Scope and arrangement
The collection consists of correspondence, memoranda, minutes, reports, military service claim files, registers, diaries, financial records, scrapbooks, posters, illustrations, photographs, printed matter, maps, ephemera and artifacts concerning the Commission's sanitary, medical and relief work during the Civil War, as well as its post-war relief work and publication activities. The collection also includes the records of the American Association for the Relief of the Misery of Battle Fields.
The United States Sanitary Commission records are arranged in twenty series:
The Accounts and Vouchers Archive, 1861-1879, comprise the financial records of New York and Washington offices; records submitted to those offices by local agencies, branches and departments; and rosters of USSC staff. These materials were selectively removed from organizational records and placed in this newly-created record group during the USSC’s last post-war arrangement of its records. The bulk of the records are monthly cash accounts, consisting of statements of receipts and expenditures, accompanying vouchers, and staff rosters, which were required to be submitted to accounting staff in Washington or New York. Account books, bank books, miscellaneous accounts for staff members and particular operations, and occasional correspondence are also found. Records of the New York and Washington offices include their own monthly cash accounts, account books and comparative statements for New York, Louisville and Washington operations. New York records also contain correspondence and records of the Commission’s treasurer, George T. Strong, and lists of financial contributions received at New York and Washington, as well as an 1878 financial account of the Commission’s work from 1861 to that date. Washington records contain accounts for the Central Office, Special Relief Department, and Agency for the Purchase of Fresh Hospital Supplies. Records of local or subordinate USSC entities are arranged alphabetically by name or place name.
The American Association for the Relief of the Misery of Battle Fields (AARMB) was the first American branch of the Comité Internationale de Secours aux Militaires Blessés (later known as the Red Cross), founded in Geneva in 1863. The main objective of the parent society was to secure neutrality in time of war for hospitals, ambulances, surgeons, and all persons legitimately engaged in caring for the sick and wounded, by international agreement. The AARMB, founded in 1866 by persons affiliated with the USSC, worked to secure U.S. adoption of the Geneva Convention treaty of 1864, and to promote and support the operations of the international organization. The records of the Association consist of outgoing correspondence, meeting minutes, financial records, and copies of its publications documenting the Association's administrative work, including promotional and fundraising activities, from its founding in 1866 to its effective closing in 1870.
The United States Sanitary Commission established the Army and Navy Claim Agency (ANCA) in Washington, D.C. on April 1, 1864 to serve as the USSC’s central office to assist Union soldiers, sailors, and their families in prosecuting claims on the federal government for pensions, back pay, bounty, commutation of rations, prize money, and other benefits, without cost. The Archives comprise the records of the Army and Navy Claim Agency; the records of the Pension Agency, its predecessor organization; the registers and cash books of its subsidiary local agencies; and the records of two quasi-independent USSC claim agencies whose origins predate the establishment of the Army and Navy Claim Agency: the Protective War Claim Association of the State of New York, located in New York City, and the Protective War Claim and Pension Agency, located in Philadelphia.
The Army of the Potomac Archives, 1862-1865, document the Sanitary Commission’s relief work in support of Union armies on campaign in Virginia, from the winter of 1862-1863 to the closing of the USSC’s base at City Point in June, 1865. The establishment of the USSC’s Field Relief Corps and Auxiliary Relief Corps, and USSC operations during Grant’s Overland Campaign and the siege of Petersburg and Richmond are especially well represented. Earlier relief work at Harrison’s Landing during the 1862 Peninsular Campaign is also documented. Relief efforts at Acquia Creek, Belle Plain, City Point, Falmouth, Petersburg, Richmond and other stations are documented in materials including letters, reports and journals of USSC officers and relief agents describing operations in the field, as well as letters from USSC staff, military officers, soldiers and civilians. Also present are records of supply distribution and assistance to troops in the field and at stations, lodges and hospitals. Other activities represented include Hospital Directory inquiry work, burial supervision, and camp inspections.
The California Branch of the United States Sanitary Commission was founded in San Francisco in September, 1862 as the Soldiers’ Relief Fund Committee, an independent fundraising organization. It officially became a branch of the USSC in August of 1864. The California Branch Archives contain the correspondence of Branch Secretary O.C. Wheeler, meeting minutes of its Executive Committee, and reports submitted by local aid societies and organizing agents documenting the extensive fundraising network developed throughout California and into neighboring areas. Other records include a draft of a history of the Branch and a scrapbook.
