Lincoln's Fifth Wheel: the Political History of the United States Sanitary Commission

By William Quentin Maxwell; Allan Nevins | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER I
Making and Testing the Fifth Wheel

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ON January 9, 1861, the Rev. Dr. Henry Whitney Bellows, minister of All Souls Church Unitarian in New York, wrote to his son Russell, a student at Harvard: ". . . we can think of nothing else! Nothing is interesting but the papers, and every night and morning I take them up eagerly and carefully to see whether we have a country or not!"1 Republican victory in the election of 1860, Southern secession and the formation of a Southern confederacy, Lincoln's inauguration, and the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, spelled civil war. The president called for 75,000 troops to quell the rebellion. Emergency demanded participation of all. Swept into action, women formed soldiers' aid societies to cheer the recruit and furnish him comforts and necessities. The first organization of that kind appeared at Bridgeport, Connecticut, on April 15; similar groups sprang up at Lowell and Charlestown, Massachusetts; Cleveland, Ohio, established what became a large and flourishing aid society, on April 19.

This desire to succor soldiers in camp and field held Bellows' attention. Without concert of effort and a clear idea of common goals these devoted women might waste their zeal and produce as much harm as good from their excitement.

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Bellows MSS. H. W. Bellows to R. Bellows, Jan. 9, 1861, New York.
Asterisk after a name means see Biographical Notes, which follow the text.

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