Civil War Dated Autograph Letter Signed on U.S. Christian Commission stationary, 1864
Civil War Autograph Letter Signed on U.S. Christian Commission stationary Dated September 10, 1864
The United States Christian Commission (USCC) was an organization that furnished supplies, medical services, and religious literature to Union troops during the American Civil War. It combined religious support with social services and recreational activities. It supplied Protestant chaplains and social workers and collaborated with the U.S. Sanitary Commission in providing medical services.
The Christian Commission was created in response to what the troops suffered in the First Battle of Bull Run. On November 14, 1861, the National Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) called a convention which met in New York City. Leaders outlined the work needed to support the soldiers, the design for the United States Christian Commission, whose organization was completed next day. Two of the founding members were Vincent Colyer, who was appalled by the aftermath of the battle of Bull Run, and George Stuart, a well-to-do businessman.
The YMCA and Protestant ministers formed the USCC. Its five thousand volunteers (“delegates”) included seminary students, but many were just concerned Christians. As civilians on the battlefield, they did not carry weapons. They distributed more than $6 million worth of goods and supplies in hospitals, camps, prisons and battlefields. The original plan of the USCC was to help the clergy of the armed services in their daily work, as the chaplaincy program was in its infancy, with only some 30 members, who were quickly overwhelmed by the scale of battles and casualties, and especially by the rapidly increasing number of deaths due to wounds and more so to disease.
John Calhoun Chamberlain, brother of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Thomas Chamberlain, heroes of Little Round Top, served with the USCC during the Battle of Gettysburg. During the evening of July 2, John assisted at the medical field station set up for his brothers’ regiment, the 20th Maine. John filed a report to the central office, describing the activities of the USCC at Gettysburg. This report is found in Chamberlain’s Christian Commission diary, kept during the battle of Gettysburg and is recorded in Edinborough Press’ book, Gettysburg and the Christian Commission.
Women also participated. A national movement started in May 1864 with a view to organizing a Ladies Christian Commission in each evangelical congregation of the North as an auxiliary to the USCC. Increasing the network of collection, fundraising and support was the way the organization responded to meet a growing demand to serve the soldiers.
The USCC continued to grow. More than three-quarters of the value of what it collected was distributed during 1864 and the four months of 1865. It represented both citizens’ recognition of need and a more efficient organization. The Ladies Christian Commission (LCC) played a critical role in this success. Louisa May Alcott was among many women who worked with the Commission. Others included Georgia McClellan, the sister of Jenny Wade, the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg, and Sarah Emma Edmonds, who worked as a nurse after serving with the Union Army as a soldier, spy, and as a male nurse under the name “Franklin Thompson.”
The USCC participated in a religious revival within the Union Army between 1863 and 1865. Converts numbered between 100,000 and 200,000 men.
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