Date of Graduation

Spring 2020


Master of Arts in History



Committee Chair

Jeremy Neely


The American Civil War was a devastating conflict costing over 750,000 lives and millions of dollars in the aftermath. However, the most urgent threat was not musket balls, cannons or grapeshot. Afflictions such as typhoid fever, malaria, smallpox, measles, pneumonia, and diarrhea contracted from crowded, unsanitary camp and hospital conditions were responsible for two-thirds of all Civil War casualties. In April 1861, a group of Union women met at church to organize a relief agency whose goal was to aid the thousands of Union soldiers dying from disease. Armed with enlightenment ideas about medical care and sanitation, the Women's Central Association of Relief (later renamed the United States Sanitary Commission) was able to achieve government recognition, appoint a qualified Surgeon General who supported their philanthropic goals, and lobby for sanitation policy that succeeded in improving the mortality rate of those suffering from infection and disease. While the Union reformed an outdated Army Medical Bureau, the Confederacy built one. Under the direction of Surgeon General Moore and the Women’s Relief Agency led by Felica Grundy Porter of Nashville, Tennessee, Confederate medical education and army medicine was regulated and reformed. Conclusively, the decrease in the number of fatalities from disease, especially typhoid, are confirmed by an original case study survey of over 10,000 fatalities in thirty-eight Civil War general hospitals across the divided United States. The dramatic reductions in soldier fatalities from disease during the years of collective medical reform, confirm that sanitation campaigns, vaccinations, and medical improvements, implemented by Surgeon Generals Hammond, Moore, and subsequent relief agencies, were highly successful despite the unique challenges posed by environmental factors such as geography and climate in varying communities.


Civil War Medicine, Disease, Reform, General Hospitals, Typhoid, Case Study

Subject Categories

History of Gender | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Labor History | Military History | Political History | Social History | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies


© Ashley L. Simpson

Open Access