Civil War Hospital Ship

The U.S.S. Red Rover, a captured Confederate vessel, was refitted as a hospital ship.

Evolution of Civil War Nursing

The evolution of the nursing profession in America was accelerated by the Civil War.

The Practice of Surgery

Amputations were the most common surgery performed during the Civil War.

Army Medical Museum and Library

Surgeon-General William Hammond established The Army Medical Museum in 1862. It was the first federal medical research facility.

Civil War Amputation Kit

Many Civil War surgical instruments had handles of bone, wood or ivory. They were never sterilized.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Glowing Wounds of the Battle of Shiloh

By Rebecca Beatrice Brooks, 4-2-12

The Battle of Shiloh was a major Civil War battle that occurred on April 6 and 7 of 1862 in Hardin County, Tennessee.

The battle occurred when 40,000 Confederate soldiers led by General Albert Sidney Johnston clashed with a line of Union soldiers occupying ground near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River.

The Confederates drove the Union troops from their camps and slowly surrounded, captured, killed or wounded most of them. The following day, a large number of Union reinforcements arrived and completely overwhelmed the weakened Confederate troops, forcing them to flee the battlefield.

After the battle took place, over 16,000 wounded soldiers lay in the rain and cold mud for over two days as overwhelmed doctors and nurses struggled to locate and treat the soldiers.

Some of these wounded soldiers later reported that as they lay on the ground awaiting help, their wounds started to glow in the dark, according to the book The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead:

“Many soldiers were forced to lie in the mud and muck for two days while waiting for the medics to get to them. When the sun went down, an eerie blue-green glow began to be seen in several areas of the darkened Tennessee battlefield. Strangely, the wounds of some of the stranded soldiers were emitting this glow. No one had any idea what this phenomenon might portend, but the doctors and nurses noticed that those whose wounds had glowed brightly in the dark had a significantly higher survival rate than those whose wounds were not illuminated. Additionally, the wounds healed at a faster rate, and more cleanly. Because of the seemingly magical properties, the coloration became known as ‘Angel’s Glow.'”

At the time, the reason for the glow was a mystery but doctors did note that the wounds that glowed healed faster than those that didn’t. The mystery remained unsolved until 2001, when two teenagers finally uncovered the source of the glow.

After the two teens, Billy Martin and John Curtis from Maryland, conducted a variety of scientific experiments, they discovered that the wounded soldiers became hypothermic as they lay in the mud.

This lower body temperature allowed for the growth of a bioluminescent bacterium called Photorhabadus luminescens, which inhibits pathogens, to develop in the wound.

This bacterium not only caused the wounds to glow but also prevented them from became gangrenous, which saved the lives and limbs of many soldiers.

Although it was common for wounded soldiers to lay on the battlefield for days after the battle’s end, glowing wounds were not a widespread phenomenon of the Civil War.

The glowing wounds of the Battle of Shiloh are mostly due to the wet, cold and muddy conditions of that April battle as well as the fact that this glowing bacterium is known to attach itself to a certain type of flatworm, called planaria, which is commonly found in the Shiloh area.

Since worms only come to the surface when it is wet, there was an abundance of the worms moving throughout the mud during and after the rainy battle.

The discovery won Martin and Curtis the top prize at the Siemens International Science Fair Competition. Curtis later went on to pursue a career in science and Martin pursued a degree in American history, specializing in the American Civil War.

Image: Chromolithograph of the Battle of Shiloh, circa 1888


Home, Sweet Home

By Susan J. Matt, 4-19-12

In October 1861 Alfred Lewis Castleman, a surgeon in the Fifth Regiment of the Wisconsin Volunteers, described the first death in his regiment. It was not from battle. “The poor fellow died of Nostalgia (home-sickness), raving to the last breath about wife and children,” he wrote. “Deaths from this cause are very frequent in the army.”

While today “nostalgia” is used to describe the longing for a lost time, the word originally signified acute homesickness, a condition widely regarded as a dangerous and often deadly illness. Doctors maintained that it could kill, either by worsening existing maladies or by causing its own physical symptoms, which included heart palpitations, lesions, damage to internal organs, “hectic fever,” bowel problems and incontinence.

A Civil War veteran described nostalgia’s effects in 1866, noting how it “fastens upon the breast of its prey, and sucks, vampyre-like, the breath of his nostrils. Many a heroic spirit after braving death at the cannon’s mouth … has at length succumbed unresistingly to this vampyre, Nostalgia.” During the Civil War, with close to three million men away from home and therefore potential victim to its ravages, Americans both on the battlefield and on the home front worried about nostalgia.

Homesickness was widespread in both the Confederate and Union armies, as thousands of surviving journals and letters testify. Many men came from rural areas and were away from farm and family for the first time. Added to this sense of displacement was the fear that they might be killed in battle and never see their loved ones again.

An 1861 letter from Richard Simpson, a soldier in the Third South Carolina Volunteers, to his aunt was typical. “We are now in the land of danger, far, far from home,” he wrote. Simpson had been away from home before, but, he confided: “I never wished to be back as bad in my life. How memory recalls every little spot, and how vividly every little scene flashes before my mind. Oh! If there is one place dear to me it is home sweet home. How many joys cluster there. To join once more the family circle (I mean you all) and talk of times gone by would be more to me than all else besides.”

While Simpson’s homesickness was intense, it was not debilitating. For thousands of other men, the emotion sapped their strength and left them ill. When it became this serious, doctors deemed it nostalgia. Union records offer a good picture of its consequences: over the course of the war’s first year, the Surgeon General reported, there were 572 cases of nostalgia among troops. Those numbers rose in subsequent years, peaking in the year ending in June 1863, after the draft had begun. That year more than 2,000 men were listed as suffering from nostalgia; 12 succumbed to it. The year with the most fatalities was 1865, when 24 men died of the disease. In all, between 1861 and 1866, 5,537 Union soldiers suffered homesickness acutely enough to come to a doctor’s attention, and 74 died of it.

Given the deadly risks believed to accompany the condition, soldiers of all ranks monitored their own mental health as well as that of their comrades. Union Gen. Joseph Shields wrote in 1862 that soldiers, “if not allowed to go home and see their families … droop and die. … I have watched this.” In August 1864, Gen. Benjamin Butler worried that this might happen to him, writing his wife, “You make me so homesick. I shall have nostalgia like a Swiss soldier.” Men lower in the ranks harbored the same fears. Cyrus Boyd of the 15th Iowa Infantry wrote in 1863, somewhat hyperbolically, “More men die of homesickness than all other diseases — and when a man gives up and lies down he is a goner. Keep the mind occupied with something new and keep going all the time except when asleep.”

In light of such fears, soldiers and physicians looked for possible causes of and cures for nostalgia. What sparked the emotion? And how could it be assuaged? Some pointed to the letters that soldiers received from home. If they didn’t receive enough letters, they might grow lonely and sad and begin a descent into nostalgia. On the other hand, if they received too many letters, they also might dwell overmuch on the family scenes they were missing.

Doctors also theorized that music might carry a soldier’s mind back to his family. As a result, some units took steps to prohibit particularly moving melodies. S. Millett Thompson, of the 13th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, reported that “the bands are forbidden to play pathetic or plaintive tunes, such as Home, Sweet Home… Auld Lang Syne, etc., lest they serve to dispirit, and unnerve our suffering men.” Such a rule was not frivolous, as Numa Barned, a Union soldier forced to listen to new “homesick recruits” playing “Home, Sweet Home,” confided. “I don’t like to hear it for it makes me feel queer,” he wrote.

If music could spark homesickness, so could holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas were always difficult days for men far from home. The Sabbath likewise was a day for remembering other routines and identities that war had forced soldiers to abandon.

Doctors also contended that within the Army, homesickness was more visible among some populations than others, although they reached no consensus about which populations those actually were. Some pointed to young recruits, venturing far from home for the first time. Others claimed that middle-aged men, long accustomed to the comforts of domestic life, missed them most acutely. Some believed farm boys were more likely to be homesick than city dwellers, while others maintained that New Englanders were particularly tender-hearted and therefore vulnerable.

Doctors sometimes went beyond these demographic profiles and attributed homesickness to character flaws. J. Theodore Calhoun, the assistant surgeon of the Union Army, believed nostalgics needed to be rendered “more manly,” while Dr. John Taylor of the Third Missouri Cavalry contended that they were indolent hypochondriacs who were probably prone to other vices as well. Taylor told nostalgic soldiers that their “disease was a moral turpitude,” and “was looked upon with contempt – that gonorrhea and syphilis were not more detestable.”

The association of nostalgia with venereal disease was not accidental. Some doctors, like Roberts Bartholow, believed that a strong libido and the tendency to masturbate predisposed soldiers to homesickness, pointing the finger at “those given to solitary vice or the victims of spematorrhea.” Supposedly, soldiers who lived in a dream world and who fantasized about home or sex, or both, became disconnected from their actual surroundings, and wished for different circumstances. Other vices associated with nostalgia were drinking, gambling and tobacco use.

If the precise causes of nostalgia were open to debate, so too were its cures. Some suggested that vigorous physical exercise might cure men of their yearnings for the family hearth; others put faith in the idea that once they faced battle, men would feel more committed to the cause and less tied to home.

