Saturday, June 8, 2013

US Christian Commission Station Duties June 1862

What did the US Christian Commission Delegates do?  Anything and everything they could for the soldiers. 
    This summary from John Patterson gives us an excellent description of the many activities the Delegates engaged in to encourage the troops.  He was involved with the White House Christian Commission Station during June 1862, just before the retreat of the Eastern Army from the Peninsula:

    We had two tents and a cook-shed;  one tent for sleeping in, the other for storage.  We were three Delegates of the Commission, assisted by a young convalescent soldier, and cooked for by a negro boy and woman, whose hoe-cakes were our great solace three times a day.  We worked in pairs;  two at the hospital, two at the store-tent, and two at the cook-shed.  We tolerated no drones in our bee-hive.  When the negro boy was not employed in chopping wood and carrying water for Dinah, he was regaling himself and a circle of select admirers with a genuine Virginia "breakdown;"  and when Dinah had fixed up all the odds and ends about the tents, she began manufacturing corn-starch, in huge cauldrons-full, five or six times a day.  The two store-keepers were kept busy from morning to night by a hungry-looking crowd, which we called the "staff brigade," who begged for themselves, and their comrades incapable of locomotion.  Supplies were here dispensed in the shape of shirts, drawers, handkerchiefs, books, papers, combs, soap, pickles, sugar, tea, bread, and nearly everything eatable, wearable and usable to be found in a regular "Yankee-notion" country store.
    But the two itinerants had the most exacting and delicate duties.  It was theirs to visit the sick and dying, to bear them little comforts; to cheer the despondent;  to soothe the agony of some, the last moments of others;  to play, as occasion required, the parts of nurse, physician and clergyman.  Evening brought no rest.  The semi-secular employments of the day gave place to the religious labors of the night, and so pleasant and blessed were these, that we longed for the evening, when we could meet the eager congregations.
    We began early, and ended late -- so that more than once we paid the penalty of our protracted devotion, in arrest by the night guards, whose duty required them to stop all stragglers.  But the young Delegates were well known and easily recognized, and no authority would cage them.  Such meetings, too, as we enjoyed, would repay one for an occasional arrest, and for the dark and muddy walks by which they were reached.
    After a short sermon, studied between our tent and the church, came a prayer and inquiry meeting.  This was open to all.  One after another would lead in prayer, testify to a newly-found faith, or make an exhortation to his comrades.  Some were hoary-headed sinners;  others mere boys.  Some would flounder painfully as they tried to express their feelings, frequently bursting into tears;  while other would charm with the simplicity and power of their native eloquence.  From such men we had no difficulty in securing an effective corps of tract distributors.  Every morning a number of bronzed faces would look in at our tent door, and then, supplied with loads of tracts, papers, hymn books, &c., the men betook themselves to the different houses and tents, and to the camp of the "Lost Children."
    One day, the quiet was disturbed by the thunder of distant cannon.  Soon after stragglers from the front came in;  than a battery of field artillery which had desolated the path of the advancing enemy.  Then came the order to break up the hospital as soon as possible, which was interpreted to us to mean twelve hours.  That evening, all who could walk or hobble to our tents were there.  We distributed our entire remaining stock.  Farewell addresses, delivered by two of us, were answered by the hearty cheers of our audience, and the whole was concluded with a hymn.
[Incidents of the U.S. Christian Commission  1869 p.32-34]

    Such benevolence was repeated over and over in different locations and situations by the Delegates who volunteered their lives to minister to the soldiers far from home.  It is important to note how they blended spiritual help in with the practical help generously given.  They provided for the physical needs of the soldiers.  They engaged the soldiers personally and in group settings.  They pointed them to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  These Delegates took seriously Jesus' words that the righteous show their faith through compassion, even to the least of the brethren (Matt.25:31-46).
    The Christian Commission understood that our soldiers needed more than weapons and uniforms.  They needed compassionate encouragement to face the trials of war.  And they needed the eternal truth of the Gospel.