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The War Of 1812 Cemetery: The Lethal Threat To Field Soldiers

1734 words - 7 pages

During the winter of 1812, after the abysmal failure of the American invasion of Canada near Niagara, the remnants of American General Alexander Smyth's invasion force settled into log barracks built along a creek in Erie, New York. , Later in 1813, these barracks were expanded and converted into a military camp hospital for the sick and injured. Incredibly, the lethal threat to the survivors of Smyth's original invasion force was hardly lessened with the cessation of the previous assault and the eventual redeployment of these forces to the quiet camp near the town of Cheektowaga, in Erie county, NY. Despite the absence of combat, American soldiers continued to die at an alarming rate in the camp. Between August 1, 1814 and November 5, 1815, 205 American soldiers died from non-combat related illnesses in the hospital camp at Cheektowaga. These military dead were subsequently interned at a cemetery located nearby along Aero Road. The cemetery is now simply known as the War of 1812 Cemetery. In examining the causes of death of the soldiers buried at the War of 1812 Cemetery, it is evident that the greatest threat to American forces during this campaign was not the British bayonet, musket, or field artillery piece; it was simply living in the camp itself. Infirmities most Americans today would view as non-fatal illnesses such as typhus, diarrhea, dysentery, and pneumonia were lethal to many encamped soldiers during the War of 1812. The prevalence of these diseases and the subsequent relatively quick deaths of many of the afflicted, reveal much about the types of illnesses common to the hospital camp during this timeframe, and also provide a glimpse of the living conditions and the over-all state of medical care for the average American soldier in the region during the War of 1812.
Tallying the buried in the War of 1812 Cemetery, one can see the dead were from various regiments from 12 different states of the early Union. They were from New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Kentucky. Seemingly regardless of their state of origin, these soldiers died of maladies at the following rates: diarrhea - 69; dysentery - 65; typhus fever - eight; rheumatism - seven; intermittent fever - six; debility - four; inflammation of lungs - three; pneumonia - two; epilepsy - two; jaundice - two; injured wrist - two; mortification of the feet - one; pain in breast - one; abscess knees - one; rupture prior to service - one; sore leg - one; phithisis [sic] - one; pleurisy - one; and cough - one. The foremost causes of death (diarrhea, dysentery, and typhus), although common to army camps of the time, were preventable. These illnesses were principally caused by filthy living conditions, poor hygiene, and a "general neglect of sanitation" within the army camps. The problem was many physicians at the time simply did not know the causes of these illnesses. ...

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