Frederick Law Olmsted Banner


Hartford, Conn., native Frederick Law Olmsted was well known before the start of the Civil War. Because of his vocal opposition to slavery, the New York Times sent him to tour the South from 1852 to 1855 to report on slavery and the Southern economy. His weekly reports painted an accurate picture of the South and were published in the book The Cotton Kingdom. He had earlier written a book about English landscaping, and in 1857 he became the chief architect for New York City's Central Park.

In June 1861, Olmsted took a leave of absence from his Central Park duties and became the first executive secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. He used his talents as an administrator to help change the fledgling commission from an advisory agency into an integral part of the Union's war effort.

He immediately set out to consolidate the many Northern soldiers' aid societies under one central authority and organized a transport system for the goods going to the camps. Because military camps were notorious for their filth and accompanying diseases, Olmsted sent out inspectors to assess and make suggestions for remedying the problems. Eventually the commission looked into nearly every aspect of army life from the point of view of the soldiers' welfare, and its activities were responsible for saving thousands of lives.