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

By William Quentin Maxwell; Allan Nevins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V

Winds of Controversy

-1-

THE Sanitary Commission and the Medical Bureau could do nothing but clash. Their ideas were at variance regarding hospital buildings, adequate supply, the needs and comfort of patients, promptness in answering requisitions, and an adequate medical force to care for a given number of men. They had no common standards for furnishing a military expedition and its probable future needs. Their views differed about vaccine, virus, and quinine. The commission opposed the bureau's views on organization, forming "a very unfavorable and even anxious and indignant conception of its wisdom and humanity." Some twentieth-century critics have expressed little patience with the inadequate hospitals and transportation, the faulty organization of communication lines, and the unsystematic, inefficient, crude, and wasteful methods of handling supplies in the Medical Bureau; they deplored the stupidity of appointing medical directors but depriving them of personnel, equipment, and the means with, which to start work.

But the plight of the bureau was not wholly of its own, making. It was not its own master but leaned on other administrative units. The exclusive right of building and equipping hospitals as well as transporting the sick and wounded belonged to the quartermaster corps. The Subsistence Corps alone provided food. In peacetime this dependence caused no embarrassment; in wartime it made the Medical Bureau

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