Soon after the start of the Civil War, YMCA leaders became concerned with the religious and spiritual needs of the soldiers in the nearby camps. Vincent Colyer, a member of the New York City YMCA, had begun spending time visiting nearby encampments where soldiers were stationed temporarily on their way to the battle front. Colyer mingled with the soldiers, offered words of encouragement, and handed out religious tracts. Since few camps had chaplains, the chaplaincy then being in its infancy, Colyer's ministrations were welcomed by both the soldiers and their officers. As a result of these activities, and the apparent need to extend them, the New York Association established an "Army Committee" with Colyer as chairman, with its mission to provide preaching services, individual religious visitation, and publications for soldiers.
In November, 1861, at the instigation of members of the board of the New York City YMCA, a special convention of fifty delegates representing fifteen YMCAs met in New York. A "Christian Commission" of twelve members was appointed to devise a plan for the Associations to act as a clearinghouse for all religious work in the armed forces. The work of the Commission was organized at the national level. Local Associations were encouraged to support the Commission while maintaining their own activities. Many Associations merged into local branches of the Christian Commission or resolved themselves into army committees in order to facilitate the work of the Commission. The national organization established an office in Philadelphia and the Associations of Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Louisville, New York, St. Louis, and St. Paul became regional clearinghouses for the various activities channeled through the Commission. George H. Stuart, founder and first president of the Philadelphia Association, and then chairman of the YMCA's Central Committee, was designated as Chairman of the Commission, a post he held throughout the war. The method of operation was the appointment of "delegates" who served on a volunteer basis for terms averaging six weeks.
The general aim of the Commission was "to promote the spiritual and temporal welfare of the soldiers in the army and the sailors in the Navy, in cooperation with the Chaplains." Its early activities included publication of a collection of familiar hymns, bible readings and prayers, devotional meetings in the camps, the organization of of a "working Christian force" in every regiment, and aiding and supporting chaplains. Though originally devised to provide spiritual sustenance, the activities of the Commission soon expanded into the physical and social realm, making the Commission a valuable agency of wartime relief. A newspaper report of its first annual meeting described the objects of the organization as, "the promotion of the intellectual, moral and religious welfare of the Army and Navy, buy suggesting needful national legislation and administration, securing well-qualified chaplains, encouraging Sabbath observance, promoting temperance, multiplying libraries, reading-rooms, and gymnasiums, and endeavoring to arouse the sentiment of the nation to a sense of its obligations to this class of citizens. Delegates, serving both at the front and behind the lines, established tents as social centers with stationery and periodicals provided, distributed emergency medical supplies, food, and clothing, and operated canteens and lending libraries. A special work of compassion performed by delegates of the Commission was the assembling of records of those buried from prisons and in certain major battle areas. Prisoner-of-war work, which was to figure more prominently in YMCA war work in later conflicts, also began during the Civil War.
The establishment of the Commission was a pivotal moment in the history of the YMCA movement in North America, which was then just ten years old. The work of the Commission provided the medium for large-scale cooperation between the Association and the general public and was significant in creating prestige for the YMCA movement. The value of the services rendered was recognized by civil and military authorities during the war and afterward.
After the surrender of the Confederacy in 1865, the Commission continued to minister to the troops until they were discharged from military service. At a meeting of the Executive Committee in December, the decision was made to terminate the work of the Commission on January 1, 1866. During its 4 years of operation, the Christian Commission sent nearly 5,000 agents into the field; distributed 95,000 packages, which included nearly 1.5 million portions or full scriptures, 1 million hymnbooks and over 39 million pages of tract. Total monies spent during the Civil War was estimated at over 6.2 million dollars.
Historical material adapted from Chapter 1, "How it All Began," of Serving the U.S. Armed Forced, 1861-1986: The Story of the YMCA's Ministry to Military Personnel for 125 Years, by Richard C. Lancaster; and from the collection.
History of the United States Christian Commission obtained from web site of the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries http://special.lib.umn.edu/findaid/html/ymca/yusa0004-3.phtml
George Hay Stuart
|George Hay Stuart, was a philanthropist who served
as the chairman
of the Christian Commission during the war between the states. It was under his direction, that the U.S. Christian Commission was responsible for distributing over 30 million gospel tracts and New Testaments to the solders.
George Hay Stuart said: "I have prayed for this union, and I have labored for it, simply because I believe that it would bring glory to my blessed Lord and Master, Jesus Christ." "I have labored and prayed for it, because it would bring brethren together, now unhappily divided, to see eye to eye, that the nations that have so long bowed down to idols might learn of Jesus and Him crucified... Since these twenty four hours have passed away, eighty six thousand four hundred immortal souls have gone to the judgment seat of Christ. "
"I never hear the funeral bell toll without asking myself the question, what have I done to point that departed soul to the Lamb of God that died to save a perishing world?" "Brethren, buckle on your armor for a great conflict; buckle it on for giving the glorious Gospel of the Son of God to the millions of the earth who are perishing for the lack of knowledge."
D.L.Moody at about the time of the Civil War.
D. L .Moody was a member of the board of directors of the
NorthWest branch of the U.S.Christian Commission.
During the Civil War, he refused to
fight, saying, "In this respect I am a Quaker,"
but he worked through the YMCA and the United States Christian Commission to evangelize the Union troops.
Information From Christian History and Biography
With the advent of the Civil
War, Moody found himself doing personal work among the
He was on battlefields on nine occasions serving with the U.S. Christian Commission
At the Battle of Murfreesboro in January, 1863, under fire, he went among the wounded and dying asking, "Are you a Christian?"
Information From Believer's web
In recent times, Civil War re-enactment groups have become popular, to relive the adventures of the Civil War period. They visit historic sites, reenact marches and battles, and wear authentic period clothing, military uniforms, and weapons. 1973 saw the organization of a now well known Civil War study group at Historic Fort Snelling, Minnesota. They call themselves the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry in honor of the famed unit from the state.
One of the people signing up for the regiment in 1975 was John Palmer, he offered his services as their chaplain. In a desire to make his chaplain role authentic, and to encourage the formation of like efforts, Palmer worked to reactivate the Northwestern Branch of the U.S.C.C. In accordance with their original purpose, the reactivated Christian Commission appoints chaplains and delegates to serve under them and to minister to the spiritual needs of the solders. The chaplain is available for spiritual counsel as he takes part in the meetings of the Minnesota Regiment at the old fort barracks and their field trips. He conducts chapel services whenever possible during Sunday assemblies.
Chaplain Palmer Praying before a meal.