STATE OF ILLINOIS — EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT,
SPRINGFIELD, February 2, 1863.
Gentlemen of the General Assembly:
I had the honor in my biennial message, now before yon, of calling your attention to the condition and wants of the sick and wounded volunteers from this State, and of recommending the adoption of certain pleasures for their benefit. The necessity and importance of making some adequate and efficient provision are being daily pressed upon me from camp, field and hospital.
The urgency and frequency of these demands induce me to call your especial attention to the subject.
The duty of caring for our invalid and distressed soldiers must be admitted by all. The obligation rests with tenfold force upon those who have the power to act in the name and by the authority of the whole people of the State. Individual efforts has heretofore accomplished much, but the duty of the State not only to co-operate with private enterprise but to take the advance in the noble work, is plain and paramount.
No disagreement relating to the conduct of the war, as to the proper policy to be pursued, as to the propriety of the measures proposed to bring the war to a successful issue, should for a moment interfere with this duty. No misconduct on the part of the Government or of its agents, real or supposed, should justify, neglect or excuse delay in this respect. Opposition to the Government and to the war it is waging for its integrity and perpetuity should end where the destitution and perils of our soldiers begin. When this country called for their services they responded with alacrity and enthusiasm. It was enough for them to know that their country needed their strong arms and willing hands. Forsaking homes, kindred and friends, bidding adieu to all the hallowed relations of life, sacrificing place, position and every business interest, they exchanged them all for the hardships and dangers of the camp and field. Such a specimen of the spontaneous uprising of a great and prosperous people the world never witnessed. Animated with one feeling and one purpose, with a glow of fervid patriotism rising far above the ties of affection itself, they cast every other consideration aside but that of their country's rights and honor. They grasped the sword and took their lives in their hands. Some have died on the march, some in camps, some in hospitals and others with face to the foe, in the van of the fight — all covered with glory. Undying fame is the heritage of all.
These our brave and noble sons and brothers are, many of them, in actual want. They call upon us for help. They ask of us that of our abundance we will give and give freely to alleviate their sufferings. The nature and extent of these sufferings will more fully appear, by reference to the extracts from a few of the many communication addressed to me on this subject, herewith submitted.
In entering the army it is not to be supposed that a soldier would not anticipate exposure and sickness; but he also anticipated, and had right to expect, that when his health was destroyed, his country would care for him; that they, for whom he had sacrificed so much, would, at least, give the poor return of watching over him in distress, and of supplying his wants.
I desire, at this time, to direct your attention more particularly to the condition of our soldiers in general hospitals.
The regulations of the army provide for a certain kind of attention to be paid to invalid soldiers in hospitals. The Government furnishes surgeons and nurses, and essential sanitary supplies. It does all that could be expected, and more than any other; yet the magnitude of the task, reaching as it does through an army of a million of men, over wide extent of country, renders it impossible that it should always be well performed. That neglect, inefficiency, and official abuse, should creep in, should not excite our surprise. The Government may make ample provisions and do well its part, but it cannot insure perfection in its agents; it cannot, always, and at once, remove careless, disqualified and corrupt officers, nor provide against the lamentable results of their misconduct.
Many soldiers have been languishing in hospitals, who have not received their well earned pay for months. In numberless cases the pay is needed towards the support of families. Many are sent to hospitals, who ought to have been discharged at once, and others have been kept there long after they should have been sent home. Hundreds complain that they are not well treated; and, for the want of proper attention, either die or are compelled to abandon, when but partially cured, what to them should be an asylum of recovery and rest. Many again, are turned away and denied admission, in the absence of properly authenticated papers; and still more present themselves, who are not only afflicted with disease but completely destitute, so that when they do receive their long delayed release they are unable to reach their homes, for the want of means.
The stores contributed by sanitary commissions are frequently diverted from their proper destination, and those, for whom they were intended, deprived of the benefits to be derived therefrom.
Heretofore, to the extent of the means within my power, I have sent agents to nearly every hospital in which Illinois soldiers were located with instructions to inquire into their condition and treatment, and to relieve them, in every way possible. Those agents have labored faith fully and well, producing the most salutary results. They have advanced funds, provided transportation, secured discharges, corrected informal papers, written letters to friends from the dying, and paid the last tribute of respect to the dead. Hundreds, through their humane efforts, are
5now restored to health and homes, who, but for them, would still be wasting away in loathsome wards or lying in the stranger's grave. These agents were necessarily limited in number, and being restricted in time, distributed their labors in the various hospitals as much as possible, in order to reach all. Before they accomplished their work at one place loud calls reached them from another and hastened their departure from their incomplete work.
