Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hard Times near Fort Smith, Arkansas

Today the “tour” of dangerous, disease ridden places in the trans-Mississippi continues. I can’t help but notice that the topic of disease is not often discussed in blogs, and yet many Civil War soldiers had more days of sickness than days spent in combat.

I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m picking on Arkansas in this series, but a place in Arkansas is again the topic. While Confederate soldiers suffered at Camp Nelson in the latter part of 1862, southerners also experienced a biological disaster in encampments near Fort Smith. Dr. William L. Shea in his award-winning, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (2009) details conditions in an area where soldiers from Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas camped. Shea quotes a Texan named John C. Williams who wrote that his encampment near Fort Smith “was the ‘unhealthiest camp we were placed in during the war’” (p. 83). Men died of typhoid, dysentery, and various camp illnesses in the Arkansas River Valley. Shea estimates that as a result of disease at these encampments “the loss of manpower could not have been less than a brigade” (p. 84).

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