Many, however, worried about the risks of nostalgia and took extreme measures to treat it. Physicians sometimes suggested hospitalization, but if cases turned critical, they often sent men home to cure them. A medical manual suggested that in nostalgia’s early stages, “a furlough … will often suffice to restore the moral vigor of the young soldier. But when it has long resisted treatment, and gone so far as to produce sensible external lesions … or structural changes in large organs, a discharge must unquestionably, be granted.”

To modern Americans who are accustomed to leaving home and who harbor few fears of dying of nostalgia, such diagnoses and cures seem strange, even laughable. But they reveal much about 19th-century values. The widely shared conviction that homesickness could kill reflected the deep moral and emotional significance that these Americans attached to home. Even more, their concerns about homesickness and nostalgia remind us that while today we celebrate restless mobility and see it as a central part of our national identity, earlier generations did not, and instead found mobility to be profoundly painful and unnatural.

Sources: Alfred Lewis Castleman, “The Army of the Potomac”; “The Prisoner of War in Texas,” Beadle’s Monthly, Jan. 1866; Guy R. Everson and Edward H. Simpson Jr., eds., “‘Far, Far From Home’: The Wartime Letters of Dick and Tally Simpson”; United States Surgeon General’s Office, “The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1861-65)”; Donald Lee Anderson and George Tryggve Anderson, “Nostalgia and Malingering in the Military During the Civil War,” in “Perspectives in Biology and Medicine”; Bell Irvin Wiley, “The Life of Billy Yank”; Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, During the Period of the Civil War in Five Volumes, Vol. 5; Mildred Throne, ed., “The Civil War Diary of Cyrus F. Boyd Fifteenth Iowa Infantry, 1861-1863”; “Nostalgia, as a Disease of Field Service,” Medical and Surgical Reporter, 1864; S. Millett Thompson, “Thirteenth Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865”; Frances Clarke, “So Lonesome I Could Die: Nostalgia and Debates Over Emotional Control in the Civil War North,” Journal of Social History; Reid Mitchell, “The Vacant Chair”; Roberts Bartholow, “A Manual of Instructions for Enlisting and Discharging Soldiers”; John Ordronaux, “Manual of Instructions for Military Surgeons on the Examination of Recruits and Discharge of Soldiers.”

Susan J. Matt, the presidential distinguished professor of history at Weber State University, is the author of “Homesickness: An American History.”

Image: Thomas Nast’s depiction of a homesick soldier on Christmas Eve. Library of Congress


History of the Dog Tag


The Civil War provided the first recorded incident of American soldiers making an effort to ensure that their identities would be known should they die on the battlefield. Their methods were varied, and all were taken on a soldier's own initiative. In 1863, prior to the battle of Mine's Run in northern Virginia, General Meade's troops wrote their names and unit designations on paper tags and pinned them to their clothing. Many soldiers took great care to mark all their personal belongings. Some troops fashioned their own "ID" (identification) tags out of pieces of wood, boring a hole in one end so that they could be worn on a string around the neck.

The commercial sector saw the demand for an identification method and provided products. Harper's Weekly Magazine advertised "Soldier's Pins" which could be mail ordered. Made of silver or gold, these pins were inscribed with an individual's name and unit designation. Private vendors who followed troops also offered ornate identification disks for sale just prior to battles. Still, despite the fact that fear of being listed among the unknowns was a real concern among the rank and file, no reference to an official issue of identification tags by the Federal Government exists. (42% of the Civil War dead remain unidentified.)

The first official advocacy of issuing identification tags took place in 1899. Chaplain Charles C. Pierce, who was tasked to establish the Quartermaster Office of Identification in the Philippines, recommended inclusion of an "identity disc" in the combat field kit as the answer to the need for standard identification. The Army Regulations of 1913 made identification tags mandatory, and by 1917, all combat soldiers wore aluminum discs on chains around their necks.

By World War II, the circular disc was replaced by the oblong shape familiar to us today, generally referred to as "dog tags."

Since then, some myths have arisen in connection with the purpose of the identification tags. One of the more common myths involves the reason for the notch on the tag issued between 1941 and the early 1970's. Battlefield rumor held that the notched end of the tag was placed between the front teeth of battlefield casualties to hold the jaws in place.

No official record of American soldiers being issued these instructions exists; the only purpose of "the notch" was to hold the blank tag in place on the embossing machine. The machine used at this time doesn't require a notch to hold he blank in place, hence, today's tags are smooth on all sides.

Thee sole purpose of the identification tag is stated by its designation. Tags found around the neck of a casualty, and only those tags found around the neck, stay with the remains at all times tags found any place besides around the neck are made note of in the Record of Personal Effects of Deceased Personnel, and placed in an effects bag.  They are not removed unless there is a need to temporarily inter the remains. If there is only one tag present, another is made to match the first. If the remains are unidentified, two tags marked "unidentified" are made. One tag is interred with the individual, the other placed on a wire ring in the sequence of the temporary cemetery plot. This enables Graves Registration personnel to make positive identification of remains during disinterment procedures; when the remains are disinterred, the tag on the wire ring is removed and placed with the matching tag around the neck.

The Department of the Army has developed and is currently testing a new tag, which will hold 80% of a soldier's medical and dental data on a microchip. Known as the Individually Carried Record, it is not intended to replace the present tag, but rather to augment it as part of the "paperless battlefield" concept.

This development is in keeping with the Army's dedication to positively identify each and every fallen soldier. The yellow TacMedCS being tested by the Marines uses radio frequency technology, electronics and global-positioning systems to pin-point wounded.

The Armed Forces make every possible effort to eradicate discrepancies and remove doubts about casualties, not least those doubts that families may hold concerning the demise of their loved ones. In recent years, a near perfect record of identifying service members who have died in the line of duty has been achieved, a far cry from the 58% rate of identification that stood during the Civil War. The ID tag has, been and remains a major part of the reason for this record. Are you wearing your ID tags today? Too many military personnel, particularly those who are part of the peacetime force stationed in CONUS (Continental United States), forget how vital those tags can be, forget that as soldiers they are always on the line. Wearing your ID tags is one of the easiest actions you can make towards achieving total readiness, so take those tags out of your dresser and put them around your neck. Remember -the simple information contained on that small aluminum tag can speak for you if you can't speak for yourself; it could mean the difference between a positive identification and an uncertain future for those who survive you, should your identity be "...known only to God."

We've come a long way from tieing pieces of wood around our necks.

This article was written CPT Richard W. Wooley was Chief of Individual Training. Graves Registration Department (now the Mortuary Affairs Center), U.S. Army Quartermaster School, Fort Lee, Virginia.

Walt Whitman—The Civil War’s One-Man Sanitary Commission

By Roy Morris, Jr., 5-31-15

During the American Civil War, great American poet Walt Whitman was a sort of one-man Sanitary Commission—not that he would have put it that way.

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, the great American poet Walt Whitman was a man on the skids, personally and professionally. His revolutionary book of poems, Leaves of Grass, had been largely overlooked, and Whitman was spending most of his time drinking with his fellow bohemians at Pfaff’s beer cellar in New York City.

Things changed dramatically in December 1862, after Whitman’s younger brother George was wounded while fighting in the Union Army at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Rushing to Washington, Walt spent days searching frantically for George in the overcrowded army hospitals in the nation’s capital. As it turned out, George was not badly wounded—he had merely been cut on the cheek by a Rebel shell fragment and was already back with his regiment, the 51st New York, by the time Walt discovered what had happened.

A Man With a Mission
The experience changed Whitman overnight. The sights and sounds of the hospitals stayed with him, and the poet returned to New York City only long enough to gather his possessions and return to Washington. He was now a man with a mission.

For the next two years, Whitman functioned as a sort of one-man Sanitary Commission, visiting the various hospitals and doing whatever he could to spread a little cheer to the patients confined there. His meager earnings as a government clerk went toward buying the soldiers’ humble but much appreciated gifts: fruit, ice cream, candy, cookies, pickles, brandy, wine, tobacco, books, stamps—anything that might make their stay in the hospital a little easier.

Mostly, Whitman gave of himself. “In my visits to the hospitals,” he recalled, “I found it was in the simple matter of personal presence, and emanating ordinary cheer and magnetism, that I succeeded and helped more than by medical nursing or delicacies, or gifts of money, or anything else.” Over the course of the next three years, he personally visited tens of thousands of soldiers. His long white beard, plum-colored suit, and bulging bag of presents gave him a decided resemblance to Santa Claus, and the patients called after him at the end of each visit: “Walt, Walt, come again!”

The Good Gray Poet
Not everyone approved of Whitman’s assistance, particularly the members of the more formally run U.S. Sanitary Commission. One commission member, Harriet Hawley, the wife of a Union colonel, was outspoken in her disapproval. “There comes that odious Walt Whitman,” she wrote to her husband, “to talk evil and unbelief to my boys. I think I would rather see the Evil One himself—at least if he had horns and hooves. I shall get him out as soon as possible.”

Whitman, for his part, returned Mrs. Hawley’s dislike. He complained to his mother that Sanitary Commission members were mere “hirelings” who “get well paid & are always incompetent and disagreeable.” That was uncharacteristically harsh for the ordinarily sunny and good-natured poet. But the unending stream of human devastation eventually wore him down, and Whitman began suffering from headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and depression. “I have seen all the horrors of soldier’s life,” he wrote. “It is awful to see so much, & not be able to relieve it.”

