Friday, January 13, 2012

Bad Water

It is always interesting for me to research the American Civil War, and sometimes I find some of the neatest stuff. Take for example the following anecdotes, taken from “Reminiscences of the Civil War” compiled from diaries of men from the 103rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry, about the scarcity of drinking water:

The water of the Yazoo River is supposed to be the most unhealthy water in the United States. A steamboat captain has been heard to say; “If a man drinks the river water a week, he will have a sandbar in him half a mile long.” The inhabitants of that section of the country will under no circumstances drink or use in any way the well or spring water that may be found, but depend entirely on rainwater.

 The regiment had been attached to the IX Army Corps* of John G. Parke and sent to Haynes' (Haines') Bluff and Snyder's Bluff during the Vicksburg campaign, arriving at that place on the 11th of June, 1863. After fortifying the bluffs, the regiment moved to Oak Ridge and fortified that place. It was here that the writer of this particular segment of reminiscences wrote:

The trials and tribulations of the troops while in this part of the world can not be described.”

The Indian word “Yazoo”is said to mean “the river of death” or its equivalent. A camp kettle of water from what was thought to be a good spring from the bluffs would, if allowed to stand in the sun for an hour, have a deposit of some kind quite half an inch deep. We have since been astonished that the entire Command was not swept off the earth.

Many generals of both sides, in particular those that had served in the Mexican War, would take steps to insure good water supplies and keep those supplies untainted. They did not always succeed, but some at least made an effort. These instances do not point to poor camp placement or policing, but the men suffered from stomach problems while in the area of their operations which they would leave after the fall of Vicksburg. Of their time there the writer wrote:

 At Oak Ridge we had lived much better than while at the Bluffs, as wild blackberries were quite thick, and of the finest quality. Still many of the men were taken down with stomach troubles.

I wonder...

 One last story relating to water, at least for this post. After the 103rd Illinois left Oak Ridge they went to the Black River (where they found more blackberries) and after a lightly contested crossing marched toward Jackson, Mississippi. Of the march on the 8th of July the writer relates this story:

On this march we suffered greatly from want of water. Wells and cisterns having failed, we were compelled to use water from pools, (a great thunderstorm had drenched the area the night of the 6th) in nearly all of which the Rebs had killed a mule or some other animal, so
that to use the water was victuals as well as drink.

I certainly hope this entry was made in jest!
The 103rd Illinois was a part of the 2nd brigade, 1st division, XVIth Army Corps prior to being attached to the IX Corps at the time of these incidents. They were brigaded with the 6th Iowa, 40th Illinois, 46th Ohio, and 15th Michigan.

1 comment:

  1. The water around Washington DC was quite bad as well, some think that is how Abraham Lincoln's son died, thyphoid from contaminated water. Good post, it's a shame to think about all the young men who became ill due to contaminated water.