Historically war has proven to be an excellent facilitator in the spread of disease. War takes advantage of the crowded unsanitary conditions wounded soldiers are placed in. The movement of sick troops from one base to another spreads any infectious diseases from person to person often unexpectedly. The American Civil War was no exception to this phenomena, with diseases spreading rapidly throughout the troops of both sides. Disease and sickness played such a tremendous role in this war that the leading cause of death wasnt being killed by the opposing side but dying of sickness.
The American Civil War began on April 12th 1861 shortly after the election of former President Abraham Lincoln. The war itself took place in thousands of locations across the border of the Southern Confederate States of America and the Northern Union. As its namesake implies, this war was a series of fights between the Northern and Southern states of the United States of America with minimal to no interference from outside countries.
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As with most major battles the American Civil War didnt erupt overnight with one incident. The Civil War was the product of a series of confrontations concerning the institution of slavery within the United States. The southern states which lawfully still allowed the ownership of slaves began to experience frequent slave rebellions often resulting in the deaths of slaveholders. The most gruesome rebellion happened on August 1831 at the hands of a slave by the name of Nat Turner. Turner rallied a group of approximately 70 slaves and for two days killed a total of 61 white people across several plantations in southern Virginia. Turners rebellion came to an end after local police and the militia managed to captured its participants. The rebellion resulted in the removal of the few civil rights slaves and free black people possessed.
The North had moved away from being a primarily agricultural economy and was progressively moving towards industrialization. With no need for slave labor, slavery was abolished in the North. However, the Souths economy relied on large-scale farming that depended on the labor slaves. Without slaves southerners believed there economy would ultimately collapse and bring about a depression. The election of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln into office created a sense of unrest in the hearts of Southern slaveholders. President Lincoln was strongly against slavery and tried to abolish it in the United States as a whole. Fearing economic depression southerners began to revolt against President Lincolns ideology. The conflict between North and South continued to grow with a series of event leading up to the start of the war. These included The Compromise of 1850, , the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, The Bleeding Kansas Era, and The Battle of Fort Sumter.
The Compromise of 1850 was a set of laws passed dealing with the controversial issue of slavery. As part of the compromise California entered the Union becoming the 16th free state. The Compromise of 1850 also prohibited the slave trading in the nations capital, Washington D.C. Even though the Compromise banned the slave trade in Washington D.C, it still allowed the holding of slaves within the capital. One of the laws introduced by the Compromise of 1850 was the the Fugitive Slave Law. The law required northerners to return runaway slaves to their owners under penalty of law. The Compromise of 1850 was created in hopes of creating a common-ground for the issue of slavery. However, all of the laws passed under the Compromise did nothing to settle the overall issue of slavery.
Tensions increased with the Supreme court case of Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857. Dred Scott was a Virginia slave who tried to sue for his freedom in court, which reached the level of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court Justice came to a conclusion. It was decided that because Dred Scott was a once a slave he was a considered a piece of property who therefore lacked the legal rights awarded to a human beings. The decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford continued to increase tensions between the North and South. Antislavery forces were angered by the power the southern states were granted when it came to the ownership of slaves. These antislavery forces felt that it was unconstitutional for slaveholders to still control the lives and right of freed slaves. Despite the Missouri Compromise having already been repealed prior to the case, the decision nonetheless appeared to favor the Southern version of national power.
The Bleeding Kansas era was a period of violence during the settling of what is now Kansas. Kansas at a time was just a territory and was the heart of pro-slavery and anti-slavery battles. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 overturned the Missouri Compromises use of the latitude as the boundary between slave and free territory. Instead, it used popular sovereignty so that the residents of the territory would determine whether the area became a free state or a slave state. Pro- and anti-slavery protestors rushed into Kansas with hopes of shifting the decision by sheer weight of numbers. Heated exchanges between the two forces lasted 7 years with sporadic violent outbreaks which consumed fifty-six lives. Even though antislavery constitutions were eventually officially ratified, the violence further increased the tension between the North and South.
