Civil War Diseases - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1231 Words
Date:  2024-01-01


Diseases marred the civil war between 1861 and 1865, resulting in many of the soldier's deaths. There was a pattern of hunger, injuries, illness, and fatalities to the soldiers and civilians caused by the war (Humphreys, 31). The doctors and nurses were at the forefront of the hospitals and the medical field. This skilled personnel were very critical in the fighting and thwarting the problems presented by the diseases. There was a better understanding of the medicine among the male doctors after completing the various medical tasks while the female doctors raised their efforts to care through the organizations. The civil war presented multiple challenges in providing sufficient healthcare and Medicare to the civilians and the soldiers involved in the war (Manela, 306). Significant barriers that faced the medical personnel in treating the diseases included wound infections, contagious diseases, lack of equipped healthcare infrastructure, and the gender stereotypes on Medicare and healthcare roles. Therefore, this paper aims to critically analyze the diseases and challenges experienced during the civil war.

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Fertile Ground for Diseases

The civil war was a fertile ground for diseases that resulted from the large gatherings of the soldiers in their camps (Humphreys, 13). The close interaction of individuals led to the fast spread and transmission of the diseases. Some of the diseases were the primary indicators of the strong infections experienced during the war and included cholera, measles, smallpox, and yellow fever. (Humphreys, 30). Smallpox was considered as the most transmitted infections and was caused by a variola virus (VARV). In 1978, physician Edward Jenner unearthed and published a successful vaccination and proved his technical expertise (Humphreys, 88).

The surgeons advised the soldiers to immunize when smallpox became widespread in Confederate and Union armies. It was a rare scenario for the soldiers to be vaccinated in the South and Midwest through vaccination in the North for thwarting smallpox by 1860 (Freemon, 172). Physician Roberts Bartholomew explored the barriers experienced in the contagion's primary development when he stated that it was impossible to locate its source. In such impossibilities, the non-contagionists made some assumptions that the local conditions were adequate and sufficient to generate the diseases (Humphreys, 92). Further, the new soldiers who joined the civil war between 1863 and 1864 were affected by diseases like a plague (Freemon, 166). The diseases critically and severely affected the armies in the south and the North.

Seasoning Camps

To avoid the infections, the commandants in charge made all the efforts to situate the newly recruited soldiers in seasoning camps. However, due to the contagious state of the diseases that would last for weeks complemented with the skin rashes, the approach was not effective in containing the diseases (Humphreys, 29). Additionally, the majorly spread diseases were yellow fever, smallpox, cholera, and measles. Such viruses as cholera and yellow fever were spread throughout the community, and immensely aroused fear interrupted trade called for government protocol and prompted deliberations on their containment. There was great concern about the wound infections that posed significant challenges as the bodies would be externally exposed, away from the infectious disease viruses. In specificity, a type of wound infection known as gangrene was characterized by loss of blood supply and dead tissues (Sahli et al., 2449).

Gangrene exhibited various symptoms, such as discolored skin and acute pains. Moreover, the wound infections and the skin problems caused by microbes like streptococcal, staphylococcal, and clostridia species were very severe. Compared with other wounds, drainage of abscesses, dead tissues, and a decrease in wounds posed a challenge in eliminating gangrene infections. Besides, the proactive public sanitation enforcement and public health reforms were necessitated by the challenges posed in treating the infectious wounds.

To combat the challenges contributed by infectious diseases and wound infections like gangrene, the rate of enforcement of hygienic practices was increased, and the medical personnel was enabled to ideas that were revolutionary (Freemon, 164). Intellectual physicians came up with theories that poison related to organic substances and behaved like stimulants. Also, the organic chemicals functioned through molecular activities in the tissues and in the blood. The tissue components were either damaged or transformed, resulting in the intensified poison presence, and the disinfectants were assumed to interrupt the chemical process (Freemon, 178). Additionally, when the poisonous properties related to the diseases were infused into the air, there was increased use of antiseptics. The disinfection of the patient's fluids such as pus and diarrhea, the beddings and the clothing was conducted, and isolation in different hospital wards of the infected patients. Patient separation enabled the hospitals to isolate the patients from the general public wards and minimize disease transmission. The issue of contamination was addressed by the advancement of cleanliness in the camps.

Few Drugs Available

A significant issue arose as the hospitals' structure started to manifest, which was the hospitals' drug deficiency resulting in less or minimized utility. There were very few drugs available to be used to treat the soldiers in the civil war. Such drugs as opium, quinine, chloroform, bromine, and ether were the only available drugs to treat infectious diseases and wound diseases (Humphreys, 24). These prompted the medics to use alternative drugs for limited drugs to minimize the diseases' extent. As a result, the medical personnel made some discoveries on the prevention, treatment, and maintenance of diseases such as clean beddings, nourishing foods, wound care, and proper fluids. Additionally, the medics innovated techniques of saving lives, for example, the amputation of limbs. They tried to answer the question of death or survival, and the preference was saving lives and survival of soldiers over their deaths from the wounds and the infectious diseases (Humphreys, 36). Moreover, the doctors who operated on the injured soldiers restructured the home environments to boost human strength and mind positively. Such activities as playing music, receiving letters from home, singing, and women writing and reading materials to men were used to enrich and enhance their mental capacities.


In conclusion, the diseases and the challenges experienced during the civil war contributed partially to the war's end. They presented severe healthcare barriers in the provision of adequate health services by the healthcare personnel. The civil war was a fertile ground for diseases that resulted from the large gathering of the soldiers in their camps. To avoid the infections, the commandants in charge made all the efforts to situate the newly recruited soldiers in seasoning camps. To combat the challenges contributed by infectious diseases and wound infections like gangrene, the rate of enforcement of hygienic practices was increased, and the medical personnel was enabled to revolutionary ideas. A significant issue arose as the structure of the hospitals started to manifest, which was the deficiency of drugs in the hospitals resulting in less or minimized utility. The diseases and wound infections were major challenges that affected the soldiers who were involved in the war significantly.

Works Cited

Freemon, Frank R. Gangrene and glory: Medical care during the American Civil War.University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Humphreys, Margaret. "This Place of Death: Environment as Weapon in the American CivilWar." The Southern Quarterly 53.3 (2016): 12-36.

Humphreys, Margaret. Marrow of tragedy: The health crisis of the American Civil War. JHUPress, 2013.

Manela, Erez. "A pox on your narrative: writing disease control into Cold Warhistory." Diplomatic History 34.2 (2010): 299-323.

Sahli, Z. T., A. R. Bizri, and G. S. Abu-Sittah. "Microbiology and risk factors associated withwar-related wound infections in the Middle East." Epidemiology & Infection 144.13(2016): 2848-2857.

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