Civil War U.S. Navy Admiral David Farragut 3 – First Command

Battle of the <em>Essex</em> and the HMS <em>Phoebe</em>
Duel of the USS Essex and HMS Pheobe

Civil War hero and admiral David Farragut literally grew up at sea. In the U.S. Navy since the age of ten, he served under David Porter as a midshipman beginning in 1811 on the USS Essex. A surrogate father, “Porter supervised his education and training while seizing every opportunity to throw responsibility on the boy.”[1] His first command, at the age of twelve, was of a prize ship, the recaptured American whaler Barclay. [2] Success in this command required that the young Farragut deal with the Barclay’s disgruntled captain, and he accomplished this by threatening to throw the man overboard if he came up on deck. The tactic worked and earned him early respect. [3]

David Farragut saw action against the H.M.S. Phoebe while serving on the USS Essex in 1813. [4] During the USS Essex’s losing battle with the HMS Phoebe, “Farragut served as captain’s aide, quarter gunner, and powder boy. He witnessed the evisceration of a boatswain’s mate by one shot, the amputation of a quartermaster’s leg by another, and the killing of four men by a third shot that splattered him with the last man’s brains. He narrowly escaped death himself when a shot struck a man beside him full in the face. The man fell back on him, and the two tumbled down an open hatch, with the man landing on top of him” sans head. [5] So Farragut was intimately familiar with both the fog of war and its horrors.

See an excellent summary of the sea battle between USS Essex and the HMS Phoebe here.

[1] The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, Peter Kemp, ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 296.
[2] Schneller, Jr., Robert J. Farragut: America’s First Admiral. (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, Inc., 2002), 12.
[3] Ibid.
[4] The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, Peter Kemp, ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 296.
[5] Schneller, Jr., Robert J. Farragut: America’s First Admiral, 13-14.

“Battlefield Biker” Added to Wig-Wags Blogroll

I’ve found some new colleagues in the military history blogosphere this week that I’ll be featuring over the next few days. First up, T J Linzy who blogs as Battlefield Biker.  Among other great information, T J provides routes for touring battlefields from many of the world’s wars including: the American Revolution, American Civil War, the War of 1812, World Wars I and II, the Spanish Civil War, English Civil War, Mexican Revolution, U.S. Indian Wars (pre-American Revolution and of the West),  Napoleonic Wars, and more. He also publishes “tank bag sized”  battlefield guides for bikers for select battles.

T J is an American living in the UK and has access to some of the most intriguing battlefields in in military history. Check out his site here.

T J is also manages a Military History Carnival which Wig-Wags will host in May, 2010.

Battlefield Biker

Civil War U.S. Navy Admiral David Farragut – 2 First Voyage

Flatboat

David Glasgow Farragut, the man who would become the first Admiral in the U.S. Navy and a Civil War naval hero, was born on the fifth of July 1801 “in a log cabin on a 640-acre tract of land on the north bank of the Holston River about fifteen miles southwest of Knoxville,” Tennessee.” (1) His father, George Anthony Magin Farragut, (a fascinating character deserving of a biography of his own), was born on the island of Minorca. He went to sea at a young age and found his way to America in 1776.  He served in the American Revolution under Francis Marion, the famed guerrilla leader and American officer who earned the nickname “Swamp Fox.” According to family lore, as captured by David’s son Loyall, George Farragut fought in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812 and is said to have “saved the life of Colonel Washington in the battle of Cowpens.” (2) “By the end of th war, he had risen to the rank of major of horse.” (3)

In 1795, at the age of forty, he married Elizabeth Shine. They moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and began to raise a family. A first son, William, was born in 1797. The family moved to their homestead near Stony Point in 1800 and it was here that David Glasgow was born followed by a sister and brother. The future admiral was called Glasgow by family and friends. (4)

George made what would be a fateful decision to return to the sea. He received an appointment as sailing master with the U.S. Navy on March 2, 1807. Ordered to duty on a gunboat in New Orleans, he decided to move his family to the city by flatboat. In the late summer of 1807, they embarked on a two month journey that began on the Holston River and traveled to the Tennessee, then the Ohio, and finally the Mississippi. (5)

Within a year of settling in New Orleans, Elizabeth would be dead of yellow fever and the family’s lives changed forever.


