Sunday, October 17, 2010

Danger in the New Mexico Territory

Diseases took their toll during many marches and in many encampments during the war. Although Arkansas, as seen in previous postings, was the site for many deadly outbreaks certainly there were other dangerous places too. One of the most interesting campaigns of the war was the invasion of the New Mexico Territory by Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s army comprised of Texas units. Although the battles of Val Verde, Glorieta Pass, and Peralta garner much attention (and rightly so), the men in the ranks suffered more from microbes than from bullets. The number of Confederates, though, who succumbed to disease during the campaign is unknown although approximations can be made. Dr. Donald S. Frazier in his Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest (1995) estimated that “150 Rebels had died in combat or from wounds. Others died daily from pneumonia or other diseases…. [Altogether] Sibley’s Army of New Mexico had lost more than 600 men while the Unionists had lost less than half that number, mostly battlefield casualties” (Frazier, p. 240). Martin Hardwick Hall in his older book, Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign (1960) stated “At least eighty had been killed outright on the several battlefields, while some of the over two hundred wounded later died of their wounds. Diseases such as smallpox and, particularly, pneumonia carried many to the grave. The three hospitals left behind in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Socorro were filled with sick and wounded, and all along the line of retreat the Confederates had abandoned those too ill to continue….It is probably not an exaggeration to estimate that, either because of battle or disease, around 500 Confederates had lost their lives during the course of the campaign” (Hall, p. 202).

Numbers can be difficult to grasp, so here is an account written near the end of the campaign by Sergeant Alfred B. Peticolas of the Fourth Regiment of Texas Mounted Volunteers that puts a more human face on the problem of disease:

“Monday, 12 May 1862 [Franklin, Texas]

Still lying in camp. Talk of a baker to bake bread for the Company. The Paymaster has been up a week and is busy paying off the troops. Coffee is making out a muster roll; a tedious job. Clark is quite sick. John Kuykendall and W. B. James are down with the measles. Major Hampton is dangerously sick and has been delirious. Lieut. Roeder has been unwell for several days and is now taking the measles. Clark and W. B. James have gone to the hospital. John Kuykendall refuses to go, though he has a contagious disease.” Five days later Peticolas reported “Clark died on Thursday and we buried him yesterday. Purcell and Kleberg are sick; Purcell has yellow jaunders [sic]. Clark died with billious fever and the yellow jaunders combined. All the men are more or less unwell, and it is distressing to notice how general is the debility in camp” (Don E. Alberts, ed., Rebels on the Rio Grande: The Civil War Journal of A. B. Peticolas, Albuquerque: Merit Press, 1993, p. 129, 131-132).

1 comment:

  1. It should also be noted that, when Sibley's men came slinking home to San Antonio, they brought the smallpox with them to the civilian population.

    A lot of attention is paid to Civil War battles, but ever since I started looking into it, it has seemed to me that the South lost the war on the home front, demanding everything of its citizens, and giving back nothing but a devastated economy, lawlessness, graft, disease, and Indian raids. Southern nostalgia for the Cause is a triumph of propaganda and determination not to be wrong, not to be responsible for one's own troubles, over reality, and we've been paying for it ever since.