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.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Production Update: We're Doing Research at The Library Company of Philadelphia

By Carole Adrienne

We've been selecting more images for the documentary series and trailer at one of my favorite research facilities.

The Library Company of Philadelphia, founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin, is an independent research library concentrating on American society and culture from the 17th through the 19th centuries. Free and open to the public, the Library Company houses an extensive non-circulating collection of rare books, manuscripts, broadsides, ephemera, prints, photographs, and works of art.
This place is heaven for the serious researcher. The staff is brilliant and enthusiastic, the facility is comfortable, beautiful and accessible.

I always let them know what we're looking for when making an appointment, and they never disappoint! There are always exquisite treasures laid out on the tables when we arrive.

Check them out at

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

How a Government Worker Discovered Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office

By Matt Blitz, 11-13-15

On the day before Thanksgiving 1996, General Services Administration carpenter Richard Lyons was conducting a final review of a decrepit building at 437 Seventh Street, Northwest, that had recently fallen into government possession and was now set for demolition. Coming in from the cold rain, he entered the dusty old building alone. On the first floor (which was once a shoe store), he checked for infrastructure damage, trash, and whether anybody had made it their temporary home. Then, he moved to the second floor and did a similar sweep. He moved to third floor. “There were no lights… it was dark,” Lyons tells Washingtonian, “Then, I heard this noise, but saw nothing.” Lyons heard a noise again, so he walked back and forth, stopping at the window. “I was at the window and it felt like somebody tapped me on the shoulder… when I turned around, I spotted an envelope between the ceiling and the wall.”

He got out a ladder and reached for it. The envelope was addressed to a “Edward Shaw, Washington City.” Curious, he pulled himself through a small hole leading to the attic. That’s where he found an assortment of artifacts—utensils, clothing, Civil War-era newspapers, a bayonet and one small sign written in gold and black lettering. It read “Missing Soldiers. Office. 3rd. Story. Room 9. Miss Clara Barton.”

The sign Lyons found. Photograph courtesy the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
Clara Barton was born into a military and abolitionist-leaning Massachusetts family in 1821. Her father was a militia captain and founder of the community’s Universalist church, one that held progressive views on abolition. At 18, she began her professional career as a teacher in Oxford, Massachusetts. In 1854, she moved to Washington to become a recording clerk at the United States Patent Office. She was so impressive, both in her skills and confidence, that she was paid the same salary as her male co-workers, which was nearly unheard of at the time. Unfortunately, the job only lasted three years: When Democrat James Buchanan became president, the vocal Republican and abolitionist was let go. When Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, she got hired again, but to the position of copyist—not nearly as prestigious or well-paying a job. When war broke out in 1861, Barton volunteered at the Washington Infirmary. As the conflict dragged on, more brutal than many had anticipated, Barton made her way to the front lines, determined to help those fighting for the cause she believed in.

Barton wasn’t a trained nurse, but her ability to organize supplies, help, and treatment was immensely needed during a war that injured and maimed thousands. She became a welcome and morale-boosting sight whenever she showed up at a Union hospital. Frequently written about in newspapers across the country, Barton became a well-known figure to Americans. Due to this and her proximity to soldiers, Barton received scores of letters from families asking whether their loved ones were alive or dead, and if dead where they were buried. Unable to answer every letter, she hired several assistants and ordered stationery. She named her new mobile venture “The Office of Correspondence with the Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army.”

In late 1864, with the war finally winding down, Barton moved back to the nation’s capital to gather supplies. It was at this time that Edward Shaw, a friend and co-worker from the patent office, offered Barton a chance to move into his boarding house at 488 1/2 7th Street—437 7th Street today. She took him up on it and also convinced him to rent her half of the third floor for an office. Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office was born.

Over a period of about four years, Barton and her staff handled over 60,000 pieces of correspondence, helping to give peace of mind to a country scarred by war. She placed ads in newspapers, wrote letters to her military contacts, and urged soldiers to tell her about final resting places of their fellow comrades. She went on to establish the American Red Cross 12 years later.
After his discovery, Richard Lyons became so infatuated with Barton and the Missing Soldiers Office story that he spent a year researching and reading everything he could. “I would go home, walk the dog, then go to the Library of Congress and stayed there until closing time every night,” says Lyons. With the help of the National Park Service, the GSA, and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, many of the found artifacts have been archived–including a blouse with a hole in its sleeve.

“While doing research, I read that (Barton) was at Antietam giving soldiers water,” Lyons says. “She wrote in her diary that a bullet went through her sleeve and hit a soldier in the head, killing him … under that she wrote, ‘I never bothered to mend it.'” Lyons believes it’s the same blouse–“Why else would a hole like that be in a sleeve?” he says.

Today, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine operates the DC building’s first and third floor as a museum and monument to the achievements, heroism, and willpower of Clara Barton. Lyons still volunteers there on occasion, giving tours and telling people about the historic trove he found. When asked if he thought, perhaps, it was the spirit of Clara Barton that lightly tapped him on the shoulder that cold, rainy November night nearly two decades ago, Lyons responds,“I don’t know what it was, but it felt real to me.”


Field Hospital Flag Exhibited in Atlanta Aided Stretcher-Bearers, Witnessed War's Horrors

By Phil Gast, 5-23-16

(Photographs courtesy of Atlanta History Center)

Before he became a renowned landscape and marine painter, Harrison Bird Brown created signs and banners. During the Civil War, his business in Portland, Maine, produced a U.S. Army field hospital flag that had a distinctive yellow background and contrasting green “H” for hospital (style specified in January 1864 Army regulations). One of Brown’s flags is among only a dozen such banners believed to have survived the Civil War.

Gordon Jones
The flag was donated last year to the Atlanta History Center, where it is displayed near the “Agonies of the Wounded” case at the center’s “Turning Point: The American Civil War” permanent exhibition. The Picket asked AHC senior military historian Gordon Jones about the donation from John and Joyce Shmale of Mahomet, Ill. (Jones first wrote about the gift in Civil War News). His responses have been edited.

Q. Any clue in which theater it was used?

A. None. It was made in Maine, so you have to think Eastern Theater, but you never know.

Q. Why did the Schmales (who each have worked in the medical field) donate it specifically to the AHC? Have they done so previously?

A. No, this was their first donation to us, but not their first donation to a museum. They were looking for a good home, not to sell it, and decided on the AHC due to a recommendation from their appraiser. On our end, we were thrilled beyond words. The DuBoses (an Atlanta father and son who amassed thousands of items) collected for 35 years and never found one – and this is not something you find every day, or something you can just buy from the antique store. We probably would have never had one had it not been for this donation. And it really helps our interpretation of medical treatment during the Civil War, which we cover in “Turning Point,” and is included on all the tours, especially for school groups.

Q. On the conservation of the 63-by-46-inch wool bunting flag by Kate R. Daniels, how much was involved in it? What shape was the flag beforehand?