(1) Schneller, Jr., Robert J., Farragut: America’s First Admiral. (Washington D. C.: Brassey’s, Inc., 2002), 3.
(2) Farragut, Loyall. The life of David Glasgow Farragut: first admiral of the United States Navy Emboying His Jounrals and Letters, (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1882), 5.
(3) Schneller, Jr., Robert J., Farragut: America’s First Admiral. (Washington D. C.: Brassey’s, Inc., 2002), 4.
UC7XKZYRJJRU
(4) Ibid., 5.
(5) Ibid., 6.

Civil War U.S. Navy Admiral David Farragut 1

I’m wrapping up my paper on Civil War Admiral David Farragut’s command of the Battle of Mobile Bay. This guy was impressive. To begin with, he came from good stock. This quote is his son Loyall’s 1879 work, The life of David Glasgow Farragut: first admiral of the United States Navy

“George Farragut was descended from the renowned Don Pedro Ferragut, who served under James I., King of Aragon, styled in history El Conquistador, in the campaigns which resulted in the expulsion of the Moors from Majorca in 1229, and from Valencia in 1238. In Majorca Don Pedro was Sergeant before the King—an office of high honor and importance, held only by those of noble blood. James bestowed estates upon the knights who accompanied him in these enterprises, and directed the troubadour Mossen Jaime Febrer to celebrate them in verse. The following is the stanza devoted to Pedro Ferragut:

Sobre camp bermell una ferradura
De finisim or, ab nn elau daurat,
Pere Ferragut pinta, e en tal figura
Esplica lo agnom. La historia asegnra
Ser aragones, de Jaca baixat.
Apres que en Mallorca servi de sargent,
Venint a Valencia, hon gran renotn guanya
De expert capita per lo dilitgent;
Los anys, e sucesos lo feren prudent.
Te en lo pelear gran cordura e inanya,
Pergue a totes armes facilment se apanya.
Henry Howard Brownell, extemporized the following translation, which is sufficiently literal:
A charger’s shoe is borne on his shield,
Of purest gold, on a blood-red field,
Set thereon with a nail of the same:
Thus we know him, device and name.
From Jaca, in Aragon, he came.
At Mallorca and Valencia both,
Well he quitted his knightly troth,
Serving as Sergeant before his liege,
Through the conquest, in field and siege:

Strong in battle, by plain or hold,
Great his fame as a warrior bold,
And a prudent captain to shun surprise;
For -years and victories made him wise.
At every manner of arms expert,
He did on the foe great spoil and hurt.”

National Museum of Americans in Wartime

A group of individuals has a new concept for a museum themed around the experience of Americans during wartime. I ran across their site recently and found the mission statement and approach outlined to be compelling. It will be located in northern Virgina near an airport which will allow exhibits that will include airplanes and motorized vehicles in operation. Outdoor exhibits will also allow visitors to tour World War I trenches, bombed European villages, and more. It will not, apparently, cover wars prior to World War I.

The museum is in it’s development phase with opening date next year. I encourage you to check it out. The video here provides a good overview.

The National Museum of Americans in Wartime

New History Blog – Boatswains and Bacteremia

I’m always pleased to see a new voice enter the “history” blogosphere. Jared Wasser has opened up shop over at Boatswains and Bacteremia and as a maritime history geek myself, I couldn’t be more thrilled. What Jared brings that is unique is a combination of maritime history with the history of medicine. He’s a medical student so obviously brings some credibility to representation of medical concepts. I’ve enjoyed reding Jared’s first few posts and am adding him to my blogroll. Check it out!

