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THE UNITED STATES CHRISTIAN COMMISSION IN THE CIVIL WAR James O. Henry on April 15, 1861, president Lincoln issued a proclamation for 75,000 troops "to suppress combinations in the seven states too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings."1 In a matter of hours troops in Boston and New York were preparing to leave for war. Vincent Colyer of the New York YMCA immediately left his business and began devoting his full energies to the needs of the troops passing through his city.2 For three months he and others visited nearby camps and rendezvous points; they held meetings for prayer, singing, and exhortation ; and they distributed tracts, Bibles, and Testaments to all interested soldiers. Yet after the men had reached faraway stations, they began writing home and lamenting the fact that they had nothing to read. As military camps multiplied, the needs, both physical and spiritual, increased proportionately. The YMCA felt a deep obligation to meet these needs, for many of the soldiers had been active members of the "Y." In the first months of the war, YMCA associations in Brooklyn , Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, and Boston aided troops in their locales as best they could, but it soon became painfully apparent that a single agency of national scope was needed—an agency which would have the confidence of the government, soldiers, and civilian population, and one which could minister in a real way to the needs of the troops in the field. It was for this purpose that the United States Christian Commission was organized in November, 1861. A month earlier, Vincent Colyer had written to Rev. James Grant of Philadelphia, Secretary of the National Committee of the YMCA, asking that the committee call a convention of all associations for the purDn . Henry is chairman of the History Department at Biola College, La Mirada, California. His graduate work, of which this study was a part, was done at the University of Maryland. 1 James G. Randall, Civil War and Reconstruction (New York, 1937), pp. 242-243. 2 Memorial Record of the New York Branch of the Christian Commission ( New York, 1866), p. 9. Hereafter cited as Memorial Record. 374 pose of organizing a central agency for soldiers' aid.3 The committee approved the request on October 18, and the official call went out to the various associations ten days later.4 The first session of the convention was held on Thursday, November 14, in the offices of the New York Association with George H. Stuart, a Philadelphia merchant, acting as chairman. In attendance were delegates from seven states and the District of Columbia. A Commission of twelve members was appointed "to take charge of the whole work."5 The Commission was then organized by evangelical ministers and laymen on evangelical principles, and it was supported mainly by evangelical churches. It operated throughout its entire history on eight basic principles: Catholicity . . . Nationality . . . Voluntariness . . . Benefits for Body and Soul . . . Reliance upon Unpaid Delegates . . . Personal Distribution and Personal Ministrations . . . Cooperation , especially with Chaplains and Surgeons . . . and Respect for Authority.6 In addition to its general principles, the Commission adopted a rigid set of rules governing the selection and discipline of its delegates. It refused to commission men who sought to go to the field for personal reasons. It followed a policy of non-interference in its relations with military authorities, and it refused to use its influence or prestige on behalf of individuals. It dismissed delegates upon the slightest evidence of misbehavior, either in their personal deportment or in the abuse of their privileges with the army and navy. In accepting a commission, a delegate agreed to report to the agent in charge of the field to which he was sent, to take the position to which he was assigned, and to continue in the work until relieved. None was commissioned except members in good standing of evangelical churches. From the outset the Commission realized the necessity of official approval of its program. Immediately after its organization it presented a proposed program to President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and other government officials. However, letters of approval from officials in Washington meant little to delegates...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 374-388
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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