Return to Freedmen Aid Societies
First Annual Report of the Maryland Union Commission
May 1, 1866
Baltimore: Sherwood & Co. 1866
Officers

President.
G. S. GRIFFITH.

Vice-Presidents.
1. Rev. C. DICKSON, D. D.
2. J C. BRIDGES.
3. Hon. J. M. FRAZIER.

Treasurer.
J. N. BROWN.
Corner Calvert and Baltimore Sts.

Corresponding Secretary
W. A. WISONG.

Recording Secretary.
Rev. E. R. ESCHBACH.

Financial Agent.
Rev. 0. M. McDOWELL.

Board of Managers
Rev. CYRUS DICKSON, D. D.,
Rev. H DUNNING,
Hon. J. M. FRAZIER,
JOHN N. BROWN,
WM. A. RODENMAYER,
GIDEON BANTZ, Frederick, Md.
Rev J. S. FOULK,
G. S. GRIFFITH.
J. C. BRIDGES,
WM. B. CANFIELD,
W. F. GARY,
Rev. JOHN KULLING,
J. HENRY GIESE,
Rev. E. R. ESCHBACH,
JNO. L. REID,
Rev. FIELDER ISRAEL,
Rev. I. P. COOK,
W. A. WISONG,
R. H. WILLIAMS, Frederick. Md.
Rev. J. G. WARE,
Rev. GEO. P NICE,
HENRY W. DRAKELY,
W.M. BRIDGES,
JESSE TYSON,
R. M. JANNY,
SAM'L. M. SHOEMAKER,
Rev. GEO. P. HAYS,
Rev. SAM'L. BARNES,
Rev. J. 0. MILLER, York, Pa.
A. M. CARTER.

Executive Committee
G. S. GRIFFITH, Chairman.
WM. BRIDGES,
JESSE TYSON,
WM. B. CANFIELD,
JOHN L. REID,
J HENRY GEISE,
J. N. BROWN,
J. C BRIDGES,
Dr. J. C. THOMAS.

THE ORIGIN.
On the 18th of April, 1865, while the blood stains were yet   fresh upon the battle-fields, feeling the pressure of the
want and woe of our fellow-countrymen at the South, at the instigation of G. S. Griffith, Esq., a meeting was convened
at the rooms of the Christian Commission, 91 West Baltimore street, to take into consideration the propriety of an
organization, the object of which should be to ameliorate the condition of the suffering thousands in the South.
Similar associations had been formed in other cities, New York being the central, others auxiliary. The Christian and
Sanitary Commissions, whose noble work had been known and read of all men, had ceased to exist with the war. At
this meeting it was unanimously resolved to appoint a committee, consisting of Messrs. John N. Brown, Wm. B.
Canfield, Dr. J. C. Thomas and Rev. E. R. Eschbach, to make all necessary arrangements, and to call a more
general meeting at as early a day as possible, for the purpose of a permanent organization. There was no time for
delay, and accordingly but little was spent in perfecting the plan intended. A meeting was called at the rooms of the
Young Men's Christian Association, 1G0 W. Baltimore street, a Constitution was adopted, officers and Board of
Managers elected, and every necessary arrangement completed for the speedy accomplishment of its benevolent
mission.

PLAN AND PURPOSES.
The avowed purpose of this Society, as set forth in the first article of the Constitution, was to "co-operate with the
people of the South in rendering assistance to those who were in want and had been impoverished by the ravages of
war, and to save for the country by timely generosity the thousands of refugees whom the tides of war had cast upon
our hands."

The assistance was to consist in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked; in providing employment for the able,
and homes tor the disabled ; in furnishing the husbandmen with seed, corn, and the implements of industry ; in
assisting others to reach distant homes and relations, who were able to assist them. The entire work of the
Commission was to be carried on upon a basis of Industry, Education, Freedom and Christian Morality. That
there was great necessity for some such organization not a doubt existed in the minds of true philanthropists. The
messages borne upon every breeze from the South were appeals for help. Multitudes had been suddenly
impoverished ; thousands, whose happy homes once rang with the music of merry voices, were now overwhelmed
with the disasters of a ruinous war, and hushed to a moody silence in the despair of an almost hopeless destitution.
The farmer looked wearily around him, being deprived of every means to secure a harvest. His implements, seed, all
were gone.

Everything was lost in many districts. Appeals without number came up with increasing earnestness from the land of
woe. Everywhere the signal of distress was held up to catch the eye and secure the attention of disinterested
benevolence. All agreed that something must be done. How and by what means the money was to be raised for the
purpose was now the question to be settled by this organization.

PROGRESS.
The first movement of importance was to call a public meeting, that the purposes of this Society might be presented
to the people, and their sympathy and co-operation be secured, without which there could be no success. This
meeting was accordingly convened in the Charles street M. E. Church. Revs. Drs. Cyrus Dickson, Thomas Bewail,
with several others, addressed the meeting in behalf of the Commission. The appeals made by these speakers
produced the desired effect. They were pointed, earnest, able, and created a proper impression as to the
importance of the work contemplated. A new impetus was given to the Commission, and a more permanent and
decided form to its organization, as well as to its operations. Soon after a second meeting was deemed expedient,
which was held on the evening of the first of June, the day appointed by the President as a day of humiliation
and prayer, with reference to the late lamented President Lincoln.