The soldiers themselves begged to disagree that he had not done nothing to relieve their suffering, if only for a little while. One of them, 20-year-old Lewy Brown of Elkton, Maryland, who lost a leg at Rappahannock Station, spoke for many when he wrote to Whitman after the war: “There is many a soldier now that never thinks of you but with emotions of the greatest gratitude. I never think of you but it makes my heart glad to think I have been permitted to know one so good.”

Whitman remained humble about his hospital service. “I only gave myself,” he said simply. “I got the boys.” But in more ways than one, as Lewy Brown said, Whitman had truly lived up to his nickname: “the Good Gray Poet.”


Minds at War

By Jeffrey Allen Smith and B. Christopher Frueh, 3-20-13

Any attempt to calculate the carnage of the Civil War, the number of sick, wounded, dismembered and dead, leaves one numb in the struggle to make sense of it all. The conditions and horrors faced by those who fought the war exacted a horrific toll.

One would assume that the physical price paid by the men who fought in the war would have a rough equivalent in the mental price, that the experience of that terrible war would have left countless survivors with horrible psychological scars. But that may not actually be the case: according to official Union war records, adverse psychological reactions to combat across a variety of categories never matched, or even approached, the shocking physical losses from the war.

Serving as the official medical record of the Union Army, “The Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion, 1861-65” was a groundbreaking effort to systematically record the medical impact of one of the first “modern” wars while it was happening. Undertaken by the Army Medical Department, and using exclusively military and governmental records, the six-volume publication contained thousands of pages of medical case studies, pictures, graphs and statistics. With more than 100 separate tables charting some 150 “diseases,” ranging from serpent bite to gunshot wounds and dysentery to suicide, the study provided one of the first medical tallies of the impact of warfare on its combatants.

Looking over the exhaustive array of medical data found in “The Medical and Surgical History,” a subtle trend lies beneath the jaw-dropping numbers of physical wounds and maladies suffered by those who fought the war. Across a variety of potential psychological categories, the number of cases and deaths for both white and black troops was often well below 1 percent, surprisingly low even after adjusting for the possibility of underreporting.

In a paper we published in a peer-reviewed psychiatric/psychological journal, the highest annual rate of cases reported for any year of the Civil War for Union troops was .017 percent for insanity, .032 percent for “nostalgia” (or depression), .005 percent for concussion of the brain, .045 percent for delirium tremens, .034 percent for inebriation and .06 percent for chronic alcoholism. The data also revealed there were a total of 278 documented suicides over the four years of the war, fewer than the 349 military personnel who died by suicide in 2012 alone.

The excessive use of alcohol has historically been a common coping mechanism for troops under the stressors of combat. Yet the annual rate of reported inebriation and chronic alcoholism remained below 1 percent throughout the duration of the war, save for two interesting spikes. First, Union troops in the “Pacific Region” had in excess of a tenfold increase in rates of inebriation relative to their Atlantic and Central counterparts – probably more a function of boredom than combat stress. Second, all regions and racial groups reported a discernible spike in reported inebriation in the year following Appomattox, a perhaps understandable surge given the ending of the war.

Likewise, chronic alcoholism and delirium tremens mirrored these patterns, but with significantly fewer reported cases. While these numbers reflect what was socially considered drunkenness by 1860s standards, they also highlight that most troops were not outside that intangible norm, and when low levels of delirium tremens are taken into account, it further underscores how relatively few men had to “sober up” for duty.

Union Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes acknowledged in the “The Medical and Surgical History” that “obviously troops stationed in the neighborhood of large cities furnished the greater number” of alcoholism cases, and he credited “the government and discipline of the camps” for keeping rates from getting out of hand. Of course, the adverse effects of combat have the power to do more than simply drive a person to drink.

For some Union troops, military service became a mental burden too great to bear. The psychological stressors of combat began to physically manifest themselves in reported cases of nostalgia and insanity. Psychologically naïve by modern standards, Civil War combatants and medical personnel struggled to identify and understand psychiatric disorders and behavior health problems that resulted from combat. For example, the term nostalgia, described as “a temporary feeling of depression… on account of discomfort, hardships and exposures” in the “The Medical and Surgical History,” was treated as “a camp disease of war” that proved “dangerous to their efficiency.” Some current examinations of the “disease” ascribe to it symptoms comparable to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nevertheless, regardless of terminology, official cases in the Union Army of nostalgia and insanity were quite rare and they peaked during the first two years of the Civil War, and then dropped markedly over the duration of the conflict in many regions, with some exhibiting declines by half or more. The trend of early, elevated levels of diagnosed cases of nostalgia and insanity that diminished as the war went on was also evident in segregated colored units, even with official military incorporation not until 1863.

To be sure, accusations of malingering and an evolving understanding of these psychological reactions to combat probably resulted in a degree of underreporting. As with nostalgia and insanity, Civil War health professionals’ understanding of suicide was limited by the paucity of research on the topic.

With the French sociologist Émile Durkheim’s groundbreaking book “Suicide” still 30 years in the future, most Civil War doctors and nurses had few tools with which to interpret Union Army suicides. During the war annual suicide rates for white Union troops fluctuated between 8.74 and 14.54 per 100,000, while surging to 30.4 for 1865-1866. Serving in segregated units, African-American troops’ suicide rate ranged from 17.7 per 100,000 in 1863, to 0 in 1864 and 1.8 for 1865-1866. These figures appear consistent with some of Durkheim’s conclusions about suicide, including that whites had higher rates of suicide than blacks during the 19th century.

Looking deeper into these numbers in his 2011 paper “Felo De Se,” R. Gregory Lande noted seasonal variations in Union suicides, with rates spiking reliably every spring. However, as with any of these psychological variants tracked in the “The Medical and Surgical History,” a certain amount of caution must be taken, as the data is 150 years old, and the study’s strict reliance on government medical records undoubtedly led to some undercounting.

These statistical limitations were not lost on the compilers of the “The Medical and Surgical History,” for as was noted in its introduction, the publication “cannot be regarded as complete,” but while “most imperfect,” the data “embrace so large a proportion of the troops concerned that they cannot fail to serve fairly as a reliable basis for deductions with regard to the health of the whole army.”

The men who fought in the Civil War participated in a brutal modern war, as soldiers’ letters, photographs and newspaper articles bear testament. Yet often obscured by the ghastly casualty figures and recounts of battles won and lost were the personal struggles that the troops fought on a daily basis – an internal conflict constantly waged against the self-evident, understandable mental and physiological pressures of military service and combat.

Nevertheless, what should be made of the relatively low-recorded instances of psychological casualties in the Civil War? Was it a result of flawed data collection or analysis? Did Victorian or religious social pressures result in under reporting or unwillingness to recognize these invisible wounds?

While considering diagnoses of modern psychiatric conditions extrapolated from records kept 150 years ago during the Civil War is problematic at several levels, perhaps the larger take away message is a heartening one of human resiliency. The data seem to demonstrate that exposure to combat alone does not weaken the human psychological condition. Instead, as with most things in life, there are a multiplicity of factors that result in psychosocial casualties. One of the real tragedies of the conflict was not the sheer number of men who fought to win the Civil War, but the few who lost the war within. On the other hand, these data remind us there is good reason to be optimistic that the psychological consequences of war are not inevitably devastating to all those who serve.

Jeffrey Allen Smith is an assistant professor of history at the University of Hawaii, Hilo.

B. Christopher Frueh, a clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, Hilo, is a McNair scholar and directs the research programs at the Menninger Clinic in Houston.


A Nation At War: Armed With New Tools and Tactics, Doctors Head to the Battlefield

By Gina Kolatamarch, 3-30-03

From redesigned first-aid kits to a radically new kind of surgery on the front lines, battlefield medicine has changed markedly and, as a result, doctors in the war in Iraq hope to significantly reduce the death rate from battlefield wounds -- a rate that has not budged for 150 years.

Since the Civil War, experts in military medicine say, one of five wounded soldiers has died, half from profuse bleeding. Pentagon doctors hope to change that, and have mobilized an array of innovations.

Some, like putting pressure bandages in first-aid kits, are drugstore cheap. Others, like a new anticlotting drug for internal bleeding, are high-tech expensive, about $7,000 per dose. And some, like sending radically redesigned surgical teams to operate at the front lines, involve tactics and equipment that simply were not available in the last gulf war. These special surgery units were tested in Afghanistan, where they reduced the died-of-wounds rate, the death rate for those who survived long enough for a surgeon to operate, to a fraction of a percent. For the past half-century, it has hovered around 2 percent.

Doctors said it was hard to overestimate the difference.

There was little change from Vietnam to the first gulf war in doctors' instruments, drugs, techniques or tactics. Except for some in the Army, which put surgeons in the front lines in Desert Storm, wounded soldiers received first aid from medics but no surgical care until they were evacuated to a larger hospital.

Continue reading the main story
Now, all the services have small mobile surgical teams scattered throughout the battlefield, where they operate on the most severely wounded as close to the front as possible. They do the minimum operation to stabilize patients for evacuation to a larger hospital. There, they may have another operation to further stabilize them for evacuation to a hospital in Europe.

