Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Medicine in Civil War Prisons

Northern and Southern prisons teemed with sick and wounded men, claiming ten percent of all deaths during the Civil War. Most of these deaths were caused by disease or starvation.

Prison conditions in the North and South were equally deplorable. Food supplies may have been abundant in the North, but the abundance did not always reach the prisoners.

Captured enemy soldiers were often held in squalid prison conditions, with barely enough food to survive. Medical care was limited or non-existent as disease and malnutrition ravaged the prisoners. Diarrhea, dysentery, hospital gangrene and scurvy were widespread.

Prisoners were tormented by insects. Lice, fleas, flies and mosquitoes were rampant in the usually filthy conditions. Overcrowding meant that only the sickest men were hospitalized.

Prisoners who lacked smallpox scars were usually vaccinated for the disease upon their entrance to a prison, but the practice didn’t prevent outbreaks when new prisoners arrived. Both sides railed against the lack of isolation or quarantine facilities, and after the war, charges of “biological warfare” were brought by Unions and Confederates.

In any facility, relatively few doctors were assigned to thousands of prisoners, and usually labored in horrific conditions with minimal supplies.


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