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The United States of America: A History
Book 4: Chapter XII - How the Americans cared for their Soldiers

WARS have been, in general, made by Kings to serve the pur- poses of their own ambition or revenge. This war was made ly the American people, and willingly fought out by their own hands. The men who fought were nearly all Americans, and mainly volunteers. They were regarded with the deepest interest by those who remained at home. Ordinarily, the number of soldiers who die of diseases caused by the hardships they endure is greater than the number of those who die of wounds. The Americans were eager to save their soldiers from the privations which waste so many brave lives. They erected two great societies, called the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission. Into the coffers of these societies they poured money and other contributions to the amount of four millions sterling. The Sanitary Commission sent medical officers of experience into the armies to guide them in the choice of healthy situations for camps; to see that drainage was not neglected; to watch over the food of the soldiers, and also their clothing; to direct the attention of the Government to every circumstance which threatened evil to the health of the army. Its agents followed the armies with a line of waggons containing all manner of stores. Everything the soldier could desire issued in profusion from those inexhaustible waggons. There were blankets and great-coats and every variety of underclothing. There were crutches for the lame, fans to soothe the wounded in the burning heat of summer, bandages, and sponges, and ice, and even mosquito-netting for the protection of the poor sufferers in hospital. Huge wheeled-caldrons rolled along in the rear, and ever, at the close of battle or toilsome march, dispensed welcome refreshment to the wearied soldiers.

The Christian Commission undertook to watch over the spiritual wants of the soldiers. Its president was George Ii. Stuart, a merchant of Philadelphia, whose name is held in enduring honour as a symbol of all that is wise and energetic in Christian beneficence. Under the auspices of this society thousands of clergymen left their congregations and went to minister to the soldiers. A copious supply of Bibles, tracts, hymn-books, and similar reading matter was furnished. The agents of the Commission preached to the soldiers, conversed with them, supplied them with books, aided them in communicating with friends at home. But they had sterner duties than these to discharge. They had to seek the wounded on the field and in the hospital; to bind up their wounds; to prepare for them such food or drink as they could use ;—in every way possible to soothe the agony of the brave men who were giving their lives that the nation might he saved. hundreds of ladies were thus engaged tending the wounded and sick, speaking to them about their spiritual interests, cooking for them such dishes as might tempt the languid appetite. The dying soldier was tenderly cared for. The last loving message was conveyed to the friends in the far-off home. Nothing was left undone which could express to the men who gave this costly evidence of their patriotism the gratitude with which the country regarded them.

It resulted from the watchful care of time American Government and people, that the loss of life by disease was singularly small in the Northern army. There never was a war in which the health of the army was so good, and the waste of life by disease so small.

When the war was over, the Americans addressed themselves, sadly and reverently, to the work of gathering into national cemeteries the bones of those who had fallen. The search was long and toilsome. The battle-ground had been a continent, and men were buried where they died. Every battle-field was searched. Every line by which an army had advanced, or by which the wounded had been removed, was searched. Sometimes a long train of ambulances had carried the wounded to hospitals many miles away. At short intervals, during that sad journey, it was told that a man had died. The train was stopped; the dead man was lifted from beside his dying companions; a shallow grave was dug, and the body, still warm, was laid in it. A soldier cut a branch from a tree, flattened its end with his knife, and wrote upon it the dead man's name. This was all that marked his lowly resting-place. The honoured dead, scattered thus over the continent, were now piously gathered up. For many miles around Petersburg the ground was full of graves. During several years men were employed in the melancholy search among the ruins of the wide-stretching lines, in some cemeteries lie ten thousand, in others twenty thousand, of the men who (lied for the nation. An iron tablet records the name of the soldier and the battle in which he died. Often, alas the record is merely that of "Unknown Soldier." Over the graves floats the flag which those who sleep below loved so well. Nothing in America is more touching than her national cemeteries. So much brave young life given freely, that the nation might be saved! So much grateful remembrance of those who gave this supreme evidence of their devotion.

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