United States Sanitary Commission

From Ohio History Central

The United States Sanitary Commission was organized in New York in April 1861. The commission's organizers hoped to bring together various charitable organizations to assist Northern soldiers in the American Civil War. The commission would work with the United States War Department to provide wounded and ill Union soldiers with adequate supplies and medical care. The United States Sanitary Commission would also train nurses to work in the military hospitals. The War Department authorized the United States Sanitary Commission's on June 9, 1861, and President Abraham Lincoln approved its creation on June 18, 1861.

The United States Sanitary Commission immediately set about providing support to the Union army. The organization created three departments to meet the soldiers' needs. The first was the Preventive Service Department. It sent inspectors to military hospitals and to army camps to improve living conditions for the men. This department also published medical tracts, advising both doctors and soldiers on the various ways to prevent and to treat diseases. The second department was the Department of General Relief. This department sought monetary donations from civilians and businesses to purchase food, clothing, blankets, medicines, and other items for wounded and ill soldiers. The final department was the Department of Special Relief. This department assisted soldiers in returning to civilian life after they had completed their time in service. The Department of Special Relief also helped the families of disabled soldiers.

Ohioans actively helped the United States Sanitary Commission during the Civil War. Dozens of Ohio communities had established Soldiers' Aid Societies to provide soldiers with various types of supplies. The first had opened in Cleveland on April 20, 1861. Most of these organizations joined the United States Sanitary Commission. The Cincinnati chapter of the commission played a vital role over the course of the war. Its members helped the federal government outfit thirty-three steamboats as hospital ships. They also helped create eight hospitals in the Cincinnati area and established a soldiers' home to provide shelter and food for soldiers traveling through the community. The Cincinnati branch of the United States Sanitary Commission also held a sanitary fair in December 1863 to raise money for relief work. The commission earned 235,406 dollars. In February 1864, a similar fair held in Cleveland netted that city's chapter nearly seventy-eight thousand dollars.

The United States Sanitary Commission operated from 1861 until the end of the war in 1865. Before disbanding, the commission's leaders took all of its remaining assets and purchased government bonds. Interest earned from these investments went to poverty-stricken Union veterans to help these men provide for themselves and their families.

See Also


  1. Attie, Jeanie. Patriotic Toil: Northern Women and the American Civil War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.
  2. Booth, Stephane Elise. Buckeye Women: The History of Ohio's Daughters. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001.
  3. Giesberg, Judith Ann. Civil War Sisterhood: The U.S. Sanitary Commission and Women's Politics in Transition. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 2000.  
  4. McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1988.  
  5. Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.