US soldiers were provided with a uniform, a musket, basic rations and little else. Soldiers were crammed into overpopulated camps with little provision for sanitation, creating a epidemic of sickness. Hospitals were chronically understaffed and did not receive supplies from the governments. US citizens, mostly women, stepped in to fill this void with a massive volunteer effort.
The Sanitary Commission was engaged in three main endeavors, served by three departments.
- The Department of General Relief routed and delivered commodities gathered or made by individual aid societies. These commodities included food, clothing, bandages, quilts, medicines, and cordials to be distributed to US soldiers and CS prisoners in hospitals.
- The Preventative Service enlisted a corps of inspectors who toured camps and hospitals and reported on conditions and supplies. This service also printed tracts and bulletins on the subjects of sanitation, which proved invaluable in preventing the spread of disease.
- The Department of Special Relief created "Soldiers Homes" to provide food, shelter and medical care to soldiers and veterans. This department also created bureaus to assist soldiers and their families who "fell through the cracks", and helped them secure back-pay, bounties and pensions
The Sanitary Commission was funded and supplied by the efforts of an army of volunteer women. They rolled bandages, sewed quilts and clothing, purchased medicines, and held fund raisers called "Sanitary Fairs". This Commission is considered to be the forerunner of today's Red Cross.
The RACW Sanitary Commission uses an interactive approach to teaching living history. Visitors are invited to try their hand at quilting or letter writing as they learn about the Commission's role in supporting Civil War soldiers.
For more information about the Civilian Brigade click HERE.