from The Worcester Daily Spy, November 16, 1861 , (Volume 16 # 271), 

Camp Supplies

U. S. Sanitary Commission
New York . Nov. 8. 1861

Dear Friend: You ask me two very important questions, which I am glad to have an opportunity of answering directly.

1st.  Does the sanitary commission at present charge itself with the distribution of articles of clothing among the soldiers in general, or with only the distribution of hospital supplies for the sick?
Answer.  The sanitary commission charges itself only with the distribution of articles of clothing and other supplies among the sick and wounded, in general and regimental hospitals.  The demand is so great in this quarter, that the commission sees no prospect of being able to spare much from its store house for any other purpose, excepting always emergencies afterward to be described.

We consider every army hospital,  general or regimental, as having a right to call upon us for whatever the government is unable or fails to supply.  And to be prepared to meet this call, we must accumulate and hold in readiness a large amount of all kinds of hospital clothing and stores medicines excepted.  The women of this country need not fear the overdoing of this business.  If three wagon loads of hospital supplies (one a four horse U. S. army wagon ) were required from our store houses to meet the deficiency in the government supply, for the wounded men in our late glorious but heart rending affair at Ball’s Bluff, what would be the drain occasioned by a general battle on the Potomac in Missouri, in western Virginia?  Nothing in the way of blankets, quilts, shirts and drawers, dressings, gowns, stockings, slippers, can come amiss, or be otherwise than a very needed contribution to ( refresh?) our stockpiles.

It is to be asked why the government does not meet the wants itself, the answer is, that with the vast business on its hands, the government has not time enough, force enough, money enough, wisdom enough, to meet any of the wants of the country adequately, and that its inevitable deficiencies toward the comfort of the sick and wounded, are the very ones which we cannot leave to the slow correction of the authorities, but in the name of Mercy and Charity must instantly provide for.  There is nothing peculiar, however, to our case.  It has been so in every great war.  The women of the country have in all modern struggles supplied largely the wants of the hospitals.  Doubtless every month will reduce the inadequacy of the governmental system, and increase the efficiency of medical bureau, but in a war conducted chiefly by volunteer force, volunteer supplies in the hospitals will be required as long as the war lasts.

2d.  How far is desirable that private and volunteer labor should take the direction of providing extra supplies of clothing for fighting men actually in the field?  And is this in any degree expedient, what the best way of reaching the wants of this class of soldier, so that both waste may be avoided and every real necessity met?  And will the sanitary commission in future undertake the equitable distribution of articles of clothing which may be furnished them for this purpose?
Answer:  Undoubtedly there is a great though a steady diminishing destitution of warm clothing among men in the field.  The government with its greatest exertions, has not been able to find in the country cloth enough, nor blankets enough to cover the army.  It is importing cloth and blankets and buying up every decently suitable fabric at home.  There will be work enough for all our mills, as long as the war lasts; and the foreign importations will not seriously affect their business.  This it is which has kept our men in the field without overcoats, or warm uniforms, in some cases without blankets.  Of course it was important before the soldiers received their pay, where the actual destitution of a regiment was known, to supply it at once by contributions of clothing from the region where it was recruited.

But this necessity has chiefly passed away with the appearance of the paymaster.  The soldier is not a pauper, and shall not be treated as one.  He makes as much by his new trade as by his old one, and should cloth himself out of his own wages, if he wants more than the regulation supply.  The same is true of the support of his family.  A proper allotment system, facilitating the assignment of a due proportion of the soldiers wages to the use of his family, is as important to the self respect of the soldier himself, as to the maintenance of independence in the feeling of a class not accustomed to charity, and whom it would be a permanent injustice to bring into the demoralizing position of receivers of the public alms.  Those who are so generously interesting themselves in the support of the families of the volunteers, should turn their united attention to the best and speediest means of getting the soldiers wages ( spent too often in ways that do him no good ) into the hands of his family.

But to return to the subject of clothing for the men in the field.  The evil is too great for much alteration by private means; and it is rapidly disappearing under governmental energy.  Under the enlightened, conscientious, and energetic chief of the quartermaster’s bureau, Gen. Meigs, there is probably to be, before the severity of the winter is upon us, an adequate supply of warm clothing provided for al the regular wants of the army.

Meanwhile the sanitary commission is willing to do its best as a agent of those who wish to help particular regiments in the field to bear the probable or possible exposure from the want of warm clothing, for the next six weeks.  Any clothing sent to them for this purpose will be will be safely and promptly forwarded to its destination. We prefer, however, to have all clothing and supplies put at our descretion, as we know better than those not on the ground where the worst wants exist. It often occurs, that a week’s destitution in a company of stockings, overcoats, fresh bread or beef, occasions fifty letters home with complaints, which, long before they could be alleviated by any action there, are relieved by the regular course of government routine.

It is to meet the irregular wants of the army that we need considerable quantities of ordinary army clothing, wants occasioned not by the negligence or penuriousness of the government, but by loss the of  baggage, the accidents of war, unavoidable separation from their supplies, the dropping of knapsacks in pursuit or flight, wants which will always require to be met by some extra official resources; and these the sanitary commission hope to accumulate, and will endeavor to serve out at their best discretion.  For instance, at Ball’s Bluff, it was not only the sick and wounded soldiers who required our ministry, but wet and blanketless soldiers, who had escaped barely with their lives.

Emergencies of this kind ( and they will be frequent and serious ) we hope to always be prompt in meeting to the utmost extent of our resources.  And to meet these cases, and not the ordinary wants of ill clothed regiments in the field, a business to vast for private benevolence, we ask the women of the land, without diverting their chief attention from hospital supplies, to furnish us, besides, with outside and undergarments ( of army pattern, although this is not indispensable ) for soldiers in the field under the circumstances here given.

It helps in the field in a most effectual manner to release blankets from hospital use and allow them to be turned to ordinary service.  Increase hospital supplies in any way, and it leaves just so much more to go to the soldier in the field.  Nor need there be any fears that the government will do less because the people do more.  both may exert their utmost ability in this vast war, and still there will remain abundant stimulus to exertion on both sides.  

I sent you the “Report” of our “Woman’s Central Association of Relief,” a branch of the commission, which will answer all other questions you may be asked in regard to the  nature and form of hospital supplies and the methods of forwarding them.  I will order a package of them to be sent to Dr. S. G. Howe’s address, Boston , where they can be had by circles of relief or other associations wishing further information.

Very Cordially
Henry W. Bellows,
President of the U. S. Sanitary Commission.



15th Massachusetts VI