Condensed Historical Matter contains the printed publications, graphics, photographs, maps and artifacts brought together by the USSC during post-war arrangements of its records, including some materials from the Medical Committee Archives.
The USSC’s Department of North Carolina was based in the Union-occupied town of New Bern from 1862-1865. Its main functions were the distribution of supplies to area military hospitals, and the provision of special relief services to individual soldiers and civilians in need, including local refugees and former prisoners-of-war. The Archives include letters and reports of relief agents, a journal of Department Inspector J.W. Page, camp inspection returns, inventories of supplies issued, and reports of sick and wounded in army hospitals.
The USSC’s Department of the Gulf was established in New Orleans in 1862. This city became the Department’s base for operations for supply distribution and relief efforts in support of soldiers and sailors in military operations along the Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida, and into the interior of Louisiana. Its agents accompanied troops during the siege of Port Hudson, 1863, and the Red River campaign in 1864, and sailed with hospital ships carrying sick and wounded soldiers up the Mississippi River. In New Orleans, the USSC established a strong presence by distributing numerous supplies to hospitals, regiments and naval ships. Its Soldiers’ Home provided food and shelter to soldiers in transit, becoming the hub of special relief services to soldiers and their families, including assistance in filing pension and other claims. The Department of the Gulf Archives, 1862-1866, comprise the records of its main office, notably the correspondence of George A. Blake and Edward A. Crane, who directed Department activities; its Special Relief Department, as seen in correspondence, record books documenting services at the Soldiers Homes in New Orleans and Brashear City, Louisiana, and back pay and bounty books recording claim assistance. Supply Department records document the extensive distribution of supplies in New Orleans and elsewhere, and to relief agents for use in the field. Other materials include receipts, canceled checks and miscellaneous documents.
The USSC’s Department of Shenandoah (also referred to as the Department of West Virginia) was based at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia from spring 1864 through June 1865 under the direction of Superintendent George A. Mühleck, closing its affairs in July under C. F. Howes. The Department of the Shenandoah Archives, 1864-1865, consist of letters, telegrams, reports from relief agents in the field, departmental orders, hospital reports, stock inventories, financial records, and a register of documents, as well as record books from its agencies in Harpers Ferry, Martinsburg, and Winchester. The records document the Department’s efforts to support Union troops through the distribution of supplies and other forms of relief, particularly during the Shenandoah Valley campaigns of 1864.
The English Branch, which existed from the spring of 1864 to the fall of 1865, was established by Americans living in Britain to gain the support of their compatriots for the work of the USSC and the Union cause. The English Branch Archives document the work of the Branch's secretary and USSC agent in London, E.C. (Edmund Crisp) Fisher, as seen in his incoming and outgoing correspondence, journal with minutes, address book, and scrapbook, as well as a register of letters received, and printed matter.
The Executive Committee of Boston Associates (ECBA) was officially organized on April 1, 1863 as a department of the United States Sanitary Commission’s special relief service. It provided transportation, lodging, clothing, meals, medical attention, and aid in obtaining pay for those soldiers in the Boston area who were either discharged, on furlough, sick, or disabled, and in need of assistance. The Executive Committee of Boston Associates archives, 1863-1866, document work of Executive Committee secretaries John S. Blatchford and James Barnard to coordinate and report on the Committee’s special relief services, including their coordination with the New England Women’s Auxiliary Association and other relief organizations, and the work conducted by the superintendent and his staff at the office’s relief rooms. Records include correspondence, reports, meeting files, registers identifying services provided to over 50,000 servicemen, additional notes on relief provided, a Hospital Directory register, and a surgical and medical record of soldiers receiving treatment under ECBA’s care. Two scrapbooks of newsclippings provide further information on USSC activities in Boston.
The USSC established the Hospital Directory in 1862 to collect and record information concerning the location and condition of sick and wounded soldiers in U.S. Army general hospitals at the home front and in war zones, and to provide that information to the public. Its four offices in Washington, D.C., Louisville, Kentucky; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New York City also gathered information from other hospitals and locations, and searched for soldiers who had lost contact with family and friends. The activities of all four offices are documented in the Hospital Directory Archives, 1862-1866, containing registers of hospital patients; files on individual soldiers containing letters from soldiers’ relatives, friends, regimental officers and surgeons, and Hospital Directory staff; lists of deaths, burials, and prisoners of war; and administrative correspondence and record books.
