Causes of Disease


The Rubeola virus is spread primarily between humans through the air via coughing, sneezing, and talking. The virus can also be spread through the lining of the mouth, throat, nose, and eyes. (7)


The Variola major or minor virus passes from person to person with close contact. Traveling through the air by talking, sneezing, or coughing next to a person with the virus can easily spread to oneself. (7)


The Mycobacterium tuberculosis microbacterium is spread through close contact with other human beings, which was extremely prevalent during the Civil War. This is an extremely contagious airborne illness that breeds perfectly in high-density areas. (7)


The Treponema palladium bacterium is spread during sexual intercourse with the infected body part. This can also be passed via childbirth. (7)

Typhoid Fever 

The Salmonella typhi is an intestinal infection that was passed on via contaminated food or water. Improper disposal of waste or dirty water made perfect breeding grounds for this illness. (7)

Diarrhea and Dysentery

Diarrhea and dysentery is passed on primarily through physical contact with someone else who has a virus. Common causes include passing of the germs via unwashed hands, or sharing cups or utensils with someone who is contaminated. (7)


The spread of Streptococcus pneumonia is done primarily by passage of the virus or bacteria through the air, as well as through physical contact with another person who is infected. (7)

General causes of disease in the Civil War: 

While much of the reasons disease started due to natural causes, a lot of the sickness was due to lack of knowledge and resources. Absence of known treatments and lack of unawareness of prevention had detrimental effects on how these diseases spread. The cause for the disproportionate number of deaths was attributed to filthy living conditions in army camps, nonexistent surgical equipment, spoiled and poorly prepared foods, unwashed surgeon’s hands, and poor health conditions. (6)

Physicians had minimal training and few doctors understood that many problems were due to “invisible” microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria. Soldiers were operated on by doctors who had blood and pus on his coat from previous patients. If the surgeon dropped his instruments on the floor, he would simply pick the tool up, rinse it off and continue to work. Surgery was done in an assembly line while surgeons and assistants used bloody instruments and performed with unwashed hands, and sponges soaked in blood were used several times. While this may seem like a disgusting and absurd practice, the lack of medical knowledge had not proved such. Disease and over crowded conditions produced a foul stench in hospitals. Alcohol, bromine, carbolic acid, iodine, nitric acid, mercuric chloride, and sodium hypochlorite were initially used to deodorize the air. These agents were later discovered to have anti-bacterial qualities. Disease also spread via ambulance because they were unreliable and overcrowded. (6)

As far as sanitations in the living quarters, camp regulations stated that the soldiers were supposed to dig an 8 foot trench for a toilet and to cover it with 6 inches of dirt every night. However, many soldiers didn’t abide by this rule and relieved themselves in open spaces. (7) Flies accompanied by disease that spread to the men and their food loved this environment. Soldiers who were used to being catered to by their mothers and wives failed to wash their clothes and their bodies. Sanitation and cleanliness were nonexistent. Filthy living conditions conditions, water pollution, dead bodies of animals and soldiers, overcrowded living quarters, and the medical professional’s uncertain practice are the origins of illness rates. (6)

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