This essay argues that antebellum notions of charity persisted during the Civil War and its immediate aftermath. Sympathy, rather than an obligation owed those who had served their nation in good stead, remained the criterion on which relief workers judged petitioners. To make the case, the essay considers how the largest wartime private relief agency, the United States Sanitary Commission, provided aid to soldiers who made the wartime transition to veteran status due to injury or illness and those veterans who were mustered out of service in 1865-1866. Equally important, it surveys intellectual and cultural currents that informed the war generation's understanding of charity. Sympathy, it demonstrates, demanded affinity, a shared sense of feeling, an appeal to the heart rather than to reason, but it did not demand inclusivity.