Historians often associate the beginning of the American Civil War with the Battle of Fort Sumter. As a result of the secession on the southern states, the Confederacy had demanded President Lincoln to abandon Fort Sumter as it was located on Charleston Harbor. President Lincoln refused the ultimatum placed on him. The Battle of Fort Sumter took place on April 12, 1861, when Confederate warships turned back the supply convoy being sent to Fort Sumter. Upon halting the convoy the Confederate army proceeded to open fire on the Fort lasting almost a day and a half. After 34 hours of bombarding the stronghold the events leading to the start of the American Civil War ultimately resulted in the secession of 11 southern states and the birth of what was then considered a new separate country. In less than two months a total 7 southern states had chosen to secede from the United States. South Carolina was the first state to separate from the United States on December 20, 1860. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana were the next five states to secede shortly after in the month of January. Texas was the last state to separate in the first wave of the secession. The next round of secession resumed on April 17, 1861 with the defection of Virginia and ended on June 8th of that year after Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee had seceded. The 11 southern states became The Confederate States of America, the enemy of the Union during this time of social and political unrest.
The American Civil War is one of only a few wars where the majority of accounted deaths came from disease or sickness and not combat. With every soldier murdered on the battlefield, two more soldiers would perish from the likes of faulty health. Military camps during the American Civil War provided a stable environment for disease to spread. Camps were cluttered with injured and plagued soldiers, contaminated water, and bad odors. Sanitation was a big factor in the spread of disease as soldiers would go weeks without showering contributing to the foul smell. War doctors are also guilty of aiding in the spread of sickness as many failed to follow protocol. Doctors were limited during the war forcing doctors to bounce from patient to patient within minutes. Doctors didnt have time to wash their hands or sanitize their equipment in between bouncing in between patients. The possibility of blood and puss of one patient being transferred to the open wound of another patient was extremely possible.
Diarrhea was a common medical problems on both Confederate and Union sides. A total of 1,528,098 cases of severe diarrhea were recorded among Union troops alone. Diarrhea was constant in army life, and most cases werent taken into much consideration. Causes of the diarrhea included food spoilage and bacterium causing dysentery. Dysentery is an infection in the intestinal tract caused by the Shigella bacillus bacterium. Individuals plagued with dysentary experience symptoms ranging from stomach cramps to diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea and chronic dysentery were became a much larger problem during the war than it is today. The fatality rates for the chronic forms were quite high: 16.2% for chronic diarrhea and 12.6% of the cases diagnosed as chronic dysentery.
Smallpox was one of the leading causes of death during the Civil War. Smallpox was a serious infectious disease caused by the variola virus that has now been eradicated. The virus itself was contagious, capable of spreading from one person to another. Smallpox is characterized by a fever and severe skin rash.
Malaria was a prominent disease during the American Civil War with a total of 1,028,750 reported cases. Malaria is a serious and possibly fatal disease caused by a protozoan parasite in the Plasmodium genus that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Individuals infected with Malaria tend to experience high fever, shaking, vomiting, diarrhea and flu like symptoms. Malaria cant be transmitted through human contact only through the bite of an Anopheles mosquito. Soldiers were generally bitten in the summertime when traveling through dense swamps which harbor the ideal watery habitat for mosquito breeding. Fortunately malaria can now be cured with the use of prescription drugs. Drugs used depend on the type of malaria, severity of symptoms, and where the malaria was contacted.
If this war occured in 2018 I dont think there would be a problem in regards to the spread of disease. Aside from fighting, the biggest problem associated with this war was disease that stemmed from unsanitary conditions and unhygienic practices. As a country weve evolved in many ways to combat these. The U.S Armed Forces have set a strict sanitary protocol and our troops dont live in raggedy run down camps as they did in the past. Our surgeons and doctors are no longer amateurs to the medical field, they have undergone years of schooling and medical practice. Medicine has also come along way since then. Modern medicine will be able to treat and cure most if not all of disease that were associated with this war greatly reducing the number of casualties. The 620,000 deaths from the American Civil War be cut in half now that were more advanced in medical and sanitary practices.
The American Civil War was a brutal but crucial event in the history of the United States that has forever engraved its mark in our history books. The war was the product of a multitude of triggering events that further increased tensions between the pro-slave Confederacy and the anti-slavery Union. The American Civil War has unique place in terms of casualties with most deaths coming from disease. For every 1 person that died in combat, two more died from sickness. This can be attributed to the inexperience of medical personnel, unhygienic conditions, and shortage of medicinal supplies. Many of the leading causes of diseases like dysentery/diarrhea, smallpox, and malaria wouldnt be a problem with modern medicine, especially smallpox which has now been eradicated.
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