Jared, welcome!

Discovering the Civil War Online Webcast – March 3rd

Steven WoodworthDiscovering the Civil War Online” is the title of a unique webinar that will feature Steven E. Woodworth, professor and award-winning Civil War author; and Tom Daccord, an educational technology specialist. They will explore utilizing online databases to research Civil War topics.

Noah Shunfenthal, the event coordinator, has indicated that the focus of the webcast will be two fold:

  1. Using period newspapers, periodicals, diaries, and letters to research the Civil War
  2. How to research via online databases, portals, etc.

The level of information to be provided is expected to be of interest to Civil War fanatics, accomplished historical authors, unpublished historians, students, professors, and others who want to step up their online research skills.

I’m a fan of this kind of event and certainly a fan of Professor Woodworth who taught my last class. I plan to attend!

A big shout out to the American Public University (and American Military University) and Best of History Web Sites for co-sponsoring the event.

Here is your call to action:

March 3rd from 11am-12pm ET.
Please pass along to your fellow history buffs and/or students.
Register here.

Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter?

Seth Grahame-Smith
Seth Grahame-Smith

Abraham Lincoln a vampire hunter? This may well be the most unusual book I’ll review on Wig-Wags. The good folks at Grand Central Publishing recently sent me an advance review copy of  New York Times best selling author Seth Grahame-Smith’s new book, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. I’ll put it into a genre of historical/fantasy/horror.

The story puts lost journals of Abraham Lincoln into the hands of an undiscovered writer. I have to say that I intended to just peruse the book a bit before this initial posting. Forty pages later, I realized I should probably put it down and get back to that paper I was writing. In other words, it is a good read. An added plus is that it has a fair amount of historical fact weaved in.

Now lest you think of dismissing Grahame-Smith’s book, note that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum (March 6, 2010) and the Smithsonian (March 9, 2010) will host author appearances, the latter a panel. What’s compelling is that Grahame-Smith may reach new readers and there is some real history amidst the fantasy.

According to the Library’s press release, “Abraham Lincoln was a fan of macabre literature, particularly stories and poems written by Edgar Allan Poe, and had committed Poe’s The Raven to memory.  Lincoln dabbled in poetry himself, and his verse mimicked Poe’s dark themes.”  To explore Lincoln’s poetry, I recommend the National Park Service site, Lincoln’s Notebook and the entry Matthew Gentry featuring a poem about the future President tells of a childhood friend gone insane.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & MuseumAccording to the Library’s press release,

Lincoln also wrote an anonymous narrative published in the Whig and the Sangamo Journal in 1846, “Remarkable Case oPride and Prejudice and Zombiesf Arrest For Murder,” about a real murder case where the alleged victim appeared with amnesia in the courtroom just before the defendants, the Trailor brothers, were to be sentenced to death for murder. In the narrative, Lincoln admitted “while it is readily conceived that a writer of novels could bring a story to a more perfect climax, it may well be doubted, whether a stranger affair ever really occurred. Much of the matter remains in mystery to this day.” The ALPLM has the original letter that Lincoln wrote to Joshua Speed on June 19, 1841 describing the incident that he recounted five years later for the Whig.

Listen to a podcast about the book posted at the ALPLM here.

Grahame-Smith is also author of the wildly successful Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Should any Historical Society be Without a RSS Feed?

I moved most of my historical society links over to Wig-Wags.com today from my old blog site. You’ll find them in the right nav bar of Wig-Wags.com by following down the page a bit. I’m using a new widget, WP Social Blogroll, that pulls RSS feeds for any link I add by checking for a feed via Google Feed Discovery. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that very few of the 50 – some state historical societies have RSS feeds. I realize many history societies are managed by volunteers but believe they are missing some great opportunities for exposure.

