Throughout history, very little attention was given to the welfare of the soldiers, either their material or spiritual welfare. And their families were largely ignored. Soldiers for their part often joined up at least in part because of the possibility of plunder. This began to change in the 19th century. During the Civil War the Christian Commission was founded to minister to the soldiers. The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) was responsible for founding the Christian Commission. This at the time was a relatively new group. YMCA leaders as their members began going off to war became concerned with their religious and spiritual needs aswell as the new recruits drilling in encampments appearing all over the country, including the Y's in the major cities. Vincent Colyer from the New York City Y was aeader in this new effort. He began visiting encampments near New York City where the were assemnling and training for the war. Many were young and had never been away from home before. Colyer circulated in the camps, offered words of encouragement to the men, and passed out religious tracts. Chaplains had served in the various branches of the United States armed forces since their formation (18th century), including in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Congress authorized the hiring of an Army chaplain in 1791. The effort at the time of the Civil War, however, was still very limited.
Few of the large numbers of Civil War camps had chaplains. Colyer's private efforts were thus greatly appreciated by both the ordinary soldiers as well as their officers. Seeing an obvious need, the New York Y set up an 'Army Committee' and selected Colyer to head it. They assigned the Committee the mission to provide preachers for services, individual religious visitation, and Christian publications for soldiers. This was just the beginning. The New York Y contacted other Ys around the country. Other Ys around the country saw the need as well. The New Yprk Y sponsored a convention of 50 delegates representing 15 different YMCAs (November 1861). The delegated agreed to establish a 'Christian Commission' of 12 members to work out a plan for the YMCA to act as a clearinghouse for religious work in the rapidly expanding military. The Commission was set up at the national level. The national organization incouraged individual Ys to support the national organization as well as organize their own local activities. Here locl Ys took different approches. Some merged into local branches of the Christian Commission or set up their own army committees. The national Commision opened an office in Philadelphia. The well-established Ys in Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Louisville, New York, St. Louis, and St. Paul became regional clearinghouses for the Commission. George H. Stuart in Philadelphiaassumned aeading position. He was the founder and first president of the Philadelphia YMCA. He then chaired the YMCA's Central Committee. He was selected as National Chairman of the Commission and he served inthat position throughout the War. The Commission operated by appointing volunteer 'delegates', normally fo short priods about 6 weeks.
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