The United States Christian Commission
The United State Christian Commission was established at the onset of the Civil War, organized by the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.). Its mission was to improve the morals of the soldiers and their physical condition. On December 11, 1861, George Stuart submitted for President Lincoln’s approval a plan for religious work adopted by committee at a convention of the Y.M.C.A. to promote the spiritual and temporal welfare of the soldiers, sailors and marines.
President Lincoln responded in this manner, “Your letter of the 11th Inst. and accompanying plan both of which are returned as a convenient mode of connecting this with them, have just been received. Your Christian and benevolent undertaking for the benefit of the soldiers, is too obviously proper, and praise-worthy, to admit any difference of opinion. I sincerely hope your plan may be as successful in execution, as it is just and generous in conception.” (1)
With approximately 5,000 “delegates,” thousands of Bibles and millions of religious books, newspapers and tracts were distributed. In addition, it brought many copies of the better class of magazines and sent them to the soldiers. In permanent camps, free reading rooms were established, which had a number of state newspapers on file to keep the soldiers in touch with events in their home states. Writing materials and postage were provided free as the men were urged to write home and to send a considerable amount of their pay. The Commission setup a number of coffee-wagons to compete with the sutlers, who sold liquor and established “special diet kitchens for the sick and convalescent”. When it disbanded the Christian Commission estimated that it had expended in money and supplies more than $6,250,000.
During a 2006 Adopt-A-Position Weekend in Gettysburg, a group of us in the Company visited the Jennie Wade Birthplace on Baltimore Street where the John Wega Family was presenting this aspect of the Civil War to the public. The Christian Commission was unknown to me but I was so intrigued, I read and educated myself to the history of the organization and consulted with John and Susan Wega for advice on how to present this story. My impression is that of a delegate of the U. S. Christian Commission at living history events.
For those interested in learning more about the U.S. Christian Commission in Gettysburg, operated by John and Susan Wega, click on the Christian Commission logo.
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