The War of 1812
Our ancestor, Zachariah Brewer died in
The following is taken from a history of the US Army Medical Corps and
discusses medical care for soldiers in the Northern campaign (
During the first campaign season of the War of 1812, the physicians caring for the regular soldiers of the U.S. Army were forced to work under a decentralized, peacetime organization. During the second season, the effort required to meet the unpredictable demands of war at the same time that the Medical Department was being reestablished made it difficult for Army surgeons to give their patients the best care available even by nineteenth century standards.
SEASON OF 1812
For the attack against
Maintaining the health of the troops in this area was a problem from the outset. The season was rainy and the ground was wet. Although the camp at Greenbush was often moved, diarrhea and dysentery took a considerable toll. Not only intermittent fever but also typhus and rheumatism were prevalent even as early as mid-September. Despite the threat to the army posed by the high disease rate, when Dr. James Mann, placed in overall charge of the medical services for the forces in upstate New York, arrived at Greenbush the second week in August, he found that the physician who was to have preceded him had not arrived and that the troops were without medical care.
Since no preparations had been made to care for those of the men at
Greenbush who might fall ill, upon his arrival Mann had to go over the hospital supplies, which, fortunately, he found to
be in good order, as well as to care for the ill with the aid of but one other physician, a regimental surgeon's mate who
arrived a few days after Mann. There were no buildings prepared to receive the sick and Mann did not wish to erect new tents
because of the wet ground, so the sick were left in the tents they shared with their healthy comrades. An average of 100 men
fell ill each week at Greenbush, and by the time the last units
of the army left for the abortive attack on
Mann decided that the convalescents in his care did not need the full diet required by the healthy and active soldier. Mann suggested that the convalescent receive 12 ounces of meat and 12 ounces of bread a day. The "half diet" should consist of 6 ounces of meat and 10 ounces of bread, with the addition of a gill of rice or a half pint of meal plus half a gill of molasses. Those on a "low diet" should receive only bread, rice, or barley with sugar, without any meat. Although chocolate or tea with sugar was to be permitted from time to time, Mann opposed the use of whiskey.
Mann regretted being so busy with his responsibilities as hospital surgeon that he had little time to study the diseases he encountered and to record his observations. During the fall and winter of 1812-13, however, he saw many cases of rheumatism, pneumonia, measles, dysentery, and intermittent fever. When he first arrived at Greenbush, he also found that a few of the men had fallen ill with what he diagnosed as typhus before they reached the camp. Four of the seven men who died in the period from mid-August to the end of September were from among this group of typhus patients, and two others who died had long been afflicted with what we would today call tuberculosis.
On the basis of his observations during the first fall and winter of the War of 1812, Mann concluded that rheumatism afflicted men older than 40 more frequently than younger soldiers and was quick to recur after exposure to wet, cold weather in those who had previously suffered from it. Mann preferred to reserve blood-letting for the treatment of the acute form of rheumatism, using calomel, opium, blistering, and the application of warmth for chronic cases.
Among the other conditions studied by Mann were pneumonia and dysentery.
In some cases of pneumonia, death could occur within 24 hours of the appearance of the first symptom, which was usually a
sensation of weight upon the chest. The convalescent from this form of pneumonia, Mann noted, often had a jaundiced appearance.
The type of dysentery seen by physicians in the North at this time "was attended in most cases with a fever of the syochal
type, accelerated action of the arteries, and heat increased considerably above the healthy standard." Mann favored treating
it by bleeding, preferably a single bleeding of 16 ounces followed by a "full cathartic of calomel and jalap." "Anodynes,"
or painkillers, might be administered after the "intestines were well evacuated." Mann also discovered that "There were cases
when calomel and opium, in small doses, at intervals of 4 or 6 hours, were found beneficial." Emetics were generally used
only when all else had failed, but dysentery could take on "a typhoid form" which made the administration of wine or diluted
brandy, up to two pints of the former, as well as purgatives, advisable. Milk was also recommended, especially for the convalescent
from this variety of dysentery, but meat and broths were strictly forbidden. Intermittent fevers apparently appeared at Greenbush
only in men hailing from south of the
In May 1813, the enemy attempted to take
There was no place to put the wounded at Fort Meigs while it was under
siege; they lay in trenches "on rails barely sufficient to keep them up out of the water, which in many places from the bleeding
of the wounded, had the appearance of puddles of blood." There were even times when there was nothing available with which
to cover these unhappy creatures, since the same supply shortages experienced by other camps also afflicted
From: Mary C. Gillett. The Army Medical Department 1775-1818. Army Historical Series. 1981, U.S. Government Printing Office Washington, D.C. 20402