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ART. VII. – 1. The United States Sanitary Commission. А
Sketch of its Purposes and its Work. Compiled from Documents and Private Papers. Published by Permission. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. 1863. 16mo. pp.
xiii. and 299. 2. The Sanitary Commission Bulletin. pp. 32. New York,
1st and 15th of each Month. 3. The Sanitary Reporter. pp. 8. Louisville, Ky., 1st and
15th of each month. 4. Sanitary Commission Documents, from No. 1 to No. 73. 5. Medical Papers of the Sanitary Commission, from A to S.
We propose in the following article to describe from intimate personal knowledge, and from original documentary sources, the origin, struggles, and principles of the United States Sanitary Commission.
Fort Sumter fell on the 15th of April, 1861. The President's proclamation calling out seventy-five thousand troops for the suppression of an armed rebellion followed, on the 16th. The whole country was aroused, and while the men rushed to arms, the women sprang with equal earnestness to the task of preparing against the time of wounds and sickness in the gathering army. Churches and schools, parlors and bed-chambers, were alive with the patriotic industry of those whose fingers could not rest while a stitch could be set or a bandage torn for the comfort or relief of the soldiers who might soon encounter the enemy in the field. The noblest surgeons and physicians were lecturing in basements and vestries on the best methods of making lint and bandages, and cutting hospital garments. Little circles and associations, with patriotic intent, were springing up everywhere, and all of them were in need of information and guidance.
At a meeting of fifty or sixty ladies very informally called at the New York Infirmary for Women, April 25th, 1861, the providential suggestion of attempting to organize the whole benevolence of the women of the country into a Central Association was ripened into a plan, and a committee was appointed to carry it into immediate effect.
This committee drew up an Address to the Women of New York, and especially to those already engaged in preparing against the time of wounds and sickness in the army,” which was published in all the principal newspapers of the city of New York, calling a public meeting in the Cooper Institute on the morning of April 29th, 1861.
The Address stated the object of the meeting to be the concentration and systemizing of the spontaneous and earnest efforts of the women of the land for the supply of extra medical aid to our army. It urged that “numerous societies, working without concert, organization, or head; without any direct understanding with the official authorities; without any positive instructions as to the immediate or future wants of the army, - were liable to waste their enthusiasm in disproportionate efforts; to overlook some claims and overdo others; while they gave unnecessary trouble in official quarters by the variety and irregularity of their proffers of help, or their inquiries for guidance.”
It was urged, that the form which woman's benevolence had taken, and would continue to take," was, first, the contribution of labor, skill, and money in the preparation of lint, bandages, and other stores, in aid of the wants of the Medical Staff; second, the offer of personal service as nurses"; and that, in regard to both these points, exact official information as to what was wanted in the way of stores, and what would be accepted in the way of nurses, was essential to economy of effort and feeling; and that this information ought to be obtained by a Central Association, and diffused through the country. “ To consider this matter deliberately, and to take such common action as may then appear wise, we earnestly invite the women of New York, and the pastors of the churches, with such medical advisers as may be specially invited, to assemble for counsel and action at the Cooper Institute, on Monday morning next, at eleven o'clock." So concludes the Address, which is signed by ninety-one of the best known and most respected ladies of New York.
The meeting was accordingly held, and presented probably the largest council of women ever assembled in this country. It was presided over by D. D. Field, Esq. Rev. Dr. Bellows explained the objects of the meeting, and was followed in an eloquent speech by Vice-President Hamlin, then understood to be awaiting in New York the possible necessity of transferring the official power of the government to that city, should Washington, with the President and Cabinet, be cut off by the threatening interposition of rebel forces. Dr. Crawford, since Brigadier-General Crawford, who had been at Fort Sumter, followed him. Dr. Wood, of the Bellevue Hospital, offered the services of his associates in the training of nurses. Dr. Valentine Mott and Dr. A. H. Stevens, veteran leaders in the medical profession, both urged the merits of the enterprise. The late Rev. Dr. Bethune eloquently spoke some of the last words he was permitted publicly to utter, at this meeting. Dr. Satterlee, U. S. A., whose name is the synonyme for integrity, and who has expended millions in the national Purveying Department, without ever being suspected of turning, directly or indirectly, a penny to his own account, expressed his earnest good-will to the undertaking. Rev. Dr. Hitchcock, Dr. Church, and others, also raised their voices in the promotion of the effort.
