The following post is part of an ongoing series entitled Civil War Voices from Florida. Each day in October 2014, Florida Memory will post a document from the collections of the State Archives of Florida written exactly 150 years before that date, in October 1864.
On this day in 1864, we find Robert Watson still on board the C.S.S. Savannah, patrolling the waters of Savannah Harbor. When we last checked in with Watson, he was describing the difficult economic situation on the Florida home front. Today, he shares a bit about a serious problem of his own:
Transcript: Thursday 6th: After qrs. I went on shore and went up to camp to see the boys and while there the chills came on me so I hurried down on board and [turned] in, had a severe fever the balance of the day. Took a little medicine and felt a little better at night.
Wounds are a problem in any war, but in the Civil War disease was just as serious a threat. The likelihood of death from disease was ten times greater during the Civil War than half a century later during World War I. Historian James McPherson estimates that twice as many soldiers died from disease during the conflict than died from mortal wounds.
Medical treatments were often crude and imprecise. Without advanced medical knowledge or a steady supply of medicines, military doctors and surgeons almost always turned to some combination of the same few weapons to treat disease. These included calomel, laudanum, quinine, and morphine when it was available. Whether the patient was suffering from malaria, dysentery, typhoid, constipation, diarrhea, or some other ailment barely mattered. If it looked anything like a fever, it was treated like one.
We know from later entries of Robert Watson’s diary that his fever was likely little more than the common cold or an allergy. Yet we also know the doctor aboard the Savannah took no chances. When Watson presented himself for treatment, he received quinine as though he might have malaria.
Check out the related resources below for more about Florida during the Civil War. Also, join us tomorrow on Civil War Voices from Florida as our journey takes us to the State Capitol and the correspondence of Governor John Milton.
Related Resources on Florida Memory:
- Robert Watson’s Confederate Pension Application (State Archives of Florida / Florida Memory)
- Florida Memory Learning Unit: Florida in the Civil War
- Florida Memory Exhibit: Distant Storm: Florida’s Role in the Civil War
Related Resources at the State Archives of Florida:
Related Resources in Print:
- Biographical Rosters of Florida’s Confederate and Union Soldiers, 1861-1865 (find in a library near you!)
- Florida in the Civil War, by Nicholas Wynne and Robert Taylor (find in a library near you!)