A. The flag was in good shape beforehand and needed very little cleaning. The main thing Kate did was prepare the mount: a backboard to which is attached layers of soft cotton batting covered by plain-cotton cloth, then she lightly stitched the flag to the cloth. Then we had a local framer who prepares the frame – powder-coat aluminum frame with U/V-protected plexiglass front and cleats on the back for securing to the wall. This frame has to be precisely matched to the measurements of the backboard (everything has to be custom-made). The idea is that once the mount is placed in the frame, the flag is “sandwiched” securely between the cotton cloth and the plex front, preventing it from sliding around, stretching fibers, etc. It’s the safest way to treat a flat textile item like this. And, of course, we wanted the flag on display as soon as possible.

Q. Any general thoughts on the flag's significance? Why are they so rare?

A. It’s like a lot of other Civil War artifacts: That which was most common shall be least common. In other words, what was ordinary back then was not considered worthy of saving and was discarded, hence making it incredibly rare today. That is why enlisted soldier’s uniforms are so much rarer than fancy officer’s uniforms. Our artifact storage area is filled with wedding dresses and tuxedos. but no blue jeans – that sort of thing.

Q. Did a yellow or red field hospital flag prove effective in deterring enemy fire on the sites?

A. It was probably not about deterring enemy fire as much as being recognizable to one’s own stretcher-bearers in the smoke and confusion of battle. The field hospitals should have been far enough from the front lines to avoid direct fire, but they had to be easy to find in order to bring in the wounded quickly. The same type of flags, but larger, were used to designate buildings used as more permanent hospitals in towns and cities -- so again, to make sure everybody knew this was a medical facility. It was a way of making medical care more timely and efficient. If you recall how unprepared and overwhelmed the medical services on both sides were early in the war – hence the terrible suffering of the wounded -- you know why this was so important. (About 30,000 emergency amputations were conducted by U.S. Army surgeons during the war.)


Quirky Places: Last Casualty of the Civil War

By Ryan Whirty

That and other stories haunt the Alexandria National Cemetery

In March 1864, a 21-year-old man from Jay County, Ind. – the small town of Portland, to be specific – enlisted in the United States Army and was assigned to the 34th Indiana Regiment, also known as the Morton Rifles, Company B. That’s how young John Jefferson Williams, a blacksmith by trade, began his service in the Civil War.

Now, nearly a century and a half later, that Indiana boy rests under the ground in Pineville, one of thousands of Union troops buried at Alexandria National Cemetery. Williams holds the distinction of being the last soldier killed in the War Between the States.
So how did a youthful Hoosier end up interred in the Pelican State, roughly 850 miles from his home in Indiana? Why is Williams’ final resting place located in an 8.2-acre national cemetery in Pineville, in section B, grave 797, under a simple white headstone nestled in a grassy field with hundreds of other similar cemetery plots?

After transferring through several sections of the Union Army, the 34th Indiana served with distinction under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the crucial Vicksburg campaign. The Morton Rifles were then ordered to help in the defense of New Orleans.
From there, the 34th was assigned to the Department of Texas and shipped to Brownsville, Texas, in May 1865.

There, they joined a small Union force that also consisted of two regiments of famed Buffalo Soldiers, black troops who volunteered to defend the Union.

It was then, on May 13, that the 34th Indiana took part in the Battle of Palmito Ranch (alternately called Palmetto Ranch), the final skirmish of the Civil War. The clash near Brownsville came more than a month after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The Palmito Ranch skirmish occurred despite an earlier agreement between both sides to cease hostilities in south Texas.

The clash ended with a Confederate victory, and according to Jeffrey W. Hunt’s The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch, the 34th Indiana suffered most of the Union casualties. Out of the 114 Union soldiers lost during the battle, 76 of them came from the Hoosier regiment.

That unfortunately included John J. Williams, who was mortally wounded by a Confederate bullet during the skirmish. According to Hunt, Williams’ body was left on the battlefield, where Confederate soldiers, in dire need of essentials, took his shoes, socks, pants and hat. The $45 in Williams’ pocket was recovered by Union troops and made its way back to his widow in Indiana.
The last soldier of either side to die in the Civil War was then buried with thousands of his comrades in a national cemetery in Brownsville, Texas, near Fort Brown.

However, the Army eventually abandoned the fort in 1909, forcing the disinterment and relocation of about 3,800 Union officers and soldiers – including John J. Williams from Portland, Ind. – from the Mexican War, the Civil War and a yellow fever epidemic in the mid-1880s.

The July 19, 1911, edition of The Beaumont Journal announced on its front page that the Union bodies began their journey the day before. The disinterment and removal contract was given to N.E. Rendall, who submitted a successful bid to the Federal government. The remains were shipped to Pineville. The moved bodies were reinterred over a period of several months. That included Williams, whose eternal claim to fame as the final man killed in the bloody War Between the States remains intact.

Williams and thousands of peers now rest in Pineville. In 1867, the town became the home of Alexandria National Cemetery.

The cemetery currently holds the bodies of more than 10,000 veterans. In addition to Williams and other casualties of the Union’s invasion of Texas, Alexandria contains the final resting places of numerous Buffalo soldiers, as well as casualties of the Civil War’s Red River campaign.

While Williams is perhaps the most prominent transfer from the closed Brownsville cemetery, there are also many soldiers who, in death, have no names – one grave at Pineville includes the remains of more than 1,500 unknown soldiers transferred from Texas.

Many elements of Alexandria National Cemetery’s infrastructure – such as the utility building, main gate, rostrum and the one-story Colonial Revival superintendent’s lodge – date back to 1930s. The cemetery’s brick perimeter wall was erected in 1878.

Within that wall rests the remains of John Jefferson Williams, a man barely into his 20s, the last soldier killed in the Civil War, a casualty of the Battle of Palmito Ranch.


The Gatling Gun: A Civil War Innovation

By A.B. Feuer, 12-16-15

“If war was made more terrible, it would have a tendency to keep peace among the nations of the earth.” - Richard Gatling, Inventor of the Gatling Gun

Richard Gatling was born in Hertford County, NC, on December 12, 1818. His father was a prosperous farmer and inventor, and the son was destined to inherit the “invention bug.”

After three of his sisters died at a young age from disease, Richard Gatling decided to study medicine, and graduated from the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati in 1850. He moved to Indianapolis the same year, and in 1854 married the daughter of a prominent local physician. There is no evidence that Richard Gatling ever practiced medicine after leaving medical school, but he was always referred to as “doctor.”

Gatling was a born inventor. Between 1857 and 1860 he patented a steam plow, a rotary plow, a seed planter, a lath-making machine, a hemp rake, and a rubber washer for tightening gears. One day in 1861, with the Civil War only a few months old, Dr. Gatling’s inventive fervor suffered a shock that would turn his mind from machines of peace to machines of war. From his Indianapolis office window, Gatling watched in horror as wounded and maimed soldiers were unloaded from a train—casualties from the southern killing fields.

The doctor was aware that the conflict was being waged in Napoleonic fashion. Men faced each other in solid ranks—aimed, fired, reloaded—and, on command, charged headlong into the blazing guns of the enemy. For several nights Richard Gatling could not sleep. A single idea occupied his thoughts. What if a few soldiers could duplicate the firepower of a hundred men? Troops would no longer be able to stand still and shoot at each other. And the running charge would be impossible, because the attacking force would be mowed down like tall grass.

Gatling reasoned that if he were able to invent a machine that could plant seeds swiftly, accurately, and in precise rows, he should be able to devise a mechanical gun that would spray bullets like water from a garden hose.

