First Annual Report of the Ladies' Springfield Soldiers Aid Society.
August 28th, 1862.
But little more than a year has passed since our country was roused from dreams of peace and prosperity, by the outbreak of a most wicked rebellion, and slowly and reluctantly, by lessons taught at the cannon's mouth, or traced in character of blood, has it been brought to realize the full magnitude of the contest in which it is thereby involved.
What men have nobly and unhesitatingly rushed by thousands, to rescue, from impending peril, a government rendered dearer than life itself by a long experience of its wisdom and beneficence, the women of the land, in a spirit of patriotism no less heroic, have bid them go forth, and though unable to share the dangers and privations incident to the soldier's life, have followed them with prayers, breathed from lonely, aching hearts, and so far as is possible, with the homes comforts so unselfishly cast aside. They feel that to sit with idly folded hands, to be engrossed by pleasure and frivolity, or selfishly absorbed in the daily domestic and social routine, while husbands, sons and brothers are offering up their heart's blood upon freedom's altar, would prove them totally unworthy the enjoyment of the high and holy privileges secured at so terrible a cost.
Moved by sentiments like these, and belief in the greater efficiency of combined action, a few ladies in response to a notice given from the pulpits of the city, assembled in Cook's Hall on the 28th of August, 1861, and decided to unite their efforts, in behalf of our brave volunteers, under the name of Ladies' Springfield Soldiers' Aid Society, the payment of twenty-five cents constituting a membership. We commenced our labors in the belief that they would be required only a few months; but the dark cloud marching over the Southern horrizon, which we hoped to see speedily dispelled, has assumed more and more gigantic proportions till it polluted with its baleful shadows every portion of our beloved country; and the close of our first anniversary brings with it the prospect of arduous unremitting toil for a long time to come.
In order to meet the frequent calls coming to us from hospitals where brave men are languishing from wounds or sickness, contracted in their country's service, we have often found it necessary busily to ply our needles every day in the week, from morning till night, and to hold many evening meetings for the making of slippers and bandages. Though the society now numbers over 160 members, the average attendance has not exceeded twenty or thirty.
Thus far we have been allowed to gratuitous use of central and commodious rooms, a favor which we have ever most gratefully appreciated.
Early in the past summer, the U. S. Quartermaster in this city, by the kind offer of a Government contract for furnishing the prisoners hospitals of Camp Butler with a large number of articles, afforded us an opportunity which we gladly accepted to increase the funds of the Society by our own exertion. With this exception we have depended entirely upon loyal, patriotic friends for the means required to carry out our designs; and though the discouragement attending an empty treasury has more than once been experienced by us, they have never failed promptly to replenish it. Public entertainments have been given for our benefit, and we have received a few very liberal donations in money and material. Substantial proofs of patriotic sympathy have come to us from a number of the neighboring towns, and several ladies, residing at too great a distance from the city to attend our meetings, are worthy of especial mention for the timely and efficient aid they have rendered us. Within the last few weeks our work as been greatly facilitated by the use of two sewing machines, kindly lent to our rooms by the agent of Wheeler & Wilson, in this city. The U. S. Express Company has enlarged our field of usefulness by transmitting our boxes free of charge, and the city press has stood ever ready to help us onward by granting us the free use of its columns. We are indebted to many friends for assistance rendered in ways too numerous for separate mention and gladly take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to all.
In the hospitals at Camp Butler we have enjoyed the rare privilege of acquainting ourselves by personal observation, with the wants of army hospitals generally, and of assuring ourselves that we are not laboring in vain. The tear of gratitude which has started to the eye of the sick soldier, as the wisp of straw beneath has aching head has been replaced by the soft pillow, and the earnest thanks which have greeted us for not forgetting those suffering far away form home and friends, have proved an ample compensation for all we have been able to accomplish, and far outweigh the many discouragements which have beset our path. Among them, and in the camp generally, we have distributed hundreds of books, magazines, tracts, newspapers, and quite a large number of testaments, placed in our hands by the Springfield Agent of the Sangamon County Bible Society. Books never fail to meet an eager welcome, and we are convinced that a vast amount of good might be accomplished, could every army hospital be supplied with the kind of reading best adapted at once to interest and instruct. We take pleasure in acknowledging the kindness of those gentlemen who have taken many articles from us to the hospitals, when we have been unable to visit them in person.