''Never before in modern warfare have we done things so differently,'' said Lt. Col. Donald Jenkins, a surgeon who is chief of trauma at Wilford Hall Air Force Medical Center in San Antonio.

Many of the patients treated have been Iraqis. ''By Geneva Convention and NATO standards, casualties are taken care of in order of priority, based on injury and illness, not based on uniform,'' Dr. Jenkins said. ''That's been the policy back to our own Civil War at least.''

Col. John Holcomb, a surgeon who directs the Army Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio, said some of the innovations came from after-action reviews in which doctors analyzed data on why soldiers died, where they died, and how.

Each branch of the service makes its own decisions about which innovations to adopt. For example, the Marine Corps has added a new product, QuikClot, to every marine's first-aid kit, said Lt. Cmdr. Joe DaCorta, who is in charge of expeditionary medicine at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Va.

The substance was tested for battlefield use by Dr. Hasan Alam, a trauma surgeon at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. Dr. Alam said he was haunted by troops who bled to death in Somalia before surgeons could help them.

For Dr. Alam, it meant that ''your buddy has to stop the bleeding, not the medic, not the surgeon.''

So he turned to QuikClot, a product made of the mineral zeolite and sold over the counter by Z-Medica. It looks like cat litter but, sprinkled on a wound, it absorbs water from blood, concentrating the body's own clotting factors and speeding up the formation of a clot.

Z-Medica has supplied 50,000 doses to the military.

Dr. Alam and his colleagues tested the substance on 36 Yorkshire swine, which are close to a person's size. The results have not been published, but Dr. Alam said QuikClot converted wounds that were 100 percent fatal into wounds that were 100 percent nonfatal -- clots formed and none of the animals died.

Although the Marine Corps plans to use it, other branches of the military are not yet convinced. The question is whether to use it, and at what dose. One concern is that heat is generated when QuikClot is poured on a wound, and the fear is that it might burn tissue. ''We don't have a huge amount of data,'' Dr. Alam said. ''We've done two studies.''

Also, the troops must be trained in how to use it and surgeons must be trained about what to expect.

Meanwhile, the Army and the Special Operations forces are taking an additional approach to clotting, Colonel Holcomb said. They will use coated bandages to stop bleeding. One bandage, developed by the Red Cross, used two clotting proteins, fibrin and thrombin, to speed clot formation. The other, made by HemCon of Oregon, uses chitosan, a clot-promoting protein in shrimp shells.

Remaining problems include what to do about severe injuries to the abdomen or pelvis, which may cause rapid and uncontrolled internal bleeding, or bleeding in the brain from a head injury.

''What about an intravenous drug that could accelerate the hemorrhage-control process?'' Dr. Holcomb asked. The Army, he said, is considering using factor VIIa, a clotting drug recently approved for treating hemophilia. Animal studies, he said, indicate that it can work, and trauma centers often use it. The Defense Department and the company hope to conduct a clinical trial.

Military medical experts said the hope, with all of these new products, is that they will keep the wounded alive until they can see a surgeon.

Surgeons will be using a method pioneered a decade ago in trauma centers in cities reeling from an epidemic of drug-fueled violence.

One of its leading innovators was Dr. C. William Schwab, a trauma surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania, who was troubled by the number of patients treated there who died later.

California Today
The news and stories that matter to Californians (and anyone else interested in the state), delivered weekday mornings.

Enter your email address
 Sign Up

Receive occasional updates and special offers for The New York Times's products and services.

''We started to see that even though we would get the injury controlled and fixed, even though we put them back together, they would die,'' Dr. Schwab said. Patients would go into shock, their temperatures would drop, their blood would become acidic and coagulate, forming fatal clots.

Dr. Schwab decided to try doing the absolute minimum surgically to stop the bleeding, so doctors could turn their attention to stabilizing the patients. Later, he reasoned, surgeons would complete their repair.

Dr. Schwab named the method damage control, a Navy term he recalled from the 10 years he spent on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam. When a ship was hit, he recalled, the idea was to patch it up and keep it afloat, doing the major repairs later.

He tried it with trauma victims. ''We would control bleeding and any contamination from the GI tract,'' he said. ''Then we would continue to resuscitate them and bring them back in two or three days and do definite surgery.''

To assess the method, he compared patients treated with damage control with similar, seriously injured patients who had had traditional surgery. With damage control, 75 percent survived. With traditional surgery, almost every patient died. A decade later, after further refining of the technique, 90 percent are surviving, Dr. Schwab said.

As the approach spread in trauma centers across the country, military surgeons started showing up at Dr. Schwab's hospital for training.

''What I learned from Bill Schwab was absolutely indispensable,'' said Dr. Jenkins, who spent two years there. ''I took care of people who for sure in my training we would have looked at them and said, 'There is no way this person could survive.' '' Yet survive they did.

But to bring the technique to the battlefield, the military had to make major changes. First, it had to put the surgeons with the frontline troops, so they could do damage control surgery immediately.

The new idea was to keep a small surgical team on the front line, using a portable operating room that is set up in an hour for damage control surgery. From there, patients are stabilized and taken to hospitals for additional surgery days later.

It required making what once was bulky equipment light and portable, said Dr. Paul K. Carlton Jr., the recently retired surgeon general of the Air Force who now directs the Integrative Center for Homeland Security at Texas A & M. Today, Dr. Carlton said, surgeons can carry the equipment they need in a backpack.

For example, frontline units are equipped with sonogram machines the size of cassette recorders, and devices the size of a PDA that can do a complete laboratory analysis on a drop of blood.

Another piece of the plan is to train surgeons and support staff, and once again military doctors turned to urban trauma center. ''They have too many patients,'' Colonel Holcomb said. ''We need patients.''

In Miami, Dr. Tom Knuth, who directs the Army Trauma Training Center at Ryder Trauma Center, is training military general surgeons, plastic surgeons and other specialists and technicians and medics.

''They integrate with the civil staff to manage whatever patients come through the door -- bad motor vehicle crashes, gunshot wounds,'' Dr. Knuth said. ''And they get to work together as a team.'' With the war, the training regimen has been compressed from a month to 10 days.

Dr. Carlton said the war in Afghanistan showed what is possible. Of 250 seriously injured patients, only one died. ''It was the lowest died-of-wounds rate in the history of war,'' he said.

One man suffered a catastrophic wound to his rectum, prostate, anus and bladder. The ghastly injury plunged him into shock immediately, but one of the backpack surgical teams got to him right away and did a damage control surgery. Then, he was put on an airplane equipped as a critical care unit and flown a few thousand miles to another hospital for another surgery to stabilize him. Then he was flown to Germany for reconstructive surgery.

''He's home with his family now,'' Dr. Carlton said. In any other war, he added, ''he would have been dead.''


The Artificial Leg, 1846, by Benjamin Franklin Palmer


This artificial leg introduced a new concept in prosthesis. The articulated joints at the knee, ankle and toe began the concept of natural-looking movement in artificial limbs.

Palmer instituted the idea of eliminating large unsightly gaps between the various components of his leg and of putting springs and movement limits into the limb to give the appearance of natural movement.

Palmer's artificial leg received an award at the first World's Fair at the Crystal Palace in London England in 1851.

My Heart Toward Home: Letters of a Family during the Civil War

Eliza Woolsey Howland & Georgeanna Woolsey Bacon

This is the story of a remarkable family during the Civil War. Seven daughters, one son, and their mother contributed their services to the Union cause. The book, based on the personal letters and diaries of the Woolsey family of New York, was written by Eliza Howland and Georgeanna Woolsey in 1898 but has never been published until now.

"My Heart Toward Home: Letters of a Family During the Civil War, is an important new source for Civil War reenactors and researchers. Based on the letters and journal entries of the Woolsey family of New York, it is a treasure-trove of primary source material."
Robin Schwartz, The Citizens' Companion

This edition includes photographs of the Woolsey family, an introduction by Daniel J. Hoisington, and an index.

ISBN 1-88920-07-9


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Angel's Glow at The Battle of Shiloh


At the Battle of Shiloh a strange phenomenon took place which came be known as Angel's Glow...

As you may know, the Battle of Shiloh was a very bloody battle. With men desperately contesting the battle non-stop from dawn to dusk, the wounded and dying were left to find their own help. On top of that, neither army's medical services were prepared to deal with this level of carnage. As a result, many men were left lying in the field for days.

This was a wet swampy region, which meant many of the wounded spent their waiting hours lying in mud and foul water. To compound their misery, it also rained part of the time, especially the first night. All told, it took two days and two nights for all the wounded to be recovered from the battlefield at Shiloh.

So what does this have to do with Angel's Glow? Good question...

During the night, as men lay in the mud, muck, and rain, too wounded to crawl to safety, something strange began to happen...

Some men's wounds began to glow faintly!

For no apparent reason open, bloody wounds were giving off a faint greenish blue glow...

Spooky, right?

Well, the soldiers thought so too, until they were finally treated and began to recover. That is when things started to get even stranger...

It was then that medics discovered something odd. Men who reported that their wounds had been glowing during the night seemed to have definite advantages over those whose wounds did not glow. Those who had glowing wounds reportedly had a much higher survival rate than those who did not. Also, wounds that glowed seemed to have less infection, seemed to heal faster, and seemed to scar less than their non-glowing counterparts.

