Just as field commanders logged each Civil War battle, the U. S. medical corps submitted reports to the Surgeon General on war-related injuries, illnesses, diseases and patient care.
Their chronicles — published as The Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion (1861-65) — contain valuable clues about causes and treatment of my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull’s heart and lung complaints and chronic rheumatism.
In an 1889 declaration in his pension file, my great, great grandfather said his rheumatic illness — particularly pain in his right shoulder and arm — was caused by “exposure and hard marching, having to carry his knapsack and other accouterments, bearing more especially from straps placed on right shoulder.”
Turns out this may have contributed to Arthur’s heart and lung problems, too.
In a section on “Morbid Conditions Attributed to the Weight of the Accoutrements,” the MSHWR discusses “haemoptysis” (spitting up blood) “after a paroxysm of accelerated cardiac action and oppressed breathing” — which sounds very much like Arthur’s illness.
The passage continues: “In many cases, the soldier, and frequently the medical officer, attributed the haemoptysis to exercise under the weight of knapsack and pressure of the belts.”
Veteran Union soldiers on the march had learned to jettison their 40-50 pounds of pack and gear — traveling light with just a rifle and ammo, weighing about 10 pounds, and some undergarments rolled into a blanket slung over their shoulder.
Arthur was an inexperienced recruit unaccustomed to doing this. So he may have succumbed from the exertion of soldiering on with his heavy, killer knapsack — an occurrence common enough to be noted in Civil War medical literature.
And he might also have been among the large number of Union soldiers who were affected by a newly diagnosed, war-related syndrome. More on this as Arthur’s saga continues.
© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.