A Field White Unto the Harvest - US Christian Commission

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, August 3, 2014 0 comments

by Michael Homula

The United States Christian Commission (USCC) came into existence during the first year of the Civil War. Delegates from various Young Men’s Christian Associations (YMCA) held a convention November 14 and 15, 1861 in New York City where they resolved: “That it is the duty of Young Men’s Christian Associations to take active measures to promote the spiritual and temporal welfare of the soldiers in the army and the sailors and marines in the navy, in cooperation with the chaplains and others.”

From this convention the USCC was formed. It combined religious support with social services and recreational activities. It supplied Protestant chaplains and social workers and collaborated with the U.S. Sanitary Commission in providing medical services.

The first circular of the United States Christian Commission was issued on November 16, 1861, and stated, in part: “Chaplains wish our aid; Christians in the army call for it; and the precious souls of thousands, daily exposed to death and yet unprepared, demand it of us, in the name of Him who died for us. It is a field white unto the harvest. The soldiers are ready to hear the Word of God spoken in love, and to receive the printed pages. Brethren, will you aid us?” The delegates, instilled with the urgency of their mission, returned home, confident that appeals to their congregations for material and financial aid would be met with an outpouring of generosity. Bible-believing and Christ-following Christians responded generously and the USCC mission to serve the soldiers and sailors of the Union in the name of Christ was well supplied.

During the war, more than 5,000 Christians would serve on the front lines ministering, nursing, and caring for men of both armies on the battlefields, hospitals, and in the camps of our war torn country.

As we have been studying and learning, the first three days of July 1863 would bring the largest and most costly battle of the war to the crossroads town of Gettysburg. Following the bloodletting, the two armies would leave the area. In their wake, more than 20,000 wounded (some severely) and dying from both sides would be left behind. The Christian Commission dispatched more than 300 delegates to Gettysburg.

A commission official had this to say about the citizens at Gettysburg: “Too much cannot be said of the kindness of the people of Gettysburg to the Delegates, whose accommodations at first were very limited. Nor was this confined to them; until the hospitals were withdrawn from the neighborhood, the residents were untiring in their efforts to alleviate the wants of the wounded and dying.”

Mr. Demond, a delegate of the commission, relates two stories of relief work performed by fellow delegate John C. Chamberlain (who we will study more later, photo to the right), brother of Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain who led the 20th Maine on Little Round Top at Gettysburg. Demond wrote:

“He heard just at nightfall of a hospital, some miles away, that had not been visited. Though weary from the labors of the day, he went to it at once on foot. He found the Surgeon in charge sick, and the assistant overwhelmed with the care of some two hundred wounded, and no stores or comforts.

He told the doctor there was a station of the Sanitary Commission within a mile, and asked why he had not got stores. The doctor said he did not know how to get them. Mr. Chamberlain wrote an order on the Sanitary Commission, the doctor signed it and the Delegate went to the station and found that the Sanitary Commission had gone away. What was to be done? It was late; he was very weary; it was nearly five miles to Gettysburg, where the station of the Christian Commission was, the road was hard and the streams were swollen and high. But the men were suffering, and there was no one but him to help. He took the long and lonely walk, and very early the next morning, the wagon of the Christian Commission was at the hospital, laden with stores and comforts for the heroic sufferers. That same Delegate came one day upon an out-of-doors hospital, where the men were lying in the July sun with no shelter. After looking a moment, he took a stone and stick, and arranged the blanket of a soldier so as to shield his face. Others caught the idea, and soon everyone in the hospital was sheltered from the burning and torturing blaze of the sun.”

Professor M.L. Stoever of Pennsylvania College in Gettysburg came upon two interesting and intelligent young men recovering in the schoolhouse from amputations. They were Confederates and both from Lutheran colleges—one from Roanoke College in Virginia, the other from Newberry College in South Carolina. Their teachers had been students in the college at Gettysburg and were well known to the professor.

One of them was already a Christian; the other had just come to know Christ on the bloody field at Gettysburg. “Tell my father,” said the first, “if you can get a letter to him, that I am leaning on the strong arm of Jesus; He comforts me; all my hope is in Him.” Said the other, “Write to my mother that I have found the Savior; He is precious to my soul. And say to her, ‘If I meet you, mother, no more on earth, I hope to meet you in heaven.’”

We will be learning more about the United States Christian Commission in the coming months.