Invention of the Gatling Gun
Within a few weeks, the doctor had completed the drawings for his innovative weapon, the “Gatling gun,” and took the sketches to a machinist to manufacture.

The first Gatling gun consisted of a cluster of six rifle barrels, without stocks, arranged around a center rod. Each barrel had its own bolt, and the entire cluster could be made to revolve by turning a crank. The bolts were covered by a brass case at the breech. Cartridges were fed into a hopper, and as the cluster revolved, each barrel was fired at its lowest point, and then reloaded when the revolution was completed.

The gun was mounted upon a wheeled carriage. Two men were required to operate the weapon—one to sight the target and turn the crank, the other to load the ammunition.

A working model was completed within six months, and a public demonstration was held across Graveyard Pond in Indianapolis. The abrupt, rapid noise of gunfire could be heard for five miles and, at 200 rounds per minute, the bullets cut a 10-inch tree in half in less than 30 seconds.

Dr. Gatling patented his gun on November 4, 1862, but he had a difficult time selling it to the Army. General James Wolfe Ripley, chief of ordnance, was not impressed with the weapon and remarked: “You can kill a man just as dead with a cap-n’-ball smooth-bore.”

Gatling was unperturbed, however, and took his diagrams to a manufacturing company in Cincinnati. Twelve of the Gatling guns were built, and a few of them were sold to General Benjamin Butler for $1,000 each. Butler later used the Gatlings to hold a bridgehead against Confederate cavalry at the James River.

In early trials of the Gatling gun, it was regarded by the military as a supplement to artillery. The tests that were conducted compared the range and accuracy of the machine gun with the range and accuracy of grapeshot fired by artillery pieces.

Richard Gatling continued to modify and improve the weapon, and in 1865 patented a model that was capable of firing 350 rounds per minute. A demonstration was held at Fortress Monroe. This time the ordnance department was impressed and ordered a hundred guns. The Gatling gun was officially adopted by the U.S. Army on August 24, 1866. It was first manufactured by Cooper Arms in Philadelphia, and later by the Colt Arms Company of Hartford, Conn.

Europe and Abroad
Dr. Gatling traveled throughout Europe selling his weapon, and new models were continually being designed. A short-barrel variety was purchased by the British and mounted on camels. This so-called “camel gun” was also used by the U.S. Army and Navy.

As settlers moved west after the Civil War, Army garrisons in forts along the frontier housed Gatling guns. Gatlings were also attached to cavalry expeditions. A Gatling detachment under Lieutenant James W. Pope accompanied General Nelson A. Miles’s campaign into west Texas. On August 30, as an advance party of Army scouts entered a trail that led between two high bluffs, about three hundred Indians charged down the cliffs. At the sound of gunfire, Pope quickly brought up his Gatling guns. The rapid, withering fire scattered the attacking warriors, and they fled in confusion.

During the same year, a battalion of 8th Cavalry, commanded by Major William R. Price, was ordered out to suppress an uprising by several Indian tribes, including Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa. Price was able to successfully fight off several surprise attacks by hostile bands with two Gatling guns.

“If war was made more terrible, it would have a tendency to keep peace among the nations of the earth.” - Richard Gatling, Inventor of the Gatling Gun

But in the most famous battle of the Indian Wars, the Gatling was strangely absent. On June 22, 1876, Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry rode out from their Powder River camp and headed for the Little Big Horn River. Custer had been offered three Gatling guns but refused them. He felt that the Gatlings—mounted on horse-drawn carriages—would slow his cavalry troop down in rough country. Custer also believed that the use of such a devastating weapon would cause him to “lose face” with the Indians. Whether or not the Gatlings could have saved Custer and his 200 men is questionable. Some accounts report the column of Indians that retreated after the battle as being three miles long and a half-mile wide.

During the next few years, the Gatling gun participated in a number of battles, including those with the Nez Perce. The warriors under Chief Joseph fought 13 engagements against the U.S. Army, many of which were standoffs. Finally, on September 30, 1877, in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana, General Nelson Miles, with 600 men and a Gatling gun, attacked Chief Joseph’s camp. After four days of bitter fighting, Chief Joseph could hold out no longer. As he surrendered his rifle to Miles, the valiant Indian leader said, “My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

The Gatling Gun In Africa
During the latter part of the 19th century, Gatling guns became more and more popular, and were used in the many wars that flared during the 1880s and 1890s. The 1879 war between England and the African Zulu tribes was the first major land action in which the Gatling gun proved to be a deciding factor. A small British army, commanded by Lord Chelmsford, defeated a much larger Zulu force under King Cetywayo. In one encounter, a single Gatling mowed down more than 400 tribesmen in only a few minutes.

After his victorious campaign, Lord Chelmsford wrote: “They [Gatling guns] should be considered essentially as infantry weapons. They can be used effectively, not only in defense, but also in covering the last stage of an infantry attack upon a position—where the soldiers must cease firing and charge with the bayonet.”

By the time Dr. Gatling died in 1903, the automatic machine gun had arrived on the scene. It was powered by the discharging gases of its fired cartridges, and was simpler and more economical to use than the manually operated guns. In 1911, the U.S. Army declared the Gatling gun obsolete.

But Richard Gatling’s legacy did not die with him. In September 1956, the General Electric Company unveiled its 6-barrel aerial cannon called the Vulcan. For several years, General Electric had made a detailed study of every rapid-fire gun, and its engineers had found that Dr. Gatling’s original patents offered the most promise for the development of firepower necessary for fast jet fighter aircraft. The Vulcan was also put to use on attack helicopters and gunships.


Civil War Alcohol Abuse: Forty-rod, Blue Ruin & Oh Be Joyful

By David A. Norris, 9-20-15

With a plethora of colorful nicknames, alcohol was widely abused in both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

Union General Benjamin Butler was baffled. Every night a picket guard went to an outpost 1½ miles from Fort Monroe, Virginia. The soldiers departed for their shift perfectly sober, yet when they returned to the post the next morning they caused trouble “on account of being drunk.”

Investigations failed to reveal the source of their whiskey. Searches of canteens and gear turned up nothing suspicious. But there was one odd thing about the detachment: someone in Butler’s command noticed that the men always held their muskets straight up in a peculiar manner. The mystery unraveled when their muskets were examined. “Every gun barrel,” wrote Butler, “was found to be filled with whiskey.”

Excessive drinking was a constant problem in both armies during the Civil War. “No one evil agent so much obstructs this army as the degrading vice of drunkenness,” wrote Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan in February 1862. “It is the cause of by far the greatest part of the disorders which are examined by court-martial.” The complete abolition of alcohol, he believed, “would be worth fifty thousand men to the armies of the United States.” And across the Mason-Dixon Line, the Norfolk Day-Book complained that Confederate enlisted men and officers in the vicinity were drinking whiskey “in quantities which would astonish the nerves of a cast-iron lamp-post, and of a quality which would destroy the digestive organs of an ostrich.”

Whiskey the Drink of Choice for Most Soldiers
Many if not most soldiers were already well acquainted with alcohol from the antebellum era. Whiskey was far and away the most popular drink in 1861. Often made from corn instead of grain, it was distilled at countless locations across the country. Popular nondistilled drinks included cider and beer. Cider, made from apples, was more common, but beer was quickly growing in favor, its rise fueled by the steady German immigration into Northern states.

