John Calhoun Chamberlain, brother of the hero of Little Round Top, served with the United States Christian Commission during the battle of Gettysburg. He filed this report to the central office. Chamberlain's Christian Commission diary, kept during the battle of Gettysburg, is found in our book, "Gettysburg and the Christian Commission".
This letter from a gentleman of Bangor, now a delegate of the Christian Commission, gives some idea how the delegates work. Two hundred such were on that battlefield.
Middletown Md. July 11, 1863
Charles Demond, esq.
My Dear Sir:
Although my epistolary conveniences are not of the first order, I will tell you something of my experiences at Gettysburg, where I happened to arrive in advance of the rest of the Commission.
I came up with the Fifth Corps on the morning of the 2nd. As we advanced we saw nothing that told of the battle, except now and then, at long intervals, a dash of smoke from the heights held by Howard. As we drew nearer, however, the hospitals told the story of what had been and what was to come. Our forces proceeded right up in line of battle, and speedily every hill was capped with smoke, the most terrific cannonading on right, on left and front -- the whizzing and bursting of shells, and the clatter of musketry. Then came the wounded; they were lying under every tree, the woods seemed full of them, they issued from every path and were scattered along the road-sides. They were wandering around searching for their respective hospitals. It was a very small portion who could be accommodated in ambulances. Many of their hospitals I was able to point out to them after washing their wounds. Poor fellows! after reaching their hospitals many of them were little better off. The houses and barns would hold but a handful. At one hospital I found hundreds lying on their backs in the open fields -- sun pouring down into their faces. Their bleeding and neglected wounds were not half so tormenting as this. They entreated, with all their powers, as the last request of dying men, to have some plan devised to screen them from the heat. Every one thought it useless, for there were no spare tents at hand nor blankets enough to wrap about them. In this exigency I hardly knew which way to turn, but I soon found myself driving stakes with a rock and twisting every spare corner of their bedding over them. My success started others and soon I had the comfort of seeing the whole hospital in the shade. But toward evening we saw a shower coming up and here was a new labor. We did the best we could, but few escaped the water that night.
This is the way I spent my time at Gettysburg -- going round the hospitals, reading in the faces of the men their wants and trying to relieve them, speaking words of comfort and religious consolation, and gathering their dying messages to their friends at home. After all, my dear sir, our labors at such times are of such a nature that we can give but a faint idea of them on paper. There are a thousand little nameless acts which the world cannot know, nor we ourselves recall, that are none the less important in their issues. The grateful soldier notes them, one by one, and thanks God for the Christian Commission. I cannot close without telling you the pleasure it gave me, as I walked over the battle field among the dead, to find lying by their sides, and many already open, books of the Christian Commission distribution.
I am, your obedient servant, John C. Chamberlain