The USSC Maryland Archives contain the records of USSC stations in Annapolis, Baltimore, Frederick, and Sharpsburg, Maryland. The USSC established offices, storehouses, and homes for soldiers and their relatives in these locations at various times throughout the war.
The New England Women’s Auxiliary Association (NEWAA) was established on November 28, 1861 in Boston, Massachusetts as an auxiliary branch of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC). The New England Women’s Auxiliary Association Archives, 1861-1865, consist of the extant records of its Executive Committee. Included are correspondence, packing lists, record books, and index volumes documenting its efforts to collect and distribute supplies for the USSC, and to spread information about the Commission’s work throughout New England, particularly in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
The New York, N.Y. Archives, 1861-1878, comprise the records of the USSC’s Standing Committee, papers of USSC president Henry W. Bellows, records of the New York Office, and the Historical Bureau.
Records of the Standing Committee records and the papers of Henry W. Bellows include correspondence, minutes, reports and other materials illuminating strategic planning and decision-making at the highest level over the course of much of the USSC’s existence.
Activities of the New York Office, established in 1862, are reflected in correspondence and other records documenting its direction of the USSC’s hospital transport work in 1862; the coordination of the shipment of supplies collected by the Woman’s Central Association of Relief and other branches to Washington, Baltimore, and USSC departments in the field; and its location as a base for the USSC’s general secretary when in New York, especially after administrative reorganization in the fall of 1863, and for accounting staff. Also represented is the work of the USSC’s Document Bureau, the main distributor of USSC publications, and the Lincoln Home, which provided shelter and other assistance for disabled and discharged soldiers after the war.
The primary function of the USSC’s Historical Bureau was to collect, preserve, and arrange the Commission’s archives. Organized in 1865 under the direction of General Secretary John S. Blatchford, the Bureau also supervised the production of various Commission histories and final reports, and was the administrative center for USSC post-war activities, including some special relief work in New York City. Historical Bureau records consist of correspondence, registers of documents in the USSC archives, reports and records received from local aid societies and USSC personnel, scrapbooks of USSC printed matter, and registers and reports of special relief activities. Also present are original writings and other materials submitted and compiled for proposed USSC historical publications, as arranged in the Special Relief Archives and Medical Committee Archives.
The Pennsylvania Archives, 1861-1867, bring together the records of three USSC organizations working from offices at 1307 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia: the Philadelphia Agency, which was the operational office of the Philadelphia Associates who organized in 1861; the Women’s Pennsylvania Branch, an auxiliary organization established in 1863; and the USSC’s Canvassing and Supply Department, created in 1864 to coordinate fundraising and publicity among USSC eastern branches, including publication of the Sanitary Bulletin. Also present are records of supply and relief work conducted by USSC relief agents at Gettysburg and Harrisburg.
Philadelphia Agency records document General Office administrative activities, including the operation of a large supply depot in Philadelphia; providing supply and relief services for USSC eastern operations, especially during major military campaigns; meeting the supply and special relief needs of the Army and servicemen in the Philadelphia area; and developing local support for the USSC. The Agency’s Special Relief Department distributed supplies to local Army hospitals and camps; assisted soldiers and sailors in need, especially those discharged and disabled; and established a post-war Soldiers’ Lodge. The Agency also operated a Bureau of Employment for discharged soldiers and sailors after the war. The Philadelphia Agency and the Women’s Pennsylvania Branch worked closely together to maintain the supply depot and to provide special relief services in Philadelphia. Branch materials document its efforts to collect and stock supplies from a large network of aid societies in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, for further shipment to USSC locations and for local distribution for relief purposes.
Other record groups documenting USSC operations in the Philadelphia area are identified in the finding aid of the Pennsylvania Archives.
