Chimborazo Hospital, the "hospital on the hill." Library of Congress photo.

Did your soldier ancestor die during the Civil War? If so, it is more likely he died from disease than from bullets.

Disease killed twice as many soldiers as did bullets during the Civil War, and left many others too weak to fight.

Medical entry for Francis M. Poore

Many of the citizen soldiers had never been far from their farms before. And they certainly had never lived with tens of thousands of other men. Yet military duty crowded these men in camps in sometimes unsanitary conditions. The camps suffered outbreaks of measles, pneumonia and typhoid fever.

During the winter of 1861-62, Francis Marion Poore of the 13th Mississippi Infantry suffered from one of the most common, and potentially deadly, ailments—diarrhea.

Francis entered the Leesburg, Virginia, hospital for three days on December 2, 1861. He entered the Leesburg hospital again in February 1862 and spent more than half of March in the Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond suffering from chronic diarrhea.

Today, diarrhea is usually easily cured. But during the Civil War, both the illness and its treatment could be deadly. Doctors often used astringents and purgatives. These substances sometimes contained highly toxic compounds of silver, mercury, lead, bismuth, copper, antimony, or arsenic. They could afford Francis some temporary relief from his original symptoms, but he was lucky not to have been slowly poisoned.

Do your ancestor’s muster rolls contain an entry for illness or time in the hospital? If so, were you able to uncover his medical story? Were you able to make out the meaning of old medical terms? Do you need help trying to solve a medical mystery? Leave a comment and perhaps I or someone else can help.

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