New Acquisition: Conrad Wise Chapman: Artist & Soldier of the Confederacy

Fascinated by all that drove public opinion during the nineteenth century, I recently acquired an excellent book: Conrad Wise Chapman: Artist  Soldier of the Confederacy (The Kent State University Press, 1998) Author Ben L. Bassham’s biography includes many of the works of both Conrad Wise and his father, artist John Gadsby Chapman.

This book, while an excellent one, is not heavy on the Civil War experience of Conrad Wise Chapman. For that, I recommend Ten Months in the “Orphan Brigade” : Conrad Wise Chapman’s Civil War Memoir (The Kent State University Press, 1999) also brought to readers by Ben L. Basham. Google Books provides a generous glimpse of Bassham’s introduction and the first few pages of Chapman’s narrative which can be viewed here.

Conrad Wise Chapman

Conrad Wise Chapman returned to America from Europe in 1861 where he joined the Confederate cause. He served in the 3rd Kentucky Regiment and was a part of Albert Sidney Johnston’s ruse in the Western Theater to appear to have more strength in numbers than was the reality. Chapman later served as Ordnance Sergeant in the 59th Virginia Regiment after requesting transfer from “The Orphan Brigade” to a unit in his parent’s home state. It was a transfer that probably saved his life given the casualties suffered by the “The Orphan Brigade.” He participated in the defense of Vicksburg.

See more of  Conrad Wise Chapman’s work on “the artists” page under here on Wig-wags. The Museum of the Confederacy has an excellent digital image of Chapman’s “The Flag of Sumter Oct. 20 1863” here. A number of Chapman’s paintings can also be seen at Fine Art-China.com here.

Ben L. Bassham, an Emeritus professor of art history at Kent State University, is the author of The Lithographs of Robert Riggs, The Theatrical Photographs of Napoleon Sarony and editor of Memories of an American Impressionist by Abel G. Warshawsky (The Kent State University Press, 1980). He is also an accomplished artist. I perused his online studio here with great admiration.

Death and Injury on the Civil War Battlefield Part 2

Civil War Wounded on Field

Continuing from the post Death and Injury on the Battlefield Part I here, this post deals with battlefield injuries.

Civil War Wounded on Field
Confederate Wounded at Smith’s Barn with Dr Anson Hurd 14th Indiana Volunteers in Attendance after the Battle of Antietam – Near Keedysville, MD, September 1862

Those who were injured on the battlefield first had to either remove themselves or hope they would be helped to a field hospital, usually a tent, house, barn or shed marked by a red flag and located as close to the line of battle as possible.[i] There they might find a surgeon and one assistant surgeon, although there was only one of each per regiment. Getting the large number of wounded to the field hospital was challenging. “Three days after the second battle of Manassas, in August 1862, 3,000 men still lay where they had fallen. The first casualties were not moved until September 9th.”[ii] It wasn’t until after the Battle of Antietam that the Union Army established an ambulance corps for removing the wounded from the field.[iii]

If shot by a Minie ball, a soft lead bullet fired from a rifle musket, a soldier’s wound was likely to be large because these .58 [caliber] bullets would deform and tunnel on impact.[iv] “Dr. E. I. Howard of the Army of Northern Virginia described the effects of Minie Ball on bone: ‘… wounds of bony structure inflicted by this missile are characterized by extensive fissuring and comminution such as was rarely, if ever, seen when the old smooth Bore musket was the weapon of the soldier.”[v] Amputation was the rule for gunshot or shrapnel wounds that involved major blood vessels or large bones. “Roughly 50,000 amputations were performed by both sides during the Civil War, compared to around 4,000 in the First World War.”[vi] Men shot or severely injured in the abdomen or chest wounds almost always died and so were rarely treated.

Amputation by Civil War Doctors
Cropped image of Amputation Being Performed in a Hospital Tent – Gettysburg, PA, July 1863. LOC.