What is at present needed is a permanent agent at each principal capital. It is estimated that there are now over fifteen thousand Illinois soldiers on the sick list, the greater portion of them being confined in hospitals. It is impossible that a mere itinerant agency can accomplish what is required. Some one should be constantly present to represent the interest of the Illinois soldier; to see that he does not suffer from neglect or inattention; to see that no reasonable wish is denied to him; to protect him from corrupt officials and swindling sharpers; to see that he is discharged and sent home when he can no longer serve his country; to supply the destitute and friendless with clothes and needed means; to communicate with relatives and friends; in fact, to minister to them in all that is good and kind. Such an officer will do incalculable good; he will be a refuge for the weak, a comfort to the distressed, a friend to the friendless. He will encourage the desponding, smooth the pillows of the dying, and bury the dead. He will show that their beloved State is true to them; that she will not forsake them; that though they are on a foreign soil, its broad aegis is over and around them, to shield and protect them. Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and other States, I am advised, are pursuing the course here indicated. Shall Illinois be behind any other in her devotion to her noble volunteers? They have illustrated every virtue of the patriot and hero, and won for our State a name and a fame, wide-spread throughout the world. Shall we repay them with ingratitude and contempt? No plea of inability can be interposed. The modicum of means required, would not be a tithe of what we justly owe. Demands a hundred fold greater, but less just, could be met and never felt by us, while no expenditure could be made that would bring a surer and more profitable return. I therefore, recommend: First, that a law be passed authorizing the appointment of a State Agent at each of the following places: St. Louis, Keokuk, Quincy, Cairo, Louisville, Cincinnati, Nashville, Jackson, Tenn., Memphis, and other places where it may be deemed expedient and necessary. Secondly, that a sufficient sum be appropriated to carry the agency and its appendages into successful operation.
Relying upon the early action of the Legislature, in the premises, and being without funds for that purpose, nearly all the agents heretofore appointed have been withdrawn. Action, in this matter, should no longer be delayed. The emergency is pressing, and I still rely with confidence upon the patriotism and philanthropy of the General Assembly, to meet this call upon them promptly and liberally.
RICHARD YATES, Governor.
Your attention is again called to the following extracts of letters of the foregoing subject.
William Fithian, in a letter, dated Corinth, January 3d, 1863, say:
"I beg, however, respectfully to suggest two wants, quite apparent to observation, in the field. One is this: Competent local agents, duly to forward and distribute the benevolent stores, as directed and needed. The other need, of importance, is, more homes for feeble, intransit soldiers; or one State establishment, of the kind, of such comprehensive authority and means, as to meet all the wants in general. And such establishment should have intimate connection with a sanitary depot since on such stores it must largely depend for supplies."
John R. Woods, in a letter, dated Woodville, near Upper Alton, October 13th, 1862, says:
"I deem it, to be my duty, however, to submit for your consideration two or three matters in which our sick and wounded soldiers are interested: First, with regard to the trouble, expense and most vexatious delay many of the poor fellows are subjected to, in getting their pay. My attention was specially called to a number of instances, in which after a great many fruitless efforts had been made to secure their descriptive rolls, the disheartened soldier felt like giving it up in despair and could hardly form any other conclusion than that their officers had conspired to swindle them out of their well-earned dues. Such a conclusion, of course, is without foundation; but it must be admitted that, some of these officers are guilty of the most shameful and reprehensible neglect.
"It strikes me that provisions should be made for the prompt payment of those in hospitals, whose papers might reach them during the intervals between the official visits of the paymaster. And this could be easily done, by placing a sufficient sum in the hands of a responsibly party, who, in presence of the Surgeon in charge, could pay every soldier whenever he presented his true voucher. Such a course would save many a heartache and serve to keep alive the fire of patriotism in the breasts of our noble boys."
L. C. Taylor, and twenty-five others, in a letter, dated Gallatin, November 29th, 1862, write as follows:
"We, the undersigned, are convalescents in Gallatin, Tenn., and will not be able for duty soon, unless a different treatment is procured. And we ask you to assist us, for our benefit. We have no accommodations here, of any kind, on account of so many sick, that it is impossible, and we are getting worse instead of better. * * * * And we ask you for relief, if it is possible. Send us a permit to come home so that proper care can be taken of us. * * * "
Norman C. Russel, U. S. Hospital, Quincy, Ills., says:
"I have been in hospital for almost six months, and I am no better than I was when I went in, and getting worse instead of better.
