves (contrabands) and southern refugees; requests for information and assistance from servicemen and civilians; requests for employment or to volunteer; publication and distribution of documents; finances and contributions, and other matters.
A small amount of unnumbered documents, notably including Olmsted’s draft resignation letter and an 1863 oath of allegiance to the United States signed by USSC Washington staff, along with closing accounts for the Central Office, provide additional insight into USSC operations at 244 F Street. The daily activities of associate secretary Frederick N. Knapp and his assistant, William Hovey, and other Central Office staff, are documented in journals and memorandum books, 1862-1864; notable content includes relief duties associated with campaigns in Virginia in May-June, 1864.
Miscellaneous volumes, 1861-1865, include applications for employment at the USSC, an employee contract book, a roster of USSC staff and a record of travelling missionary (canvassing) agents, scrapbooks, office directories, and other items.
Additional correspondence of general secretaries Jenkins and Blatchford can be consulted in the New York, N.Y. Archives record group (MssCol 22263). All Document Bureau materials are now located in the New York, N.Y. Archives record group, Series III. New York Office records.
Scope and content note
Special Relief Department materials document the variety of aid provided to soldiers, sailors, and civilians passing through Washington and its environs by Frederick N. Knapp, superintendent of all USSC special relief work, and his staff.
The bulk of the records document the administration of special relief services in Washington, especially the work of J.B. Abbott and staff at the Special Relief Office in managing requests for assistance and processing back pay and bounty, naval, prisoner of war and other claims; and the operation of USSC homes and lodges for soldiers in Washington and Alexandria, including lodging and relief assistance for female relatives of soldiers and hospital nurses. Also represented are Knapp’s planning for the care of discharged disabled soldiers in their communities, as seen in questionnaires used to interview such men at USSC lodges; and the Department’s transportation services, notably its post-war hospital car transport system for sick soldiers heading north or west from Washington. Financial records document transmittal of claim monies, office operations, and loans or gifts of money to soldiers and civilians in need, for travel and other necessities.
The Special Relief Office’s response to requests for assistance by soldiers, sailors and civilians, by mail and in person, and their efforts to help soldiers and sailors procure back pay, bounty and other monies due to them, are chiefly documented in Letters and reports, 1862-1866, and Special relief and claim administration records, 1862-1866. Letters and reports consist of a series of numbered letters and reports received, 1862 Jan-1866 Feb; copies of letters sent by Abbott and his staff 1863 Jan-1866 Jan; registers of letters received and sent; and a small number of Department reports on office and lodge operations, 1863-1865. Correspondence is chiefly directed to or written by Abbott and his staff, some letters were referred to them by other USSC offices. Correspondents include soldiers, civilians, USSC staff, government and military personnel, and others. Letters concern requests for information and assistance, obtaining and transmitting papers needed from various parties for back pay and other claims, correction of soldiers’ military papers, USSC internal communications and procedures, and other matters. Special relief and claim administration records include journals documenting individual cases handled each day; a register of remittances for back pay and bounty; registers and journals documenting the Office’s Hospital Back Pay and Bounty services for patients in Washington and some northern states; registers of prisoner of war claims and naval claims for prize money and other reimbursements; records of money forwarded to claimants and office transactions completed; documents certifying a soldier’s status in support of a claim application; and miscellaneous items.
The Department’s daily operation of Homes and Lodges in Washington and Alexandria are typically documented in admission registers and general record books concerning statistical summaries of lodgings and meals provided, supplies received and government rations drawn, and cash accounts. Admission registers identify soldiers’ name and military unit, or civilian name, and may include residence, destination, reason for stay, and other remarks. Records are present for the Home and Home Hospital, Lodges 2, 3, 4, 6, the Home for Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers, and the Alexandria Lodge. The Home for Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers also sheltered children who accompanied them, and occasionally southern refugees. The largest body of records concern the Home and Home Hospital, which additionally include correspondence, roll books and financial records, and Home Hospital records documenting patients’ medical treatment by physicians, deaths and interments.
Investigations into the health and employment needs of discharged disabled soldiers are documented in the Department’s Form K questionnaires and abstracts, concerning the means of support of several thousand such men who were interviewed at USSC homes and lodges from 1863-1865.
Transportation services are documented in couriers’ records of patients transported on hospital cars to points north and west, and records of fares and funds provided to soldiers and civilians lacking funds to return home.
Special Relief Office finances and services are also represented by Office cash books in account with the Central Office and the Ware Fund, and receipt books for cash paid out by Abbott for back pay to soldiers and special relief assistance, including transportation needs, as well as office salaries and expenses.
Records documenting local special relief activities can be found throughout the United States Sanitary Commission records. For the Washington area in particular, researchers may also wish to consult Knapp and Abbott’s correspondence and the series of Numbered Documents in the Central Office records, as well as the Army and Navy Claim Agency record group (MssCol 18809), incorporating the records of the Pension Agency, founded by the Special Relief Department.
Supply Department materials include records of supplies received, stored, issued and forwarded by the Receiving and Local Storehouses, as maintained by storehouse and Central Office staff, with delivery and financial records for the Receiving Storehouse; supply records for the 6th Street Wharf storehouse; tabular storekeepers’ statements summarizing issues to area hospitals and other locations; and registers of personal baggage stored and shipped. Also present are miscellaneous supply volumes used at multiple or unidentified locations, and an Army broadside identifying provisions for general hospital diets. Additional supply documentation can be found in Central Office numbered documents.
Records of the Agency for the Purchase of Fresh Hospital Supplies consist of correspondence exchanged between the Agency’s Washington and Philadelphia offices concerning orders for supplies and problems encountered with purchases and deliveries; registers of goods ordered by hospitals, requested from Philadelphia, and delivered to hospitals; monthly tabulations of supplies received and issued; contracts with the Arctic Express Company and Adams Express Company and record books of their freight shipments; and accounting and banking records of the Philadelphia office. Related financial records are found in the Accounts and Vouchers record group (MssCol 18820).
The records of the Department of Special Inspection of the General Hospitals of the Army, 1862-1863, consist of letters, inspection reports, lists, memoranda, draft circulars, and printed matter documenting the Department’s efforts to recruit inspectors and perform inspections at various Army general hospitals. Letters received by Clark are typically from physicians responding to the USSC circular sent during the fall of 1862 seeking their services for special inspections, or from hired inspectors reporting on their activities. Some letters are addressed to Frederick Law Olmsted, to whom applicants and inspectors were initially directed to send their communications. Letters received by the Medical Committee were addressed to all three members of the Committee or a single member from physicians, inspectors, and Clark reporting on their work or enclosing inspection reports. Letters sent by Clark consist of two letterpress copybooks of letters to Medical Committee members, USSC staff, Surgeon General Hammond, and inspectors concerning inspection reports. Inspection reports are arranged alphabetically by inspector’s name and, in some cases, by the army hospital’s location as well if more than one report from an inspector is present. The bulk of submitted reports, whether originals or copies, are not present in the collection.