Erysipelas, pyaemia (clots in the veins) septicemia and hospital gangrene were the four major hospital diseases. Erysipelas, or St Anthony’s Fire, was a common problem. This was several years before Lister’s discovery of germ theory. Surgeons operated in unsanitary and unsterile conditions. The lower incidence of wound suppuration in destitute Confederate hospitals has been attributed to the fact that they closed wounds with horse-tail hair which was first boiled, whereas the Northern Army used surgical silk which, although a better product, was not sterile.[vii]

Those who worked in military hospitals did so at great personal risk. Many of them contracted diseases themselves and perished. Common in the literature is record of the absolute despair that existed there. This would, no doubt, make for a great story in and of itself at some point in the future.

Further reading:

  • For more on weapons carried during the American Civil War, see the previous post Civil War Weapons Carried by Soldiers here.
  • For good coverage of how amputations were performed during the Civil War, click here.

© 2010 L. Rene Tyree
[i] Penny Johnston, “A Healing History of North and South,” History Today, January 1997 [database on-line]; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000399106; Internet; accessed 29 September 2007. [ii] Ibid., [iii] Ibid., [iv] Ibid., [v] Ibid., [vi] Ibid., [vii] Ibid.

Partners in Command, American Civil War Book Review

JOSEPH T. GLATTHAAR. Partners In Command: The Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War New York: The Free Press . 1994. Pp. xi, 286. $16.95.

Warriors are at their core human beings who succeed or fail in their endeavors in some part because of the their ability to relate with others, whether peers, subordinates, or superiors. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the interplay between commanders during the American Civil War. The forging of successful working relationships is foundational to success on the battlefield and signals compatibility on some level between the personalities or natures of respective commanders. What does “compatibility” mean when applied to military commanders? What evidence is there that this really matters? What happens when commanders, civilian or military, lack compatibility at senior levels?

Joseph Glatthaar tackles these questions in an insightful and important addition to the study of the American Civil War that focuses on the relationships between several senior commanders. Foundational to his monogram is research conducted from primary sources and used to develop course lectures. Glatthaar  first examines Lee and Jackson and their brilliant performance in the eastern theater. He then explores the complicated interplay between McClellan and Lincoln that ultimately resulted in failures at both strategic and tactical execution in the East. Thirdly, Glatthaar examines the relationship between Joseph E. Johnson and Jefferson Davis set against the struggles of the Confederate defense of the West. In a chapter on Grant and Sherman Glatthaar explores how two very different personalities can complement one another and still work together superbly. A chapter dedicated to army-navy collaborations reveals the special bond  (soul-mates is used to describe it) that developed between Sherman and Admiral David Dixon Porter. The mutual respect between the two extends to Grant and results in unprecedented cooperation between the army and navy. The book’s final chapter is excellent overview of the command relationships on both sides of the war and his conclusion could inform organizational leaders both inside and outside the military. Compatibility and intimacy are not required. Professional attitudes are key.

Glatthaar provides a solid academic notes section and index as well as a bibliographic essay that is quite informative. Most interesting in the “after“ sections of the book, however, is an appendix in which the author argues that George McClellan’s interpersonal relationships were handicapped by a condition known in today’s psychiatric parlance as  “paranoid personality disorder.” He makes a strong case that the disorder undermined McClellan’s ability to successfully lead and manage men in wartime and that the only person with whom he could interact effectively was his wife.

JOSEPH T. GLATTHAAR
JOSEPH T. GLATTHAAR

Glatthaar brings to the work the credentials of a historian who has paid his dues. He received his Ph.D. in 1983 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, specializing in American Military History. He received his B.A. from Ohio Wesleyan University and M.A. in history from Rice University. At the time of the book’s publication in 1994, he taught history at the University of Houston. Glatthaar is now the Stephenson Distinguished Professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill where he specializes in the American Civil War and American military history. Glatthaar has twice taught at the nation’s military colleges, once in 1984-85 as a visiting professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and again in 1991-1992 as the Harold K. Johnson Distinguished Visiting Professor, U.S. Army Military History Institute. He has published extensively with some considerable emphasis on the experience of black soldiers during the Civil War. His has won numerous awards for his work most notably for the 1989 work, Forged in Battle and an earlier work, The March to the Sea and Beyond.

