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318 Elmer L. Andersen Library, University of Minnesota, 222 21st Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55455

An Inventory of Its United States Christian Commission Records

Historical Sketch | Contents Summary/Organization | Administrative/Access Info | Contents Details | Other Finding Aids | Indexed Terms/Access Points


Creator: National Board of the Young Men's Christian Associations. Armed Services Dept., compiler.
Title: United States Christian Commission-related records.
Date: 1881-1976.
Collection Number: Y.USA.4-3
Abstract: Reports, facsimiles of commissions and correspondence, and historical information about the United States Christian Commission, an organization founded by the YMCA to provide spiritual services to soldiers during the Civil War.
Quantity: 1.2 cu. ft (4 boxes).
Location: See Detailed Description section for box listing.


Soon after the start of the Civil War, YMCA leaders became concerned with the religious and spiritual needs of the soldiers in the nearby camps. Vincent Colyer, a member of the New York City YMCA, had begun spending time visiting nearby encampments where soldiers were stationed temporarily on their way to the battle front. Colyer mingled with the soldiers, offered words of encouragement, and handed out religious tracts. Since few camps had chaplains, the chaplaincy then being in its infancy, Colyer's ministrations were welcomed by both the soldiers and their officers. As a result of these activities, and the apparent need to extend them, the New York Association established an "Army Committee" with Colyer as chairman, with its mission to provide preaching services, individual religious visitation, and publications for soldiers.

In November, 1861, at the instigation of members of the board of the New York City YMCA, a special convention of fifty delegates representing fifteen YMCAs met in New York. A "Christian Commission" of twelve members was appointed to devise a plan for the Associations to act as a clearinghouse for all religious work in the armed forces. The work of the Commission was organized at the national level. Local Associations were encouraged to support the Commission while maintaining their own activities. Many Associations merged into local branches of the Christian Commission or resolved themselves into army committees in order to facilitate the work of the Commission. The national organization established an office in Philadelphia and the Associations of Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Louisville, New York, St. Louis, and St. Paul became regional clearinghouses for the various activities channeled through the Commission. George H. Stuart, founder and first president of the Philadelphia Association, and then chairman of the YMCA's Central Committee, was designated as Chairman of the Commission, a post he held throughout the war. The method of operation was the appointment of "delegates" who served on a volunteer basis for terms averaging six weeks.

The general aim of the Commission was "to promote the spiritual and temporal welfare of the soldiers in the army and the sailors in the Navy, in cooperation with the Chaplains." Its early activities included publication of a collection of familiar hymns, bible readings and prayers, devotional meetings in the camps, the organization of of a "working Christian force" in every regiment, and aiding and supporting chaplains. Though originally devised to provide spiritual sustenance, the activities of the Commission soon expanded into the physical and social realm, making the Commission a valuable agency of wartime relief. A newspaper report of its first annual meeting described the objects of the organization as, "the promotion of the intellectual, moral and religious welfare of the Army and Navy, buy suggesting needful national legislation and administration, securing well-qualified chaplains, encouraging Sabbath observance, promoting temperance, multiplying libraries, reading-rooms, and gymnasiums, and endeavoring to arouse the sentiment of the nation to a sense of its obligations to this class of citizens. Delegates, serving both at the front and behind the lines, established tents as social centers with stationery and periodicals provided, distributed emergency medical supplies, food, and clothing, and operated canteens and lending libraries. A special work of compassion performed by delegates of the Commission was the assembling of records of those buried from prisons and in certain major battle areas. Prisoner-of-war work, which was to figure more prominently in YMCA war work in later conflicts, also began during the Civil War.

The establishment of the Commission was a pivotal moment in the history of the YMCA movement in North America, which was then just ten years old. The work of the Commission provided the medium for large-scale cooperation between the Association and the general public and was significant in creating prestige for the YMCA movement. The value of the services rendered was recognized by civil and military authorities during the war and afterward.

After the surrender of the Confederacy in 1865, the Commission continued to minister to the troops until they were discharged from military service. At a meeting of the Executive Committee in December, the decision was made to terminate the work of the Commission on January 1, 1866. During its 4 years of operation, the Christian Commission sent nearly 5,000 agents into the field; distributed 95,000 packages, which included nearly 1.5 million portions or full scriptures, 1 million hymnbooks and over 39 million pages of tract. Total monies spent during the Civil War was estimated at over 6.2 million dollars.

