Friday, 17 January 2014

Sanitation and War

The Sanitary Commission of the United States Army: a succinct narrative of its works and purpose.
I was admittedly quite fascinated with this title.   It was published in 1864 in New York for the benefit of the United States Sanitary Commission.
In reading the introduction it stated “The commission knew that the average annual death-rate in armies in our former wars had been exceedingly high, and that an army of volunteer forces is most liable to fatal diseases.  In our vast armies of volunteers, the problems of sanitary science were to be wrought out as a national and patriotic work….Can the average sickness-rate be kept at a minimum point? Can the average death-rate from disease be reduced to a fraction of that which was registered in the Mexican war?  This result the commission believed possible.”
This is a fascinating book about the Commission and what they achieved, they are harrowing descriptions such as from page 33 “At the time of which I am now writing (Monday afternoon), wounded men were arriving by every train….They were packed as closely as they could be stowed in the common freight-cars, without beds, without straw, at most with a wisp of hay under their heads.  Many of the lighter cases came on the roof of the cars.  They arrived dead and living together, in the same close box, many with awful wounds festering and swarming with maggots.”  The smell apparently reduced the men that cared for them to vomit.
But it also states on page 229
“The Brigadier-General commanding gratefully recalls to the recollection of the troops of this command, and the debt incurred by them during the recent movements, to the Sanitary Commission and its Agent Mr A. B. Day.  Much suffering has been alleviated and many inconveniencies removed by the energy and promptness with which the supplies of the Commission have been paced at the control of our medical officers…”
This book is well worth a read and can be found at shelfmark F1/DA-I.4/3.

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