Civil War: United States Sanitary Commission Flag, ...
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The United States Sanitary Commission, a civilian organization that is considered the forerunner of the American Red Cross, had a brief but very important role in bringing medical aid and general support to our fighting men during and just after the Civil War, a conflict with conditions so rough that many more men died of disease than were killed in battle. On April 22, 1861, just days after the Battle of Fort Sumter, the editor of the New York Times, Henry Raymond, published an editorial titled "Work for the Ladies." He suggested that interested "ladies in the several Wards, or in connection with the different Churches of the City, form small organizations among themselves for the purpose of preparing bandages, lint and other articles of indispensable necessity for the wounded" and proposed a meeting of those so disposed to meet with his wife and their residence that very day. At that same time, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the nation's first female medical doctor, started training women at Bellevue for work as army nurses. On April 26, she helped organize a meeting of 4000 women at Cooper Union to found the Women's Central Association of Relief for the Sick and Wounded of the Army. It was modeled after the British Sanitary Commission who, during the Crimean War, sought to lessen disease caused by the unsanitary conditions of war. Their efforts at interesting federal officials in the cause were unsuccessful so they turned to their male colleagues. On May 15, 1861, a Unitarian clergyman named Henry Bellows led a delegation of male doctors to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Lincoln on behalf of the women's group. Lincoln was reluctant at first, thinking that this organization would be a "fifth wheel to the coach"; on June 8, 1861, however, he approved the recommendation of the war department establishing the Sanitary Commission with Bellows as its president. By 1863, there were 7,000 local affiliates. Though its officers and agents were mostly men, nearly all its volunteers were women who tirelessly collected food, clothing, medicine, and supplies for the soldiers, alleviating an untold amount of suffering and death from disease.
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