On the appointed evening the house was well filled, Mr. G. S. Griffith presiding. After the necessary preliminaries,
Rev. Geo. P. Hays arose and stated that the necessity of organizing a Union Commission in Baltimore appeared from
the number of refugees that daily flocked to the Christian Commission rooms for help to return to their homes, from
which they had, been driven by a merciless conscription. Twenty-five and thirty are coming daily. And then the utter
destitution of many portions of country where the armies had passed and repassed, devouring and destroying
everything, forced upon the community the necessity of some organization to meet this condition of things. The
money and stores contributed for the relief of the sick and wounded soldiers and sailors could not be diverted from
its original design. Many confounded the U. S. Christian Commission and the American Union Commission, by
supposing they were one and the same thing. The U. S. Christian Commission had been organized with
reference to the army and navy, but the Union Commission had been organized with reference to citizens that had
been reduced to poverty and distress by the war.

He was followed by Rev. Dr. Cyrus Dickson, who, in a very interesting manner, gave an account of the origin and
history of the American Union Commission, which had really begun its operations a few hours after the evacuation of
Richmond, distributing to all alike without discrimination. Besides the vast quantities of flour, bacon, tea, coffee,
sugar, crackers, &c, &c, there were other arrangements made for the relief and comfort of the destitute. The
necessity of further aid was then earnestly pressed upon the audience by a faithful representation of the prevailing
distress. As motives, a common Christianity and j^patriotism were urged. Eev. Lyman Abbott, Secretary of the
Commission in New York, followed in an address explaining the character of the Commission, its objects and plans,
its work, and the means of its operation.

His picture of the condition of the South, illustrated as it was by affecting incidents of the suffering, could not but
move the audience. Rev. Isaac P. Cook, in a few pertinent remarks, corrected the erroneous impression that the
Commission was intended to encourage and foster those who had labored to overthrow the Government. The
meeting was a success, the collection amounting to over twelve hundred dollars. The notices of the press were
kind and encouraging, and the exercises were regarded as a fitting close to the solemnities of the day. The work
went on successfully ; agents were appointed to collect, others to disburse the funds. These were at very small
expense to the Commission. In a short time* the entire Shenandoah Valley was explored by a competent committee,
and agencies established all along the route from Winchester to Woodstock, from Berry ville to Charlestown, for
gratuitous co-operation and distribution. Others volunteered to do freely the work of the Society in the way of
exploring the field and relieving the destitute, among whom were Revs. W. S. Edwards and J. 0. Miller.

Meanwhile, letters came daily from the needy, representing all classes of society and all parts of the country. In
response to these letters of application, goods and medicines of every description were forwarded to agents for
distribution, or to individuals whose need was well authenticated. Blessings were thus conveyed to thousands, and
many households were made glad through the aid we were enabled to furnish them. At a meeting of the Executive
Committee in New York on the 9th of January, 1866, the proposition of uniting with the Freedmen's Aid Society was
submitted to the Commission by the Parent Society of New York.

Up to this time the Commission had sustained the relation of an auxiliary to that of New York. The proposition was
made in order to preserve the union of the Parent Society with the Baltimore organization, in the event of a union with
the former, with the Freedmen's Aid Society. This proposition was, however, unanimously declined upon the ground
that the government and agencies already at work were showing proper interest in the welfare of the colored race. It
was thought, too, by reason of our peculiar surroundings, such a union would be inexpedient, if not disastrous, to the
Commission here. There was no question as to the propriety and humanity of caring for them ; but that work being in
the hands of those whose opportunities qualified them for it, it was deemed unwise to enter into a new relation. From
this time the Maryland Union Commission became a distinct and independent organization, and as such issued new
appeals to the people of Maryland, to which there were liberal responses. As the winter came on with greater
severity, applications for aid became more numerous, and editorial as well as individual representations still more
painful. The Richmond Republic, a loyal and trustworthy paper, described the state of things as " enough to melt the
sternest heart, bidding fair to assume proportions of horror in the approaching winter, which curdled the blood to
contemplate. Money is scarce ; means of subsistence high. The wheat crop throughout the South is a failure, and
though the corn crop is an unusually fine one for the area cultivated, yet the area, owing to the obstructions in
planting from various causes, is exceedingly limited. It makes the heart bleed to think of the suffering which, if some
efficient measures are not adopted for relief, may be the terrible lot of thousands of our people when the rigors
of winter shall aggravate the horrors of the present destitution."

A letter from Rev. C. A. Raymond, Judge of the United States Military Court of the District of the Peninsula of Virginia,
to the President of the Commission, sets forth the same picture of want and woe. " Perhaps," he writes, " in no part of
the South has there been more general deprivations than in the counties just above us. There are now but few
portions of the country whose prospect for the future are more gloomy than theirs. Not that this section has ever
been a battle-ground merely, but from the fact that, at the beginning of the war, under the influence of simple panic,
nearly the whole peninsula was abandoned. After an absence of nearly four years of unparalleled want and
suffering, the survivors returned to find their homes occupied by others, their stock consumed, and their personal
effects, as well as other implements of husbandry, destroyed. Many are widows, many orphans, and the winter, with
all its severities in prospect, threatens accumulated misery. They need everything, especially bedding, clothing,
wheat for seed, and farming implements." To meet this want, new and fresh efforts had to be made. Already the
treasury had been overdrawn by former demands, while every new revelation proved the suffering and want equal to
the most painful description. Circulars were issued, setting forth in a condensed form this state of things, together
with the objects of the Society, and sent to the pastors of the various congregations throughout the State. These
served a good purpose. As a result, hundreds of dollars were contributed for the work by churches and individuals.
With an increase of funds, there was a corresponding ability to effect the purposes of the Commission. It is but
proper to state that, while the Commission was intent upon relieving the temporal wants of sufferers, they by no
means neglected the important matter of the mind and morals ; for this purpose near ten thousand Bibles,
testaments, tracts, religious papers, books and periodicals, were distributed among them, which were appreciated,
and we have good reason to believe that, through the blessing of God, they have been the means of accomplishing
great good.
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