Partners In Command stands out among studies of command and leadership during the Civil War because of a focus not on the tactical execution on the battlefield but rather in the interplay among senior commanders. It complements major General J. F. C. Fuller’s 1982 monograph, Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality (Indiana University Press). Glatthaar’s work is both highly readable and academically rich. Of note, the publishers have made the book available in digital format on the Amazon Kindle platform as well as traditional print.

See more Civil War book reviews here.

The American Civil War Experience: Death and Injury on the Battlefield – 1

Dead soldier_Ewell's Corp

I previously posted a piece on the impact of disease on soldiers in the Civil War [see “The American Civil War Experience: Lice, Disease and Quinine” ]. The following discusses the other side of death during the war, the experience on the battlefield. Please be aware the the following is very graphic.

Dead soldier_Ewell's Corp
One of Ewell’s Corps as he lay on the field, after the battle of the 19th May, 1864.

Battle injuries in the civil war were horrific and many led to death. The journals of soldiers and photographs of the dead tell of injury and death caused by cannon balls, grapeshot, canister, musket balls, bayonets, clubbing and more. Men were decapitated, cut in two, blown apart, shot in head, body, and/or extremities, bashed in the face or skull, disemboweled, burned, dragged, drowned, and/or suffered broken bones. John Beatty provided a glimpse of the carnage typical on most Civil War battlefields in a journal entry describing his pass through the battlefield of Stone River in Tennessee, early in 1863.

Dead Horses

I ride over the battle-field. In one place a caisson and five horses are lying, the latter killed in harness, and all fallen together. Nationals and Confederates, young, middle-aged, and old, are scattered over the woods and fields for miles. Poor Wright, of my old company, lay at the barricade in the woods which we stormed on the night of the last day. Many others lay about him. Further on we find men with their legs shot off; one with brains scooped out with a cannon ball; another with half a face gone; another with entrails protruding; young Winnegard, of the Third, has one foot off and both legs pierced by grape at the thighs; another boy lies with his hands clasped above his head, indicating that his last words were a prayer. Many Confederate sharpshooters lay behind stumps, rails, and logs, shot in the head. A young boy, drCivil War Dead horse essed in the Confederate uniform, lies with his face turned to the sky, and looks as if he might be sleeping. Poor boy! what thoughts of home, mother, death, and eternity, commingled in his brain as the life-blood ebbed away! Many wounded horses are limping over the field. One mule, I heard of, had a leg blown off on the first day’s battle; next morning it was on the spot where first wounded; at night it was still standing there, not having moved an inch all day, patiently suffering, it knew not why nor for what. How many poor men moaned through the cold nights in the thick woods, where the first day’s battle occurred, calling in vain to man for help, and finally making their last solemn petition to God![1]

Linderman posits that, even though the men fighting in the Civil War should have been more used to gore and death than those fighting in the next century, “when young soldiers first saw bullets, cannonballs, grapeshot, and canister strike others, their shock was profound. The first surprise was death’s suddenness,” a man alive and animated next to them one moment, and the next, lifeless and shattered.[2]  Men splattered with the insides of the man next to them were even more impacted. Also shocking was the magnitude of death. It was not uncommon to see thousands of bodies after a single battle.[3]

Many men died agonizing deaths after lying injured on the field for hours or days. Contributing to this were standing orders that prevented a man from stopping his forward motion to help a fallen comrade. Some men were also fearful that doing so would imply cowardice on their part. Also, rarely could a truce be made to remove the injured and dead from the battlefield. The resulting experience for the injured was atrocious. Methods and procedures that would allow for application of first aid and then rapid transport to field hospitals were simply non-existent.

