Civil War Diseases

There were a whole host of Civil War diseases. The worst out of the bunch was by far Dysentery. This one disease accounted for around 45,000 deaths in the Union army and around 50,000 deaths in the Confederate army.

What was the reason for this huge death rate? The answer is painfully simple.

Contaminated water. Hygiene was not a big issue when it came to health care in those days. During a Civil War surgery cleanliness was a mere afterthought. Unfortunately for people back then they didn’t realize that there was a link between hygiene and health. Go figure.

Putting a latrine right next to the water supply was the reason for the water contamination. Now you don’t exactly need to be a doctor to realize that putting these two things that close together is probably not the brightest idea in the world.

However these were the same officers who were still wasting their men away on the battlefield using old battle tactics with powerful new weapons.

Not only did soldiers have to fight each other they also had to fight Nature’s Civil War which was a battle that affected everyone.

Some of the major Civil War diseases that people had to contend with were:

Typhoid was another major killer. Again this disease was a result of contaminated water or food. Typhoid killed around 30,000 Confederate and 35,000 Union troops during the war. 1 out of every 3 people who contracted this disease died of it.

Pneumonia was responsible for the deaths of 20,000 Union and 17,000 Confederate troops. 1 in 6 people who got this disease died from it. Stonewall Jackson died from Pneumonia after being shot during the battle of Chancellorsville by his own men.

Pneumonia was more of an opportunistic type of disease. It looked for weak people to inject itself into. If you became wounded on the battlefield or became sick with something else there was a good chance Pneumonia was going to find you.

Measles killed a lot of people during the Civil War around 11,000 soldiers total. Not as many as other diseases did but it had its fair share. With so many people gathered in such small areas this disease was able to spread rapidly. About 1 in 20 people who got this disease died as a result of it.

Tuberculosis killed about 14,000 soldiers during the war. No known cure for it during the war. Even today there is no real cure, it can be treated but never cured. Once you get this disease you get it for life.

Malaria was also prevalent during the war killing roughly 30,000 soldiers. This number is high but considering around 3 million people contracted the disease it was not often fatal. This was due in large part to the readily available supply of quinine, which was used to successfully prevent and treat the disease.

So what is the biggest thing that all of these Civil War diseases had in common? It was the fact that nobody had any idea how to cure them. With the exception of Malaria. This spelled bad news if you were one of the unfortunate ones to come down with any of these diseases.


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