With a plethora of colorful nicknames, alcohol was widely abused in both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

Low-grade whiskey carried with it the threat of poisoning the drinker, so makers might start with clear alcohol, water it down, and then doctor the mixture to simulate the color and flavor of the real thing. Chewing tobacco, for example, helped approximate the amber tint of whiskey or brandy. Harsher ingredients added the bite that drinkers expected in their whiskey. An 1860 inspection of liquor samples in Cincinnati found whiskey containing sulfuric acid, red pepper, caustic, soda, potassium, and strychnine. It was no wonder that “rotgut” was the most prevalent nickname for cheap liquor during the era.

Countering the growth of alcohol consumption was the temperance movement, which sought to make all forms of alcoholic beverages illegal. Maine enacted a prohibition law in 1851. Several other states or territories passed dry laws in the following years. In most cases, these laws were repealed or overturned within a short time. Per capita consumption peaked in 1830 at an equivalent of 7.1 gallons of alcohol annually. A swift decline followed, with the annual per capita figure dropping to 2.53 gallons by 1860.

“Spirit Rations” Abolished
Alcohol still had an official presence in the U.S. Army in 1861. A daily spirit ration for American soldiers had been abolished in 1832, but officers were permitted to issue special servings of whiskey to relieve fatigue and exposure. Soldiers, naturally, had countless sneaky ways to obtain whiskey. While diligent officers could restrict the flow of whiskey into camp, soldiers could still drink when they received a pass to leave camp. In the Confederate Army, the phrase “running the blockade” meant slipping in and out of camp for illicit purposes, usually involving alcohol.

On February 27, 1862, the Confederate Congress passed a law allowing President Jefferson Davis to suspend habeas corpus and declare martial law in areas threatened by the enemy. Immediately, martial law was declared in Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia, followed by Richmond on March 1. Richmond came under control of the provost guards commanded by Brig. Gen. John H. Winder, who prohibited the manufacture of liquor and closed the city’s saloons. By then liquor sales had caused so much trouble and crime among Confederate soldiers and civilian that many in Richmond welcomed martial law. Winder also barred rail shipments of whiskey into the Confederate capital. Apothecaries were allowed to dispense liquor only with a doctor’s prescription.

Martial law did not stop the distribution of whiskey, but merely drove it underground. There were still countless cases of drunk and disorderly behavior, as well as arrests for illegal sales of alcohol. Corruption flourished among the provost guards, some of whom forged prescriptions for alcohol. After obtaining the liquor, they then arrested the apothecaries who had dispensed it, thus adding insult to injury.

A ‘Creature Comfort’ Care Package From Home
A great deal of whiskey was sent to army camps on both sides by well-meaning relatives back home. It was a common practice, especially among the Union soldiers, for families to send their loved ones packages of fresh, canned, or smoked food and other small creature comforts. Commanding officers quickly realized that a great deal of whiskey was also being smuggled into camp inside these care packages. General Butler later testified before Congress that a search of an Adams Express Company depot yielded 150 different packages of liquor in crates and boxes on their way to his command.

Every parcel intended for a soldier had to be opened and inspected by officers of his regiment or brigade. Union Private John D. Billings, in his classic memoir Hardtack and Coffee, recalled, “There was many a growl uttered by men who lost their little pint or quart bottle of some choice stimulating beverage, which had been confiscated from a box as contraband of war.” Billings noted some ingenious ways that innocent-looking gifts concealed whiskey. One favorite ruse was hiding a bottle of whiskey inside a well-roasted turkey. Whiskey bottles also came into Billings’ camp in tin cans of small cakes or in loaves of bread with holes cut in the bottom.

Smuggling whiskey in legitimate-looking containers with false labels was a common practice. A helpful sutler showed Butler several little bottles that supposedly contained hair oil packaged by a New York City firm. Instead, each bottle contained half a pint of whiskey, with a little olive oil on top. The bottles were sold wholesale at eight cents each, but soldiers paid 25 cents for them in camp. The distributor claimed to have sold thousands of such bottles at Fort Monroe.

Alcohol Restrictions Lead to Officer Impersonation
In February 1863, the Union guard boat Jacob Bell searched the supply schooner Mail at Alexandria, Virginia. Aboard the schooner were 428 dozen cans labeled “milk drink” packaged by Numsen, Carroll & Company, a Baltimore firm. Upon closer inspection, Lt. Cmdr. E.P. McCrea learned that the milk drink was actually “villainous eggnog.” Commodore Andrew Harwood noted that the cans were not soldered in the usual way. The top and bottom had been heated with a resinous substance and the edges bent over so that the cover at either end could be removed to convert the can into a drinking cup. Harwood issued orders to the Potomac Flotilla to seize any vessel caught smuggling alcohol.

Sutlers were in a good position to profit from liquor sales. Regulations prohibited them from selling liquor to enlisted personnel, but many of the officially licensed merchants evaded the rules. Sutlers could openly stock whiskey because they were still allowed to sell it to officers. Brassy enlisted men frequently borrowed a pair of officers’ shoulder straps and purchased whiskey in the shops. Others stole bottles from sutler huts, wagons, or tents.

With a plethora of colorful nicknames, alcohol was widely abused in both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

Impersonating an officer was only one of the many ways that Union and Confederate soldiers managed to get around the rules restricting their drinking. Assignment to guard duty also provided opportunities for mischief. In eastern North Carolina in April 1862, several men in the 51st Pennsylvania were ordered to guard the commissary tent in which a newly arrived shipment of whiskey barrels was stored. One night the guards took the barrels off their muskets. After unscrewing the breech plugs, each soldier had a long iron straw, which he inserted into the bung-hole of a whiskey cask and sucked himself into intoxication.

Among the busiest routes for smuggling alcohol to the Union Army was the Long Bridge, which crossed the Potomac River, linking Washington, D.C., to Virginia. On November 23, 1863, all contraband liquor seized on the bridge was turned over to the Army Medical Museum, located not far from the Washington end of the bridge. At the time, tissue specimens saved for the museum were wrapped in cloth and preserved in a keg of alcohol or whiskey. Each specimen was identified by a small wooden block, with a description written on it in pencil so that the alcohol would not dissolve the writing. Confiscated liquor was distilled again by the museum into uniform grade 70 percent alcohol, which was deemed perfect for preserving specimens.

Liquor Smuggling Gets More Sophisticated
Surgeon John H. Brinton recalled that ground around the museum was piled high with “kegs, bottles, demijohns, and cases, to say nothing of an infinite variety of tins, made so as to fit unperceived on the body, and thus permit the wearer to smuggle alcohol into camp.” Another medical officer, Acting Assistant Surgeon Ralph S.L. Walsh, marveled at the ingenuity of liquor smugglers. Goods confiscated for the museum, ranging from blackberry wine to straight alcohol, were packed in many peculiar vessels. Frequently women were arrested with belts under their skirts to which were fastened tin cans holding between a quart and a gallon of whiskey. In a number of cases the women sported false breasts, each holding a quart or more of contraband liquor. Guards seized so much alcohol at Long Bridge during the war that the Army Medical Museum had enough alcohol for its specimens until 1876.