A Committee on Organization was appointed by the chair, who brought in “ Articles of Organization,” which had already been very carefully prepared, and which, under the name of the “Woman's Central Association of Relief," united the women of New York in a society, whose objects were thus stated :
“ ART. III. The objects of this Association shall be to collect and distribute information, obtained from official sources, concerning the actual and probable wants of the army ; to establish a recognized union with the Medical Staff of the Federal and State troops, and to act as auxiliary to their efforts ; to unite with the New York Medical Association, for the supply of lint, bandages, &c., in sustaining a central depot of stores; to solicit and accept the aid of all local associations, here or elsewhere, choosing to act through this society; and especially to open a bureau for the examination and registration of candidates for medical instruction as nurses, and to take measures for securing a supply of well-trained nurses against any possible demand of the war.”
The venerable and distinguished Dr. Valentine Mott was appointed President of the Association ; Rev. Dr. Bellows, VicePresident; G. F. Allen, Esq., Secretary; and Howard Potter, of Brown, Brothers, & Co., Treasurer.
The Association went into immediate operation, and invited local societies to look to it for guidance. It asked for supplies, collected money, and diligently registered and trained nurses.
The first business, however, of the Executive Committee was to collect reliable information, from the ranking Medical Officer of the United States Army then in New York, in regard to the necessities of the troops. The Chairman of this Committee accordingly sought the Medical Purveyor, armed with the following written questions, which are here given from the original draft. They show that, at the earliest period of this movement, principles were kept in view which have never since been lost sight of, and which have only grown in importance and sway in the mind of the Commission.
QUESTIONS PUT TO THE CHIEF MEDICAL PURVEYOR OF THE
UNITED STATES ARMY.
1st Class of Questions. 1. What are the precise functions of the Medical Staff of the army in time of war? and how can medical and volunteer aid be best offered in its service, without interfering with proper discipline and routine?
2. What are the stores and supplies which the government orders and allows the sick or wounded ? and is there any deficiency in this army supply which it is desirable to eke out by volunteer aid ?
3. What are the most urgent wants of the army in the way of medical stores, which are not within the reach of the Medical Staff?
4. Please furnish a complete list of all wants which the sick and wounded are likely to experience, which are not supplied by the Army Staff.
5. Is it desirable or feasible to have any official understanding with the Medical Bureau at Washington, with General Scott, the Secretary of War, and the President, in regard to the relations of the Military and Medical Staffs and the volunteer associations?
2d Class of Questions. (Designed to get at the amount of aid which will be required,
and the nature of it.) 1. How many men are likely to be in the field during this war? Are not 200,000 certain to be in the field for six months or a year, and 100,000 for three years ?
2. What is the recognized percentage of illness in all our armies, independent of climate and position? How does military differ from civil life, or armies from other assemblages of people, in respect of exposure to sickness? Is there a marked difference between regulars and volunteers in respect of sick
3. How are armies affected by change of climate and local situation ? and what is likely to be the extent and effect of the change to which our army will be subjected ?
4. What are the specific diseases to which our army will be exposed ?
5. What is the usual proportion in armies of sickness to casualties, wounds, &c., and all other kinds of injury?
6. What was the experience of the Mexican war? How many men were engaged in it? What portion died? What portion were killed ? What proportion were ill ? How many Northern troops were in the war? How did they stand the climate? What was the case in the Florida war, in all these respects ?
7. Have recent wars, at home or abroad, changed the views of army surgeons in regard to military hygiene?
8. Is not the sickness against which we ought to prepare mainly independent of the question of positive battles? Can the probable amount of it not be calculated, its nature anticipated, and means for its alleviation and cure be at once provided ? Is not an army of observation liable to more sickness than one in active service ?
9. Should not means of prevention be resorted to ? and should not these means be sought in an inquiry what part of the anticipated illness is due to necessary, and what part to accidental causes, - what part may be obviated, and what can only be remedied ?