June 23, 2007 Program Summary

Michael A. Flannery

On June 23rd, BGS hosted Michael A. Flannery, Professor and Associate Director for Historical Collections at Lister Hill Library, University of Alabama at Birmingham. Mr. Flannery discussed his recent book, Civil War Pharmacy: A History of Drugs, Drug Supply and Provision, and Therapeutics for the Union and Confederacy. His book can be purchased from Haworth Press or Amazon. See the Reynolds Historical Library website for additional information on this topic.

Mr. Flannery gave a very detailed and informative presentation on this topic. He emphasized that camp disease more than battlefield wounds were the main cause of illness and death in the Union and Confederate armies. To quote Mr. Flannery, “the surgeon’s medicine mattered more than the saw blade.” From the data available, a soldier in the war was 5 times more likely to die of disease than the civilian population.

Common diseases treated were: Diarrhea/Dysentery, Camp Fevers, Respiratory Ailments & Digestive Disorders. In 1861-1862 a Confederate Soldier was twice as likely to die from a camp disease than a battlefield injury. (I have several instances of this in my family research.)

Some have argued the effectiveness of the Union blockade on Southern ports, Mr. Flannery argues it was very effective because it kept the necessary medicines such a quinine to treat malaria from the Confederate armies. In 1861 only 1 in 10 blockade runners were captured, by 1864/5 it was 1 out of 2. The Confederacy tried to replace the drugs in short supply with substitutes made from blackberry, may-apple, poppy and pleurisy-root, but they never found a substitute for quinine and the soldiers suffered for this.

The Civil War had a profound effect on how we look at medicine today. It was a proving ground for many drugs and treatments. Large pharmaceutical labs were established in the North on a scale previously unheard of . . . the role of pharmacist was changed forever. Herbal remedies became more prominent in the South.

Early in the war, the Confederacy gave a deferment for druggist’s. Information regarding those from Alabama who sought deferment can be found at the Alabama Archives. There are also material on the hospital stewards in the Confederate units.

There were a lot of questions at the end of his talk. I have to say it was one of the most informative discussions on this topic and enhanced my knowledge of Civil War medicine (and made me happy that I live in a time where we know so much more about disease and illness.)

I hope I have given an adequate review on the topic. I encourage everyone to read his book.

Melissa Hogan
BGS Historian


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