Civil War Dead
Library of Congress

Disposal of bodies was often done carelessly and with little decorum if at all. Given the magnitude and ghastliness of the task, it is little wonder. Depending on the season, bodies awaiting burial, or even after careless burial, bloated and decayed in the heat and could be eaten by animals and insects. Next installment… “Injuries on the Battlefield.”

Civil War Dead Burials
Photo depicts the burial of soldier on one side and while an enemy soldier is left unburied. Library of Congress

© 2010 L. Rene Tyree

Photos from the Library of Congress

[1] John Beatty, The Citizen-Soldier: The Memoirs of a Civil War Volunteer [book on-line] (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1998, accessed 28 September 2007), 211; available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=26979264; Internet.
[2] Gerald Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experiences of Combat in the American Civil War, 124.
[3] Ibid.

The American Civil War Experience: Lice, Disease and Quinine

William Fletcher
Hood

The statistics of those who died during the Civil War, not from injury but from disease, are shocking. Of the 360,222 men known to have died on the Union side, a quarter of a million were lost due to disease rather than the enemy. While the Confederates didn’t keep records, it is estimated that seventy-five percent of the 258,000 Southern deaths could be attributed to disease.

For many, the cycle of illness started soon after joining up. Those from the less populated countryside found themselves in large groups after mustering in – perhaps for the first time in their lives – and were exposed to childhood maladies like the measles, mumps and smallpox. Confederate soldier William A. Fletcher’s experience appears to be not uncommon. A young man from Texas who first signed on in 1861 as a member of the 5th Texas Infantry of Hood’s brigade, he wrote in his memoirs that in the first large camp he was assigned to after signing up, he contracted the measles. While in the hospital recovering from an associated extremely high fever, he became infested with lice and before being released, he contracted the mumps.

Civil War soldiers encampedIn this camp we suffered a good deal with sickness—the most fatal I guess was measles. I had an attack of measles and was sent to the hospital in Richmond and remained there a few days and got tired of hospital life, so I tried to be a good boy and please the woman who had charge of the ward in which I was. I soon persuaded her to get me a discharge, and I returned to camp one cold, frosty morning; the next day I was hauled back a very sick man; was put in a small room that had a coal grate and was instructed to stay in bed and keep well covered up. I lay there a few days with a burning fever, taking such medicine as was prescribed. I had learned the “itch” [from lice] was getting to be a common complaint in the hospital, and after the fever had somewhat abated, I found I had it, so when the doctor made his next visit I drew my arms from under the covers and showed him the whelps or long red marks of itch, and he said he would send me some medicine that would cure it. [i]

FredericksburgWhile encamped near Fredericksburg, Fletcher suffered from a severe attack of jaundiceEmbattled Courage and was given a permit of sick leave. Rather than moving with his unit, he took a room in a Fredericksburg hotel where he received no medical care and almost died of food poisoning. [ii]  Cases like this – and worse – were common due to a lack of sanitary conditions, adequate food, clean water and trained medical care. Gerald Linderman confirms that “each army suffered two waves of disease,” the first being “acute infections of childhood.” [iii] Because those who survived the first wave developed immunities, the incidence abated over time. But it was followed by a second wave that decimated the ranks in ever increasing numbers. Considered “camp” diseases, dysentery, malaria, and diarrhea, took men in their tents and in hospitals by the thousands, reducing the effective fighting force of many units dramatically. [iv]

John D. Billings, in his memoir Hard Tack and Coffee, brought up two important points about health in army camps. The first was that many men Hard Tack and Coffee by John Billingscame to the army already ill. This was particularly true of the recruits in 1864 and 1865, “for those who have occasion to remember will agree that a sufficient number of men too old or diseased came to the front in those years – no, they did not all get as far as the front – to fairly stock all the hospitals in the country.” [v] Billings attributed this to both the incompetence of some of the doctors providing physical examinations for enlisting recruits and the desperation of the government willing to use marginal physicians and accept men clearly unfit for duty.