This was apparently not isolated to a few incidents either, because, it was prevalent enough to earn a nickname from soldiers. The glowing wounds were dubbed "Angel's Glow."

These stories have often been dismissed as folklore and legend, but now there seems to be a viable explanation for the legendary Angel's Glow...

The Angel's Glow Explanation...
An explanation for the possible cause of the Angel's Glow phenomenon was finally offered in 2001. This explanation was put forward by two high school students in their science fair project...

You read that right, SCIENCE FAIR PROJECT!!!

Kind of puts the old soda and vinegar volcano to shame, doesn't it?

The kids were 17 year old William Martin and 18 year old Jonathan Curtis. Granted, they got some assistance from Martin's microbiologist mother, but she insists that the idea was theirs and that they performed the experiments themselves...

So here is what they came up with...

It all starts with tiny parasitic worms called nematodes. These worms carry a bacteria called Photorhabdus luminescens, which glows in the dark. A nematodes preferred modus operandi is to burrow into an unsuspecting insect, puke out the Photorhabdus luminescens bacteria, wait for the bacteria to kill the insect, and then feast. What is interesting about this bacteria is that not only does it kill the insects, it tends to kill any competing bacteria it may find.

Therefore, the boys' theory was that nematodes were drawn to insects which might frequent gruesome wounds, and in puking bacteria into the insects also spilled some into the soldier's wounds. This would have caused the wounds to glow, while at the same time killing bacteria that causes gangrene and other dangerous infections. Which would in turn lead to better survival rates and quicker recovery.

There was one problem, Photorhabdus luminescens can not survive at warm temperatures like those found in the human body. So, there is no way this bacteria could survive in the wounds of soldiers; because, their warmth would kill it. If this good bacteria is dead, it can't kill the bad bacteria, which means no more Angel's Glow.

The kids came up with a solution to this problem, too. The Battle of Shiloh took place in early April when temperatures were still fairly cool. Also, the men involved lain out for long periods of time in wet, cold, muddy ground and got rained on. It is likely that many soldiers developed hypothermia. This would drive down body temperatures to levels not lethal to the good bacteria.

This also provides an explanation for why the soldiers did not develop Photorhabdus luminescens infections. Yes, it can cause an infection just like any other bacteria. The "good" bacteria killed off all other infection causing pathogens in the wounds, but when the men were taken to the hospital and warmed up, they naturally killed off the Photorhabdus luminescens, preventing it from causing an infection. Men whose wounds didn't glow, probably never got cold enough for hypothermia to set in, preventing the good bacteria from taking hold. Who knew it could be good to develop hypothermia?

There you have the amazing story of Angel's Glow and what is believed to have caused it...

Image: Battle of Shiloh - April 6-7, 1862

A Brief History Of The Dog Tag

By Sarah Sicard, 1-15-16

The use of the iconic form of identification has its roots in the Civil War.

During the Civil War, the inability of the military to identify battlefield casualties created the need for a soldier identification method.

According to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Foundation, prior to the Battle of Mine Run in northern Virginia 1863, Gen. George Meade’s troops wrote their names and unit designations on paper tags and pinned them to their clothing. At the same time, other soldiers created prototype identification tags out of pieces of wood, perforating one end so that they could be worn on a string around their necks.

Between 1862 and 1913, while the military considered a number of options for identifying soldier remains on the battlefield, individual soldiers continued to utilize makeshift identification methods. In 1906, a circular aluminum disc was presented. By 1913, identification tags were made mandatory by the military.

The circular tags, handstamped with name, rank, serial number, unit, and religion were used during World War I.

Dog tags, name tapes and memorabilia are displayed at the top of Mount Suribachi in Iwo To, formerly known as Iwo Jima, Japan, Dec. 17, 2014.

By World War I, soldiers wore two tags. “One tag remained with the body, tied around the legs or ankles or feet,” Luther Hanson, curator at the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum, told The New York Times in a 2013 interview.

Dog tags, name tapes and memorabilia are displayed at the top of Mount Suribachi in Iwo To, formerly known as Iwo Jima, Japan, Dec. 17, 2014.

Around World War II, the circular tag was replaced by the more oval shape used by the military today. Its resemblance to dog collar tags led to the designation of “dog tag.” The tags used during World War II were stamped by a machine and had a rectangular shape with round ends and a notch on one side.

A gruesome rumor circulated that the notch was put in the tag so that the tag could be placed in a dead soldier’s mouth hold it open to prevent the body from gaseous bloating. However, the real reason for the notch was that the stamping machine required it to hold the tag in place during embossing.

The point of the tag ultimately is to be left around the neck of a casualty, staying with the remains at all times.

According the Library of Congress, during the Vietnam War, “changes were made to the information on dog tags.The dog tags went from the earlier eight digits with their prefix to the current nine-day digit Social Security number. You could have both stamped on your tag if you wanted; but, from this point on, the Social Security number was the main identifying number.”

Additionally, tags worn by the Marine Corps had a variety of additions including the size of their gas mask. A number of religions were added and full names were spelled out as well.

Current dog tags still utilize a two-tag system, with one on a long a chain around the neck and one interlinked by a smaller chain. The point of this method is to have one that remains around the neck and another for the toe for the coroner’s purposes.

Though the dog tag has remained largely unchanged since the Vietnam War, the Army is currently developing and testing several new dog tags known by various names including the soldier data tag, individually carried record, meditag, and the personal information carrier.

The new dog tags will contain microchip or USB technology, which will hold a soldier’s medical and dental records, reported The New York Times.

Sarah Sicard is a staff writer with Task & Purpose. Follow Sarah Sicard on Twitter @smsicard


In 19th Century,Rabies Was Menacing

By Bill Kemp, Archivist/librarian; McLean County Museum of History 12-5-10

BLOOMINGTON — “Kill your dogs!” declared a panicky Bloomington newspaper in November 1860. “Better every one of them should die than that one human being should suffer.” At issue was an outbreak of hydrophobia (known today as rabies) among the canine and feline populations of the city.

The appearance of rabies often sparked such overreaction in the 19th century. A virus usually transmitted via saliva from the bites of infected animals (including people), rabies attacks the central nervous system, and once symptoms appear it’s almost always fatal. The late stages of the disease beggar all description: hydrophobia (fear of water), hallucinations, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing, extreme agitation, uncontrollable violent acts and paralysis.

Until Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux developed a vaccine in the mid-1880s, bite marks from rabid or suspected rabid animals often were treated by cutting away the flesh in and around the infected area and then cauterizing the wound with “lunar caustic” (fused silver nitrate).

In May 1852, The Bloomington Intelligencer, a predecessor to The Pantagraph, reported a dog belonging to Kersey H. Fell (brother of town of Normal founder Jesse Fell) was killed “having previously exhibited the most indubitable indications of hydrophobia.” The Intelligencer called for a city ordinance “against the running at large of the canine race,” hoping further that such action would “lead to the extermination of a few hundred of the curs with which our town is infested.”

That August, the city did pass an ordinance for registering dogs and prohibiting them from running at large. Residents were required to register their animals with the city marshal and pay an annual tax of $1.25 for each male and $3 for each female. Registered dogs wore a metal collar supplied by the city marshal. There was a steep fine for keeping unregistered pets, and during a rabies scare the city marshal and his deputies were given the power to shoot all free-ranging canines, be they registered or not.

Misinformation was a frequent bedfellow of hydrophobia. Perhaps the oddest belief surrounding rabies was that of the supposed curative powers of madstones, which were not stones at all but rather hard, roundish, porous-like concretions found in the stomachs of deer.

Well-accepted folk medicine tradition held that a madstone placed on the suppurating bite wound would soak up blood and “poisons.” When “full,” the stone would drop off, and after being cleaned in water and dried, the process would be repeated until it would no longer “adhere” to the wound.

In late 1900, The Pantagraph detailed the story of a madstone in the possession of Mrs. D.T. Crocker of South Lee Street in Bloomington. According to the article, the madstone had been in the family for more than 200 years, arriving in the U.S. with an ancestor from Wales. In the mid-19th century, the stone was split in two, with Crocker’s mother, Scynthia A. Ewing, getting one of the pieces. Ewing was said to have treated some 120 cases “with great success,” and the daughter continued the family tradition. Crocker, for instance, had seen a girl from LeRoy, and the madstone “adhered to the wound 18 times,” reported The Pantagraph.

Rabid dogs running wild remained a serious concern well into the 20th century. In December 1936, to cite one example, a “stray brindle mongrel” bit at least five city residents before the animal was “dispatched by means of a police bullet.” The state health department delivered five packages of free anti-rabies vaccine to Dr. Benjamin Markowitz, Bloomington’s public health director, and those bitten received the appropriate ministrations.

In January 1943, a rabid dog ran wild in Mt. Hope and Funk’s Grove townships in southwestern McLean County until it was shot dead by farmer Marvin Haughey. It had bitten and infected dairy cows, hogs and other dogs. “Farmers in the vicinity have been advised to kill less valuable animals, and to have the more valuable treated,” noted The Pantagraph.

Farmhand George Boeker, working on the Haughey place, was attacked by a rabid hog. “He managed to beat off the hog with his heavy boots and finally killed it,” read the news account. “The second hog went mad the same day in the lot with a drove of others. It was killed, but it is believed to have done much damage among the other hogs.”