In many camps sutlers were allowed to sell patent medicines. Often these remedies were nothing more than liquor flavored and tinted with herbal concoctions. Countless posters and newspapers touted the healing power of bitters, liquor strongly flavored with herbs. Some medicinal bitters were served as drinks in saloons. The highly advertised Drake’s Plantation Bitters, which blended herbs with St. Croix rum, was enormously popular at sutler tents.

“Snake Smuggling”?
Lieutenant Luther Tracy Townshend, the adjutant of the 16th Vermont, was also the president of the regimental temperance society. Once, in the absence of the regiment’s sutler, it fell to Townshend to order a shipment of necessities and luxuries for the troops. Some of the men persuaded Townshend to order several cases of Hostetter’s Bitters to help soldiers who were suffering from chills. The merchandise soon arrived in their camp in Louisiana. As Townshend reported, “Some of the men, who were more chilly than the others, took overdoses and in consequence became staggeringly drunk.” Only then did the mortified adjutant learn that Hostetter’s Bitters was almost pure whiskey.

An exception to the ban on sutler sales of alcohol to enlisted personnel existed in some German units of the Union Army. Brig. Gen. Louis Blenker, for one, ordered sutlers to sell beer to the soldiers of his brigade, who were predominantly German immigrants, to keep up their morale. His orders caused resentment among non-German units, although this was mollified by sutlers selling beer to soldiers outside the brigade.

Perhaps the most creative dodge was used by a soldier of the 11th Ohio, who killed a snake and, in the words of a marveling comrade, “carefully dissecting the varmint obtained a long, white cartilage, which he carefully cleaned and coiled up. Proceeding to the hospital, he politely requested a small quantity of spirits in which to preserve the curiosity (which he represented as a tape worm). The surgeon not only agreed, but complimented the man highly for the interest he manifested in natural science!”

Whiskey abuse was not confined to land-based armies. Both Union and Confederate navies faced abuses of their own. In the 18th century the British Royal Navy routinely issued a ration of spirits, usually rum, to enlisted personnel. Originally the ration was eight ounces of distilled spirits per day. Naval rum was diluted with water, resulting in the traditional drink called grog. The practice was associated with Admiral Edward Vernon, a famed officer of the mid-1700s whose service nickname was “Old Grog” because he wore a coat made of grogham cloth. (Laurence Washington, George Washington’s older brother, served with Vernon. When Laurence died, George inherited his plantation Mount Vernon, which had been named for the admiral.)

Alcohol Smuggling in the Continental Navy
The Continental Navy, as well as the early U.S. Navy, adopted the British ration of half a pint of grog per day. Before the War of 1812, imported rum from Britain’s Caribbean colonies was dropped in favor of American-made whiskey. Despite the switch, sailors and the general public continued calling the naval ration grog. On land, lower class saloons were called grog-shops or groggeries. Aboard ship, the crew’s barrels of whiskey and the officers’ private stores of liquors and wines were kept locked up in the “spirit room.” At the captain’s discretion, extra rations of spirits were doled out before and after action, or even during a battle. During the long fight with CSS Virginia, the crew of USS Monitor was braced by a special issue of two ounces of whiskey per crewman.

With a plethora of colorful nicknames, alcohol was widely abused in both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

Captains also issued extra liquor as a reward for hard work such as the tedious and backbreaking job of loading coal aboard steam warships. Confederate sailors outfitting Sea King, which was secretly being converted at sea into CSS Shenandoah, received a serving of grog every two hours. Mariners saw the spirit ration as well-deserved compensation for their long months of hard work and isolation at sea. With some reason, temperance advocates saw it instead as a severe problem and focused considerable effort on luring sailors away from the bottle. In 1832 reformers persuaded Congress to cut the naval ration to one gill, or four ounces, daily. Sailors under the age of 21 and anyone who chose not to draw a spirit ration received instead a small cash commutation, which had risen to five cents a day by 1861.

After reducing the naval grog ration, Congress debated but did not act further on the temperance movement’s demands for tighter restrictions. A chance to end the grog ration arose again when Southern members of Congress left the nation’s capital after the beginning of the war. Northern representatives and senators were more sympathetic to the temperance cause, and with Southern seats now vacant, there were enough Northern votes to abolish the naval spirit rations. A July 14, 1862, act of Congress set August 31 of that same year as the last day for the grog ration. A correspondent aboard an unnamed vessel wrote to the Philadelphia Press that Congress had made a great mistake. He warned that ending the spirit ration would drive all the old seamen out of the service. Aboard the receiving ship North Carolina in New York City harbor, the men met the restriction with muttered growls, but no signs of incipient mutiny were readily apparent.

Kegs Auctioned Off & Turned In To Medical Staff
Spirit kegs remained under lock and key until naval vessels returned to port. About 3,000 kegs were auctioned off and others were turned over to the naval medical service for hospital use. Excess whiskey in the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron was stored aboard the aptly named ship Brandywine. As compensation for the loss of the spirit ration, the Navy added five cents per day to sailors’ pay, a raise of between 8 and 10 percent. Despite the banning of grog, there was still some alcohol aboard Union naval vessels. “Distilled spirituous liquors” were allowed on board ship as medical stores. And officers, trusted by Congress more than common sailors, were still allowed to have private stores of liquors and wines.

Grog was served in the Confederate Navy as well. Rebel tars were entitled to one gill of spirits or half a pint of wine per day. As in the Union Navy, a small cash commutation was paid to sailors not taking their spirit ration. Confederate Navy officials had considerable trouble obtaining enough spirituous liquor for rations and hospital use. Naval requirements clashed with state regulations that reserved corn and grain for food rather than distillation of spirits. Eventually a distillery was set up in Augusta, Georgia, to produce whiskey for naval use. Despite the trouble in obtaining liquor, the Confederate Navy never got around to banning its spirit ration, and it remained on the books until the war ended in 1865.

Illicit alcohol resulted in a number of embarrassing incidents at sea. Midshipman James Morris Morgan, in his memoir Recollections of a Rebel Reefer, wrote about an alcohol-fueled riot on the cruiser CSS Georgia in October 1863. Sailors slipped into a coal bunker and bored through a thin bulkhead separating the coal from the spirit room. Then they drilled a hole into the head of a barrel of liquor and inserted a lead pipe. The pilfered grog was distributed among the crew, said Morgan, “and soon there was a battle royal going on the berth deck which the master-at-arms was unable to stop.” Georgia’s first lieutenant went below and induced most of the men to give themselves up for punishment. One holdout defied the officers, but Morgan tackled him and the master-at-arms handcuffed him. Several crewmen were placed in irons and sentenced to a spell in the brig on bread and water.

Whiskey As Spoils of War
The British blockade-running schooner Sting Ray, under the command of a Captain McCloskey, was captured in the Gulf of Mexico by USS Kineo on May 22, 1864. An acting ensign with a prize crew of seven men took charge of the vessel and followed in Kineo’s wake. McCloskey produced a stash of whiskey and offered it to the prize crew. By the time Acting Ensign Paul Borner realized what had happened his men were so drunk that they were unable to get back on deck without assistance.

