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Home > Civil War Sesquicentennial > Frederick Law Olmsted Transcript

Frederick Law Olmsted Transcript

Sanitary Commission, Washington, D.C.
Treasury Building, August 17th, 1861
To His Excellency,
Israel Washburn, Governor of the State of Maine.

The attention of your Excellency is most respectfully called to the importance of a thorough physical examination of men offering to volunteer.  It is quite impossible for any but perfectly sound, tough, and strong men, to endure the privations, fatigue, and exposure, to which soldiers under our present Army Regulations, must be subject, without great suffering to themselves, and loss to the nature

It is not doubted, that if our army had been entirely composed of such men, the result of the late disastrous battle at Bull’s Run, would have been wholly different.  That the inspection of recruits has been, hitherto, very inadequate, there is, unfortunately, too much evidence.  For instance, twenty-two men have been discharged, since the battle, on account of Hernia, from a single regiment, and this, one which was far better officered, and therefore, better cared for, and less severely tried, than most others.  Men, who cannot lose a meal or two, without becoming ill and disheartened:  Men, who when slightly indisposed, need domestic comforts and tender care, not only are of no use where soldiers are most needed; but do a great deal of harm, impeding and disconcerting arrangements based on the supposition that soldiers are what the Army Regulations assume them to be,- sound, tough, enduring, and long-suffering.  It is well-known to be a general rule in civilized warfare, that where one man is killed in battle, ten die from disease; but it is too little considered, that where one man dies from disease, many ____ must be, for a certain period, unfit for service, and a heavy burden and drawback upon the movements, the general courage, and the efficiency of the strong and well.

It is hoped that the suggestion will be pardoned, that orders should be given with a view to put, if possible, beyond question, the perfect physical ability of the volunteers hereafter to be accepted by your Excellency.

I have the honor to be,
Your Excellency’s
Most Obedient Servant.
Fred. Law Olmsted
Secr. San. Comm.
Per Alfred J. Bloor