The United States Sanitary Commission (USSC), 1861-1879, was a civilian organization authorized by the United States government to provide medical and sanitary assistance to the Union volunteer forces during the United States Civil War (1861-1865). As the USSC broadened the scope of its work during the war, Regular troops, sailors and others also benefited from its services. The collection consists of correspondence, memoranda, minutes, reports, military service claim files, registers, diaries, financial records, scrapbooks, posters, illustrations, photographs, printed matter, maps, ephemera and artifacts concerning the Commission's sanitary, medical and relief work during the Civil War, as well as its post-war relief work and publication activities. The collection also includes the records of the American Association for the Relief of the Misery of Battle Fields, founded in 1866 by USSC officers and former associates.
The visual materials include photographs that seem to have been made specifically to document the work and facilities of the USSC: homes for recuperating soldiers, the agency's headquarters, ambulance design and hospital treatment, figure studies of wounded soldiers and their recovery, and portraits of officials. In addition, there are views of battlefields by well-known Civil War photographers such as Alexander Gardner's "Incidents of the War" series. Many of the photographs bear postage stamps affixed as a tax on photographs to help raise funds for the war. There is also a small cache of medical photographs and illustrations in color of wounds.