Historical material adapted from Chapter 1, "How it All Began," of Serving the U.S. Armed Forced, 1861-1986: The Story of the YMCA's Ministry to Military Personnel for 125 Years, by Richard C. Lancaster; and from the collection.


Published reports, facsimiles of commissions and correspondence, publications, histories, and other background material on the United States Christian Commission, documenting the earliest YMCA-sponsored work with the armed services, which developed in response to the Civil War.


Use of Materials:
This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.
Preferred Citation:
[Indicate the cited item and/or series here]. Armed Services U.S. Christian Commission-related records. Kautz Family YMCA Archives. University of Minnesota.
See the Chicago Manual of Style for additional examples.
Processing Information:
Re-processed by: Chan Harries and Lara Friedman~Shedlov, December 2003.
Catalog Record ID number: 4339692


The following section contains a detailed list of the materials in the collection. To request materials, please note the corresponding box number.

Box 1 Provenance materials, 1888-1972.
Histories, 1864-1898, 1976.
The United States Army Young Men's Christian Association, graduation thesis by Charles Edward Crissey, 1917.
Covering the time period from the Civil War to Mexican border work.
"The YMCA goes to War", article in Civil War Times Illustrated, 2001.
Excerpts from books containing information about the Christian Commission (facsimiles), 1877.
News clippings, undated and 1862, 1888.
Christian Work in the Army prior to the Organization of the U.S. Christian Committee, 1866.
Correspondence and reports, 1861-1866.
First annual report, 1863. 2 folders.
Second annual report, 1864. 2 folders.
Box 2 Third annual report, 1865. 2 folders.
Fourth annual report, 1866.
Second report of the Committee of Maryland, 1863. 2 folders.
Third report of the Committee of Maryland, 1864. 2 folders.
Box 3 "Reports of the U.S. Christian Commission: Army Work," 1861-1864. 1 volume.
Volume is a bound compilation of multiple publications and documents, including Report of the Christian Mission to the United States Army, 1861; The Soldier's Hymn Book; Christian Work in the Army prior to the organization of the United States Christian Commission, written by Cephas Brainerd; First Annual Report of the U.S. Christian Commission; Facts, Principles and Progress, 1863, 1864; also letters and short reports.
Record of the Federal Dead buried from Libby, Belle Isle, Danville and Camp Lawton Prisons and at City Point and the Field before Petersburg and Richmond, 1866.
Bound with Vincent Coyler's report to His Excellency Governor Fenton on the Reception and Care in the City of New York of the Soldiers returning from War.
Sixth and Seventh Annual Reports of the YMCA of Richmond, VA for the Years 1861 and 1862, 1862.
Eighth Annual Report of the YMCA of Richmond, VA for the Year 1863, 1863.
A Memorial Record of the New York Branch of the U.S. Christian Commission, 1866.
Box 4 Information for Army Meetings, 1864-1865. 3 folders.
Christian Commission documents, including appointments, certificates, copies of letters of approval, 1862, 1865.
Instructions to delegates of the U.S. Christian Commission (facsimile), 1862.
Pamphlets and publications distributed by the Commission, undated.
Ladies Christian Commission: Auxiliary to the U.S. Christian Commission, 1864.
The War and the Christian Commission, 1865.
A Nation's Ebenezer, a discourse delivered by Rev. D. S. Doggett, D. D., 1862.
The Southern Church Justified in its Support of the South in the Present War; a lecture delivered by John Randolph Tucker, 1863.
Christ in the Army: A Selection of Sketches of the Work of the U.S. Christian Commission, 1865.
In and out of Andersonville by a Yank who Fooled the "Johnnies", 1883.
Program of a lecture delivered by Frank W. Smith, the general secretary of the Railroad YMCA.
Smith's Knapsack of Facts and Figures '61 to '65, 1884.


See the summary inventory for the YMCA Armed Services Records for information on other Armed Services records in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives. >> Go to the summary inventory


This collection is indexed under the following headings in the catalog of the University of Minnesota Libraries. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons or places should search the catalog using these headings.
Soldiers -- Religious life.
United States -- Armed Forces -- Military life.
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- War work -- Young Men's Christian Associations.
National Board of the Young Men's Christian Associations. Armed Services Dept.
United States Christian Commission.