Disease Of The Civil War

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Typhoid Fever

Typhoid Fever killed about 195,000 soldiers during the Civil War. (1) This disease is contracted by ingesting contaminated food and water. Symptoms may include red skin lesions, diminished mental ability, diarrhea, and/or a distended abdomen. There was practically no know cure or treatment for Typhoid Fever. Most physicians would prescribe turpentine, opium, whiskey, or a cold compress. A soldier could also be given mercury pills if those resources were available. (2)


Dysentery was the number one killer in the civil war, this disease was reported by 1,775,707 individual soldiers. (4) Dysentery is a bacterial infection caused by close quarters, contaminated food, and contaminated water. Most soldiers showed symptoms of stomach cramps, diarrhea, mucus and blood in the feces, fever, abdominal pain, and/or severe dehydration. (3) Soldiers were given homemade tea, whiskey and in extreme cases, their anal opening would be cauterized to stop the bleeding associated with defecating. (4)

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Malaria infected about 30,000 soldiers (5) by way of a parasitic infection, spread by mosquitoes. Soldiers who contracted Malaria would be in severe pain, accompanied by fever, chills, vomiting, headaches, body aches, enlarged spleen and livers, mild jaundice, and an elevated heart rate. (6) Soldiers would be prescribed arsenic and mercury. (5)


About 14,000 soldiers were infected with Tuberculosis, or TB. (8) TB spread rampantly through most civil war camps because TB is extremely contagious, it is contracted by breathing in infected air particles. Coughing or vomiting up blood, fever, chills, loss of appetite, fatigue, distended chest were common symptoms. TB can also affect your internal organs including your liver, kidneys, and bladder. (7) Soldiers would be sent home for some fresh air before being dragged back to the war, sometimes surgeons would perform a surgery to decrease lung capacity, but practically nobody knew how to do this. (8)


Smallpox had a reported 18,950 victims during the civil war, (9) infected by breathing in contaminated air particles, someone coughing or sneezing in your face, or inhaling infected water particles. Along with an extremely high fever, vomiting, body aches were common to Smallpox patients. Soon after contamination, closed skin lesions with thick opaque fluid, and a small indent at the head of the lesion appeared all over the body. Most pustules would then scab over, some would grow larger. (10) There was no cure or treatment for smallpox, men were given comfort measures in makeshift hospitals. Whiskey, bedrest, and cold compresses were administered. (9)

The Spread of Disease

Disease spread very easily because there was absolutely no sanitation in the hospitals of the civil war. Surgeons were astonished that one person could vomit blood, a symptom that come along with many diseases. There wasnt much anyone could do but provide comfort to the wounded and dying, there was no antibiotics, and vaccination was a radical idea, only performed in very desperate times. The only thing operations surgeons could do at this point was amputate limbs, and in most cases, this skill was worth absolutely nothing. (11)

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