Though rabies is no longer the scourge it once was, it is still with us. Just this summer, the McLean County Health Department reported the highest number of rabies-positive bats in 20 years.


Elmira Prison


Elmira, New York, is situated five miles from the Pennsylvania line. In the beginning the camp was used for new recruits, but by May 15, 1864, some of the barracks were set aside for prisoners-of-war. A twelve foot-high fence was constructed, framed on the outside with a sentry's walk four feet below the top and built at a safe distance from the barracks. Housing consisted of thirty-five two-story barracks each measuring 100 by 20 feet. Two rows of bunks were along the walls and as the prison became crowded some prisoners lived in "A" tents.

The first group of prisoners, shipped from Point Lookout, Maryland, arrived at Elmira on July 6 and numbered 399 men. By the end of July, 4,424 prisoners were packed in the compound with another 3,000 en route. By mid-August the number leaped to 9,600. The inmates of Elmira weathered hunger, illness and melancholia but, even worse, exposure to the elements. Late in the winter of 1864-65 some stoves were distributed to the prisoners but not enough for everyone. The southerners were exposed to temperatures of ten to fifteen degrees below zero and many succumbed to freezing.

Of the total of 12,123 soldiers imprisoned at Elmira, 2,963 died of sickness, exposure and associated causes. The camp was officially closed on July 5, 1865. All that remains today of Elmira Prison is a well-kept cemetery along the banks of the Chemung River.

Something Must Be Done: The Construction and Dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg

By Hannah Christensen ’17

Not only did the armies leave something of a state of chaos behind them after the battle of Gettysburg; they also left their dead buried poorly almost everywhere. Within days, the combination of rain and pigs rooting around the battlefield had exposed multiple skeletons and partially-decomposed bodies. The smell was horrendous, and residents and visitors alike were shocked by the state of the burials.

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin was among these visitors. After seeing the state of affairs during his tour of the battlefield on July 10th, Curtin appointed local attorney David Wills to act as his “agent” in affairs related to Pennsylvania’s dead. As agent, Wills did everything from helping families locate loved ones’ bodies to disinterring and sending those remains home. This process was made more complicated by the fact that those grave markers that existed were only partially legible, if at all.

Wills also got to know other state agents, including William Yates Selleck of Wisconsin and Henry Edwards of Massachusetts. It was Edwards and Massachusetts officials who brought up the idea of purchasing part of the battlefield to turn into a cemetery. Wills also got the head of the Christian Commission of Pennsylvania, Andrew B. Cross, in on the idea. When Wills wrote to Governor Curtin about it on July 24th, the governor quickly authorized him to get to work.

Three developments impacted the success of the cemetery project before it really began. First, the military commander at Gettysburg, Colonel Henry C. Alleman, halted the exhumation and shipping home of any more bodies, inadvertently assuring that more would be buried in the proposed cemetery. Second, a fight over the organization of the cemetery occurred between Wills and the Massachusetts representatives. The representatives wanted the dead buried by state, while Wills planned to mix them together. Wills deferred to Massachusetts to keep them on board. Last was a fight over control of the cemetery. The governing body of the local Evergreen Cemetery wanted it under their control, which nearly derailed the entire project when state agents threatened to pull out if the cemetery got its way. Thankfully, Wills was able to out-argue the association, and the cemetery project continued as planned.

Between his first letter to the governor on July 24th and his second on the 30th, Wills took steps to purchase the necessary land, get more states on board, and write to the governors of the other Union states with his plans. By July 30th, Wills already had eight state agents on board and believed that the rest would eventually follow suit. He also had the potential location and cost of land for the cemetery site. After a telegram to the other state governors explaining his plan, Wills went ahead and purchased a total of seventeen acres for $2,475.87.

At the same time, Wills got the Connecticut and Wisconsin agents to help draft a circular to the state governors, drafted specifications and advertised for bids to rebury the Union soldiers in the cemetery, and contacted one William Saunders to lay out the cemetery grounds. Wills included this information, as well as the total cost of the project–under $35,000–in his circular to the state governors on August 12th. He also asked the governors to appoint agents to work on the cemetery project and inquired if they wanted to purchase their state’s portion of the cemetery.

Wills’s report to Governor Curtin in mid-August indicated that progress was being made. Fifteen of seventeen governors had responded, the location and layout of the cemetery had been set, and Wills was ready to move ahead. His suggestion for some kind of dedication ceremony was also well-received and he was immediately authorized to plan one. Wills turned to the other states for suggestions for the ceremony. They were in unanimous agreement with Wills’s invitation to Edward Everett of Massachusetts to give the main oration.

Everett’s attendance would dictate the date of the ceremony. Wills had originally planned for the dedication ceremony to be on October 23rd, but Everett would not be able to do it before November 19th. So, the ceremony was moved to the 19th; this meant the reburials would start about a month before the ceremony. Now that Wills had the date for the ceremony, he sent out the rest of his invitations: President Lincoln, whom Wills invited to give “a few appropriate remarks;” Vice President Hamlin, the cabinet, foreign ministers, and generals were all invited. Wills also invited the House chaplain, Reverend Thomas Stockton to give the invocation, Reverend Henry Baugher (president of the Gettysburg Seminary) to give the benediction, and several bands to provide music for the occasion. To manage the ceremony and the procession, Wills chose Ward Lamon, the U.S. marshal in D.C. and Lincoln’s bodyguard. Wills had high hopes for the dedication ceremony, but several officials were unable to attend, and a few railroad companies backed out of running special trains for the occasion.

As November 19th got closer, Wills took care of several last-minute details, and guests began to arrive. Edward Everett arrived on the 17th, President Lincoln arrived after dark on the 18th, and Governor Curtin did not arrive until around midnight. On the morning of the 19th, the weather was perfect, but the masses of people who had arrived for the ceremony made it hard for Ward Lamon to get everyone in line for the procession by the intended start time of 10 o’clock. According to the program, the military was supposed to form up at 9 o’clock just north of the square, all the civic bodies (except for citizens of states) were supposed to be in line elsewhere at the same time, and the citizens of states were supposed to be in line at 9 o’clock as well. The procession did not start until nearly 11 o’clock.

Once the procession reached the cemetery, the program began. It started with a funeral march from one of the bands, followed by the invocation from Reverend Stockton and a performance from another band. Then, Lamon introduced Edward Everett, who gave a two-hour long speech recounting the entire battle. Everett was followed by a choir, and then President Lincoln was introduced. His short “Gettysburg Address” was interrupted repeatedly by applause and ended with even more applause. Once the applause died down, a choir of Gettysburg residents sung a dirge, and Reverend Baugher gave the benediction. With the ceremony essentially over, a battery of the 5th New York fired an eight-shot salute, and the attendees dispersed. Wills, the president, and several other prominent guests headed back to Wills’s house and later back to Washington.

While the dedication ceremony was officially over, there was still work to be done. The reburials still had to be finished—the process would take until March of 1864. In addition, a commission had to be set up to handle cemetery operations, and a monument had to be erected. While the commission was selected in December 1863, the cornerstone of the monument was not laid until July 4, 1865. The process of creating and dedicating the cemetery was far longer and far more complicated than just the dedication that people celebrate today.

Klement, Frank L. The Gettysburg Soldiers’ Cemetery and Lincoln’s Address: Aspects and Angles. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Publishing Company, 1993.

“Program Containing the Order of Procession and Order of Exercises for the “Inauguration of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, PA, 19 November, 1863,” Gettysburg Battlefield

Memorial Association, Civil War Vertical File Manuscripts, Gettysburg College Special Collections.

Image: President Lincoln at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, November 19th, 1863. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.


The Women of Winchester, Virginia

By Virginia R. Bensen, 11-30-11

We are happy to welcome guest author Virginia R. Bensen.

This is the Introduction to a series of articles that will follow over the next few months about the Civil War women of Winchester, Virginia. What is interesting about these women is each represents either a Unionist or Secessionist perspective. The articles in this series will sometimes focus on just one woman from Winchester or Frederick County, Virginia. In other articles, there will be a bantering of diary entries between two or more women.

At first I thought I would write about all Secessionists, and then all Unionists, or all about the younger women or older women, but in thinking about presentation, I decided it would be more interesting to mix up these women and present the series more in a chronological order. This will provide the reader an opportunity to make easier comparisons of perspectives and attitudes of the women.

Scholarly work that has been presented about Southern women has been primarily about the wealthy plantation mistress. Only during the past twenty years has the focus changed to examining the lives and experiences of other classes and races of women of the Civil War period. All of the women of course who wrote diaries were literate and fairly well educated. In reading these diaries and manuscripts, it appears that when the women are occupied by their enemy, it is at that time they are prolific writers. The articles will span a focus from the wealthy socialite to the mercantile store keeper, and to those in between. Most of the writers are widowed or single and the ages range from a 14-year-old to a 45-year-old. Unlike the plantation mistresses or belles who were found in the Deep South, these women represent the women who lived in the Shenandoah Valley region.  Their values and beliefs in some ways are similar to those in the Deep South, but in other ways they are quite different.

