Wednesday, August 13, 2014

News--Did A CSA Agent Target Northern Cities in 1864 For A Yellow Fever Epidemic?

Yellow JackYellow Fever Plot of 1864 Targeted Lincoln, U.S. Cities, Mathew W. Lively, Civil War Profiles Weblog, July 13, 2014.
Excerpt: In the summer of 1864, Dr. Luke P. Blackburn, a Kentucky-born physician turned Confederate agent, allegedly instituted a bioterrorism plot against United States cities and President Abraham Lincoln. Blackburn’s goal was to “release” Yellow Fever through the distribution of infected clothing, with specific articles being sent directly to Lincoln. The plot was unsuccessful, however, mainly due to a 19th century misunderstanding of how Yellow Fever is transmitted, but also because a disgruntled fellow conspirator revealed the plot to U.S. authorities.
 Yellow Fever, also known as “Yellow Jack,” after the flag that was flown from quarantined ships in harbors, was a deadly disease in U.S. coastal cities during the 1800’s (an 1853 outbreak in New Orleans, Louisiana, produced 9,000 deaths – 28% of the city’s population). The disease was notorious for causing “black vomit,” an ominous clinical sign resulting from hemorrhage in the stomach. 

Today we know that Yellow Fever is a virus that is spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes. But during the Civil War, which occurred prior to the discovery of germs being the source of disease, medical science and the lay population believed Yellow Fever could be contracted from direct exposure to those who were infected, primarily through contact with “black vomit.” It was this belief that led Blackburn to “contaminate” clothing for distribution.

The island of Bermuda was a major base of blockade running for the Confederacy and when a Yellow Fever epidemic occurred there in the summer of 1864, Dr. Blackburn, who had extensive experience treating the disease in the Deep South, traveled from Canada to Bermuda to lend his expertise in controlling the outbreak. While on the island, Blackburn took the soiled bedding and clothing of infected patients and packed them into trunks with new shirts and coats in an effort to “infect” the unused garments with Yellow Fever particles. 

Blackburn then traveled to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in June 1864 with five trunks and one valise of infected clothing. Once there, he offered a man named Godfey Hyams the sum of $100,000 to smuggle the trunks into “Washington City, to Norfolk, and as far South” as he could go “where the Federal Government held possession and had the most troops.” He instructed Hyams to dispose of the new clothing by auction with the exception of the valise, which was to be delivered by express to President Lincoln as a gift. Blackburn also specified the contents of the largest trunk were to be sold in Washington, D.C., callously remarking: “It will kill them at sixty yards.”

Mathew W. Liverly's online article is continued at Civil War Profiles July 13, 2014
Image Source: Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, provided by Matthew Lively.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Author Interview: Uzal W. Ent And The Pennsylvania Reserves In The Civil War

The Pennsylvania Reserves In The Civil War: A Comprehensive History, Uzal W. Ent, McFarland Publishing, 2014, 401pp., appendices, bibliography, index, chapter notes, $75.00.

Uzal W. Ent, a brigadier general retired from a 34 military career, has authored three books and has been published in 19 magazines and five encyclopedias and the of The Pennsylvania Reserves In The Civil War: A Comprehensive History which was published in July. Ent is the author of Fighting on the Brink: The Defense of the Pusan Perimeter [1998] and The First Century: A History of the 28th Division [1979].

Because Josiah R. Sypher published his History of the Pennsylvania Reserves in 1865 and Samuel P. Bates his History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers in 1869, the accounts of many of the individual regiments of the Pennsylvania Reserve division have never been adequately researched and studied with two exceptions being:  Bouquets From The Cannon's Mouth: Soldiering With The Eighth Regiment Of The Pennsylvania Reserves [2005], Three Years in the Bloody Eleventh: The Campaigns of a Pennsylvania Reserve Regiment [2002].  Notable is the extensive work done by August and Angela Marchetti and colleagues at the online Pennsylvania Reserve Historical Society [] whose Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps online research center develops and offers new resources.

CWL: The Pennsylvania Reserves In The Civil War: A Comprehensive History is certainly comprehensive. When did you begin your research for your work?
UWE: About 16 years ago after I completed a book on the Korean War's Pusan Perimeter in 1996-1997.  McFarland Publishing edited it over several years. I began with my great, great grandfather' copy of  Joseph Sypher's History of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps first published in 1864 and then updated in 1865. Sypher's work is somewhat faulty regarding casualties because is was written at the end of the war.  Yet Sypher kept in contact with Pennsylvania Reserve soldiers and received immediate feedback regarding his work, which he later updated in the next editions. By 1869 the casualty figures were released by the federal government. Broadfoot Press' work in regimental rosters is accurate and significant.

CWL:  When did your interest first develop in the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps?
UWE: After completing Fighting on the Brink: The Defense of the Pusan Perimeter in 1997. I was familiar with the Pennsylvania Reserves because I am related to two Pennsylvania Reserve veterans: one in the 6th Pennsylvania and one in Rickett's Battery.

CWL: During your research, what were the most illusive pieces of information?
UWE: None especially yet I was always looking .

CWL: What difficulties did you have acquiring maps and photographs for the book?
UWE: Since I am not a cartographer, every map I drew was rejected by the publisher.  McFarland Publishing acquired maps from Louisiana State University Press, Savas Beatie Publishing, Hal Jesperson and the National Park Service. The photographs are from the collection of the Library of Congress and those found in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, which are in the public domain.

CWL: For such a large book, how did you construct the index?
UWE: A librarian and friend at the United States Army Military History Institute in Carlisle [Pennsylvania] constructed about 90% of the index and nearly all my research was done at the institutes' library.

CWL: You quote extensively for newspaper of the era.  Tell us of your experience with newspaper morgue books and the online and digitized archives you used.
UWE:  Regarding newspapers, most of what I needed was on microfilm and what is online and digitized was found for me by librarians.

CWL:  What material did you use to which possibly Sypher did not have access?
UWE: At the USAMH library there is a large collection of letters, memoirs, newspapers. In neighboring Harrisburg at the Pennsylvania Museum's library there is another trove.

CWL: In what ways does The Pennsylvania Reserves in the Civil War: A Comprehensive History move beyond Sypher's and Bates' work?
UWE: It relies on those regimental histories published after Bates' work was published. Also the diaries, letters, memoirs and narratives available in the USAMHI archives and at the Pennsylvania State Museum library. Scholarly and popular articles published in the last 100 years and of course, The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion published in 128 volumes between 1880 and 1901.  In the appendices are biographical sketches of the principal Reserve Corps officers along with the initial organization, including the 14th Reserves which is an artillery unit and the 15th Reserves which is a cavalry unit.

CWL:  Thank you for your work on behalf of the Pennsylvania Reserves division.
UWE: And thank your for the interview.