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

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

CHAPTER II
The Soldier and the Sanitary Commission, 1861

- 1 -

THE need for men created abuses in the enlistments of 1861. A recruiting agent without scruples would fill up regimental quotas with the unfit. Doctors erroneously believed that volunteers did not have to meet standards set up for the regular army. Physical examinations varied from state to state; in southern Ohio they involved "little more than opening and shutting the hands, bending the elbows and knees, rotating the shoulder joint, with a casual glance at the teeth and eyes and a question as to age and previous general health." In Washington the army canceled the May order to re-examine the volunteers, apparently for fear of losing too many three-month enlistments. A general order in August directed the examination of all recruits, but surgeons generally ignored it. As general secretary of the Sanitary Commission, Olmsted asked Northern governors to keep high standards, because the army wanted men capable of withstanding privations, fatigue, and exposure; those who became disheartened on losing a meal or fell ill for want of domestic comforts and tender care did violence to the army's idea of what soldiers ought to be--"sound, tough, enduring, and long suffering."

Faith in numbers alone was a delusion enjoyed by the uninitiated. Tyros at arms quickly learned that real power did not come from indiscriminate selection; 60 healthy animals in fighting trim would give better performance than if their ranks had been swollen to 110 by the addition of 50 sickly men. The unfit depressed the vigorous by the weariness and

-31-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction xi
  • Chapter I- Making and Testing the Fifth Wheel 1
  • Chapter II- The Soldier and the Sanitary Commission, 1861 31
  • Chapter III- The Army Hospitals, Surgeons, and Nurses, 1861 50
  • Chapter IV- Ambulance Corps, General Supplies, and Medicines, 1861 70
  • Chapter V 93
  • Chapter VI- Mixed Blessings 116
  • Chapter VII- The Melancholy Battles 144
  • Chapter VIII- Battles within Battles 164
  • Chapter IX- The Ledger of Battle 185
  • Chapter X- Wheels of Battle 202
  • Chapter XI- The Wheel of Fortune 216
  • Chapter XII- The Nettles of War 248
  • Chapter XIII- From Fifth Wheel to Red Cross 267
  • Chapter XIV- Conclusion 292
  • Biographical Notes 317
  • Sources 351
  • Bibliography 355
  • Index 361
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