On June 13, 1861, two months to the day after Federal troops surrender Fort Sumter to Confederate forces, President Abraham Lincoln established the U.S. Sanitary Commission to be responsible for the health and welfare of Union soldiers throughout the period of conflict with the succeeding states.
The Sanitary Commission was divided into three departments.
The Department of Preventative Services was responsible for ensuring Union soldiers had supplies of food and medicine, and that troop hospitals and camps maintained sanitary conditions. The Department of General Relief focused on supplying food, clothing, blankets, hospital equipment, bedding and writing supplies. Depictions of these two departments in action below:
The third department, Special Relief, dealt with soldiers that were separated from their units, administered aide to wounded soldiers and organized special Soldiers Homes for their care.
From the start, this important new endeavor had one really big problem…Lincoln left the Sanitary Commission unfunded. This forced the Commission to seek material and financial donations from citizens. By 1863, the need for services provided by the Sanitary Commission was simply overwhelming and the Commission set up a new fundraising vehicle – The Sanitary Fairs. Primarily staffed by members of local women’s groups, these fairs sought out material donations of all types to sell to visitors. Several of the fairs produced adhesive stamps in their continuing effort to raise funds by any means possible. These were the first adhesive charity stamps produced in the world. Get a sneak peak of Sanitary Fair stamps.
Check back Monday morning November 9th to see the second installment of this Blog Post.
This special NPM Blog Post would not have been possible without philatelist and postal historian Marty Graff's careful assistance and encyclopedic knowledge of the U.S. Sanitary Commission and related Sanitary Fair adhesive stamps.