United States Christian Commission in the Civil War

  • Religion
  • 1861

The carnage at the First Battle of Bull Run (just a preview of the destruction to come in our Civil War) stirred the hearts of many Americans. Among those summoned to action were members of the Young Men’s Christian Association. At their 1861 convention they created the United States Christian Commission to provide war relief. Unlike the U.S. Sanitary Commission, another private aid organization that raised $25 million to succor war victims (see 1861 entry on Prosperity list), the USCC would not separate physical from spiritual assistance.

The USCC organized 5,000 volunteers to serve in military camps and on battlefields. It also collected $6 million worth of goods and supplies, which it distributed to those in need. The group brought Christian love and comfort to many thousands of soldiers, spurring spiritual revivals in numerous encampments.

Among the USCC’s most dedicated supporters was inventor Matthias Baldwin, owner of the Baldwin Locomotive Company. Baldwin was already providing crucial support to the Union cause by supplying the army with trains—for which he ultimately lost nearly all of his Southern customers. In addition, he donated 10 percent of his company’s profits to the USCC during the war. Support from Baldwin, Philadelphia merchant George Stuart, and other contributors enabled the USCC to construct permanent chapels alongside army forts, to offer reading rooms and literature, to provide medical care to the wounded and dying, and to turn its attention late in the war to literacy training among black soldiers.