Borner locked the hatch to keep the men from getting any more whiskey, but McCloskey and his crew jumped Borner, took his pistol, and reclaimed the ship. Union sailor William Morgan fell overboard, and McCloskey tossed a spar into the sea as an improvised life preserver. Another man jumped into a ship’s boat, cut the painter, and escaped. The Confederates followed Kineo for a time before changing course and making a dash for shore. Seeing Sting Ray change course, Lt. Cmdr. John Watters of Kineo opened fire with a 20-pounder gun. McCloskey managed to beach the vessel after dodging several Union shells. Borner and five of his sailors were captured by the 13th Texas. Only two of Borner’s crew avoided capture and were picked up later by Kineo. Morgan, according to Watters, was “in a beastly state of intoxication, crazy drunk and howling.”

Doctors at the time incorrectly believed that alcohol was a stimulant, so they prescribed it to treat sick or wounded soldiers. Some drugs were soluble in alcohol, and patients received them in doses with whiskey or brandy. One treatment for diphtheria was a dose of brandy mixed with ammonia. Alcohol itself was seen as having curative powers for some illnesses. Laudanum, a mixture of alcohol and opium, was a widely prescribed painkiller. Ether was made by distilling alcohol and sulfuric acid, called “spirits of nitre.” A purer form of alcohol called alcohol fortius was used to make ether and to dissolve various compounds.

A Prized Commodity in Medical Treatment
Whiskey or brandy, either alone or mixed with other ingredients, were routinely used to treat patients suffering from wounds or illnesses. Usually whiskey was prescribed in frequent but small doses, perhaps one ounce or one tablespoon every few hours. Sometimes it was administered by itself, but it might also be mixed in eggnog or milk punch. One example concerned the case of Private Augustus C. Falls of the 1st New York Heavy Artillery. Falls was admitted to Douglas Hospital in Washington with diarrhea on August 5, 1864. A surgeon prescribed 11/2 ounces of whiskey each day at dinner. Three days later the dosage was raised to two ounces of whiskey three times a day. On September 29, the dosage was again increased to three ounces of whiskey every four hours. Despite the special treatment, Falls died on October 5.

With a plethora of colorful nicknames, alcohol was widely abused in both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

One of the few effective drugs of the era, quinine, could prevent malaria or ease symptoms for patients who already had the disease. Soldiers often balked at taking their malaria medicine, though, because of its markedly bitter taste. To cajole soldiers into taking quinine, some surgeons mixed it with whiskey. This created the opposite problem; some soldiers enjoyed the quinine-whiskey dose so much that they sneaked through the line for a second prescription. While stationed at New Bern, North Carolina, the men of the 44th Massachusetts found that their medical officers took precautions to limit the soldiers to one dose each. Instead of serving quinine in whiskey, the drug came blended with medical alcohol, water, and cayenne pepper. “No soldier,” wrote a veteran of the regiment, “is known to have acquired a dangerous hankering for the mixture.”

Guilty on Charges of Drunkenness
Southern medical officers struggled to obtain sufficient quantities of medicinal alcohol. Surgeon General Samuel P. Moore established distilleries in Montgomery, Columbia, Salisbury, and Macon to produce medicinal alcohol. Volunteer committees gathered food, clothing, medicines, and creature comforts from civilians and shipped them to military hospitals. On November 22, 1861, the Charleston Mercury highlighted the first quarterly report of the city’s Ladies’ Christian Association. Among numerous shipments sent by the association to hospitals in Virginia were 34 boxes or crates of alcoholic beverages, including wine, brandy, blackberry brandy, claret, Madeira, port, whiskey, ale, bay rum, and additional alcohol in the form of medicines and bitters.

Drunkenness could be overlooked if it occurred when a soldier was off duty and did not compound his offense with other crimes. Court-martial of officers charged with drunkenness was handled differently from those of enlisted men. Officers found guilty could be cashiered with forfeiture of pay. In addition to dismissal, a Confederate law of 1862 allowed a public reprimand of officers convicted of drunkenness. An officer dismissed from the Confederate service could also be conscripted back into the ranks as an enlisted man. Enlisted personnel found guilty of drunkenness usually faced some form of confinement, corporal punishment, or public shaming. Penalties varied depending on the degree of the soldier’s offense and the policies of his commanding officer. Common punishments for drunken enlisted men included confinement in a guard tent or guardhouse, wearing a barrel with a placard noting that the culprit was a drunk, extra duty, or a spell carrying a log or marching with a knapsack filled with rocks.

Generals were not immune from abusing alcohol. Indeed, their vast responsibilities encouraged such abuse. Most notoriously, rumors of alcoholism dogged Union General Ulysses S. Grant. After Grant’s capture of Vicksburg, several gentlemen warned President Lincoln that Grant drank to excess. Lincoln was said to have asked what sort of whiskey Grant drank, because “if it makes him win victories like this Vicksburg, I will send a demijohn of the same kind to every general in the army.”

Generals Just As Guilty As Their Soldiers
A serious instance of generals drinking on duty contributed to the Union defeat at the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. After successfully detonating a huge explosion in a tunnel dug under the Confederate lines outside Petersburg, Union forces moved in to exploit the break in the Rebel defenses. Brig. Gens. James H. Ledlie and Edward Ferrero remained behind the lines drinking liquor in a bombproof while their neglected divisions floundered without guidance from their commanders. The attack, which had the potential of taking Petersburg and shortening the war, bogged down, and the Union regiments were devastated by Confederate counterattacks. After investigations into their drinking and dereliction of duty, Ledlie was allowed to resign from the army, but Ferrero escaped serious penalty. He even managed to be brevetted to major general before the end of the war.

Offenses were not limited to line officers. Confederate hospital matron Phoebe Yates Pember wrote of one case in which a drunken surgeon treated a patient whose ankle had been crushed by a train. After the injuries were set and bandaged, the soldier remained in excruciating pain and his condition worsened. Checking the patient, Pember found that the bandaged leg was perfectly healthy, while the other leg was “swollen, inflamed, and purple.” The attending surgeon had been so drunk that he set the wrong leg. Fever set in and the patient died at the hospital.

Plagued with food shortages, inflation, and transportation problems, Southern soldiers and civilians dealt with severe shortages of alcohol caused by state legislatures restricting the use of grain, corn and foodstuffs for distilled liquor. Private distilling took a blow after the Federal capture of Chattanooga in September 1863 and advancing Union forces captured copper mines desperately needed by the South. Not only did their loss crimp production of brass artillery pieces, it also threatened the manufacture of percussion caps and artillery friction primers. The Confederate Ordnance Bureau confiscated scores of copper whiskey stills in western North Carolina. Metal from the stills went into many of the South’s percussion caps made during the remainder of the war.

Persimmon Brandy & Other Homemade Recipes
Southern blockade runners brought wine, whiskey, brandy and other potables from Europe. Less popular than wine and brandy, but still showing up in blockade runner holds, were rum, gin, Scotch whisky, champagne, ale, porter, and schnapps. Occasionally one might even find imported cut glass decanters to serve the imported liquors. Pure alcohol, intended as medical supplies, also passed through the blockade. Blockade-run liquor was beyond the financial means of most Confederates, forcing many people to turn to home-made substitutes. Despite wartime laws, some corn and grain found their way into whiskey. When these standard ingredients were not available, distillers turned to sweet potatoes, rice, sorghum seeds, and persimmons.