While feeling that the sick soldiers in our immediate vicinity should ever claim our chief attention, we have not forgotten those far away, and during the year twenty-nine boxes of supplies have been sent to the hospitals of Cairo, Bird's Point, Mound City, Paducah, Cape Girardeau, Shawneetown, Keokuk, the St. Louis Sanitary Commission, the Mississippi harbor fleet, and to the wounded upon the field immediately after the battles of Fort Donelson and Shiloh. The following articles were contained in these boxes or distributed at Camp Butler: 500 cotton shirts, 3 flannel shirts, 522 pair cotton drawers, 259 pair woolen socks, 122 pair cotton socks, 155 pair slippers, 23 calico wrappers, 29 pair mittens, 186 bed sacks, 243 sheets, 255 feather pillows, 9 moss pillows, 154 pillow ticks, 676 pillow cases, 4 blankets, 102 comfortables, 213 linen handkerchiefs, 576 towels, 11 curtains, eye shakes, 12 furnished needle books, 18 pin cussions, 231 palm leaf fans, 2,492 bandages, 13 boxes adhesive plaster, 24 pounds castile soap, 190 pounds cornstarch, barley, farnia, tea crackers, etc; lint, sponges, pins, old cotton and linen; dried, canned, preserved and pickled fruits; jams, jellies, foreign and domestic wine and cordials. Of articles somewhat worn: 312 cotton shirts, 6 flannel shirts, 112 pair cotton drawers, 13 pair summer pantaloons, 19 summer coats, 21 comfortables, 13 sheets, 11 blankets, 234 towels and 76 pocket handkerchiefs.
In addition to this list we have furnished 146 articles of clothing for female nurses in the hospitals of Cairo, Paducah and elsewhere.
We close the year in responding to an urgent call from the Surgeon of the Mississippi harbor fleet for the supplies rendered necessary by the enlargement of the hospital boat to accommodate fifty more patients. This will nearly exhaust our treasury, but past experience has taught us to work hopefully on, trusting that generous friends will not fail us in time of need.
Assertions are constantly coming to us from various sources, that sanitary commissions and soldier and societies are imposing upon themselves an utterly useless task, as the fruits of their labor are invariably diverted from the intended destination by dishonest hands. Such reports, we feel assured, have served more than anything else to deaden an interest in our cause, and therefore deem it our duty to make some reply. We cannot deny that there are too many connected with our army heartless and base enough to commit this wrong, but even then we believe it to be, we confess our inability to see how the unfaithfulness of others can form any excuse for our own neglect of duty. It seems to us impossible that any one who will take a little pains to acquaint himself with facts, can for a moment doubt that the wide stream of beneficence steadily flowing from sanitary commissions and the lesser one mingling with it from soldier aid societies, while serving to strengthen the chain of sympathy which binds the soldier to his distant home, are relieving an incalculable amount of suffering and saving thousands of precious lives. We take the liberty to quote a passage in reference to this subject from the private letter of a clergyman formerly connected with the St. Louis Sanitary Commission, now a Chaplain in our army. In alluding to the reports we have mentioned, he says: "Such conduct is deserving of the severest censure and punishment, and there may be here and there, an officer so wanting in honesty and humanity as to be guilty of it, but it cannot be that this is the general character of our army officers. If I thought it were, I should give up all hope of my country and mankind. On the contrary, we have constant intercourse with officers and cooperating with the Commission, for the cure and kind treatment of the sick and suffering in our Western army." A lady who, since the commencement of the war, has devoted most of her time to caring for the sick and wounded of our army, and has enjoyed unusual opportunities on which to form her judgment, writes to a member of our society: "If those who contribute so liberally could only see the good they are doing, their hearts and hands would be strengthened to continue in the good work so long as there remains a necessity." Similar testimony might be multiplied almost indefinitely. The boxes sent by us have invariably reached their destination, and have been acknowledged with many warm expressions of gratitude.
Let us yield neither to weariness nor discouragement. Life is invested with new reality and earnestness by the opportunities God is bestowing to serve Him and our country. May we not prove unmindful of the sacred trust.
While praying that the blessings of peace may soon be vouchsafed to our now distracted country, let us resolve that so long as men must bleed and die upon the field of conflict, we too will be found, ever vigilant and faithful, at our allotted post of duty.
MRS. L. TILTON, Secretary.