The women of Winchester, Virginia regardless of whether they supported the Union or the Confederacy, tended to be tenacious in their loyalties. This brought about a tension that built over time between those who were pro-Union and those who were pro-Confederate. To complicate the situation, Winchester changed Union and Confederate occupations over 70 times during the Civil War. The town’s majority of civilians supported the Confederacy, and the women although restricted from fighting in the military demonstrated their support for the South in many ways that were within the boundaries and sometimes slightly over the boundaries of womanhood for that time.

In order to fully understand the complexity of the situation, here is a very brief background of Winchester, Virginia. At the beginning of the Civil War, Winchester dominated the lower Shenandoah Valley because of its network of seven major roads that radiating out in various directions to connect it to other large towns and cities in Virginia. Two of the roads were macadamized and connected Winchester to both the lower and upper Valley – Martinsburg to the north, and Staunton to the south. The road system made the town a major trade center for the Valley. In 1860 Winchester had a population of 4,392, which included 680 free blacks and 708 slaves. (Click here for a map of the area.)

The majority of whites were non-slaveholders.  The town itself had multiple shops, taverns and hotels.  It was one of the few towns in the Valley that had gaslights and a water system.  There were warehouses and a railroad depot.  It also had two banks, two newspapers, more than fifty stores several fire companies and ten churches.   In addition, it housed the Winchester Medical College which was the first medical school in Virginia, and four private schools for educating the children.  For the most part, the community “embraced a middle class work ethic, which was similar to that of a Northern market region than to the hierarchical slave society.”   Sheila Phips observes, that Winchester during this time “Had all of the amenities expected of an urban area, if on a smaller scale.” In the words of historian Jonathan Noyales, “The strategic location of Winchester promoted its economic prominence and that location brought about its wartime problems.”

Prior to secession the majority of civilians in the town were against leaving the Union, but when Virginia seceded, that majority became the small minority in the town.  Many who supported the Confederacy did so because they felt the United States had abandoned them in many ways.  For the most part, they did not want to secede from the Union, but did so because they believed they had a higher and deeper loyalty to their state of Virginia.

When Virginia seceded, the townspeople went into a mass celebration. The young men were in a frenzy to join the militias to serve the Cause.  The romance of war became a fever, and the women encouraged that fever.  There is a story that is told among historians of Winchester, that is probably from oral history, since no one can find the source. One young man was reluctant to join a local militia unit. Some of the younger women in town had a gift package delivered to his home.  When he opened the package it contained a pair of ladies bloomers with frills and lace. Lying on top of the pantaloons was a note that read, “If you don’t sign up to fight, you might as well put these on. The next day the young gentlemen joined the militia. Throughout the Civil War the Secessionist women encouraged their men to continue fighting for the Southern Cause.  Even during the Union occupations, many smuggled letters to their “boys” and also smuggled contraband goods such as sugar, coffee, fabrics, thread and needles from Baltimore into Winchester not so much for civilian use, but to feed and clothe the Confederate sick and wounded.

During the initial Confederate occupancy in 1861 and early 1862, the women of Winchester participated in the usually expected activities such as organizing sewing and knitting groups to make socks, shirts, and caps for the Confederate troops. During the early part of summer of 1861, many of the troops became ill with measles, and the women took those soldiers into their homes and cared for them during their recovery.  Both Union and Confederate sympathizers housed the Confederate soldiers during this timeframe.

Although there were some minor skirmishes during June 1861, it was not until after the First Battle of Manassas, that the Winchester woman witnessed the horrors of war. In diaries there were descriptions of men with their faces mutilated, gut shot men, dead men, and of piles of amputated limbs.  Many Winchester women, especially of Confederate loyalty described going to the hospitals and nursing “their boys.”  Nursing to many of these women meant reading, writing, and feeding the wounded, not cleaning or bandaging wounds.

Although tensions between the Unionist and Confederate civilians were fairly amicable in the beginning of the war, when General Stonewall Jackson began arresting many of the prominent Winchester area Unionists in the fall of 1861 and winter of 1862, tensions intensified.  Jackson’s arrests started a total distrust by the Unionists toward the Secessionists.  On the other hand, the Secessionists by the end of 1861 withdrew from any socializing with the Unionists, and only made contact with them when absolutely necessary. By the time General Nathaniel Banks took occupation of Winchester in the spring of 1862, relations between the Unionists and Confederates rose to a hostile level.  Because of this tension, civilians identified with either the Unionists or the Secessionists. Remaining neutral meant that you were open to hostilities by both the Unionists and Secessionists.

After spending hours reading these diaries and manuscripts, it seemed that I was becoming friends with these individuals.  Through their writings I was invited into their inner most thoughts and feelings, and sometimes I wanted to shout at these women for acting like such fools, or for being so stubborn about some of the pettiest issues. Then, it dawned on me that these women have been dead for over a hundred years! I do not live in the nineteenth century, I live in the twenty-first century. What I consider to be a petty issue, to the women living in the 1860s that same issue was far from petty.

Through these diary accounts of the Civil War experiences of the women of Winchester, Virginia, there becomes a serialized story of the Winchester Civil War civilians and in particular the women’s experiences. This story contains drama, intrigue, romance, as well as comedy.  Each woman relates her own perspective. Yet, each contributes to the rich tapestry of the Civil War history itself.

About the Author: Virginia R. Bensen has a doctorate in Higher Education Leadership, an MBA and has taught a variety of college business courses. She has designed award winning workforce and education programs.  After finishing her doctoral dissertation, she decided to write a historical novel focusing on the civilian and women’s experiences in Civil War Winchester, Virginia.  Although familiar with social science research methods, but feeling rather intimidated with historical research, she enrolled in a Masters of American History program at American Public University. Her research interests are Civil War women and women’s identity change. She enjoys writing both popular and scholarly history.


War Surgery


The U.S. Army had more doctors than it needed prior to the Civil War.  Surgeons and their assistants found themselves working in remote outposts, spread throughout the country and on the Western Frontier.  Their patients were a small numbers of soldiers who saw little conflict.  Only diseases such as malaria and yellow fever were troublesome.  Surgeons were rarely involved with such diseases however.

As the Civil War approached the quality of medical training had decreased tremendously.  These inexperienced, unknowledgeable surgeons and doctors soon found hundreds of injured and dying men dependent on them.

The Union and Confederate armies shared similar medical practices.  Each regiment had one surgeon, and one assistant surgeon.  Their duties included daily examinations of soldiers’ ailments, and dealing with battlefield injuries.  The instruments and medications used for surgery were often the personal property of the particular surgeon.  Anaesthesia had not become familiarized on the battle field and opium was the primary drug used by patients to cope with severe pain.

Surgery in Civil War field stations and hospitals was quick and barbaric.  Oftentimes lines of soldiers would have to wait and endure the sight of their fellow soldiers being hacked, while they waited their turn.  As the war progressed anaesthesia was used on surgeries in medical hospitals.  Chloroform and ether were utilized in preparation to remove bullets or amputations.  This was done as quickly as possible, both because of the surgeon’s need to see other patients, and the continuation of the tradition of speedy surgery from the time before anesthetics.  Gangrene and maggots were common sights in Civil War hospitals as infection would overtake peoples’ wounds and as bodies would rot, quickly decomposing after death.  Needless to say, the survival rate of Civil War surgeries was not very high.  Many patients died from poor care or major infection.

Letter from Charles Francis Adams, Jr. to Abigail Brooks Adams, 8 January 1865


Writing across the Atlantic to his family stationed in Europe, Union soldier Charles Francis Adams, Jr., reports here on his new duties commanding an African-American regiment at the Confederate prisoner-of-war hospital in Point Lookout, Md. With his own health nearly broken by a recent bout with malaria, Adams struggles to professionalize his new corps. And, as the conflict winds to a bloody close, Adams reassures his mother that Southern prisoners are receiving adequate treatment from a federal government still capable of "Christian spirit & forbearance." Knowing that "war is cruel in all its parts," Charles was determined to confirm that years of bloodshed had been followed by measures of Northern mercy.

Charles Francis Adams II (1835-1915) was a soldier, businessman, historian, and president of the Massachusetts Historical Society from 1895 until 1915. The son of Charles Francis Adams (1807-1886), the American minister to Great Britain, and Abigail Brooks Adams, he served with distinction as a Union officer during the Civil War. Then Charles entered the railroad industry, rising to the presidency of the Union Pacific Railroad from1884 to 1890. From 1890 to 1915, Adams spoke and wrote widely on historical, educational, economic, and political subjects as an active member of the Harvard Board of Overseers and the Anti-Imperialist League. Adams's works include biographies of Richard Henry Dana and of his father, as well as two key contributions to local history entitled Massachusetts: Its Historians and Its History and Three Episodes of Massachusetts History.

The young cavalryman's path through the war had been an unusual one. He punctuated long months of battle with periods to rest from severe illness, and took a Continental hiatus to visit family. Longing for a career in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry over more predictable genteel skirmishes in the family field of law, Charles reported for duty in Boston in late 1861. His enlistment enraged brother Henry and deeply alarmed their parents. As the cavalryman later confessed in his Autobiography, he was, from the start, an unlikely soldier. He was "not quick, daring, or ready-witted, robust but not muscularly agile." Adams claimed "no personal magnetism" and was, he thought, "rather deficient in mind in time of peril."

