Soldier’s Aid Societies

By Alicia Miller

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The Union Soldier Monument stands guard, looking South from the Chambersburg Diamond. The same direction that many Confederate invasions took place from. 

How many of you are familiar with Soldier’s aid societies? Franklin County had its fair share of these societies during the Civil War, contributing all that they could for the welfare of their soldiers. At the outset of the war some women were reluctant to see their men join the army because they well understood the economic and emotional consequences of such action. These wives and sweethearts urged caution and counseled patience but they were in the minority and could not drown out the drumbeats that rallied communities to war. Most women supported the war and contributed to its conduct in numerous ways. Women on both sides of the mason and Dixon line took on roles that were quite similar during the war years. Clothing the first round of volunteers was but one way that they contributed to the initial rush to arms. They were expected to take care of the household and keep it running until the men returned. They also helped the war effort by sewing blankets, making bandages, joining nurse’s organizations and working at hospitals. Women rose to such challenges not only because they had the valuable skills of homemakers but also because they like their men folk had developed organizations ranging from sewing circles to temperance groups that allowed them to rally for quick collective action.

Soldiers Aid Societies became very prevalent in the war years on both side of the war. The Semi-Weekly Dispatch printed an article on January 28, 1862 urging the women of Pennsylvania to form Ladies’ Aid Societies in every village and town, as well as church and school societies, to make sure that all women contribute necessary supplies for the soldiers who are ill in hospitals throughout the Union.

Locally there were Ladies Societies in Mercersburg, Waynesboro, Chambersburg, Greencastle, and Fayetteville and they were very active both during the Civil War and the years following it. In 1861 the ladies of Chambersburg provided picket guards protecting the town with baskets of supplies and food, and presented a flag to the 7th and 8th regiments. In 1862 the Ladies of Waynesboro crafted a flag for the 126th Pennsylvania.

An article about the appreciation for the ladies societies in the area was in the Valley Spirit on July 30, 1862 entitled Our Patriotic Ladies: We visited, on Friday last, the Associate Reformed Church, which is occupied during the week by the Ladies Aid Society. We found the room pretty well filled with ladies, engaged in the noble, patriotic and christian duty of providing clothing, and other comforts, for our sick and wounded soldiers. We might say much in praise of our ladies, but this is an age in which noble deeds bring their own reward. We will say this much, however, the ladies of Chambersburg will compare with any in existence, in their efforts to provide for the wants, and relieve the suffering of our sick and wounded in the army. They have enlisted in the good cause their nimble fingers and their noble, warm and patriotic hearts with a will. All honor then to our ladies who have thus nobly evinced their patriotism and vindicated that judgment which the poet has pronounced upon their sex, and which the world has applauded. “When pain and anguish wring the brow, A ministering angel thou.”

The following article in Valley Spirit on May 6, 1863 is a striking comparison to the previous: How little is now in reserve for the next battle? With what remorse will every man and woman regret the indifferences of the present hour, when garments and various comforts are suddenly required? Heretofore hundreds of boxes were ready for shipment–now everything is lacking. The great rise in the price of material is one cause of this falling off; and this should render more imperative the duty of concentrating and sending through the most efficient channel all the stores which our loyal women furnish. Another cause of this falling off is in the weariness consequent upon this protracted war. But in the language of the President of the Commission, “As long as the men fight the women must knit and sew,” and the friends at home furnish means to alleviate the sorrows and wants of the camps and hospitals. Whatever you may have hitherto been doing, from this time consider how you can best and most surely reach the suffering soldier, where he is most exposed and most forgotten. Do not delay; do not abandon your efforts after a short time. You must enlist in the work for the war. It is the woman’s part in the patriotic struggle we are in.

In October 28, 1863, according to the Franklin Repository the Ladies Aid Society of Chambersburg reported some of their contributions to their soldiers in need: We forwarded in May and June 7 boxes containing the following goods (including a package from the ladies of Fayetteville, consisting of 4 shirts, 7 pair of drawers, 1 pair of pillow cases and 2 quilts,) 90 pillow cases, 62 pair drawers, 75 shirts, 14 bed sacks, 76 sheets, 127 towels, 68 handkerchiefs, 7 pair of stockings, 6 fans, 20 comforts, 15 quilts, 4 blankets, 22 wrappers, 4 pair of slippers and 14 pillows; also from friends in town and country a large quantity of canned and preserved fruit, bologna sausage, 14 doz. eggs, corn starch, jellies, butter.

In the latter years of the war many local ladies aid societies held held fairs benefitting Christian commission’s work for sick/diabled soldiers and by 1864, they were receiving letters from soldiers and officers asking them for items they needed and requesting the women to help supply them directly, certainly a sign of the need for such an organization and of the Aid Society’s success. In the years following the war the ladies aid societies of the area still continued to work tirelessly to improve the welfare of the soldiers, even with intentions of erecting a monument to Franklin County’s soldiers.

Initiated by the ladies aid society and secured through gifts of Franklin County citizens, the Memorial Fountain and Statue in downtown Chambersburg honors the town’s role in the Civil War. It was dedicated on July 17, 1878 to honor the men who fought in the Civil War and has a faithful Union soldier guarding the southern gate at the fountain.