On October 21, 1863, the Charleston Courier published a recipe for persimmon brandy. Mashed by a pestle or simply with one’s hands, persimmons were mixed with warm water and left to ferment for five or six days. Then the mash was ready for distillation. In thrifty fashion, the writer suggested saving the persimmon seeds. They could be used for buttons, or parched and mixed with dried sweet potatoes to make a coffee substitute. Beer and wine were simpler to make at home than whiskey, as they needed no distilling apparatus. Newspapers published numerous recipes for persimmon beer. Wine and brandy were made from any kind of available fruit, including peaches, pears, cherries, blackberries, plums, and even watermelons.

With a plethora of colorful nicknames, alcohol was widely abused in both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

F.P. Porcher’s 1863 work Resources of Southern Fields and Forests listed uses for hundreds of plants that grew in the Confederacy. He gave recipes for making beer from corn, persimmons, and boiled sassafras shoots. Blackberries could also be used to make wine, and with the addition of spices and whiskey, a healthy cordial could be concocted. Porcher also mentioned dozens of medicines that could be prepared from native herbs added to whiskey, wine, or brandy. Another way of coping with the lack of alcohol was to make a joke of it. By early 1864, “starvation parties” were becoming a fad in Richmond. Attendees wore the best finery they could manage. Unlike antebellum parties, there were no imported wines or liquors. The fine punchbowls and glassware remaining from the days before the war held only water from the James River.

Robert E. Lee once remarked that it was not possible to have an army without music. He might just as well have said that it was not possible to have an army without whiskey. Whether serving as an innocent aid to relaxation, medication to treat wounds or disease, or a lure to the evils of vice and desertion, whiskey and other types of alcoholic beverages were firmly rooted in the armies of the 1860s. The many creative ways alcohol found its way to soldiers and sailors, and the methods used to control its influence, are intertwined with the story of battles, generals, regiments, and ships of war.

Offenses were not limited to line officers. Confederate hospital matron Phoebe Yates Pember wrote of one case in which a drunken surgeon treated a patient whose ankle had been crushed by a train. After the injuries were set and bandaged, the soldier remained in excruciating pain and his condition worsened. Checking the patient, Pember found that the bandaged leg was perfectly healthy, while the other leg was “swollen, inflamed, and purple.” The attending surgeon had been so drunk that he set the wrong leg. Fever set in and the patient died at the hospital.

For Some, Private Distilling Filled the Gap
Plagued with food shortages, inflation, and transportation problems, Southern soldiers and civilians dealt with severe shortages of alcohol caused by state legislatures restricting the use of grain, corn and foodstuffs for distilled liquor. Private distilling took a blow after the Federal capture of Chattanooga in September 1863 and advancing Union forces captured copper mines desperately needed by the South. Not only did their loss crimp production of brass artillery pieces, it also threatened the manufacture of percussion caps and artillery friction primers. The Confederate Ordnance Bureau confiscated scores of copper whiskey stills in western North Carolina. Metal from the stills went into many of the South’s percussion caps made during the remainder of the war.

Southern blockade runners brought wine, whiskey, brandy and other potables from Europe. Less popular than wine and brandy, but still showing up in blockade runner holds, were rum, gin, Scotch whisky, champagne, ale, porter, and schnapps. Occasionally one might even find imported cut glass decanters to serve the imported liquors. Pure alcohol, intended as medical supplies, also passed through the blockade. Blockade-run liquor was beyond the financial means of most Confederates, forcing many people to turn to home-made substitutes. Despite wartime laws, some corn and grain found their way into whiskey. When these standard ingredients were not available, distillers turned to sweet potatoes, rice, sorghum seeds, and persimmons.


Columbus and Coca-Cola (excerpted)


John Stith Pemberton was injured during the Battle of Columbus. He received a saber slash across his chest during the struggle for the 14th Street bridge. Like many other wounded veterans, he became addicted to the morphine that was used for a pain-killer.

Pemberton was a pharmacist and decided to work on a medicine that would help relieve his addiction. Eventually he came up with a formula which was basically a wine infused with coca (cocaine), kola nut (caffeine), and damiana (purported aphrodisiac). This was essentially an imitation of a very successful French medicinal wine called Vin Mariani, but Vin Mariani used only coca not Pemberton's other two ingredients. He called his new medicine, "Pemberton's French Wine Coca," and began selling in several drugstores in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1886 he ran into a problem. Temperance legislation was enacted in Atlanta and Fulton County. This forced him to try to come up with a new, non-alcoholic formula for his drink.

With the help of a druggist named Willis Venable, he came up with a recipe to blend his base syrup with carbonated water. This way it could be sold as a fountain drink. A man named Frank Mason Robinson came up with a catchy new name for the drink, and on May 8, 1886, the first Coca-Cola was sold at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia.

So, if the Battle of Columbus hadn't happened, John Pemberton would not have been injured. If he had not been injured, he would not have gotten addicted to morphine. Without an addiction he would not have searched for a cure, and if he had not been searching for a cure, we would never have gotten Coke!

Suffering Veterans - The American Civil War and PTSD

By Emma Walton

Much has been written about the lives and deeds of Civil War soldiers, but little has been said about their mental state. This is in part because the practice of psychiatry was not established by the cessation of hostilities, and attitudes to mental illness were then very different to those we hold today. However, there is significant evidence of disturbed behavior from Civil War veterans to support a theory that many were irreversibly damaged by their experiences during the war. Many undoubtedly suffered from what is today referred to as 'Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder'

The History of PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a term covering a range of symptoms and behaviors which can be traced back to mental and emotional damage caused by traumatic experiences. These symptoms include, but are not limited to, an increase in aggression, an inability to connect with the world, flashbacks to the traumatic events, sudden and seemingly unprovoked violence, panic attacks, hallucinations, great stress, depression, shaking, ‘hysterical’ physical symptoms (i.e. apparent bodily problems induced by the mind rather than any more physical cause), substance abuse, mood swings, and suicide. The condition was first properly recognized during the First World War, when hundreds if not thousands of soldiers suffered irreparable emotional damage by what was then termed ‘shell shock’. However, it has almost certainly existed ever since human consciousness first developed – and has featured in the battle accounts of many ancient cultures. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs have been found which depict the stories of soldiers suffering from battle-induced mental trauma, while the Ancient Greek historian Heroditus eloquently records the tales of several fighters which most modern medical professionals would not hesitate to diagnose with PTSD. In one, a young man is afflicted with blindness for which there is no apparent physical cause after witnessing his fellow soldier shot down by an arrow next to him. In another, a soldier is withdrawn from the front lines due to incessant trembling. He leads a listless, haunted life – which he ultimately takes. Clearly, therefore, PTSD has been affecting humans for millennia, making it a fairly certain bet that many of those who participated in the American Civil War would have been affected in like manner.

