Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Civil War: The United States Christian Commission

A footnote from history by Stephanie Grace Whitson

" ... here in the house the suffering was palpable. ... Two slaves were moving among the men in the hall, wiping foreheads and giving drinks of water. ... Taking a deep breath, Maggie picked her way through the crowded hallway of what had obviously been a beautiful mansion. It seemed little more than a battered shell now ... Ashby was in one of the front rooms off the main hall ... With his free hand, he tried to pull something out of his pocket ... 'Would you like me to read to you?' ... The pamphlet wasn't a testament, after all. The Soldier's Prayer Book ... the prayers gave way to Psalms and hymns. Maggie kept reading, aware that a new stillness had settled over the men in the room ... " [from Daughter of the Regiment by Stephanie Grace Whitson]

The United States Sanitary Commission wasn't the only organized effort to
provide for soldiers during the Civil War. In 1861, few of the military camps where men trained for battle had chaplains. YMCA leaders in New York began visiting nearby camps and handing out religious tracts. These men formed a Christian Commission "to promote the spiritual and temporal welfare of the soldiers in the army and the sailors in the Navy, in cooperation with the Chaplains." 
The commission published a variety of materials including religious tracts and a collection of familiar hymns, Bible readings, and prayers. Throughout the war, delegates conducted meetings in the camps.

"What a blessed institution your Christian Commission is!" wrote one soldier. "Your delegates care for us in the hospital, follow us on the march, and in the hour of battle they hover around us like ministering angels." 

That praise reflects the inevitable course of things, for once the Christian Commission's spiritual work began, it quickly expanded into the distribution of emergency medical supplies, food, and clothing. The Commission also operated lending libraries and reading rooms. 

Ladies Christian Commissions were formed as auxiliaries to the male-dominated Christian Commission. The first rosters include women from Baptist, New School Presbyterian, Moravian, Dutch Reformed, Methodist Episcopal, Reformed Presbyterian, German reformed, United Presbyterian, Protestan Episcopal, Congregational, Lutheran, and Old School Presbyterian congregations. How's that for a united effort!

Evangelist D.L. Moody served with the Christian
A young D.L. Moody
Commission during the war. His work among the soldiers took him onto at least nine different battlefields. 

"A dying boy said to one delegate, 'Stay with me, oh, stay with me and talk of Jesus til I die.' He fell asleep in that same Jesus at sundown." 

Stories like this one inspired the battle scene in Daughter of the Regiment: "Maggie ... stared into his pale eyes. 'Look at me, Private. You aren't alone. The Good Lord is here and so is Maggie Malone. Neither of us is leaving you.' She had just begun to recite the Our Father when the light in his pale eyes flickered and went out."

When men come to the end of themselves, they often look to God. During the Civil War, the United States Christian Commission helped them find their way.


Novelist Stephanie Grace Whitson's newest book, Daughter of the Regiment, introduces readers to two women who meet on a battlefield and cross the barrier between North and South to become friends. Learn more at Find her book wherever books are sold or follow this link:


  1. Sounds like a real ministry to the wounded and dying soldiers. Am. wileygreen1(at)

  2. Yes, I think it was. Only eternity will tell the good that was done, the lives changed.

  3. Thank you for an interesting post. I had not heard of the Ladies Christian Commission, nor the men's either, before. This bears further investigation to read more stories.

  4. So glad to hear that you found it interesting, Linda. Thanks for taking time to let me know!

  5. Fascinating article Stephanie! Looking forward to more History lessons from you!

    1. thank you, Diane ... as you can tell, I love "the real story" ...