The Civil War reshaped Charles as a soldier, historian, and leader. A few miles outside Boston, Adams's commanding officer proved too drunk to guide the handpicked corps of Brahmin rookies, and Charles found himself at the regiment's head. Though he felt "in no way heroic," Adams saw plenty of action. He solicited management tips as a general's aide. He learned to survive on black coffee and half-rotten beef. When winter quarters permitted, Adams holed up in his tent, poring over biographies of British generals who conquered India, soaking up their professional inspiration. After two full years of service, Charles took a quick leave to spend Christmas 1863 in London with Henry and the rest of the family. Then he plunged back in. When Charles suffered on the battlefield, he pulled out rosier memories of Queen Victoria's London and replayed the happy reunion in his mind. "I would like to act it all over again & do not know of one thing I should desire to change from the moment I got up feeling rather blue & that in which Henry put his hand on my shoulder to the last moment where I went to sleep in London," Charles reflected later, on picket in Virginia. "It is all gone now like a dream, but it has left a pleasant track behind it." By January 1865, Adams believed that three years of intermittent conflict had hardened him into, at the very least, an "above average" soldier. At Antietam and Gettysburg, waiting wearily in the deafening dark with his troops; the drone of cannons lulled Charles into a heavy doze.

Another furlough in late 1864, this time to the Adams family farm in Quincy, helped Charles to convalesce from malaria. Like many of his peers, Charles showed signs of difficulty in reconciling the regimen of war with daily life on the Northern home front. At the ancestral home, the same ornaments and paintings lined the walls, and every morning Charles awoke to the excited babble of his nieces and nephews. But Charles, articulating the trauma of the generation of Northern and Southern soldiers who returned to a drastically changed America, already felt like the war had made him a man set apart from society: "I am a solitary, restless stranger visiting the cradle of my [early] life & the grave of my race," he wrote. Again, Charles returned to the now-familiar scene of war, accepting command of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry. When Richmond fell, he swept into the desolate city, riding proudly at the head of an African-American regiment.

Back at the American legation in London, Charles's dispatches from the Southern front were shared, discussed, and addressed by family members with greater attention than most. Letters to and from Charles stitched together popular literary quotes, philosophical musings culled from the Harvard recitation drills that all Adams men endured, and snippets of Scripture. One of Charles's final missions before his August 1865 discharge came at the special request of his mother, Abigail, who was horrified by newspaper reports of prisoner abuse and photographs of coffins stacked at Point Lookout. The site, where prisoners more often died from malaria or scurvy than hunger, lacked regular supplies of clean water, and the professional medical staff were few. Point Lookout inmates, who built stoves to heat their tents, suffered from the same illnesses—exhaustion and vitamin deficiency—as did their guards, like Charles.

Acting at Abigail's request, Charles inspected the camp hospital and interviewed prisoners, at least one of whom he remembered capturing three years earlier. Then Charles wrote to reassure his mother that Confederate prisoners of war—enduring a state that he called the "purest form of squalid misery to which God's image is anywhere reduced" in any war—were treated with "liberal" and "Christian" standards of care. The young soldier's mission resonated with the needs of the hour, and also with the social concerns of the day: to provide adequate Christian succor to those in suffering. The rise of Civil War memorial societies, along with professional morticians and sanitary aid commissions, would radically alter American politics within a quarter-century.

Readied for public service by his days of war, Charles Francis Adams moved on, too. That November, he married Mary Hone Ogden, and commenced a prolific career in civil leadership.

Sources for Further Reading:
The Adams Family Papers contains the correspondence, letterbooks, diaries, literary manuscripts, speeches, legal and business papers, and other papers of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Charles Francis Adams, as well as papers of many other Adams family members and incoming correspondence from hundreds of major and minor figures in America and Europe.

Family dispatches about the Civil War era are found in the Adams Family "All Gens." section. Although Charles Francis, Jr., destroyed the bulk of his wartime diary while writing his Autobiography, his papers, pamphlets, and diaries, are held here.

Adams, Charles F., Jr. Charles Francis Adams by His Son. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1900.

----. Charles Francis Adams, 1835-1915: An Autobiography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916.

----. Massachusetts: Its Historians and Its History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1893.

----. Richard Henry Dana: a Biography. Boston: Hougton Mifflin, 1890.

----. Three Episodes of Massachusetts History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892.

Ford, Worthington C., ed. A Cycle of Adams Letters, 1861-1865. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920.

---. "Charles Francis Adams (1838-1915)." Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 53 (1918):776-780.

Gillispie, James M. Andersonvilles of the North: The Myths and Realities of Northern Treatment of Civil War Confederate Prisoners. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2008.

Perkins, Elliot, John A. Abbott, and Thomas B. Adams. "Three Views of Charles Francis Adams, II." Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 3d ser., 72 (1960):212-237.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dead Cattle and Greek Fire

By Jeffrey B. Roth, 3-25-14

The American Civil War was a conflict that sat astride two phases in military history: It began with generals on both sides employing timeworn Napoleonic-era strategies and ended with horrific trench warfare and violence against civilian populations that foreshadowed World War I. It was also a crucible in which new combat technologies were tested, among them ironclads, machine guns and submarines. And while scientists had not yet fully grasped the germ theory of disease, it was also one of the first conflicts to see chemical and biological agents tested, and even used, as weapons.

Disease was everywhere during the Civil War. By far, the biggest killer during the conflict were communicable illnesses caused by unsanitary conditions at camp and in the field. As Andrew M. Bell of the University of Virginia has documented, early in the fighting military leaders on both sides of the war began to grasp the concept of disease vectors, as weapons.

Union planners knew that among other things, the blockade against Southern ports would exacerbate the spread of disease in the South by restricting access to food, clothing and medical supplies. Malaria was still rampant across the Deep South, and quinine was in high demand before the war. “Some parts of the South experienced shortages of quinine as early as the first summer of the war, and prices climbed each year thereafter,” Bell said. “Southern civilians suffered most of all from the quinine shortage because the Confederate government requisitioned whatever little bit made it through the blockade.”

Others sought to turn disease into an offensive weapon. One Southern planner proposed shipping clothing worn by yellow fever patients to Union military units, hoping to cause an epidemic. In 1862, R.R. Barrow, a Southern farmer, suggested taking bodies of yellow fever victims, along with contaminated clothing, to New Orleans, which was occupied by Union forces. There is no evidence that either plan was put in action.

In 1863, Dr. Luke Blackburn, a Southern sympathizer and later governor of Kentucky, plotted to infect clothing with the smallpox virus and sell it to Union troops in Washington. There may have been one Union victim of the scheme, a lieutenant in the 17th Vermont named Charles W. Randall, who believed he became ill after purchasing some undergarments from a store. Later, the store was identified as a possible recipient of an infected clothing consignment.

Another approach to biological warfare was the contamination of drinking water by retreating soldiers. Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman reported that Confederate troops retreating from Vicksburg, Va., had driven animals into ponds and then shot them. In response, the Union War Department issued General Orders No. 100, on April 24, 1863, stating: “The use of poison in any manner, be it to poison wells, or food, or arms, is wholly excluded from modern warfare.”

The Civil War also saw significant use of chemical weapons, at least in an incipient form. Union forces used variants of Greek fire, essentially incendiary mixtures that were hard to extinguish and could, in some cases, float on water. “I classify Greek fire as a chemical weapon because the formulations, when ignited, released large volumes of noxious fumes, and this was considered a useful collateral effect,” said Guy R. Hasegawa, a Civil War researcher. Greek fire was used most notably during the sieges of Vicksburg, Miss., and Charleston, S.C.

Long-range artillery shells were used as the delivery system for the incendiary compounds. There were technical problems, such as the projectiles exploding too early or not at all, doing little damage. The South also developed Greek fire weapons, but how extensively they were used in the field is unclear.

Confederates had their own ideas about chemical warfare, though none were actually employed. In one case, a commando team was given chloroform for a planned raid on the Monitor ironclad, which they would use to overwhelm sleeping sailors, but the raid never took place. The South tested a shell laden with a chemical agent that would release intense noxious gases, to be fired into Union positions. The Confederates also developed another fume-producing device to be fired into tunnels. A June 4, 1861, article in The Richmond Daily Dispatch noted: “It is well known that there are some chemicals so poisonous that an atmosphere impregnated with them, makes it impossible to remain where they are by filling larges shells of extraordinary capacity with poisonous gases and throwing them very rapidly into” an enemy position (in this case Fort Pickens, a holdout Union post along the Gulf Coast).

But the most rapid innovation took place in the North. President Lincoln exhibited great interest in the development of new weapons technology. During the war, the president would often visit the Navy Yard and consult with John A. Dahlgren, head of the ordnance department of the Navy.

Yet because there was no coordinated, systematic effort to take advantage of such innovations, many ideas remained undeveloped. Nowhere was this more true than in the realm of chemical and biological weapons, where thinking got far ahead of actual doing, and the horrific implementation of things like germ warfare and chemical agents had to wait for a later, even more barbaric conflict.

Sources: Guy R. Hasegawa, “Proposals for Chemical Weapons During the American Civil War”; Jeffrey K. Smart, “Chemical and Biological Warfare Research and Development During the Civil War”; James M. Schmidt: “The Arts of Death,” The Civil War News, November 2010.

Jeffrey B. Roth is a freelance writer.



Facebook Twitter Delicious Stumbleupon Favorites