The Statistical Bureau was established as a special department at Washington in the summer of 1861 to support the Commission’s role as an independent advisory body to the government, with reference to the health, sanitary condition, and general comfort and efficiency of U.S. troops. Under the administration of E.B. Elliott and later Benjamin A. Gould, it compiled forms used by USSC inspectors and relief agents to investigate and monitor such conditions, or other topics determined by the USSC, and it collected data from those forms and tabulated their results for further analysis, reporting and publication by the USSC. It also collected data from Army regimental and medical records to support s tudies of loss and gain in the U.S. Army, which in turn supported the work of the work of the USSC’s Hospital Directory. The Bureau used Army muster records, along with its own original forms, completed by a staff of examiners, to conduct physiological and sociological studies of the American soldier. In the fall of 1865, the Statistical Bureau moved its records and operations to Boston, Massachusetts, near Gould’s residence in Cambridge. These activities are reflected in the records of the Statistical Bureau Archives, 1861-1869, containing correspondence, original returns, tabulations, abstracts and other studies. Materials concern Camp Inspections; the physical and social condition of troops as seen in records of Height, Age and Nativity, as well as Physical Descriptions and Physical Examinations; reports of U.S. Army general hospitals; and Loss and Gain in Army strength, including transcriptions of regimental returns, diagrams plotting rates of sickness and mortality, and records of statistical loss and gain in battle, with notable studies of the condition of troops fighting at Bull Run and Gettysburg. Although the bulk of the materials concern the Army, data concerning Navy personnel and civilians is also found. The activities of Bureau staff during the administration of Benjamin A. Gould are documented in his incoming correspondence and weekly reports received from staff.
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 through 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), in addition to the work of other staff responsible for USSC Eastern Department or broader operations.
Special Relief Department materials 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 Department assisted soldiers in transit to their homes or other destinations, chiefly those who were furloughed, discharged, ill or disabled. It provided lodging,medical care and transportation assistance in a growing system of homes, lodges and relief stations, and helped soldiers and sailors procure back pay, bounty, and other monies due to them. Lodging and other aid was also extended to female relatives of soldiers and hospital nurses in need.
Supply Department records document operations in the network of storehouses forming the USSC’s Supply Depot in Washington, D.C., a major center for the receipt and distribution of supplies for general, battlefield and special relief, both locally and for more distant locations.
Records of the Agency for the Purchase of Fresh Hospital Supplies document its operations in Washington and Philadelphia, June 1863-April 1864. At Philadelphia it purchased fresh foodstuffs of a greater variety and quality, and at a lower cost, than what was available in Washington, and quickly transported the perishable supplies to Washington for distribution to U.S. Army hospitals. It provided similar services to Army hospitals at Gettysburg, and to Army convalescent camps and USSC homes and lodges in the Washington area.
The Department of Special Inspection of the General Hospitals of the Army, initiated by the USSC’s Medical Committee but located at the Central Office, operated from 1862 to 1863. Records document the Department’s efforts to recruit inspectors and perform inspections at general army hospitals, and to report their findings to the Army’s Surgeon General for review and action.
The USSC’s Western Department, formally organized in September 1861, assisted soldiers involved primarily in the operations of the Western Theater through a far-reaching network based in Louisville, Kentucky for most of the war. Geologist and paleontologist Dr. John S. Newberry (1822-1892), an Associate Secretary and Commissioner of the USSC, led the Department. The Western Department Archives, 1861-1865, primarily document the Department’s extensive supply distribution and relief efforts in the Western Theater, from its first base in Cleveland, Ohio (1861-1862) and later Louisville, Kentucky (1862-1865). Material is arranged by office or function and includes records for the Central Office, some agency offices, supply distribution, and Soldiers’ Homes.
The Woman’s Central Association of Relief (WCAR) was founded in April 1861 in New York City, officially becoming a branch of the USSC on June 24. Its primary function was the procurement of supplies, obtained from an extensive network of contributing aid societies. The WCAR also participated in other war relief efforts, such as fundraising, registering female nurses for work in military hospitals, and helping to direct returning, discharged soldiers and soldiers' families to local relief agencies for assistance. The Woman’s Central Association of Relief held its final meeting on July 7, 1865, although it continued to receive supplies into October. Two prominent organizers within the WCAR were Louisa Lee Schuyler (1837-1926) and Ellen Collins (1828-1912). The Woman’s Central Association of Relief Archives, 1861-1865, primarily document the supply procurement and distribution activities of the WCAR and consist of correspondence, minutes, reports, supply records, and directories listing associate managers.