Thus, the last war was the one in which viruses, parasites, and bacteria, rather than bullets and bombs, were to blame for the majority of deaths: two-thirds.

American Civil War

Civil War, known for having greatest death toll of all American wars in history.

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Overwhelming numbers

But it's not only them that make this a somber contrast; it also has a gloomy undertone to it.

A historical day

It was a historic day for the United States as the death toll from the novel coronavirus surpassed the classic estimate of the number of Americans killed in the American Civil War: 620,000. Covid-19's mortality toll reveals that many are still approaching the virus with a medical mindset that is 160 years out of date. Disease had an immediate impact on the war's outcome practically as soon as it was initiated. Soldiers were stranded in muddy encampments where they had to make do with sleeping in tents from both :

  • the North;

  • and the South.

"Camp diseases"

The viruses found a new home in the bodies of rural residents who had been mostly shielded from earlier exposure by their rural lives. The "camp diseases" of pneumonia, smallpox, and the skin infection erysipelas swiftly mounted a second wave of attack when new men concluded training and joined the armies in the field. First, the troops were hit by:

  • measles;

  • mumps;

  • whooping cough;

  • and chickenpox, which transmitted from person to person via exhaled respiratory droplets and aerosols.

Robert Hicks explains

As an authority on Civil War medicine and vaccination policy, Robert Hicks, PhD, explains, "Theoretically, all recruits were to be vaccinated [against smallpox] coming into the army." Nevertheless, he asserts that in actuality, "that just did not happen." Early in the conflict, the Union imposed a blockade on all Southern ports, making it difficult for the Confederates to obtain medical supplies from the north. Unprotected troops attempted frantic home self-innoculations using pus from diseased friends and neighbors' oozing wounds because everyone at the time understood the potential of disease.

Science had no control

Science had no control over the other viruses, which hit the soldiers with such rapidity that even those with modest fatality percentages tallied up large body counts among the soldiers. Typhus-transmitting lice were common, but dysentery and typhoid fever were far more infamous and easily preventable diseases at the time. Union and Confederate leaders said that soldiers were hostile to the few information they had at the time concerning hygienic standards.

In an attempt to keep lice at bay, Confederate General Robert E. Lee urged his troops to bathe regularly. However, Lee noted that soldiers were "worse than children [at keeping clean], for the latter can be compelled." Weary soldiers began defecating wherever it was convenient in their encampment as the long and dreadful conflict progressed. They used their own water supplies to relieve themselves on a regular basis because they didn't understand germ theory.

Soldiers at Vicksburg had abandoned basic hygiene to such an extent that "human excrement has been promiscuously dumped in every direction," according to an army surgeon. As a result of this trend, epidemics of dysentery, cholera, and typhoid fever occurred frequently, inspiring cliches that are still in use today. Troops who were most susceptible to these diarrhea-inducing diseases were deemed unfit for military service.