7Vardner, Medical Director of the army of the Tennessee, ordered me to be discharged, when I was in the Regimental Hospital, but my captain would not give me my final statement. I inclose a copy of the certificate, so that you may read it. The certificate I got with my descriptive roll about a month and a half ago, but they still keep me here, and no signs of discharge as yet. You will please to write and tell me that you can do for me."
E. S. Harris, Hospital No. 18, Louisville, Ky., Dec. 17, 1862, says:
"I ask a grant from you, that all soldiers in my position ought to have; that is, a permission for a discharge from the United States' service. * * * * I do not ask this because I want to get out of the service, but because I am no good to myself or to my country. I have not done a day's work since I enlisted. I have been examined by three army physicians, and they all report my case the same, that is, I never will be any good to the United States. I have been lying around in different hospitals, for the last two months, and cannot get a discharge or furlough, nor money to send to my wife and children, who are suffering for the want of my support."
Henry Hall, Hospital No. 1, New Albany, Ind., December 14th, 1862, says:
"I have lain in hospital since August last, and don't improve any. * * * I have been a dead expense to the Government for the last four months. I have not been able to get out of my bed for the last four months, and there is no prospect of it. My doctor took my name for examination, but the Medical Director has not come around yet."
M. K. Taylor, Surgeon in charge U. S. General Hospital, Keokuk, Iowa, December 22d, 1862:
"On my taking charge of these General Hospitals, on the first of last September, I found the soldiers, discharged from service on account of disability, subjected to the most outrageous impositions, by parties on the alert to buy up their claims for pay and allowances. It was necessary to send the papers to St. Louis for settlement, and many were so anxious to get home, and ignorant of what amount was justly their due, or sick and unable to determine what was best for their interest, that he facilities to speculate in papers of this kind, and practice the grossest frauds, were very great. Men were charged from ten to forty dollars, by parties engaged in this business, for making these collections, when the time required to make them did not exceed a week or ten days. Feeling that these men were grossly wronged in this matter, I wrote to Gov. Kirkwood, of this state, and laid the facts before him, and suggested that the difficulty might be entirely removed, by the appointment of an agent with a small sum in his hands, from which advances could be made to the discharged soldier, and he be allowed to go home, await the collection of what was due by the agent, who would first deduct the amount advanced, and send the balance, together with the discharge papers, to the soldier's address, as desired. * * *
8Upon these representations, Governor Kirkwood appointed Col. J. C. Todd, of his own staff, as the agent, of Iowa. * * * *
"The Governor of Wisconsin, has also sent a like agent, who has been here now about three weeks. * * * * One of the great necessities for an agency of this kind, arises from this fact, namely, that many men sent to Northern hospitals, have no descriptive rolls, owing in part, to the negligence of their company officers, and in other cases to their being lost or mislaid, while in transit. * * * *
"Under orders from the War Department, I am authorized to send men home who should be discharged, and let them await the completion of their papers, but in most instances they are unable to avail themselves of this privilege, except as they sell their discharges for one half or three-fourths of what they are really worth. * * * * The amount so advanced is no loss to the State, as the money is replaced out of the moneys collected on the soldiers' papers." * * * *
H. H. Kellogg, in letter dated Nashville, Tenn., says:
"There are a very large portion of the sick who will never be able to perform duty in the army. The surgeons will tell you, at once, the ought to be discharged; yet, having no friends to move in their behalf it will take weeks to get them discharged. Thus, indeed, many of them will get their discharge only from the grave. A suitable man can effect great good by a labor of this kind, and the more as he gains the confidence of those having this business in charge.
"I undertook to procure the discharge of my son, and two others of the same company. I was told by their colonel, and others, that would not accomplish it in less than a month, yet in four days I completed the work. The system adopted in respect to nurses I deem very defective. Most of the nurses are convalescent soldiers, who are not fit for duty in the camp, and are not well pleased in being detailed as nurses, evince little or no sympathy with the patients, are sometimes intemperate and brutal. A different class of persons should be obtained, at least in part, as nurses. The hospitals should have closer supervision, and be kept in a more cleanly state."