Haunted By Their Experiences

PTSD can be brought on by any traumatic event – childhood abuse is a common cause – but its strongest causative correlation comes with wartime events. Given that civil wars are among the most mentally and emotionally distressing of combat situations, it should come as little surprise to find that a great many accounts record ex-soldiers who were thoroughly unable to reintegrate with peaceful life. Many found that they simply could not cope with civilian existence and opted out of society. The years following the Civil War saw an increase in vagrancy, with veterans making up the vast majority of these new wanderers. Some attributed this to a lack of economic opportunity for ex-soldiers, but others acknowledged that most of these people had been rendered mentally and emotionally incapable of taking any opportunities offered to them. In his book ‘To Appomattox and Beyond’, Larry Logue speaks of a veteran named ‘Len’. Len took up a nomadic lifestyle, drifting from place to place, and completely unable to speak of his experiences. When taken in by the police, he seemed unable to remember any personal details – but perusal of his effects and a little detective work revealed that this apparently deranged hobo had once been a prosperous man, happily settled into family life and with a contracted lawyer to boot. His experiences during the war had damaged him beyond repair. If he ever returned to his family, he swiftly absented himself from them, driven to the roads by the horrors within his own head. Many others did likewise.

Inadequate Treatment

Those who did return to their families often fared little better. It takes a strong and loving family indeed to cope with a PTSD sufferer. Logue tells of Polly McColley, who wrote letters about her son, whom she described as ‘Out of his mind’ when he returned from the war. Many recognized that their loved ones were ill, and called in the professionals – but with little effect. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder would not be recognized as a condition for several decades, and treatments would take even longer to arrive. Nowadays, although there is still no definitive ‘cure’ for the condition, avenues do exist which can be of great help to sufferers. Treatment centers like The Refuge have a much greater understanding of the condition and how to treat those suffering from it. Not so after the Civil War. Those who seemed depressed were diagnosed with ‘melancholy’ or ‘nostalgia’, and their families were advised to raise their spirits. Others were simply passed as physically sound and told they needed to ‘pull their socks up’. The protests of wives and parents that their sons and husbands were ‘not themselves’ or ‘being strange’ were considered too nebulous to act upon, and frequently dismissed as feminine silliness or oversensitivity. Besides which, the violence which commonly accompanies PTSD was rarely spoken of in a domestic context – and not considered a great problem even when it was. Where behavior was clearly disturbed, disturbing, or dangerous, sufferers would be throw into lunatic asylums - where they received treatment which was often brutal and very rarely (if ever) effective. Those who evaded this often acquired lengthy criminal records, and many ended up in jail.

The 'Old Soldier' Problem

Old soldiers have always been something of an awkwardness for peacetime society – which frequently wishes to brush the horrors and atrocities of wartime beneath the carpet and forget about them. Veterans expecting a hero’s welcome when they return home after the cessation of hostilities are thus more often than not disappointed. A pervasive disillusionment has been observed to take hold of many veteran populations after major armed conflicts – and this phenomenon was attributed to the general surliness, disengagement, and ‘oddness’ of many post-Civil War veterans. However, the behavior of many would now be recognized as far too extreme to stem from simple discontentment with society. That they had experienced wartime horrors, and been mentally scarred by them, seems a near certainty. While the war brought out a great deal of heroism and produced legends which would last generations, it also continued to deal out human suffering long after the killing had ended. The mental torment of those soldiers who returned with PTSD should not be forgotten. The condition continues to affect combatants to this day – although, thankfully, diagnostic procedures now exist to spot and attempt to remedy it in vulnerable soldiers.


Angel’s Glow: Bioluminescence Uncovered on the Battlefield

By Radhika Ganeshan, 7-16-14

If battlegrounds could speak they would have many stories to tell.  In some cases the microbes found in those soils have lived on to separate fact from fiction. One such story has its origins in the Battle of Shiloh, which went down in history as one of the bloodiest battles fought during the American Civil War.  As the soldiers lay mortally wounded on the cold, hard grounds of Shiloh waiting for medical aid, they noticed a very strange phenomenon. Some of the wounds actually appeared to be glowing in the dark casting a faint light into the darkness of the battlefield. And the legend goes that soldiers with the glowing wounds had a better chance at survival and recovery from infections than their fellow brothers-in-arms whose wounds were not similarly luminescent. The seemingly protective effect of the mysterious light earned it the moniker “Angel’s Glow.”

Fast forward to the 21st century.

A high school student, named Bill Martin, was visiting the battlefield in Shiloh in the year 2001 and was intrigued by this story. Luckily for him, his mom was a microbiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service.  He was familiar with his mom’s work on luminescent bacteria that lived in the soil. They made the connection that the glowing wounds could in fact have been caused by the same microorganism that his mom was studying; Photorhabdus luminescens. Being a scientist herself, she encouraged her son to investigate this further.  What he uncovered was a remarkable explanation behind a story that was long regarded to be little more than a legend.

Martin and his friend, Jon Curtis, probed both the bacteria and the conditions during the Battle of Shiloh. They discovered that Photorhabdus luminescens, the bacteria that Martin’s mom studied and the one he thought might have something to do with the glowing wounds, shared a symbiotic life cycle with parasitic worms called nematodes. Nematodes are predators that burrow into insect larvae residing in the soil or on plant surfaces and take up residence in their blood vessels. There, the worms regurgitate the P. luminescens bacteria living inside their guts producing a soft blue light. The bacteria then release a cocktail of toxins that kill the insect host and suppress the growth of other microorganisms that might decompose the larval corpse. This allows P. luminescens and their nematode partner to feast on their prey’s carcass uninterrupted. When they are done devouring the insect host, the bacteria re-colonize the nematode’s guts and piggy-back with the worm as it bursts forth from the corpse in search of a new host. And what’s more – the glow emanated by the parasitized  insect is thought to lure in other insect prey.

Was it possible that the chemicals released by P. luminescens were responsible for helping the soldiers survive their horrific wounds? Based on the evidence that P. luminescens was present at Shiloh and the reports of the strange glow from the soldier wounds, Martin and Curtis hypothesized that the glowing bacteria invaded the soldiers’ wounds when nematodes preyed on insect larva who are naturally attracted to such injuries. The resulting infestation could have wiped out any competing, pathogenic bacteria found in wounds besides bathing them in a surreal glow.

The only caveat with the hypothesis was that P. luminescens cannot survive at human body temperatures. The young scientists had to come up with a novel explanation to fit this piece of the puzzle. The clue lay in the harsh conditions of the battlefield itself. The battle was fought in early April when temperatures were low and the grounds were wet with rain. The injured soldiers were left to the elements of nature and suffered from hypothermia. This would provide a perfect environment for P. luminescens to overtake and kill off harmful bacteria. Then, when the soldiers were transported to a warmer environment, their bodies would have naturally killed off the bug. For once, hypothermia was a good thing.

Often, a bacterial infection in an open wound would herald a fatal outcome. But this was an instance where the right bacterium at the right time was actually instrumental in saving lives. The soldiers at Shiloh should have been thanking their microbial buddies. But who knew back then that angels came in microscopic sizes? As for Martin and Curtis, they went on to win first place in team competition at the 2001 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Personally, I used this story as an example to my own children of how simple curiosity leads to solving bigger problems.

Image: 1888 Chromolithograph of the Battle of Shiloh, American Civil War, produced by L. Prang & Co.



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