Saturday, August 14, 2010

Misery in the Trans-Mississippi

Diseases killed far more men than bullets did during the American Civil War, but historians tend to focus their attention on dramatic events such as battles. Disease, though, could have far more impact on a military unit than a battle. Recently, I read an interesting book by Andrew McIlwaine Bell titled Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever, And The Course Of The American Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010). According to Bell, “mosquito-borne disease posed the greatest threat to military personnel serving west of the Mississippi River. In fact, the two states where mosquitoes were the most troublesome were both within the region the Confederacy dubbed the Trans-Mississippi Department. For the Union the Department of Arkansas held the ignoble distinction of being its most malarious. Between 1863 and 1865 there were an astonishing 1,287 cases of malaria each year for every 1,000 northern soldiers assigned to the state. Texas experienced more yellow fever outbreaks than any other state in the Confederacy. Southern soldiers stationed in port towns such as Galveston, Lavaca, and Sabine City burned with fever and spewed black vomit before drawing their last breath. But west of the Mississippi malaria was a far more pervasive problem” (p. 101). Trans-Mississippi soldiers also struggled with many other diseases such as measles and dysentery. I will focus on some of the most disease ridden places in the trans-Mississippi in some of my upcoming postings.


  1. Thanks for this. Yellow fever was a tremendous problem here in Galveston during the war, especially in the outbreak of September 1864. I blogged a little about that here, with some speculation as to the source.

  2. This book arrived Wednesday. (Amazon loves me.) Good stuff, thanks for highlighting it.

  3. Dear Andy,
    I apologize for not responding earlier to your comments--classes recently started at my university, and I've been busy with the usual beginning of the semester tasks. Your post about the yellow fever outbreak in Galveston in the fall of 1864 was quite interesting; your conclusions seem sound to me. Thanks to the MOSQUITO SOLDIERS book, I am viewing mosquitoes with even greater concern than usual...I am thankful that yellow fever and malaria are highly unusual now in the U.S.