Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Confederate Cavalry and the "Great Glanders Epizootic"


Horses and mules were essential to the operation of the Civil War, and vast numbers of animals were needed. Lynchburg, one of the four quartermaster depots for the Confederacy, was supplying General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. In 1863, following the Battle of Brandy Station, the Confederate Army ended its practice of private ownership of cavalry mounts and began to supply the necessary horses. Thousands of horses and mules were quartered in Lynchburg, in the Quartermaster's stables at the "fairgrounds," which included the present-day E.C. Glass High School campus.

Over a 15 month period, of the 6875 horses stabled there, only 1000 were sent into the field. Almost 3000 died, 449 were shot, and the rest were unfit for service.

The "great glanders epizootic," or epidemic, was taking a tremendous toll.

The Research
Drs. John Jay Terrell and John R. Page, two of the physicians attending the wounded and sick in Lynchburg's many hospitals, were designated by Major James G. Paxton, Quartermaster in Charge, to do research on the respiratory disease glanders. The "baneful scourge," glanders, was ravaging the horses and mules and affected humans as well. The research was done in a quarantined horse stable, located behind the Pest House, on what is now Cemetery property. The Pest House was a quarantine hospital for smallpox and other contagious human diseases.

In what was considered a landmark study of early pathological experimentation, Drs. Terrell and Page studied 19 horses stricken with glanders, conducting postmortem examinations at various stages of the disease's progression. They also were able to transmit the disease intentionally from a diseased horse to a sound one, sacrificing the animal 33 days later to study its advanced and terminal symptoms. The researchers' results and recommendations were published in 1864 in a pamphlet, Glanders and Farcy in Horses, which was distributed by the Confederate authorities to all of its facilities for quartering horses and mules.

The Result
It was concluded that this glanders disease, which caused major respiratory distress and death, was caused by "a virus" and was spread at watering troughs and in unhealthy crowded stable conditions where animals were prone to nuzzle. Infected mucous was easily passed from one animal to another. There was no cure. Prevention of the disease was the only solution to controlling the epidemic. This was achieved by housing horses and mules in uncrowded, well-ventilated stables, introducing good sanitation and a healthy diet, and by destroying the infected animals.

Horses use the nose and the sense of smell to identify and to communicate with one another. Thus the nose played host to a sense vital in their daily lives and can likewise serve as a host to such a deadly virus. Therefore, the doctors strongly recommended that the animals not use communal watering troughs.

When the Civil War ended, so did the need to quarter such large numbers of horses and mules together. Glanders was no longer an epidemic. The historic first steps in veterinary medicine, so similar to Dr. Terrell's innovations in the treatment of smallpox in the Pest House, attest to a local medical legacy of great importance.

© 2003–2011 by Southern Memorial Association


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