Billings also spoke of the presence in every company of men who feigned illness to escape duty. As might be expected, these men were seen as shirkers who burdened others in the company with the work they did not perform. These “beats on the government” showed up routinely at the sick tent to receive the care and, in some cases, medicine administered by the doctor. Quinine was the drug du jour “whether for stomach or bowels, headache or toothache, for a cough or for lameness, rheumatism or fever and ague.” [vi]  Some who feigned illness went so far as to refuse food and so created a real health crisis for themselves with varying consequences ranging from transfer to a hospital and eventual release from the service, to susceptibility to more severe and long term conditions. [vii]

The fact remains that many, many men died of very real and unwanted maladies. Diseases flourished in camp because of poor nutrition, inadequate sewage disposal, dirty water and infrequent bathing. Typhoid, measles, cholera and dysentery killed hundreds. Even General Lee contracted dysentery on his way to Gettysburg.  Billings spoke eloquently of his many friends who suffered and died of wasting illnesses, either in the field or in hospitals, away from the families who could have unquestionably cared for them better at home. [viii]

As James I. Robertson, Jr. pointed out in his book, Soldiers Blue and Gray, “more confederates died of illness during the seven week aftermath at Corinth than fell in the two days of intense fighting at Shiloh,” an aftermath not at all uncommon during the war and certainly after every battle. [ix]

Disease was – without question – the war’s biggest killer.

Copyright © 2010 Rene Tyree

i.  William A. Fletcher and Richard S. Wheeler, Rebel Private: Front and Rear: Memoirs of a Confederate Soldier, (Meridian: New York, 1995), 7.
ii. Ibid.
iii. Gerald Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War,  (The Free Press: New York, 1987), 115.
iv. Ibid.
v. John D. Billings, Hard Tack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life (originally published in 1887 by George M. Smith and Company, Boston.), 173.
vi. Ibid., 175-176.
vii. Ibid., 175.
viii. Ibid.
ix. James I. Robertson, Jr., Soldiers Blue and Gray, (University of South Carolina Press: Columbia, South Carolina ), 145.

Why Men Fought in the Civil War

Men who hurried to sign up for the armies of the North and South in the early years of the American Civil War, joined – to varying degrees – for the follow reasons: out of a sense of duty and honor to country (whether North or South), to feel and prove oneself “manly,” a trait tied closely to notions of courage, and in search of adventure and the glory and excitement of battle. Historian James McPherson’s readings of thousands of letters written by soldiers revealed that duty and honor were closely linked to “masculinity” in Victorian America and war presented an opportunity to prove one’s self a man. [i]

D.W.C. Arnold, a private in the Union Army
Photo of D.W.C. Arnold, a private in the Union Army. The National Archives Ref. 111-B-5435

In the South, the ideas of duty and honor were most prevalent in the upper classes while such notions were less class specific in the North. Some men from both sides shared a sense of shame in “not” serving and this need to carry one’s self well remained a motivating factor for many of the men who actually “did” the fighting.

Money was not an apparent motivation for joining the military. Most men – and their families – sacrificed economically as a result of their service. Many gave up the best years of their lives, if not life itself. Later in the war, when recruits were harder to find, motivations broadened. Money may have become more of a factor and was certainly such for those who scammed the system to obtain more than one signing bonus.

Regardless of what brought men to war, their performance as soldiers varied. A good many served well. Others discovered within themselves a lack of courage and joined the ranks of men who shrank into the shadows during battles, assuring themselves safety from injury or death but not from the stigma of “coward” and “shirker.” As the war dragged on, survivors began to change their perspectives on what constituted courage and cowardice as well as their notions of the proper conduct of war.
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Copyright © 2010 Rene Tyree
[i] James M. McPherson. For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 25.
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